Roads to Gettysburg
By John W. Schildt
McClain Printing, 1978
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
|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:
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.
|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.
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
|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:
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:
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.
|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...