The Wagon Train of the Wounded
Luther Hopkins, a trooper of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, was resting on the ground while allowing his horse to graze along the Chambersburg Road when he heard “a low rumbling sound…resembling distant thunder, except that it was continuous.” Hopkins and a few of his comrades wondered what it was. They soon found out. “A number of us rose to our feet and saw a long line of wagons with their white covers moving…along the Chambersburg Road….The wagons going back over the same road that had brought us to Gettysburg told the story, and soon the whole army knew that fact. This was the first time Lee’s army had ever met defeat.”
The Retreat of the Main Confederate Army Begins
The men of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry stayed on the main Union battle line that day, coming under fire from enemy sharpshooters from time to time. On one of those occasions, an officer of the regiment was in the midst of raising a dipper full of coffee to his lips when a bullet zipped right through the dipper, making an unearthly “clink” and spraying coffee everywhere. “A close shot,” he declared before proceeding to drink the coffee that hadn’t spilled.
The Midnight Fight in the Monterey Pass
The heavy fire laid down by Emack’s gallant little band had stymied every Federal advance. “Just imagine yourself . . . not knowing what you was going into and when you had gone a short distance have the bulits come whiring about your ears like a lot of beas after honey and your horse rearing and pransing half scart to death,” was how trooper Allen Rice of the 6th Michigan explained the earlier failures on the steep, dark, and muddy hill.
Meade’s Pursuit Begins
The approach of daylight on the morning of July 5 failed to bring about the usual scattering of fire from the opposing picket lines. The silence triggered suspicion among the Union soldiers that the enemy was gone. Investigation confirmed that Lee’s Virginia army had withdrawn from its positions on Seminary Ridge.1 “On the morning of the 5th, we learned that the bird had flown,” a New York foot soldier admitted.
The Confederates Garrison Williamsport
If Williamsport was chaotic that morning, by early evening it was hopelessly turned upside down. Nearly 5,000 wagons jammed every single street and most of the open spaces. In the bottomland of the turn basin known as the Cushwa Basin, part of the C & O Canal that ran parallel to the river, many wagons were swamped as they waited for their turn to cross. The pitiful screams of the wounded filled the air, but still unable to drown out the shrill yelps of horses and mules. Imboden sent men to pound on doors and conscript citizens to turn out every morsel of food and refreshment for his men. For the first time since departing Gettysburg, most of the animals were relieved of their wagon entrapments and turned out to graze.
The Battle of Hagerstown
Maj. Luther Trowbridge of the 5th Michigan Cavalry watched the injured young captain ride up to Kilpatrick and report on his role in the fighting. After hearing the report, Kilpatrick delivered further orders. Dahlgren interrupted him, stating, “General, I am hit,” while pointing to his wounded leg. Trowbridge saw the injured captain dismount and lay down on the ground, where he passed out from the shock and loss of blood. Regaining consciousness a short while later, Dahlgren had the strength to pull out his diary and scribble tongue-in-cheek: “Foot not very painful. Slept well.”
The Battle for Williamsport
Utterly flushed with success, Colonel William Delony gathered his makeshift command together in the dark after the fighting, and dismissed them from duty. “They gave me three cheers and said if the Yankees came again…they would all come up if I would command them which I promised to do,” the wounded Georgian proudly wrote to his wife. “One of my captains was a chaplain which perhaps accounts for our good fortune.” His own duty done, Delony slowly returned to his wagon, lay down—probably with a heavy sigh of relief—and resumed his recuperation.
In Full Pursuit
Re-crossing the river, Foley and his men destroyed the bridge. “Three regiments charged it—one fought to the right, another to the left, while the third, supplied with straw and turpentine, set fire to it, cutting it loose from its moorings to let it float down river, a burning wreck,” reported a Federal prisoner of war being held in Williamsport. “Our cavalry had cut their way in and destroyed the only bridge that Lee had left in his rear.” He concluded jubilantly, “Score another for the cavalry!”
Skirmish at the College of St. James and the First Battle of Funkstown
Once again, the Union horse soldiers had performed admirably. “Our cavalry is doing prodigies of work, and wading through blood to do it,” proudly proclaimed a lieutenant of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry. “Can be said that it no longer is a useless arm of the service. Has, in this campaign, done even more than equal share.”
Heavy Fighting at Beaver Creek Bridge and Boonsboro
The Southern gunners rained fire on a cemetery where Lt. Alexander C. M. Pennington’s Battery M, 2nd U. S. Artillery had set up. “Every shot you fired that missed something in my battery,” explained one of Pennington’s officers in a letter to his adversary years after the war, “hit a marble tombstone in that graveyard, and the broken fragments of marble came like hail upon my men. You were ruining us. We did not think it fair for you to shoot tombstones at us, and we left.”
Sniping Along the Lines
“Well, boys, how are you?” inquired McLaws. “We are all right, General.” “They say there are lots of those fellows over the way there.” “Well, they can stay there; we ain’t offerin’ to disturb ‘em. We’ve had all the fighting we want just now; but if they ain’t satisfied and want any more, all they’ve got to do is to come over and get their bellies full.” “Suppose they do come, sure enough, boys. What are you going to do with them?” McLaws asked. “Why, just make the ground blue with ‘em, that’s all; just manure this here man’s land with ‘em. We ain’t asking anything of them, but if they want anything of us, why, just let ‘em come after it, and they can get all they want; but they’ll wish they hadn’t come.” “Well, now, I can rely upon that, can I?” “You just bet your life you can, General. If we’re asleep when they come, you just have us waked up, and we’ll receive ‘em in good style.” “Well, good night, boys. I’m satisfied.”
The Second Battle of Funkstown
Like Chew’s guns, Capt. John Shoemaker’s horse artillery also expended all of its ammunition in the exchange, after which its commander ordered the men to lie down in order to minimize their exposure to the Federal fire. As he rode along his lines, Jeb Stuart spotted the prone Confederate gunners and asked why they were not firing. Shoemaker explained that his limber chests were empty, and that they were hugging the ground for protection from the Yankee salvoes until additional ammunition arrived. “Then let them stand up for moral effect,” suggested Stuart. The gunners of Shoemaker’s Battery, from that point forward, referred to Stuart as “Moral Effect,” “but never without respect and admiration because he never failed to go where the battle was raging hottest.”
The Armies Jockey for Position
The army’s morale remained remarkably high as the men anticipated waging an epic battle—even though everyone knew massive combat meant heavy casualties. Anticipating those losses, an additional 50 surgeons and “many volunteer nurses” arrived at Army of the Potomac headquarters, ready to respond when and where they might be needed. Their appearance presented an ominous, even chilling, sight.
The Second Battle of Hagerstown
Pvt. Andrew D. Jackson of the 6th Michigan Cavalry watched Confederate prisoners pass by. The Wolverines halted as the prisoners lay down by a fence or climbed atop it to rest. Jackson spotted a long, lean, ragged man leaning against the fence chewing tobacco and spitting prodigious amounts of juice. “Well, Johnny, we’ve caught you too far from ‘Canada’ this time!” called out Jackson. “Yas, Yank!, But you-uns couldn’t do this in old Virginia,” he answered, no doubt feeling more at home there than he did on the soil of Maryland.
A Frustrating Day Spent Waiting
Dripping water from the rain, Meade arrived on the scene. “His countenance was unusually animated,” recalled Charles Coffin. Meade, usually reticent around reporters, was positively giddy. “We shall have a great battle tomorrow,” he declared. “The reinforcements are coming up, and as soon as they come we shall pitch in.”
The Crossings at Williamsport and Falling Waters
“We marched at once into the river and forded, the water taking us up to our breasts,” recalled John Worsham of the 21st Virginia Infantry. “It was necessary that my comrade and myself should help little [Pvt. W.] Bates, and every time we stumbled on some of the large rocks at the bottom of the stream, his head went under the water.” Laughing at the plight of their diminutive friend, Worsham, Bates, and their unidentified comrade made it to safety on the south side of the river.
The Federal Advance and Aftermath
“Another campaign on the Rappahannock, boys,” declared a disgusted Union officer, bitter by the escape of the Confederates. “We shall be in our old quarters in a few days,” grumbled another. Yet another predicted, “Nothing now remains but to follow the enemy through Virginia, where the advantage of roads, position, and everything else will be in his favor.”
Henry Van Aernam, the surgeon of the 154th New York Infantry, was even more blunt when he wrote to his wife on July 15. “When we were chasing the rebs, the boys, although barefooted and ragged and half fed, were cheerful on their forced marches, but today they feel chagrined and humbugged. They are silent and morose and what little they say is damning the foolishness and shortsightedness of their officers. They are right,” concluded Van Aernam, “for they have endured everything, braved everything for the sake of success, and success bountiful and lasting was within their grasp—but lost by the imbecility of commandery. Our army is an anomaly,” he finally exclaimed, “it is an army of Lions commanded by jackasses!”
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