Standing on the northwest quadrant of Continental Square, Scott Mingus made a bold statement.
The roots of the Civil War, he said, are in York City.
York's part in American history is most commonly tied to the Revolutionary War, when, in 1777, the Second Continental Congress came to York to adopt the Articles of Confederation, which established the United States and preceded the Constitution.
But, to understand the Civil War, Mingus said, one must understand the friction that caused it.
"A lot of that friction started where?" Mingus asked his audience gathered on Continental Square. "Right here."
The Second Continental Congress debated the same issues that caused the Civil War decades later, Mingus said.
"Read the minutes," he said. "They're already talking about, should slavery be allowed?"
In the early 1800s, northern and southern states consistently clashed over state sovereignty and the role of the federal government. The southern states seceded in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America -- a reference to the 1777 agreement.
"The name comes from York, Pa.," Mingus said.
The tour: Mingus, a local historian and author, hosted a two-hour walking tour Thursday to highlight York's rarely celebrated but arguably critical role in the Civil War, which came to southcentral Pennsylvania 150 years ago. The event is one of many in June and July marking the sesquicentennial anniversary of the waging of war in York and Adams counties.
About 15 people followed Mingus around downtown York, stopping to hear the kinds of stories that enrapture the minds of both hardcore historians and the casually curious.
The Union Army and President Abraham Lincoln realized the importance of York County long before Confederate soldiers invaded the area in June of 1863, Mingus said.
Tied by commerce to Baltimore, many Yorkers -- especially those in the Hanover and Shrewsbury areas -- identified more with the South than the North, Mingus said. Because of its
geographic proximity to the Susquehanna River, its many railroad stations and its location along what is now Route 30 -- the turnpike of the time -- York was a strategic necessity for the Union, Mingus said.
Union commanders located an army training camp, a recruiting station and, later, a hospital in York.
"The army makes sure that York's under control," Mingus said.
The test: In 1863, those preparations were put to the test.
That year in June, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began moving his army into Pennsylvania, with the goal of winning a major battle on northern soil. He picked Maj. Gen. Jubal Early -- a "cranky" bachelor described by a contemporary as a "loose cannon" -- to capture York, Mingus said.
By Friday, June 27, the residents of York knew the Confederates were coming.
As the town's leaders held an emergency meeting, downtown merchants -- desperate to protect their goods -- buried jewelry and other valuables in the cemetery at Christ Lutheran Church, Mingus said.
But how would they explain the fresh graves? Someone suggested they post warnings of a smallpox epidemic. The idea worked. No Confederate soldiers were willing to investigate, Mingus said.
Meanwhile, a young businessman named A.B Farquhar rode out to meet the Confederates, hoping to win mercy for his town. The general he met in Abbottstown agreed to spare York if there was no military presence there to resist, Mingus said.
But, the general told Farquhar, if anyone resisted, Farquhar would be hanged.
"He probably sets a new speed record getting back to York from Abbottstown," Mingus said.
Ultimately, York's leaders decided to accept the peaceful occupation -- even attempting to meet Early's demand for $100,000 in cash.
"Some people will call it a surrender," Mingus said. "I don't think York had much choice."
When the Confederates arrived on the morning of Saturday, June 28, they found no resistance. Many residents stayed inside, not wanting to interact with the Rebels.
But others took pity on the soldiers, many of whom arrived with worn-down shoes and bleeding feet.
One woman, Mingus said, handed out socks along Philadelphia Street, according to the account of a Confederate soldier.
"It's the human spirit at that point," Mingus said. "A lot of York citizens had to ask themselves, did we do the right thing when the Confederates came into town?"
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.