The Battle of Boonsboro, 1863

July 8, 1863

The Battle of Boonsboro was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on July 8, 1863. The outcome of the battle was inconclusive.

JEB Stuart, Civil War General

Confederate forces led by J. E. B. Stuart delayed Union forces at The Battle of Boonsboro, allowing more time for the Army of Virginia to escape. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Boonsboro Summary

The Battle of Boonboro was fought on July 8, 1863, in and around the town of Boonsboro, Maryland, during the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg. General Robert E. Lee sent General J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry on a mission to find the Union Cavalry, which was harassing the Confederates as they retreated. When the two forces engaged, poor weather conditions forced the men to dismount their horses and fight like infantry. Stuart was eventually forced to withdraw when Union reinforcements arrived in the early evening. However, the small battle allowed the Confederate Army to continue its march to Virginia.

Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate Retreat
This illustration depicts the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Boonsboro Facts

  • Date Started: The Battle of Boonsboro started on July 8, 1863.
  • Date Ended: The battle ended on July 8, 1863.
  • Location: The Battle of Boonsboro took place in Washington County, Maryland, around Boonsboro.
  • Campaign: The battle was part of the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863.
  • Who Won: The outcome of the battle is considered inconclusive.

Battle of Boonsboro History and Overview

Robert E. Lee Withdraws from the Battle of Gettysburg

Following the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–4, 1863), Confederate General Robert E. Lee ended his second invasion of the North. At roughly 5:00 p.m. on July 4, Brigadier General John D. Imboden led a long train of Confederate wounded and supplies toward the Potomac River crossings at Williamsport and Falling Waters, about 50 miles to the southwest. Lee ordered the rest of the army to follow using a different route the next day.

Potomac River Impassable

The withdrawal soon came to a halt when heavy rains swelled the Potomac River, preventing the Confederate Army from crossing back into Virginia. Forced to wait until the river receded, Lee established a long, semi-circular defensive line anchored on his left by the Conococheague Creek and on his right by the Potomac River at Falling Waters.

Meade Pursues Lee

On July 5, Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, learned that Lee had left Gettysburg. Despite prodding from his superiors in Washington to aggressively pursue Lee and destroy his army, Meade settled for dispatching his cavalry to harass the retreating Confederates.

Meade had reason to be cautious. The intense three-day battle had exhausted and battered his army. Unsure of the extent of the damages inflicted upon the Confederates, Meade also needed time to gather information to determine if Lee intended to withdraw to Virginia or to make another stand north of the Potomac. Finally, overriding orders to guard against a possible Confederate assault on Washington and Baltimore confounded Meade.

After reconnaissance missions determined that Lee was assuredly retreating, Meade divided his army into three columns and started a more vigorous but still cautious pursuit. Throughout the quest, Meade was careful to keep his main force between Lee and the nation’s capital.

Battle of Williamsport, 1863, Pursuit of Lee's Army, LOC
This illustration depicts Union forces in pursuit of the Confederate Army. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Williamsport

On July 6, 1863, Union Brigadier General John Buford launched an ill-fated cavalry assault against Imboden at Williamsport. The Confederate general summoned enough artillery and defenders to hold off a three-hour Federal onslaught, saving the Confederate stores and wounded from being captured. On the same day, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s Union cavalry division tried unsuccessfully for six hours to dislodge Major General J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry from Hagerstown, about eight miles east of Williamsport. Following the failed Union assaults on July 6, the Federal cavalry fell back to Boonsboro, along the National Road roughly twelve miles southeast of Hagerstown and Williamsport.

General John Buford, Civil War
General John Buford (USA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

Stalled Retreat

When Lee arrived at Williamsport on July 7, the river remained too high to cross, so he went to work bolstering the Confederate defensive line as the rest of his army moved southwest to join him. Lee also ordered Stuart’s cavalry to advance upon the Union cavalry at Boonsboro to prevent the Union forces from gaining control of the South Mountain passes, hindering Meade’s access to the Confederate army stranded at Williamsport.

What Happened at the Battle of Boonsboro?

When Lee arrived at Williamsport on July 7, the river remained too high to cross, so he went to work bolstering the Confederate defensive line as the rest of his army moved southwest to join him. Lee also ordered Stuart’s cavalry to advance upon the Union cavalry at Boonsboro to prevent the Union forces from gaining control of the South Mountain passes, hindering Meade’s access to the Confederate army stranded at Williamsport.

Sloppy conditions forced the troopers on both sides to dismount and fight like infantrymen. The battle, which was the largest cavalry conflict in Maryland during the Gettysburg Campaign, raged throughout the afternoon.

At roughly 7 p.m. Federal infantry began arriving on the scene, forcing Stuart to withdraw north to Funkstown.

Although the results of the battle were inconclusive, Stuart successfully delayed Meade’s movement toward Williamsport, buying more time for Lee’s retreat to Virginia. Combined casualties at the Battle of Boonsboro totaled about 100.

Battle of Boonsboro Significance

  • The Battle of Boonsboro was the largest cavalry conflict in Maryland during the Gettysburg Campaign.
  • Major General J.E.B. Stuart successfully delayed Major General George G. Meade’s advance on the Army of Northern Virginia stranded at Williamsport, buying more time for General Robert E. Lee’s retreat to Virginia after the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Battle of Boonsboro Casualties, Generals, and Participants

Principal Union Commanders

Principal Confederate Commanders

Union Forces Engaged

  • 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions of the Army of the Potomac

Confederate Forces Engaged

  • Four brigades of Stuart’s Cavalry Division the Army of Northern Virginia

Estimated Combined Losses

  • 100 (killed and wounded)

Result

  • Inconclusive

Battle of Boonsboro Dates and Timeline

These are the main battles and events of the Gettysburg Campaign in order.

Battle of Boonsboro Suggested Reading

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“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 by Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg

“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. Volume 2: June 22–30, 1863

Mingus and Wittenberg, the authors of more than 40 Civil War books, present a history of the opening moves of the Gettysburg Campaign in the 2-volume study. This compelling study is one of the first to integrate the military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg. This first volume covers June 3–21, 1863, while the second, covers June 22–30, completes the march, and carries the armies to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14–31, 1863 by Jeffrey Hunt

Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, the first of three volumes on the campaigns waged between the two adversaries from July 14 through the end of July, 1863, relies on the official records, regimental histories, letters, newspapers, and other sources to provide a day-by-day account of this fascinating high-stakes affair. The vivid prose, coupled with original maps and outstanding photographs, offers a significant contribution to Civil War literature.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of Boonsboro, 1863
  • Date July 8, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Boonsboro, Gettysburg Campaign, Robert E. Lee
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 17, 2024

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