Confederate General Robert E. Lee began moving his Army of Northern Virginia toward Pennsylvania in June of 1863.
President Abraham Lincoln appointed Major General George Gordon Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade issued his first orders on June 28, 1863.
Meade’s army marched north the following rainy morning on muddy roads. Captain Samuel W. Fiske, 14th Connecticut Infantry, wrote of the march across Maryland into Pennsylvania, his account a bit nostalgic.
Fiske didn’t know where his army was heading when he heard the bugle call to strike tents and begin the journey. He and his comrades didn’t know how long it would take to arrive—they had to blindly trust.
Fiske tried to enjoy each hour, always ready for either a skirmish or a picnic. He never knew when he’d be called to picket, bivouac, or retreat.
He reasoned that no other occupation required more faith than soldiering: faith in his own strength; faith in his army’s joint strength; faith in his commanders’ experience and watchfulness; faith in their country’s cause; and faith in God’s care and protection.
Captain Fiske enjoyed Maryland’s beauty after the war-ravaged sights in Virginia. He hated to see war roll over the peaceful countryside yet felt a battle on Northern soil might end the war.
Fiske hoped that Pennsylvania citizens weren’t so afraid that it prevented them from defending their homes. A newspaper article that he read that day told of the “chief burgess” of York looking for someone to surrender to eight to ten miles outside his city. Fiske didn’t believe that leader represented his city well.
When the captain considered his army’s recent losses, he felt he was part of “the unfortunate ‘grand army’” that couldn’t reasonably make big promises. Yet since that army would once again stand in front of Confederates, they deserved their country’s respect and support.
At the time his writing, Fiske and his comrades dealt with fatigue from marching for sixteen days. Though their numbers were depleted by the expiration of service terms, these experienced veterans had become a formidable army.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Gragg, Rod. The Illustrated Gettysburg Reader: An Eyewitness History of The Civil War’s Greatest Battle, Regnery History, 2013.