Anne Moul’s great-great-grandfather John Q. Denney, shown in the photo she holds, was one of the men who set fire to the bridge connecting
Anne Moul's great-great-grandfather John Q. Denney, shown in the photo she holds, was one of the men who set fire to the bridge connecting Wrightsville and Columbia to stop the Confederates. (Erin James photo)

Old, yellowed newspaper articles and photos of a man born years before the Civil War spilled from the plain manila folder in Anne Moul's hand.

"There are files upstairs of all kinds of things like this," she said. "It's always been part of my life."

But there was one document in particular that Moul searched for Tuesday, three days before the 150th anniversary of a little-known event in 1863 that stopped the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania during the Civil War.

Moul, 56, is the great-great-granddaughter of a Columbia man who, upon seeing Rebel soldiers on the Wrightsville banks of the Susquehanna River, torched the bridge that connected York and Lancaster counties.

A witness's words: Moul, who lives in York, knows this because she is the descendant of generations of men and women who recorded their history. The typewritten paper she pulled from the folder dates to 1913 -- the year her great-great-grandmother told the story of what happened in Columbia in June 1863.

"The way it's portrayed here, you feel like you're reading

a book," Moul said.

Rachael Denney was 28 when Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, on orders of Gen. Robert E. Lee, began pushing troops into southcentral Pennsylvania. She was 75 when she recounted the story in 1913, just before her death in April that year.

The deposition begins with this sentence: "It was hot afternoon in late June, 1863, when your Grandfather, coming home from town, where he had gone to procure some groceries, surprised me by saying, 'Rachael, I'll have to get you and the children out of here. It may be very dangerous for us all in a few days.'"

John Q. Denney went on to explain that rumors were spreading quickly about the Confederates' approach.

Click here to read Rachael Denney's 1913 account of what happened in June 1863 in Columbia, Lancaster County.

"Early was on the rampage somewhere along the South Mountains and no one knew what to expect," Rachael Denney told her grandson, John D. Denney, who recorded the interview.

Escape: Figuring his family in danger -- especially as the owners of an iron furnace producing arms for the Union -- John Q. Denney decided to move his wife, son and daughter to a town where his brother lived, according to the deposition.

An employee drove the family, loaded into a cart, to Christiana. Many other people were traveling east on June 28, motivated by similar rumors, Rachael Denney told her grandson.

"Everyone seemed to have a different story," she said. "By the time we arrived at my brother in law's farm near Christiana, I was prepared for the worst that war could bring to us."

On July 6, the family headed home, having heard from John Q. Denney that all was well in Columbia.

The ruins: Rachael Denney said she returned to find the mile-long bridge between Wrightsville and Columbia burned -- "nothing but a string of bare piers with wreckage of blackened and still smoking great timbers sticking up from the water in all directions."

Eventually, Rachael Denney heard the full story. The arrival of Confederate troops in Wrightsville spurred men in Columbia to burn the bridge that connected the two towns. Her husband, John Q. Denney, was among those men.

Moul said the original transcript was preserved by her father, John D. Denney Jr., a dedicated researcher and historian.

When he died in 2007, Moul said, she and her husband, Brian, inherited the many newspaper clippings and documents he'd collected over a lifetime.

"The more I go through these things, the more I go, 'My gosh, this is a news article,'" she said.

With the focus on the region's Civil War history this summer, Moul said she felt compelled to share the 1913 account.

After all, this isn't just family history.

"In many ways, it turned the course of the war," Moul said.

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