"When the Lord’s Day began, the old devil Jenkins was camped out near Hickorytown 13 miles west of the Susquehanna River."
That was how the late historian Robert Grant Crist described the situation the morning of Sunday, June 28, 1863.
The day before, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. Albert Jenkins had advanced through Carlisle and toward the West Shore to scout the defenses of Harrisburg for a possible assault.
Standing between Jenkins and his objective was Mechanicsburg, a small community of barely 2,000 souls that would soon have the notoriety of being the Union’s northernmost town to surrender to the Confederate Army.
"A lot of the citizens had left," said Beverly Bone, a member of the Mechanicsburg Museum Association. "Some by train... Some by wagon. They took what they could."
Mechanicsburg that summer only extended from York Street east to Walnut Street and from Simpson Street north to Green Street, Bone said. The Cumberland Valley Railroad ran through the middle of town, which had retained a lot of the wheelwrights and wagon mechanics for which it was named.
Surrender or else
At about 9:30 a.m., Jenkins dispatched two riders into Mechanicsburg under a flag of truce, said Cooper Wingert, 15, of Enola, who has written several books about the Gettysburg campaign in Cumberland County.
These men were directed to the East Main Street home of Mayor George Hummel to discuss terms of the town’s surrender, Bone said.
Wingert said the Confederates had issued an ultimatum giving the town 90 minutes to provide 1,500 rations or face the prospect of Rebel soldiers conducting house-to-house searches for supplies.
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Food rations were gathered in Washington Hall along Main Street near the town square, Wingert said. In a panic, the residents provided more food than requested.
Jenkins arrived in Mechanicsburg at about 10 a.m. and had most of his men camp about a mile east of town, Wingert said. He then ordered local merchants to open their shops so his troops could purchase items.
As they had elsewhere, the Rebels issued receipts for confiscated goods and paid for supplies with Confederate money, Wingert said. A number of Mechanicsburg shopkeepers had already shipped merchandise away from the path of invasion.
Local residents were kind to the Confederates, who were in very good behavior, Bone said. "The citizens fed them."
It is said one housewife on the east end of Main Street cooked up some old-fashioned pancakes for the invaders to enjoy.
On to the river
Later, Jenkins would stop by the Railroad Hotel just north of the town square to have a meal and read several local newspapers, Wingert said. Journalists then were indiscrete about publishing sensitive information, and Jenkins used newspapers as a source of intelligence on the movement and disposition of Union forces.
For his approach to the West Shore, Jenkins split his cavalry unit into two main groups. One contingent of about 800 men riding east on Trindle Road, while a second detachment of 400 horsemen rode north out of Mechanicsburg on the Hogestown Road and then east on the present-day Carlisle Pike.
While in town, the Confederates occupied a grain warehouse in the first block of North Walnut Street, Bone said. "They took the grain for their horses and placed their wounded and sick there."
What served as a makeshift hospital during the 1863 invasion would later become the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library.