Category Archives: Gettysburg Campaign

Gettysburg – July 1, 1863

Special Edition: 150 Years Ago Today

Countless volumes have been written about the Civil War’s most pivotal and bloody battle, and without doubt, countless others will yet be written. My short posts will not rehearse that history, but it is my goal to acquaint readers with the important role a small band of men from Connecticut played in the fighting at Gettysburg.

At Uniontown, MD, the 166 men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry rose from their slumbers, fixed their breakfasts, and drank their coffee, completely unaware that twenty miles north, Buford’s Union cavalry was fighting desperately to delay the advance of A. P. Hill’s infantry on McPherson Ridge until Federal infantry could arrive to carry on the developing battle.

The Fourteenth marched to Taneytown, a distance of about six miles. There is no evidence to suggest any sense of urgency, for upon their arrival at Taneytown, the regiment fell out and rested for about two hours. News had not yet come from Gettysburg that a full scale battle was being fought, that their comrades in the First and Eleventh Corps were getting the worst of it, and that Maj. Gen. John Reynolds of the First Corps had been killed.

About midday, messengers dispatched from Gettysburg arrived at Taneytown on thoroughly winded horses and reported to Maj. Gen. Meade, whose headquarters was just east of the town. Meade immediately ordered Maj. Gen. Hancock to ride to Gettysburg and take temporary command of all Union forces until Meade was able to get there. The men of the Seconds Corps, including the Fourteenth Connecticut, still taking their noontime rest, were no doubt astonished when they saw their commanding general riding furiously northward out of Taneytown, urging them forward with all haste to meet the enemy at Gettysburg.

Immediately they were on their feet. They formed in ranks in the road and set off, their pace quickened by the dire news that spread quickly among them. It was a long, hot, urgent march that afternoon of Wednesday, July 1st. Imagine their growing concern as the thump of artillery became louder and more constant, and as survivors of the day’s fighting straggled southward telling their stories of woe and defeat.

About eight o’clock in the evening, the men were told to camp for the night beside the road. They were only about two or three miles south of Gettysburg, probably just north of where the Taneytown Road crosses US15 today. But much needed sleep was not to be had, for no sooner had they eaten their suppers and laid out their blanket rolls, than they were ordered to stand picket duty in the woods to the east toward the Baltimore Pike.


Pressing On!

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 Route to GettysburgThis map shows the approximate routes the various elements of both armies took during the march toward Gettysburg. Click on the map for a larger view on Wikipedia

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.

Third Bull Run?

150 YEARS AGO TODAY, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were camped near the Union supply depot at Gainesville, Virginia. They would remain there until June 24th for rest and resupply.

The march from Falmouth was a difficult one. The weather was mostly hot and dry, and the Second Corps was the last corps in the long crawling column. The road was used exclusively by batteries of artillery, trains of supply wagons, and hundreds of ambulances. Clouds of fine, powdery dust filled the air. The infantry marched in the fields on either side of the road, and the cavalry patrolled the flanks.

On June 17th, Smyth’s Brigade served as the rear guard of the entire army. Anything the men of the hundred thousand-plus Army of the Potomac had cast off in their weariness—overcoats, blankets, knapsacks, even weapons—was gathered into piles and burned. Every straggler was driven forward, often at the point of a bayonet, and any man of the brigade who fell out was prodded along by a cavalry saber  Only those who died of the heat were left behind. It was terrible duty.

On June 20th, the men of the Fourteenth marched from Centerville to Gainesville. Not any arduous feat for infantrymen, less than a dozen miles, but their route took them through the battlefield of Bull Run. They had read about the place in newspaper articles while still safe at home. They had heard countless stories told by more veteran soldiers over smoking campfires. They remembered their first few hours and days in Virginia the previous August when the terrible news broke upon them of a second Union defeat upon ground near a winding stream with an infamous name..

Manassas National BattlefieldNow, they were treading upon that same ground. The words of Sgt. Ben Hirst paint a sobering picture. “Here and there was an old musket, broken gun carriage, and old equipments. Piles of dirt pointed where rested the dead, some these not being altogether covered with Mother Earth. Some of the men saw hands and feet sticking out of the tops and sides of the heaps. For myself, I had no desire to see anything that I could help, having seen enough of the horrors of war to satisfy my curiosity.”

Imagine the hush that fell over them, how carefully they stepped around grim remnants of fallen comrades. Was it Gen. Hooker’s great strategy to fight a third Battle of Bull Run? What could result but another crushing defeat?

Farewell to Falmouth

Point of Personal Privilege: Tomorrow, Saturday, June 15th, I will be joining the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Company F for a Civil War living history event at Fort Trumbull Park, in New London, CT. I will be doing a meet and greet and book signing. Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I would be honored to meet you there.

For the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, life returned to the routine they had known before the start of the Chancellorsville campaign. On June 5th, Sgt. Benjamin Hirst wrote his wife, Sarah, that: “our present camp is a very nice place compared to what it was, it being in a pine woods, and having good water convenient to it, but the mosquitoes have begun to make fun of me at night which makes me wish I was at home sometimes, when I wake up and find them sucking on me.”

The command structure was again changed. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock was promoted to command the Second Corps. The new commander of the Third Division was Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays. The Second Brigade of the Third Division also had a new leader, Col. Thomas Smyth, and a battalion of the 10th New York Infantry was added to the brigade.

For several weeks the Second Corps picketed all along the north bank of the Rappa-hannock River. During the first week of June, Gen. Lee launched the Gettysburg by starting his troops on a long march to the west and north around the Union. All furloughs of Union troops were cancelled on June 5th and all troops had to report back to their units immediately. Over the next several days, as the Confederate movements became clear, Maj. Gen. Hooker started the Army of the Potomac in motion. Each corps of infantry broke camp and started northward, accompanied by hundreds of artillery pieces and miles-long supply trains.

The Second Corps held its positions along the river until Sunday, June 14th, when it too joined the procession as the rear guard of the army. Many soldiers, including Sgt. Hirst, considered the northward march yet another retreat. “The Rappahannock was once again in undisputed control of the Rebels,” he wrote. The men of the Fourteenth would never see Falmouth again, and most had no wish to.

Fiction Connection: Michael Palmer was one of the few men from the 14th CT who was granted a furlough, but he had the misfortune of being en route home on June 5th. Imagine his despair when his hope of a peaceful respite at home was dashed and he had to return to the war front.