Friday, June 19, 2015

The Confederate Occupation of York, PA

J.E.B. Stuart and staff, The Illustrated London News,
October 4, 1862
Guest post by Anne Mateer:

In reference to the Civil War, we often hear about the Mason-Dixon line, that infamous line that separated North from South, Union from Confederate, slave from free. And yet the Mason-Dixon line wasn’t quite as simple as all that. Wasn’t quite as neatly divided. Take, for instance, York County, Pennsylvania.

Confederates enter York
York County sent many of its sons to fight for the Union cause after Ft. Sumter was fired upon in 1861. The borough (town) of York housed scores of Union troops at Camp Scott and even erected a U.S. Army hospital on Penn Common. But in spite of York’s situation north of the Mason-Dixon line, the politics within the borders of its town or county weren’t always unified, even over the war. We tend to forget that while the “Union” seemed to be a united front, that wasn’t completely true. There was a faction of Democrats who opposed the war and opposed Lincoln. These men called themselves Peace Democrats. Their opposition called them Copperheads.

What did Peace Democrats want? They wanted to end of the war and the union of states—even if it meant retaining slavery in the south. They often had business interests in southern states that suffered due to the war. And they also feared that the demise of slavery would mean the influx of free blacks who would compete for jobs.

But Peace Democrats were also fueled by more complicated situations than personal financial interests. Like other towns in border states, the citizens of York, PA had loyalties that crossed invisible state lines. Not just political loyalties, but family loyalties, school loyalties, business loyalties. And as swarms of Confederate troops advanced toward York, the Peace Democrats who abounded in the town of York decided to take matters into their own hands, to show their dissatisfaction with Lincoln and their willingness to cooperate with Confederate states.

The town leaders had set up a Committee of Safety a couple of weeks earlier, upon hearing that the Confederate Army was moving north. But it was a 24-year-old businessman, Arthur Briggs Farquhar, that provided the means to put a plan into action. Farquhar not only had business ties to the South, he had attended school in Virginia, where he’d been a classmate of many current
Confederate officers. Farquhar made contact with General Gordon and secured a promise that the town of York would be entered peaceably, without destruction of property or businesses and with respect for the women.

Thus, on Sunday morning, June 28, 1863, General Gordon arrived with General Jubal Early, each leading divisions down the streets of York, making it the largest and northernmost town to be occupied by Confederate forces. The citizens of York were as divided in their response to this as they were in their politics. Some citizens stood and watched the occupying army, some ladies even going so far as to wave handkerchiefs and streamers and stop the soldiers and ask for souvenir buttons. Others remained sequestered in their homes, not willing to even gawk at their captors. Of course, most of the citizens were women and children by this point in the war, but those women and children often acted in accordance with the politics of the men in their families.

The soldiers marched to the center of town and removed the large U.S. flag hanging on the pole, yet they did not raise another in its place, apparently at Farquhar’s request. But accepting York’s surrender didn’t mean the town would escape with no consequences. General Early promptly demanded supplies for his troops along with $100,000 in cash or he would sack the place in spite of their surrender. During the three-day occupation, the quotas of bread, sugar, coffee, molasses, meat, shoes, hats, and socks were met, but only $28,600 in case was raised from the citizenry. General Early took what was given, but refrained from his threat of violence, keeping his soldiers under strict orders not to harm the town.

Cassandra Small

One young woman, Cassandra Morris Small, wrote of the occupation in a series of letters to her cousin, Lissie, in Delaware. Cassandra noted the great discipline exerted on the troops by their officers—no alcohol allowed, no going into stores without a pass, no insult to a female allowed.

She also commented on the women who welcomed the enemy troops. “There will be a dividing line drawn here . . . they will never be recognized again.” She also noted that one Mary Wilson “recognized a number of her Baltimore beaux, but she turned her back upon all.” Apparently courting hadn’t been hampered by that Mason-Dixon line!

According to Cassandra and other witnesses, the Peace Democrats, or Copperheads, in town socialized quite freely with their captors, though apparently, in the end, they fared no better than those citizens thoroughly loyal to the Union cause. They, also, had to relinquish supplies and cash to appease General Early.

On June 30, 1863,after three days of captivity for those in York and three days of skirmishes between Confederate Troops and citizens of other towns within York County, the Confederate troops packed up and moved out, tearing the U.S. flag into strips as they marched toward a little town just west of York. A town named Gettysburg.

While the Battle of Gettysburg remains in our collective memory, we forget that the Confederate troops’ arrival north of the Mason-Dixon line brought more than just the occupation of the enemy. It also brought to glaring life the divided loyalties of those who resided near that imaginary line.

Anne Mateer enjoys history of every era and loves bringing the past to life through fiction. She is the author of four historical novels, including one Carol Award finalist (At Every Turn), as well as a contemporary short story in Guideposts’ A Cup of Christmas Cheer (2014). Anne and her history-loving husband, Jeff, have an empty nest in Texas and enjoy touring historic sites and homes when they travel to visit their three young adult children. Anne blogs regularly at Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Playing by Heart: Lula Bowman has achieved her dream: a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But after a shocking phone call from her sister, Lula returns to her
Oklahoma hometown and takes the only available job—a combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula has no plans for love, but the more time she spends around Jewel's family, the girls' basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the boys’ basketball coach, the more Lula realizes what she's given up in her single-minded pursuit of her degree, and her future starts to look different than she'd expected.


  1. Interesting post, Anne. I've never heard of the Peace Democrats before. I'm an Oklahoma gal so it was cool to see your book is set there.

    1. I hadn't heard of them either, Vickie. An interesting bunch. It was so fun to set my book in Oklahoma! Two of my grandparents were born there, met there, and started their family there (before they moved to Texas)!

  2. Very interesting article!! Learning all these historical tidbits is fascinating to me.

    1. Me, too. I love learning bits of history I didn't know before!

  3. Very interesting article!! Learning all these historical tidbits is fascinating to me.

  4. Great article! I really love a closer look at the complicated politics of that time. Not everything is as simple as we'd like.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, that's one of the things that fascinates me about the Civil War--it's complexities.

  5. I did not know the Confederates went so far North! Sm. wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  6. Just this morning we accidentally ended up going to York PA's website instead of our own York County, VA's! Nice article. I have a Copperhead senator in one of my books, whose choices impacted his son's life.

    1. That's awesome, Carrie. Definitely a historical fact that inspires plot for fiction!