Confederate soldiers took wood from old canal boats and nearby sheds, and raided a lumberyard in Williamsport to rebuild the pontoon bridge so Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army could continue its retreat, Gaul said. A pontoon bridge is a series of boats with planking laid across the top so troops, wagons and artillery could traverse the river.
During the 10 days the soldiers were trapped in Williamsport, Union forces attacked, capturing approximately 1,500 Confederate soldiers just before the soldiers were to cross the pontoon bridge, Gaul said. More than 10,000 Confederate soldiers were able to cross, he said.
On Sunday, more than 50 people marched 5 1/2 miles on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath from the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport to the site where the pontoon bridge was in 1863, across the river from Falling Waters, W.Va.
The walk was one of the activities the town and park service held this weekend to commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Confederate retreat.
The actual retreat was along what is now Downsville Pike and Falling Waters Road, Gaul said.
Confederate re-enactors and visitors dressed in modern clothing participated in the walk, which included a horse-drawn wagon.
Gaul and others read quotes from journals, letters and newspaper accounts of the time during stops along the walk to give people a sense of what the soldiers were experiencing at the time.
“It gives you a sense of what it was like to be there and what they kind of went through,” said Brandon English, 29.
English, dressed as a member of the Confederate Army for the march, traveled from Hoboken, N.J., to participate. He also joined the walk two years ago.
“It’s a great march to do because you get to get a lot of interaction with the public, whereas some of the other marches we do, we’re just doing it for ourselves and you just trudge along and plot along,” said Dave Wilson, a Confederate re-enactor from Hagerstown.
“This one, spectators get to ask you about what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, what all’s going on, the history of the place,” said Wilson, 28.
“That’s the best part for me, is making it real for people,” Wilson said.
Glenn Boireau, 57, of Stephens City, Va., said he recently read a book about the Confederate retreat in this area.
“Now’s an opportunity to walk and learn what went on,” Boireau said before the walk began.
Linda Ebersole and her granddaughter, Kendall, 10, have been participating in the walk since it began, she said.
“My granddaughter and I, we really enjoy this walk and we like to learn about the history,” said Linda Ebersole, 64, of Williamsport.
“I like learning about the history of Williamsport and the C&O Canal,” said Kendall Ebersole, who also lives in Williamsport.