June 21, 1863 (Sunday)
There was much skirmishing all along the friction points between General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and Joe Hooker’s Army of the Potomac. In the passes of the Bull Run Mountains, Jeb Stuart’s Rebel cavalry slashed away the probing Yankees from Alfred Pleasonton’s mounted forces trying to get a peak at Lee’s infantry nestled on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a fruitless endeavor, but the Federal cavalry was all too often winning the battles. Stuart was concerned, but decided to see what things were like by the end of the day.
Farther to the north, a much more interesting series of events was about to transpire. For the past several days, ever since Albert Jenkin’s Confederate cavalry had captured Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, destroyed a nearby railroad bridge, and rounded up the town’s black citizens, Governor Andrew Curtain (focused mostly on the first two items) knew that something had to be done.
Troops had been sent, mostly in a trickle, to Shippensburg, ten miles northeast of Chambersburg. But a trickle was hardly enough. Though a flood was wanted, perhaps a small stream of 800 New Yorkers might do the trick. Two New York Regiments had arrived in Harrisburg and, appreciating that both had fought at First Bull Run, General Darius Couch, commanding the Union troops in Pennsylvania, sent them to Shippensburg with General Joseph Knipe, a veteran of the Mexican War who had been wounded in 1861. When he offered his services to the Keystone State, he was graciously accepted.
Knipe arrived in Shippensburg on the 20th to a shortage of rations for his new men. He also arrived to orders from Couch telling him to move at once to Chambersburg. Up before the dawn of this date, half his men marched through the town before most its residents were awake. A mile south, they established a defensive line, guarding the road to Hagerstown. The other half made haste for Scotland, a small village between Shippensburg and Chambersburg.
Prior to leaving Pennsylvania, Jenkins’ Cavalry had destroyed a railroad bridge. The Federals were there to make sure it didn’t happen again. Both halves of Knipe’s Brigade would rest quietly this day.
Knipe’s New Yorkers weren’t the only troops in Pennsylvania. In fact, they weren’t the only New Yorkers ready to defend the Commonwealth. Company C, 1st New York Cavalry, commanded by Captain William Boyd, had been tasked with guarding a wagon train of supplies for General Robert Milroy’s troops at Winchester. Since that was no longer an issue, they were looking for work.
They moved by rail from Harrisburg to Shippensburg, arriving a day before Knipe. By nightfall of the 20th, they had moved through Chambersburg and arrived in Mercersburg, twenty miles southwest. This was the home of former President James Buchanan. In writing to a friend, Buchanan insisted that if he were younger and not suffering from rheumatism and dyspepsia, he would have taken up arms to defend his state. Better late than never, one might suppose.
At any rate, through the pre-dawn of this date, Boyd’s cavaliers passed Jenkins’ Confederates with neither party being any the wiser. They were traveling on parallel roads separated by only a mile. As Boyd moved into Greencastle, Jenkins headed for Chambersburg. They too would see no action on this day.
Aside from Stuart’s Cavalry skirmishes, this was a day of planning. General Lee was now ready to start the invasion of Pennsylvania in earnest. Though he would issue marching orders the next morning, today, he penned an order detailing how his men were to behave in enemy territory.
General Orders No. 72 laid down a series of regulations, the violation of which promised to be “promptly and rigorously punished.” Like most such orders, it put forth the premise stating that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated.”
This meant that your common soldiery could not ransack private homes and businesses. That was the job of the “officers hereinafter designated” – specifically, the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.”
General Lee’s order required that all persons from whom the goods were taken “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” There were to be receipts and everything, even though the payments would be in fairly worthless Confederate script.
The last section of Lee’s order was not so gentle:
“If any person [meaning Pennsylvanian] shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized….”
If a Pennsylvania farmer, for example, attempted to move a wagon of feed out of the reach of the Rebels and was caught, his entire crop and stores and everything else deemed “necessary for the use of the army,” would be seized. It’s highly unlikely that the farmer would even be given a receipt.
While Lee looked toward the north, Jeb Stuart, whose cavalry had been very roughly handled by Alfred Pleasonton’s Yankees over the past few days, faced another day of hard knocks. In two columns, the Union cavalry came at Stuart across the Bull Run Mountains. There were charges and countercharges and more fighting that can well be described. Everything swirled around the town of Upperville, Virginia, ten miles beyond the mountains.
When Stuart saw infantry (from Col. Strong Vincent’s Brigade), he assumed that a large body of foot soldiers was coming to deal with him. With this in mind, he retreated back to the gaps of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Together, with infantry and artillery from James Longstreet’s Corps (McLaws’ Division), they were prepared to defend Ashby’s Gap from any Federal attack. Should the defense fail, Hooker would learn the position of most of Lee’s Army. He might even act upon it.
Both sides took a moment to consider their situations. Both knew the other had infantry support and neither wanted to deal with that. They had all been fighting for several days and were exhausted. That night, both Stuart and Pleasonton’s troopers encamped where they were, between Upperville and Ashby’s Gap. They, like the rest of Lee’s Army, would await the morning.1
- Sources: Here Come the Rebels by Wilbur Nye; The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin Coddington; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; Fighting for the Confederacy by E. Porter Alexander; Plenty of Blame to Go Around by Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 3, p913. [↩]