In my first post on Edwards Ferry, I briefly touched upon the history of the site and offered a general orientation. I am going set aside discussion of the rich pre- and post-war history of the site for a later date. And, going against my orderly nature, even table discussion of the fighting at Edwards Ferry concurrent with the battle of Balls Bluff. Also set aside for a later date, operations of one Elijah V. White in the vicinity of the crossing. Clearly this was a strategic point along the river, where much activity occurred. But for now I’ll focus on just the activities of June 1863 and the crossing of the Army of the Potomac on its way to Gettysburg.
Strategic point and useful river crossing site, yes. But how did the Army of the Potomac’s crossing come together? First I’ll build a time line based on entries from the Official Records – Series I, Volume 27, Part III: Correspondence, Etc. (Serial 45) specifically. Unlike the other two serials which cover the Gettysburg campaign, Serial 45 is like a pile of documents to sort through. Dispatches, telegrams, reports, and letters are organized loosely by chronology, but without much context (such as order of battle). Good news is many of these documents have a time stamp indicating roughly when the message was composed. So I’ve used that as a reference by which to organize the entries. The first part of that time line is shown below (using 24 hour “military time” to avoid confusion). Where exact times are not offered in the Official Record, I’ve offered my guess as to the time sent:
– June 16 @ 1715: General G. K. Warren, AOP Chief Engineer, while providing a summary of river crossing points, noted Edwards Ferry was a favorable spot for pontoon bridging (he estimated 700 feet). However this report is a survey of several crossing points, with Edwards Ferry evaluated favorably along with others.
– June 19 @ 1040: General Henry Slocum, commanding XII Corps, reports arrival at Leesburg, Virginia. Recommends pontoon bridge at Edwards Ferry.
– June 19 @ 1200: General Daniel Butterfield, Army Chief of Staff, responds wishing to know why Edwards Ferry is the right place for any pontoon bridge.
– June 19 @ about 1500: Slocum responds with his logic. Existing fortification defend Edwards Ferry. The site offers access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal as a supply route.
– June 19 @ about 1500: Two orders from Butterfield. Orders engineers from Harpers Ferry to the Mouth of the Monocacy. Orders materials sent to Edwards Ferry, but held in readiness only.
– June 19 @ 2130: Butterfield backs up those orders with a dispatch to Slocum, advising on the status of the bridging materials. Further he sends an order directly to General Tyler at Sandy Hook (Harpers Ferry), Maryland, referencing the engineers called for.
– June 20 @ 0800: Slocum reitterates his points from the 19th – forts and canal. Also warns of Ewell’s presence at Winchester.
– June 20 @ 0900: Captain Spaulding, engineer in charge at the mouth of the Monocacy, estimates the river at that spot 1,500 feet wide. He requests fifteen extra boats and other equipment.
– June 20 @1720: Butterfield orders Captain C.N. Turnbull, engineer officer at Edwards Ferry, to complete one pontoon bridge across the Potomac. He is also to set aside bridging materials to cross Goose Creek, with a suggested point near the Leesburg – Alexandria Turnpike.
– June 20 @ 1920: Turnbull acknowledges orders. However, he measures the river at 1,400 feet but reports having only 1,200 feet of bridge. Furthermore, the river has risen two feet during the day. Turnbull coordinates with General Henry Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade, for additional support. Signing off with, “Will go ahead and do the best I can.”
– June 20 @ 1920: Butterfield then requests from Turnbull estimates of the river width at Noland’s and Hauling Fords (both upstream). Relates that General Hooker does not want the bridge at Edwards Ferry if the length is 1,400 feet.
– June 21 @ 1145: Turnbull reports the pontoon bridge was completed at around 0945 hrs. The length is just short of the prohibited length – 1,340 feet.
– June 22 @ 1200: Butterfield relates that General Wadsworth is placing a bridge over Goose Creek at the turnpike, and asks Turnbull about bridging the creek near its mouth. Turnbull responds he can bridge the creek anywhere up to a half mile from the mouth. Turnbull also relates that a road can be made from XI Corps headquarters to Edwards Ferry.
I’ll stop this first segment of the time line at this point. Based on the Official Records, General Slocum made the strongest case for Edwards Ferry as a crossing point. With a decision made on June 20, the engineers were responsive, placing the first bridge over the river in about 14 hours. And yes, just sixty feet short of the “do not exceed” specification.