Edwards Ferry Crossing Timeline, Part 2

In part one of the time line, I left off on June 22.  Engineers had just completed the first pontoon bridge across the Potomac, and were looking to put a section across Goose Creek.   Picking up the story on June 23 (and again, where no specific time was offered in the official records, I’ve indicated an estimate of the a time):

June 23 @ 0900:  General Henry Slocum, commanding XII Corps, provides an assessment of Noland’s and White’s Ford, both upstream of Edwards Ferry.  Noland’s, he thinks, is impractical.  But he feels White’s Ford is usable.  In the afternoon, Slocum affirms that Noland’s ford is impassible.

June 23 @ around mid-day: General Daniel Butterfield, Army Chief of Staff, sends an order to General O. O. Howard, commanding XI Corps, to cross at Edwards Ferry and proceed toward Harpers Ferry.

June 23 @ 2300:  General Henry Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade, reports dispatch of additional bridging materials from Washington.  Total of 32 pontoons and 1,450 feet of bridging dispatched to the Monocacy.  Benham also sent a reply to General Seth Williams, assistant adjutant-general Army of the Potomac, around this time further elaborating on the bridging materials.  1,200 feet were sent from Washington, joined with 200 feet of surplus bridging from Edwards Ferry.  The tone of this second reply indicates at least some friction between Benham and the Army’s staff.

June 23 @ 2338:  Butterfield requests from Slocum information on Chick’s Ford, and additional information on roads leading to White’s Ford.

June 23 @ 2339:  Message from Butterfield conveys an order for Benham to take command at the mouth of the Monocacy.

June 23 @ Midnight:  Butterfield requests information from Slocum regarding Shenandoah River fords and bridges.  (Slocum will respond the next day, stating he has no knowledge of the Shenandoah fords.)

June 23 @ Midnight:  Slocum responds to the earlier request on Chick’s Ford.  He indicates both Chick’s and White’s Ford are useful only to cavalry or infantry.  He describes Seneca Ford (2 miles south of Edwards Ferry) as good.  Slocum’s wagon trains are parked near the pontoon bridge, ready for rapid movement.

June 24 @ 0040:  Benham now reports 40 pontoons and bridging equipment have passed the Georgetown locks (at 2215 the previous day).  And now the 32 additional pontoons and 1,450 feet of bridging are starting to pass.  He is using his mules to pull the canal boats.

June 24 @ 0130:  Benham responds to the earlier order sending him to the Monocacy.  He reports the regular Engineers at Edwards Ferry.  The 15th New York Engineers have 360 there also, but moving to the Monocacy.   Another detachment of the 15th, numbering 200, is at Washington repairing pontoons.  Lastly some 360 of the regiment is nearing the end of enlistments, and are nearing mutiny.  Benham wants to keep the detachment in Washington to repair the remaining pontoons.  (And again, one senses friction present between Benham and the Army staff in this dispatch.)

June 24 @ 0520:  Captain Samuel McKee at the Mouth of the Monocacy reports to Butterfield that Chick’s Ford is passable for infantry.

June 24 @ 0700:  Butterfield orders Captain C.N. Turnbull, engineer officer at Edwards Ferry, to link up with General Howard.  Howard is to camp at the “bridges”, not cross, and await orders.

June 24 @ 0845:  Benham reports the Engineer Brigade status.  He emphasizes the repairs and overhauls on equipment at Washington.  He is also expresses concern about using the brigade’s mule teams, hoping to hold them at Washington if bridging is needed further inland.

June 24 @ 0950:  General Daniel Tyler, at Maryland Heights, reports to Butterfield the status of Shenandoah River fords.  Also reports Lee and Longstreet at Berryville.

June 24 @ 1230:  Captain Turnbull at Edwards Ferry relates to General Benham the receipt of an order just received.  The order requires him to stop the bridging materials at Edwards Ferry and place a second bridge over the river there.  At the same time, Turnbull sends an acknowledgment to General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

June 24 @ 1245:  Williams asks Benham for an estimate regarding the work repairing the bridging at Washington.    Benham later responds the remaining bridge materials will be in order by the 29th or 30th.  And he reitterates his desire to remain in Washington to supervise the repairs.

June 24 @ 1245:  Turnbull anticpates the need for materials to repair the pontoon bridges at Edwards Ferry, should it see heavy wagon loads.  He also needs to repair the existing bridge over the Chesapeak and Ohio Canal.

June 24 @ 1340:  Benham responds to Turnbull, asking him to forward material requirements and the request will be filled.

June 24 likely late afternoon:  Slocum reports to Hooker regarding the fords around Leesburg.  Young’s Island Ford and White’s Foar are best.  However, with the river up, Slocum does not recommend crossing wagon trains at night.

June 24 @ 1715:  Turnbull requests guidance regarding bridge placement.  The first pontoon bridge reaches on the north side of Goose Creek.  There is a bridge over Goose Creek at the mouth.

June 24 @ around 1800:  Howard reports XI Corps in place near Edwards Ferry.

June 24 @ 1930:  Williams relays orders for Howard to remain in place, guarding the bridges.

June 24 @ 1947:  Williams informs Benham he is to turn responsibilities in Washington to a subordinate and move, along with the remainder of his command, to Edwards Ferry.

June 24 @ 2335:  Williams now relates that Howard is to cross the Potomac and march to Sandy Hook, Maryland the next day.  Likely dispatched around the same time, General Reynolds, commanding I Corps, asks Howard about his line of march and specifically asks about the bridge over Goose Creek.

So as June 24 came to a close, two sets of orders were issued which would essentially start the Army of the Potomac’s river crossing.  Howard’s XI Corps was set to cross on June 25.  Meanwhile the engineers were ordered to set the second pontoon bridge.  Notice there was no response to Captain Turnbull’s request regarding bridge placement.  I don’t see any recorded in the Official Records.  That issue creates some drama on June 25, in the next installment of the time line.  The friction that is apparent between Benham and the Army staff will also feed into the little drama on the 25th.

An additional point bore out by the dispatches is the Federal concerns about additional river crossing sites.  An old military axiom about river crossings (or any choke point for that matter) is to have at least two independent lines of march.  I would suggest the Army’s staff had that in mind while asking Slocum and others to report about the Potomac fords.  But the Shenandoah fords?  Perhaps Hooker was contemplating a rather bold move there.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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