Marker Text: Here on June 22, 1863, the First N.Y. Cavalry attacked the Southern advance force of cavalry under Gen. A.G. Jenkins. Here died the first Union soldier killed in action in Pennsylvania. Corporal William H. Rihl of Philadelphia, serving in a Pennsylvania unit assigned to the New York regiment.
Location: On U.S. Route 11, just North of Greencastle, PA. Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1964.
The main Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania began on the morning of June 22, 1863 when Richard S. Ewell's Second Corps of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia vacated their camps in Maryland and headed north across the Mason-Dixon Line. On that day, Confederate Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins' cavalry brigade again was the advance force that crossed the state border into Pennsylvania. Jenkins' men had earlier on June 15 had entered Pennsylvania to conduct scouting duties.
Photo taken looking north on Route 11 toward Chambersburg. Monument to Rihl across the road. Click any photo to enlarge.
The Confederate troops rode into the undefended town of Greencastle early that morning, then halted to await the slower advance of General Robert E. Rodes' foot soldiers. Some time that morning, one of Jenkins' patrols encountered D. K. Appenzellar, a young Pennsylvanian who was on his way to Chambersburg to enroll in the militia. When asked by Jenkins' men whether he knew of any Yankee military movements in the area, Appenzellar lied. He said that while in Chambersburg the day before he had learned that the Army of the Potomac's first popular commander, General George B. McClellan, had been placed in charge of the state's defenses and was marching south from Harrisburg with 40,000 men.
The thought of tens of thousands of Yankee soldiers somewhere to the north made Jenkins move with greater caution. In advance of his brigade was Captain J. A. Wilson with his Company I, 14th Virginia Cavalry. When his column rode north out of Greencastle, Jenkins ordered Wilson to watch for any oncoming Yankees. If he saw any, said Jenkins, his men were to withdraw quickly and try to entice the Yanks into following them south where the rest of the brigade would set up an ambush.
Soon, Wilson's men captured two Yankee cavalry troopers who were having their horses shoed at a blacksmith shop along the road north of Greencastle. Spying a body of Federal cavalry coming down the road toward his men, Wilson ordered a withdrawal. The Southern horsemen outdistanced their pursuers, and when they spied the rest of Jenkins' brigade forming a line of battle to repel their pursuers, Wilson ordered his men to dismount and take cover behind the wooden fences that bordered the road near the William Fleming farm. (I believe the Fleming farm is across the road from this marker.)
Monument and grave of Corporal Rihl across the road from the state marker.
Wilson's opponents proved to be Captain William H. Boyd and his Company C, 1st New York Cavalry; the same troops that had been harassing Jenkins' brigade for the past week. Recruited in Philadelphia in 1861, even though they were part of a New York regiment, Boyd's men were hardcore veterans of two years of military service. Having ridden by train from Harrisburg to Chambersburg, Boyd and his company had headed south to look for Rebels, and found them that day.
When they reached the Fleming farm, Boyd saw Confederate artillery going into position on a low ridge ahead of him. He determined that infantry or dismounted cavalry must be nearby. While Boyd pondered the situation, some of his men rode out into the open to get a better view of the enemy, and it was then that they rode into Wilson's ambush. Corporal William H. Rihl of Philadelphia, was a member of the 1st New York cavalry regiment. Rihl's company consisted of forty-three men. Sergeant Milton Cafferty and Corporal Rihl were struck down in a volley of shot from Wilson's men. The result was the wounding of Cafferty in the leg and Rihl in the head killing him instantly, making him the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason Dixon line. The skirmish was over almost as soon as it had begun.
The First Union Soldier
Killed in Action
A Humble but Brave
Defender of the Union"
Jenkins' men buried Corporal Rihl in a shallow grave near where he fell alongside the road across from this marker, see photo. Sometime after the Gettysburg campaign was over, local citizens dug up Rihl's remains and buried them in the Greencastle Lutheran Church graveyard. On June 22, 1886, local residents again moved Rihl's remains back to where he had fallen in combat, and marked the scene by the small monument one can still see alongside Route 11. Years after the war, when the local Grand Army of the Republic post in Greencastle was formed, the veterans took Rihl's name for their post, honoring the first soldier to fall in Pennsylvania.