The Confederate Retreat and the Union Pursuit, Part Four

Last month, I discussed the movements of the Confederate army as they withdrew from Gettysburg, PA to the Mason Dixon Line, near Waynesboro, PA. I also discussed the movements of the Army of the Potomac, as they too, pursued the Confederate army from Gettysburg toward the Mason Dixon Line near Emmitsburg, MD and Littlestown, PA. This month, I want to write about what happened beginning on July 7, 1863, with regard to those movements of the Northern and Southern armies.

By early morning of July 7, the Union army was on the move. The I and III Corps moved directly to Emmitsburg. They stopped briefly at Emmitsburg before moving out on the Emmitsburg Road. The I Corps moved onward to Lewistown, MD, and turned west to begin it’s ascent up the Catoctin Mountain. The III Corps moved as far as Thurmont, MD where they were forced to encamp for the night. The XI Corps and VI Corps will march out of Emmitsburg and move to Middletown, MD. The XI Corps marched over the Catoctin Mountain via High Knob, and the advance unit began arriving at Middletown that evening. The II Corps will take up their line of march to Taneytown, MD from Two Taverns. The XII Corps, near Littlestown, PA, would march to Walkersville, MD on the road that led to Frederick. The V Corps at Emmitsburg picked up the Frederick Road and marched to Utica, MD, where they would encamp for the night.

The Confederate army had encamped along the Mason Dixon Line between Waynesboro, PA and Leitersburg, MD, and began marching to Hagerstown and Williamsport. The bulk of the Confederate army moved without incident. Meanwhile, Union Brigadier General Thomas Neill’s infantry brigade and Colonel John McIntosh’s brigade of cavalry followed safely behind the Confederate rearguard. They entered Waynesboro that evening, where they received a warm reception. Meanwhile, Union Major General William Smith’s division of Pennsylvania militia and New York State National Guard had arrived at Mont Alto, PA. The next day Smith’s division would move into Waynesboro, PA and link up with Brig. Gen. Neill’s brigade encamped there.

While the armies were on the move, heated skirmishes took place just outside of Hagerstown, at the College of St. James and Funkstown. At the College of St. James, just outside of Jones’ Crossroads, the 6th New York Cavalry was ordered to make a demonstration upon the Confederate front positioned near the college. They managed to push back the Confederate pickets. The 6th New York Cavalry then fell back onto Union Colonel Thomas Devin’s line. Shortly before noon, some Confederate infantry, supported by artillery, moved toward the Union Cavalry line. The 9th New York Cavalry moved out to meet the Confederate force near the college, while the rest of the Union cavalry moved east of the Antietam Creek. As the skirmish continued, a squad of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry was ordered to support the 9th New York Cavalry. Seeing these reinforcements, the Confederates began withdrawing back, breaking off the engagement.

The first Battle of Funkstown occurred when the 6th U.S. Cavalry was scouting the area and were spotted by the 7th Virginia Cavalry. As the 7th Virginia Cavalry charged, the 6th U.S. Cavalry quickly deployed skirmishers. During the initial attack, the 7th Virginia Cavalry managed to push the Union troopers back. Orders were given to the Union troopers to mount up and fall back. While they quickly did this, a pursuit took place. The Union troopers of the 6th U.S. Cavalry fell back upon Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s brigade and the 7th Virginia Cavalry quickly fell back. Casualties from the first Battle of Funkstown for the Union was 10 killed, 15 wounded and 66 men missing. The Confederates had 2 wounded and 9 missing.

On July 8, the V Corps began their ascent up the Catoctin Mountain, moving through High Knob to access the Middletown Valley. The XI Corps began moving into Middletown and marched to Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. That evening the XI Corps would be ordered to send reinforcements to the battlefield at Boonsboro, MD. The I Corps marched to Middletown and then was ordered to follow the rear of the XI Corps to Turner’s Gap. The II Corps arrived at Taneytown, MD, where they received a very warm welcome by the citizens of Maryland. The III Corps would march due south of Emmitsburg to Lewistown, and begin crossing the Catoctin Mountain at Hamburg Pass. With the recent heavy rains and the badly torn up road, the III Corps was redirected to march to Frederick, and cross the Catoctin Mountain at Braddock’s Gap on the road to Middletown. The VI Corps would march to Lewistown and then take the road that led over the Catoctin Mountain via Hamburg Pass. The XII Corps marched directly to Frederick and moved through Braddock’s Gap on the Catoctin Mountain.

As the Union army began penetrating into the Middletown Valley, Confederate General Robert E. Lee knew it was only a matter of time before they would move into the Cumberland Valley. Because of the heavy rains that fell for several days, the Potomac River was too high to ford. The pontoon bridge that was burned at Falling Waters on July 4 by Union cavalry forced the Confederate army to wait for the waters to recede before they could cross into West Virginia. General Lee needed to do a few things in order to protect his army. He needed more time for the rear of his Confederate army to concentrate at Hagerstown. Then a new bridge needed to be built in order to carry most of his army across the Potomac River. At the same time, he would order the construction of entrenchments in order to protect his army.

To accomplish the issue with time, General Lee ordered Major General J. E. B. Stuart to take his cavalry division and move along the road from Funkstown and Williamsport, to keep the Union army busy and to keep them from crossing into the Cumberland Valley, via Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. This was to buy at least eight hours of time to allow the rear of the Confederate army to safely move into Hagerstown.

At Boonsboro, Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry was guarding the Funkstown Road, while Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry remained in the open fields along the road leading to Williamsport. They were to guard Boonsboro in case of a Confederate attack that might move along the road to Turner’s Gap.

Early in the morning, Maj. Gen. Stuart’s cavalry began engaging some of Brig. Gen. John Burford’s pickets at Beaver Creek and the Battle of Boonsboro erupted. This battle is Maryland’s largest all cavalry fight during the Civil War. By 10:00 a.m., the battle was concentrated just northwest of town. Brig. Gen. Buford managed to keep back the Confederate cavalry along the Funkstown Road, while receiving intelligence from the Signal Corps base at Washington Monument. But, with the Confederates bearing down on his position, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick was forced to enter the fight.

By that time, Confederate cavalry began deploying on the Williamsport Road, as they tried to hit Buford’s left flank. With both Union cavalry divisions engaged, a game of chess was being played in order to keep the Confederate cavalry in check. A dispatch was sent to Middletown asking for Union infantry support. That message was delivered to Major General Oliver O. Howard, who ordered Major General Carl Schurz’s Third Division to Boonsboro. By 5:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Schurz was deployed east of Boonsboro. Seeing this, Maj. Gen. Stuart broke off the battle and began withdrawing back to Funkstown. Major General Stuart did exactly what General Lee needed by buying time.