Corporal William H. Rihl High resolution panorama of monument
June 22, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the killing of Corporal William H. Rihl, the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Corp. Rihl was born in Philadelphia in 1843. On July 19, 1861, at the age of 18, he enlisted for three years in the cavalry company organized in Philadelphia by Capt. William H. Boyd. Boyd’s company became Co. C in the 1st New York (Lincoln) Cavalry Regiment, the only company in the 1st New York that was from Pennsylvania. The 1st New York (Lincoln) was the first authorized regiment to be raised for the Civil War. Co. C was, also, the first Company in the regiment to be given a duty assignment – to protect President Abraham Lincoln and Washington City.
By June 1863, it was evident Pennsylvania was going to be invaded by Rebel forces. Union Gen. Darius Couch, in Harrisburg, Commander of the Department of the Susquehanna, ordered troops to go south toward the Mason-Dixon Line to stem the advance of Confederate troops. Among those troops headed south was Boyd’s Co. C, with the young Corp. Rihl.
On June 22, a very hot day, Confederate Gen. Albert Jenkins and his men were in the Greencastle area. He ordered Co. I, 14th VA Cavalry, to cautiously make their way north toward Chambersburg, on what is now Route 11. If they saw any Union troops, they were to retreat in haste, as if in panic, thereby luring the Federals into an ambush of waiting Confederates. Gen. Jenkins’ men were lying in wait in the wheat field of Archibald Fleming, just south, around the bend from his home, along the Chambersburg Pike.
Capt. Boyd used the Fleming farmhouse as a sheltered, gathering point for his company. A few men in Boyd’s company, for reasons only known to them, rode, without being ordered, from the back of the house to the front. Their actions drew the fire of the Confederate snipers hidden in the wheat field. Two men fell from their horses, and as the firing continued Boyd’s men retreated back toward Chambersburg.
Greencastle-Antrim GAR members are shown as they
gathered at the monument, which is located at the Fleming
farm along Route 11, aka the Molly Pitcher Highway.
The Fleming family and descendants have owned this
property for five generations. The photograph is courtesy
of the Helen Welch Family.
Sgt. Milton Cafferty, wounded in the leg, had the bullet removed by Dr. George D. Carl. He was nursed back to health in the Illgenfritz home in Greencastle and eventually returned to his regiment. Corp. William H. Rihl died instantly of a gunshot wound to the head and became the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason-Dixon Line, on June 22, 1863. The Confederates buried Rihl on the spot where he fell. A few days later, Rihl’s body was exhumed by a group of townspeople, who placed it in a coffin. His body was reburied in the Lutheran Church cemetery on North Washington Street. Twenty-three years later, on June 22, 1886, Rihl’s body was re-interred at the site of his death. By June 22, 1887, the members of the GAR Corporal Rihl Post No. 438, along with a $500 appropriation from the State Legislature, had raised enough money to have a granite monument erected and dedicated on the site of Corp. Rihl’s death.
The Victorian style obelisk monument still stands on the Fleming farm, along the west side of Route 11 north, immediately outside the borough limits. The road surface has been widened considerably over the decades requiring that the east section of the cast iron fence be removed. It was replaced with a concrete, retaining wall with access steps on the left. A Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission sign also marks the historical site. Because of the danger to those who stop on the curve in the road, the state, through the Department of Tourism, installed a story stop in the northwest corner of the square, as part of the state’s Civil War Trails of History project. It tells the story of the Corp. Rihl incident.
The following is taken from the minute book of the Corp. Rihl GAR Post 438. On March 29, 1885, “The following committee was appointed to solicit funds for the Corporal Rhial Monument fund viz Commander J. R. Davison, Comrades B. F. Winger, William Snyder, Jasper Sheely, M. W. Kissecker, Dr. F. A. Bushey and C. H. Fulweiler.” At the regular meeting of the Corp. Rihl GAR post on April 16, 1886, “Com(rade) Snyder made a motion that the remains of Corp Rhial be taken up and reinterred on the grounds selected for the purpose, on the 22nd day of June, was carried.” “A motion was made and carried that the Corp Rhial Mon(ument) Com(mittee) be commissioned to make all the necessary arrangements for the interment.” At the regular June 4, 1886 meeting of the post, “A Program of the exercises on the 22nd of June was read by Com. Eby. A draft for $20.60 was issued to Com. Snyder to pay for the Post flag purchased by Comd Davison.” On June 18, 1886, “Comrades Breinizer, Davis, Palmer, Poper, Jacob, Morehead, Wentling, Sylvester, Hellane, Kuntz, and Patton were named as guards of honor to escort the remains of Corp. Rhial to his final resting place on the 22nd. The following comrades were appointed to act as pall bearers at the reinterment – Comrades Shirey, Eby, Snively, Showalter, Speck, Stickel, and Ruthrauff.”
You may have noticed the incorrect spelling of Rihl’s last name throughout the preceding minutes of the post. As Rihl was from Philadelphia, the surname was not a familiar one in Franklin County. For more than two decades it was spelled phonetically as Rhial, even on the post banner. At the May 6, 1887 regular meeting, “Com(rade) Snyder made a report on the condition of the Corp. Rihl Monument fund. Com. Bushey named a number of prominent speakers who would be present on the 22nd of June. Com. Snyder reported that Spielman Park had been procured for the exercises on the 22nd of June. Com.s Snively, Snyder and Carpenter was appointed a committee to remodal the spelling of the name Rihl on our Post Banner.” Hereafter Corp. Rihl’s surname was spelled correctly in the minute book. One of two original banners, with the misspelling, is in the Civil War collection of Allison-Antrim Museum. On June 17, 1887, “The Adj. appointed the following comrades to act as a Guard of Honor at the unveiling of the Corp. Rihl monument on the 22nd. Com. Patton, Guards of Honor Unger, Davis Poper; Guards Kuntz, Singer.”
Four sides of Monument
The badge committee for Old Home Week chose the Corp. Rihl monument to appear on the badge for the 2013 OHW, in honor of the 150th anniversary of his death.
Charles Hartman's Diary
That part of this army which passed through Chambersburg was carefully estimated by competent persons both at Greencastle and Chambersburg, July 8th 1863, while the matter was fresh in the minds of the people, and taking its figures from the several estimates made by citizens as the army marched through here, states the number at forty-seven thousand confederate army which passed through Chambersburg, was as follows. Ewell's corps, fifteen thousand men, infantry, artillery and cavalry with sixty pieces of artillery and over one thousand wagons, A.F. Hill's corps the same. Longstreet's corps twenty thousand men, eighty pieces of artillery and over one thousand wagons, the entire army did not number over forty eight or fifty thousand men, infantry, cavalry and artillery. This is an estimate made by a competent person from his own actual observation, the result being he noted at the time. Now taking fifty thousand, the numbers generally fixed upon by all who estimated them that passed through Chambersburg, and add to them Early's division which passed by way of Waynesboro, Quincy Funkstown, and Greencastle. Stuart's cavalry which passed around east of the Federal army, and we [have] here already seventy to seventy-five thousand men. It may safely be said that the entire strength of the invading army did not exceed that number. When within a half a mile of Greencastle, Jenkins' cavalry with the advance of Rhodes' infantry were met, and seeing the scouting party retreating, pursued by Captain Boyd and his troopers, and not knowing the number of Federals who might be near at hand, and upon their line of battle, was hastily formed. Fences were torn down to the right and left of the road. Rhodes' infantry were met, and seeing the scouting party were retreating unaware of the number of Federals who might be near at hand, a line of battle was hastily formed. Rhodes' infantry took position on the high ground of Mr. John Kissecker's farm. Jenkins threw his cavalry forward, and formed a skirmish line upon the land of Mr. William Fleming, about a quarter of a mile in advance of the infantry. Jenkins established his headquarters in Mr. Fleming's house. As soon as the Union cavalry came within range of their guns, fire was opened upon them for a time. The noise and clatter were quite lively. A sister of Mr. Blair Fleming going to the window to look out, barely escaped a ball which came crashing in through the glass close by her head. As soon as the dash and curiosity of these bold riders were satisfied, they withdrew out of range and were then pursued by part of Jenkins’ force. All persons who saw and witnessed this brave engagement, say of all the bold and fearless soldiers they ever saw, these New York cavalry exceeded any in these qualities. Had they gone but a short distance further, they would have come into a cress fire which would have swept them nearly all away. Their foresight, however, was equal to their courage. They knew when to stop. The result of this fight was one man killed and one wounded upon the federal side.
The killed was Corporal Rihl. He was shot through the upper lip, the ball passing through his head, his blood bespattering the paling fence in front of Mr. Fleming's dwelling. Corporal Rihl was buried by the Confederates in a shallow grave. The citizens of Greencastle, a few days afterwards disinterred his body and placing it in a coffin, reburied it in the Lutheran graveyard of this place. Sergeant Coffey was taken in charge and cared for by the Greencastle people. Attended by one of our physicians, he recovered. Rihl post of the Grand Army of the Republic of Greencastle was named after this brave soldier who fell in that engagement. This fight was the first to occur upon Pennsylvania soil during the rebellion, and corporal Rihl Was the first man to lose his life. It happened in front of Archibald Fleming's home.
From the time Jenkins' cavalry men fell back to Greencastle, Wednesday 17, until Monday morning the 22nd the whole southern portion of Franklin County was plundered by these men. What they got was sent to Rhodes' division at Williamsport. It would be difficult to estimate the value of property taken by this raid, it coming in the season of the year when the farming interests required the use of the horses, followed a few days afterwards by Lee's vast army. Many croppers who had little else than their stock, were bankrupt. Monday morning the 22nd, Jenkins' command had all rejoined the main body between Greencastle and Hagerstown on that day were joined by Rhodes' division of infantry, when the real invasion of the state was begun at once.
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