June 20 Gettysburg Campaign: Fences, Again

Franklin Horner gets some interesting news this day: all furloughs are stopped. It means that no one can leave camp, a sign that they may be called up for active duty.

Horner’s assignment since he was wounded at Antietam was to work on the defensive lines around the capital. It was physically less stressful than active campaigning and gave the men time to recuperate from illness or minor wounds while remaining in the army. It was called the “Invalid Corps.” But as emergencies arose, like when the Confederates are looking like they are on a full-scale incursion across the Mason-Dixon Line, the “Invalid Corps,” after months of relative inactivity, would be ordered on the same strenuous marches their counterparts had endured.

Though the weather was still rainy, Thomas Ware’s unit could finally build fires using fences for firewood. They bought butter from local farmers at “50c.” At 9:00 a.m. they received marching orders to return up the mountain to the Gap. There, probably just down the slope (or “military crest” of the hill), each company built rock breastworks 3 feet high and cut fields of fire in front of them. He was convinced the position could be defended against 10 times their number. They finished their entrenching, built fires and relaxed, cooking rations. But after all that work, at 3:00 p.m., they were ordered to abandon their prepared position. They re-crossed the river carrying the half-cooked beef in their hands.

Ware mentions that Pickett’s Division was marching in front of them—the same Pickett’s Division that was to make the ill-fated charge just two weeks hence.

They were ordered not to take off their clothes for the crossing: “few obeyed it.” They marched another mile and, at 6:00 p.m. encamped in a grove. They began to tear down local fences but were ordered to stop. They worked out a payment system with the farmer and finished cooking the rations late into the night.

The problem with burning fences was not confined to the Union army. Officers on both sides tried in vain to protect civilian property. One notable order came down from headquarters saying that only the top rail may be used for firewood. As each succeeding unit passed the fences, the men took what they perceived as the “top” rail until the fence had completely disappeared.

The nature of the war was changing. At the beginning, using “Napoleonic Tactics” in which the officers were schooled at the various military academies in both sections of the country, the warfare was strictly “linear.” The assaulting soldiers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to attack another line of the enemy. But after a number of brutal stand-up, volley-for-volley fights, some of the officers realized that method was too costly. As a field commander, Robert E. Lee was given by his men the nickname “The King of Spades” since he ordered his men to dig in nearly every time they halted. It was hard work but it saved lives. By the time the two sides were at Petersburg, VA, in June 1864, the men created full-scale trenches, foreshadowing the trench warfare of the next century.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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