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Author follows Lee's retreat in new book

June 27, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The clash of Union and Confederate forces at Gettysburg culminated in the debacle of Pickett's Charge, but while Gen. Robert E. Lee suffered a tactical defeat on the battlefield, the author of a new book says his skillful retreat through Pennsylvania and Maryland prevented a rout and provided the sustenance to keep his forces intact.

If an army marches on its stomach, Lee brought the Army of Northern Virginia home with plenty to eat, according to Kent Masterson Brown, author of "Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee Logistics & the Pennsylvania Campaign." The foraging campaign that led up to the battle stripped Adams and Franklin counties, as well as Washington County, of much of the livestock, rolling stock and other valuables to be found along the route of advance and retreat.

Lee crossed the Mason-Dixon Line seeking fodder, horses, mules, cattle, wagons, harnesses,, coal, furnaces, tools, "all the way down to needles and pins," Brown said at a book signing Sunday at the Heritage Center in Chambersburg. "He literally took everything Chambersburg had on the way in."

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The battle of Gettysburg and the horrendous loss of life are well documented, but Brown's book examines the aftermath, when Lee fought delaying actions against the Army of the Potomac under Gen. George Meade that allowed thousands of rebel soldiers to escape and fight another day.

"It starts as the fighting has ended on July 3 and Lee is consoling the survivors of the Pickett-Pettigrew attack," Brown said of the July 3, 1863, frontal assault led by generals George E. Pickett and James Johnston Pettigrew.

The Confederates retreated with about 20,000 wounded from three days of fighting, but only 8,500 would make it to Staunton, Va., Brown said. The balance died or were left in the care of Union forces as the retreat proceeded, he said.

Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown became the final resting place of many of the wounded, he said. A women's seminary in Hagerstown at the present-day site of Washington County Hospital was turned into a field hospital, he said.

While thousands were left behind, dying or too badly injured to continue, Lee managed to fend off Union pursuers to save the remainder of his army, Brown said. While histories of warfare often recount acts of heroism and cowardice and decisions and factors that lead to victory or defeat, Brown looks also at the logistics of moving huge amounts of men and supplies.

"The enormous train preceding Lee's army is 40 miles long," said Brown, a Lexington, Ky., attorney. The troops foraged for two weeks before the battle and when it was over retreated through Fairfield, Pa., and Waynesboro, Pa., to Hagerstown, still foraging, he said.

Pushing tens of thousands of head of sheep, cattle and hogs before them, the retreating Confederates of Gen. Richard S. Ewell's Corps left Fairfield at 3 a.m. on July 4, 1863, with the first elements arriving in Hagerstown at 11 p.m., Brown said. Another wagon train stretched for 17 miles, Brown said.

Once across the Potomac River, Lee moved the captured livestock to an area remote from his army and the press, fearing that the Confederate government would not fulfill his requests for provisions if they knew how successful the raid had been, according to Brown.

"It took me about 20 years to collect the material and four years to write it," Brown said. About seven years ago, he came across a treasure trove of Confederate quartermaster records, unexamined since the 19th century, in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va.

The creator and first editor of the magazine, Civil War, Brown has authored two other books on the war. His ties to this area, a grandmother, aunt and uncle who lived in Martinsburg, W.Va., spurred his interest in the war.

"The first battlefield I ever saw was Antietam and that's where my interest began, he said.

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