A long day’s tramp to Gettysburg, part 2

Taking advantage of “Wash Day,” Union infantrymen drape their wet socks and other laundered clothing over rifle barrels and bayonets in hopes the sunshine will dry the clothing as the men march. (Edwin Forbes/Library of Congress)

Their brogans and socks soaked after fording a stream, the 19th Maine Infantry lads tramped onward through the afternoon on Monday, June 29, 1863.

The miles fell away across Maryland — and suddenly the regiment (Col. Francis Heath) and 1st Brigade (Brig. Gen. William Harrow) and 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. John Gibbon) led II Corps of the Army of the Potomac “through one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of the whole country,” said Pvt. John Day Smith of Co. F and Litchfield.

Commanded by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, II Corps marched toward southern Pennsylvania, partially occupied by the Army of Northern Virginia. Hancock had received the day’s marching orders quite late, sometime around 8-9 a.m., and now he pushed his men to make up the lost time.

Now the 19th Maine boys marched “through a long, beautiful valley, shut in on both sides by hills and settled by prosperous farmers,” Smith observed.

Often farmers themselves in civilian life, the Mainers gawked at the natural abundance surrounding them. “It seemed like paradise to the soldiers who had for so long tramped over the desolate and barren soil of Viginia,” Smith commented. “Cherry trees, loaded with rich cherries, were upon the roadsides.”

A barn in Littlestown, Penn. stands amidst waving grain in summer 2016. The 19th Maine Infantry lads who marched through an agriculturally rich valley just across the border in Maryland in late June 1863 were astounded at the fertility of the local farms. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Not only the non-pillaged orchards and farms differed substantially with Virginia. Civilians turned out to welcome their blue-clad saviors, the warriors pounding north to chase Bobby Lee from the Keystone State.

The hospitable people brought bread and milk to the tired and hungry soldiers,” Smith said. He claimed “there was no time for eating or drinking,” but surely the Maine veterans accepted bread loaves thrust at them and, whenever possible, gurgled down milk cold from the spring house.

The column pressed forward” without stopping, Smith insisted. Men grumbled in the ranks — soldiers always do — but they “knew that some emergency had arisen which required and painful march.”

The 2nd Division tramped into “the beautiful town of Liberty” and split by brigade, the regiments filing “into the fields and groves just north of the town,” Smith noted.

It was supposed that we were going to bivouac for the night,” he recalled. Dropping their haversacks, the Co. F boys collapsed “upon the ground” — and immediately “the order to fall in came.

The men of the Nineteenth stretched their aching limbs, endeavoring to again take the swinging gait which had kept up since morning,” Smith said. More than 15 decades later, we can imagine the groaning, cursing, and general complaining that arose as the Maine boys clambered to their feet.

While tramping 32 miles across Maryland on June 29, 1863, the 19th Maine Infantry lads passed through a rich farm valley. Pvt. John Day Smith contrasted the lush abundance of Maryland to the devastated countryside of Virginia, where a Union combat artist sketched a destroyed mill and railroad bridge in 1863. (Harper’s Weekly)

Away the 2nd Division went. The temperature dropped a little in late afternoon, according to Smith, and the sun set over South Mountain to the west. “Occasionally stars appeared in the heaven” as darkness fell, “but still the tramp kept up.”

The 1st Brigade reached Uniontown in Carroll County, which borders Pennsylvania to the north and includes several towns (among them Taneytown, Manchester, and Westminster) soon well known to Army of the Potomac veterans. Tramping into the village “just before nine o’clock,” the 19th Maine boys “filed into a beautiful grove to rest for the night, having made a march of thirty-two miles on that day,” Smith said.

Gibbon passed word to deploy pickets, and Harrow ordered each regiment to send out “a portion” to guard the bivouac all night, remembered 1st Lt. Edgar A. Burpee of Rockland and Co. I, drawn mostly from Knox County on the Midcoast.

He and the company’s other line officers, Capt. George D. Smith of Rockland, and 2nd Lt. George R. Palmer of Camden, settled down for the night “in a little shelter tent together,” Burpee said.

The officers made small talk, but Smith evidently seemed unusually quiet. Finally he said, “I think we are on the eve of a terrible battle and I feel that I shall be killed or wounded.”

Don’t think that way,” Burpee responded. “We all feel as if we might get hit.”

No, but I have presentment that something is going to happen to me and I hope I shall be prepared to die,” Smith replied.

The weary 19th Maine boys and the 1st Brigade “remained in camp and … mustered to for pay” on Tuesday, June 30 John Day Smith recalled. Not until early on Wednesday, July 1 would the brigade hit the last miles on the road to Gettysburg.

Capt. George D. Smith would die there on July 2.

Source: John Day Smith, The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Maine Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865, Great Western Printing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1909, pp. 62-64

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.