Union, rebels clashed at Hanover before Gettysburg

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In the square of Hanover stands a statue of a Union cavalryman; a monument to a Civil War battle that took place in the center of town.

On June 30, 1863, Confederate General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart and his cavalry approached Hanover, but the invasion of Pennsylvania had not been going well for him.

Whether by accident or design, Stuart found himself riding around the Union Army of the Potomac, out of touch with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, and he was desperate to reestablish contact.

From Hanover, he could choose to go east to York, north to Carlisle, or west to Chambersburg; places where he should be able to find parts of the Confederate army.

What Stuart didn't know was that Union Cavalry General Judson Kilpatrick and his men were already in Hanover, and they slammed into each other in the downtown.

“Fighting swirled throughout the streets of Hanover for several minutes, with countercharges and different attacks by different groups,” local historian Scott Mingus said. “In fact, General Stuart himself was almost captured. At one point, he had to leap his horse as well as his aide's horse over a fifteen-foot-wide ditch in order to avoid being captured.”

“It finally devolved into long-range skirmishing and sniper fire, and finally an artillery duel that lasted well into late afternoon, early evening,” Mingus said.

Stuart withdrew in the evening, leaving behind a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded.

“More than 500 men were casualties at the Battle of Hanover, making it still the worst military engagement on record in York County,” Mingus said.

Stuart's way north was blocked, and news reached him that the Union army now blocked the roads west. He opted to move east to reach General Jubal Early's troops in York.

“But the citizens of York County told Stuart that Early's men have left, so Stuart, knowing at that point that the Confederates were supposed to be gathering somewhere – at least in his mind  – between Dillsburg and Carlisle, started heading towards Dillsburg,” Mingus said.

Stuart reached Carlisle on July 1, but it was occupied by Union troops who refused to surrender. He ordered the town shelled and had the Carlisle Barracks set on fire before finally learning of the fighting in Gettysburg.

By the time Stuart reached the battle, it was late in the second day. Many historians say his absence was a big factor in the Confederate defeat.

 

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