On July 4th, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate army withdrew from the battlefield. The Confederate army would march over South Mountain using two main mountain gaps. Cashtown Gap was the gap that General John Imboden used to get the wagon trains of wounded, and the supply wagons of General James Longstreet and General A.P. Hill out of Pennsylvania. To the south of Cashtown Gap, General Richard Ewell’s wagon train, and the infantry corps of Generals Hill and Ewell would march through Fairfield Gap onto Monterey Pass. General Longstreet’s corps would march directly to Fountain Dale from Fairfield, climbing South Mountain straight to Monterey Pass, avoiding Fairfield Gap altogether. The last Confederate soldier would march over South Mountain at Monterey Pass late in the morning to mid afternoon on July 6th as the Confederate army marched toward Williamsport.
Early in the morning of July 5th, Union General George Meade had ascertained that the Confederate army was in full retreat, slipping out of Gettysburg under the cover of darkness on July 4th. While the main portion of the Army of the Potomac would sit idle at Gettysburg, many of its soldiers were tasked with burial detail. Meade ordered the Sixth Corps under General John Sedgwick to pursue the rear of the Confederate army, and also directed cavalry detachments to cover the roads leading to Cashtown and Emmitsburg.
General Sedgwick’s corps began assembling at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, reaching the Fairfield Road by 8:00 a.m., marching toward Fairfield with General Horatio Wright’s division in the lead, and General John Newton’s division bringing up the rear. Near Fairfield, the rear of the Confederate army was spotted. Skirmishing and artillery duels took place as the rear of General Ewell’s corps was halted near Fairfield. Sedgwick even writes in his official report that 250 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner during the day.
The next day, on July 6th, it was determined that the rear of Confederate army had fortified Fairfield Gap with artillery supporting their position. Being ordered to Emmitsburg, Sedgwick detached General Thomas Neill and his brigade of infantry to harass the rear of the retreating Confederate army. Working with General Neill was Colonel John McIntosh’s cavalry brigade of General David Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division. Colonel McIntosh had six regiments of cavalry and two pieces of artillery Battery Section H, and the Third Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. General Neill also had six parrot rifles from the 5th United States Battery F, under the command of Lieutenant Leonard Martin. During the afternoon, Neill led his brigade into South Mountain and skirmished with the Confederates. After an exchange of artillery and small arms fire, the Confederates withdrew and Neill occupied Fairfield, where he encamped for the night.
During the evening, around six o’clock, the Sixth Corps was ordered to rest before carrying out Meade’s orders to concentrate at Middletown, Maryland. Many of the men received mail and rations. At approximately ten o’clock that evening the Sixth Corps began its march to Emmitsburg, covering eight miles. The lead elements bivouacked two miles beyond the town limits at 1:00 a.m. while the remaining elements reported that they bivouacked shortly before day break.
Before day light on the morning of July 7th, the soldiers of the Sixth Corps rested in the rain in Emmitsburg. The Eleventh Corps had been marching since 3:30 a.m. and the First Corps were also on its way to Emmitsburg. As the First Corps were marching through Emmitsburg, they saw the divisions of the Sixth Corps there. The lead elements of the Sixth Corps began marching again early in the morning, while the rear of the Sixth Corps started off at 11:00 a.m. The divisions of Sedgwick’s corps marched all day, passing through Franklin Mills, Mechanicstown (modern day Thurmont), and following the road directly to the Catoctin Furnace. Upon reaching Lewistown the Sixth Corps took the fork in the road that led to the right, which would take them toward Hamburg on the Catoctin Mountain. As darkness approached road conditions began to deteriorate, as the wind and rain picked up in intensity. The climb up the Catoctin Mountain on narrow road, which was nothing more than a path, was a tough one. Upon reaching the top many of the men renamed the pass as “Sedgwick’s Pass” while others called it “Mount Misery.”
Nelson Hutchinson noted that “The darkness was intense…nothing could be seen. Mounted officers could not see the men in the ranks. You could not see who was beside you, if anyone was there. We had to make way for the artillery. They got stuck, while we ended up scattered in the woods.” General Wright noted “In consequence of the severe storm and extreme darkness, which rendered farther progress impossible.” The artillery was eventually forced to turn around, unhitching the horses and unlimbering the cannon from its limber, and head back down the mountain. The lead elements of the Sixth Corps ended up covering a total distance of about 15 miles.
While, the remainder of Sedgwick’s corps was marching to Hamburg Pass, General Neill was still following the rear of the Confederate army, as it marched from Fairfield Pass to Monterey Pass. The roads were in a horrible state due to all of the wagons, cannon, and thousands of Confederate infantrymen that had just traveled over them a few days prior. Upon reaching Monterey Pass, Neill sent word that the Waynesboro Road was clear of Confederate soldiers. Neill continued his march to Waynesboro, arriving there at around ten o’clock in the morning, narrowly missing the rear of the Confederate army. General Neill received word that a small force of Confederate soldiers only escaped capture by burning the bridge at the Antietam Creek, two and a half miles from Waynesboro, on the Hagerstown Road. Neill noted “felt the enemy’s pickets along the Antietam and Marsh Run, and found Ewell’s corps in our front.” Neill would encamp at Waynesboro for the night and bivouac the next day.
On July 8th, the Sixth Corps would continue its line of march at 5:00 a.m. Many of the men still had to march over the Catoctin Mountain, but the weather that morning would brighten up the men, as rays of sunshine broke through the clouds. This allowed the uniforms and blankets to dry. The soldiers even found a mountain creek and quickly began cleaning themselves as well as their uniforms. General Joseph Bartlett’s brigade was the first of the Sixth Corps to arrive at Middletown around nine o’clock that morning, covering eight miles. Following behind him was the rest of Wright’s Division. Portions of the Eleventh Corps, who had made some of the longest marches in the Army of the Potomac, sometimes covering up to thirty miles, were already at Middletown; the First Corps were not too far behind them.
During the day, the Eleventh Corps was ordered to Turner’s Gap to relieve pressure off of the cavalry already engaged at Boonsboro. Following behind them was the First Corps. The Sixth Corps, having completed their march to Middletown, would spend the day bivouacked there. Before sunrise on the 9th, the Sixth Corps was put into motion once again, this time moving eight miles, passing through Turner’s Gap, going into a defensive position in the woods west of Boonsboro near the National Road facing Funkstown.
While the Sixth Corps was marching toward Boonsboro, in Waynesboro, at 7:00 a.m. on July 9th, General Neill ordered Colonel Mcintosh, his cavalry brigade, and four pieces of artillery to reconnaissance. This order was carried out to determine the strength of the Confederate army at the fords and bridges near Funkstown. Arriving near Funkstown at 1:00 p.m., Colonel Mcintosh drew fire from the Confederates at Antietam Creek. Colonel Mcintosh formed a battle line and dismounted his skirmishers, who were supported by artillery, and succeeded in driving the Confederate pickets across the Antietam and silencing their battery. Completing his orders, Colonel McIntosh retired back toward Waynesboro.
At 6:00 a.m. in the morning on July 10th, the Sixth Corps marched toward Funkstown, taking position beyond Beaver Creek, about four miles west of Boonsboro and three miles south of Hagerstown. The Sixth Corps formed their battle lines on the right of the National Road. General John Buford and General Judson Kilpatrick were fighting General JEB Stuart’s Cavalry at Funkstown, and the Vermont Brigade under the command of Colonel Lewis Grant was ordered to assist the Union cavalry. Colonel Grant deployed skirmishers and began attacking the Confederate defensive positions. Confederate infantry under the command of General George B. Anderson arrived and after three attacks that were made on them, the Vermonters kept the Confederate infantry at bay. The Battle of Funkstown was the first action since the Battle of Gettysburg where the infantry had clashed with one another. During the Battle of Funkstown, McIntosh’s cavalry patrolled the Waynesboro area from Smithsburg and Leitersburg, to Old Antietam Forge, and re-entered Waynesboro.
The Sixth Corps did not march at all on the 11th. Neill’s brigade, McIntosh’s cavalry, and the Eleventh Brigade of the New York State National Guard under the command of General Jesse Smith began their march to Leitersburg. Colonel McIntosh’s cavalry was ordered to screen toward Smithsburg. Upon reaching Leitersburg they ran into a body of Confederate cavalry, forcing McIntosh to retire to Waynesboro, remaining there for the night.
On July 12th, after sunrise, Wright’s Division, as well as Colonel Henry Eustis’ brigade of General John Newton’s Division were ordered to take Funkstown, cross the Antietam Creek, and take control of the high ground beyond the town. Skirmishing took place along the Union lines across from another ridge where the Confederates were strongly positioned. General Alfred T. A. Torbert recalled at about two o’clock in the afternoon, he was ordered to change his position and move toward the left. This brought the rest of the division in line. Skirmishers scoured the ground and finally took possession of the ridge with very light casualties. One company of Confederate soldiers was taken prisoner in the action. During the day, General Neill made a flanking march along the Antietam Creek and rejoined the Sixth Corps, in line of battle, west of Funkstown.
During the day on July 13th, the Sixth Corps held the same position that they had occupied from the day before. During the evening hours, a small reconnaissance was made by the Sixth Corps to see Confederate entrenchments at Williamsport. On the 14th, after receiving information that the Confederate army had retreated into Virginia, the Sixth Corps immediately sent out skirmishers and scouts. Around noon, the advance units arrived in Williamsport only to find that the Confederate army had indeed slipped away during the night of July 13th. Sending this information back to corps headquarters, the men in Williamsport would encamp there for the night.
On July 15th, the Sixth Corps was ordered back to Boonsboro where they would encamp for the night, a distance of sixteen miles. The following day, on the 16th, they marched through Turner’s Gap to Middletown, and then turned southward toward Berlin, Maryland, covering a distance of twenty miles. On the 17th, the Sixth Corps remained idle. On July 18th, they moved a total of two miles, taking position closer to the Potomac River. On July 19th, the Sixth Corps crossed the Potomac River on a pontoon bridge arriving in Warrenton, Virginia on July 25th.