The skirmish at Oyster Point was a small engagement that took place in late June 1863 in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania between Confederate forces under General Albert G. Jenkins’ command and Union militia from New York under General William F. Smith’s command. After Confederates entered Mechanicsburg, General Jenkins set up artillery and sent Virginia cavalry in pursuit of Union militia who had been in the town. At Oyster Point the Confederates encountered two militia regiments from New York and Landis’ Philadelphia Battery of Light Artillery. Later that day General Jenkins ordered his force to withdraw to the Rupp House in Mechanicsburg. Confederates returned on June 29, but they were unable to dislodge the Union militia. The Battle of Sporting Hill took place on the following day as Confederates left Mechanicsburg and marched towards Gettysburg. As a veteran who served with the 22nd New York Regiment recalled:

While this skirmish was of no particular account in itself, it is really historic. It was at the furthest northern point which was reached by the invaders, and marks the crest of the wave of the invasion of Pennsylvania. The retreat of the Confederate force there commenced did not end until the Potomac was crossed. The success obtained must be largely ascribed to the gallant conduct of Landis’ Battery,….”

A historical marker is located at the intersection of 31st Street and Market Streets in Camp Hill. You can read more about this battle in an essay on ExplorePAhistory.com, Robert Grant Crist’s article “Highwater 1863: The Confederate Approach to Harrisburg” (Pennsylvania History 1963), and in Wilbur Sturtevant Nye’s Here Come The Rebels! (1965).

The Battle of Sporting Hill, which was part of the Gettysburg Campaign, took place on June 30, 1863 in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania between elements of the 16th Virginia Calvary Regiment and two New York Militia Regiments. The Confederate forces at Sporting Hill served as a rearguard for General Albert G. Jenkins, whose brigade was stationed several miles away in Mechanicsburg. Early on June 30, however, Jenkins moved out after he received General Robert E. Lee’s order to regroup at Gettysburg. The 22nd and 37th New York Militia Regiments, which were under the overall command of General Darius N. Couch, were out on reconnaissance when they engaged Jenkins’ rearguard. (Union General William F. Smith had ordered a patrol once he realized that Confederates were withdrawing from the area). As John Lockwood recalled, the two New York regiments were:

“ordered out to reconnoiter. Expecting to return in course of the day left everything behind except arms and ammunition and thus passed through rest of campaign! They moved along the Carlisle road to ‘Sporting Hill’ where had a skirmish.”

Union forces forced Confederates to withdraw after they brought in a detachment from Landis’ Philadelphia Battery of Light Artillery, but they were unable to pursue them. Reports indicated that approximately sixteen soldiers died during the engagement. A historical marker is located at the intersection of 31st Street and Market Streets in Camp Hill. You can read more about this battle in an essay on ExplorePAhistory.com, Robert Grant Crist’s article “Highwater 1863: The Confederate Approach to Harrisburg” (Pennsylvania History 1963), and in Wilbur Sturtevant Nye’s Here Come The Rebels! (1965).

The Rupp House in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania served as the headquarters for Confederate General Albert G. Jenkins’ brigade during the Gettysburg campaign in late June 1863. On June 28 Jenkins’ troops captured Mechanicsburg without encountering any resistance. Two days later, however, Jenkins received General Robert E. Lee’s order to regroup at Gettysburg. As Jenkins’ brigade left on June 30, his rearguard became involved in the Battle of Sporting Hill. The Rupp House was built in 1787 by Jonas Rupp. His grandson’s family owned the house in 1863 and they remained in Lancaster, Pennsylvania while the Confederates were in Mechanicsburg. The Rupp House is at 5115 East Trindle Road, but it is currently not open to the public.

You can learn more in an essay on ExplorePAhistory.com, Robert Grant Crist’s article “Highwater 1863: The Confederate Approach to Harrisburg” (Pennsylvania History 1963), and in Wilbur Sturtevant Nye’s Here Come The Rebels! (1965).

Image courtesy of Flickr user cthoyes.

‘Americans Shall Rule America!’ The Know-Nothing Party in Cumberland County (1998)

Free Soil: The Birth of the Republican Party in Cumberland County (Summer 2000)

In Defense of Union and White Supremacy: The Democratic Alternative to Free Soil, 1847 – 1860 (Winter 2000)

In a series of three essays John Wesley Weigel traces the political history of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania between the late 1840s and the Republican victory in the Presidential election of 1860. Weigel’s articles are based in large part on primary sources, in particular three local newspapers: Carlisle (PA) Herald , Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, and the Shippensburg (PA) News. All three articles include extensive endnotes. Weigel’s essay of the rise of the Republican party in Cumberland county includes two maps and a graph related to voter turnout. In addition, Weigel provides two detailed charts that breakdown Cumberland county votes by party between 1839 and 1873.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Columbia Bridge over the Susquehanna River, circa 1850

On the evening of June 28, 1863, Confederate General John B. Gordon reached his objective in Columbia, Lancaster County: the one and one quarter mile covered bridge of Columbia-Wrightsville.  As the Rebels charged onto the first span of the bridge, four explosions went off, stopping them from charging the bridge. Union Colonel Jacob C. Frick and his soldiers received orders to protect the bridge by Union General Darius N. Crouch, but the Rebels persisted. The local militia began to blow up several spans of the bridge to prevent the Rebels from crossing. This ended up failing, so as a last resort a fire was set to destroy the entire span of the bridge. Due to the windy night, the fires spread to parts of Wrightsville, burning farms and homes. In the end, Frick saved the town by stopping the Confederates, but lost the bridge he was to protect. Frick discusses his feelings on his orders from Couch:

“My duty in the premises was plain. Gen. Couch plainly indicated my duty in his orders, wherein he said: “When you find it necessary to withdraw your command from Wrightsville leave a proper number on the other side to destroy the bridge; keep it open as long as possible with prudence and exercise your own discretion in doing so.”

Google Books provide resources such as Donald Jackson’s Great American Bridges and Dams, giving a brief history of the bridge before the burning in 1863. The United States of American Congressional Record also has an article with a small summary on the burning of the bridge and the history of the bridge’s structure.

Location – Columbia and Wrightsville, PA

John Cantilion

“Southern Sentiments: A Look at Attitudes of Civil War Soldiers” (1990)
Patricia Coolmeyer’s essay explores the different ways that soldiers and residents of southern Pennsylvania saw the South during the Civil War. Coolmeyer uses a wide variety of sources in her account, including letters, diaries, local newspapers, and other nineteenth-century publications.

“From Carlisle and Fort Couch: The War of Corporal John Cantilion” (1993)
James A. Holechek’s article focuses on Corporal John Cantilion’s experiences in central Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863. Cantilion served in the 4th United States Cavalry and was stationed at Carlisle Barracks in early June 1863. This essay includes transcripts of letters that Cantilion wrote from Carlisle Barracks on June 19 and from Fort Couch on June 23. Holechek also provides the transcript of a letter that Cantilion’s wife, Sarah, wrote in early November 1863. However, Cantilion died on November 12, 1863 and never received that letter. In addition, photographs of John and Sarah Cantilion are reproduced in this essay.

This article has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Carlisle Barracks—1854-1855: From the Letters of Lt. Thomas W. Sweeny, 2nd Infantry” contains nine letters to Ellen Sweeny about Lt. Sweeny’s experiences and acquaintances at the Carlisle Barracks. Editor Richard J. Coyer introduces the letters with a biographical sketch of Sweeny, including details about his military service from the Mexican War through Reconstruction. This article includes extensive notes where Coyer indentifies figures and provides context for Sweeny’s letters.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.


Albert Hazlett

“Cumberland County’s Connection to John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry” (2009)

Joseph D. Cress uses reports from several local newspaper to explore the story of Albert Hazlett’s arrest in Chambersburg on October 22, 1859. Hazlett had participated in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, but he managed to escape. The Carlisle American and American Volunteer published reports about Hazlett’s case with contradicting evidence and testimony, which reflected the confusion over Hazlett’s identity. (When local authorities arrested him, Hazlett claimed that he was actually William Harrison). After three trials in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Judge Frederick Watts decided to extradite Harrison to Virginia. Hazlett was executed in Charlestown, Virginia on March 16, 1860.

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.


“Shippensburg’s Locust Grove African-American Cemetery” (2009)

Professor Stephen Burg explores the history of the Locust Grove African-American Cemetery in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in this article. The grandson of Shippensburg’s founder gave the land, which had been used as a slave burial ground, to the town’s black residents in 1842. Burg also provides details on some of the individuals buried in this cemetery (also known as North Queen Street Cemetery), including several of the twenty six United States Colored Troops veterans. In addition, Burg includes an index of the headstones in this cemetery.

This article has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on March 2, 1872 about his work relating to Santo Domingo. In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant had appointed Douglass to the Commission of Inquiry for the annexation of Santo Domingo the United States of America. Douglass delivered his speech at Rheem’s Hall, which was located behind the Old Court House in Carlisle. Today that location is a parking lot. Reports about the speech did not appear in any national newspapers, but his visit created a local controversy. George Z. Bentz, who was the manager of the Bentz House and a Republican, refused to let Douglass eat his dinner in hotel dining room with the white guests. (The Bentz House stood on what is today the former Wellington Hotel on East High Street). The American Volunteer used the incident to characterize Republicans as hypocritical. “We have in this circumstance positive evidence that the Radicals are just as loath to recognize negro-equality as the Democrats,” as the American Volunteer observed. While the Herald “[found] no fault with” the manager’s decision, the editors argued that policies which denied African Americans entry into a hotel “[were] simply silly and wicked.” In addition, Historic Carlisle recently added a Wayside Maker for Douglass’ visit.

David L. Smith also discusses Douglass’ visit  in his essay “Fredrick Douglass in Carlisle” (2005). Smith provides transcripts of the newspaper articles cited in this blog post.

Location: Bentz House stood on what is today the former Wellington Hotel on East High Street ; Rheem’s Hall, which is a parking lot today, was located behind the Old Court House

This essay has been posted online with permission from the Cumberland County Historical Society.