I think the cow was as much a victim of panic as the humans. On Wednesday morning, 24 June, 1863, about 3 miles west of the farming hamlet of New Oxford, near the bridge over Bush Run, the unnamed bovine bolted in front of a speeding locomotive going about 15 miles an hour.
Although tragically, Bossie was killed, no humans were seriously injured. But the collision did throw the small utility engine (above) off the tracks, forcing the impatient Colonel William W. Jennings to walk to his destination. His mission was urgent. Time was running out, according to Major Granville Owen Haller, 7th United States infantry regular army, who, with less than 100 volunteer cavalry troopers, was praying for Jennings arrival in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
William Wesley Jennings had gone to work as a mold maker in his father's Harrisburg iron foundry when he was 15 years old. By the age of 22 he was running the place, active in Republican politics and the Feemasons. He'd been elected a lieutenant in the 3 month volunteers who had rushed to defend Washington during the first summer of the civil war. Two summers later, when the rebel Army of Northern Virginia threatened again, Jennings had volunteered again, helping raise and drill the 26th Emergency Volunteer Regiment of 700 - mostly students, middle aged mechanics, lawyers and farm hands. On Tuesday, 23 June, 1863, the Governor ordered Jennings to take his barely trained men by rail to Gettysburg, and consult there with Major Haller. It was the next day that bossy threw herself across his tracks, 35 west of Harrisburg, and derailed his schedule.
Setting out on foot from the wreck site, Jennings took Company A with him mostly because its' 83 members were all from Gettysburg. It took the Colonel most of Thursday to cover the 12 miles, arriving in Gettysburg (above) just before dusk .
Meanwhile, help for the rest of the stranded regiment had arrived from Hanover Junction. The steam engine was remounted on the tracks, and at 9 on the morning of Friday, 26 June, the rest of the regiment arrived at the 3 year old Gettysburg station (above). Ominously, as soon as the regiment had disembarked, the train backed out of the station and retreated all the way back to Harrisburg, proving it was more valuable than the men.
Meeting in the Eagle Hotel (above), on the central square - "the diamond" - of Gettysburg, the 43 year old Major Haller, still weak from the fever he had contracted a year ago in Virginia, “suggested” the 25 year old Colonel Jennings entrench his men along Marsh Creek, just to the west of Herr Ridge, about 3 miles outside of Gettysburg, astride the Chambersburg Pike. Jennings protested, but the Major insisted. Harrisbug had to know if the rebel army had turned at Gettysburg, and in what strength.
Gettysburg (above) - just 10 miles north of the Maryland border - had only 2,400 residents, and just 450 buildings – including six hotels and taverns, and 7 churches But the town was important because of the roads that radiated like the hands of a clock from the town's "diamond" central square.
At nine o'clock, running 8 miles to the west alongside an unfinished railroad cut was the Chambersburg turnpike (above) which crossed Willoughby Run and Marsh Creek before climbing uphill to...
Cashtown (above) - not a town but a roadside inn and store, whose owner was famous for demanding cash. It sat at the eastern foot of...
“Black's Gap” ((above) through the 1,900 foot high South Mountain – front ridge of the Appalachians.
From the gap the road led to Chambersburg, which sat astride the Cumberland valley, the north-south route through the interior, and joined with the Shenandoah Valley, south of the Potomac River..
Running out from the square at ten o'clock and climbing over Oak Ridge, was the Mummasburg road, named for the village 10 miles to the north, north-west of Gettysburg., where South Mountain began to curve to the east.
At noon was the north bound road that ran just past the northern end of South Mountain before reaching Carlise. From Carlise a road led 25 miles due east to the railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River and the state capital of Harrisburg.
At one o'clock out from the Gettysburg "diamond" was the 25 mile east bound road and the Gettysburg railroad line. Both crossed Rock Creek to New Oxford, then continued to Hanover Junction and then York. And 10 miles east of York was another railroad bridge at Wrightsville over the Susquehanna. At three o'clock was the 12 mile east bound road to the industrial town of Hanover and the Harrisburg to Baltimore road.
At four o'clock the Baltimore Pike left the "diamond" at the center of Gettysburg (above), heading south east first to Tanytown, Maryland, 20 miles to the south southeast, with Baltimore 45 miles farther and Washington, D.C.just beyond that.
Splitting off from the Baltimore Pike south of town (above), at seven o'clock, was the Emmitsburg Road – heading 18 miles to the southwest, with Montery Pass through South Mountain just beyond. Occupy Gettysburg and you were a day's march from Baltimore or Harrisburg. And you were just a day's march from the safety of the Potomac. Capture either Baltimore or Harrisburg and the north might sign a peace. And that was why Major Haller had advised the Governor that the Emergency Militia must be sent to Gettysburg as quickly as possible - and why Haller had ordered Jennings to send his tiny detachment, minus a company held back in Gettysburg, to meet the rebel army.
At about 10:30 that foggy Friday morning, in a cold “drizzling rain” and “meeting refugees at every step”, the reluctant Colonel Jennings marched his 700 men 3 miles west on the Chambersburg Pike, to a farm owned by lawyer Edward McPherson, atop Herr Ridge. Descending the west face of the ridge and approaching the bridge over the meandering Marsh Creek, Jennings sent 80 men across under Captain Warner H. Carnahan as a picket line. He then led the rest of his regiment into the woods north of the pike where they stacked arms, built fires and even pitched tents.
The nervous Jenning's (above) was feeling like a sacrificial lamb. His only support was provided by 33 year old local farmer Robert Bell, who had brought 45 volunteer mounted scouts, each supplied with a new Spencer carbine and a navy Colt pistol by the state. Bell picketed his men in a clover field south of the bridge. Then Colonel Jennings and Captain Bell rode up the next rise, Knoxlyn knoll, to look for rebels. They found them ¾ of a mile away, coming down the slope right toward them.
It was Jenning's nightmare - 150 butternut brown, grey and captured blue clad rebel cavalry - the 35th Virginia “White's Commanches”, named after their commander, 31 year old Elijah Viers “Liege” White (above), "an excitable, impetuous sort of personage, of large build and auburn complexion.”
Behind them, visible through the dank rain, was a full brigade of 1,500 veteran infantrymen under a "tall, lanky, and straight as a ramrod " Georgia lawyer, the audacious, deeply racist and often wounded General John Brown Gordon.
One member of the 26th would give voice to Jennings' emotions at the moment - Haller's orders, the man wrote, had sent “raw and comparatively undisciplined troops into the very jaws of the advancing Confederates.” Jennings started to order his aide to warn Major Haller back in Gettysburg, but Captain Bell interrupted, telling the Colonel his “supreme necessity” was to save his regiment from capture.
It actually was worse than Captain Bell knew. Gordon's brigade was part of Jubal Early's 5,000 man division. In capturing Cashtown the day earlier - Thursday, 25 June - Brigadier-General Early (above) had also captured two of Bell's scouts, who said Gettysburg was expecting infantry reinforcements. Not sure how strong the federals would be, Early decided to approach the crossroads from two directions. He sent Gordon and White's command directly down the Chambersburg Pike, while he took the bulk of his command - Hay's, Smith's and Hoke's brigades - north to Mummasburg. He then sent General Henry T. Hays and his 1,500 Louisiana Tigers, along with 250 troopers of the 17th Virginia cavalry, under ex-realitor Colonel William Henderson French, to approach Gettysburg down the Mummasburg road. This put French and Hays in the perfect position to cut Jenning's tiny command off from Gettysburg, and capture them all.
Unaware of this, Jennings galloped back across the Marsh Creek bridge, and sharply ordered his men to fall into marching formation. Then, instead of falling directly back on Gettysburg, Jennings enlisted one of the men from Company A, Private Baugher, to slide his regiment out of the rebels' way, heading a mile north, first to the Belmont Road which they followed to the Mummasburg Road. Colonel Jennings left Captain Carnahan's 80 pickets, supported by Bell's 40 cavalrymen, along the Chambersburg Pike to cover his own retreat. But he had just failed to do the same for Major Haller and the unsuspecting troops and citizens back in Gettysburg.
At first sight of the militia baring his way, Methodist minister Lt. Harrison Strickler, commander Company E in White's Comanche's, typically ordered his men to charge. According to rebel Captain Frank Myers, White's Comanches “came with barbarian yells and smoking pistols, in such a desperate dash, that the blue-coated troopers wheeled their horses and departed ... without firing a shot.” All 80 infantry men were captured. Added Myers, “nobody was hurt, if we except one fat militia Captain, who, in his exertion to be first to surrender, managed to get himself run over by one of Company E’s horses, and was bruised somewhat.” It was a triumphal moment for the rebel troopers, and most of them then splashed across the creek and descended upon the abandoned tents left behind by the 26th. The looting delayed them more than the union soldiers had.
In a reverse of Paul Revere's ride, Robert Bell and his irregulars galloped directly back to Gettysburg (above), spreading panic like a virus as they did. The refugees from Chambersburg and Cashtown found the energy to run, to drive their horses to a gallop. It took less than ten minutes for the infection to reach the town..
In Gettysburg itself, at 43-45 Chambersburg road - two blocks and around the corner from the train station - Hugh Scott, the telegraph operator, saw Ball's men gallop past, heard their cries and saw their terror. He responded as he had prepared to. He ripped the telegraph equipment from its table, threw it in the buggy he had borrowed and whipped the horse down the road toward New Oxford and York.
Captain Ball paused long enough at the Eagle Hotel to inform Major Granville Haller (above) of the collapse of the 26th.. and to infect him with the panic. Haller, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, tried to telegraph Harrisburg, but found the telegraph office empty, the equipment gone. So he threw himself on a horse. He did not stop until he had reached Hanover. He telegraphed the Governor at 8:00 that night. “… Rebels in Gettysburg. Ran our cavalry through town; fired on them; no casualties. Horses worn out. Ordered all troops to York. … Cavalry officers and men did well.” But he had no word of praise for Colonel Jennings or the 26th regiment.
Meanwhile, back along the Mummasburg road, the 26th was wheeling column right, marching eastward toward Gettysburg, when Colonel French's mounted Virginians appeared from the Northwest. With the enemy so close, Jennings had no choice but to throw his Pennsylvanians into a battle line, behind the split rail fences. As French's cavalry approached, the militia fired a volley. A few rebels fell from their saddles, and the cavalry returned fire, but they then fell back. It was obvious the militia were retreating, and Colonel French realized they were going to capture Gettysburg, so why lose any more men?
Colonel Jennings fulfilled his role, slowly leapfrogging his men down the slope toward Gettysburg. As they approached the town he saw the rebel cavalry had beaten him there, and he redirected his men toward Hunterstown, 5 miles north on the Carlise road. The first day of fighting in Gettysburg was almost over. And so far, despite all the shooting, not a single human had been killed.