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Action at Wapping Heights-July 23, 1863

Action at Wapping Heights

Page News & Courier

Heritage and Heraldry

Some on the retreat from Gettysburg found passage through Page


Article of January 25, 2001


While not necessarily a direct result of the battle of Gettysburg and while General Lee wasn't among those that found passage through Page County in July 1863, there was an action near Front Royal that gave Page County a brief tie to the end and beginning of two major campaigns of the Civil War.

Nearly three weeks after the Pennsylvania battle, after having crossed the Potomac River into Virginia Williamsport, Confederate troops from Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill's III Army Corps were in the vicinity of Manassas Gap. Wishing to both relieve the cavalry posted in that gap and to cut off the continued avenue of retreat, Union Gen. George G. Meade ordered Maj. Gen. William H. French (ironically of the Army of the Potomac's III Corps) to advance against the Confederates in that area.

On July 23, 1863, Brig. Gen. A.R. Wright's Brigade (under the command of Col. E.J. Walker of the 3rd Georgia Infantry) of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's Division was assigned to guard the flank of Hill's Corps. At daylight, the brigade marched 5 miles into Manassas Gap and was soon alerted of a possible Union cavalry force in their front. Taking position on a ridge that extended across the Gap, Colonel Walker detached the 3rd Georgia and ordered it forward about 1 mile to "Wapping Heights" overlooking the valley. At about 11 o'clock the enemy attacked all along the front in heavy line of battle. Although outnumbered, the 3rd Ga., with help from the strong position, held the Federals in check for several hours. Late in the day, Gen. Ewell formed the advanced lines of his corps and opened with several of his batteries on the enemy. Near dusk, the poorly coordinated Union assaults were abandoned. While Confederate forces withdrew into the Luray Valley that night, on the following day, the Union army occupied Front Royal.

The battle of "Wapping Heights" or Manassas Gap resulted in at least 21 killed and 84 wounded for the Federals. While Confederate losses were not ascertained, the overall casualties for the engagement was estimated at 440 total. Present with the II Corps, Stonewall Jackson's former mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss disputes this estimate stating, "we lost 45 killed and wounded."

Following the engagement, Hotchkiss also kept a careful account of the retreat into Page County. While Rodes halted at Milford on the 24th, some elements reached a point three miles beyond Milford. The following day, Hotchkiss was in the company of the force that made their way "up to Pass Run and fixed our headquarters near the Brick Church, Rodes being just below the Sperryville Road. Johnson [Maj. Gen. Ed "Allegheny" Johnson's Division] is encamped near the Luray and Front Royal, on Pass Run; Early [Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's Division] spends tonight at Mt. Jackson; Longstreet and A.P. Hill are in Culpeper." The following day, a Sunday, was spent comfortably still in Page County at the base of Thornton Gap in camp. Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy preached at Headquarters in the morning. By that evening, Early's Division was moving across the Luray/New Market Gap into the Page Valley to join the balance of Ewell's Corps.

The following morning, Hotchkiss accompanied Rodes' and Johnson's Divisions as they crossed Thornton Gap. Early later marched across the Blue Ridge at either Fisher's or Milam's Gap. Thus passed the three days that tied the history of Page County with the conclusion of the Gettysburg Campaign. "Wapping Heights" is also associated with the beginning of the "Bristoe Campaign" that would not end until October.

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