Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, PA

Courtesy of Richard Edling, Philadelphia, PA
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1. Columbia–Wrightsville Bridge - Wikipedia
2. Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge - York County, PA - Engineering
3. Columbia - Wrightsville Bridge Historic Susquehanna River

The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge
The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, officially the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and once called the Lancaster-York Inter-county Bridge, is a reinforced concrete arch bridge that spans the Susquehanna River between Columbia and Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. The Wiley-Maxon Construction Company began building the bridge in 1929 and finished construction in 1930. The bridge was designed by James B. Long and is approximately 5,183 feet (1,580 m) long. It is believed to be the longest concrete arch bridge in the world. The bridge is designated State Route 462 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It was constructed to replace the automobile traffic of an adjacent older steel bridge, immediately north of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. This earlier bridge jointly carried the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad and a two-lane roadway for cars. In the early 1960s, the railroad bridge was torn down. Its stone abutments date to even earlier wooden covered bridges, one of which was destroyed by Union militia during the American Civil War to prevent its usage by elements of the Army of Northern Virginia. These earlier structures also went by the name Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge.
The Burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge - American Civil War
By the summer of 1863, the American Civil War had been dragging for two years. In the eastern USA, some of the most intense fighting took place in Virginia, prompting Confederate leaders to seek an invasion of the North to relieve the suffering in Virginia and 'bring the war' to the Union states. To this end, the Southern army under the command of General Robert E Lee marched north through the neutral state of Maryland and crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. In issuing his orders for the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania General Lee instructed General Richard Ewell to capture the state capital of Harrisburg if it 'comes within your means'. During the war, Harrisburg was a railway hub and one of the main stop-over points for Union troops heading south. To capture Harrisburg, Ewell sent a part of his force north towards Carlisle, capturing the seat of Cumberland County without a fight on 27 June, 1863. The Southerners then moved east toward the Susquehanna River and the bridges across it which led into Harrisburg. At the same time, 2500 Confederate troops under the command of General John B Gordon were moving to the south in York County, advancing on the small town of Wrightsville to capture the wooden bridge across the Susquehanna River there. This bridge was the only way over the river for 25 miles to the north or south of Wrightsville. Opposing Gordon's battle-tested troops were about 250 local militia and volunteers in trenches around the western end of the bridge. The Federal troops were ordered to prevent the Southerners from gaining the bridge and were prepared to destroy it with explosives to prevent its capture. The Confederates quickly moved in and easily overwhelmed the defenders who fled across the bridge to the town of Columbia, Lancaster County. And when the explosives failed to detonate, the Union troops set fire to the bridge. It was a windy night and several embers from the burning bridge blew back into the town of Wrightsville, causing fires in the town itself which destroyed some homes and a lumber yard. The invading Rebels, halted by the loss of the bridge, helped the townspeople fight the fire by forming bucket brigades and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the 'conquered' citizens. The Confederates then left Wrightsville and headed west to rejoin Lee's army outside Gettysburg. The stone piers which supported the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge can still be seen standing in the river today from the Route 462 bridge.
Historical Significance
Obviously the mission to capture the vital bridge was a failure for the Confederates. Some might argue that the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge was little more than sideshow leading up to the main action at Gettysburg a few days later. However, it is important to remember that the goal of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania was to 'bring the war' to the North in the hopes that the Union populace would sue for peace. With this vital bridge burned, the Susquehanna River effectively barred the Confederates from advancing on the Pennsylvania capital and the cities of Lancaster, Reading and Philadelphia.


(1-2007) Interpretive Marker in Columbia, PA


(1-2007) Enlarge Interpretive Marker in Columbia, PA
Detail 1     Detail 2     Detail 3     Detail 4


(1-2007) Start of bridge in Columbia


(1-2007) Looking toward Wrightsville from Columbia

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