Original Document
Original Document
"Burning of the Columbia Bridge," Harper's Weekly, July 18, 1863.

On Sunday, the 29th June, 1863, it was reported that the Confederates were on the turnpike road from York to Columbia (twelve miles), and were four miles from Wrightsville, at the west end of the Columbia Bridge; but as there had been many flying reports no attention was paid to this one, until the citizens of both towns were startled by the firing of musketry and artillery.
The force of the Confederates was about 2000, including horse, foot, and artillery—ours about 1400, composed of infantry and cavalry, without artillery. The rebels showed themselves well acquainted with the country, and instead of attacking our rifle-pits on the front or west, they appeared from the wooded hills on the north and south.
Our men stood their ground well until the six or eight pieces of artillery opened with shot and shell, when they broke and ran for the bridge, which they entered as the infantry of the enemy were endeavoring to intercept them.  It was at this point that we lost a number of prisoners; stated by some to be as high as two hundred—but as stragglers have been coming in pretty freely this number is probably exaggerated. When the rush was made to enter the bridge, the gates are said to have been closed to prevent the enemy from following the fugitives to Columbia.
The rebels had stationed guards upon the by-roads, with which they were well acquainted, and it was asserted that an officer who accosted a farmer was recognized by the latter as a person who had passed a night with him some time previously. It is also stated that one of the principal officers of the invading force was the engineer who located the railroad between York and Harrisburg, and who may therefore be presumed to be acquainted with the fordings.
The bridge had been prepared for partial destruction by cutting away most of the supports, removing some of the outside boarding, and sawing through the roof, so as to allow a span or two to drop into the river; while toward the western end a pier was charged with gunpowder with the expectation that it would be blown up and the dependent spans thus dropped. But when the period of destruction arrived, three reports were heard in quick succession, followed by a cloud of smoke, which led us to believe that some of the cannon guarding the entrance at Columbia had been taken to this part of the bridge and fired at the entering rebels. But the pier withstood the explosions, and in a panic the bridge was rashly fired, although defended with some half a dozen cannon at the eastern end.
The artillery firing of the enemy commenced about seven o'clock in the evening, lasting about twenty minutes; by eight o'clock the flames were visible, and spread in both directions, probably at the rate of five minutes to a span, although the arches and frame-work stood burning after the roof and weather-boarding had disappeared.
This bridge was about a mile and a quarter long, built upon good stone-piers, the spans being about 175 or 200 feet in length. Besides two roadways and railways, it had upon the south or down-stream side a double towing-way for the Susquehanna and Tide-water Canal….
The fire did not extend to the towns, except that some lumber at Wrightsville was destroyed; but the fire was prevented from spreading by the Confederates themselves. They might have destroyed a large amount of lumber and a saw-mill to prevent the rebuilding of several bridges they burned the next day, as well as half a dozen iron furnaces between Columbia and Marietta, where the Susquehanna is within half a mile in width. The proprietors expected a bombardment, as our soldiers have destroyed all the Southern iron-works in their reach as contraband of war.


Credit: Harper’s Weekly (July 18, 1863), 459.
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