Edwards Ferry – Twelfth Corps Crossing

Thus far in the summary of the unit crossings at Edwards Ferry, I’ve covered those passing over the river on June 25, 1863:  Eleventh Corps, First Corps, and Third Corps.  Now I’ll take up the crossings on June 26 and 27 – the movements of the “Left Wing” of the army.  The intent, as things go along, is to also  address the Artillery Reserve, Headquarters element, and of course the Cavalry crossings.

Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Twelfth Corps entered Loudoun County on June 18 with a march from Dranesville to Leesburg on the Leesburg Pike (modern Va. 7).  (Note 1)  The day after arriving, Slocum reported:

I arrived here with my command at 5 p.m. I have heard nothing reliable relative to the position of the enemy. A pontoon bridge should be thrown across the river, near Edwards Ferry, if we are to remain here any length of time. The material for a bridge, with a party to build it, should be sent at once. (Note 2)

Thus immediately Slocum put his two cents worth in.  A second dispatch from Slocum elaborated a bit:

I think the bridge should be built at Edwards Ferry to supply us. I have not force enough to keep the route to Vienna, or to hold many fords on the river in the country filled with guerrillas. Edwards Ferry is most accessible, and is covered by a strong redoubt on this side. Our supplies should be sent from Georgetown, by canal, to Edwards Ferry. (Note 3)

Slocum strengthened his argument with an another dispatch on the morning of the 20th, citing specifically a redoubt close to Edwards Ferry. (Note 4)  One cannot argue against such logic.  Slocum, in my opinion, was less concerned about movement into Maryland, but rather his supply lines.  Of course, recall from the time lines (particularly Part 1 and Part 2) that while the first bridge was laid on June 20, Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the army, vacillated a bit over completing the operation, looking for alternatives.

The redoubts mentioned by Slocum are interpreted to be those of Forts Evans, Beaureagard, and Johnston, dating to the Confederate defenses of the town in 1861.  As mentioned when discussing the fortifications around Leesburg, I feel a trench system to the northeast of town is also part of the defense system employed by Slocum.  Lieut. Edward D. Muhlenburg, commanding the Twelfth Corps artillery discussed the disposition briefly in his campaign report, indicating the Corps “…occupied Leesburg on the 17th, the batteries, to be prepared for any emergency, taking positions near the fortifications situated on the west, northeast, and southeast approaches to said place.” (Note 5)

From that passage, I’d submit that “west” was Fort Johnston covering the Snicker’s Gap Turnpike.  And  “southeast” was both Forts Evans and Beauregard covering the old Colonial Road and Leesburg Pike.  That leaves “northeast” approaches.  Looking again at the “McDowell Map“, with the approximate locations of Forts Evans and Beauregard, the trenches in question, and Edwards Ferry:

Northeast Approaches to Leesburg
Northeast Approaches to Leesburg

The Potomac Crossing trenches stand on a ridge line running between Cattail Branch and the Potomac River.  A road crosses the ridge, running north to the Smart property northeast of Leesburg.  Should a “bad guy” move down that road, and post a force on the ridge line, it would threaten the route to Edwards Ferry.  So while I don’t have a first hand account that states the Federals dug those trenches, it seems rather logical the Twelfth Corps either constructed them or rebuilt what a previous garrison had constructed.

Recall also the amount of traffic between Army headquarters and Slocum regarding the other Potomac fords around Leesburg.  Three of those mentioned most often were Noland’s, Chick’s, and Hauling’s.  Noland’s Ford (or Ferry) was well to the north of Leesburg, about fifteen river miles.  Chick’s and Hauling’s were close to the Mouth of the Monocacy, about ten to twelve miles north.  Another crossing point of note was Conrad’s Ferry (known today as White’s Ferry), but was also north of Leesburg roughly four miles.  Slocum reported these were all impassable or impractical due to high water or other factors. (Note 6)  Not mentioned, but somewhat logical, these crossing points were outside the defensive “bubble” that Slocum had built.

Clearly with the decision to cross the Potomac at Edwards Ferry on June 25,  Slocum’s advice and reports carried some weight at Army Headquarters.  At 7:20 a.m. that morning, Hooker advised Slocum to remain ready to cross, and that First, Third, and Eleventh were crossing that day. (Note 7)  General Seth Williams sent the official orders from headquarters later that day:

The Twelfth Corps (Leesburg) will march at 3 a.m. to-morrow, leaving a sufficient force to hold Leesburg until the Fifth Corps comes up; will cross the upper bridge at Edwards Ferry and the Monocacy at its mouth, and proceed up the Potomac as far as Trammelstown (Point of Rocks), and then to Middletown, unless otherwise ordered.  The detachment that remains behind will rejoin the corps on the arrival of the Fifth Corps at Leesburg. [Note 8]

The route taken was rather simple compared to the other unit movements – down Edwards Ferry Road to Edwards Ferry:

XII Corps march and Leesburg Defenses
Twelfth Corps march and Leesburg Defenses

Twelfth Corps’ march on June 26 was largely uneventful, or better said – the accounts  offer little more than the distances marched.  After passing down Edwards Ferry Road to the upper pontoon bridge, the men of the Corps turned left, much as the III Corps had done the day before, and proceeded along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath.  Even in the rain, the towpath must have been easier to traverse in the daylight than in the dark.  The men rested for the night near the Monocacy Aqueduct.  All told about 12 to 15 miles.

Portion of Edwards Ferry Road
Portion of Edwards Ferry Road

Line of March Today:  This route is rather easy.  First and only leg is from Leesburg to Edwards Ferry.  From the Loudoun County Courthouse in downtown Leesburg, proceed east on Market Street (Business VA 7).  After one block make a slight left turn onto Edwards Ferry Road (which will become CR 773).  Follow that road for just over three miles, through one four-way stop, and six stop lights (yes, this is Northern Virginia).  Along the way you will pass the sites of Fort Evans and the Masked Battery.  The Potomac Crossing trenches are to the north of these.  As those sites were covered in detail in earlier posts (see links above), I’ll skip those sites in this iteration.  After about three miles, the road makes a sharp right turn at the River Creek Community service gate.  The wartime road proceeded through what is today a gated community down to the mouth of Goose Creek.  I would suggest, unless prior approval is made, to end the trace of the march here.  Back before the turn is Red Rock Wilderness Park.  Trails in the park offer excellent views of the Potomac and Maryland shoreline.

For those adventurous types, I would also suggest a walk or bike ride from Edwards Ferry to the Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal trail.  It is just over eleven miles, but along the way are several Civil War sites of interest.  Other than the two endpoints mentioned, another parking area is near Canal Lock 26, and White’s Ford, about half way along the march.

C&O Canal Towpath above Whites Ford
C&O Canal Towpath above Whites Ford
Monocacy Aquaduct
Monocacy Aqueduct


  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.  The itinerary has the Corps moving from Fairfax Courthouse to near Dranesville on June 17, and likely the bulk of the Corps used Hunter Mill Road.
  2. Dispatch from Slocum to Hooker, 10:40 a.m., June 19, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 208.
  3. Dispatch from Slocum to Butterfield, June 19, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 209.
  4. Dispatch from Slocum to Butterfield, 4 a.m. (recieved 8 a.m.), June 20, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 223.
  5. Report of Lieut. Edward D. Muhlenburg, 4th U.S. Artillery, commanding Artillery Brigade, Twelfth Army Corps, August 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 869.
  6. Dispatch from Slocum to Hooker, 9 a.m., June 23, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 267;  Dispatch from Slocum to Hooker, June 23, 1863, p. 273;  Dispatch from Slocum to Butterfield, midnight, June 23, 1863, p 273.
  7. Dispatch from Hooker to Slocum, 7:20 a.m., June 25, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 307.
  8. Orders from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 314.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Edwards Ferry – Twelfth Corps Crossing

  1. Oopps… had to contact the cartography department and update the second map on this post. I had XII Corps moving to Poolesville, not using the towpath. That was corrected!

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