July 3 and 5, 1863
Two small skirmishes erupted at Fairfield, Pennsylvania, six miles west of Gettysburg. The first, on July 3, involved Union soldiers from the 6th U.S. Cavalry and Confederate horsemen from Colonel William E. Jones’s “Laurel Brigade.” Jones’ troopers had orders to secure the crossroads at Fairfield in case a retreat to the Potomac River proved necessary. Believing that a Confederate wagon train was passing through the town, Major Samuel Starr ordered his 6th U.S. Cavalry into action. The clash resulted in a disastrous rout for the Union horsemen and after incurring more than 200 casualties, they retreated. The Laurel Brigade’s stand kept the vital road junction clear for the Confederate retreat the next day.
The second skirmish occurred on July 5, when the head of the Union pursuit after the Battle of Gettysburg briefly caught up with the Confederate rearguard. Tired soldiers from the Union 6th Corps deployed a skirmish line and opened fire, but foul weather prevented them from bringing on a major engagement.