Edwards Ferry – Third Corps Crossing

Before I get too far into discussing the Third Corps’ moves through Loudoun County, let me acknowledge the support of Brian McEnany, who provided much additional background for this Corps as well as the Second Corps line of march.

On June 25, the Third Corps was further from Edwards Ferry than any other element of the Right Wing of the Army of the Potomac.  While the Eleventh Corps had moved adjacent to the crossing site, and the First Corps was ten miles down the Leesburg Pike, the Third Corps was far to the south of Leesburg at a small crossroads known as Gum Springs.  Third Corps had arrived at Gum Springs after a march up from Centreville on June 19.  (Note 1)  This position afforded access to the road network for any action to the west, but was over fifteen marching miles from Edwards Ferry.  At this time, Major General David B. Birney commanded the Corps in Major General Daniel Sickles’ absence (Sickles returned on June 28).

Gum Springs (known as Arcola Today)
Gum Springs (known as Arcola Today)

The orders to move to Edwards Ferry arrived in the early morning hours of June 25. (Note 2)  Perhaps due to the switch of Corps commanders (and thus papers), or perhaps just nothing was preserved, but there is no “order” presented from the Official Records.  And there is generally a lack of detailed information about the Corps’ movement on June 25 in the ORs.  Most secondary sources cite regimental histories or personal letters when recounting the march.  But common threads in those accounts are the rainy, muddy roads and later the march along the canal towpath. (Note 3)

From what I can determine, the Third Corps line of march used the back roads between Goose Creek and Broad Run.  The following day Second Corps would follow a similar route, and the record of their march is more detailed.  The route I believe the Third Corps took is indicated below on a section of the good old McDowell map:

III Corps Route to Edwards Ferry
Third Corps Route to Edwards Ferry

The first leg, again if my reasoning is correct, was northeastward toward Farmwell (today Ashburn).  The Corps crossed the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire (W&OD) Railroad at Farmwell Station.  Then crossed the Leesburg Pike at Frankville.  From there the men only had to pass along the side roads to Edwards Ferry, on the south bank of Goose Creek.  The march to the crossing site is cited as fifteen miles, but that is more “driving” length.  On a march such as this, with deviations for foot traffic, the distance was likely closer to eighteen if not twenty.

Center of Farmwell (now Ashburn), Virginia
Center of Farmwell (now Ashburn), Virginia

The Third Corps started the march early in the morning.  Major Beers placing the bridge at Edwards Ferry mentions a linkup with General Birney around 2:30. (Note 4)  General John Reynolds (commanding the Right Wing and First Corps) mentions the arrival if Third Corps later in the afternoon. (Note 5)  Based on other accounts, Coddington places the arrival at around 5:00.  John Schildt, in Roads to Gettysburg, places it at around 3:00.  The timing here is everything.  Third Corps likely arrived with First Corps standing on the south bank of the Goose waiting their turn to cross.

Ashburn Road ends near Leesburg Pike (Site of Frankville)
Ashburn Road ends near Leesburg Pike (Site of Frankville)

Just laying out the events that have “known” time stamps, then the scene must have been Loudoun County’s first big traffic jam.  The Eleventh Corps started crossing on the upper bridge that morning (using the short bridge over the Goose to reach the north bank), and the second bridge was not open for traffic until around mid-day.   Reynolds complained about the Eleventh Corps slow crossing, and had his First Corps also in the queue to cross at mid-day.  Adding to this congestion, arriving sometime between mid-to-late afternoon, is Third Corps.

Although not directly indicated, logically at least one division of infantry from Third Corps crossed on the upper bridge.  Humphreys’ Division, upon reaching the Maryland side, promptly turned left and marched up the canal towpath.  This march continued well into the evening, not stopping until the column had reached the Monocacy River.  Keep in mind the towpath was quite narrow.  The Potomac was already reaching flood stage, so the banks between the river and canal were at times overrun.  Thus the III Corps faced a difficult wet march.

C&O Canal Towpath North of Edwards Ferry
C&O Canal Towpath North of Edwards Ferry

The march up the canal towpath is a bit out of scope for this article, but time permitting I’ll revisit it later.  I think it is significant that a large portion of the Third Corps used something other than the road to Poolesville after reaching Maryland.

Line of March Today:   The landscape and roads have changed since the men wearing the diamond corps badges marched through.  Here in Northern Virginia, we can boast that if you don’t like the road network, the wait a few minutes, it will change.  If you drive this route today, new construction appears at most every corner.  So please keep that in mind while following this route.

Gum Springs, or modern Arcola, is north of the Little River Turnpike (modern Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway or US 50) at the intersection of Gum Springs Road (CR 659) and Evergreen Mill’s Road (CR 621).   The town was renamed in the early 20th century to avoid confusion with Gum Springs, in Louisa County.  The Arcola Methodist Church traces its lineage back to the 1840s.

Arcola Methodist Church
Arcola Methodist Church

From Arcola, drive about a half mile to the northwest, and turn right onto Belmont Ridge Road (CR 659).  Initially, the road passes through mostly rural pasture, but enters new housing editions around Brambleton.  After 2.7 miles, turn right onto Ryan Road (CR 772).  Continue on Ryan Road for 1.3 miles to a four way stop.  There turn left onto Loudoun County Parkway.  Stay in the left lane, and make another left turn after 0.3 mile onto Old Ryan Road (CR 772 again).    Ryan Road takes the appearance of an old turnpike here, so enjoy it before another subdivision arrives.

After just over two miles, turn right onto Asburn Village Road, and pass completely over the Dulles Greenway Toll Road (Va 267).  Past the interchange (little more than half a mile), at a four way stop, turn left onto Waxpool Road (CR 625).  Then proceed a mile west and turn north onto Ashburn Road (CR 641).   It is easy to get confused with the similarly named roads here, so keep track of the routes and names.  Continue north for about 1.2 miles to the intersection with Farmwell Road.  (see third photo above)

The village of Ashburn was called Farmwell at the time of the Civil War, after a nearby residence of George Lee III.  The story goes that in the 1890s, lightning struck a large ash tree which burned for several days.  So the town was renamed Ashburn to avoid confusion with Farmwell in Prince William County.  However the name “Ashburn Farm” appears on earlier, but post-war, maps.

From the intersection, continue north through the stoplight on Ashburn Road (CR 641).  In about 3/4 a mile, the road crosses over Beaverdam Run, roughly where the wartime road passed.  No traces of the old bridge are visible.  Continuing for just under a mile from the bridge, the road crosses over the W&OD Trail at the site of Ashburn Station.  During the war, this was of course Farmwell Station.  To my knowledge, none of the wartime buildings stand, but several structures date to the early 20th century.  You may wish to stop here (parking lots on either side of the trail crossing) and enjoy a meal at Partlow’s Barbeque.

From Ashburn Station, continue north on Ashburn Road (CR 641) for about 1.5 miles.  The “old” road course continued on to intersect with the Leesburg Pike, and the village of Frankville stood in this area (fourth photo above).  Turn Right onto Russell Branch Parkway, and after 0.2 mile, turn right (north) onto Claiborne Parkway.  The parkway crosses over Leesburg Pike (Va. 7) and becomes Lansdowne Boulevard.  Continue to Riverpoint Drive, and turn north (right).  Turn east (right) on Squirrel Ridge Place, following it to the Elizabeth Mills Regional Park.  As mentioned before, a trail leads down to the Potomac, and the mouth of the Goose.

I’ll cover the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath and other related Maryland sites in another 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. Orders to Commanding Officer First Corps, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 305-6.
  3. For a general discussion of the towpath march see The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin B. Coddington, p. 123-124 of the 1979 paperback edition,  or  Roads to Gettysburg, by John W. Schildt, p. 207-209.
  4. Dispatch from Major E.O. Beers to General Henry Benham.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial45, p. 316.
  5. Dispatch from General Reynolds to General Seth Williams.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial45, p. 315-6.  Reynolds notes this in a post-script.

4 thoughts on “Edwards Ferry – Third Corps Crossing

  1. Craig,
    In Robert McAllisters letters home to his wife, he tells of them leaving Gum Springs and marching towards Burkittsvile through Cramptons Gap, then through Middletownn then to Fredrick (CITY) finally stopping at Taneytown on June 30th,1863..
    The impression he leaves is that it was one continous march.. So how far is that?
    JIM

    • Jim,
      I’d figure the fifteen miles mentioned above to make it to the river crossing. Then tack on about nine more miles from Edwards Ferry to the Mouth of Monocacy. That was covered on June 25 (or at least by the wee morning hours of the 26th). From there to Middletown is about twenty miles, which the Corps took two days to cover. The march on the 26th started late, due to the fatigue and straggling of the previous day’s march.

      Craig.

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