Believing that a battle would take place at or near York, I determined — as there was no other means of getting there — to push forward on foot. I started from Parkton at nine o'clock on Sunday morning, and reached York at four o'clock in the afternoon, and found, to my, surprise and regret, that the city was already in the possession of the rebel troops. The force occupying York was General Early's division, of Ewell's corps, consisting of five brigades of infantry, three batteries of artillery, and part of two regiments of cavalry — in all about nine thousand men, and eighteen pieces of artillery. Gordon's brigade, accompanied by a battery of artillery, and part of a regiment of cavalry, passed through the city, and pushed on in the direction of Wrightsville. Post's brigade, composed chiefly of North-Carolina men, was quartered near the barracks, and did guard duty near the city. Two batteries of artillery were parked in a field called the 'Fair Grounds.' The other three brigades were camped outside the city, and commanding the various roads leading to it.
On entering the town, General Early made a levy upon the citizens, promising in the event of its being complied with promptly, to spare all private property in the city; otherwise he would allow his men to take such things as they needed, and would not be responsible for the conduct of his men while they remained in the city. The beef, flour, and other articles, and twenty-eight thousand dollars in money were speedily collected, and handed over to the rebels. The General expressed himself satisfied with what he had received, and scrupulously kept his word in regard to the safety of private property. Nothing belonging to any citizen was touched; no one was molested in the streets; all was as quiet and orderly as if there were no soldiers there.
On Monday the rebels were busy in carting off the levied articles. About four p.m., Gordon's brigade returned from Wrightsville, bringing wiIh them some horses and cattle which they had picked up on the way. They had about eight supply and ammunition wagons, and twelve ambulances with them. Many of the latter were marked U. S. The ambulances were all filled with men. who had apparently given out on the way. Physically, the men looked about equal to the generality of our own troops, and there were fewer boys among them. Their dress was a wretched mixture of all cuts and colors. There was not the slightest attempt at uniformity in this respect. Every man seemed to have put on whatever he could get hold of, without regard to shape or color. I noticed a pretty large sprinkling of blue pants among them, some of those, doubtless, that were left by Milroy at Winchester. Their shoes, as a general thing, were poor; some of tho men were entirely barefooted. Their equipments were light as compared with those of our men. They consisted of a thin woollen blanket, coiled up and slung from the shoulder in the form of a sash, a haversack slung from the opposite shoulder, and a cartridge-box. The whole cannot weigh more than twelve or fourteen pounds. Is it strange, then, that with such light loads they should be able to make longer and more rapid marches than our men? The marching of the men was irregular and careless; their arms were rusty and ill-kept. Their whole appearance was greatly inferior to that of our soldiers.
During Monday I visited the 'Fair Grounds,' as also the camp of a Louisiana brigade, situated about a mile from the city. The supply wagons were drawn up in a sort of straggling hollow square, in the centre of which the men stacked their arms in company lines, and in this way formed their camp. There were no tents for the men, and but very few for the officers. The men were busy cooking their dinner, which consisted of fresh beef, (part of the York levy,) wheat griddle-cakes raised with soda, and cold water. No coffee or sugar had been issued to the men for a long time. The meat was mostly prepared by frying, and was generally very plentifully salted. The cooking is generally done in squads, or messes of five or six, and on the march the labor of carrying the cooking utensils is equally divided among them. The men expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with this kind of food, and said they greatly preferred the bread prepared in the way they do it, to the crackers issued to the Union soldiers. I question if their bread is as healthy and nourishing as the army biscuit. I asked one of the men how he got along without a shelter-tent. His answer was: 'First rate.'
'In the first place,' said he, 'I wouldn't tote one, and in the second place, I feel just as well, if not better, without it. 'But how do you manage when it rains?' I inquired. 'Wall,' said he, 'me and this other man has a gum-blanket atween us; when it rains we spread one of our woollen blankets on the ground to lie on, then we spread the other woollen blanket over us, and the gum blanket over that, and the rain can't tech us.' And this is the way the rebel array (with the exception of a few of the most important officers) sleeps.
Every thing that will trammel or impede the movement of the army is discarded, no matter what the consequences may be to the men. In conversation with one of the officers, I mentioned about the want of tents in his army, and asked whether any bad effects were apparent from it. He said he thought not. On the contrary, he considered the army in better condition now than ever before. Granting the truth of what the officer said about the condition of the rebel army, I very much doubt the correctness of his conclusions. The present good condition of the rebel army is more likely to be due to the following circumstances: First, the army has been lying still all winter, under good shelter; has been tolerably well fed and clothed, and in this way has had a chance to recuperate after the fatiguing campaigns of last summer. Second, most of the weakly men, who could not stand a day's march without being sent to the rear, have been either discharged or have died, thus leaving a smaller portion of those remaining liable to disease. Third, since that portion of the rebel army (Ewell's corps) moved from behind Fredricksburgh, on the fourth of June last, it has been favored with remarkably fine weather; has been stimulated with almost uninterrupted success in its movements; has been marching through a rich and fertile country, and, by levying on the inhabitants of which, the soldiers have been able to procure an abundance of good wholesome food, better, perhaps, than they had for many months. These, and not the want of tents, are probably the causes which give to the rebel army its present healthy tone. Under ordinary circumstances, I have no doubt the want of shelter would prove rather a detriment to the army than otherwise.
In further conversation with the Louisiana officer, I ascertained that this was the corps which moved down through the Shenandoah Valley, surprised Milroy at Winchester, and was the first to cross the Potomac at Shepherdstown into Maryland. He informed me that his own and the North-Carolina brigade were armed entirely with Enfield rifles taken at Winchester after Milroy's retreat. In speaking of our soldiers, the same officer remarked: 'They are too well fed, too well clothed, and have far too much to carry.' That our men are too well fed I do not believe, neither that they are too well clothed; that they have too much to carry I can very well believe, after witnessing the march of the army of the Potomac to Chancellorsville. Each man had eight days' rations to carry, besides sixty rounds of ammunition, musket, woollen blanket, rubber blanket, overcoat, extra shirt, drawers, socks, and sheltertent, amounting in all to about sixty pounds. Think of men, (and boys too,) staggering along under such a load, at the rate of fifteen to twenty miles a day.
About nine o'clock Monday night, the guards were withdrawn from the hotels and liquor-shops,and the whole of the North-Carolina brigade shortly after left the city in the same direction as Gordon's brigade. On Tuesday morning, about four o'clock the last remaining brigade passed through the city with flags flying and band playing, and took the road to Carlisle. The other two brigades it was supposed had gone off in the direction of Gettysburgh.
The city was now clear of rebels, except some stragglers who purposely staid behind, or were too drunk to go with their commands.
While General Early scrupulously kept his agreement with the citizens of York, as to the protection of private property in the city, he did not prevent his troopers from visiting the farms outside the city and taking such horses and mules as they required. The rebel cavalry, as a general thing, are splendidly mounted, better, I think, than the Union cavalry, and their free and easy manner of procuring fresh horses explains it.