Willoughby Run’s Place in History – The Battle of Gettysburg: July 1, 1863
Healing springs, sacred ground where corpses of fallen Civil War soldiers once lay and a 124-acre farm memorialize Willoughby Run and its environs as a hallowed place in history. Named for early settler and landowner, Willoughby Winchester, Willoughby Run is a tributary of Marsh Creek that flows through the rolling farmlands of Gettysburg.
As the story goes, Union (Army of the Potomac) and Rebel (Army of Northern Virginia) troops clashed at Willoughby Run on the hot, humid morning of July 1, 1863. A prelude to the remaining two days of battle, both sides suffered heavy losses. The Union forces suffered 9,000 casualties (including 3,000 captured soldiers). Confederate losses numbered around 6,500. Clouds of billowing smoke permeated the horrid battle scene. By the end of Day 1, the Confederates had driven the Union soldiers back to Gettysburg where they sought high ground near the cemetery (Cemetery Ridge). This key position proved critical to the Union’s ultimate victory in the Gettysburg Campaign.
The Southern armies advanced from the north; the Union armies from the south. Union Infantry occupied a stronghold and defensive position in the dense trees, brush and thick bramble around Willoughby Run. Skirmishers of John Buford’s Union cavalry dismounted and recoiled across the fields toward Willoughby Run. The Confederate Army Brigade led by General James J. Archer advanced across the Emmanuel Harman farm to Willoughby Run. Suddenly they were surrounded by the daunting “Iron Brigade” line, regiments of tough, fearless Union soldiers hailed from the Western states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Donning their famous black felt Hardee hats, the “Iron Brigade” infantrymen, pushed into the woods. Archer and his men were forced to retreat. Shortly thereafter, the Rebel General and about 300 of his men were captured in a copse of willow trees while crossing Willoughby Run. Human casualties were heavy on both sides.
Privately owned and developed for many years, the former Harman Farmstead was home to the now-defunct Gettysburg Country Club’s nine-hole golf course. In March 2011, a few months before the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, the 95-acre old Harman farm tract including Willoughby Run was dedicated back to the National Park Service.