(WHTM) — Our Gettysburg campaign timeline comes to a close with our fifth post, which covers the period from July 1 to July 23. We did not go into detail about the actual battle, since you can find plenty of details about it from other sources, such as the companion piece to this timeline, 160 Things you may not know about the Gettysburg Campaign.
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The Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from Gettysburg is one of the lesser-known parts of the campaign. If it’s mentioned at all, the story usually ends with “Lee crosses the Potomac River,” leaving the impression General Meade just gave up the chase at that point. In fact, the pursuit continued down the Shenandoah Valley, with a major battle towards the end of July.
July 1: Jeb Stuart and his cavalry reach Dover, York County, then move on to Dillsburg. He leaves a brigade and the wagon train there, and continues to Carlisle, where he finds 3,000 New York and Pennsylvania militia. He shells the town and sets fire to Carlisle Barracks. Then he learns about Lee’s orders to consolidate the army, and his weary men saddle up and head for Gettysburg.
July 1: Battle of Gettysburg Day 1
July 2: Battle of Gettysburg Day 2
July 3: Battle of Gettysburg Day 3
July 4: Lee begins his retreat. Managing a retreat is no easy task; he has to coordinate his forces and wagon trains and give very detailed orders about which units should go in what order. Priority is given to moving the wounded, in what becomes a wagon train stretching 17 miles. The bulk of the withdrawal to Virginia uses the Fairfield Road over Monterey Gap, heading to Williamsport, Maryland, by way of Waynesboro and Hagerstown. Heavy rains and washed-out roads turn the withdrawal into a nightmare, particularly for wounded riding in wagons. Many are in such agony being jolted about in the wagons, which have no springs to cushion the ride, that they beg to be left by the side of the road to die in peace.
July 4-5: The Battle of Monterey Gap takes place when Union Cavalry under Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick attacks the wagon train trying to make its way through the gap in the mountains between Carroll Valley in western Adams County, and Waynesboro in eastern Franklin County. This mushrooms into the second largest battle to ever take place on Pennsylvania soil, displacing the Battle of Hanover on June 30th. It gets so large, in fact, that the conflict spills over the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland.
As Lee is planning his retreat, Union Cavalry stages a surprise attack and destroys the Confederate Army’s only pontoon bridge across the Potomac, at Falling Waters, West Virginia. The loss of the bridge, combined with the flooding of the Potomac, will trap Lee’s army on the Maryland side of the river for over a week. Fortunately for Lee, Meade is slow to advance; this allows him time to set up defensive positions around Williamsport, Maryland, and begin construction of a replacement bridge.
July 6-16: Siege of Williamsport Unable to cross the Potomac, Lee establishes a defensive line at Williamsport. There is nothing he can do but wait for his engineers to rebuild the bridge at Falling Waters, and hope the river will finally drop enough to be crossed without a bridge. Meade advances carefully, both because the Army of Northern Virginia is still a dangerous foe even after losing at Gettysburg, and because Stuart and his cavalry stage a series of holding actions.
July 8: Battle of Boonsboro, MD Confederate calvary clash with Union cavalry, slowing the Union pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia.
July 10: Battle of Funkstown, MD Stuart and Buford have at it, and once again Stuart manages to delay Union pursuit of Lee’s army. This is also the first time since Gettysburg that Union and Confederate infantry face off against each other.
July 11: The last of Lee’s army reaches Williamsport. Lee reinforces the defenses.
July 12: Meade’s army arrives, begins probing the Confederate lines, and builds fortifications of their own.
July 13: The new bridge across the river at Falling Waters is complete, and the water level of the Potomac has dropped to the point that it can be forded. Under the cover of darkness, The Army of Northern Virginia begins to leave Williamsport.
July 14: The last soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac. The Confederate rearguard at the bridge is attacked by Union Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer; 500 Confederates are captured, and General J. Johnston Pettigrew, one of the commanders at Pickett’s Charge, is mortally wounded.
July 23: Battle of Manassas Gap. As Lee retreats in the Shenandoah Valley to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Meade is pursuing on the east side. Meade sees a chance to cut off the Confederates near Front Royal, Virginia. He sends the 2nd Division of the 3rd Corps to seize Manassas Gap. But Confederate forces are already there, set up in a defensive line. The Union forces push the Southern forces back, but when night falls the fighting stops. The next morning there are no Confederates to be seen. The Army of Northern Virginia has crossed the Shenandoah River, pulling up their pontoon bridges. Lee’s forces are now safely beyond the reach of the Union.
And that is the last major clash of this campaign between the two armies. By August the two armies are back where they started, with the Union army on the north bank of the Rappahannock River and Confederates on the south bank. The invasion is over, and the South will never be able to conduct another one.