The Hanover Junction cavalry countermarch
While the Battle of Gettysburg raged on July 1, 1863, elements of David M. Gregg’s cavalry division of the Union Army of the Potomac wasted several hours on a fruitless countermarch near Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, because of conflicting orders the general received from HQ. This was not uncommon in the Civil War (or today).
CLICK THE MAP TO ENLARGE IT FOR MUCH BETTER VIEWING.
Please read the background post first! Oh, Just make up your mind, general!
I spent part of the day yesterday down in Hanover Junction with my little grandson. We mapped out what I believe were the various routes elements of David McMurtrie Gregg’s division of Union cavalry took in its series of countermarches, and took a few photographs. Refer back to the map above during this discussion.
To recount the narrative of Captain WIlliam E. Miller of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry… “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.” This initial southward movement is depicted in the terrain map in yellow.
View looking south on the road to Baltimore, today’s S.R. 616. Gregg’s horsemen would have stretched for at least a mile, perhaps more, down this road.
In 1863, this section of S.R. 616 would have been filled with part of Gregg’s column (likely Huey’s Brigade), who would have faced the photographer, headed southward. The York County Heritage Rail Trail bike path is on the right, the road to the left.
Back to Miller’s account… “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.”
This northward movement is shown in red on the terrain map. It is uncertain exactly how far toward York Gregg’s men advanced, but from Miller’s description, it wasn’t very far.
The road from Hanover Junction heading north toward York, about a dozen miles away.
The Union saddle soldiers undoubtedly passed by this old farm, which still retains a period flavor. On the terrain map, it is located where the road to York bends to the northeast. According to local experts, the 1863 road did not follow the exact course of today’s road.
Back to Miller… “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.” This retrograde movement is shown in green. Col. Pennock Huey’s brigade continued southward toward Glen Rock to Maryland (his movement is shown in light blue). They would miss the Battle of Gettysburg.
Colonel Huey’s column may used this road to get back to Maryland. The Northern Central Railway was to their left, and they would have passed the ruins of a few bridges that had been burned by Elijah V. White’s “Comanches” on June 27. A few houses in the general area were victimized by Union troopers seeking fresh mounts.
Miller of the 3rd PA recounted… “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.” They undoubtedly took the Junction Road, even today winding and crooked, to reach Green Valley Road, which would have taken them through Jefferson, Pennsylvania, to Hanover. In my research at the Pennsylvania state archives, I can verify this route from a few damage claims filed by farmers who lost horses to the Union cavalry in this movement.
The Junction Road is certainly a “crooked road,” as described by Miller. Winding and uneven, it must have been hard on the weary cavalrymen.
The Junction Road is in the foreground, looking toward the intersection with Green Valley Road, which heads off to the left where the line of farmhouses and outbuildings are in the distance. Gregg’s men would have turned here and headed southwesterly toward Hanover.
Miller wraps up…”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.”
Update 12/2014 from historian Ray Kinard