Oh, just make up your mind, general!
The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion is a compilation of the majority of the official reports written by the senior generals, corps, division, and brigade commanders, and often regimental or battery commanders as well. They usually focus on the movements of the particular unit and its subsequent battle actions. Some reports are lengthy; others are quite terse. Some are simple matter-of-fact rehashes of the facts; others are pages of flowery prose that may at times be self-serving to the writer. Keep in mind that these reports were meant to be read by the chain-of-command and then archived by the respective War Departments, so they normally “white-wash” the events described. However, often the real story, or as commentator Paul Harvey termed it “the rest of the story,” may at times can be found in the common foot-soldiers’ accounts in letters, diaries, newspaper articles, or regimental histories.
Here’s one such story behind the official report from William E. Miller, an officer in the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry who would be awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg.
The official records of the movements of the Union cavalry on July 1-2, 1863, simply state that Colonel John McIntosh’s brigade of Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s division moved through Hanover to Gettysburg. Short and sweet, without a lot of elaboration. What is not stated is, in the era of poor communications and conflicting information on enemy movements, they had to do a lot of countermarching on winding, hilly, dusty roads in southwestern York County before reaching Hanover, and the troopers’ aggravation and annoyance with their commanders must have been boiling over by the time they finally dismounted for the evening near Hanover.
McIntosh and Gregg, in turn, must have been equally frustrated with Army HQ and the “military intelligence” experts from the War Department that wasted so much horseflesh. Records from the state archives in Harrisburg show that Gregg’s division stole more civilians’ horses in York County than any other Union unit, so this futile countermarching must have worn out dozens, if not hundreds, of U.S. government horses.
Here is Captain William Miller’s account of the actual events, published in Battles and Leaders… exhausted men with no food and horses with no forage senselessly riding up and down the roads near Hanover Junction for hours.
“At Manchester [Maryland], a halt of a few hours was made, during which the men consumed what was left of the rations procured at Mount Airy, gave their horses the last grain of feed they had with them, and obtained a little sleep. Mounting again we moved north along the Carlisle pike for half a mile, and then by the Grove Mill road to Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, on the Northern Central Railroad [Railway], where we arrived during the forenoon of July 1st.
Our movements at this place illustrate to some extent the uncertainties of the campaign. After a short delay [SLM comment: undoubtedly while the men remained mounted on their horses in the July heat] General Gregg received an order to proceed south toward Baltimore. Scarcely was the division drawn out on the road when a second order came directing him to turn about and move north as rapidly as possible toward York. Just as we were starting in the latter direction the final order came to send Huey’s brigade back to Manchester, Maryland, and to march with Mclntosh’s and Irvin Gregg’s brigades westward to Gettysburg. After losing some valuable time in consequence of these conflicting orders, we (Mclntosh’s and Gregg’s brigades) advanced over a crooked road to Hanover, where we went into bivouac.
At Hanover we found the streets barricaded with boxes, old carriages and wagons, hay, ladders, barbers’ poles, etc., the marks of Kilpatrick’s encounter with Stuart on the previous day, for the Third Division, while we were making the detour on the right flank, had taken the direct road from Frederick, and at Hanover had intercepted the line of march of the Confederate cavalry while we had been following it up.
By this time we had become a sorry-looking body of men, having been in the saddle day and night almost continuously for over three weeks, without a change of clothing or an opportunity for a general wash; moreover we were much reduced by short rations and exhaustion, and mounted on horses whose bones were plainly visible to the naked eye.”
In a future post, I will break down what I believe were the roads used in this senseless countermarching around Hanover Junction that so exhausted Colonel McIntosh’s men and horses…