Before the Grand Charge, General George Pickett’s Division At Chambersburg

07523rDuring the month of May, 1863, Confederate General George Pickett’s Division had remained, for the most part, untested as a military force. Originally, Pickett’s Division had five brigades of infantry, one of which was from South Carolina. But during their arrival at Petersburg, Virginia, Colonel Micah Jenkins’ South Carolina Brigade was detached and ordered to stand guard around Richmond, Virginia. Soon afterward, Pickett began to march his men to Chester Station where they would encamp. After a few days, the march was resumed and upon reaching Taylorsville, Pickett’s Division would encamp there during the rest of May. As June neared, General Montgomery D. Corse’s Virginia Brigade was detached from Pickett’s Division and was ordered to remain in the area of Taylorsville. This left three brigades under General Pickett’s command, General James Kemper, General Lewis Armistead and General Richard Garnett.

During the early part of June, General Pickett ordered his men to march to Culpeper Court House, where they arrived on June 10th, and encamped in the area until June 15th. On the 17th, the division took a right at Gaines’ Cross Roads and marched east, parallel to the Blue Ridge, and encamped for the night at Piedmont. By June 19th, Pickett’s Division had reached Paris and Middleburg, Virginia. They held the line between Ashby’s Gap and Snicker’s Gap within supporting distance of General John B. Hood’s Division.

On June 20th, Pickett’s Division arrived at Snicker’s Gap and began fording the Shenandoah River at Castleman’s Ferry. The brigades of General Kemper and General Armistead would bivouac near Edgemont and Berryville. General Garnett’s brigade would ford the Shenandoah River two days later. General Garnett was kicked by the horse of an officer on General Pickett’s staff. His leg grew sore and unable to ride his horse, General Garnett was forced to ride in an ambulance.

Pickett’s Division would remain in the area of Berryville until it left camp on June 24th. While encamped there, several regiments received new clothing from the quartermaster. From Berryville, Pickett’s Division took the Charlestown Pike, but soon took a left and came out onto the Valley Pike near Darkesville. Pickett’s Division would encamp there for the night. As the men marched, it was noted that their spirits were high and they had a great deal of confidence for the pending invasion north of the Potomac River.

3a00277rOn June 25th, Pickett’s Division arrived at the Potomac River and was in Williamsport, Maryland. Although great excitement was in the air, the Confederate soldiers of Pickett’s Division received a cool reception. This iciness would gradually get worse as the Confederate soldiers crossed the Mason Dixon Line. While at Williamsport, to set and example to his men, General Pickett had a Confederate deserter executed. Marching forward to Hagerstown, General Pickett’s men were ordered to halt, allowing some of the units of General A.P. Hill’s Corps to march through at Hagerstown.

On the 26th, Pickett’s men had passed through Hagerstown and the march continued across the Mason Dixon Line. Near Greencastle, Pennsylvania Pickett’s Division encamped for the night. Now, being fully on Pennsylvania soil, Major James Dearing, commanding the artillery, recalled “Welcome they were not” referring to the gray clad Confederate soldiers. David Emmons Johnston of the 8th Virginia Infantry noted “the people defiance and vindictive mien; while not speaking out, their looks indicated that deep down in their bosoms was rancor and the wish that all the rebel hosts were dead and corralled by the devil.”

20468vOn June 27th, Pickett’s men arrived in Chambersburg. They would march through the outskirts of town and encamp a few miles north along the Carlisle Road. During the evening, the 38th Virginia Infantry was ordered to Scotland to guard the commissary wagons. Johnston recorded at the home of Colonel Alexander McClure “Some ladies appeared and volunteered to deliver a sharp, spicy address, which was responded to by the band of our regiment, with “Dixie.” The boys sang “Dixie” and “Bonnie Blue Flag,” laughed and cheered lustily.”

Many of the Confederate soldiers of Pickett’s command were reported by some of the locals as being in poor condition. A week prior to entering into Chambersburg, many of the new uniforms that were issued to the soldiers were caked with mud, grime and due to weather conditions, were faded. Often times Union and Confederate soldiers were careless, and as a result, it didn’t take long for that new uniform to loose its luster of being new. On June 30th, a report was issued by Pickett’s Division with concerns of their clothing. While many regiments were recorded as being in “good shape,” there were fewer in number that were reported as being in “bad” or poor condition.

Prior to the invasion of Pennsylvania, many of the Confederate officers were ordered to obtain a Confederate regulation uniform. Since officers were not issued a uniform, they had to purchase theirs. Because of that, officers were more careful about their uniforms. There are several accounts of how much better dressed the officers were as compared to those in which they command.

General Pickett was assigned the task of destroying the Cumberland Valley Railroad, a vital transportation system. Pickett’s men were to destroy the railroad tracks that were in the area, as well as destroy the train turntable, burning any train cars, and tearing down the railroad houses. About a mile or so of railroad was destroyed. The soldiers would pile up the ties and set them on fire. Once the fire was burning hot, the railroad track would be laid on it, and by heating the rails, the soldiers would then bend the tracks around trees.

Colonel Eppa Hunton, commanding the 8th Virginia Infantry, and temporarily commanding Garnett’s Brigade, was assigned the duties of tearing up the road, destroying the turntable, and battering down the railroad houses. He recalled “While I was engaged in this work, a man came out to me and asked me if I would spare his property, which was in one of the cars. I told him certainly, that we were not there to make war on private individuals. He was very grateful, and invited me and half a dozen others into his house to take a drink. While we were in the dining-room taking a drink, his wife came in, in a perfect fury, and said to him, “How dare you to bring rebels into my house to take a drink? I will see that you are punished for this.” But notwithstanding her rage, we all took our drink.”

Pickett’s command was also responsible for guarding the wagon train until General John Imboden’s command reached that area. This was an honorable task for Pickett’s Division. Those men who did not participate were ordered to remain in camp and drill upwards to three times a day. This was done to prevent any bands of soldiers disrespecting the citizens of Chambersburg or causing any mischief.

The 56th Virginia Infantry served as the divisional provost marshal and made their headquarters at the courthouse. They were told to enforce General Robert E. Lee’s initial orders concerning the private property and personal values owned by the people of Chambersburg. The reason for the marshal law was because many of the Confederate soldiers marching northward saw firsthand the destruction caused by the war and by the occupying soldiers of the Union army.

On June 28th, General Lee issued orders for his army to concentrate at Gettysburg. The next day, the majority of Pickett’s Division was ordered to move their camps just south of Chambersburg. By June 30th, the bulk of the Confederate army was east of Chambersburg, near Cashtown. General A.P. Hill’s Corps was east of South Mountain, General James Longstreet’s Corps was west of South Mountain and General Richard Ewell’s command was still north of Gettysburg. Pickett’s men were ordered to stay behind, complete their tasks, and wait for General Imboden and his brigade to arrive to relieve them of their duties.

Chambersburg resident Rachel Cormany wrote about the activities of Pickett’s men. On June 30th she wrote “The Rebs are still about doing all the mischief they can. They have everything ready to set fire to the warehouses & machine shops — Tore up the railroad track & burned the crossties — They have cleared out nearly every store so they cannot rob much more — Evening — Quite a number of the young folks were in the parlor this evening singing all the patriotic & popular war songs. Quite a squad of rebels gathered outside to listen & seemed much pleased with the music — “When this cruel war is over” nearly brought tears from some. They sent in a petition to have it sung again which was done. They then thanked the girls very much & left — they acted real nicely.”

On July 1st Rachel wrote “A darkey, Colonels waiter heard him say that he thought that Lee made a bad move this time–he also said that a large wagon train was hid in the woods & that they could not get out, that they are watching their chance to slip out — he said too that the officers were very uneasy — Every one can see by their actions that they do not feel quite as easy as they would like. They are chopping & at a great rate over at the R.R. all morning.”

On July 2nd, two hours past midnight, the soldiers of Pickett’s Division were awakened and within minutes they were in line on the Chambersburg Pike. Their orders were to proceed to the battlefield at Gettysburg. A distance of twenty-five miles would be covered over the dusty Chambersburg Pike.

Colonel Hunton recalled an incident as he marched past the home of Mr. Alexander K. McClure “The ladies of his family, and perhaps some of the neighbors, all came out to the gate to see the soldiers pass, and they did not taunt us with any insults, or look unkindly upon us. I was sorry to hear that later in the war his house and all of his property was destroyed, and his farm devastated.”

Rachel, awakened by the sounds of cheering Confederate soldiers, wrote in her dairy “was wakened by the yells & howls of this dirty ragged lousy trash — they made as ugly as they could — all day they have been passing.”

Pickett’s Division marched over South Mountain at Cashtown Gap. At the eastern base was the small town of Cashtown. Soon, the sound of cannon was heard in the distance and the soldiers knew a major battle was being fought. Only one day separated Pickett and his men from glory. Even while performing their duties at Chambersburg, Pickett realized that being the rearguard was an honorable place to be in the army. However, if a major battle was being fought, Pickett grew inpatient waiting for those orders to come upon the battlefield at Gettysburg.

The men and officers of the Pickett’s Division were excited about plans of going into the fight, but only if they knew what lay before them the next day. The hot July sun and dust from the road were harsh elements that Pickett’s men had to deal with during the march. One Virginian recalled “The vertical rays of the sun seemed like real lances of steel, tipped with fire.” Another soldier recalled “Steam rose in their faces and choking dust gathered in their throats and eyes.” By late evening, the majority of Pickett’s men were in the area of Gettysburg.

David Emmons Johnston of the 8th Virginia Infantry summed it up best when he later wrote “As the shades of night began to gather on this bright eve, being fatigued with the day’s march, all retired early to rest, little dreaming that upon such lovely eve, such awful morn should rise. Brave, happy souls, little do you anticipate the horrors of the next twenty-four hours! All was quiet during the night until reveille, which was sounded before day, when we fell into ranks for roll call, the last for so many gallant men, who on this eventful day were to pour out their life’s blood for freedom and the right, as God gave them to see the right, and to go to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.”

Resources:
Autobiography of Eppa Hunton, The William Burd Press, Inc. Richmond, VA 1933.
Confederate Uniforms at Gettysburg, By Michael Winey, Thomas Publications, 2007
Franklin County: Diary of Rachel Cormany (1863) by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 1998
Nothing But Glory, By Kathy Georg Harrison, Thomas Publications, 1987
Pickett Leader of a Charge, By Edward Longacre, White Mane Publishing, 1998
The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War, By David E. Johnston of the 7th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Copyright, 1914
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
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