Roads to Gettysburg
By John W. Schildt

McClain Printing, 1978
Pages 504-514

Sixth Corps

Meanwhile, one of the greatest events in American history was under way. We've read about the great feats of Knox taking the cannon to Boston in the Revolution, and "Stonewall" Jackson's great flanking moves. The memory of Patton's Third Army's rapid movement during the Battle of the Bulge is also fresh in our mind. However, the forced march of the Sixth Corps from Manchester, Maryland, to the fields of Gettysburg during the last hours of July 1, and into the afternoon of July 2 has received but little notice. We turn now to that great event.

The Sixth Corps spent the first twenty-one hours of July 1 in relative quiet. They deserved a break. Think of, these men crossed the Potomac on Saturday covering twelve miles, eighteen more on Sunday, twenty-two on Monday, and twenty-three miles on Tuesday.104

Yet the men of the Sixth Corps expected to march again on Wednesday. But no one woke them in the dark. The dawn broke. Reveille sounded, the men ate breakfast. But still no order to "fall in." Some were assigned routine army and camp life tasks, but most of the men were free to rest their weary feet and bodies.

The news spread quickly through the hills and valleys of northern Carroll County. "Come and see, there's a whole bunch of Yankee soldiers over at Manchester." Those who could dropped everything. As soon as the livestock was cared


for they left their fields and homes to see the men in blue. The women hurriedly packed picnic baskets, putting in some extra goodies for "the poor soldiers." Then they jumped in their spring wagons and carriages and headed for Manchester. History was in the making. They wanted to see it.

Lt. Col. James Latta of the 119th Pennsylvania Infantry said:

The day at Manchester was a novel one; we had no such cxperience before or after. . . . Men and maidens, matron and children, afoot and in wheeled vehicles, gathered from far and near for the opportunity to witness the sudden increase of male population.105

As he rested in Manchester, George Stevens realized the plot was thickening, "and the hostile forces moving . . . each watching the movements of the other, and each ready to seize any opportunity for rushing upon its enemy to destroy it." He was tired. During the last four days, he and his buddies had traveled over one hundred miles, on foot yet at that.106

Stevens noticed that many of the men were getting too many nips of Maryland rye whiskey and were beginning to feel pretty good.

Throughout the day the folks came and visited. Curious children wanted to see the tents and guns. They asked all kinds of questions. Some embarrassed their parents. But the Yankee soldiers who were fathers took the little ones under their wing, substituting perhaps for a few moments, the little children of Maryland for their own youngsters back home.

The teen-age girls were really happy. "My oh, my, so many handsome guys. You didn't know where to look first." The soldiers found themselves to be centers of attraction. They would never forget the bright dresses of calico and pretty bonnets and the faces of the lasses who came to visit. Many of them brought baskets of homemade bread, jelly, and cookies. Soldiering wasn't so bad after all.

The older men showed the children how to roll blankets, and how to fix the haversacks. They yielded to the pleas of the children to touch the guns and bayonets. And they gladly shared hardtack. The boys and girls didn't like it any better than the soldiers.


A few showed up with the idea of making money. They offered the soldiers who wanted more than water or coffee some choice apple or peach brandy, or other homemade brew. Then after giving them a taste, they sold jugs to the soldiers. After a while some of them started to feel rather gay, still later they did not have a care in the world. Finally, General Sedgwick had to issue an order, "No more whiskey or homemade brew is to be sold or given to the soldiers."

"Uncle John" Sedgwick was loved and respected by his men. Like Reynolds, he always had the best interest of his men at heart. After their long marches, he wanted them to enjoy themselves. But after all, he might have to move at short notice. Therefore, he did not want his men drunk. But the carnival-like atmosphere continued. Later in the day as the Carroll County folks left to do their milking and other chores, some of the soldiers read the newspapers they had brought. Others played "cat of nine tails." Some played poker. Others wrote letters or visited.

Some of the lads and lasses exchanged addresses, and expressed the fervent hope of meeting again. We often wonder if any marriages developed from this July day in Manchester.

As the day wore on, the soldiers in the Sixth Corps felt good. They were unaware of what was taking place at Gettysburg, thirty-five miles away. It had been a joyous day in that part of Carroll County, a great welcome, all the food you could eat, and home cooked at that, pretty girls, cute children, nice folks. In fact, they had received the best Carroll County could offer. For supper, many of them had chicken sizzling over the campfire, gifts of the Manchester folks. This part of Carroll County had never seen a day like it.

John Sedgwick was pleased too. The Sixth Corps, the largest unit in the Army of the Potomac, had had a good day in the streets and fields of Manchester. The weather was warm. A faint breeze was stirring.

Some of the soldiers were writing letters to little places and big cities scattered from Maine to Wisconsin. They had to tell their loved ones about the long marches and about the day in Manchester. Several were pitching horseshoes.

The corps was traveling light. Meade had ordered all


baggage and personal wagons to be parked in Westminster. Therefore, only the ammunition wagons and ambulances were parked in the fields around Manchester.

In the little brick Fort Hill School,107 erected in 1803, John Sedgwick checked his morning reports. Fifteen thousand soldiers were "present and accounted for." Lt. Col. Martin T. McMahon, the general's aide and personal friend, checked the reports with him.

But as so often happens this was the lull before the storm. Many times we have a mountaintop experience just before we are plunged into the valley or a crisis situation. The great day in Manchester may have prepared the men of the Sixth Corps for the ordeal that was ahead of them.

As the shades of darkness fell over Carroll County, the Sixth Corps was farthest from Gettysburg. Meade had made a decision. He was going to make a stand, not along Pipe Creek, but on the Pennsylvania hills. Therefore, all troops had to get there as quickly as possible.

"Pappy" Sedgwick was still going over his reports when out of the darkness came the sounds of a galloping rider. "Reynolds had fallen. A crisis was at hand, the Sixth Corps must be in Gettysburg by afternoon of the morrow."108

Even the staff officer felt the mission was impossible. "No troops, not even the best can march that far that fast." Sedgwick had other thoughts, "Say to General Meade, my Corps shall be at Gettysburg at two o'clock."

We cannot imagine the excitement that followed. There was no telephone or walkie-talkies, simply aides and orderlies informing division commanders of the situation, and they in turn passing the word down the line or down the chain of command.

But to get fifteen thousand men under way in the dark, that's another problem. However, the Sixth Corps achieved this task. Sadly, they had to leave behind their smoldering campfires and some of the chicken and roast beef. The next day some of the townspeople gathered as souvenirs some of the equipment of war, left behind in the hurried departure. The order was to move by the Taneytown Road.

James L. Bowen'gives us an account of the night:


The opening blows of the great conflict were indeed struck while the men of the Sixth Corps were cleaning their weapons, sleeping or eating cherries about Manchester, but the outcome was so different from the anticipation that instead of remaining to fight in the position they had reached by such intense effort, they were called to still greater exertions in order to reach the field - to make, in fact, one of the most famous marches known to military history; and it must be borne in mind that they were not fresh for the effort, but already sadly exhausted by nearly a month of continual skirmishing and marching, having for five days made an average of 25 miles per day through alternate rain and intense heat, followed by 24 hours of comparative rest.

. . . As dusk fell many of the men were asleep, for they were still weary, when the clatter of hoofs, the hurried dash of staff officers, the bustle of preparation at head-quarters, and the vigorous command to "Pack up and fall in!" drove away in a moment all hope of a refreshing night's sleep. Before the slower men are in their places, even, the column is in the road and sweeping back in the direction whence it came the previous evening. There is a hope which is more than half a belief that the destination may be Westminster, which is but ten miles away, and the men move out with cheerful step. Presently a kind-hearted farmer, who is giving each boy in blue a cup of milk, announces that a battle has begun at Gettysburg, nearly 40 miles away, and it is natural to suppose that to be the destination of the corps.

"About 40 miles - he said it was 40 miles - and what did he call the name of the town?" goes from lip to lip, and the step which has been light becomes heavy and mechanical, and the soldiers are transformed into mere machines, to plod on as steadily as possible all the interminable night. There is no moonlight, and only a pale glimmer of the stars, half obscured by clouds; but the long column presses forward and never halts, for if it stops the men will drop into heavy slumber and may be left behind in the darkness. As it is, some of the officers doze in their saddles, and the men as they walk are like those moving in a dream.

The night is well advanced, and the leading brigade has been toiling for miles along a narrow road, when a shouting aide presses through the struggling footmen. "Make way here, make way, for God's sake; you are all wrong!" Then reaching the head of a regiment: "Halt your men, colonel; you are on the wrong road!" Presently the head of the column comes slowly back, those who have dropped to sleep are roused, the regiment countermarches and plods back over the three or four miles that have taken so much of the soldiers' vital force all in vain. Two or three hours have been lost and six or eight miles of ground covered that the general historian will make no account of when he tells the story of the night.109


The occasion of the rerouting of the corps was the arrival of Thomas Hyde. Riding from Taneytown, he spotted General Sedgwick at the head of the column. Instead of riding to Taneytown, the Sixth Corps was to take the Baltimore Pike through Littlestown to Gettysburg. Hyde felt that his arrival was very important. The orders saved the Sixth Corps from making a triangular move covering fifty-one miles instead of thirty-six. The extra fifteen miles spelled the difference in the arrival of the Sixth Corps at Gettysburg. The orders may have saved the day and perhaps the battle.110

Sedgwick gave Hyde a kind word, and then gave the orders to head for the Baltimore Pike. This caused some delay and confusion in the darkness. Regiments went across fields, tramping everything beneath their feet. A member of the Fifth Maine says that some were actually sleepwalking. Many were stumbling along.

Additional problems were ahead for the Sixth Corps. The Westminster- Littlestown-Gettysburg Road was the main supply artery for the Army of the Potomac, and it was blocked with wagons. Instead of a clear, fast road, the Sixth Corps found miles and miles of wagons. "Uncle John" must have wondered whether or not he could keep his promise.

Andrew J. Bennett of the First Massachusetts Light Battery describes his experience:

It was a typical July night; the sultry air retaining the mid-day heat, there was an uncomfortable closeness.

The march was made with unflagging energy all night, and there was no relaxation of effort when the scorching sun of the 2d of July appeared to light another day's conflict on that field to which we were hastening. Now was the test of physical vigor, - to keep the ranks and make the requisite time, wipe away the perspiration, grin, and endure. So, for an hour after sunrise, men and horses well stood the test. Then there was a brief rest to answer the calls of nature, after which regiments and batteries were speeding on. . . .

The next five miles are traversed with scarcely a break in the steady, rapid, forward movement. The sun's rays strike fiercely.
Countenances are begrimed with dust and sweat. Now the progress is
slower; the road is ascending for a way. We are moving due

Along the route, Stevens noted with gratitude, people bringing water to the soldiers, walking along as they filled


their canteens. In Littlestown he saw citizens bringing wounded from Gettysburg in their carriages. The tempo picked up. "Our friends were waiting for us" at Gettysburg.112

The breeze at dawn was "fresh and bracing," but it gave evidence of being "a scorcher," and the Sixth Corps had miles and miles to go.
Even in the suffering there was humor and comradeship. General Sedgwick, mounted on "Cornwall," pulled over to the side of the road to watch some of his men go by and to observe their physical condition. One of the men said, "Get a fresh horse, Uncle John, and try to catch us." This touched the brave leader from Cornwall Hollow in the Berkshires, he lifted his hand, and smiled in acknowledgment.

With the Sixth Corps on the Roads to Gettysburg was Chaplain James M. McCarter. While serving with the Ninety-third Pennsylvania, he had been severely wounded at Fair Oaks. He was almost an invalid in July of '63, but he stayed in the saddle and traveled with the men. He spoke to his comrades, telling them of the serious situation, and reading Meade's words to them.

The men of the Ninety-third heard but did not respond until they reached the Mason-Dixon Line. Then the colors were unfurled. The sound of the drum was heard. The soldiers perked up. It looked as though they were on parade. They were home. They were in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State. They marched across the line singing, "Home, Sweet Home."113

The television and movie people would have had a field day covering the march of the Sixth Corps. What a sight it must have been. We can imagine General Sedgwick and the other officers riding along, near the front of the long blue column, the Stars and Stripes fluttering in the breeze, along-side the Greek Cross, the Sixth Corps flag, and the sun shining on "rows of steel" as thirty-six infantry regiments and eight batteries of artillery continued towards a place called Gettysburg.

The morning wore on. The sun climbed high in the sky. The heat, hunger, and fatigue began to take their toll. Here


and there a few dropped, unable to continue. But their comrades kept plodding along, marching around their buddies until the ambulance crews could reach them. Uniforms were soaked with perspiration, and almost white with dust. Yet at times the stout hearts vigorously chanted the corps refrain:

"The foremost in the conflict,
The last to say, 'tis o'er.
Who knows not what it is to yield.
You'll find the old Sixth Corps."114

And on they marched. They did not know when to quit. Near Littlestown, they met the ambulances bringing the wounded back from McPherson's Ridge and Oak Ridge. The ambulance drivers demanded the road. But troops advancing to battle had priority, then the ammunition trains. Everything else had to wait.

The sun grew hotter. By noon the men felt they could see waves of heat, floating from the earth and mingling with the clouds of white dust. Could they get there in time? When they did, would they be in condition to fight? They marched in silence now, or rather plodded along. There was no halt, no dinner, no sound of battle. "Fierce July heat bore down with furious vigor. The sun beat down and the heat came up from the stones of the old Baltimore Pike." It was withering to the point of exhaustion. But the zeal and efforts of the Sixth Corps never slackened.115

While the Sixth Corps continued on, Meade and the nation waited. Fortunately, Lee had not renewed the action. Back at the White House, Mr. Lincoln fell to his knees and prayed, "You know I have done all I can.... O God, give us victory." With that utterance a sense of peace and well-being came to the president.

Then leading elements of the ten-mile column saw a series of hills, two of them being rather prominent. On the one hill, Little Round Top, a Union signal officer saw the dust and the column of troops. At first he was terrified, thinking it might be Confederate infantry or worse yet, Jeb Stuart in the Yankee rear. But no. No. There was the Greek Cross. It was


not the Rebs. It was "Uncle John" and the Sixth. "Glory Be. Hallelujah. The Sixth Corps is coming. The Sixth Corps is coming."

Men yelled the good news to one another. It was a magic moment. One of the great events of American history. Closer, closer they came. The "rows of steel. The Greek Cross, the Stars and Stripes."

Along Cemetery Ridge the news spread like wildfire. Cheers rocked the air. The Rebels must have wondered what was happening. This had an inspiring effect upon the men of the Greek Cross. Forgetting the pain, the hunger, and the fatigue, the men of the Sixth Corps braced and stiffened with pride. They had a right to be proud. Other units, North and South had made long forced marches on the Roads to Gettysburg. But they had covered thirty-seven miles in seventeen hours. An entire corps . . . made a march that has rarely, if ever, been surpassed in modern warfare. "Uncle John and his men, despite delays, heat, dust, and hunger had kept their promise. They had made it to Gettysburg." Well could they bear the title of "foot cavalry."

The men who made that march from Manchester to Gettysburg could proudly say, as did those who took part in the invasion of France, "I hit the beach on D-Day," "I


marched with 'Uncle John' Sedgwick and the Sixth Corps on the Roads to Gettysburg."

At 2:00 P.M., a tired but happy John Sedgwick rode to Widow Leister7s house on the Taneytown Road. Reporting to George G. Meade, he said, "Sir, the Sixth Corps is up. " We wonder what the two generals must have thought, what their feelings were. The Ninety-eighth Pennsylvania dropped on their knees to lap water from Rock Creek. The Army of the Potomac felt more secure. The entire army had now completed the Roads to Gettysburg...