A lot of attention has been given to the Battle of Gettysburg. But to me, the Confederate retreat, the Union pursuit, and the race to Williamsport is as important as the Battle of Gettysburg. These series of movements during the ten days following the Battle of Gettysburg often resulted in major battles being fought in Washington County.
The Confederate army needed to get to Williamsport and secure it for their safe journey into Virginia. For the Union army, if they could beat Lee and cut him off, they could very well end the war in Washington County. This article is just a brief summary of the some of the movements and battles that were fought from July 4th through July 14th,
At the close of July 3rd, 1863, the Confederate army had been beaten at Gettysburg. As midnight approached, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began ordering the withdraw of the Army of Northern Virginia from the fields of Gettysburg. General Lee used two South Mountain passes for the retreat of the Confederate army into Maryland via the Cumberland
Valley. The first was Cashtown Gap, where the wagon train of wounded led by General John Imboden would move out, using the Chambersburg Pike to the Waynesboro Road and then Pine Stomp Road, which led to Greencastle and eventually to Williamsport. The wagon trains of Generals A.P. Hill and James Longstreet Corps also used the same network of roads.
The second South Mountain pass was that of Monterey Pass. This mountain pass provided a short and direct route from Gettysburg to Williamsport. The Confederate reserve train, under the command of Major John Harman moved first, followed by the wagon train belonging to General Richard Ewell’s Corps. Following behind those wagons were the Confederate
infantry. The last known Confederate soldier march through Monterey Pass during the afternoon of July 6th.
The Union Army of the Susquehanna blocked the northern most South Mountain passes by Carlisle. The New York State National Guard and Pennsylvania Militia spent the night of July 4th-6th marching toward Cashtown, following the ridgeline. It was an awful time crossing the mountain as storms rolled in.
To the south, in Maryland, portions of Union General William French’s command controlled the mountain gaps of Turner’s, Fox’s and Crampton’s Gap. General French had his headquarters in Frederick city.
A Union cavalry force led by General Judson Kilpatrick was ordered to harass the retreating Confederate army. On July 4th, he left Gettysburg for Emmitsburg, and from there headed directly toward Monterey Pass, where he engaged Confederate cavalry and infantry during a major thunderstorm in the middle of the night. This was the only battle of the
Civil War fought on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line.
Confederate General JEB Stuart arrived in Emmitsburg at dawn on the 5th and attacked a small Union party, capturing 70 soldiers. Stuart then tried unsuccessfully to connect with the Confederate army during his movements in Frederick County, crossing the Catoctin Mountain range and South Mountain using the road to Smithsburg.
Kilpatrick caught up with Confederate General JEB Stuart at Smithsburg during the evening of July 5th. Arriving at Boonsboro just after midnight on July 6th, Kilpatrick rested his force. As the day continued, Kilpatrick, supported by General John Buford, launched a cavalry attack against the Confederate forces guarding the wagon trains at
Hagerstown and Williamsport. The attack was not successful and the Union cavalry was forced back to Boonsboro.
After receiving orders on July 5th to pursue the Confederate army, the Army of the Potomac begins its pursuit. Over the next two days, Emmitsburg hosted the First Corps, the Third Corps, the Fifth Corps, The Sixth Corps, and the Eleventh Corps. The Second Corps and the Twelfth Corps marched toward Carroll County and moved to Frederick via
Taneytown. By July 8th, the Army of the Potomac was west of the Catoctin Mountain.
By July 8th, the cavalry battle of Boonsboro erupted. This battle bought the Confederate army a day in order to be concentrated in and around Hagerstown. The New York State National Guard, under the command of General William Smith occupied Waynesboro, closing in on Lee’s army from the north, while Meade, with the main body of the Union army,
closed in from the east. With a swollen Potomac River blocking his way, and with no pontoon bridge with which to cross upon, the Confederate army had no option but entrench themselves. Several lines of entrenchments will be constructed from Hagerstown to Downsville.
On July 10th, Stuart bought the Confederates even more time when he beat back Buford’s cavalry at Funkstown. This battle was the first battle where infantry fought against infantry since the closing of the Battle of Gettysburg. The fight was harsh, but Stuart bought Lee the time he needs to work on his defenses.
By July 11th, the Union army was again closing in on General Lee’s Confederate army. On the 12th, the Union army was west of the Antietam Creek. During the evening, General George Meade held a council of war in which the majority of his Corps commanders will vote NO to an all out assault on the Confederate defenses.
On July 13th, the Army of the Potomac spent much of the day realigning their position. Their battle lines ran from Funkstown to Jones’ Cross Roads. Within supporting distance, Smith’s Division of the New York State National Guards marches toward Boonsboro. During the early morning of July 14th, the Confederate infantry began crossing the Potomac
River into Falling Waters. The Battle of Falling Waters on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River breaks out as portions of the Union army move toward Williamsport.
Realizing that the majority of the Confederate army was south of the Potomac River, General Meade issued marching orders to his corps commanders to fall back toward Pleasant Valley, where the Union army would cross the Potomac River at various points near Harper’s Ferry, Sandy Point and Knoxville in the next several days, and once again resume
their pursuit of Lee’s army.
Just as Confederate’s lost their opportunity to smash the Union forces and end the war at Gettysburg, the Union lost their opportunity to smash the trapped Confederate forces at the Potomac – so the war would go on for two more bloody years.