Williamsport Action in Jefferson County

Following three days of intense fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee’s defeated Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat back to Virginia under perilous circumstances.  Since the evening of July 3, the Confederate army initiated its retreat with lead elements headed towards Hagerstown and Williamsport[i].  The line would eventually extend for 15 miles with a long stretching wagon train of wounded guarded by General John D. Imboden cavalry.  The retreat is harassed by probes and attacks on the Confederate line taking place along the Fairfield Road, Greencastle and Hagerstown, Maryland[ii].  At certain points, Citizens, angered at the Confederate invasion, resisted the caravan as it moved through points of Greencastle and Hagerstown. In some instances they attacked wagons carrying the wounded[iii].

Over the next ten days, the Confederate Army and Federal Cavalry maneuvered and counteracted against one another culminating in vicious combat at Williamsport on July 14.  Though 500 rebel prisoners were captured and brigade commander General Johnston Pettigrew was lost, the Confederate forces commanded by General Henry Heth repelled the Federal attack[iv].  In doing so, they enabled the final elements of Lee’s Army to cross the Potomac River at Falling Waters, Virginia (present day West Virginia.)

Following his crossing of the Potomac, Lee ordered two brigades of cavalry to guard the fords at Shepherdstown.  Federal cavalry would test those positions two days later.  After crossing the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry on July 14, they pushed Confederate pickets located along modern day Route 230 (Shepherdstown Pike) back through Shepherdstown towards Kearneysville[v]. The heaviest of the fighting would take place on the Winchester Road (modern day Route 480) and on the fields located to the north and south. The conflict escalated as the Union troopers were met on the northern edge of Kearneysville by the main elements of the two brigades of Confederate cavalry.  One of those brigades was commanded by Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee and the other by John Chambliss[vi].  Lee and Chambliss pushed the Federal advance back, retreading the path to Shepherdstown with fierce fighting culminating for the day at a thick patch of forest just south of town. As the fighting subsided and morning came, the Federal cavalry opted to withdraw to Harpers Ferry rather than resume defending their position[vii].

The Confederate Army continued to withdraw southward into the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding regions, and the Union forces followed from their positions located outside of Harpers Ferry, where the main body of the Army of the Potomac themselves had re-entered Virginia on July 17[viii].  The war would continue for two more years.

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Biblography


[i] “Our Task Is Not Yet Accomplished.” Civil War Daily Gazette. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar 2016

[ii] Brown, Kent Masterson. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, & the Pennsylvania Campaign. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), p. 119.

[iii] Brown, Kent Masterson. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, & the Pennsylvania Campaign. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), p. 153.

[iv] United States. National Park Service. “Battle Summary: Williamsport, MD.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[v] Gregg, Irvin. Official Report, VOL XXVII, Part 1. Making of America. Cornell Univesrity Library, n.d., Web 12 Apr. 2016. Pg. 978

[vi] Chew, Roger Preston, James C. Holland, and Roger Preston Chew. Military Operations in Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia), 1861-1865. Shepherdstown, W. Va.: Henry Kyd Douglas Camp No. 199, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2004), p. 11-12.

[vii] Chew, Roger Preston, James C. Holland, and Roger Preston Chew. Military Operations in Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia), 1861-1865. Shepherdstown, W. Va.: Henry Kyd Douglas Camp No. 199, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2004), p. 11.

[viii] “But the Mule Had Not Yet Caught Up With the Bear” Civil War Daily Gazette. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar 2016