At dawn on the Fourth of July, the Second Corps was still holding the same position as it did during Pickett’s Charge. General Winfield Hancock was wounded during the Confederate assault in addition to General John Gibbon. The responsibilities to lead the Second Corps during their pursuit of the retreating Confederate army fell upon General William Hays. For the soldiers of Second Corps, July 4th and a portion of July 5th was spent burying the dead, collecting arms and accouterments from the battlefield and caring for the wounded.
On July 5th, General George Meade issued orders for their withdraw from the Gettysburg battlefield to pursue the retreating Confederates. At about 3:00 p.m. the Second Corps began leaving their hastily made breastworks, and began marching in the direction of the Baltimore Pike. Fording Marsh Creek, the Second Corps marched to Two Taverns, where they bivouacked for the night. The day had been a wet one as they traveled along the muddy roads and the soldiers were thankful when they reached Two Taverns at 8:00 p.m. that night.
The 6th of July was spent bivouacked in the fields surrounding Two Taverns. The citizens of Two Taverns were not very hospitable and did not treat the soldiers very kindly. Already in a disagreeable mood due to the foul weather, the soldiers’ presence in their town made the inhabitants even more unpleasant. The citizens of Two Taverns opened their stores to the soldiers and began to charge dramatically inflated prices for goods that the soldiers wanted to purchase. Several soldiers were very upset with the townspeople and thought that the march elsewhere could not come fast enough.
At five o’clock in the morning on July 7th, the Second Corps began their march to Taneytown, where they would encamp near the road that would take them directly to Frederick. After marching across the Mason Dixon Line, the soldiers had a warmer reception in Maryland. The Second Corps arrived at Taneytown during the later part of the morning. Here, the Second Corps would bivouac and receive rations. Along the eight mile march in the rain, they received loads of milk and other goodies. Near Taneytown, the ladies made bread to give to the soldiers.
At five o’clock in the morning on July 8th, the Second Corps took up their line of march on the road that led directly to Frederick. Before sunrise, another major storm swept through the area, making it a total of four days of severe weather. Soon the rain subsided and the first rays of sunshine broke through the clouds. The roads that the Second Corps traveled through the little towns of New Midway, Woodsboro, and Walkersville were very tore up by the recent rains. Upon reaching the banks of the Monocacy River at 5:00 p.m., the Second Corps was ordered to bivouac. They had marched about twenty miles during the day.
At 6:00 a.m. on July 9th, the Second Corps began its march toward Crampton’s Gap, upon the South Mountain range. The weather was hot and the march was slow. The soldiers passed through a small horizon of the Catoctin Mountain, passing through the small town of Jefferson and Burkettsville. During the day many soldiers, unable to keep up with the long march, were forced out of line and fell along the side of the road waiting on the ambulances to come by and pick them up. While others too sick to move were taken in by the families who occupied the farms that dotted the landscape.
Upon marching through Burkettsville, Crampton’s Gap had to be crossed. Many of the soldiers reflected upon this area with a heavy heart, as it was the scene of the battle they had heard about that took place in September of 1862. This was the area where General William Franklin’s Sixth Corps fought portions of General Lafayette McLaw’s division in the days prior to the Battle of Antietam. Once marching over South Mountain, the Second Corps entered Pleasant Valley, and proceeded toward Rohrersville. The lead elements would encamp near Rohrersville while the rear portion of the Second Corps encamped just west of Crampton’s Gap. The Second Corps had marched roughly twenty-two miles that day.
The next day, on the 10th of July, the Second Corps began their march at around six in the morning. They marched through Rohrersville taking the road that led to Keedysville. Upon fording the Anitetam Creek at Keedysville, many soldiers recalled memories of the Battle of Antietam. The Antietam Creek was running high due to the recent rains. With this, many men undressed, placing their clothes under their rubber blankets in order to keep their clothes dry, and bathed while fording the creek.
The Second Corps continued its march toward Jones’ Crossroads. The lead elements made it as far as Smoketown and Tilghmanton, covering a total distance of twelve miles. The rear of the Second Corps managed to bivouac three miles north of Keedysville. Prior to receiving orders to encamp, the leading elements formed a line of battle near Jones’ Crossroads, paralleling the Hagerstown Pike. They would encamp there for the night, sending out pickets.
The next day at 4:00 a.m. reveille was sounded, and by 6:00 a.m. the Second Corps continued its march toward Hagerstown. Many of the men marched through the wheat fields near Saint James, where a halt was made near noon. There, the Second Corps formed a line of battle to the left of the Fifth Corps, with the wing resting on the Hagerstown Road.
The soldiers found a spring where cold water was flowing. There, many of the men who did not clean up at the Antietam Creek began to wash their uniforms when orders to fall in were given. The soldiers took their uniforms and tried to dry them the best that they could. Some of the men placed their fatigue blouse on their bayonet to let the air dry them. Skirmishers were sent out and engaged a few Confederate skirmishers but no major assault was made. The Union skirmishers managed to drive them in, and overtook their positions by nightfall. By 9:00 p.m. another change in the deployment of the Second Corps was made, ordering the soldiers to be parallel with the Hagerstown Pike. On this night the soldiers would sleep with rifles in hand.
On July 12th, the Second Corps moved about three-quarters of a mile to the spot where their skirmishers from the previous day had occupied. Their position was located upon a crest in the landscape with heavy timber located nearby. Some men were positioned along a rocky ledge. General Alexander Webb noted that his brigade took position facing northwest, and was in front of Saint James College. Skirmishers moved forward, and again began engaging the Confederate pickets. As the darkness of night neared, the soldiers began to dig in and build entrenchments. Dirt and rails were abundant in the area and those resources were perfect for breastworks. That night, another rainstorm blew in.
On July 13th, the right wing of the Second Corps moved forward about a half of a mile and took position facing the west, looking toward Williamsport. While the right wing moved to its new position, the rest of the men continued to work on their entrenchments. They were expecting a Confederate attack that never came. During the night, the Confederate army withdrew from Williamsport and retreated into Virginia.
The next day, at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, portions of the Second Corps were ordered to Williamsport, where it was discovered that the Confederate army had retreated. Several Confederate soldiers were captured. As General John Brooke’s brigade continued pressing the rear of the Confederate army toward Falling Waters, skirmishes broke out. Brooke’s brigade eventually encamped near Falling Waters. Colonel H. Boyd McKeen’s brigade, who held the advance of the pursuing Second Corps, captured fifty Confederate soldiers, and gave up the pursuit near Falling Waters.
On July 15th, the Second Corps was ordered toward Sandy Hook. Many of the men marched from Williamsport, passing through Downsville to Sharpsburg, and encamped near Harper’s Ferry that night along the C&O Canal. Early the next morning, the Second Corps marched toward Sandy Hook. Many of the soldiers in Pleasant Valley had received new uniforms and rations. Several of the men took the opportunity to bath in the Potomac River. They remained at Sandy Hook and Pleasant Valley until July 18th at 6:00 a.m. when they crossed the Potomac River into Virginia.