Retreat Through Williamsport will bring to life a little-known Civil War conflict

July 11, 2012|By LAURA BELL | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Carol Beasley, below left, of Williamsport, a member of the Confederate Military Forces re-enactors group, attends an event at W.D. Byron Memorial Park in Williamsport during the 2011 Retreat through Williamsport.
File photo

WILLIAMSPORT ¿ — History is often brought to life in TV, movies and textbooks, but the town of Williamsport will host a louder, more realistic account of the not-so-well-known events that occurred in July 1863 during the Civil War.

The 149th anniversary of the Retreat through Williamsport will commemorate the Confederate army’s retreat following the Battle of Gettysburg, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee. The army’s planned quick escape to Virginia by way of the newly named state of West Virginia was stymied by a rain-swollen Potomac River. From July 4 through 14, 1863, Confederate troops were trapped in the Williamsport area. They dug in and protected themselves against attacks by the Union Army, then built a pontoon bridge and crossed the river.

From Friday, July 13, through Sunday, July 15, re-enactors, historians, authors, musicians and storytellers will educate and entertain spectators, and recall the Confederates’ Retreat through Williamsport.

The event is sponsored by the Town of Williamsport, the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area.

In its third annual year, the Retreat through Williamsport has grown, according to Scott Bragunier, event coordinator.

“Last year we had close to 1,000 or more people,” he said, adding, “we have room for more.”

The weekend’s events also include wagon rides for kids, sutlers selling period goods and toys, Civil War-era music, a barn dance, a bonfire and food. There’s something for everybody, Bragunier said. Anyone who is interested in Civil War history will enjoy the weekend’s events.

“You’re going to walk out educated,” he said.

The weekend will start Friday evening at 7 p.m. with the Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student C&O Canal and Civil War Video Presentation. Fifty students from Springfield Middle School in Williamsport produced a series of short videos, said Curt Gaul, C&O Canal National Historical Park Ranger.

“This is the first time they’ll be shown in a public format here in Washington County,” he said.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, the re-enactors’ camps will be open for spectators to visit and will allow people to see what life was like in a Civil War army camp, Bragunier said.

Events on Saturday at Springfield Farm and at the Cushwa Basin will include speakers and historians, demonstrations of artillery and infantry, music, dancing, a bonfire, and the re-enacting of the Wagoneers’ Fight of July 6, 1863.

The bonfire includes songs and stories of the Civil War by Matthew Dodd, Gaul said.

During the Wagoneers’ Fight there will be re-enactors of infantry and artillery troops, and there will be a number of civilian re-enactors also participating, Bragunier said.

“We’ll have 60 to 75 re-enactors,” he said.

Bragunier explained that participants will re-enact a portion of a battle, in which the 21st Virginia Infantry Company F helped defend Williamsport against attacking Union troops.

The Union troops were attempting to capture the wagon train of injured Confederate soldiers and the supplies carried in the wagons. The 21st Virginia Infantry Company F included 60 men along with 10 pieces of artillery and was sent to fight a couple hundred Union soldiers and allow the Confederates to organize their defenses and protect their supplies from Union capture. The Confederates prevailed in the Wagoneers’ Fight and in several other attacks.

“Another Gettysburg could have happened that week, but it didn’t,” Bragunier said.

On Saturday, after the re-enactment, spectators can get a closer look at Civil War-era weapons during firing demonstrations of artillery and infantry.

“People can definitely get a much more up-close, intimate and loud experience with the soldiers,” Bragunier said.

Throughout the weekend authors and historians will discuss Civil War history. At 10 a.m. Sunday, Gaul will lead spectators as they follow behind re-enactors, wagons and horses on the March to Falling Waters, W.Va.

Re-enactors will read letters from Civil War Confederate and Union soldiers who retreated from Gettysburg, Gaul said, calling it an “unique experience.”

“You’re literally following the steps of these soldiers” Gaul said.

They will follow the C&O Canal to the site where Confederate troops crossed the Potomac to continue their retreat toward Virginia. Participants will have the opportunity to learn what happened during this part of the retreat from Gaul.

The Confederate’s Retreat through Williamsport, including the Wagoneers’ Fight and the March to Falling Waters, is not a well-known event in Civil War history. Bragunier said the Battle of Gettysburg largely overshadows it.

“That’s the purpose of this event: to show that Williamsport was an important part of the Civil War for both sides,” he said.

If you go ...       

WHAT: 149th anniversary of the Retreat through Williamsport

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, July 13, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 14, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 15

WHERE: Various locations in Williamsport, including Springfield Barn, 9 Springfield Lane, and the C&O Canal National Historical Park at Cushwa Basin at the end of West Potomac Street

COST: Most events are free

CONTACT: For more information, go to For information about participating in the re-enactment, contact Scott Bragunier at 301-573-7364. To reserve a spot on the March to Falling Waters, contact the Williamsport C&O Canal Visitor Center at 301-582-0813.

Retreat Through Williamsport Schedule
Friday, July 13
at Springfield Farm

• 7 to 8 p.m. — Journey Through Hollowed Ground webisodes presentation Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student service learning project. Open to the public. Free.
Saturday, July 14
at Springfield Farm

• All day — Horse and wagon rides by Triple R Stables

• 9 a.m. — Camps open, displays open, booksigning begins

• 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. — Tim Snyder: “The C&O Canal and the Maryland Campaign 150 years later”

• 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. — Period-style music concert by the Shenandoah Valley Minstrels (in camp)

• 11 to noon — Jim Plunkett “Free Masons and the Gettysburg Campaign”

• Noon to 1 p.m. — Wagoneers’ Fight re-enactment

• 1 to 2 p.m. — George Frank discusses “The Battle of Falling Waters, July 14, 1863”

• 2 to 3 p.m. — Demonstrations of cavalry, artillery and infantry

• 8:30 to 11 a.m. — Old-fashioned period music barn dance with period-style music by the Shenandoah Valley Minstrels. Free, but donations are suggested. Refreshments available.
at Cushwa Basin and trolley barn

• 2 to 3 p.m. — Period music by the Shenandoah Valley Minstrels

• 3 to 4 p.m. — Tom Clemens discusses “War Comes to Williamsport 1861-1863”

• 4 to 5 p.m. — John Schildt discusses “From the Mountains to the River July 4-14, 1863”

• 5 to 6 p.m. — Joe Stahl discusses “Soldiers ID Tags: Where the Soldiers Were in Williamsport”
at Riverbottom Park

• 7 to 8 p.m. — Bonfire, with Civil War-era singer and storyteller Matthew Dodd. First-person drama presented by C.W. and Rhonda Whitehair.
Sunday, July 15
at Cushwa Basin

• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — March to Falling Waters: Join retreating soldiers, tired wagoneers, and local park service rangers while they march five miles along the C&O Canal to the site of the pontoon bridge. Learn from the interpretive program what happened here and along the canal during the retreat. Limit of 100 participants. Transportation back from Falling Waters provided by C&O Canal Association. To sign up, call 301-582-0813
at Springfield Farm

• 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Lazy Sunday: Camps open and in-camp demonstrations begin. Ask soldiers about life in camp.

• 1 to 4 p.m. — Town museum open with exhibits of the town’s history from the 1700s to present

• 2 to 3 p.m. — Scott Hipp discusses “Marylanders in the Civil War”

Carol Beasley, below left, of Williamsport, a member of the Confederate Military Forces re-enactors group, attends an event at W.D. Byron Memorial Park in Williamsport during the 2011 Retreat through Williamsport.

The Herald-Mail Articles