Back in the Saddle/The Road to Gettysburg

It’s been over six months since I’ve updated the blog. Since then I’ve been pulled in many different directions between family, work, and other priorities. Through it all I haven’t had much of a chance to research or write, but the blog has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get back in the swing of things and now is as good a time as any. With summer here I want to take an in depth look at the role of the Home Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign. Like my earlier series on the 1862 and 1864 campaigns in Maryland this will be a multi-part series.

Before we delve into the situation in June 1863 I do have a few announcements to make. First of all I am pleased to report that I have a few public speaking engagements coming up. I will be speaking to the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable on Tuesday, August 14th in Leesburg, Va. For more information please visit https://lccwrt.wordpress.com/. I have also just scheduled a talk with the Civil War Center at Shepherd University. The talk will take place next February and I will post more details as they come.

The other news I’d like to pass on is that my friend Kevin Pawlak has begun blogging again over at Antietam Brigades. Kevin is a phenomenal historian and if you have any interest at all in the 1862 Maryland Campaign you should definitely pay a visit.

Now for the history. For most people who study the Eastern Theater of the Civil War the Gettysburg Campaign is the big one. One can argue that other campaigns are more important or more interesting or more dramatic, but for the general public the titanic battle that took place in July 1863 stands tall above the others. The battle certainly holds a special place for me, since I can blame my interest in the Civil War squarely on my childhood trips to the battlefield there.

I’ve written before that the Home Brigade was often on the periphery of the action during the Civil War. The Gettysburg Campaign is an exception to this rule. Two units – the 1st PHB Infantry and Cole’s Cavalry – would find themselves heavily involved in the campaign. The 2nd and 3rd PHB Infantry would be involved as well, but in a more typical supporting role. Before we get into that, though, let’s set the scene in early June, 1863.

While the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac faced off against one another across the Rapahannock the units of the Potomac Home Brigade were far to the north. Stretched out along a line measuring over 100 miles, they were engaged in exactly the kind of activity they were raised for. Far to the west was the 2nd PHB Infantry, guarding the B&O Railroad in western Maryland and West Virginia. Companies of the regiment were stationed at “Cumberland, Patterson’s Creek, Paw Paw, Little Cacapon, and Green Spring Run” (1).

Moving eastward the next Home Brigade unit we run into is Cole’s Cavalry. The four battalions of Cole’s Cavalry were posted in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry. Companies A and D made their headquarters in Charlestown, where they were augmented by the mounted company (Company F) of the 2nd PHB Infantry under the command of Captain George Denton Summers. These mounted companies patrolled the lower Shenandoah near Winchester and Berryville. Company B of Cole’s was stationed nearby in Martinsburg, and Company C just beyond in Hedgesville. Their role was to not only guard the rail lines that ran through the area, but also to keep a lookout for Confederate activity moving north out of the upper Valley. They would have their hands full soon enough.

The remaining two regiments of the PHB were far to the east of their comrades. Both the 1st and 3rd PHB Infantry had been captured the previous fall when Harper’s Ferry fell to the Confederates during the Maryland Campaign. Paroled by Jackson they spent the next several months outside Annapolis at Camp Parole, awaiting official exchange.

Annapolis-Maryland-Parole-Camp

(Library of Congress)

Both regiments returned to duty in the winter of 1863, but were retained in eastern Maryland to guard against the activities of pro-rebel Marylanders. The 3rd PHB Infantry remained close to Annapolis, where it protected the Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad “from the Junction to the City of Annapolis” (2). Although only a short spur line, this stretch of rail was vital for connecting the port of Annapolis to the B&O Railroad. Further to the south the 1st PHB Infantry “occupied the line of the Potomac River from the Piscataway to the Potomac”(3). This part of southern Maryland was where Confederate sympathies ran highest in Maryland, and smuggling was rampant. The 1st PHB shared their duties with a company of cavalry from the Purnell Legion as well as a detachment of the 2nd MD Eastern Shore.

These were the rough dispositions of the Home Brigade as Lee’s Army began it’s movement northward. Over the next several weeks each of the units in the Home Brigade would be called upon to respond to the second invasion of their home state.

Capture

A rough summary of the Home Brigade as it was deployed in early June, 1863 (Map courtesy of the Library of Congress)

 

  1. “Gettysburg Campaign” National Tribune 30 November 1882
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid

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