Categories
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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Mysterious America

Abandoned America: Prisons and Asylums

Visiting a former prison or asylum is an eerie experience, knowing you are free to explore where hundreds were once trapped. Has so much suffering and loneliness left something intangible behind?

Most people avoid ending up in a prison or asylum, opting instead to experience it vicariously through television, movies, or books. When these institutions close, there’s not much that can be done with them. Some local communities, however, have figured out how they can profit from public curiosity by offering tours and events. It’s a unique experience, and thousands flock to see the empty corridors. Here are just a few of the former prisons and asylums I’ve visited over the years. Not all are open to the public, but most are.

Joliet Correctional Center

The former Joliet Correctional Center at 1125 Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois opened in 1858 and was originally called the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet. It was built using distinctive, locally quarried yellow limestone. It closed in 2002, but not before being used as a backdrop in several films, most notably The Blues Brothers (1980). It sat abandoned for many years, until being purchased by the city in 2017 and opened for tours. Ursula Bielski recently wrote a book about the institution called The Haunting of Joliet Prison.

Categories
Historic America

Hanover Battlefield in York County, Pennsylvania

This small skirmish in a small Pennsylvania town had big consequences on the nearby Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Hanover was fought on June 30, 1863 between Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in the Borough of Hanover, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. This inconclusive skirmish, part of the Gettysburg Campaign, resulted in approximately 332 total casualties. It delayed Stuart from reuniting with General Robert E. Lee’s army at Gettysburg, denying him critical intelligence during the early stages of that battle.

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. Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, however, became trapped east of the Union army, and Stuart’s exhausted troopers fought several skirmishes to cut their way back to Lee’s army.

Categories
Historic America

Monterey Pass Battlefield in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

Visit the scene of the Union army’s most crippling blow against Robert E. Lee’s defeated Confederates following the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Monterey Pass was fought from July 4 to 5, 1863 between Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Brig. Gens. Beverly H. Robertson and William E. “Grumble” Jones in Franklin County, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. The battle, which immediately followed the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from Gettysburg, was a Union victory and resulted in approximately 1,394 total casualties, mostly captured Confederates.

After three bloody days of fighting around Gettysburg, both sides spent a rainy Independence Day licking their wounds. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sent wagons filled with supplies and thousands of wounded soldiers southwest in preparation for retreat. That morning, wagons from Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps joined the miles-long supply train being funneled through Monterey Pass in South Mountain.

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Photography

Crowning Angel

Monument to Marcellus Edward McDowell (1837-1891), Jane Berlin McDowell Vansant (1844-1916), William J. McLaughlin (1853-1936), and Martha Banks McDowell McLaughlin (1872-1958) in Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Marcellus was a partner in Blackwell’s Durham Tobacco Company, a successor to the company that produced the famous Bull Durham Tobacco. Their advertising campaign saw Bull Durham painted on the sides of brick buildings all over the United States, many of which can still be seen today.

Marcellus Edward McDowell (1837-1891)
Categories
Historic America Photography

Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia

Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the second oldest rural cemetery in the nation. It was established in 1836 on 74 acres of land overlooking the Schuylkill River. Its lovely neoclassical gatehouse was designed in a Roman Doric style by architect John Notman (1810-1865). Laurel Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer (1726-1777)

Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) was a Scottish-American physician who settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was a personal friend of George Washington. He fought in the French and Indian War and in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, where he was killed at the Battle of Princeton.

Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade (1815-1872)

Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade (1815-1872), nicknamed the “Old Snapping Turtle,” is most famous for commanding the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg. He commanded the V Corps during the Battle of Fredericksburg and replaced Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker as commander of the army. His star faded after Gettysburg, however, as General Ulysses S. Grant personally directed operations in the Eastern Theater. He made Philadelphia his home and died of pneumonia brought on by his old war wounds.

Categories
Photography

Released from Worldly Burden

This memorial to William Warner, Jr. (1818-1889), sculpted by Alexander Milne Calder, in Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, depicts his soul ascending from his coffin. William Warner, Jr. was the son of William and Anna Catharine Warner, who founded a Pennsylvania coal business called Warner and Company. The impressive Warner Family plot contains several statues and sculptures.

William Warner, Jr. (1818-1889)

This sculpture has been misidentified on several websites and books as belonging to William’s father.