Getting back to a blogging cycle after a week of work, let me shift the focus a bit with regard to Edwards Ferry. After site orientation, time lines (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4), and a discussion of the bridge engineering and planning factors, now I need to look at the units that crossed, and how they got there. Such serves two purposes. Such allows me to share the places and things I’ve found while scouting about Loudoun County. But also allows me to discuss what was one heck of a traffic jam by the river.
The first corps to make the crossing at Edwards Ferry was General O.O. Howard’s XI Corps. The Corps arrived in the vicinity of Leesburg on June 17, marching from Centreville to Trappe Rock along Goose Creek (said to be close to Cow-Horn Ford). The McDowell Maps of 1862 place Trappe Rock near Murry’s Ford along a side road into Leesburg. However, the placename also referred (and still does today) to a quarry further north near the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.
XI Corps Camp near Leesburg
The distance between the quarry and Murry’s Ford is about two miles, along Belmont Ridge on the east side of Goose Creek. There’s several ways to interpret this. First, if the military personnel considered Trappe Rock the point along Murry’s Ford, and marked such on the map, then that’s were they were, regardless of the local name. On the other hand, the map may be wrong and Howard’s men camped further north. However, I’m inclined to press the former, as the reports did not mention the location of the railroad grade (the bridge there was destroyed in 1861). And it is possible the Corps spread across the entire two miles of the ridge after their 17 to 20 mile march from Centreville. Also indicated on the map is the location of “Burnt Bridge” where the Leesburg Pike crossed Goose Creek. This bridge was destroyed in 1861, but another was placed in that vicinity as the Army advanced toward Leesburg.
Murry’s Ford today features an abandoned concrete bridge dating to 1916. The creek at this point is much different than at the time of the war. In 1863 a stone dam stood about 2000 feet downstream. Another dam stood a few hundred yards upsteam, supporting Cochran’s Mill. These dams, several Goose Creek Canal locks, and the mill are now under water impounded behind the 25 foot tall Goose Creek Dam about a mile downstream, built in 1961.
Murry's Ford Bridge Today
If instead the XI Corps stayed near the quarry, well the view today is a bit less tranquil:
Trappe Rock Quarry
The quarry is known among geologists for its goosecreekite, a rather unique zeolite mineral deposit. (And no, I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night in case you are wondering.)
At any rate, the men of the XI Corps received several days rest along the banks of the Goose. In the evening of June 23, Hooker ordered Howard to cross at the Edwards Ferry Bridges and move to Harper’s Ferry. In a half day march, the Corps reached Edwards Ferry at around 1 p.m. on the 24th. This line of march passed near Belmont, a Federal-style mansion dating to 1799. Perhaps with a bit of irony, the estate was first patented by Thomas Lee, of Stratford, an ancestor of General Robert E. Lee.
But the XI Corps was not to cross the Potomac, yet. General Hooker countermanded his original order, and Howard held on the south bank of Goose Creek, near Edwards Ferry. The Corps spent the night on what is today the Lansdowne community. Howard’s report places his headquarters near the pontoon bridge (recall only the upper bridge was in place at that time). At this time, the upper pontoon bridge and the pontoons across the mouth of Goose Creek were in place. Recall the engineers were still asking where to place the second bridge at this time.
Hooker continued to reverse directions through the evening. At 7:30 p.m. on the 24th, General Hooker ordered Howard to secure the bridge and depots on the Maryland side. But that order was countermanded by yet another change at 11:35 p.m. that night, tasking, once again, Howard to cross on the 25th and move toward Harpers Ferry. At last, Howard was to cross.
Mouth of the Goose from the Maryland Shore
By Howard’s account, the Corps left camp at 3:45 a.m. and began crossing. By 11:15 a.m. Howard reports from Point of Rocks, roughly twenty marching miles distant. The report stated the lead division of the Corps had crossed the Monocacy. However, the crossing was not exactly a smooth operation. At about the same time Howard reported, General Reynolds had reached Edwards Ferry in front of First Corps. Here he found the trail elements of XI Corps still crossing.
Looking back at the “numbers” for a bridge crossing, considering about 9,000 infantry in the column, a solid file of four abreast theoretically was just over a mile long. The Corps’ 26 field pieces, caissons, and other battery wagons added another mile to the column. Add to that length attachments and trains. In theory, if the column were tightly compacted and in absolute perfect order, it might have been only three miles long.
Reality was Howard’s Corps was spread out between the Monocacy, through Poolesville, back to Edwards Ferry – well over 10 miles. Certainly indicating the raw “numbers” are not a realistic measure. But recall Reynold’s report at 11:30 on the 24th. One issue was the extra horses taken by XI Corps across the river, which slowed the passing considerably.
Still the delay due to extra ponies was not nearly as long as the delay due to Hooker’s indecision.
UPDATE: Completely forgot to match the place names to the modern road infrastructure. While the exact line of march is both difficult to trace, one can at least see the main points along the way. From downtown Leesburg, take Market Street/Leesburg Pike (Va Business 7) to the east, toward Alexandria. Turn south (right) onto Plaza Street (CR 643). After just over a half-mile, the road intersects the Leesburg bypass (US 15 and Va 7) at a stoplight, continue straight as the name of the road changes to Sycolin Road (still CR 643). Sycolin offers a winding course through a largely rural area of Loudoun County.
In about 4.4 miles, Sycolin crosses Goose Creek, and the old Murray Ford Bridge is upstream (south). If you do stop to look at the bridge ruins, exercise caution. The road is not heavily traveled, and the shoulders are ample, yet other drivers are not expecting to see a parked vehicle there.
Continue east on Sycolin for 3/4 mile, crossing over the Dulles Greenway Toll Road. This section of the road will soon sprout a subdivision, but currently it offers a great view over the Creek toward Leesburg. After 3/4 mile, turn north (left) on Belmont Ridge Road (CR 659). After about 1 1/2 miles, on your left are entrances to the Trappe Rock Quarry. The safe way to see the quarry is by way of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail Park (two miles from the intersection of Sycolin). The trail out to the Goose Creek Railroad Bridge site is roughly 1 1/2 mile. Overlooks along the trail offer views of the quarry.
Otherwise continue on Belmont Ridge Road until the intersection with Leesburg Pike (Va. 7). Turn east (right) on the Pike. After a mile, notice the large house on the golf course to the right. This is Belmont, dating to 1799. Approximately 1 1/2 mile from Belmont Ridge Road, at the overpass, take the exit for Lansdowne Boulevard. Follow that Boulevard through the intersection of Riverside Parkway. Continue to Riverpoint Drive, and turn north (right). Turn east (right) on Squirrel Ridge Place, following it to the Elizabeth Mills Regional Park.
The XI Corps camped across what is today subdivision and golf course. The trail from the parking lot passes through the course and follows the Potomac River to the mouth of Goose Creek, mostly on the banks of Goose Creek. The route outlined here is not an “in the footsteps” route, but rather an approximation bowing to the modern road network and private property lines.