As the morning broke over Loudoun County on June 28, 1863, not only had the Army of the Potomac completed its passing, but also the Army of Northern Virginia… of course save some Confederate cavalry posted on the Blue Ridge and what stragglers remained from the long marches.
The engineers completed the task of pulling up the bridges at Edwards Ferry that morning.
Orders from army headquarters had the “land pontoon,” that Brigadier-General Henry Benham mentioned the previous day, moving up to Frederick and following the Fifth Corps on the line of march. The remainder of the bridging, at Benham’s suggestion, was supposed to move down the C&O Canal to the Navy Yard for repairs. But there was a problem with that plan – Stuart had damaged the canal at Lock No. 23. So for the time being a lot of equipment lay at Edwards Ferry.
That bridging equipment laying at the crossing site was a resource the army might need on short notice, should fortunes turn. So it had to be secured. At 2 p.m., Major-General Henry Halleck, in Washington, asked Major-General George Meade about Edwards Ferry:
It is reported here that the supplies at Edwards Ferry and returning by the canal are left unprotected. If so, Lee’s cavalry will probably destroy them. It is reported that Lowell’s battalion of cavalry, left at Poolesville, was sent to Sandy Hook, contrary to my orders. If so, there is not a cavalry picket on the line of the Potomac below Edwards Ferry, and we have none here to send out.
Meade replied promptly indicating he’d directed Lowell back to Poolesville. It would be several days, July 4 according to a report from Benham, before the equipment was in Washington.
That closes my sesquicentennial coverage of the march of the Army of the Potomac through Loudoun and the crossing at Edwards Ferry. I could probably offer up a dozen more long winded posts about particular aspects of those two subjects, which I’ll save for “slow” blogging days where I need a filler. But for now let me revisit some of the conclusions I offered up a few years ago with respect to Edwards Ferry:
Hooker anticipated major fighting in Loudoun prior to June 24, and prepared to meet Lee. Three infantry corps fronted the Bull Run and Catoctin Mountains, with three more within immediate supporting distance.
First bridge at Edwards Ferry supported supply route. Such alleviated the pressure on the road network through Loudoun. This also lends the argument Hooker didn’t anticipate moving into Maryland, in force, prior to June 24.
The road network brought the army to Leesburg. One or more of the river crossing sites around Leesburg had to be used when the army moved across the Potomac.
Hooker wanted second bridge at Monocacy on June 24. But, with the report of Confederate activity west of Leesburg, he opted to co-locate the second bridge at Edwards Ferry. A well planned river crossing for an army like that Hooker commanded should have at least two lines, within mutual supporting range but not so close as to cause traffic problems. I’d submit Hooker’s hand was forced by those false reports. (And I’ll admit, there are no primary “a-ha!” sources stating such exactly. My presumption is based on the timeline more than anything else.)
Confusion over movement and bridge placement cut into time line. At least half a day on June 25 is lost due to these issues. Double bridge placement added to congestion. I’d offer no set figure of time lost. But with Hancock, Crawford, and others reporting wagons from the preceding corps still crossing at Edwards Ferry, even on the last day of the crossing the trains were still tangled up.
Improper positioning of cavalry allowed Stuart to cross the Potomac. We can “armchair general” this all day. But lets also consider the cavalry was stretched thin with the requirement to cover the movement across the Potomac.
Edwards Ferry crossing enabled success at Gettysburg. I think that part is somewhat self evident. Given that Hooker’s “strike for his line of retreat” was never really an option, the Army of the Potomac had to move into Maryland and eventually Pennsylvania. A crossing point upstream of Edwards Ferry was not practical for several reasons, namely security. A crossing point downstream was not practical due to poor access points and the width of the river. And of course a march into Washington and back out to Maryland would add several days to the movement. By that time, Lee’s infantry might be past the Susquehanna. As it was, the speed at which the Army of the Potomac was able to move up during that last week of June took a little initiative away from Lee, forcing him to concentrate the far flung Army of Northern Virginia. The events of June 25-27 lead to the events on July 1-3.
(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 63.)