After two weeks of marching and picket duty around Malvern Hill, the 13th left Camp Holly on Aug. 20, 1862, a Wednesday, and marched through Richmond. They turned northeast and camped two miles from the city on the Mechanicsville Pike.
“The men are nearly all broke down,” quartermaster clerk William H. Hill of the Spartan Band, wrote in his diary.
They still had plenty of hard marching ahead of them.
Thursday, at sunrise in a rain shower, they marched with the brigade to the nearby Virginia Central railroad depot to take a train to Hanover Junction, northwest of Mechanicsville. But they found they’d be delayed leaving until Friday.
While they waited, their new division commander, Gen. Lafayette McLaws, wrote his wife back home in Georgia:
“I am now moving my division northward to join the army of Gen. Lee. My station will be Hanover Junction, which is the junction of the Fredericksburg & that [sic] to Gordonsville or Staunton.”
Minutemen of Attala Private Mike Hubbert recorded in his diary that the 13th, along with the rest of the Mississippi Brigade, left on the railroad cars at 10 a.m. Friday, the 22nd.
They arrived at Hanover Junction at noon. “…and,” he wrote, “in the evening marched to Anderson’s turnout and camped on the Va. Central RR.”
On Sunday, after a severe storm Saturday night, they cooked three days rations and “started on the march,” Spartan Band Private Albert Wymer Henley wrote in his diary.
Their destination was Gen. D.H. Hill’s division, which they reached on Monday. The next day, Aug. 26, both divisions marched 24 miles to join the rest of the army on the Rappahannock.
They camped that night “on the North Anna River near Beaver Dam Station of the Virginia Central R.R.” Hill recorded.
“Wednesday. Clear and warm,” Hill continued on Aug. 27. “We started at sunrise and marched 18 miles and camped at Kuser’s in Louisa County.”
They left the next morning at 8 a.m. and marched another 16 miles where they camped about 3 miles from Orange Court House, while the Second Battle of Manassas was getting underway to their northeast. That night they were told to cook another three days rations.
After another 10 a.m. departure on Friday, they marched 9 miles to the Rapidan River.
Today, historians say their mission was to guard the fords of the rivers, but back then, even Gen. McLaws wasn’t sure what was up.
As he wrote his wife that Friday, Aug. 29, while the Second Battle of Manassas was well underway:
“My destination is not known to me,” he wrote. “I am with Gen. Hills division and he ranks me & is therefore in command of his own and my Division. We are moving however Northward to join the Army of the Rappahannock. The camp this evening will be on the Rapidan. But tomorrow the march will be resumed northward. There are so many rumors concerning the movements and operations of our army that I forbear mentioning them.”
“Saturday. Cloudy and warm,” William H. Hill wrote in his diary. “We cooked three days rations last night. Started at 7 a.m. and marched 17 miles.”
Henley recorded that they “forded the river below the railroad bridge passing through Culpepper Court House, Warrenton Springs, and several other little places.”
Hill concluded: “We camped 3 miles from Culpepper C.H. on the Warrenton Road. We passed through Culpepper C.H. at 4 p.m.”
Later that evening, the Second Battle of Manassas would end (with more than 16,000 Union casualties—including almost 6,000 missing—to the Rebels’ total of more than 9,000) without the participation of Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade.
Excerpts of McLaws’s letters via the 2002 history A Soldier’s General, The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws, by John C. Oeffinger.