Historical Markers
Battle of Hanover Historical Marker
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Battle of Hanover

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Southwest section of square, Hanover

Dedication Date:
September 14, 1954

Behind the Marker

Portrait of Jeb Stuart.
Portrait of Jeb Stuart.
Although a small affair when compared to other battles of the Civil War, the cavalry engagement at Hanover on June 30, 1863, is important because it deflected Jeb Stuart and his three brigades of Confederate cavalry from making contact with Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia until late on July 2, too late to be of much use to his commander at the battle of Gettysburg.

Back on the morning of June 25, Stuart's 6,000 men had departed the main army in Virginia, following ambiguous orders from Lee that enabled Stuart to choose his own route of march for his troopers. Stuart left behind enough mounted men to cover the flank of Lee's northward-moving army. With his column, Stuart intended to ride between the Army of the Potomac and Washington D. C., ripping up rail lines, disrupting the B and O Canal, and cutting telegraph lines before joining Richard Ewell's troops as they neared the Susquehanna River.
Classic photograph of George Armstrong Custer in slouch hat.
George Armstrong Custer.

Yankee infantry moving north, however, soon cut across Stuart's intended path, and forced him to take longer than anticipated in his march. At Rockville, Maryland, Stuart captured a Union supply train of 125 wagons, taking them along on his ride. When his scouts located Yankee horsemen at nearby Littlestown, Pennsylvania, Stuart again changed his route and moved toward Hanover, guided by the teenage son of a Southern sympathizer. Stuart still hoped to move due north after reaching Hanover, and expected to find Ewell's soldiers somewhere in the vicinity.

But fate was not kind to Jeb Stuart, for Judson Kilpatrick's Union cavalry had ridden northeast from Frederick, Maryland, into Pennsylvania, to search for Ewell's men, who reportedly were heading for the Susquehanna.

On June 30, Kilpatrick's column of troopers reached Hanover and wound through the streets to the appreciative cheers of the residents, who handed the passing men food and drink. The head of the column, half of George A. Custer's brigade and half of Elon J. Farnsworth's brigade, had already passed through Hanover to the north when Stuart spied the Yankees in the distance, marching on his intended route.

The Union rearguard, part of the 18th Pennsylvania, had already been skirmishing with Confederate patrols when the 13th Virginia charged into the Yankee rearguard, and pushed it back into the streets of Hanover. There, the 2nd North Carolina joined the fray and continued the Rebel advance. But the Tarheels were hit, in turn, by General Farnsworth, riding at the head of the 5th New York, which drove them, minus their colonel, William H.F. Payne, from the field. (Just south of town Payne's horse was killed as he rode by some uncovered vats at the Winebrenner Tannery. The dying horse threw its rider into a vat, from whence he was fished by laughing Yankee troopers. Covered head to toe in brown stain, Payne was taken prisoner.)
<i>Custer at Hanover,</i> painting by Dale Gallon.
Custer at Hanover, by Dale Gallon

Stuart himself was almost captured in the hand-to-hand fighting that erupted during the Rebels' retreat. Chased by a squad of Yankees that attacked his headquarters staff, Stuart spurred his horse "Virginia" to safety across a 15-foot-wide water-filled ditch. As the Rebels fell back to reorganize, Kilpatrick arrived and took charge of the Yankee attack. He had Farnsworth deploy three of his regiments in an arc at the south edge of Hanover, as citizens and soldiers alike threw up barricades across the streets leading to the square.

Next he sent a regiment from Custer's brigade and part of one from Farnsworth's to protect two Yankee artillery batteries, which went into position north of Hanover on high ground named Bunker Hill. markerKilpatrick then set up his headquarters at the Central Hotel as his division deployed for battle. Stuart, meanwhile, had moved his wagon train to the east and deployed more of his men, as well as his artillery, to cover its movement east and then northeast, around Hanover.

The artillery of both sides now began a deadly duel, as shells crashed into buildings in Hanover, and frightened residents took to their cellars for shelter. General Custer dismounted most of his 6th Michigan and sent it to assail Stuart's left flank, which repelled the attack. For the rest of the afternoon, both sides remained in position as skirmishing and artillery firing continued. Low on ammunition and still wondering where Ewell was, Stuart broke off the battle and marched his weary men through Dover towards Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Hanover cost Kilpatrick 213 of his men while Stuart suffered at least 117 casualties. Sometime that day, Stuart had procured a copy of the June 29 York Gazette, which included details on the markerRebel occupation and skirmish at Wrightsville. Still determined to locate Lee's infantry units, Stuart again veered off, this time heading for markerCarlisle, where he hoped to find at least part of Lee's army.
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