Williamsport marks rebel retreat from Gettysburg

Civil War exhibits, speakers, music featured

July 09, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Foraging rebels seized supplies and goods before skirmishing Saturday with a group of Union soldiers in a short reenactment at the barn at Springfield Farm in Williamsport.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. — "It wasn't the good old days," Joan Knode said.

Soldiers who had been injured in the Battle of Gettysburg rode in hard wagons through Williamsport en route to Virginia.

It was early July 1863, and the Confederate effort led by Gen. Robert E. Lee had been foiled by the forces of Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade.

"Some of the men begged to be thrown off the wagon, to be thrown alongside the road," Knode said.

To make matters worse, when Lee's forces arrived in Williamsport, the Potomac River had flooded. They were confined in the town for about 10 days, and the Union Army had begun to encircle them.

Finally, during the night of July 13 and the morning of July 14, Lee's forces were able to cross the river.

Knode, a Williamsport town councilwoman, worked with C&O Canal National Historical Park Ranger Curt Gaul and Williamsport resident Scott Bragunier to commemorate those events at the second annual Retreat through Williamsport: Civil War Weekend.

People gathered on the grounds of the Springfield Farm Barn in Williamsport Saturday morning to see encampments, re-enactments and demonstrations. Bands played period music and speakers lectured on the retreat.

A crowd favorite was Eric J. Wittenberg, an Ohio-based, award-winning Civil War historian and author of 16 published books.

An audience of about 75 filled the barn while Wittenberg gave an animated overview of the retreat.

"Williamsport was the hub," Wittenberg said. "The flooding of the river made Williamsport the focus of both armies. Had the Union been able to prevent Lee from crossing here, it might have defeated his army and the war might have ended much sooner."

Gaul said event planners conceived of the first retreat weekend last year to gear up for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War retreat in 2013.

"We had enough success last year to make us credible. We've got a hard-core Civil War crowd here," Gaul said. "The challenge now will be following the great lectures we've had the first two years."

Phil Wingert, 50, of Hagerstown said he is a Civil War historian who was drawn to the event by the caliber of the lecturers.

"They have some really good speakers," Wingert said. "It's the old, 'What's past is prologue.' The battles, the politics. Those experiences are still relevant to us today."

Joseph and Michelle Pyne of Hagerstown attended the commemoration with their grandson Micheal Miller.

They said Micheal has seen Civil War documentaries and they wanted him to learn more in person.

"It's good that people make attempts to preserve history. As generations go on, it's easy to let it all fall by the wayside," Joseph Pyne said. "Even though it's in the past, it's not that long ago when you think about it."

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