150 years ago this evening, the Confederates made their furthest advance into northern territory at a little town on the Susquehanna river called Wrightsville, PA.
One of Lee’s loose objectives was to threaten a major northern city, and Harrisburg was the closest one along his route out of Virginia. Being the capitol of Pennsylvania though, it was pretty well-defended. General Early, in command of the eastern-most vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia, came up with another plan: he’d send the brigade of Brig. General John Gordon downriver to find another bridge to cross, and then take Harrisburg from the rear. Wrightsville (about 30 miles away) had such a bridge – the longest covered bridge in the world, in fact.
The militia stationed at Wrightsville had spent the last 2 days trying to construct defenses, but their commander, Colonel Jacob Frick, knew they couldn’t hold out against the brigade of veteran Confederate troops that showed up at about 5pm that night. After fighting for about an hour, he ordered his men to pull back, cross the bridge, and burn it so the Confederates couldn’t follow.
When an effort to put out the flames failed, the Confederates left town and regrouped to set up for a more direct attack against Harrisburg. They wouldn’t get to make that attempt though, because a new set of orders arrived from General Lee. The Army of Northern Virginia had to come together to meet the threat of the rapidly-advancing Union army.
More on that in the next post.