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Gettysburg Campaign [Sporting Hill] Historical Marker
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Name:
Gettysburg Campaign [Sporting Hill]

Region:
Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region

County:
Cumberland

Marker Location:
Carlisle Pike at Sporting Hill Road

Dedication Date:
June 21, 1997

Behind the Marker

On June 28th, 1863, Confederate General Albert G. Jenkins divided his brigade of cavalry into two columns, then marched into the town of Mechanicsburg.
Sporting hill Construction.
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Sporting hill Construction.
Jenkins personally led half his brigade through town and out to markerPeace Church, which became the center of his battle line, as his troopers and cannon engaged Union militia posted farther east around markerOyster Point. The remaining portion of his brigade, under the command of Colonel Milton J. Ferguson, moved east along the Carlisle Pike, to Orr's Bridge, half a mile north of Peace Church.

Throughout the day on June 29, Jenkins' men engaged the Yankees at Oyster Point with both musketry and artillery fire, to cover Jenkins' reconnaissance of the Union defenses of Harrisburg, which were anchored by Fort Washington and markerFort Couch, both erected on Hummel Heights. General Richard S. Ewell, in command of General Robert E. Lee's Second Corps, ordered General Robert Rodes to move his infantry east for an attack on Harrisburg. But, that night, Lee learned of the advancing Union army and sent orders for his scattered units to concentrate in the Cashtown area west of Gettysburg.

After receiving word of the change of orders, Jenkins withdrew his column from Mechanicsburg on the morning of June 30, leaving behind a rearguard with orders to rip up some railroad tracks before withdrawing. Colonel Ferguson withdrew his command from Orr's Bridge west along the Carlisle Pike to a broad plateau known locally as Sporting Hill. Union cavalry scouts soon discovered that the Rebels had retreated, which prompted General William F. Smith, commanding the First Division, Department of the Susquehanna, to send out his own reconnaissance in force to determine where the enemy had gone.
Photograph of two members of the 22nd NY Militia.
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22nd NY Militia

Lieutenant Frank Stanwood and his small company of Regular Army cavalry recruits led the reconnaissance. Smith also detailed New York militia General John Ewen to follow the horsemen with the 22nd and 37th New York Militia regiments, perhaps 1,600 men in all. Ewen was so confident that his men would return to Fort Washington by lunch that he ordered them to carry only weapons and canteens. The column headed off around ten o'clock that morning, accompanied by General Smith, who chaffed at the militia's slow rate of march.

By lunch time, Ewen's slow moving men had only searched the area around Orr's Bridge for hidden Rebels. None were found. Exasperated by the slowness of their search, General Smith ordered Ewen to take his men back to the fort for lunch, then galloped off. As the head of the retreating column reached Oyster Point, Stanwood's troopers galloped up, and told a startled Ewen that they had just encountered Rebel cavalry at Sporting Hill. Ewen quickly turned the column around and marched west along the Carlisle Pike toward the reported enemy position.

By mid-afternoon, the cautious Yankees had reached the eastern edge of the Sporting Hill plateau. When skirmishers from the 22nd New York crested the rise, they were fired upon at long range by hidden Southern troopers The New Yorkers soon determined that the firing was coming from the stone barn of farmer McCormick, situated several hundred yards obliquely to the north across the pike. (The barn still stands, behind the Carpetworld store north of the pike). Farther down the pike, they could see a belt of oak trees named Gleim's Woods, (once standing on the current location of Denny's restaurant). Southern troops could be seen moving from this wood across a wheat field south of the pike toward another belt of trees. The battle was on, the Confederates on the move‚Äďand General Ewen suddenly struck by indecisiveness. To prevent the Rebels from gaining cover in the second group of trees, Lieutenant Rufus King, one of Smith's staff officers, ordered the commander of the 22nd New York to send two companies into these woods to forestall their occupation. As a result, King saw the Rebels go back to Gleim's Woods.

Deploying the rest of the 22nd diagonally across the pike to face the enemy, Ewen then sent the 37th New York into line on the right of the 22nd, closer to McCormick's barn. As the 37th deployed, several men were wounded by the hidden enemy in the barn. Captain Thomas E. Jackson's two Confederate cannon, located in Gleim's Woods, then opened fire on the Yankee line. Colonel Ferguson had both his units, the 16th Virginia cavalry and 36th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, deployed to protect the guns and face the Yankee militia.
The color bearer of the Irish Rifles waves the distinctive green silk with gold embroidery Irish flag of the regiment.
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The color bearer of the Irish Rifles waves the distinctive green silk with gold...

The two sides remained stalemated until sometime around five o'clock, when two cannon from Landis' Philadelphia militia battery arrived at the scene. With the assistance of Lieutenant King, the green cannoneers prepared their guns for battle. Hitting McCormick's barn squarely in the middle, their first shot sent a "swarm" of Rebels out of the barn toward Gleim's Woods. The gun crews then opened a general fire on the Rebels, getting the range quickly, and inflicting some casualties. Soon, the Yankees saw the Rebels limber their two cannon and the cavalry mount their horses. Then off went the enemy in the direction of Carlisle. So ended the "battle" of Sporting Hill; the largest organized skirmishing that took place during the Rebel advance on Harrisburg.

During this, their first engagement with the enemy, Ewen's brigade suffered a loss of eleven men wounded. Southern casualties are difficult to determine since Ferguson failed to write a report of the fighting. Local farmers later told Ewen that they saw sixteen dead Confederates and a number wounded, all of whom were taken along by their retreating comrades.

The fight at Sporting Hill was the largest organized skirmishing that took place near Harrisburg and spelled the end of the Rebel advance against Pennsylvania's capital. Ewen did not pursue, for he had only a small company of mounted men and his own New Yorkers were very tired as well as hungry. Still, they had done well when facing more experienced enemy soldiers, and would recall with pride their contribution to the defense of Harrisburg.


 
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