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Our next stop was at Williamsport. It seemed that the elements, and Kilpatrick's Cavalry, combined had been rather unfavorable for further progress in that direction. The river was high and boisterous, and the pontoons were missing. This state of affairs was rather perplexing to the Confederates, but they showed no signs of uneasiness trusting everything in their commander. They would remark, "Old Bob Lee knows what he is about."
They had suffered a terrible defeat and were discouraged, their ammunition nearly exhausted, and in fact were in a bad predicament for a battle. It has always been my earnest belief, from that time to the present, that had the Union Army pursued and given battle, there would have been a glorious victory by the surrender of Lee, and the recapture of all the prisoners. During our stay at this place, nearly two days, eight more men from my regiment joined us. Of course they were cordially received, and congratulated on fighting and running away, to fight and get caught another day.
Pontoons had been ordered, and when the first arrived it was put in use, ferrying the prisoners across the river to a place of safety.1 Our line of march was through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, along the turnpike made famous in song and story, on either side stretching its broad and fertile fields to the evergreen slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its towns, once rich and flourishing, were pictures of desolation. Crumbling walls and chimneys lonely marked the spots where once were happy homes.
We were from the morning of the 9th of July until the afternoon of the 11th without anything to eat. At Winchester we were issued, for rations, about a pint of corn meal. Many of the men did not wait to cook their meal, but stirred it up in cold water and drank it. On one occasion we camped overnight near a field of wheat which had been cut and shocked up, and I don't think I exaggerate the truth in saying that fifty bushels were rubbed out, eaten, and carried away in the men's pockets.
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1 If you want to know more about Lee's retreat to Williamsport, I recommend One Continuous Fight, The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia (Wittenberg, Petruzzi, & Nugent); ferrying the POWs across the Potomac is on page 202.