Ewell Hopes to Get Fat in Pennsylvania; Stuart and Hooker Both Prepare to Move

June 24, 1863 (Wednesday)

George "Maryland" Steuart was just poking around Pennsylvania. No need to get worried.
George “Maryland” Steuart was just poking around Pennsylvania. No need to get worried.

This hot and dusty late June day found General Richard Ewell’s entire corps marching the roads and fields of southern Pennsylvania. Three divisions had entered and fanned out, with the bulk moving through Greencastle. By midmorning, they had arrived in Chambersburg, which had already been secured by General Albert Jenkins’ Cavalry.

The townspeople, no doubt, remembered Jenkins, as he had made off with quite a bit of their goods, supplies and many of the town’s black population the week previous.

The Rebel invasion caught the people of Franklin County strangely accepting of their fate. While they were happy (or at least not terrified) that Confederate soldiers were not storming and burning their houses, they were also defiant. Many wore the stars and stripes pinned to their breasts to show where they were true to the Union. Just as many, however, were hatless, as the marching Rebels took the opportunity to “swap” hats with the Greencastle and Chambersburg gentlemen.

At a hotel at the center of town, General Ewell and the cartographer Jedidiah Hotchkiss discussed their next move. Though the precise arrangements wouldn’t be finalized until the following day, Ewell was elated. “We will get fat here,” he told Hotchkiss, who found the people were “very submissive and comply meekly with our demands.”

And there were certainly demands made. Greencastle, for example, was tasked with somehow coming up with 120 pistols, 100 saddles, 1,000lbs. of leather, 2,000lbs of lead, and more produce than one can imagine. When the town could not give even a fraction of this, the Rebels took what they wanted. While the houses passed along the way were not ransacked, many residents of Franklin County received foreboding knocks on their door from armed men asking for food.

Today's map, please.
Today’s map, please.

But Greencastle and Chambersburg weren’t the only towns to feel the Confederate invasion this early on. The nearby towns of Mercersburg and McConnellsburg had been feeling it for days. On June 19th, several days after Jenkins’ Cavalry entered Chambersburg, a detachment from his command made their way to McConnellsburg, rounding up livestock, supplies, and black people. They left, coffers full of booty. The previous day, however, General George “Maryland” Steuart’s Brigade of infantry from Jubal Early’s Division of Ewell’s Corps branched off from the main body, following the road from Greencastle to Mercersburg, where General Steuart demanded and received pretty much everything the town had to offer.

On this date, they continued marching west towards McConnellsburg, where a hastily thrown-together band of assorted Unionists planned to stop them. The “troops” consisted of an Emergency Regiment, some skulkers who had fled into the mountains after the defeat at Winchester, a company of Pennsylvania Cavalry, and a few well-intentioned locals. This did not end well for them.

One Stuart is as good as the next, right?
One Stuart is as good as the next, right?

But neither did it end in blood. As soon as a cannon boomed, most thought the scenery much better to the west. Left with fewer and fewer comrades in arms, the remaining Federals took up hidden positions, allowed the Confederate cavalry vanguard to ride past them, fired, and then scattered. McConnellsburg was left undefended. General Stueart would remain in the town for two days.

As the Pennsylvania home guards scattered, to the south General Joe Hooker, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, was still trying to figure out what to do. In a letter to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, Hooker promised that if the Confederates did not put any more troops across the Potomac, he would “with all the force I can muster, strike for his line of retreat in the direction of Richmond.”

But throughout the day, reports that the Rebels were crossing at Shepherdstown came from several different scouts. A handful of captured Rebels claimed that General Lee’s headquarters was at Berryville, east of Winchester. Hooker responded by setting portions of O.O. Howard’s XI Corps in motion, moving them east from Leesburg to Edward’s Ferry. This was Hooker’s first deliberate move towards the Potomac River.

There was a bit of misinformation, however, that served Hooker well. One of this scouts wrote in, telling him that all of Lee’s army had passed through Martinsburg and were now crossing the Potomac. If true, this meant that by the next day, all of Lee’s Army would be north of the Potomac, while all of Hooker’s was south of it.

John S. Mosby and his much larger friend have all the news you could ever want to hear.
John S. Mosby and his much larger friend have all the news you could ever want to hear.

But this was, of course, not true. While all of Ewell’s Corps was across the Potomac and well into Pennsylvania, only one of A.P. Hill’s divisions (Anderson’s) was across. None of James Longstreet’s Corps was even close. All of this information was gathered from Confederates planted specifically to give misinformation. Perhaps it was done to stir up fear, and it was never expected that Hooker would make a swift and daring move. But, believed Hooker, he had all the information he needed to do just that.

General Hooker wasn’t the only one planning a move. Confederate Cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, had received permission/orders to move his command into Pennsylvania. He was to cross at Shepherdstown, but had been given allowance, even encouragement by Generals Lee and Longstreet, to ride around Hooker’s Army.

All that Stuart was waiting for was word from John S. Mosby, the famed and feared Rebel cavalier who was sent behind enemy lines to learn the disposition of Hooker’s corps. Mosby returned with exactly the news Stuart wanted to hear.

He reported that the Union Army had hardly moved at all. Each of the corps was spread out, and none were within ten whole miles of the next. It was perfect and by nightfall, he issued orders to his brigade commanders. He would take three brigades with him, while two would remain to guard Ashby’s And Snicker’s Gaps.

The brigades under Fitz Lee, Wade Hampton and Rooney Lee would accompany Stuart, while Grumble Jones and Beverly Robertson stayed behind “as long as the enemy remains in your front.” The three brigades about to leave – the best in Stuart’s command – camped for the night in Salem, ready to get an early start.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, p55-56; Part 3, p284, 285-286, 294; Here Come the Rebels by Wilburg Nye; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; Plenty of Blame to Go Around by Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi; Fighting Joe Hooker by Walter H. Hebert; Gettysburg by Noah Andre Trudeau; Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffery Wert; Stuart’s Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign by John Singleton Mosby; Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby by James Ramage. []
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Ewell Hopes to Get Fat in Pennsylvania; Stuart and Hooker Both Prepare to Move by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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