July 1, 1863, was the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg—in which a Confederate division under General Henry C. Heth, approaching Gettysburg in a recon-in-force, collided with a Union cavalry screen.
For Barksdale’s Brigade, camped at Greenwood, about fourteen miles west of the action, that Wednesday was one of the longest days of the war.
According to historian Harry W. Pfanz, they spent the morning cooking up three days rations. Then they formed along the Chambersburg Pike with the rest of McLaws’s division which was to lead Longstreet’s Corps through the pass of the South Mountains to where Lee’s army was concentrating around Cashtown. But, first, Longstreet told McLaws to wait for what the latter estimated to be a 14-mile line of supply wagons to pass ahead.
“We lay on the side of the road for hours, waiting for the wagon trains of other commands, moving in the same direction, to go by,” J.S. McNeily recalled in a famous monograph for the Mississippi Historical Society in 1903. McNeily claimed to be a veteran of the 21st Regiment but he is not listed in Grady Howell’s roster of the brigade.
McNeily said they were underway “shortly after noon,” but Pfanz said “…it was nearly 4:00 P.M. before [McLaws’s] division could take the road. McLaws’s and Hood’s divisions had waited a good ten hours, and in that time a battle had been opened, been fought, and was drawing to a close at Gettysburg, less than fifteen miles away.”
“Cloudy and warm,” Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill recorded. “Showery all day….cross[ed] the South Mountains at sunset.”
The march was slow, stop and go, well into the evening and beyond.
“…the pulsation of battle caught the spirit of the marching columns,” McNeily wrote, “which joined in the chorus with shouts and yells that mingled with the roar of the guns…and onward and eastward we bored, up the steep acclivities and down the easy declivities until we emerged into the open country around Cashtown. Night descended with the music of the artillery still resounding. But we did not pause or halt until midnight [when] we turned out of the road and bivouacked where we stopped, tired, hungry and sleepy.”
They had reached Marsh Creek, about four miles west of Gettysburg. They spent the rest of the night there.