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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.

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.

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.

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.

James Smith Colwell, who worked as a lawyer in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was one of the men who answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Colwell joined the Carlisle Fencibles, a local volunteer company under the command of Robert Henderson, as a first lieutenant. Six weeks later the Fencibles left Carlisle for Camp Wayne in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where they received training and were designated Company A of the 7th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. His wife, Ann, had not been happy with that decision. “You left me without talking about it,” as Ann reminded him. While James admitted that “[he] err[ed] frequently,” he observed that “it [was] nearly always an error of the judgment & not of the heart.” Yet in this case he argued that it was impossible to get out of the army. “I do not see how I could get out of the service without bring[ing] disgrace and dishonour on myself & my little family,” as Colwell explained. Colwell had in mind his four children – two sons and two daughters. Colwell’s oldest daughter, Nannie, was about six years old in December 1861 when she announced in her “first letter” that she “[could] read” and “[sent him] a big kiss.” Colwell was able to return to Carlisle on furlough, but on September 17, 1862 he died during the Battle of Antietam. Local newspapers published obituaries, including the Carlisle (PA) American, which noted that “[Colwell’s] high moral character and exemplary life had made him a bright example in our midst.”When Civil War veterans in Carlisle established a local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic in February 1881, they decided to call it the Captain Colwell Post.

Before going to bed on October 10, 1862, Chambersburg resident William Heyser noted in his diary that he had “secreted some of my most valuable papers.” Confederate cavalry under the command of General J. E. B. Stuart had arrived several hours earlier and forced the town to surrender. Union forces had been caught by surprise and none were available to defend the town. “It would have been an act of madness to have made resistance…and would have involved the total destruction of the town,” as the Chambersburg (PA) Valley Spirit noted. The raid, as the Milwaukee (WI) Sentienel described, “was the most daring adventure of the war” so far. Besides gathering intelligence, one of the Confederate’s other objectives was to take as many supplies as possible. Horses were one key item and Alexander Kelly McClure, an assistant adjutant Union general, later recalled how ten horses were taken from his farm. (You can read McClure’s full account of the Confederate raid – “A Night With Stuart’s Raiders”- here). Yet as one Confederate soldier’s letter revealed, they also seized a number of other supplies. “I got 8 pair of boots, 4 over coats, 5 pair of pantaloons, 2 hats, 6 pair of socks, 6 pr. Draws, 6 over & under shirts, [and] some coffe & sugar” during the raid, as Edward Cottrell told his grandmother. As Confederates left Chambersburg on October 11, they burned warehouses that held government supplies. One contained ammunition and, as Heyser described, “the succeeding explosions of shells and power was tremendous.” While Union forces were dispatched to intercept and capture the raiders, General Stuart evaded them and returned to Virginia without any major engagements. You can read more about the raid in Emory M. Thomas’ Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart (1986) and Jeffry D. Wert’s Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart (2008).

Charles Rawn, a lawyer who lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wrote over 11,000 daily entries between 1830 and 1865. The entire journal is now online thanks to the efforts of Pennsylvania University State Professor Michael Barton and the Historical Society of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Rawn, who was born in Georgetown in July 1802, moved to Harrisburg in 1826 and got married seven years later. His journal entries largely contain notes about his daily life – from various legal matters to financial expenditures. While “he rarely mentioned grand ideas or personal feelings in his daily record,” Professor Barton argues that “[these] records are valuable guides to understanding everyday life in antebellum America.” Rawn was a “record keeper rather than a story teller,” as Baron explains. Yet Rawn’s journals include some interesting notes about political events in Harrisburg, including President-Elect Abraham Lincoln’s visit in 1861. On February 22 Rawn described:

“[Lincoln] rode in a Barouche drawn by 6 White Horses to Coverlys Hotel where he was addressed by Gov. Curtain & [replied?]. The enthusiasm of the people was perfectly and literally wild & unrestrainable…. Altogether it was such a day & time as Harrisburg has never before witnessed. The number Military here in time of the Buckshot Wars was approached nearly perhaps to the number here yesterday. Mr. L’s appearance is younger considerably than was generally expected and he is not so tall [nor so?] Rawboned as we had been given to believe from his pictures and what we had read.”

In addition, Rawn took detailed notes when he traveled into Virginia three months after Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in April 1861. On July 22, 1861, the day after the First Battle of Bull Run, Rawn observed:

“Dead, wounded and dying being brought in continually. I saw several of the wounded. One man with a Buck shot in the neck….From all accounts which of course are measurably wild and unforgettable [?] in a degree the slaughter on both sides has been immense—in the thousands. There was desperate fighting—desperate fright in some quarters and desperate getting out of the way in all many directions and in all imaginable disorder by some of our troops as I make out by the statements.”