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Chapter 29: the wave rolls back.

The armies rested on the “Fourth,” --one under the bright laurels secured by the brave work of the day before, but in profound sorrow over the silent forms of the host of comrades who had fallen during those three fateful days, whose blood bathed the thirsty fields of Gettysburg, made classic by the most stupendous clash of conflict of that long and sanguinary war; while gentle rain came to mellow the sod that marked the honored rest of friend and foe; the other, with broken spirits, turned from fallen comrades to find safety away from the fields that had been so promising of ennobling fruits. The enemy had cast his lines on grounds too strong for lead and steel, and, exhausted alike of aggressive force and means of protracted defence, there was nothing left for the vanquished but to march for distant homeward lines.

The cavalry left on the Blue Ridge joined the Confederate left late on the afternoon of the 3d. Orders for retreat were issued before noon of the 4th, and trains of wounded and other impedimenta were put in motion by the Chambersburg and Fairfield routes, the army to march after night by the latter,--the Second Corps as rear-guard, the First to follow the Third and push on to secure the crossings of the Potomac at Williamsport and Falling Waters. It was daylight of the 5th when the road was [427] open for the march of the First, and a later hour of the morning before the Second could follow.

Pursuit was made by the enemy, led by cavalry and the Sixth Corps, and the rear-guard had to deploy near Fairfield to check it. Rain was helping us. Before the enemy could get through the mud and push his batteries over the boggy fields, our trains had reached the mountain gorge, and the rear-guard was on the march following. Direct pursuit of the solid ranks was changed to march down the east of the mountains, but the firmer broad road gave the Confederates easier march. Kilpatrick got his cavalry in on the wagon-trains and destroyed a number, but did not delay the march of the column.

On this retreat the army, already crippled of its pride, was met by the dispiriting news of another defeat at Vicksburg, which meant that the Mississippi was free to the Federals from its source to the Gulf. Diverting incidents occurred, but we were in poor mood for them. As we approached Hagerstown, two grotesque figures stepped into the road about a hundred yards in front of us,--one a negro of six feet and a hundred and eighty pounds, the other a white man of about five feet seven. The negro was dressed in full uniform of the Union infantry, the white man in travel-stained butternut dry-goods. The negro had a musket on his shoulder. Riding up to them, it was observed that the musket was at the cock-notch. The negro was reminded that it was unsoldier-like to have the gun at a cock, but said that he wanted to be ready to save and deliver his prisoner to the guard; it was his proudest capture during the march, and he wanted credit for it. The man was a recruit lately from abroad, and did not seem to care whether or not he was with his comrades. However, there were doubts if he understood a word that was said. The uniform was a tight fit, and the shoes were evidently painful, but the black man said that he could exchange them. He was probably [428] the only man of the army who had a proud story to take home.

The Union cavalry came severely upon our left flank at Hagerstown, forcing Stuart to call for infantry support. Parts of Semmes's and G. T. Anderson's brigades were sent, crossed the Antietam, and had uncomfortable experience with the horse artillery near Funkstown. They had dire complaints to make of the way cavalrymen put them in columns of fours against batteries, when they could have advanced more rapidly and effectively in line of battle and saved half of their men lost.

Halting for rest near Falling Waters, a sudden alarm was brought down the road by a cavalryman riding at speed, who reported all of the enemy's cavalry on a sweeping ride against us. The troops were thrown together to wait, but the cavalry charge proved to be a carriage-load of lady refugees. Some of the cavalry did get over upon the trains parked at Williamsport, but there were many wounded near there who could handle their muskets, many infantry up from Winchester, and some of Imboden's cavalry, besides some batteries who held the ground, and Stuart eventually got up, when the enemy drew off.

On the 6th and 7th the commands were up, and deployed their lines from Falling Waters to cover the bridge and ford at Williamsport. But the river was full, past fording at Williamsport, and a raiding party from Harper's Ferry had partially destroyed the bridge at Falling Waters. Infantry trenches were made along the lines, batteries were put in position, and we were ready in a day or two to receive our successful adversary. He found some mud along his route, and was not up until the 12th, when he appeared and spread his lines along the Confederate front, but positions were changed,--he had the longer outer curve, while the Confederates were on the concentrating inner lines. He made his field-works and other [429] arrangements, had some reinforcements since his battle, and was well organized.

On the forenoon of the 13th, General Lee sent for me, and announced that the river was fordable and the bridge repaired, that the trains would be started at once, and the troops would follow when night could conceal the move. The First and Third Corps were to cross by the bridge, the Second by the ford. As the lines were comfortable, the roads heavy, it occurred to me that the hurried move during a single night would be troublesome; suggestion was offered that the trains and wounded should move over during the night, and give us easy march the next night, but the waters on the other side were high, and only enough mills running to supply food from day to day, and the weather treacherous, so the general thought it better to hurry on. The march by the Williamsport crossing over the firm, broad turnpike was made without trouble. The route to the bridge was over a new road; at the ends of the bridge were green willow poles to prevent the wheels cutting through the mud, but the soil underneath was wet and soggy under the long season of rain, and before night rain again began to fall.

General Lee, worn by the strain of the past two weeks, asked me to remain at the bridge and look to the work of the night. And such a night is seldom experienced even in the rough life of the soldier. The rain fell in showers, sometimes in blinding sheets, during the entire night; the wagons cut deep in the mud during the early hours, and began to “stall” going down the hill, and one or two of the batteries were “stalled” before they reached the bridge. The best standing points were ankle-deep in mud, and the roads half-way to the knee, puddling and getting worse. We could only keep three or four torches alight, and those were dimmed at times when heavy rains came. Then, to crown our troubles, a load of the wounded came down, missed the end of the bridge, and plunged [430] the wagon into the raging torrent. Right at the end of the bridge the water was three feet deep, and the current swift and surging. It did not seem possible that a man could be saved, but every one who could get through the mud and water rushed to their relief, and Providence was there to bring tears of joy to the sufferers. The wagon was righted and on the bridge and rolled off to Virginia's banks. The ground under the poles became so puddled before daylight that they would bend under the wheels and feet of the animals until they could bend no farther, and then would occasionally slip to one side far enough to spring up and catch a horse's foot and throw him broadside in the puddled mud. Under the trials and vexations every one was exhausted of patience, the general and staff were ready for a family quarrel as the only relief for their pent — up trouble, when daylight came, and with it General Lee to relieve and give us opportunity for a little repose.

The division of the Third Corps under General Pettigrew formed the rear of the infantry line, which was to be covered by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry. But the cavalry brigadier rode off and crossed the river, leaving, it is said, a squadron for the duty, and the squadron followed the example of the brigadier. The consequence was that when Kilpatrick's cavalry rode up it was taken to be the Confederates ordered for their rear-guard. Instead of friends, however, General Pettigrew found a foe. He was surprised by a dashing cavalry charge, was wounded, and died after a few days. Some artillery, three standards (of the Virginia infantry), and a large number of prisoners were taken. General Meade claimed two thousand.

General Lee thought to occupy the gaps of the Blue Ridge by his cavalry, and rest his army in the Valley of Virginia, in threatening lines against Washington City, but found the Shenandoah River full and past fording, and before the tide began to recede General Meade crossed the [431] Potomac east of the Blue Ridge and began to occupy the gaps, which called for a southern march of the Confederates. On the 19th my command was ordered to Millwood to secure, if possible, Ashby's Gap, but as the enemy's cavalry was on the opposite bank, and the waters were too high for us to get over, we marched on to Manassas, then for Chester Gap. As high up as Front Royal the river was found past fording, but part of a pontoon bridge was at hand. General Corse, who had joined us, hurried and succeeded in getting his brigade over in time to occupy Chester Gap, and putting his regiment under Colonel Arthur Herbert in the west end of Manassas Gap. The balance of Pickett's men crossed by putting the arms and ammunition in the boats, the men swimming, and sent reinforcements to General Corse and Colonel Herbert, when the enemy's cavalry withdrew. One bridge was laid and spliced, and the march southward was resumed.

The next day another demonstration was made by the enemy's cavalry at Manassas Gap, but Hood's division was there and McLaws's was at the Chester Gap, where another heavy body of cavalry approached. An effort was made to get behind the latter by hidden lines of march, but the plan of catching cavalry with infantry was not successful, though General Wofford thought for a time that his trap was well laid. The march was continued, and the head of the column reached Culpeper Court-House on the 24th. Benning's brigade, left on guard at Gaines's Cross-Roads till the Third Corps could relieve him, was attacked by a strong cavalry force. On the approach of the Third Corps he thought to organize, with General A. P. Hill, another plan to entrap the cavalry in a thick wood, but the riders found little difficulty in getting away. General Ewell was detained a little, and found, upon approaching Front Royal, that General Wright's brigade, left there to hold the gaps for him, was engaged in skirmishing with the enemy's infantry. He reinforced the [432] brigade, held the enemy back, then changed his march west, crossed the Blue Ridge at Thornton's Gap, and ordered Early's division, that was not yet up, through the Valley by Strasburg. He reached Madison Court-House on the 29th.

General Meade got his army together near Warrenton on the 31st of July, and ordered a detachment of artillery, cavalry, and infantry across the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford and the railroad bridge. The command drove our cavalry back till it was reinforced by infantry, when the enemy was pushed back beyond Brandy Station.

General Ewell was called down from Madison Court-House, behind the Rapidan, and the First and Third Corps were marched into position behind the river on the 3d of August, leaving the cavalry at Culpeper Court-House.

General Lee suffered during the campaign from his old trouble, sciatica, and as soon as he found rest for his army applied to the authorities for a change of commanders. The President refused, pleading that he had no one to take his place. At the time he had two generals of his own choosing who were not in authority adequate to their rank,--Joseph E. Johnston, the foremost soldier of the South, who had commanded the army from its organization until he was wounded at Seven Pines, and G. T. Beauregard, the hero of Sumter and the first Bull Run, well equipped and qualified for high command. But the President was jealous of Johnston, and nourished prejudice against Beauregard.

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