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[392] The army, after an arduous march, rendered more difficult by the rains, reached Hagerstown on the afternoon of the 6th and morning of the 7th July.

He had had a marvelous escape. When his shattered columns commenced their retreat from Gettysburg, few of his officers can have imagined that they would ever reach Virginia with their artillery and most of their trains. There was not a probability that they could recross the Potomac with more than the wreck of an army. But heavy rains fell, as usual after great battles; and these are apt to impede pursuers more than pursued, though they need not. Then, every sort of miscalculation combined with lack of energy to impede the progress of our army; so that Lee had had four days wherein to strengthen his position at Williamsport before Meade was there1 to assail him.

But neither Lee's army nor his troubles were yet over. The heavy rains following the battle had swelled the Potomac to an unfordable state; while Gen. French, who, with 7,000 veterans, had been left idle at Frederick during the great events in Pennsylvania, had, without orders, sent a cavalry force to Falling Waters and Williamsport, which captured the weak guard left by Lee to hold his bridge, which they forthwith destroyed. Lee's hold on the Maryland bank was therefore compulsory, while he collected material and repaired or renewed his bridge. Ere this was accomplished,2 Meade's army was before him, strengthened by French's division, and by part of Couch's militia, which had reported at Gettysburg and joined the army at Boonsboroa.

The 12th having been spent in getting our troops into position, Gen. Meade called a council of his corps commanders, to consider the expediency of attacking next morning. The council sat long and debated earnestly. Gens. Howard, Pleasanton, and Wadsworth (in place of Reynolds, killed) urged and voted to attack; but Gens. Sedgwick, Slocum, Sykes, French, and Hays (in place of Hancock, wounded at Gettysburg) opposed it. Gen. Meade, having heard all, stated that his judgment favored an attack — that he came there to fight, and could see no good reason for not fighting. Still, he could not take the responsibility of ordering an assault against the advice of a majority of his corps commanders--four of them ranking officers of the army next to himself: His decision would seem to have been a mistake; but lie had been in command little more than a fortnight, and the responsibility of overruling a majority and the seniors among his counselors was a grave one. At all events, lie did not take it: so our army stood idle throughout the following day; and in the night Lee withdrew across the Potomac, leaving (he says) but two stalled guns, a few disabled wagons, and some weary stragglers, to fall into the hands of his pursuers.

This, however, is not exactly true. Kilpatrick, commanding our cavalry on the left, learning at 3 A. M. that the enemy's pickets in his front were retiring, started after them, and, at 7 1/2 A. M., came up, about two miles from their bridge at Falling Waters, with their rear-guard, under Gen. Pettigrew, who had taken up a strong position and contested thereon his advance.

1 July 12.

2 July 13.

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