Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sarah Betts in York County, PA: living through the Civil War

Sarah Betts was born in 1846 in Baltimore, Maryland, where her father, Edward Betts was a piano maker. In 1859, Edward died in New Freedom, York County, Pennsylvania. What happened to Sarah at that time is unclear.

New Freedom is in the southern Shrewsbury Township, just north of the Maryland border. In 1860 the following household was found in Shrewsbury Township.

NAME_____________________AGE BIRTHPLACE
Henry O. Diffenderfer____63 M Penna farmer
Mary B. Diffenderfer_____47 F Delaware
Sarah Betts _____________13 F Maryland attended school
Lilly Betts ______________6 F Maryland
Nathan Shire (Shise?) ___18 M Penna
Hester A. Smith _________13 F Black Maryland
George Lickner __________10 M Maryland attended school

The age and birthplace is consistent with our Sarah Betts. We have no information as to whether our Sarah had a younger sister Lilly. In 1870 this family (Henry and Mary Diffenderfer with Sarah and Lilly Betts) were living in Manheim Borough, Lancaster County. Our Sarah married Richard Lewis in Mannheim in 1872, so that is again consistent with our ancestor.

York County is on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line east of Gettysburg in neighboring Adams County. In June 1863, Confederate troops marched into the city of York, where they met little resistance, and were handed the keys to the city by town fathers.

Many Republican-leaning townspeople at that time and some students of the Civil War today believe that the town’s fathers were too soft. Gen. Jubal Early, in command of the occupying rebel forces, would not have extracted as much from the town if he had met resistance instead of cooperation. The Confederates were under orders not to harm private property. Early was bluffing, and York’s fathers fell for it.

The Confederate cavalry under Jeb Stuart began moving west. On June 30th, the 1500 citizens of Hanover in southwestern York county were overrun by 7500 battling horsemen, when Stuart's troops clashed with the Union Cavalry. This was the first civil war battle to take place in Pennsylvania.

On July 1st Union and Confederate troops converged in Gettysburg, where the battle lasted three days.

How did this effect the residents of York County? It is likely that property and possessions were ransacked by the underequipt troops.
York served as a transportation hub, playing host, often at personal cost, to tens of thousands of soldiers from elsewhere moving to and from battle.

Many county residents did not even take a moment to savor the Yankee victory at Gettysburg. They were too busy gathering food and supplies for the care of the wounded at the battlefield, a short 30 miles away.

York County residents were accustomed to mobilizing in such relief. During the course of the war, volunteers helped nurse more than 14,000 wounded and diseased soldiers back to health at the U.S. military hospital in town.

The experience would have been traumatic for anyone, let alone a teenage girl, as Sarah was in 1863, with her young sister.

Links
Map of Southern York County
Civil War Comes to York County (warning: autmatic audio)
East of Gettysburg (from the York Daily Record)
Lee Marches North
Battle of Hanover
Eyewitness to History: Battle of Gettysburg
Battle fo Gettysburg: the aftermath

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