WILLIAMSPORT, Md. — In the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee's Confederate troops retreated toward Virginia to regroup and recuperate.
Torrential rains poured down on the troops as the soliders spilled into Washington County, marching in mud up to their knees. The wagon train that carried their wounded stretched 17 miles long.
Pursued by Union troops, the Confederates were delayed in Williamsport for 10 days until they could rebuild the pontoon bridge — destroyed by Union soldiers — across the Potomac River to the banks of the newly named state of West Virginia.
The Retreat Through Williamsport will commemorate the Confederate occupation of Williamsport as well as the Confederate retreat through the surrounding areas. From Friday, July 8, through Sunday, July 10, re-enactors, historians, musicians and authors will bring to life the events of July 3 thgrough 13, 1863.
"The thing that's so unique and special about a weekend like this is that you had both armies in Washington County, around Williamsport," said Curt Gaul, a park ranger at the C&O Canal Williamsport Visitor Center. "This 10-day siege could almost have been a major turning point in American history."
Union and Confederate re-enactors will create two separate camps that will resemble the Confederate encampment in the town and the Union soldiers circling the town, Gaul said.
The weekend will begin with live music and booksignings at the Town Museum in the lower level of the Springfield Barn.
Throughout Saturday, there will be lectures given by authorities on the retreat from Gettysburg, authors and local historians. In the reenactment, a Confederate wagon train will be attacked by a party of Union soldiers, said Scott Bragunier, re-enactor coordinator.
"It'll be a really good show," he said. "Lots of booms, lots of bangs."
Bragunier said such an encounter would have likely occurred if Confederate soldiers encountered Union soldiers while searching for food.
A Saturday afternoon walking tour will give participants the opportunity to visit key locations in town where re-enactors in period costume will share stories, according to event organizer Joan Knode.
Knode said the entire walk covers about half a mile and will not be at a fast pace.
Saturday will conclude with a campfire and luminarias at River Bottom Park. The Susquehanna Travellers will perform period music, and storyteller Matthew Dodd will link Civil War history to the town of Williamsport through stories and songs, Gaul said.
On Sunday morning, Gaul will lead a group along the C&O Canal from Williamsport to Falling Waters, W.Va., following the same route the soldiers took. Along the way, Gaul said re-enactors will be reading soldiers' first-hand accounts of the original March to Falling Waters.
"The words of the participants (and) the letters they wrote were so rich," he said.
The 5 1/2-mile walk is free of charge, but it is limited to 120 people. Participants will return to Williamsport by way of a shuttle bus.
In the afternoon, there will be a jam session and display of "The Civil War on Canvas" at the Springfield Farm.
For some, the anniversary of the retreat through Williamsport is also an occasion to remember family history. Williamsport Town Historian Maurice Snyder said the Confederate activity in Williamsport and the surrounding area significantly impacted the local residents.
"Southern troops were pretty hungry and they would take anything in sight to get food," he said.
Snyder's maternal grandmother, Amanda Renner, lived on a farm between Williamsport and Clear Spring. He said his mother passed down his grandmother's stories.
"They would take their animals and anything of value to a hollow on the back of their farm where they could be secure from the soldiers' advancement," he said. "The land itself could have been easily searched but I guess they were on the move and would take what was in sight. ... Luckily the horses didn't nicker or anything."
Schedule for Retreat Through Williamsport
Friday, July 8
7 p.m. — Meet and greet authors and re-enactors. Music performance by Susquehanna Travellers and Maryland Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Color Guard at Springfield Farm.
Saturday, July 9
9 a.m. — Camps, sutlers, displays, book signings and wagon rides.
9:30 a.m. — music by Susquehanna Travellers
11 a.m. — Re-enactment: "Forge to Fight, to Live, to Retreat!"
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. —Guest speakers and authors discuss aspects of the Civil War
2 p.m. — Infantry and artillery demonstration
2:30 p.m. — music by Susquehanna Travellers
3 to 6 p.m. — Guest speakers and authors discuss aspects of the Civil War
6 p.m.— Williamsport Civil War History Walking Tour; start at Cushwa Basin
7:30 p.m. — Susquehanna Travellers at River Bottom Park
8 p.m. — Campfire and luminarias at River Bottom Park
Sunday, July 10
10 a.m. — Ranger-led march to Falling Waters (limited space, call 301-582-0813)
1 to 4 p.m. — "Civil War on Canvas" and jam session with artist and banjo player Bill Davis at Springfield Farm and Museum.