"Roads to Gettysburg" - Summer, 1981

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James N.

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Although not taken during the march to Gettysburg this photo of The Confederate Guard infantry company at a Living History event two years earlier at Chickamauga NMP gives a good idea of our appearance on this occasion as well. I'm at left center wearing the hat with the star; other than a brand-new pair of cadet gray trousers this is what I wore on the march.

I have previously referred to the most authentic reenacting experience in my now many years in the hobby: In the summer of 1981 two van loads of Confederate reenactors traveled from the Dallas-Fort Worth area all the way to Martinsburg, W. Va., ( in '63 it was still Virginia! ) and marched approximately seventy miles to Gettysburg for the annual event held there every July. This is an account I wrote afterwards which was published in the Camp Chase Gazette, lightly edited for clarity.

Part I - The First Day

We spent our last night on the soil of the Old Dominion in a pleasant little hollow near Martinsburg where we enjoyed plenty of water and the efforts of our foragers, who returned to camp with chickens aplenty. With stomachs full we rested well and rose in the unaccustomed chill of a late June morning to prepare for the day's march. Our objective was Williamsport, Maryland, where we were to cross the Potomac. This called for some tall marching in order to accomplish the task before nightfall so that we could locate our camp while there was still light.

We began our day's march with light hearts and optimism. Soon the quick pace and uneven surface of the McAdam Valley Pike began to wear both our spirits and our shoe leather. We were heartened however when we passed the spot where our late lamented General Jackson had seen his first action of this conflict, opposing Patterson's advance back in '61.

Our first welcomed long halt was made on the banks of the Potomac at Falling Waters where members of the company refreshed themselves under a waterfall or took solace in a nap. After an hour's rest we resumed our northward march. Later in the afternoon we halted again a few miles short of our crossing site while scouts went ahead to locate the ford. They found the Potomac so swollen by the recent rains that a decision was made to cross further upstream.

We resumed our faltering march. Toward the end of a seemingly endless day the head of the column passed over into Maryland followed by groups of stragglers who stumbled into camp. However, only a handful played out and failed to complete the day's journey and those only in the last couple of miles.

There were no regimental bands to serenade us with strains of Maryland, My Maryland as we turned onto the narrow strip of land between the Potomac and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal where we made our camp. The messes built fires and cooked their meals in the twilight but the strain and heat of the march exhausted this writer; only a can of peaches tucked away in the corner of my knapsack saved me from going to bed hungry that night. Some said we covered eighteen miles that day and it felt like it, but more likely it was 14 or 15 miles.
 
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James N.

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The company on the march with Sergeant Clive Siegel and Pvt. Wayne Hill in the lead; Lt. Mike Moore at right.

Part II - On the March

We awoke the next morning after sleeping the sleep of the just, prepared breakfast, and then moved out. Marching through Williamsport we stopped briefly to rest and to serenade the citizenry of a local home for the aged and infirm with The Yellow Rose of Texas and Dixie accompanied by our fifer. We were often cheered on the march by his playing and occasionally he would add a tune from Beethoven or Mozart to vary his standard repetoire of popular songs. His endurance amazed us: he never seemed to run out of either leg power or lung power as he marched, his rifle slung across his back.

Our column generally marched at the route step, arms-at-will in a column of twos along the road except when entering a community such as Hagerstown which we approached next. The company was recieved with enthusiasm by the local authorities including the mayor who took the opportunity to address the troops. A town councilman pressed $15 in greenbacks into the hand of our commissary soldier. No doubt this show of patriotism and gratitude was intended to save their fair city from foraging by our troops. As in previous campaigns we failed to attract any recruits to our banner; nevertheless our reception, though brief, was a warm one.

Meanwhile, the advance party, after much futile searching north of the Mason-Dixon Line, finally located a hospitable billet. The pleasant Virginia and Maryland countrysides gave way to the large Pennsylvania Dutch farms with their substantial and distinctive stone barns and brick farmhouses. Our camp was in a shaded lot adjacent to one such home built in the 1840's and occupied by a fine family who demonstrated a marked degree of Southern sympathy who placed their resources at our disposal. We greedily and thankfully gorged ourselves on blackberries and the delicious sweet fruit of the mulberry trees which dominated the lot. Another soldier's need was anticipated by our redoubtable Corporal "Catfish" who erected a sink in the sheltering trees.

That night we ate heartily of a stew prepared from items brought in by our commissary, then settled down in our wool blankets for a restful sleep in the open air. We carried no tenting with us other than a few mismatched shelter halves. Our sleep was disturbed only by a light rain shower. It was brief but served as an ominous forecast of what was to come. The two previous days were relatively pleasant weather-wise, though afternoon temperatures reached the upper 80's and the roads made our blistered feet even more uncomfortable. The shower cooled things off ( and increased the humidity ) but failed to dampen our spirits.

It was about this time that I discarded "The Old Man of the Sea" , as I not-so-affectionately referred to my Yankee knapsack. Although more experienced old soldiers than I carried theirs, I found the most practical marching kit for me to include two haversacks: the tarred one contained food and eating supplies; the plain canvas one held a very few items of extra clothing, mostly undergarments and stockings. I also carried a smooth-sided canteen kept full, a tin cup, a blanket roll wrapped in a gum blanket, my accouterments, and my new-model Yankee rifle-musket. I was fortunate enough to possess a full uniform of cadet grey cloth, a good pair of Yankee shoes, and a pair of canvas gaiters.
 
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Period postcard view of the Penn National Inn built in 1812 by the founder of Chambersburg, Pa., for his daughter and her new husband.

Part III - Mount Alto and Penn National Inn

Our route led us to the settlement of Mount Alto, a Mennonite farming community where we were received with surprising hospitality. Our evening camp was made in a glade bordering a small, swift brook beneath large trees. Magnolia Mess drew the assignment of preparing the evening meal, a delicious repast of fresh baked bread; equally fresh bolognas, peas, and beans from neighboring fields; homemade apple butter; and a watermellon cooled in the brook. Local children also brought fresh milk to our camp and someone brought a bottle of wine for the officers and NCO's!

The only sour note came later in the night when we settled down for welcome rest and it began a moderate but steady rain. Gum blanket lean-to's were improvised with more or less success while others trusted vainly in the sheltering branches overhead. My bunkie Catfish and I kept reasonably dry under our lean-to made from a single shelter half. Next morning we were on the road northward again.

We hadn't gone far when we turned off toward a large brick farmhouse inn which stands grandly on a rise facing the wooded slopes of South Mountain. We marched up the drive to the steps where we stacked arms and were greeted by the proprietors who had a wash basin and pitcher ready on a stand beside the door.
We filed eagerly into the spacious dining rooms where tables set with stoneware, goblets, and silver on clean cloths awaited us. We thought we had fared well the night before but were unprepared for the breakfast feast!

Pitchers of fresh milk joined bowls of fresh fruit and homemade preserves on the tables. From the kitchen came bowls of grits, platters of fried pork, skillets full of eggs scrambled with potatoes, tins of cornbread, and light fluffy biscuits. We ate our fill and there was still more! It seemed truly strange to sit at a table and to eat such a quality and quantity of food.

After our feast we were too full to resume our march right away, so we sat on the spacious porch writing letters home or talking with our host and hostess. Their fine home was built in 1812 for a daughter of the founder of nearby Chambersburg. It was with genuine sadness that we parted company with our benefactors. They waved goodbye as our column wound its way back down the drive to the road. The stop did more to lift our spirits than any other single incident of the campaign.
 
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James N.

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Our march was considered front-page news in both Chambersburg ( above ) and Gettysburg, even if they somewhat exaggerated its length!

Part IV - The Long Road

The morning was cool and overcast; clouds hung on the side of South Mountain. We stopped briefly at the junction of the Chambersburg Pike and gorged ourselves on the wares of a nearby fruit stand. Around noon we turned east toward Gettysburg. It was now time to cross over South Mountain. It was a grueling march, not because of a steep grade which was really quite gentle; but because of anticipation of reaching the summit. Even our jaunty fifer who had kept our spirits alive and our bodies moving ceased his frequent playing. We rested at the summit then descended.

We made camp that night on Marsh Creek about eight miles west of Gettysburg. We washed our dirty clothes and stinking bodies in the cold clear water. It was a delicious feeling; I hadn't had a real bath since we left Martinsburg. we ate from our haversacks which contained leftovers from previous meals. It seemed that while campaigning our principal concerns were: When are we going to halt? How far is it? When and what are we going to eat? And the answers were always the same: Soon. Not much farther, just over the hill. We'll find something. How trivial become the worries of the world when faced with these realities!

That night the downpour began and continued all night with scarcely a letup. We kept dry under a convenient shed but our freshly washed clothes would not dry. This proved a disaster the next day when I put on three pairs of thin dry cotton socks in place of my heavy wet woolen stockings. The day's march began in the dark, the air heavy with humidity from the night's rain. As the sky began to lighten in the east the column groped its way onto the pike.

The captain believed the enemy was near so he ordered two scouts to precede the company by an hour. We marched uncomfortable beneath our gum blankets and ponchos which kept out the air; I faltered as I felt my blisters begin to break, one-by-one. I stopped by the side of the road and changed my cotton socks for the wet woolen ones, and then had to push my sore, stiff legs to catch up with the column which was now in the distance.

 
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Wonderful post :smile: Enjoyed reading it and thank you for posting. I feel that this was a true life time achievement :thumbsup:
Great Post and story. :thumbsup:
Great tale, thanks. Would love to do an extended march like that someday.
Thank you for your interest and indulgence so far; and now, for The rest of the story!

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The final day of our march this photo appeared on the first page of The Gettysburg Times; left-to-right, Lt. Mike Moore of Texas, Pvt. Jim Branson of Missouri; Capt. Robert Serio of Arkansas; and 1st Sgt. George Susat also of Texas.

Part V - The End of the Trail

I wasn't the only one to succumb to blisters on the march: some men had worn holes in their shoe soles and not a few pairs were on the verge of wearing out. Even our Captain found it necessary to cut a walking stick from a roadside tree, but to his credit he remained uncomplaining at the head of the column.

It was by now daylight but the sky remained leaden and a light rain fell intermittently. In some ways this easy march seemed the hardest of all - we were driven by the urge to quickly reach our destination, Gettysburg. Our pace quickened as we passed over the ground of the first day's battle, but we halted for an hour near General Lee's headquarters in a little stone farmhouse.

The company was now at full marching strength and all stragglers had returned to the ranks. We stepped off in cadence and with a renewed pride and a spring in our step as we entered the streets of Gettysburg. We forgot the blistered feet, aching muscles, chafed thighs, and empty stomachs. As we stopped in the town square and stacked arms our sense of accomplishment was joyous - the long march was over.

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Editor's Note: James Neel was among the Living History buffs who marched 70 miles from Martinsburg, W. Va., to Gettysburg. The men, from Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Texas, and California, represent Company D, 4th Texas Infantry, Hood's Brigade. An attempt was made to follow the original invasion route, but time in many instances dictated a more direct route. Neel's account is a "...tribute to those hardy infantrymen who made the entire march... and to those citizens whose hospitality they enjoyed; much as the march itself was intended as a tribute to the spirits of those who passed this way 118 years earlier."
 
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James N.

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It should be noted that the above was written in a period first-person style that deliberately omitted any "modern" references. Created for a readership of fellow reenactors it may create a false impression today that downplays the discomforts and hardships we actually encountered. I want to say for the record that I was NOT one of the dedicated souls who completed the entire march: on the very first day after about fourteen miles I completely gave out and was lying on the grass in a roadside park next to a pool of my own vomit. I then threw in the towel and would've happily exchanged my entire kit, musket and all, for a ticket home!

I made the final mile or two to camp in the van which followed us wherever we went in case of instances like this. The entire second day as we continued through most of Maryland I rode despondent in the van with a few other drop-outs like myself. On Wednesday morning in a town square (Waynesboro?) as the troops rested I made my decision that I'd come to make this march and that my feet weren't any worse than most of the others, so I resumed traveling with as light a kit as possible, light marching order. I'm happy to say I finished the remainder of the distance and estimate I made about 40 - 50 of the 70 miles total. I really felt like Henry Fleming and thought my feet with their third-degree blisters were my own particular Red Badge of Courage.

Here's a much shorter account of the march I wrote for our unit newsletter of which I was then editor:

Five of our members managed to attend what may have been the largest Civil War reenactment since the Centennial, held at Gettysburg July 3 - 4. Serving in various capacities we saw many different aspects of the event.

( I ) had the painful honor of marching ( literally ) with the Confederate Guard as Co. D 4th Texas Infantry. A whole week prior to the battle was occupied in marching from Martinsburg, ( W. ) Va., through Maryland and on to Gettysburg, a distance of some seventy miles. The march was characterized by blistered feet, aching leg muscles, chafed thighs, etc.: yet out of the genuine misery we gained a new appreciation and healthy respect for the "Foot Cavalry" of Lee's Army. In addition, however, to the discomfort, we share fond memories of the good comradeship; beautiful vistas; gracious hospitality we were afforded by many fine people along the way; and the pride of a sense of accomplishment of exceeding our Twentieth-century limitations.

The march may have been over, but the weekend of the Gettysburg reenactment lay ahead. I'll next make a separate post detailing the travails that still lay ahead for us.
 
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mkyzzzrdet

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They probably would not be allowed to do such a march in today's political climate. Might "offend" certain people to have rebs marching through their area -
 

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Since this thread has been referenced recently and the anniversary of the battle is right around the corner, here's a *BUMP*
 
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I remember reading this in the CCG many years ago. I knew some of the people in the pictures. I fell in with them from time to time. I know the names still, but hadn't seen any of these people in many years. It brings back more a few memories of the times.
 

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I remember reading this in the CCG many years ago. I knew some of the people in the pictures. I fell in with them from time to time. I know the names still, but hadn't seen any of these people in many years. It brings back more a few memories of the times.
Unfortunately I've forgotten most of the names, especially of the Arkansas or Missouri contingent of the Guard. Among notables I DO remember are Robert and Chris Serio of Little Rock (the captain here and his then-wife); George Susat, company 1st Sergeant who I saw this year at the Jefferson Civil War Symposium; Danny Sessums, our drillmaster who I also visited with in Jefferson; Clive Siegle, another sergeant in these pictures; the lieutenant here named Mike Moore of Seguin, Texas; Jim Branson of Missouri; Dave Stachon (probably spelled wrong), AKA my pard "Catfish"; Wayne Hill of Waco and indestructible feet; Paul Putty of Dallas who worked at my favorite antique gunshop Jackson Arms; Scott Swenson and Randy Gilbert also of Texas; and Richard Horrell, also of Missouri who was only a member for a short time and not here at Gettysburg. (There are likely others who I wiil recall after posting this.)
 
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The names I recognize, people I met are Robert Serio, George Susat, Danny Sessums, Clive Siegle, Mike Moore, Dave Stachon and Richard Horrell. Dave S, the last I knew was working at the Tippecanoe Battlefield up in Indiana. I did some business with him on a Starr Carbine. I think he was is still up that way working. Not sure. My good friend, now deceased knew just about everyone in the unit, and was a long time member, although he preferred to do the western events only. Later only he was involved with Missouri units.
 

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... Dave S, the last I knew was working at the Tippecanoe Battlefield up in Indiana. I did some business with him on a Starr Carbine. I think he was is still up that way working. Not sure. My good friend, now deceased knew just about everyone in the unit, and was a long time member, although he preferred to do the western events only. Later only he was involved with Missouri units.
Dave probably knew another friend of mine who was NOT a member of the Guard (mainly because he preferred earlier periods, War of 1812 - Mexican War), Steve Abolt, with whom I worked on Alamo - The Price of Freedom, Legacy, and Last of the Mohicans. The last time I saw Dave, Scott, and some of the other regular Guard members was at the 150th Shiloh.
 
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