Historic America

Wrightsville Battlefield in York County, Pennsylvania

This small but consequential skirmish may have saved Harrisburg from capture by Lee’s Confederates during the Civil War.

The Skirmish at Wrightsville was fought on June 28, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Granville O. Haller and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon in Wrightsville, York County, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. It was tactically a Confederate victory, however, the hastily assembled force of Pennsylvania militia successfully burned the bridge over the Susquehanna River, preventing the Confederates from surrounding Harrisburg.

In June 1863, after a dramatic victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee made the fateful decision to move north with his Army of Northern Virginia and invade Pennsylvania. The Union Army of the Potomac was slow to respond, and Confederate forces met little resistance as they fanned out across southern Pennsylvania raiding towns, sending escaped slaves south, and paying for supplies in worthless Confederate currency. Advanced units of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps neared the Susquehanna River by June 28th.

After capturing York, Pennsylvania, Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon moved northeast to seize the Susquehanna River bridge in Wrightsville, a borough of 1,360. Standing between his 2,113 Confederates and the bridge were approximately 1,461 untrained Pennsylvania militia, organized into the 27th, 20th, and 26th regiments, including 53 free blacks who volunteered to fight.

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