Friday, September 6, 2013

A small ditch on a side street...

...that doesn't look like much, but during the battle of Hanover it provided a safe route of escape for the fleeing JEB Stuart.

Let's set the stage. In June of 1863, there were few if any houses in this neighborhood. The ditch by many accounts was deeper and considerably wider, as wide as 15 feet. Though smaller now, it is still foreboding. I wouldn't try to jump it on horseback unless my life depended on it. For JEB, however, that was exactly the case!

Slightly southwest of Hanover, in an area now known as Pennville, riders from the 2nd NC Cavalry hit the vanguard of the 18th PA Cavalry. In the chaos, the 18th PA was basically split in half. As the surviving Yankee cavalrymen skedaddled through the streets of Hanover, Confederate horse artillery opened on them, adding to the confusion and chaos.

As Confederates began to occupy the town, cavalry troopers under command of the newly-promoted Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth hit the Tarheels. Elements of the 5th New York cavalry put a twist on the Confederates, hit them in their flank and broke the Confederate hold on the town. As the 2nd NC retreated, their commander, Col. Wm Payne, was thrown from his horse and into a tanning vat in the Winebrenner Tannery. Payne was captured, but accounts vary as to who actually captured him.

More Confederates arrived to join the fight, including JEB Stuart himself. They were met by more Union cavalry in the vicinity of the Karle Forney farm. In the confusion, Stuart was nearly surrounded. He and a staff officer fled through the hedges along a farm lane, and were forced to jump this very ditch to get to safety. They were not pursued by Federal cavalry.

It makes interesting food for thought to imagine how much different Gettysburg and the rest of the war would have been had Stuart been unsuccessful in jumping the ditch and been killed, wounded, or captured.

Check out the ditch next time you're in Hanover if you haven't seen it. It's on Westminster Ave., off of Frederick St. and just a short distance from the Hanover square. The Forney Farm site, the Winebrenner Tannery, and several other interpretative markers are only a short distance from it.

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