Hershner
Hershner (Bill Kalina photo)

For 135 years, 23 handwritten letters passed from generation to generation of John Harvey Anderson's family.

The Civil War soldier must have cherished them, having kept the letters until his death in 1924. Anderson's daughter and granddaughter stored them safely in the decades that followed.

Then, in 2001, local attorney Ron Hershner visited his aunt, Burneta Hershner, shortly before her death.

"She said she would give me the letters if I wrote a book about them," he said.

A history buff, Hershner had studied the letters before, even writing a college paper about them.

His aunt, Hershner said, knew the importance of learning from history.

"Letters can go into an archive box, or they can be explained," he said.

Ron Hershner used old family letters as the basis for his book Letters From Home. The letters were written to Civil War soldier John Harvey Anderson from
Ron Hershner used old family letters as the basis for his book Letters From Home. The letters were written to Civil War soldier John Harvey Anderson from residents of York County. (Bill Kalina photo)

With an event Wednesday, Hershner will officially release "Letters from Home: York County, PA in the Civil War."

He'll talk about the new book at 7 p.m. at the York County Heritage

Trust Historical Society Museum, 250 E. Market St. The event is free and open to the public.

Rare glimpse: Hershner's book is the fulfillment of the promise to his aunt and the story of a family coping with the realities of war. Through their letters, Anderson's family members provide a rare glimpse into the social, political and economic fabric of York County between 1863 and 1865.

Anderson grew up on a farm in Hopewell Township. In the summer of 1863, as Confederates marched toward York, the 19-year-old man responded to Gov. Andrew Curtin's call for men to enlist in the Pennsylvania militia to defend the state.

Ninety days later, after Union troops prevailed at Gettysburg and the Rebels retreated to the south, Anderson returned to the family farm, Hershner said. The following summer, Anderson enlisted in the 194th Pennsylvania Infantry.

In September of 1864, Anderson transferred to the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He eventually sailed south to South Carolina, where he joined Maj. Gen. William Sherman's army.

Anderson participated in some of the Civil War's final battles, including those in Averasboro and Bentonville, N.C.

When Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered on April 26, 1865, "Harvey was among the cavalry chosen as an escort for Sherman to that surrender," Hershner said.

Letters: Hershner's book is based on 23 letters written to Anderson throughout his years of military service.

They reveal the political divisions among neighbors in southern York County during the Civil War. For example, Anderson's relatives mention their disdain for the Copperheads, a name for anti-Lincoln Southern sympathizers.

The letters also talk about hot-button issues like the draft. Anderson's family members criticize people who felt the draft was unconstitutional, calling them "traitors," Hershner said.

Hershner said he found the letters written by Anderson's female relatives particularly interesting. Even though they couldn't vote, many of the women were very aware of the politics of the time.

A cousin, Becca, wrote to Anderson about her conflicted feelings over whether to get married or continue teaching.

"A married woman wasn't allowed to hold a job. Here she is forced to choose between a family and relationship and a job she loved," Hershner said. "I'd love to know, did she ever get married? Did she teach the rest of her life?"

-- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.