Letter from Chaplain Thomas E. Vassar,
150th New York Infantry, to The Amenia Times:
Sandy Hook, Md.
July 17, 1863
I wrote you last from the field of Gettysburg, or its vicinity. We left there on Sunday morning after the fight, and on the following Saturday came up with Lee’s army in the neighborhood of Williamsport. Though weary, there was on the part of the Union forces a universal desire for a fight, with a confident expectation of being able to finish up, on the banks of the Potomac, what had been begun ten days previously among the hills of Pennsylvania. All day the different corps kept coming in, and by Sunday morning a crescent-shaped line ran round the rebel fugitives. – Anxiously we waited orders for the attack to begin. Toward night, however, instead of moving upon the foe, the command was given to commence throwing up breastworks; and all day Monday the great army was kept thus engaged. Magnificent pieces of timber were cleared off, fences torn down, and fortifications reared mile after mile in the rear of a retreating foe. Soldiers could see no reason for this, but supposed that their officers could, and so of course pushed the job along; and, while thus employed, Lee quietly moved his frightened men safely across the river, the last going over as the light of Tuesday morning dawned. By noon the report became general that the prey, which seemed within our grasp, had affected an escape. Soon the rumors turned into a settled fact. Never have I witnessed manifestations of deeper disappointment or burning rage. After all that long, wearisome march, born with such patient endurance, was vain. That army which had so often defeated, baffled, or eluded us, but of whose destruction we had been all but sure, had again slipped away when its overthrow seemed ordained. Is it surprising that curses, loud and bitter, upon those whose timidity or dilatoriness had brought about such a result, should have been denounced; Wednesday morning we started upon the track of the runaways. Terrible was the trail which they had left. In the barns lay unburied putrifying dead. By the road-side used-up horses were scattered all along. Growing crops were trampled flat, fences stripped away, houses pillaged, stables and stalls and poultry yards left empty – ruin on every side.
Yesterday we reached Maryland Heights, opposite Harpers Ferry, and afterward moved a mile lower down, where we pitched our camp for the night, and are lying still. This morning a drenching rain is falling, but the pontoon bridges are being laid, and probably by tomorrow the army will again be crossing over to Virginia soil. What the next move in the programme is to be, it would be hard to tell. Somehow or other, somewhere or other, and at some time or other, Lee and his army are to be destroyed. Nothing more definite can hardly be predicted just now.
Lees Army Crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland
Biography of the Rev. Thomas Edwin Vassar
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