I should give up on the roadside, but I want to be counted in if there is a big battle in the Old Keystone State. Sgt. Benjamin Hirst, 14th Conn. Vol. Infantry (Co. D)
Such determination to see the war fought and won was common among the foot soldiers of both armies that marched those hot, dusty roads during the last days of June, 1863. They seemed well aware that they were headed for a rendezvous with destiny, but exactly where that great battle would be fought was anyone’s guess.
The Fourteenth Connecticut left their camp at Gainesville, VA on Thursday, June 25th, well-rested and well-fed. First they marched five miles east along the turnpike (US29), once again crossing the Bull Run Battlefield. Then it was northwest on Sudley Road (VA234) for about two and a half miles where they turned north onto Gum Spring Road (VA659), which lies about two miles west of Dulles Airport. That day they marched fifteen miles. They camped near the present day town of Arcola.
The following day it was another fifteen miles to Edward’s Ferry on the Potomac River. The men had to wait for a pontoon bridge to be completed, and finally crossed into Maryland late that night. Then they marched a few miles farther, finally camping for the night at about two a.m. June 27th was a day of rest.
Sunday, June 28th, the men marched between fifteen and twenty miles to near Frederick, MD. Monday, the 29th, they tested the limits of their endurance. The destination was Uniontown, thirty-two miles away. Men fell out all along the way, but most pressed on, determined like Ben Hirst to be there when they were needed. They straggled into camp all night long, with some arriving late Tuesday morning.
Maj. Gen. Hancock, the new commander of the Second Corps had an order read to all the units of the corps, congratulating them on the completion of Monday’s hard march. It was also on this last day of June that the men of the Fourteenth learned that there was a new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George Meade. He was the fourth in their ten months of service, and the next day, Wednesday, July 1st, the greatest battle ever fought on this continent would begin.
Sgt. Hirst wrote the words that began this post at Unionville on June 30. He would indeed be counted in and it would be his final battle.