June 15 Gettysburg Campaign: Invasion

For the first time Franklin Horner hears rumors that the “rebel army is going towards Maryland as fast as they can,” and that Lincoln has called for 100,000 men for the defense of Washington and Maryland. For now, Horner and his unit stay encamped in the defenses of Washington.

Some 60 miles to the west, Thomas Ware’s situation changes dramatically. The drums beat at daybreak and the men are on the march back through Culpeper by 9:00 a.m. with their bands playing martial music. Their route over the next few hours makes it apparent that they are headed toward the Shenandoah Valley. The wagons carrying their supplies take the good road toward Winchester, VA, and the infantry takes a rougher road. He mentions how the officers were all carrying their own blankets—a sign they would not be seeing the supply wagons again for a while. Ominously, no wagons except the ambulances went with the infantry.

The march was dusty and the day very warm. The beginning of their route apparently did not take them past any water supplies. He writes that for nine miles the men suffered very much on one of the hottest days they had experienced and called it a “force march. A great many fell out of ranks overcome by heat & several sun stroke & some died, the road side was full.”

Thomas Ware begins to exhibit what a fine observer he is in his descriptions of the countryside they are passing through. They stopped and rested for 2 hours in a shady place and the men “fell about like hogs,” tired, hot and thirsty. By 4 p.m. they were back on the march, wading the Hazel River into Rappahannock County. They were still marching at dark when they crossed the Thornton River and continued to march until 9:00 p.m. They camped with orders to leave at daylight. Ware says he got little sleep.

And so the great invasion, at least for our two subject soldiers, has begun. Horner is still in the defenses of Washington and may think he will stay there since defending Washington is one of the primary objectives of the Union Army. Ware is headed towards the Shenandoah Valley. Robert E. Lee’s strategy for the invasion is to use the mountains as a screen for his army, moving northeastward, plugging the gaps with cavalry. The valley is a natural pathway into Pennsylvania. Once there, Lee hopes to gather as many supplies as he can and send them back into Virginia via the valley. How far will he get? He hopes to reach Harrisburg, capital of the state and perhaps as far as Philadelphia. The rich Pennsylvania countryside, un-vexed as yet by war, beckons.

Ware estimates his march that day at 18 miles. It was, literally, a killing pace. When you think about the Civil War soldiers’ lifestyle—their lack of proper nutrition and regular exercise, the universal overuse of tobacco, the cursory medical examinations—it really is no wonder so many succumbed to the rigors of the march and died by the wayside. Confederate general John B. Hood’s division, of which Ware’s unit is a part, loses some 500 men this day, dropping out of the march from exhaustion.

Our vision of the Civil War soldier dying nobly in battle, softly floating to the ground wrapped in the folds of his country’s flag, struck down by a swift, clean bullet is fantasy. Men in that war died in the most horrific ways imaginable: torn apart by artillery, or struck by the malleable lead, .58 caliber, one ounce bullet, or slowly, painfully dying from infection worried about their loved ones left without them, or lying by some dusty roadside overcome by heat and thirst. Who knows how many more will die this way again tomorrow?

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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