Gettysburg Retreat Tour Notes

Last weekend, still a few chapters shy of completing One continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg, a family trip gave me the opportunity to follow one of the tour sections outlined in the back of the book. The two driving tours (and GPS coordinates for waypoints) offered could have easily been paired off as a separate offering, with a short campaign narrative. It is of great benefit to the reader’s pocket book the authors and publisher did not pursue that option. To me, Appendices A and B (the tours) help to bring what would be just another account of the Gettysburg Campaign (although a great one on an aspect covered sparingly) out of the black and white text and into the light against the background of the real terrain the campaign was fought over. What follows are my notes from that driving tour. So I would not call this so much a review, as much as a trip report with annotations of the tours from the book.

For my day trip, planning factors worked against the strict adherence to the plotted driving tour. The retreat moved from northeast to southwest. I was driving to meet the wife’s relatives to the north of my home in Virginia. As such, my course ran counter to the author’s tour. Perhaps, however, that is a good litmus test of a tour guide. If I can convert “lefts” to “rights” and “souths” to “norths” within the driving directions, and read things backwards, then I’d dare say the authors were on the money with regard to their tour! After carefully plotting locations on the maps, I opted to generally follow “The Wagon Train of the Wounded” tour with one exception. To round out my drive, I used a section of “The Retreat from Gettysburg” tour from Hagerstown to Boonsboro (also in reverse mind you) as a lead in to join the wagon train tour just outside of Hagerstown. From there I followed the wagon train tour as described up to Cearfross, MD then to Greencasatle, PA, and on through the back roads eventually passing through Cashtown before ending up at Gettysburg. Again, a course exactly opposite of the authors intent, forcing me to translate directions and odometer readings, all self-imposed of course! I will reference the authors’ original waypoints as a measure of reference (and keeping me honest). Their standard was to use “RW” as Retreat tour waypoints and “WTW” for the Wagon Train tour. And again for effect, my personal approach reversed the order, so my numbers count down instead of up.

Picking up the trail in Boonsboro, there is a Washington County Historical Advisory Committee “little brown” marker located along the Old National Road (Alt U.S. 40) just north of Boonsboro. The first additional stop I made beyond the book’s tour was between waypoints RW 49 and RW 50 near that marker, pulling off to the rather generous shoulder to look northwest across the open ground in front of the church toward the main area the battle was fought across:

Federal Cavalry Rear
Boonsboro: Federal Cavalry Rear

Heading north, again in reverse of the book’s tour, I can suggest some pull offs for better views of the battlefield area, but only on a light traffic day and with a lot of caution. Suffice to say, the safest spot to view the battlefield is at the “Auction Square” (RW 49) near the Civil War Trails marker for the battle.

From that stop, the National Road passed through the site of the Battle of Benevola (RW 47) at Beaver Creek. Probably the only bridge in Washington County, Maryland without some sort of historical marker! I did not spend much time in Funkstown, as I have explored that battlefield and historical markers earlier. Likewise my tour around Hagerstown was cut a little short to avoid traffic. As mentioned above, just outside of Hagerstown I picked up the wagon train tour, roughly at waypoint WTW 32. At Cearfross (WTW 31) I paused to look over Cunningham’s Crossroads. Here’s the white barn mentioned as used by Captain Abram Jones’ detachment as cover for the ambush of the wagon train on July 5, 1863:

Jones' Ambush Position
Jones' Ambush Position

The next major stop on my trip was in Greencastle, just over the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. There I was pleased to learn that George Washington also slept here and in fact had breakfast at a tavern just off the square while out to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. the historical marker is partly blocked by the tree on the right:

McCullough's Tavern
McCullough Tavern

On the other side of the building (north) is a state marker mentioning Ulric Dahlgren’s little ambush on July 2, 1863. To the east of the square is the Antrim House, mentioned as the location the street was baracaded by civilians on July 5, and the spot an attack was made on the wagon train. The building is a restaurant today:

Antrim House
Antrim House

The next stop on my reverse tour was the Rihl Monument, to the north of Greencastle. While the road’s shoulder is generous, the visitor should be cautious, as traffic can be heavy. Continuing backwards on the tour I found the Hege Farm (WTW 18 ) and the Snyder Farm (WTW 15) exactly where the authors directed me. I did lose some time backtracking from a wrong turn in New Franklin (WTW 13) however. As noted in the book, the five way intersection is confusing. However, one benefit of “reversing” this tour was continually looking up to see South Mountain and orienting to the passes.

A View of South Mountain
A View of South Mountain

The next major points on the trip included Caledonia State Park (WTW 9), the Cashtown Inn (WTW 7), and Herr’s Tavern (WTW 5). At that point, I was right at the west edge of the Gettysburg battlefield and dropped off the tour.

One additional stop I would suggest for anyone doing their own “Retreat” tour is the Longstreet Observation Tower. While most visitors are looking to the east at the round tops, take a look out over the Eisenhower Farm to the west:

South Mountain from Longstreet Observation Tower
South Mountain from Longstreet Observation Tower (See comment 6)

I found this offering a good view looking toward Fairfield and beyond. Understandably, the authors probably did not wish to force the readers into backtracking through the battlefield and needlessly around several back roads.

Lastly, as stated in Appendix A from One Continuous Fight, the driving distance on these tours is deceivingly short. On paper, these are hour-and-a-half to two hours at typical speed. But you will want to stop and visit several sites along the way. Plan this as a day trip. In my case, I hit the first waypoint around 9 a.m., but didn’t get to the Gettysburg Battlefield until 2 p.m. And even then, consider I bypassed a lot of stops in Funkstown and Hagerstown (seen on previous occasions) which are key sites to understanding the retreat.

Overall the driving directions are easy to understand. The descriptions of the intersections, waypoints and sites to see along the way are consistent, clear, and concise. Granted, the visitor should read the book prior to making the tour in order to properly understand the context. Optional stops are discussed and offered, providing more than just a “Point A” to “Point B” tour. The inclusion of GPS coordinates should be applauded, and sets a precedence I hope is followed by other writers. I could nit-pick and cite a half-dozen historical markers the authors could have mentioned for the tour, but to be honest I located quite a number that I didn’t know about myself while following their tour!

Recommendation – get the book, read the book, then take the tours.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

9 thoughts on “Gettysburg Retreat Tour Notes

  1. Craig,

    Thanks very much for your kind words, and I’m glad to hear that you found the tours useful and well done. We worked very hard on them, and spent many an hour covering them again in order to make sure that everything was correct.

    Eric

  2. Thank you Craig. As Andy Trudeau says in his preface, “history is not an armchair pastime”. Our hope was that readers would both enjoy and learn from retracing the routes of the soldiers of 145 years ago. I’m happy you found that our tours were accurate and useful. I hadn’t thought to “proof” our directions by following them in reverse but I’m glad it worked out!

    Mike

  3. Thanks so much Craig! You did a fabulous job reporting on your trip and tour, and we’re humbled you found it so worthwhile. Seeing the actual ground makes the words on the page come to life.

    J.D.

  4. If you’d like to see more details in the panoramic photo at the bottom, let me know and I’ll be glad to forward a copy of the file. For what ever reason the WorldPress image handler isn’t working as before. Sort of making it hard to “zoom in.” Gotta love changes.

  5. I am anxiously awaiting the book. I live on the way of the wagon train and have been searching for the trail to follow.

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