The burning of the Wrightsville Bridge over the Susquehanna River on June 28, 1863, counts as one of the most iconic moments of the Gettysburg Campaign. Retreating militia units burned the railroad span in a desperate bid to halt the advance of Confederate forces.
Two days later, a member of the 27th Pennsylvania Militia, Private Joseph B.W. Adams, penned a letter to the editors of the Pittston Gazette in a bid to tell his friends and family on the home front in the Coal Region about the dramatic events he witnessed. The letter was published in full by the Gazette on July 9, 1863:
Hospital of the 27th P. V.
Columbia, Pa., June 30, 1863.
Having enlisted in the United States service for the emergency, and being just now off duty on account of a slight illness, I shall try to give you some account of our terrific exploits:
Well, passing over all preliminaries, I will place your mental vision upon the beautiful town of Wrightsville, York county, Pa., where the 27th P.V.M. Col. Frick, has till lately been encamped.
At this point the river is a mile and a quarter wide, and crossed by a bridge of costly structure. This bridge formed a communication between Wrightsville and Columbia.
On Friday night, the 26th of June, I was on picket on the Northern Central R. R. at the outmost post, I made considerable use of my eyes and ears, but nothing molested me. In a few hours from this the enemy had possession of the place. On Sunday, we were attacked by the enemy, under Gen. Ewell, with a battery of shell guns, and a force estimated at 8,000.
The regiment held out well, till the rebels were seen to be out flanking them with the intention of occupying the bridge, cutting off our retreat and capturing all hands. On this, Col. Frick led the Regiment over the bridge, amid the fire of the enemy's cannon, and then set fire to the bridge.
I myself, being on guard on this side the river, was safe from the shells, but I could see them dropping in the river. The fire from the burning bridge was a splendid sight rolling up the fiery clouds toward the heavens. It was a sad necessity to destroy this beautiful structure, but it was our only course, to prevent the destruction of our regiment.
None killed, and all in good spirits, ready for them again. The boys say they were fired on, during the retreat, by the copperheads of the town, and that one lady, (or female, rather,) displayed a small confederate flag.
J. B. W. ADAMS,
Co. D. 27th P. V. M.