The cost of the Rebel Invasion – Part 4
Rebels wearily slog through the rain during their retreat following the Battle of Gettysburg.
York Countians could breathe a sigh of relief after the Rebels departed. While there had indeed been considerable damage to the railroads and telegraph lines, as well as thousands of horses and mules seized, the damage was rather light compared with Franklin and Adams counties, and part of Cumberland. A reporter from the Lancaster Daily Herald trailed the two armies after they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, and he left a graphic account of the destruction he witnessed in the southern part of Franklin County. He wrote from Greencastle on July 8, 1863,…
Of the retreat of the Rebels I shall now speak, but how shall I describe it; my descriptive powers fail me; the mind is bewildered by the scenes of the last few days, and one scarcely knows whether it was a dream or reality.
On Sabbath morning last about 2 o’clock the Rebels entered town on their retreat towards the Potomac, the infantry and part of the supply train going along the mountain, while the principal part of the train and the wounded passed through this place, and perhaps from five to ten thousand stragglers on foot, most of them without shoes, having lost them in the mud. Many had their shirt sleeves torn off for bandages, some without a hat, others with heads tied up, others with one leg of their pantaloons torn off, Add to this some six to ten thousand mounted infantry and cavalry on worn out horses struggling in the mud, with here and there a stray piece of artillery, and the wagons and ambulances, and you have some idea of the panorama as it moved along.
For thirty-six hours did they pour over the roads and fields, wending their way towards the Potomac. Oh, what a scene ! The teamsters with horrid oaths pounded the poor exhausted horses and mules, while the road was strewn with dead horses and broken wagons. Here and there you could see a team fast in the mud with men prying at it with rails, while by the way-side, against trees, stumps, and in the mud, sat the exhausted wounded unable to go any further. Thousands More fortunate than these poor wretches were endeavoring to make their escape on the worn-out horses which they had stolen, who when requested by some exhausted wretch to leave him ride for a few miles or so, would turn a deaf ear to the supplications of his companions in arms ; for in the vortex and confusion all sense of feeling was lost. Misfortune had placed officers and privates on a level. The stolen goods where freely exchanged for a small piece of bread or cake.
The road was strewn with cast-off clothing, blankets, knapsacks, guns and empty haversacks. But amid all the confusion and noise could be heard the moans of the wounded in the wagons and ambulances, as they were hurried over the rough, muddy roads. Many died on the way, and were thrown into the woods and barns for the citizens to bury. When a wagon would brake down, the wounded would be left to their fate. Oh, how they would beg and entreat those around them not to leave them there to die, far from their friends and homes ! But their supplications and tears were lost upon men who, hardened by the misfortunes with which they were surrounded, made the old maxim “self-preservation is the first law of nature,” their guide. When a team would give out or a horse become exhausted, they would lighten the wagon by throwing one or two of the wounded out, who, with tears in their eyes, would beg for mercy ; but humanity had left the teamster, and he heard them not. Thousands of-them would enquire, “How far to the river ?” “How far to the Maryland line?” “How far to Williamsport ?” When answered that it was twenty miles to the river, they would look bewildered, and say ” I cannot walk that far.” Others would sit down, yielding calmly to their fate. Others again would beg for medical aid, but it was not to be had.
While I looked at the miserable wretches striving to reach the Potomac, I could distinctly hear our artillery preventing the advance from crossing, and I thought of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, and hoped that the Potomac might prove as disastrous to the rebels as the Beresina did to his army.
On the road you can see large quantities of ammunition-powder, shell and shot, which has been abandoned. In less than a half a mile I counted three dismounted guns. Whole wagon loads of small arms were burnt, or rendered useless by bending them over wagon wheels…
July 11, 1863