After the Battle of Gettysburg: The Movements of the First Corps

Earlier during the day of July 3rd after Pickett’s Charge, Colonel Francis Randall’s Vermont Brigade was on picket duty and was finally relieved by General David Birney’s Division of Sickles’ Corps. The next day on July 4th, soldier details were hard at work caring for the wounded and dying. The Union army waited for another attack, but no such attack came, and by the evening of July 4th, as the sun was setting behind black clouds, the advance of the Confederate army was in retreat. By nightfall, in the midst of a rain storm, the camp fires of the Confederate infantry were burning, but the Confederate infantry would begin to fall back to Fairfield for their retreat.

After spending a whole day on the battlefield on July 4th, the First Corps were ordered to move back several hundred yards to obtain better ground for an encampment. Throughout the day of July 5th, the First Corps were ordered to perform the tasks of collecting of arms, caring for the wounded as well as burying the dead. Colonel Charles Wainwright commanding the artillery reserve recalled the conditions of the dead. “The bodies presented a ghastly sight being swollen almost to the bursting of their clothes and the faces perfectly black.” Late in the day, orders were given to all corps in the Army of the Potomac, to begin moving out the following day.

The next day on the 6th, the First Corps began carrying out his orders from General George Meade for the pursuit of the Confederate army that was moving through South Mountain on their march to Williamsport. The First Corps was to march in reverse order on the same roads that they had taken to Gettysburg during the last days of June. The First Corps were to take up a line of march to Emmitsburg, Maryland, bivouacking near Marsh Creek. It was at this time that General Abner Doubleday was ordered directly to Washington for administrative duties and General John Newton was left in charge of the First Corps.

On July 7th, the First Corps marched into Emmitsburg, where they were met by the Sisters of Charity who shared their contents of food, that was contained in several wagons, with the men in blue. Many of the men were dirty, not having bathed in several days. The cold rain during the evening would not change that feeling and some of the officers even dismounted, washing their feet in the streams with a dirty handkerchief, as such was the case of Colonel Charles Wainwright. After spending a few hours bivouacked at Emmitsburg, the First Corps marched onward to modern day Thurmont, called Mechanicstown during the Civil War, and onward to Hamburg upon the Catoctin Mountain.

Upon marching through Lewistown, many young girls sang out “Battle Cry for Freedom” where members of the 13th Massachusetts complemented them. At Lewistown, as the Union troops marched toward the Catoctin Mountain, the heavy rains and muggy weather became hard on the men. Many Union troops were forced to march without shoes, leaving their feet bruised and blistered. The road conditions gradually improved and quartermaster wagons were able to get through. The roadway to Hamburg was congested and the march was going at a slow pace. Henry Kieffer noted that the Catoctin Mountain got “steeper and steeper, while the darkness was deeper and deeper.”

Colonel Wainwright was alerted about the road conditions leading to Hamburg and he diverted his artillery reserve toward Frederick, taking Shookstown Road and crossing over the Catoctin Mountain at Shookstown Pass. His artillery horses were doubled up in order to pull the cannon up the steep mountain.

By morning of July 8th, the First Corps had penetrated into the Middletown Valley, passing through the small towns of Bellsville and Harmony. The sunshine was a bright and welcomed site to the men. The artillery reserve managed to get in a bath near Middletown, and clean some of the cannon carriages off before being ordered to Turner’s Gap. Following up with the rear of the Eleventh Corps during the evening, the portions of the First Corps moved onward to Turner’s Gap, taking position on the left side of the National Road, with two divisions of the Eleventh Corps stationed on the right with the artillery.

On July 9th, the soldiers of the First Corps encamped at Turner’s Gap where they were placed on reserve due to a pitched cavalry fight outside of Boonsboro. The next day on the 10th, the First Corps marched toward Beaver Creek and Wagner’s Crossroads. On July 11th, the First Corps remained stationary. First Lieutenant James Thomas, Adjutant of the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry wrote to his father “Our march from Gettysburg to this place has been a rapid and severe one. One day we made 28 miles, 12 of it in the mountains.”

The following day, on July 12th, the First Corps moved onto the heights of Funkstown, where it deployed a line of battle to the left of the Confederate battle line. Crossing over the Antietam Creek, and amidst another rainstorm, they marched onward along the National Road. Colonel Edmund Dana commanding Third Division’s Second Brigade noted that preparations were made for an attack. “My brigade being in the front line, skirmishers were thrown out, and a brisk fire opened. Night came on, and the enemy withdrew.” Some of the men such as the Iron Brigade threw up breastworks. Many of the soldiers were tearing down fences in preparations of the battle.

Holding there throughout the day of the 13th, the First Corps moved into Williamsport on the 14th of July. By July 15th, with no Confederate army to engage in battle, the First Corps was ordered toward Crampton’s Gap, encamping at Rohersville in Pleasant Valley for the night. The next day they were ordered to Berlin, Maryland, crossing the Potomac River on July 18th, and pursued Lee as far as Warrenton Junction where it encamped on July 25th.

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