Emmitsburg News Journal, August 2013
A lot of attention has been given to the Battle of Gettysburg. But to me, the Confederate retreat, the Union pursuit, and the race to Williamsport is as important as the Battle of Gettysburg. These series of movements during the ten days following the Battle of Gettysburg often resulted in major battles being fought in Washington County. The Confederate army needed to get to Williamsport and secure it for their safe journey into Virginia. For the Union army, if they could beat Lee and cut him off, they could very well end the war in Washington County. This article is just a brief summary of the some of the movements and battles that were fought from July 4th through July 14th, 1863.
At the close of July 3rd, 1863, the Confederate army had been beaten at Gettysburg. As midnight approached, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began ordering the withdraw of the Army of Northern Virginia from the fields of Gettysburg. General Lee would use two South Mountain passes for the retreat of the Confederate army into Maryland via the Cumberland Valley. The first was Cashtown Gap, where the wagon train of wounded led by General John Imboden would move out, using the Chambersburg Pike to the Waynesboro Road and then Pine Stomp Road, which led to Greencastle and eventually to Williamsport. The wagon trains of Generals A.P. Hill and James Longstreet Corps would also be led out using the same network of roads.
The second South Mountain pass was that of Monterey Pass. This mountain pass provided a short and direct route from Gettysburg to Williamsport. The Confederate reserve train, under the command of Major John Harman would move first, followed by the wagon train belonging to General Richard Ewell’s Corps. Following behind those wagons would be the Confederate infantry. The last known Confederate soldier would march through Monterey Pass during the afternoon of July 6th.
The Union Army of the Susquehanna would block the northern most South Mountain passes by Carlisle. The New York State National Guard and Pennsylvania Militia would spend the night of July 4th-6th marching toward Cashtown, following the ridgeline. It was an awful time crossing the mountain as storms rolled in.
To the south, in Maryland, portions of Union General William French’s command controlled the mountain gaps of Turner’s, Fox’s and Crampton’s Gap. General French had his headquarters in Frederick city.
A Union cavalry force led by General Judson Kilpatrick was ordered to harass the retreating Confederate army. On July 4th, he would leave Gettysburg for Emmitsburg, and from there head right toward Monterey Pass, where he engaged Confederate cavalry and infantry during a major thunderstorm in the middle of the night. This was the only battle of the Civil War fought on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line.
General JEB Stuart arrives in Emmitsburg at dawn on the 5th and attacks a small Union party, capturing 70 soldiers. Stuart would then try to connect with the Confederate army during his movements in Frederick County, crossing the Catoctin Mountain range and South Mountain using the road to Smithsburg.
Kilpatrick would later fight Confederate General JEB Stuart at Smithsburg during the evening of July 5th. Arriving at Boonsboro just after midnight on July 6th, Kilpatrick rested his force. As the day continued, Kilpatrick, supported by General John Buford, would launch an attack against the Confederate forces guarding the wagon trains at Hagerstown and Williamsport. The attack was not successful and the Union cavalry was forced back to Boonsboro.
After receiving orders on July 5th to pursue the Confederate army, the Army of the Potomac begins its pursuit. Over the next two days, Emmitsburg will host the First Corps, the Third Corps, the Fifth Corps, The Sixth Corps, and the Eleventh Corps. The Second Corps and the Twelfth Corps will march toward Carroll County and move to Frederick via Taneytown. By July 8th, the Army of the Potomac is west of the Catoctin Mountain.
By July 8th, the cavalry battle of Boonsboro erupts. This battle buys the Confederate army a day in order to be concentrated at or around Hagerstown. The New York State National Guard, under the command of General William Smith occupies Waynesboro, and is closing in on Lee’s army from the north, while Meade is closing in from the east. To General Lee’s south is a swollen Potomac River and no pontoon bridge with which to cross upon. The end result is that the Confederate army began to entrench themselves. Several lines of entrenchments will be constructed from Hagerstown to Downsville.
On July 10th, Stuart buys the Confederates even more time when he holds back Buford’s cavalry at Funkstown. This battle will be the first battle where infantry will fight against infantry since the closing of the Battle of Gettysburg. The fight is harsh, but Stuart buys Lee the time he needs to work on his defenses.
By July 11th, the Union army is closing in on General Lee’s Confederate army. The next day, the Union army will be west of the Antietam Creek. During the evening, General George Meade holds a council of war in which the majority of his Corps commanders will vote NO to an all out assault on the Confederate defenses.
On July 13th, the Army of the Potomac spent much of the day realigning their position. Their battle lines ran from Funkstown to Jones’ Cross Roads. Within supporting distance, Smith’s Division of the New York State National Guards marches toward Boonsboro. During the early morning of July 14th, the Confederate infantry began crossing the Potomac River into Falling Waters. The Battle of Falling Waters on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River breaks out as portions of the Union army move toward Williamsport.
Realizing that the majority of the Confederate army was south of the Potomac River, General Meade issued marching orders to his corps commanders to fall back toward Pleasant Valley, where the Union army will cross the Potomac River at various points near Harper’s Ferry, Sandy Point and Knoxville in the next several days.