Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign

By Kent Masterson Brown | Go to book overview

Thirteen
I would die before
being taken prisoner

Orders from Lee’s headquarters to proceed to Williamsport for the purpose of constructing a bridge across the Potomac River were received at the camp of Captain Summerfield Smith’s engineer battalion at daybreak on 10 July. Because engineers were under the authority of the army commander, Lee and his staff oversaw the project. Lieutenant Harris was aroused from a fitful sleep northeast of Hagerstown; at 5:00 A.M. he set off on an eight-mile trek to an orchard near Williamsport where he and his battalion established a camp. They got something to eat and were then marched down to the Potomac River at eleven o’clock. Longstreet’s, Hill’s, and Ewell’s Corps were just getting ready to fill their positions in the Williamsport defense line, and the sound of gunfire was intensifying east of Funkstown.1

Captain Justus Scheibert, a former engineer in the Prussian army and a recent immigrant to America, was assigned to help build the bridge. Landing at Charleston, South Carolina, he eventually made his way to Lee’s army and had been riding with the staff of J. E. B. Stuart ever since. On the morning of 10 July he appeared at Lee’s headquarters in response to an order from Lee himself. Scheibert then rode down to the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal basin with instructions to assist the engineers.2

Pioneer companies from each division had been detailed to the bridgebuilding effort and were already at work when Harris and Scheibert arrived at the river. According to Scheibert, a “reconnaissance soon showed that the trees standing by the river were mostly oaks, which [were] not suitable for floats and are too hard to work for the quick completion of other structures.” However, several sawmills soon discovered in Williamsport contained sufficient “boards and crossbeams.” Private Casler of the Thirty-third Virginia was one of the pioneers from Johnson’s Division. At the Shoop and Lefever

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