Retreat to Williamsport kicks off Friday, July 12

July 10, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • One of the highlights of the Retreat Through Williamsport is a walk from Williamsport to Falling Waters, W.Va., following the same route the Confederates took down the C&O Canal to their river-crossing point.
Submitted photo

WILLIAMSPORT -- — “The army did all it could do,” Gen. Robert E. Lee reflected, following the Battle of Gettysburg in early July of 1863. “I fear I required of it impossibilities.”

The fearsome toll for the Confederates after three days of fighting: 28,000 casualties.

In the aftermath, the rebels headed to the safety of Virginia, the column stretching for miles with wagons carrying supplies, as well as the severely wounded.

Making their way west, they traveled through Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., Leitersburg and Hagerstown, harassed along the way by Union cavalry and soaked by a driving rain that turned the earth into a quagmire of mud.

When they reached the town of Williamsport, they found the Potomac River flooded and the pontoon bridge destroyed by Union soldiers.

The Confederates took wood from old canal boats, nearby sheds and a warehouse in town to rebuild the bridge so the army could continue its retreat.


But for 10 days, they were trapped in Williamsport until the river began to lower. When the rebels decided to make their move, the bridge was rickety and swaying, but it held. However, Union forces attacked, capturing more than 1,000 soldiers just before they crossed the bridge. More than 10,000 did make it across.

 There are thousands of books that tell the story of the Civil War. But not everything is learned from the printed page. Instead, you learn from revisiting the landscape, where fragments of the past can come to life.

That will be the case when the 150th anniversary of the Retreat Through Williamsport is observed Friday, July 12, through Sunday, July 14.

The event marks the closing days of the Gettysburg campaign and is held in partnership with the Town of Williamsport and the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Highlights of the weekend include re-enactments, Union and Confederate camps, lectures, artillery demonstrations, music and a walk from Williamsport to Falling Waters, W.Va., following the same route the soldiers took down the canal to the crossing point of the Confederate Army.

Activities will be held around Williamsport, including Springfield Farm and Museum and C&O Canal Cushwa Basin.

This is the fourth year for Retreat Through Williamsport, which serves as a way to educate the public about Williamsport’s role in the Civil War, said Scott Bragunier, event coordinator.

There are many people, including local residents, who are unaware of the connection, he noted.

That’s why, each year, Bragunier makes it his goal to provide information to “every man, woman and child who walk onto this property so that the memory of those who fought and died fighting for what they believed in will continue on for decades and centuries to come.”

In addition to the annual Retreat weekend, Bragunier said that Williamsport recently unveiled 11 interpretive signs that are installed throughout the town, helping to explain what took place here during the Civil War.

Bragunier said this year’s event will be “our biggest and best lineup we’ve ever had. I’ve worked very hard to be able to tout that we have the greatest collection of Retreat experts ever assembled.”

A discussion panel on Friday evening, led by local author and Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland, will include “the who’s who of the Retreat world,” Bragunier said. 

“On Saturday and Sunday, we will have expert speakers providing lectures on the many battles that took place in Williamsport and Washington County,” he said. “Also, there will be about 15 different authors selling and signing their books inside the Springfield Farm Barn.”

Other activities include a guided march to the Falling Waters, W.Va., crossing site, led by C&O Canal National Park ranger Curt Gaul, a barn dance on Saturday evening and a period church service on Sunday at the barn.

“The re-enactments will be brief portions of the Battle of Williamsport (July 6, 1863) and the skirmishes at St. James,” Bragunier said. “Though all the events will take place at the barn, the two re-enactments will take place at Milestone Terrace, about a mile away from the main camp. Shuttles will be provided.

All events are free and provided by the Town of Williamsport, he noted.

“I don’t know that the role Williamsport played in the campaign is a well-kept secret,” said Catherine Bragaw, acting Western Maryland district ranger Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. “But public history events like Retreat Through Williamsport offer hands-on opportunities to understand the complexity, relevancy and drama of our shared history.”

Retreat Through Williamsport Schedule

For more information, go to

Friday July 12

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