The Maine regiments of the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps, the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine, contributed to the Union victory at Gettysburg with their feet more than with their guns. Along with the rest of John Sedgwick’s corps, they completed their epic 36-mile march to reach the battlefield just in time to provide much-needed support to the left of the Union line on July 2.
Before leaving Virginia in pursuit of Lee’s army, Lt. Col. Selden Connor, who was in command of the 7th Maine while its colonel was back in Maine recruiting, had some misgivings about the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Joseph Hooker. “The army is not very enthusiastic,” he wrote to his sister on June 5. “I’m sorry to say. I don’t believe they have confidence in their leader.” Once the VI Corps started north, though, Connor’s mood improved despite brutal marches that had left some men unconscious and even dead from sunstroke. On June 17 he told his sister that his soldiers were “gay as larks,” and had been singing a song about the regiment as they made their way through Virginia. It went:
Then clear the track you rebs,
Here comes the Seventh Maine;
Our Colonel is a fighting man
His boys are all the same.
“The Army of the Potomac isn’t dead yet,” Connor wrote.
The VI Corps, which included the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine regiments, did not see a lot of fighting at Gettysburg, although its mere presence on the field had been a plus for the Union cause. “By making long and rapid marches our corps arrived just in time to turn the battle of Gettysburg in our favor,” Connor reported to his father. “We were not heavily engaged,” he admitted, but skirmishing cost the regiment six wounded, three of them mortally—“more than the rest of the brigade together.” On July 5, Connor’s regiment moved out with some cavalry and an artillery battery to follow the retreating Rebels west to the town of Fairfield and get a sense of the situation there. General Sedgwick recommended to Meade against pursuing the Rebels through the mountains and passes beyond, so the army commander decided to move his army south through Frederick and then west across South Mountain to reach Lee’s army that way. While the rest of the army moved south, the 7th Maine formed part of the force under brigade commander Thomas Neill that shadowed the retreating enemy through the mountains to the town of Waynesboro.
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