June 25 Gettysburg Campaign: The Great Confederate Raid of 1863

This Thursday Franklin Horner finally gets his marching orders. He comments that he thinks they are headed to join the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s largest army in the field, to counter Lee’s invasion.

Thomas Ware writes that it is a cloudy day, “a splendid day to march,” and once again records the details of his march route over 21 miles to near Martinsburg.

Horner’s intuition is correct: they are marching to join the army whose job it is to counter Lee’s invasion of the north. Where they will finally meet up is a mystery. Though he marches less than two miles, the tension is broken and they are part of the active campaign.

Ware puts in a long and tiring day. The part of the country they are passing through used to be Virginia, but as of June 20, by presidential proclamation, it became the new state of West Virginia. Apparently, it was acceptable for a section of the state to “secede” from the secession.

Part of Ware’s route takes him near the Old Valley Turnpike (now route 11) a major thoroughfare for both armies marching up and down the Valley. (By the way, going “up” the Shenandoah Valley means traveling south and upward in altitude; going “down” the Valley means heading north.) Ware’s infantry comrades do not get the luxury of marching on the smooth Valley Turnpike—that’s for the wheeled artillery and supply wagons. We temporarily lose his line of march, but the Atlas to the Official Records shows a road that roughly parallels the Turnpike that perhaps was used by the infantry. He mentions that some of the work that day involved tearing up railroad tracks and burning a Baltimore & Ohio depot in Martinsburg. Heavy work after a hard day’s march. They will tear up more tracks in the near future.

One of the things I noticed while researching my book Saber and Scapegoat: Jeb Stuart and the Gettysburg Controversy was how often Lee mentioned gathering supplies to send back to the Shenandoah Valley in his official correspondence to his officers on the invasion. In one piece he actually says that the campaign depends upon the successful gathering of supplies to end up in Virginia. This led me to theorize that the 1863 summer campaign could be considered a gigantic raid into the north to procure goods for the Confederacy. Add to that his well-known order not to bring on a general engagement, it seems that if Lee could have successfully gotten out of Pennsylvania and back into the Valley without a fight, he would have.  General A. P. Hill’s decision at Cashtown, PA, on the night of June 30 to allow General Henry Heth to march his men into Gettysburg the next morning, and Heth’s decision to respond to being fired upon by the Union cavalry stationed there looms large. More on that later.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


June 19 Gettysburg Campaign: A Test of Patriotism

We have a tendency to picture the battlefield as the only testing-place of the Civil War soldier’s patriotism. This Friday it was cloudy and rained. Franklin Horner watched the burial of a member of another company in his regiment who had died this day. Was this poor soldier who expired so far away from his home and family any less patriotic than one who was killed assaulting the enemy’s line?

Thomas Ware mentions the cloudy, rainy weather too. While the temperature may not have been as stifling as the past few days, marching in inclement weather could not have been pleasant. This also was a test of a soldier’s love of country.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the odd, prosaic, former college professor turned military genius, thought soldiers who passed out from heatstroke on the march were merely lacking in patriotism. I can’t remember who—no doubt some soldier from the ranks—commented that, while the rest of him is patriotic, it’s just his legs that are disloyal.

Ware’s unit is sent northward for 10 miles on a road that ran (and still runs) alongside the Shenandoah River. They reach “Snicker’s Ford” and re-cross the river. (During the 19th Century, “Fords” or shallow, rock-bottomed stretches of rivers were used almost more often than bridges. Sometimes minor battles were fought to gain or protect a ford.) They marched 3 miles uphill to Snicker’s Gap and fortified the position with artillery. Ware mentions the fabulous view from the gap. They encamped on the side of the mountain about 300 yards from the bottom. The men had to place rocks below their feet to keep from sliding down. About 9:00 p.m. it began raining, for an hour “as fast as I ever saw it,” then continued more slowly the rest of the night. They had no wood and hence no fires. Ware spent the night “as wet as water could make me & a wet blanket & such an uneasy position. We will long remember that dreadful night.” When morning came, he found himself five feet farther down the mountainside.

Today, the road along the Shenandoah River begins as macadam but soon turns into dirt and rocks, then, as it veers away from the river flats, it undulates. The shoes Civil War soldiers wore were called “bootees” or brogans, ankle high with smooth leather soles. No doubt they made climbing a muddy road going up a hill difficult. Some of the Confederate soldiers may have thought they were fortunate having taken shoes from dead Yankees after their victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, a little over a month before. But by this stage in the war, profiteers were supplying the Union army with inferior footwear, some with soles made out of cardboard, and so the Confederates may have regretted their “liberated” shoes, especially after they got wet.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote