The Battle of Sporting Hill

Robert E. Lee did not intend to fight a battle in Gettysburg when he invaded Pennsylvania as his original target was the City of Harrisburg. As Lee maneuvered his armies through Virginia, Maryland, and ultimately into Pennsylvania, the Union Army was not sitting back waiting for an invasion north of the Potomac. Initially there was confusion on the part of the Union Army in at least some quarters it was felt the invasion was being directed towards Pittsburgh. In response to the fears of invasion, the Union Army created two now military departments - the Department of the Monongahela and the Department of the Susquehanna. In early June, 1863, Major General Darious N. Couch assumed command of the newly formed department and established his headquarters in Harrisburg arriving by train on June 11. General Couch is portrayed in this picture credited to either Mathew Brady or Levin C. Handy taken c. 1861.

Major General Darious Couch

Lee organized his army into three corps and assigned leadership of one of the corps to General R.S. Ewell who would ultimately be leading the Confederate forces who invaded the Harrisburg area. On June 11th, in preparation for the Battle of Winchester, General Albert G. Jenkins, with his 1600-man cavalry brigade reported to General Ewell who would ultimately lead the effort to take the City of Harrisburg.

General Albert Jenkins

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Library of Congress and Explore PAhistory.com

On Saturday, June 27, 1863 in anticipation of the rebels probe of the Harrisburg area General Couch directed General Smith to deploy the 56th New York on to Simpson Ferry Road towards Shiremanstown and another regiment, the 23rd New York through Camp Hill on the Carlisle Pike to Oyster Point.

Construction of fortifications around Harrisburg

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On that same day, General Jenkins who had been moving north since the Battle of Winchester had moved through Carlisle and was preparing to enter Mechanicsburg. Union troops shut down the telegraph station in Mechanicsburg and quickly returned to their lines at Oyster Point. On Sunday morning, the 28th, General Jenkins arrived in Mechanicsburg. He bivouacked at the site of the old IBM Distribution Center on Simpson Ferry Road and established his headquarters at the Rupp house located on Trindle Road just east of Mechanicsburg. 3

One of Jenkins' regimental commanders camped at the site of the springs at the end of Orr's Bridge along with several other officers and soldiers. General Jenkins visited this site which was his northern line and turned south along St. John's Church road to visit troops stationed at the Peace Church. Units on both sides exchanged artillery fire throughout the day culminating in Jenkins withdrew his lines and moved west to bivouac. While this was going on the evening of
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The Yankee Gazette July 1, 1863 (National Park Service archives, 97 Taneytown Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325 3 Picture from the Camp Curtin Historical society and Explore PAhistory.com

the 28th General Lee sent orders to his three corps: Ewell was to take Harrisburg, Longstreet was to march from Chambersburg in support; and Hill was to move in Early's footsteps, cross the Susquehanna downstream from Harrisburg and capture the railroad between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. 4 On the next day, however, General Lee heard reports that the Army of the Potomac was marching into Maryland and Lee sent orders to General Ewell on the afternoon of the 29th to withdraw his forces and move back towards Chambersburg. Unfortunately for General Jenkins, General Ewell did not communicate this to him and Jenkins was unaware of the change in plans until the 30th. In any event he most likely had already withdraw to Silver Springs Creek leaving Ferguson's men as his rear guard posted at Sporting Hill. General Couch ordered General Ewen to march west on the morning of the 30th to find and engage the Confederates. My mid-afternoon Ewen and his troops had reached the eastern crest of Sporting Hill. McCormack's barn was located about 400 yards right of the head of his column. Immediately puffs of smoke were seen and shots were being fired from Confederates located within the barn. Note: The wooden part of the McCormack barn was reportedly destroyed by a tornado c. 1976, however the limestone foundation remains and has been preserved by the developer of the nearby Brambles apartment complex. Part of the actual battlefield was lost to development and the construction of PA Route 581.

Confederate field pieces located in Gleim's woods begin firing on Ewen's men. That evening Union artillery pieces arrived and began shooting at McCormack's barn at which time the Union forces could see Confederate soldiers begin fleeing the barn. As evening fell, Ewen withdraw his forces. The Confederates were ready to attack by the morning of June 30, when word arrived from Robert Lee recalling all units to assemble near Cashtown. On July 2, Jenkins was wounded in the battle of Gettysburg. He died on May 24, 1864, while fighting near Dublin, West Virginia. 5

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Here Comes the Rebels, Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, page 343, copyright 1965 Library of Congress and ExplorePAhistory.com

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The skirmish at Sporting Hill rates as the most northerly engagement of the Civil War. 7 It is estimated that sixteen confederates were killed and another eleven Union and 2030 Confederates were wounded in the action. 8 General Ewell would regroup and march on Gettysburg to meet up with General Lee and the other two Confederate Corps where they would engage Union forces on that fateful day of July 1, 1863. While not on the scale of other battlefields, the area known as Sporting Hill is certainly hallowed ground due to the sacrifices made by veterans from the two armies.

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Here Comes the Rebels, Wilbur Sturtevant Nye copyright 1965 Map 13 The Harrisburg Area Ibid, page 356 8 ExplorePAhistory.com

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