Edwards Ferry – Orientation

I’m jumping the gun on June a bit now.  Taking to  mind the need to consolidate the remainder of my “Gettysburg notes” from the marker project, and some timing with other events, my focus this month on the blog will be toward two distinct topics.  One of course the “markers and monuments.”  At the same time I’ve got some site notes from various points in Loudoun, Fairfax, Clarke, and Frederick Counties which I’ve needed prodding to post.   I’ll start out with a series of posts looking at Edwards Ferry, where the Army of the Potomac crossed into Maryland in late June, 1863.  Of course as a bonus, that site featured prominently in the Battle of Balls Bluff, making this site a “two for one” visit.

A few years back (2006 or 2007) Loudoun County, Virginia opened the Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park.  The park fronts portions of the Potomac River and Goose Creek, as a strip of river bottom land next to the Lansdowne Resort & Golf Club.  Several sites of note within the narrow boundaries of the park include Elizabeth Mills (also known as Kephart Mill), Kephart Bridge Ruins, two locks for the Goose Creek Canal, and a river lock for that canal.  But for those with Civil War interests, the important landmark is at the mouth of Goose Creek – the site of the Edwards Ferry river crossing.

The Mouth of Goose Creek
The Mouth of Goose Creek

There are two entrances to the trail in the park, both inside Lansdowne, and both reached from Belmont Ridge Road from Leesburg Pike (Virginia 7).  The Elizabeth Mills parking area is at the end of Squirrel Ridge Place.  The Kephart Bridge parking area is off Riverpoint Drive.  Both sites are about equidistant, no more than 1500 yards from the mouth of Goose Creek, but the trail from Kephart Bridge passes several ruins of the old Goose Creek Canal.  The only obstacles on the trail are the occasional deadfall and the occasional washout or two.  Otherwise, the trail is a walk along the river banks.

As mentioned above, this is a site which has layers upon layers of history.  While the main natural feature is of course the confluence, the important man made feature is the Goose Creek Canal.   As this canal was in place at the time of the Civil War, allow me to elaborate a bit on its history.  This canal was one of many such projects in Virginia, born with the notion to link the inland valleys rich with agricultural products to the markets over the fall line.  After the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac, a river lock was built to allow light boat traffic to pass from Goose Creek, down the C&O Canal, to Washington, D.C.

In 1849, the Little River and Goose Creek Navigation Company began construction on a canal along Goose Creek and the Little River (its tributary).  The aim was to allow passage of canal barges as far upstream as Loudoun Vallie – Aldie, Oatlands, and mills along the Snickersville Turnpike.  The first step in this canal project was a river lock and a canal lock at the mouth of Goose Creek.  Next was a set of double locks at Kephart’s Mill.  The last set of dams and locks were complete by 1854.

Goose Creek Canal Lock
Goose Creek Canal Lock

Problem was, Goose Creek was not a reliable for navigation.  Looking at the upper reaches of Goose Creek, even near the Leesburg Turnpike (site of a Confederate Battery and “Burnt Bridge” during the Civil War), rarely is there enough depth in the channel to allow anything larger than a canoe.  Yet, the project was completed. The canal ditch, locks, and dams stood at the time of the Civil War. Part of this canal is shown on the “McDowell Map” of 1862.

Section of McDowell Map showing Edwards Ferry
Section of McDowell Map showing Edwards Ferry

However, the map does not appear to accurately scale, nor does it show the full course of the canal.  But clearly shown is the road infrastructure of the time.

Edwards Ferry Road (mentioned also on several Leesburg Defenses posts earlier this year) passed from Leesburg to the west, crossing Cattail Branch, then descending the bluffs on the north bank of Goose Creek to the confluence.    Visible in this snapshot of the map, on the lower left,  is part of the Leesburg Turnpike.  The pike linked Leesburg with Alexandria (and is today Virgina Highway 7), crossing Goose Creek little over a mile and a half upstream from the mouth.

The other road of note runs nearly through the middle of the snapshot, connecting Edwards Ferry Road with the Pike.  This was called “California Road” by some accounts.  The reference here is to mining operations active along this section of Goose Creek.  Note the annotations “Iron Ore” and “Copper.”   Gold was also mined here, but certainly not enough make a significant operation.  Likely the reference to “California” was some joke upon the mine owner.  Regardless, the California Road crossed Goose Creek at Kephart’s Mill at a bridge by the same name.  This bridge, whose stone abutments still stand, was burned in 1862.

Remains of Kephart Bridge
Remains of Kephart Bridge

On the Maryland side of the Potomac, a road runs up from the old ferry point, across the canal lock then forks.  The left, or north, fork leads to Poolsville.  The right, or south, fork parallells the river eventually leading to Washington, D.C.

A look at the site today presents a far different view:

Google Earth Image of the Site Today
Google Earth Image of the Site Today

I’ve indicated in red the structures that stand today for reference – Kephart Mills (locks and bridge), the lock at the mouth of the Goose, the C&O lock, and C&O River Lock.  Otherwise, much of the road structure now lays below golf courses and residential streets.

So looking at both a period map and the satellite image today, clearly there’s a challenge to properly interpret the site.  What I will present in follow on posts are my notes regarding the Army of the Potomac crossing in 1863 and a bit about related history of the site.

And you may note, I’ve tagged this post as a “Need Marker” entry.  Yes, there are no historical or interpretive markers on site!

Linda’s Battlefield Trips

Linda Walcroft over at “The View from Squirrel Ridge” has posted several dispatches from a recent trip to the Richmond-Petersburg area viewing sites related to the Siege of Petersburg.   As usual Linda backs up her observations with plenty of quality photographs.  This recent trip is another battlefield walk with Dr. Charles P. Poland, of Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus.  Previous trips are also documented on her Civil War Field Trips page.

If you are not familiar with Linda’s work, she covers a wide range of topics on her blog.  But another attraction for me are the photos of the flora and fauna of the Shenandoah Valley.  Her posts often remind me there’s more to this world than just military history.  She’s also a contributor at HMDB. In addition to her own entries, she has “cleaned up” several markers with better photos and more accurate locations.

So if you are interested in the Petersburg battlefields, particularly a perspective on how the sites look today, I’d recommend checking Linda’s recent posts.  Or if you like seasonal photos of “The Valley,” you may want to add her site to your RSS feed list.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of May 25

Post Memorial Day weekend update.  Just over forty new entries this week with representative markers and monuments from Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Here’s the rundown:

– A Georgia state marker in Ringgold points toward the Chickamauga battlefield, nine miles away.

– New entries add to the markers covering the initial actions in the Atlanta Campaign.  A marker in Rocky Face points out the Confederates mounted a defense there on two occasions – February 1864 and later on May 8-9, 1864 – both times the attacks included the Federal 14th Corps.   Four in Gordon County discuss the actions around Calhoun, Georgia in May 16-18, 1864.  Then another marker entry from Marietta discusses Federal attempts to cross the Chattahoochie in July 1864.

– One Georgia entry prompted a lot of editorial discussion among the board of HMDB.  The Eternal Flame of the Confederacy is technically indoors.  But the entry was accepted as it was outside at one point and it’s new location is partly to provide a safer area for visitors to view the artifact.  The flame itself was part commemoration by the United Confederate Veterans, but also in honor of the festivities surrounding the premiere of  “Gone with the Wind.”  There’s a lot of “Civil War Memory” tied up in this one!

– Three entries from around Cumberland, Maryland expand the coverage of Civil War events in western Maryland.  Two of these, a state marker and a Civil War Trails wayside, discuss actions at Folick’s Mill on August 1, 1864, where Federals ambushed McCausland’s raiders returning from Chambersburg.  The third marker, in town, indicates the location of a Civil War hospital.

– I mentioned on Sunday, two restored itinerary tablets from Emmitsburg, Maryland – July 1 and July 4.

– A marker from Milton, North Carolina indicates the location of Woodside House, where General Stephen Ramseur recovered from wounds in 1863, and where he married his cousin, Ellen Richmond.

– Outside Eaton, Ohio is another noteworthy Civil War veterans memorial.  This one was commissioned by William Ortt to honor his comrades.

– More markers from the town of Gettysburg.   These are mostly Main Street Gettysburg markers, but included are  two Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association markers at the site of Camp Letterman.  I am grateful to the folks at Gettysburg Daily for the use of their photos, as those markers currently are marked with graffiti.

– We all know the war started in Charleston, South Carolina.  A plaque on Market Street in the city indicates the site of the old Institute Hall, where the Ordinance of Secession was signed, officially marking the break.

– In nearby Mount Pleasant, South Carolina a National Park Service wayside discusses the impressive array of artillery pieces at Fort Moultrie.   Some of the heavy guns on display there are one-of-a-kind types.

– A few steps away is a state marker referencing the CS H.L. Hunley.  The marker’s text includes a list of the submarine’s final crew.

– LaGrange, Tennessee saw a lot of wartime activity.  It was occupied by Federal forces for most of the war.  For a while, General Sherman hung his hat at nearby Woodlawn.  And, anyone who has watch the movie “The Horse Soldiers” will recall, Colonel Grierson started his famous raid into Mississippi in the town.

– A Tennessee state marker just south of the Shiloh battlefield provides a brief overview of the battle.  Not in the Civil War category, but of interest to those who study the history of the battlefields, another state marker close to Shiloh discusses Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 2425 MP-3, which worked at the park in the 1930s.

– In the small town of Pocahontas, Tennessee a state marker highlights the Battle of Davis Bridge, October 5, 1862.  The action was fought as the Confederates withdrew from a failed assault on Corinth, Mississippi.  The actual battlefield is well south of the main road, but somewhat preserved in a local park.

– A relatively small action in Moscow, Tennessee in October 1863 was a hallmark of sorts.  During the battle, the 2nd West Tennessee Infantry, an African-American regiment raised in the Memphis area, acquitted itself well, receiving accolades from General Stephen A. Hurlbut.

– Four markers added to the Fredericksburg sets.  Three of these were featured on a recent “Naked Archaeologist” site tour – Confederate Earthworks, The Gallant Pelham, and the Winter Line – at Pelham’s Crossing.  The fourth, a bit further out, indicates the location of  Jackson’s Headquarters through the winter of 1862-63.

– A Civil War Trails marker in Milford, Virginia discusses some of the lesser known actions as Grant continued to probe around the Confederate flanks after the battle of Spotsylvania during the Overland Campaign of 1864.

– Another Civil War Trails marker in Meherrin, Virginia discusses activity related to the Wilson-Kautz raid of 1864.

– One addition to the Ball’s Bluff battlefield collection, which I must have overlooked before.  This marker discusses the changes to the field since the battle, and efforts to restore it to the wartime appearance.

With summer finally upon us, expect to see more of the interesting markers “discovered” by our corespondents on the many Civil War battlefields.    And while out on your own battlefield stompings, if you happen upon a marker we’ve missed, by all means consider adding it to the Historical Marker Database.