Various elements of Albert Jenkins’ mounted infantry brigade passed through or stayed in York County, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 29, and 30, 1863. The most prominent of these was the 17th Virginia Cavalry under Col. William French, an officer suffering much during the Gettysburg Campaign from extreme fatigue and exhaustion, to the point where Jubal Early for several days rode with the regiment to personally command it. The 17th was on detached duty from the brigade, but other patrols and squadrons from Jenkins’ main force roamed northwestern York County while the main body was in the Cumberland Valley.
On June 30, a black servant of one of the officers somehow became separated and was walking down a road in Warrington Township (extreme NW York County). He had been spotted riding a stolen horse earlier and was thought to have been instrumental in helping soldiers locate hidden horses in the region. A gang of local farmers came upon him and, angry over his role in the thievery, gunned him down in cold blood in the roadway. They dragged his body to the side of the road and covered it with brush.
Years later, the five farmers, as well as a prominent Wellsville citizen who may have provoked the incident, were finally arrested and tried. However, they were found not guilty of the murder and freed.
An interesting sidelight is that this story underscores the other anecdotes of blacks accompanying Lee’s army in its northern invasion – without much fear, it appears, that they would desert. In fact, while my study of this subject is admittedly limited, I am not aware of a report of a single desertion. It reminds me of the report from Arthur Fremantle of Longstreet discovering an armed servant guarding Union prisoners in Pennsylvania. Yet on recent broadcasts I have heard two scholars demean the presence of blacks as adjuncts to southern armies by flatly stating that they were only there because they were forced. Obviously, something is wrong with our modern interpretation of the relationship of these folks to their white counterparts
There were hundreds of deserters here in York County (Early’s division, French’s cavalry, Stuart’s cavalry, etc.). I have never heard of any being black, with the possible exception of this man who was murdered. No one knows if he deserted, got lost, or, most likely, became separated from the main force while on a horse hunting expedition and was left behind when Jenkins’ troopers pulled back into Cumberland County.