Historical Markers
Gettysburg Campaign [Bridges] Historical Marker
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Gettysburg Campaign [Bridges]

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
PA 116 near junction of PA 216 just east of Hanover

Dedication Date:
November 11, 1947

Behind the Marker

Hanover Junction as it appeared in 1863.
Hanover Junction as it appeared in 1863.
The Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in the third week of June, 1863, gave Lee's army the chance to damage the Northern economy and undermine civilian morale by disrupting railroad transportation and conducting raids against other inviting targets. Three major rail lines linked the city of Baltimore, a key transportation center, to the North. Southern raids had often disrupted the Baltimore and Ohio line that ran west through Maryland to the Ohio River.

The most important railroad supplying the Union army through Baltimore was the Northern Central, which ran due north from Baltimore into Pennsylvania, where it passed through Hanover Junction and York, then ran along the west bank of the Susquehanna to the state capital at Harrisburg. North of the state capital it joined the Pennsylvania Railroad, at the time the major east-west railroad in the North.
The "Gray Comanches" painting depicts Confederate Colonel Elijah White leading the 35th Battalion  Virginia Cavalry into the center of the battle.
The Gray Comanches, by Don Troiani

In 1863, the North's extensive network of rail lines gave it a critical military advantage over the South. When markerGeneral Jubal A. Early's Confederate division left Greenwood, Pennsylvania on June 26 and headed east over the mountains toward York and the Susquehanna River, one of his objectives was to burn the railroad bridges at markerHanover Junction. Two cavalry units screened Early's infantry.

Recognizing the importance of the Northern Central to the Union war effort, General Early ordered Lieutenant Colonel Elijah V. White, commander of the 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion to tear up track, cut telegraph lines, and, most importantly, destroy every railroad bridge he could find. Disruption of rail traffic was crucial to the campaign, for delays in supplying the army from Washington might mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Known as the "Comanches," White's rough-looking men were war-hardened veterans who had recently fought in the great cavalry battle at Brandy Station, Virginia. White's battalion of horsemen left their camp early in the morning of June 27, turning south from the main column at New Oxford.

Once out of sight of the infantry, White's men were on their own traveling through enemy territory, completely dependent upon their own skills and luck for the success of their mission. There were no radios in those days. No walkie talkies. No aerial reconnaissance. The enemy could be anywhere. They could round a bend in the dirt road and run head on into a column of Yankee horsemen. And the people they met en route were not likely to be kindly disposed to Southerners.
Oil on canvas painting of Colonel Elijah V. White
Colonel Elijah V. White, by J.P. Walker

Around ten o'clock the battalion rode into McSherrystown. As White paused briefly to ask citizens whether they knew of any Yankee soldiers in the vicinity, a man slipped out of town unseen and galloped into Hanover, where he warned the people that the Rebs were coming. And so when White's men rode into Hanover, the streets were largely deserted.

At the town square, a few people had congregated to watch the invaders. Here White stopped his command and made a brief speech to the townspeople. His men were not barbarians, White proclaimed. They were gentlemen fighting for their cause. Stay out of the way and no one would get hurt. White allowed his men to visit local shops for a while, seizing clothing, hats, and other dry goods, with devalued Confederate money. Detachments then spread out to cut telegraph wires and burn bridges in the vicinity. Shortly after noon, White's men departed, heading for Hanover Junction.

Once they reached the junction and chased off some defending militia, White's men wrecked the junction, ripping up track, cutting telegraph wires, and burning the local railroad bridges. They then rode north, bivouacking a few miles south of General John B. Gordon's brigade, which was poised to enter York on June 28. But their rapid movement through Hanover Junction meant that Union work crews could return to the area fairly quickly and repair the destruction.
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