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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caption to sign:


The Beginning and the end

On June 15, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North began here as 2,000 of Gen. Albert G. Jenkins’s infantrymen splashed across the Potomac River. For the next eleven days, almost 50,000 soldiers under Gens. James Longstreet and A.P. Hill entered Maryland here at Williamsport. Hungry Confederates temporarily occupied the town, and many residents welcomed them with tables in the streets loaded with milk, bread, and meat.

Less than a month later, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, reeling from the defeat at Gettysburg, returned. The first of the wounded arrived on July 5, the day after the battle ended, but were trapped here by the rain-swollen river. Williamsport became a “great hospital for the thousands of wounded,” according to Confederate Gen. John B. Imboden, who ordered every family in town to cook for the casualties.

Ferryboats soon began transporting the army across the river as Union signal corpsmen watched, and by July 14, most of the soldiers had left Maryland behind. Even after the water subsided, however, the current remained swift. The tallest men formed two lines from shore to shore with their guns interlocked to mark a strong and stable lane. Despite their efforts, ammunition was soaked and Gen. Richard Ewell’s corps lost 8,000 pairs of shoes to the rushing waters.

The crossing of the Potomac at Falling Waters

Falling Waters, which is approximately four miles below Williamsport, can be reached by following the C&O towpath on foot or bike, or by driving about six miles to Falling Waters Road and then hiking down an unmarked path for a mile until reaching National Park Service markers placed along the towpath. The signs are approximately a quarter mile inland from the Potomac. Lumber to build the pontoon bridge used to cross the Potomac at this point was floated down river from Williamsport.

Caption to sign:

"Retreating after Gettysburg, the Confederate Army was trapped for seven days by the swollen Potomac River. July 13th – 14th Gen. Lee with Longstreet’s and Hill’s Corps crossed here on a pontoon bridge. Ewell’s Corps forded the Potomac above Williamsport."

Caption to sign:

“Finally on July 10, the Confederates completed a pontoon bridge, but it took two days for the ambulances and hundreds of ordnance and artillery wagons to cross. By the early evening of July 13, during another downpour, Gen. James Longstreet’s infantry corps began tramping across, guided by bonfires on both shores and signal torches on the bridge. Gen. A.P. Hill’s corps followed, and by mid-morning the next day, 30,000 Confederates were across.”

“Lee’s army had escaped.”

“Quartermaster John Harman, who previously had served as Stonewall Jackson’s chief quartermaster, built 16 pontoon boats in two days from dismantled sheds and warehouses and wood from a Williamsport lumberyard. When the lumberyard manager complained, the Confederates retorted: “Just charge it to Jeff Davis. Our army is worth more than all your lumber in gold.”

The Potomac, where Lee, Longstreet, and Hill crossed


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