The March to Gettysburg:
Richard Ewell and his 21,806 man Second Corps had performed outstanding work in the Gettysburg Campaign thus far. Moving down the Shenandoah Valley, Ewell and the Second Corps had won stunning victories at Second Winchester (June 13-15) and Stephenson ‘s Depot (June 14). Confederates had captured 3,856 men, 23 cannon, and over 200,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 supply wagons, and over 300 horses. Second Corps staff officer Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton wrote, “The more I see of him [Ewell] the more I am pleased to be with him. In some traits of character he is very much like General Jackson, especially in total disregard of his own comfort and safety…He is so thoroughly honest, too, and has only one desire, to conquer The Yankees. I look for great things of him, and am glad to say that our troops have for him a good deal of the same feeling they had towards General [Stonewall] Jackson.”
Ewell’s men had pillaged south-central Pennsylvania and nearly captured the state capital, Harrisburg. Lee recalled Ewell and his men and by the evening of June 30, two-thirds of Second Corps was just over 10 miles north of Gettysburg in the Heidlersberg, Pennsylvania area.
Ewell received orders from General Lee that evening for July 1st. Dick Ewell was “to proceed to Cashtown or Gettysburg, as circumstances might dictate.” A.P. Hill sent along a note Ewell on the same evening “saying he was at Cashtown.”
On the morning of the 1st it was decided that the Second Corps would make for Cashtown, to reunite with Hill’s corps and Longstreet’s First Corps that was following behind Third Corps.
As the march started on the morning of the 1st Ewell received another message from Hill stating “he was advancing upon Gettysburg…” Quickly the Second Corps changed course. Ewell sent one of his divisions, that of Major General Jubal A. Early, down the Harrisburg Road towards Gettysburg; the other division on hand, under Major General Robert E. Rodes, was to proceed down the Carlisle Road. This would bring butternut soldiers down on Gettysburg on a roughly parallel route from the north and north-east.
Ewell’s third and final division was not with the rest of Second Corps, it was cutting south-west down the Cumberland Valley. The division, under the capable, yet untested command of Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, was with the rest of the Second Corps in the Carlisle-Harrisburg area, but when Ewell began his move to the Cashtown-Gettysburg area, the Second Corps commander ordered Johnson to head towards the Chambersburg area. While it is not always the most prudent decision to split your force while in enemy territory, the Confederate Second Corps had been the vanguard infantry unit in Lee’s advance into, and through, Pennsylvania. Thus, Ewell’s men had plundered the Pennsylvania countryside to their heart’s content and were laden with their spoils.
Johnson’s four brigade division marched from Carlisle, through Shippensburg, and onto the hamlet of Scotland along the Black Gap Road, where the division would meet the Chambersburg Pike. In tow, Johnson had the over laden supply wagons of the corps, filled with their newly captured spoils. While operating essentially behind enemy lines and without proper information of the enemy’s location, Ewell would not have to deal with defending the wagon train, if cutoff by Meade’s army. Also by sending the trains towards Chambersburg, Ewell would have the flexibility of moving his trains to the front, or if Lee decided to withdraw from northern territory the trains would be that much closer to the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately for Ewell, not bringing this final division together with him to Gettysburg was a grave mistake.
When Ewell decided to change the marching orders of Rodes and Early’s division’s to Gettysburg, Ewell dispatched his adjutant/step-son, Major Campbell Brown, to find the commanding general. Brown found Lee somewhere between Cashtown and Gettysburg along the Chambersburg Pike. Brown informed Lee of the change of marching orders. Lee responded by asking if the young staff officer, or Dick Ewell, knew the whereabouts of Jeb Stuart and his three brigade cavalry force still on their ride around the Federal Army. Brown told Lee that he had no knowledge of the cavalry chief’s location. Lee then stressed “’very strongly,’ that a general engagement was to be avoided until the arrival of the rest of the army.” Like it or not, Robert E. Lee was about to have a “general engagement” on his hands.