The 87th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry not only missed the defining battle of the Civil War, it missed the battle that was in its own backyard.
The regiment, made up of soldiers from York and Adams counties, suffered heavy casualties in Winchester, Va., when it tried to stop Confederate Gen. Richard Ewell's troops from advancing north to Pennsylvania on June 13, 1863. Because of that, the regiment missed the Battle of Gettysburg.
In fact, the regiment's founder and one-time colonel, George Hay, was recovering from an injury in York City when Confederate troops marched down Market Street on June 28, 1863.
"That had to be embarrassing," said Hay's great-great grandson, George Hay Kain III. "You spend the last three years trying to put
down a rebellion and here they are marching through town."
Founding: When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Hay led the York Rifles, a militia, to Maryland to protect Union rail lines to Washington, D.C., from Confederate sympathizers. After three months, Hay returned to York County and recruited troops to form the 87th regiment.
Formed up and trained, the regiment was ordered back to Maryland to protect rail lines before it was sent to western Virginia, now West Virginia, to search out Confederate guerrillas, said James Van Laeys, captain of the 87th Company C re-enactment unit.
Hay was injured when he was thrown from a horse named Secesh -- short for secession -- captured from a Rebel. In May 1863, Hay retired from active duty and returned to York.
Continued fight: But the 87th continued its fight against the Southern states.
In October 1864, the three-year enlistment period expired for most of its soldiers, and many returned home. However, about 200 remaining soldiers fought on, and one, Cpl. Daniel Reigle of Littlestown, was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia, according to the 87th's website.
The regiment was encamped a few miles from Appomattox Court House when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the war.
Though the regiment was mustered out of service in 1865, it remains an active re-enactor unit today with 30 members.
Kain said he's proud to see re-enactors of the 87th educating the public on what his ancestor went through as a solider.
"It's a matter of family pride for me," he said.
-- Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.