Williamsport, Maryland and The C&O Canal
We have just returned from a road trip to New York. Whenever we make a journey of any type, since we have the time to travel without time constraints, we stop at point od interest along the way. Often these are triggered by highway signage or map notations. Yes, Junkie uses a map not a GPS. Horror of horrors! No GPS! Yep and we have few problems and we do discover some interesting places.
Williamsport, Maryland is a case in point. I have been aware for some time of the frantic crossing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia made there in the retreat from Gettysburg. The retreat from the July battle involved an ambulance train nearly seventeen miles long. It took General Imboden two and one half hours to ride from the tail to the lead wagon on horseback. The train of ambulances must have been surrounded by the sounds of horror from the causalties who had uncomfortable shockless wagons and little medical care not to mention creature comforts. The route was plagued by rain and muddy, bumpy roads. The train arrived on 5 July, the day after the battle ended.
When they arrived at Williamsport the Potomac River was in flood stage, the pontoon bridge had been washed out and Federal cavalry were nipping at their heals. The Confederates began to transport the casualties on ferry boats. Every family of the town was asked to cook for the army. After the water subsided the tallest confederates formed lanes to guide the crossing of the wagons and the infantry units. An interesting sidelight is that 8000 pair of shoes captured by General Ewell’s Corps during the campaign were sucked off their feet in the muddy river bottom.
Williamsport is often a sidelight of the Gettysburg Campaign. But, the town was well known and in fact was at one point considered by Geroge Washington in 1790 as a potential location for the new nation’s capital.
Williamsport was an important point along the Chesepeake & Ohio Canal. It served as a trans-shipment point for coal destined for Baltimore and Washington and other materials going downstream. It was the location of an aquaduct that carried the canal over the Conocoheaque Creek at Williamsport. This transfer point was a strategic location the was attacked by Gen. Thos. J Jackson during the 1861-62 winter to destroy dams 4 and 5 on the canal. While there his men removed many stones from the aquaduct which rendered it unusable. During the 1863 Antietam Campaign Union General McClellan sent forces to destroy canal property to keep Confederates from using it to cross the Potomac and flank his force.
There is located on the north side of the approach road to the Potomac crossing site the Doubleday Redoubt constructed by Captain Abner Doubleday in June 1861 when it became clear the the Civil War was happening and the Maryland-Virginia border would be the strategic dividing line.