Gettysburg: The Withdrawal

Saturday, the Fourth of July, dawned clear for the fourth day in a row, according to Spartan Band diarist William H. Hill.

The late Gen. Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade had withdrawn during the night along with the rest of the division, and the artillery, from the vicinity of the Peach Orchard back to where they began on Thursday, in Pitzer’s Woods on Seminary Ridge.

Seventeenth Mississippi Private Robert A. Moore wrote in his diary that his regiment, and presumably the others, were “in the rear resting.”

They expected a Union artillery salute at noon, in honor of the “Glorious Fourth,” but it never came.

“Noon came and went but not a gun was fired,” wrote independent historian Shelby Foote in his The Civil War: A Narrative. “Old Peter believed he knew why. ‘Their artillery was too much crippled yesterday to think of salutes….'”

However,  a Union brigade strode down off Cemetery Ridge and advanced to the vicinity of the Peach Orchard and formed a line of battle.

Just then, about 1 p.m., Foote wrote, “…rain began to fall, first a drizzle, then a steady downpour; the bluecoats jammed their fixed bayonets into the ground to keep the water from running down their rifle barrels, then squatted uncomfortable beside them…

“On their separate ridges, an average mile apart, the men of both armies peered at one another through the transparent curtain of rain as it sluiced the bloodstains from the grass and rocks….”

Moore wrote in his diary that the plan was to “evacuate our position during the night and fall back to-wards the Potomac.”

Soon after nightfall, Gen. A. P. Hill’s Third Corps left its campfires burning on Seminary Ridge and the withdrawal—southwest along the Fairfield Pike.

“Longstreet followed,” Foote wrote, “still in a driving rain that served to muffle the sound of the army’s departure…”

Gen. John B. Imboden’s cavalry escorted the 17-mile long train of wagons filled with about 8,000 wounded—those who were able to travel; about 6,800 were left behind. They proceeded west on the Chambersburg Turnpike to Cashtown and then to Chambersburg, where they turned south to Greencastle and eventually Hagerstown, Maryland.

The infantry cut southwest through Fairfield to Hagerstown. “By now the roads were troughs of mud which made for heavy going,” Foote wrote.

And there were the inevitable delays. Moore’s 17th Mississippi left the ridge at 2 a.m. on Sunday: “It rained for several hours this morning, as hard as I ever saw it. The roads are muddy and all are much fatigued.”

The 13th Mississippi left the Seminary Ridge about 4 a.m., according to Hill, “passed through Fairfield, crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains at [Fountaindale] Gap. Marched all day and all night” wet, tired and short on food.

“We rested but little during the night,” Moore recorded in his diary on Monday, July 6. “Halted for a few hours this morning.”

After what Hill recorded as 18 miles of marching, the 13th Mississippi stopped “at Monterey [Pass] on top of [the] South Mountains. Cooked breakfast and resumed the march at 6 a.m.

“Roads are very bad. Passed through Ridgefield and Leitersburg, arrived Hagerstown [Maryland] at dark. Stopped there for several hours and resumed the march to camp [3] miles south of the town.”

“The cavalry had a fight at Hagerstown this evening,” Moore added. “The enemy were driven back in the direction of Sharpsburg. The troops are nearly worn out for the want of sleep.”

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About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade, Battles: Gettysburg, Gen. James Longstreet, The Spartan Band, William H. Hill Diary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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