The Confederate Retreat and the Union Pursuit, Part Six

On July 11, 1863, the Army of the Potomac was closing in on the Confederate army near Williamsport. Battle lines are beginning to take shape, as the Confederate army, occupied the ground from just west of Hagerstown, all the way down to Downsville, east of Williamsport. Lt. General Richard Ewell’s Corps held the left flank of the Confederate army, west of Hagerstown. Holding the center, east of Williamsport, was Lt. General A. P. Hill’s Corps. Major General George Pickett, along with Brigadier General John Imboden occupied the Hagerstown and Boonsboro Roads, as they led into Williamsport itself. Holding the Confederate right flank, east of Williamsport and Downsville, was Lt. General James Longstreet’s Corps.

The Union army began taking up positions paralleling the Confederate army. The I Corps remained at Beaver Creek. The II Corps was positioned near Saint James College. The III Corps supported the V Corps near Funkstown. During the evening, the V Corps was ordered to move into the direction of Antietam, near Jones’s Crossroads. The VI and XI Corps moved to Beaver Creek via Funkstown. The XII Corps then proceeded toward the II Corps position.

Early in the morning the next day, Colonel Pennock Huey’s cavalry brigade moved along the Williamsport Road. They were encamped at Jones’s Crossroads and were ordered to re-con the Confederate lines. Near Saint James College, they engaged some of the Confederate pickets. With the sounds of a skirmish ahead, Union infantry were ordered out and several Confederate soldiers were captured.

Meanwhile to the north, near Hagerstown, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry moved toward the city. He was supported by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’ infantry brigade of the XI Corps. As they approached the city, they were fired upon. Brigadier General Kilpatrick was able to capture some of the Confederate pickets. The Second Battle of Hagerstown had officially begun.

Supported by artillery, Brigadier General Kilpatrick moved to the outskirts of Hagerstown. There, deploying some cavalry behind a stonewall, Kilpatrick ordered Brigadier General George Custer to charge the city. Brigadier General Custer hesitated. Brigadier General Kilpatrick then ordered his headquarters guard, Company A of the 1st Ohio Cavalry to charge. Several Confederate soldiers were captured in charge.

While the headquarters guard charged, Brig. Gen. Ames ordered his infantry forward as support. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Custer finally charged into Hagerstown. He was quickly attacked by Confederate infantry. Fighting in the streets was vicious, as the fight took place from yard to yard. As Custer’s men pushed forward, Brig. Gen. Ames and his infantry began flooding into Hagerstown until they reached the town center. By the end of the Second Battle of Hagerstown, the Union suffered a handful of casualties, and 400-500 Confederates were taken prisoner.

While the Second Battle of Hagerstown was erupting, the Union army was again repositioning itself. The realignment was to get the entire Army of the Potomac west of the Antietam Creek. The I Corps was ordered to take the heights beyond Funkstown. The II Corps moved to Saint James. The III Corps moved toward Marsh Creek. The V Corps began to entrench its position, holding the center of the Union army. The VI Corps would eventually move to the south of Funkstown, and turn southward to occupy the ground connecting the V Corps and the I Corps. The XI Corps moved ahead of the I Corps, and would hold the right flank of the Union army, just south of Hagerstown. The XII Corps held the left flank of the Union army, south of Jones’s Crossroads.

As darkness fell on the defenses of Williamsport, the Union army had a decision to make regarding the next day. Should they attack? Or should they reconnoiter the Confederate defenses. Up until now, the Confederate army has had its back against a swollen Potomac River. They have built some massive entrenchments to protect their army. Now, both armies are looking at each other.

That night, Major General George Meade, whose headquarters was located at the Devil’s Backbone along the Antietam Creek, called for a council of war. Major General Meade asked his council if they felt the Union army should attack the Confederate positions that guarded their aveune back into West Virginia and Virginia.

The council voted “No!” to the question of attacking the Confederate army. The only vote in favor of the attack came from Major General Oliver O. Howard. Meade’s Staff was also in favor of the attack, but their votes could not be counted. Major General Meade would then reconnoiter the Confederates the next day and make plans for an all out attack on July 14. This decision infuriated President Abraham Lincoln.

On July 13, the Union army concentrated on improving their own defenses. Throughout the day, both armies continued to look over at each other. Meanwhile, the Confederate army determined that they would move into West Virginia that night. Longstreet’s and Hill’s Corps would cross over the Potomac River on a newly built pontoon bridge at Falling Waters. At Williamsport, the waters had receded enough and Ewell’s Corps would ford the Potomac River there. Bunker Hill, West Virginia would be the concentration point of the Confederate army.

As night fell on the fields separating both armies, the Confederate army prepared to move out. Near midnight, the Confederate army began moving into West Virginia. By 7:00 a.m. on July 14, it was discovered that, for the most part, the Confederate army was on the south side of the Potomac River. They had performed a great escape.

Early in the morning on July 14, at Falling Waters, MD, Brig. Gen. Kilpatrick with Brigadier General John Buford caught up with the rearguard of the Confederate army. Without consulting Brig. Gen. Buford, Kilpatrick ordered Brig. Gen. Custer to attack. Leading his brigade was the 6th Michigan Cavalry and they charged the Confederates. At first the Confederate soldiers thought that this cavalry was part of their own. The rearguard of Hill’s Corps, commanded by Major General Henry Heth, realized that this was Union cavalry. They fired a devastating volley into the Union cavalry. As fighting continued into the early afternoon, Brigadier General James Pettigrew was mortally wounded.

By 1:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Heth was ordered to fall back to the bridge. The Union cavalry had 111 casualties. The Confederates lost more than 154 men killed or wounded, but upwards to 1,500 men captured. Falling Waters was the last major battle of the Pennsylvania Campaign in Maryland.

For the next several days, the Union army moved back into Pleasant Valley. By July 16, the Army of the Potomac was located in the three main areas of Harper’s Ferry, Sandy Hook and Berlin. That same day, Union cavalry fought near Shepherdstown, where they engaged Confederate cavalry guarding the Potomac River. After several hours of fighting, and both sides standing their ground, the Union cavalry was forced to withdraw after sunset.

On July 17, after being re-supplied and re-equipped, the Army of the Potomac began moving into Virginia. The crossing of the Potomac would take two days. By July 19, the Army of the Potomac was south of the Potomac River.

On July 23, at Manassas Gap, the III Corps was ordered to Front Royal to cut off the Confederate army’s retreat. However, poorly coordinated Union attacks allowed the Confederate army to continue moving without any further pursuit. The next day, the last battle of the Pennsylvania Campaign occurred near Amissville at Battle Mountain. Being outnumbered, Brig. Gen. Custer was forced to fall back, and the Pennsylvania Campaign of 1863 officially came to an end.

The Confederate Retreat and the Union Pursuit, Part Five

On July 9, 1863, the Confederate army is fully concentrated in and around Hagerstown. They begin building earthen entrenchments that begin just west of Funkstown. These entrenchments will be built all the way to Williamsport and Falling Waters. Major General J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry will protect the Confederate right wing, which is located just to the west of Funkstown, above the Antietam Creek. Using Funkstown as the anchor, Maj. Gen. Stuart will guard every road leading into Hagerstown from the south and east.

That same day, Union Major General George Meade orders his army to cross South Mountain. The I, VI, and the remainder of the XI Corps move through Turner’s Gap. The III and V Corps would move through Fox’s Gap. While the II and XII Corps move through Crampton’s Gap. By the evening, all of the Union army is west of South Mountain, cautiously moving toward Williamsport and Hagerstown. That evening, Maj. Gen. Meade would move his headquarters from the Mountain House at Turner’s Gap to the Devil’s Backbone, located on the Antietam Creek.

Early in the morning of July 10, Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry division was moving along the National Road leading to Funkstown. He was supported by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division. At Beaver Creek, Buford’s men ran into some Confederate pickets. Closer to Funkstown, Buford’s cavalry moved into Stover’s Woods, where he quickly deployed them. The brigade of Brigadier General Wesley Merritt was placed on the right flank, while the supporting brigades of Colonel Thomas Devin and Colonel William Gamble were concealed in the woods. Brigadier General Buford’s artillery quickly deployed near the edge of the wood line and prepared to the attack.

Major General Stuart had his Confederate cavalry deployed in a crescent moon formation. The brigades of Brigadier Generals William Jones and Fitzhugh Lee held the left flank of Stuart’s line. The brigades of Colonel Milton Ferguson, Colonel John Chambliss, Brigadier General Beverly Robertson, and Colonel Laurence Baker held the right. Located on higher ground on the right was Captain Roger Chew’s Battery in support.

By 8:00 a.m., the Second Battle of Funkstown began, as Buford’s skirmishers were ordered forward and his artillery opened fire on the Confederate cavalry. Major General Stuart did not expect this attack, and some of his cavalry became confused. Major General Stuart knew that he must hold this line at all cost, as he was guarding the left flank of the entire Confederate army. Stuart’s troopers began to sway, forming huge gaps in their lines. Chew’s Battery, firing one cannon at one time, had to fall back to another position.

Around noon, Maj. Gen. Stuart sent a dispatch to Lieutenant General James Longstreet asking for infantry support. He had several regiments located within supporting distance. Two infantry brigades commanded by Brigadier General Goode Bryan and Colonel William White arrived on the battlefield and began plugging in the gaps. With new Confederate reinforcements arriving, Brig. Gen. Buford ordered Brig. Gen. Kilpatrick into the fight. His division hit the Confederate right flank. After several unsuccessful charges, the Confederates held their position.

By 1:30 p.m., knowing that the I and VI Corps were behind his battle line and running low on ammunition, Brig. Gen. Buford rode back to get infantry support. He came across Brigadier General Albion P. Howe. Brigadier General Howe was under orders to not fully engage the Confederates. But opening lines of communication with VI Corps commander Major General John Sedgwick, Brig. Gen. Buford would receive the infantry he needed. Brigadier General Howe ordered Colonel Lewis Grant and his Vermont Brigade to take up position where Buford’s men were located.

At 3:00 p.m., the Vermont Brigade arrived at Funkstown, and began to deploy skirmishers. The 5th and 6th Vermont Infantry were ordered to a wooded crest that was occupied by portions of Buford’s men. Seeing the Confederate infantry moving toward the crest, the Vermonters managed to beat the Confederates to the high ground. The 5th Vermont, held the left, closest to the National Road, while the 6th Vermont, held the right close to the Baltimore Pike. This extended their skirmish line almost two miles.

Due to the skirmish line stretching so far with so few men, a gap soon opened on the left flank of the 5th Vermont Infantry, near the Antietam Creek. Two companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry were ordered to fill the gap, while the rest of their regiment was held in reserve. The 3rd and 4th Vermont Infantry regiments were ordered to support the 3rd New York Battery under Captain William Harn.

Soon the Confederate artillery began shelling the Union line. Thinking that an infantry attack would soon follow, Colonel Grant ordered the 3rd Vermont Infantry forward, to the right of the 6th Vermont, becoming the extreme right of Vermont’s skirmish line. The 4th Vermont Infantry was ordered to be positioned between the left of the 6th Vermont Infantry and the right of the 5th Vermont Infantry. Eight companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry were held in support of the 3rd New York Battery.

Soon the Confederate infantry began to move forward against the Union line. The Confederate infantry had to move across open fields, and the stone walls proved to be deadly for them, forcing them to stop, climb over, and then reform their lines. The Vermonters did not yield one inch of ground and forced the Confederate infantry back after a fierce contest. The Confederate infantry reformed their battle line and began to move forward. One regiment was sent across the Antietam Creek to threaten the Union left flank.

Seeing this, Colonel Grant ordered the remaining companies of the 2nd Vermont Infantry forward, extending the Vermonter’s skirmish line even further. The Confederate advance was repulsed. The fighting was so intense at Funkstown that at one point the Vermonters had gone through their ammunition and more had to be brought up by stretchers to resupply them.
Funkstown was also one of the only battles, since the closing of the Battle of Gettysburg, where infantry fought against infantry. The Vermonters had won the day, however the fighting that took place during the day bought the Confederate army more time. Many soldiers of the Sixth Corps saw the Vermonters fight, and saw first hand their display of gallantry.

The town of Funkstown lost the most. Much of the rich agriculture and produce was destroyed by the battle. The town itself became a vast hospital, and several homes were hit by the destructive Union artillery. The Union casualties for the Battle of Funkstown were as follows: Buford’s Division lost 99 troopers in the fight; the Vermonters lost 97 men. The Confederates had lost about 183 men, with more than half of that number from Stuart’s cavalry. As night fell the Vermonters began to dig in.

While the Battle of Second Funkstown raged, Maj. Gen. Meade ordered his army to move forward. The I and XI Corps moved toward Beaver Creek and Wagner’s Crossroads. The III Corps marched to Keedysville and halted near Meade’s headquarters. The V Corps marched to Jones’ Crossroads. The II Corps and the XII Corps marched to Bakersville.

The Confederate Retreat and the Union Pursuit, Part Four

Last month, I discussed the movements of the Confederate army as they withdrew from Gettysburg, PA to the Mason Dixon Line, near Waynesboro, PA. I also discussed the movements of the Army of the Potomac, as they too, pursued the Confederate army from Gettysburg toward the Mason Dixon Line near Emmitsburg, MD and Littlestown, PA. This month, I want to write about what happened beginning on July 7, 1863, with regard to those movements of the Northern and Southern armies.

By early morning of July 7, the Union army was on the move. The I and III Corps moved directly to Emmitsburg. They stopped briefly at Emmitsburg before moving out on the Emmitsburg Road. The I Corps moved onward to Lewistown, MD, and turned west to begin it’s ascent up the Catoctin Mountain. The III Corps moved as far as Thurmont, MD where they were forced to encamp for the night. The XI Corps and VI Corps will march out of Emmitsburg and move to Middletown, MD. The XI Corps marched over the Catoctin Mountain via High Knob, and the advance unit began arriving at Middletown that evening. The II Corps will take up their line of march to Taneytown, MD from Two Taverns. The XII Corps, near Littlestown, PA, would march to Walkersville, MD on the road that led to Frederick. The V Corps at Emmitsburg picked up the Frederick Road and marched to Utica, MD, where they would encamp for the night.

The Confederate army had encamped along the Mason Dixon Line between Waynesboro, PA and Leitersburg, MD, and began marching to Hagerstown and Williamsport. The bulk of the Confederate army moved without incident. Meanwhile, Union Brigadier General Thomas Neill’s infantry brigade and Colonel John McIntosh’s brigade of cavalry followed safely behind the Confederate rearguard. They entered Waynesboro that evening, where they received a warm reception. Meanwhile, Union Major General William Smith’s division of Pennsylvania militia and New York State National Guard had arrived at Mont Alto, PA. The next day Smith’s division would move into Waynesboro, PA and link up with Brig. Gen. Neill’s brigade encamped there.

While the armies were on the move, heated skirmishes took place just outside of Hagerstown, at the College of St. James and Funkstown. At the College of St. James, just outside of Jones’ Crossroads, the 6th New York Cavalry was ordered to make a demonstration upon the Confederate front positioned near the college. They managed to push back the Confederate pickets. The 6th New York Cavalry then fell back onto Union Colonel Thomas Devin’s line. Shortly before noon, some Confederate infantry, supported by artillery, moved toward the Union Cavalry line. The 9th New York Cavalry moved out to meet the Confederate force near the college, while the rest of the Union cavalry moved east of the Antietam Creek. As the skirmish continued, a squad of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry was ordered to support the 9th New York Cavalry. Seeing these reinforcements, the Confederates began withdrawing back, breaking off the engagement.

The first Battle of Funkstown occurred when the 6th U.S. Cavalry was scouting the area and were spotted by the 7th Virginia Cavalry. As the 7th Virginia Cavalry charged, the 6th U.S. Cavalry quickly deployed skirmishers. During the initial attack, the 7th Virginia Cavalry managed to push the Union troopers back. Orders were given to the Union troopers to mount up and fall back. While they quickly did this, a pursuit took place. The Union troopers of the 6th U.S. Cavalry fell back upon Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s brigade and the 7th Virginia Cavalry quickly fell back. Casualties from the first Battle of Funkstown for the Union was 10 killed, 15 wounded and 66 men missing. The Confederates had 2 wounded and 9 missing.

On July 8, the V Corps began their ascent up the Catoctin Mountain, moving through High Knob to access the Middletown Valley. The XI Corps began moving into Middletown and marched to Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. That evening the XI Corps would be ordered to send reinforcements to the battlefield at Boonsboro, MD. The I Corps marched to Middletown and then was ordered to follow the rear of the XI Corps to Turner’s Gap. The II Corps arrived at Taneytown, MD, where they received a very warm welcome by the citizens of Maryland. The III Corps would march due south of Emmitsburg to Lewistown, and begin crossing the Catoctin Mountain at Hamburg Pass. With the recent heavy rains and the badly torn up road, the III Corps was redirected to march to Frederick, and cross the Catoctin Mountain at Braddock’s Gap on the road to Middletown. The VI Corps would march to Lewistown and then take the road that led over the Catoctin Mountain via Hamburg Pass. The XII Corps marched directly to Frederick and moved through Braddock’s Gap on the Catoctin Mountain.

As the Union army began penetrating into the Middletown Valley, Confederate General Robert E. Lee knew it was only a matter of time before they would move into the Cumberland Valley. Because of the heavy rains that fell for several days, the Potomac River was too high to ford. The pontoon bridge that was burned at Falling Waters on July 4 by Union cavalry forced the Confederate army to wait for the waters to recede before they could cross into West Virginia. General Lee needed to do a few things in order to protect his army. He needed more time for the rear of his Confederate army to concentrate at Hagerstown. Then a new bridge needed to be built in order to carry most of his army across the Potomac River. At the same time, he would order the construction of entrenchments in order to protect his army.

To accomplish the issue with time, General Lee ordered Major General J. E. B. Stuart to take his cavalry division and move along the road from Funkstown and Williamsport, to keep the Union army busy and to keep them from crossing into the Cumberland Valley, via Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. This was to buy at least eight hours of time to allow the rear of the Confederate army to safely move into Hagerstown.

At Boonsboro, Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry was guarding the Funkstown Road, while Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry remained in the open fields along the road leading to Williamsport. They were to guard Boonsboro in case of a Confederate attack that might move along the road to Turner’s Gap.

Early in the morning, Maj. Gen. Stuart’s cavalry began engaging some of Brig. Gen. John Burford’s pickets at Beaver Creek and the Battle of Boonsboro erupted. This battle is Maryland’s largest all cavalry fight during the Civil War. By 10:00 a.m., the battle was concentrated just northwest of town. Brig. Gen. Buford managed to keep back the Confederate cavalry along the Funkstown Road, while receiving intelligence from the Signal Corps base at Washington Monument. But, with the Confederates bearing down on his position, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick was forced to enter the fight.

By that time, Confederate cavalry began deploying on the Williamsport Road, as they tried to hit Buford’s left flank. With both Union cavalry divisions engaged, a game of chess was being played in order to keep the Confederate cavalry in check. A dispatch was sent to Middletown asking for Union infantry support. That message was delivered to Major General Oliver O. Howard, who ordered Major General Carl Schurz’s Third Division to Boonsboro. By 5:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Schurz was deployed east of Boonsboro. Seeing this, Maj. Gen. Stuart broke off the battle and began withdrawing back to Funkstown. Major General Stuart did exactly what General Lee needed by buying time.