In early 1863, a number of local black citizens enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a regiment composed of black soldiers serving under white officers. The unit achieved fame in an assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Other local citizens fought in various regiments of the United States Colored Troops. Some of these veterans are buried in a cemetery located near Fifth Street.
On June 28, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign, the replacement covered bridge was burned by Columbia residents and the Pennsylvania state militia to prevent Confederate soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia from entering Lancaster County. Lee had hoped to invade Harrisburg from the rear and move eastward to Lancaster and Philadelphia, and in the process destroy railroad yards and other facilities. Under General Jubal A. Early’s command and following Lee’s orders, General John B. Gordon was to place Lancaster and the surrounding farming area “under contribution” for the Confederate Army’s war supplies and to attack Harrisburg from the east side of the river while another portion of Lee’s army advanced from the west side. General Early was given orders to burn the bridge but hoped instead to capture it, while Union forces under the command of Colonel Jacob G. Frick and Major Granville O. Haller, hoping to save the bridge, were forced to burn it.
With the Union Army of the Potomac hastening northward into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Robert E. Lee ordered his widely scattered forces to withdraw to Heidlersburg and Cashtown (not far from Gettysburg) to rendezvous with other contingents of the Confederate Army. The burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge thwarted one of Lee’s goals for the invasion of Pennsylvania, and General Gordon later claimed the skirmish at Wrightsville reinforced the Confederate belief that the only defensive forces on hand were inefficient local militia, an attitude that carried over to the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Owners of the bridge petitioned congress repeatedly for reimbursement well into the 1960s, but were denied payment.
Columbia’s Favorite Son: Gen. Thomas Welsh and his involvement in the Civil War can be found via Wikipedia.