There are a number of compelling stories here in York County regarding the various Confederate units that passed through here during the Gettysburg Campaign. Jubal Early‘s Division, with the 17th Virginia Cavalry and the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry spent several days here in June (elements were here from June 27-30). A part of Albert Jenkins‘ cavalry brigade camped June 28 at Dillsburg in NW York County. On June 30 and July 1, J.E.B. Stuart‘s cavalry division passed through western York County trying to find Early and/or Ewell.
Well over 1,000 horses were stolen from York County farmers during the week of Confederate incursions / occupancy. There were 686 separate farmers and townspeople who filed claims with the state auditor in a futile attempt to get recompensation after the war. Thousands of other farmers took their horses to Harrisburg or Carlisle across the Susquehanna River to safety or successfully hid the animals in remote woodlots, valleys, and mountains. Residents at times took elaborate steps to safeguard their horses and mules.
One prosperous farmer hid his huge Conestoga draft horse in his elegant parlor next to an expensive rosewood piano. When the Louisiana Tigers came calling, he denied having such a horse. However, the neighing from his parlor betrayed the animal’s presence, and it was led away. The farmer was left with a fistful of worthless CSA currency and a parlor that smelled like a barnyard.
People tightly tied string around their horses’ legs to make them appear lame (it rarely worked, as the Southern farm boys quickly recognized this trick). Other farmers led horses downstairs into old German-style vaulted stone cellars (the odor and noise often gave away the horses’ presence). Some hid horses under haystacks (that worked several times!).
One old lady in Dover, Pa., sacrificed personal hygiene and decorum to save her favorite horse. She led him out to the barnyard and picked up handfuls of soft cow dung, which she plastered all over her horse. When Rebel patrols arrived, they took one look at the manure-coated horse, laughed, and rode on to the next farm.
A group of New York shysters sold membership cards to the Knight of the Golden Circle to unwitting farmers, who paid a buck for the golden tickets and some secret hand signals that were supposed to protect their livestock and personal effects from danger should Confederates approach. Both Generals Stuart and Early commented in their official reports about how amusing and strange it was to see these gestures being flashed at them as they rode along. Some York County old-timers believe these New Yorkers were actually teaching the locals sign language used for the deaf, and legend is that they signed out phrases and words that were not commonly used in polite society.