The Union repulse of Pickett’s charge may have ended the Battle of Gettysburg, but it didn’t end the Gettysburg campaign. The Poore brothers and their Confederate comrades still had to get home, back to the South.
Mother Nature seemed to set the mood for the rebel withdrawal. Torrents of rain fell around 1 p.m., July 4 as William B. Poore and the other men of A. P. Hill’s Corps began to leave. The downpour continued as Francis M. Poore and the men of James Longstreet’s Corps started southwest around 4 p.m.
Their route took them through the rugged, high gaps and passes of South Mountain. Francis, William and their fellow rebels marched day and night through heavy rains that left the roads knee deep in mud and water.
On the morning of July 7, Francis, William and their comrades arrived near Williamsport on the Potomac. Yankee raiders on July 4 had damaged a pontoon bridge 3 miles downriver at Falling Waters, and the flooded river was too high to cross on foot.
So the rebels turned east and put the river to their backs. Francis, William and the other graycoats formed a defensive arc running 7 miles from Conococheague Creek on the north to Falling Waters on the south. The brothers and their comrades rapidly dug trenches and built breastworks against a potential Union attack.
Other rebels ripped timber from local warehouses and built pontoon boats on which to cross the Potomac. Once defenses were in place, the rebels moved their wounded across the Potomac and brought up badly needed supplies. Minor skirmishes occurred almost daily and by July 13 the rebels waited for the Yankees to launch a major attack. But no main attack came and the Yankee troops instead dug their own trenches.
Lee decided to withdraw across the Potomac at nightfall on July 13. More heavy rains fell that afternoon and the river rose. At dark, Francis and the other men of Longstreet’s Corps fell into line for the march to the pontoon bridge at Falling Waters. After them came William in A. P. Hill’s Corps, while Ewell’s Corps headed for the ford at Williamsport, where the river had gone down enough to cross.
The many men, horses, wagons and supplies took a long time to get across the river. Dawn broke before Francis and William made it over the makeshift bridge.
The Confederate and Union armies now moved eastward along separated lines. Francis, William and the other graycoats moved up the Shenandoah Valley, while the Yankee troops, about 20 miles to the east, moved along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Army of Northern Virginia stopped south of the Rappahannock River. Here the units spread out to camp between Culpeper Court House and Orange Court House. The Army of the Potomac, meanwhile, camped north of the Rappahannock. Francis, William and the other Confederates were nearly back to where they had started for their invasion of the North. Five miles away, their foes had taken up their old spots as well.
The Gettysburg campaign was over, but the war would go on.