As the Battle of Gettysburg raged for three days, the New York State National Guard continued to guard and picket the various networks of roads and mountain gaps leading to Harrisburg. The units in Baltimore kept up their efforts of escorting Confederate prisoners to Federal prison camps, and picketing the network of roads. On July 3rd, the 17th and the 84th NYSNG were the last New York National Guard regiments to enter Baltimore. The 18th NYSNG was the last regiment to enter Harrisburg. By July 3rd, nearly fourteen thousand New York State National Guardsmen were serving in Maryland and in Pennsylvania. As the day closed on July 3rd, their role in the Pennsylvania Campaign would take a heavy toll, testing each man, especially those in Pennsylvania.
On July 4th, those New York State National Guard regiments serving under General Joseph Knipe in Pennsylvania were issued marching orders. They were to move to Carlisle, and from there march directly into South Mountain via Mount Holly. That afternoon, a serve thunderstorm hit the entire area. Roads were flooded as mountain creeks rose quickly from the rain. As daylight turned into darkness, South Mountain became hideous to the extreme. The men were trying to get to Pine Grove Furnace and block the northern gaps of South Mountain preventing the retreating Confederate army from using that area.
Many men noted that in some cases they had to fell trees over creeks and try to walk over them or in between them from being swept away by the raging current. The men were soaked to the bone and by the time they reached Pine Grove, the Pennsylvania Militia had taken refuge inside the outbuildings, forcing the New Yorkers to sleep outside during the pouring rain.
Not all New York State National Guardsmen suffered as badly as those in General Knipe’s Brigade. Several regiments stayed behind at Harrisburg maintaining the forts and garrisons there. To the south at Baltimore, those regiments faired much better, as they continued to garrison the forts.
The next day, General William Smith’s Division, of which General Knipe’s Brigade was part of, was ordered to Newman’s Gap just west of Cashtown. Many bivouacked near Bendersville that night as they began to follow the South Mountain ridge toward their destination. Many of the soldiers had no rations to eat and because of the nature of the torn up roads, the quartermaster and commissary wagons were not able to keep up and were forced to lag behind.
To the south, the 7th New York State National Guard was ordered to Frederick city. The 7th New York State National Guard would eventually take over the Provost command of Frederick. Crude camps were made in the fields surrounding Monocacy Junction, and the men of the 7th New York State National Guard would picket area roads leading into the city.
By July 6th, Smith’s Division moved to Caledonia Furnace and encamped there for the night. The next morning, they were ordered to Waynesboro, PA. They marched to Mont Alto where they encamped for the night. During the day other New York State National Guard units based in Harrisburg began to move to Carlisle. From there they took the rail to Shippensburg. Arriving there at night, the men of Yates’ Brigade were ordered to march by the light of the moon toward Greenville, near Chambersburg.
At Frederick, the 7th New York State National Guard had already begun to see the advance units of the Army of the Potomac. They were hackled by the Union veterans, but for the most part, the 7th New York State National Guard would continue their picketing duties. The next day, the 7th New York State National Guard would be in charge of the Provost duties in Frederick.
As dawn came on July 8th, the New Yorkers of Smith’s Division awoke and began marching to Waynesboro. They would reach the town during the late afternoon where they just missed the rear of the Confederate army and were greeted by members of the Army of the Potomac Sixth Corps. They marched out of town on the Leitersburg Pike and made camp near the Antietam Creek, along the Mason Dixon Line. Yates’ Brigade remained stationary during the day.
The next several days, Smith’s Division picketed the Emmitsburg and Waynesboro Turnpike as well as other major roads leading into Waynesboro. The men were idle in camp and were not allowed to go into Waynesboro during their down time. Several regiments of New Yorkers were ordered out to observe the retreating Confederate army as they marched toward Hagerstown.
By July 11th, Yate’s Brigade made their entrance in Chambersburg and they would encamp there until July 14th, when they were ordered to Greencastle. Smith’s Division, located along the Mason Dixon Line received orders to march toward Boonsboro. The 7th New York State National Guard in Frederick were relieved of Provost duty and continued to picket area roads leading into Frederick.
On July 12th, the New Yorkers took the turnpike that led to Smithsburg. During their march, a frightfully severe thunderstorm struck. As the men took refuge near Cavetown, lightning had struck a shelter tent of the 56th New York State National Guard, killing some and wounding others.
The next morning, the New Yorkers at Cavetown were ordered to march to Boonsboro. Throughout the day, they heard cannonading from the direction of Hagerstown and Williamsport. They reached Boonsboro late in the evening and encamped just outside of town.
On July 14th, Smith’s Division was ordered to march toward Williamsport via Beaver Creek. The soldiers within Smith’s Division heard rumors of rioting occurring in New York City due to the drafts. Yates’ Brigade marched from Chambersburg to Greencastle, where they halted. Those New York regiments located in Baltimore and Frederick were ordered to board the train and head back to New York to assist in putting down the Draft Riots.
As dawn came on the morning of July 15th, the New Yorkers in Smith’s Division were ordered to proceed at once to Frederick, Maryland. They marched through Boonsboro, and Turner’s Gap upon South Mountain. By afternoon, they reached Middletown where they crossed the Catoctin Mountain via Braddock’s Gap. By late evening, Frederick was reached. They had marched about twenty-five miles from Beaver Creek to Monocacy Junction, where many of the men dropped over from fatigue and exhaustion.
The next morning, many of the soldiers boarded the train and headed toward Baltimore. Many regiments went onto New York City, while several others headed back to Harrisburg. By mid July, the majority of those New York State National Guardsmen were mustered out of U.S. service.
Their exploits during the Pennsylvania Campaign were far from anything they had experienced before. Fast paced marches over long distances, sleeping on the cold, wet ground during severe thunderstorms. Several regiments managed to skirmish with the Confederates during the days leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. A few men immediately began to write books about their experiences in Pennsylvania and Maryland. All wanted their story to be told, and the men themselves wanted recognition for what they contributed, in protecting the people during their thirty days’ campaign.