Edwards Ferry – First Corps Crosses

The Federal First Corps, commanded by Major General John F. Reynolds, entered Loudoun County on June 19, 1863, marching from Herndon Station up to Guilford Station on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad (the rails on that section had been pulled up earlier in the war).  The divisions dispersed around the banks of Broad Run and settled in to bivouac for the next few days.  (Note 1)

Guilford (later Sterling) Station Site Today
Guilford (later Sterling) Station Site Today

The Corps headquarters, for at least part of the stay, was located at Lanesville.  The house had a long history, dating to 1779.  It function as an “ordinary” for many years on  along the ancient Vestal’s Gap Road.  But with the opening of the Leesburg Pike in the 1820s, the Gap Road fell into disuse, and Lanesville remained as a family farm.

Lanesville House
Lanesville House

A Signal Corps detachment accompanied Reynolds and established a signal flag station on the high ground north of the station.  The detachment linked with similar signal detachments with the Eleventh and Twlefth Corps and the station on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland.  The Signal Corps also ran a telegraph loop along the now empty railroad line, connecting Guilford Station to Fairfax.  (Note 2)  The traffic, alerting Army commander Major General Joseph Hooker of Confederate movement into Maryland, passed over this ersatz communications network.  Such would cause issues on June 25 and 26.  (Perhaps, time permitting, I’ll cover the communications aspects in a separate post.)

Overlook in Claude Moore Park
Overlook in Claude Moore Park (approximate site of Signal Station)

Orders also arrived via the telegraph line.  In the early morning of June 25, just as Howard was (for the last time) directed to cross the Potomac, Reynolds was given command of the Right Wing of the Army of the Potomac – First, Third, and Eleventh Corps with Stahel’s Cavalry Division.  He was directed to take all three formations across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry and proceed to cover the South Mountain passes in Maryland. (Note 3)

The I Corps moved out of their bivouac area on the morning of the 25th, and proceeded down the Leesburg Pike (modern Virginia Highway 7).  The exact line of march is not specifically noted in the dispatches, but since only the upper bridge was in operation (with the bridge across the mouth of Goose Creek), likely First Corps fell in behind Eleventh Corps‘ on the South bank.

I Corps March to Edwards Ferry
First Corps March to Edwards Ferry

Reynolds reached Edwards Ferry at around 11:30 a.m.  In a report dispatched to Hooker, he summarized the situation, “…Eleventh Corps still crossing the bridge, though the rear of it is now about over.  They have an immense number of led horses and colts… blocking up the roads and bridges…. I think you should be here as early as possible….  My instructions have not overtaken me yet….”  (Note 4)

While many have focused on the first half of this dispatch (about the horses), I’d lay emphasis on the second part, were Reynolds complained about a lack of instructions.  Hooker, responded back, “…Your instructions should have reached you long ago.  Please direct General Howard to have every animal led in his train, excepting officers’ horses, sent to the rear….”  (Note 5)

Reynolds remained at the crossing site at least for a few hours more.  At some point after 2 p.m., he forwarded a status to the Army headquarters (specifically to A.A.G. Brig. Gen. Seth Williams).  Aside from confirming the receipt of orders, Reynolds confirmed his instructions to Stahel and Howard to push out toward Crampton’s Pass.  The I Corps was to follow by way of Barnesvile, Adamstown, and Jefferson.  But the Third Corps would advance to the mouth of the Monocacy then on to Point of Rocks.  Reynolds added to his report, “The Third Corps is crossing the bridge now, though the trains of the First and Third are yet to cross.”  (Note 6)

Later at 6 p.m. Reynolds again reported, this time from Poolesville.  “I am here.  The troops are on the march by the routes I telegraphed you.  The trains are not all across the river yet.  I don’t think the troops can get farther than Barnesville and the mouth of the Monocacy to-night.”  (Note 7)

Thus as evening fell on the 25th, First Corps’ combat formations were across the Potomac, but their trains were still working their way across.   Since Reynolds last dispatch from Edwards Ferry seemed to coincided with the installation of the second pontoon bridge, perhaps that helped aleviate the bottleneck at the crossing point.  The Corps had covered about ten miles from Broad Run to Edwards Ferry; then 5 miles to Poolesville; and another 5 miles to Barnesville.

Not a bad day’s march, considering the Corps conducted a river crossing, in the rain.

The Line of March Today:  The Civil War enthusiast wishing to follow exactly in Reynold’s and the Iron Brigade’s footsteps is warned the road network has changed significantly and to cross the Potomac today, one must proceed well out of the way.  That said here’s my suggested tour route:

My suggested start point is Sterling, Virginia.  From Va. Highway 28, exit onto Church Road (CR 625), and at the first stoplight, turn left onto Ruritan Circle (CR 859).  After crossing the W&OD Trail, pull off to the left and visit the marker on the trail.  This is the area of Guilford Station.  The I Corps moved here from Herndon Station on June 19, and a telegraph line here linked into Fairfax.

From the trail continue east on Ruritan Circle back to Church Road.  After half a mile turn left onto Cascades Parkway (CR 637).  Continue north for one mile and turn at the SECOND entrance for Claude Moore Park.  This is Old Vestal’s Gap Road.  Immediately on your right is a trace of the original road.  A Civil War Trails marker stands near the visitor center.  You can follow a short (half mile round trip) trail to the overlook near the spot of the signal station.  This is also a great spot to get an overview of the route to Leesburg.  Not only is Sugarloaf Mountain visible, but the water towers near Fort Evans and also those near Poolesville, Md.

Sugarloaf Mountain from the Signal Station Overlook
Sugarloaf Mountain from the Signal Station Overlook

A short walk from the parking area to the east, along the old road trace, stands Lanesville, where Reynolds posted his headquarters.  The road was used by portions of Braddock’s ill-fated expedition of 1755.  In 1814, the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution were spirited away to Leesburg using the road.

From the park, exit back onto Cascades Parkway, turning right (north).  After a mile take the ramp onto Leesburg Pike (Va. 7) heading west toward Leesburg.  If you watch carefully, in about 2.3 miles, in the middle of the interchange with Sully Road (Va. 28), you’ll see the old pike toll house.  It stands on the south side of the highway, it’s roof just peaking over the modern Broad Run bridge.  In 1863 a bridge here crossed at the toll house.  This was the only crossing point of the run in this area  and likely I Corps crossed in front of the toll house.

Continue on the Pike for another 2.3 miles and turn right (north), onto Janelia Farm Road.  Follow the road to a “T” and turn left onto Riverside Parkway.  Follow the Parkway until it reaches Lansdowne Boulevard and turn right into Lansdowne community.  Continue to Riverpoint Drive, and turn north (right).  Turn east (right) on Squirrel Ridge Place, following it to the Elizabeth Mills Regional Park.  As with the XI Corps tour, you can walk along the Potomac to the site of Edwards Ferry.

I’ll cover some of the sites on the Maryland side in a later post, to avoid adding to an already long post.


Notes:

  1. Itinerary of the Army of the Potomac and co-operating forces, June 5-July 31, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 143.
  2. Report of Capt. Lemuel B. Norton.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 200.
  3. Orders to Commanding Officer First Corps, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 305-6.
  4. Dispatch from Reynolds to Hooker.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial45, p. 313.
  5. Dispatch from Hooker to Reynolds.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 313-4.
  6. Dispatch from Reynolds to General S. Williams.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 315-6.
  7. Dispatch from Reynolds to General S. Williams. OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 317.