Edwards Ferry – Second Corps Crossing

In contrast to Twelfth Corps’ long stay in Loudoun and short march to the crossing, the Federal Second Corps had a short stay in Loudoun and a long march to get across the Potomac.  On June 20, Second Corps moved up through Centreville to Thoroughfare Gap. (Note 1)  The “Clubs” spent the next four days guarding against the threat the Confederates would use that route through the Bull Run Mountains.  Several dispatches from that period relate picket activity, cavalry patrols, and some skirmishing.  (Note 2)

Thoroughfare Gap Today
Thoroughfare Gap Today

Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, ordered Hancock to march Second Corps toward Edwards Ferry in a message sent at 7 a.m. on June 25.  “On the receipt of this order, take up your line of march to Edwards Ferry.  Your best line will be via Sudley Springs and Gum Springs.  The last-named place you should reach to-night.” (Note 3)  Hancock’s Corps was positioned to the west of Haymarket and Gainesville at the time.  This line of march brought the columns first through the old Manassas battlefields, then across the Bull Run, and further north crossing the Centerville Road and the Little River Turnpike before arriving at Gum Springs.

First Leg of II Corps's March
Second Corps’s March – June 25

On the map above, I’ve indicated the locations of the Old Carolina Road (far left), Pageland Road, and Gum Springs Road (which the blue arrows generally follow).  I doubt the Corps used the Old Carolina Road at all, but included it for reference.  The Corps could have used Pageland Road, but that would require several “dogleg” turns.  The easiest course was to cross the Bull Run upstream from Sudley Ford, on a road leading directly to Gum Springs.  Thus I’ve depicted the line of march as that suggested by Hooker in his movement orders.

This line of march also brought Second Corps across the path of Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry, then attempting to skirt around the Federal Army.  Stuart used Glasscock’s Gap, south of Thoroughfare, in the early morning hours of June 25.  And arrived near Haymarket to see the trailing elements of Second Corps.  The Federals put up a rear guard action, while Stuart harassed the column, mostly with artillery fire. (Note 4)  After this action, Stuart gave the Federals a wide berth.  And of course this set up the chain of events which brought Stuart to Gettysburg on the evening of July 2.

Aside from Stuart’s horsemen, the most difficult aspect of Second Corps’ march was the weather.  With heavy rains continuing, the road was muddy.  However once over Bull Run, the roughly eight miles to Gum Springs at least required no major stream crossings.

Gum Springs Road Bridge over Bull Run
Gum Springs Road Bridge over Bull Run

The Second Corps reached Gum Springs in the evening of June 25, after covering between twenty and twenty-five miles, depending on which route was indeed taken.

Orders for the next day’s march arrived while the Corps was on the move.  “The Second Corps (Gum Springs) will march at 6 a.m. tomorrow, via Farmwell, Farmwell Station, and Frankville, cross on the lower bridge at Edwards Ferry, and take the road crossing the Monoacy a little below Frederick City.” (Note 5)  Thus the route for Second Corps on June 26 generally followed the line of march followed that taken by Third Corps the previous day, with the exception that Second Corps would cross the lower bridge and then proceeded to Poolesville.

II Corps Line of March on June 26
Second Corps Line of March on June 26

All indications are Hancock got the men on the road at the appointed time.  The Second Corps march must have been rapid, for at 1:50 p.m., Hancock was advised to “halt the head of your column until the wagons of the corps in advance of yours have crossed the bridges.”  (Note 6)  My assumption is this message either reached Hancock riding in advance of his command, or was sent forward anticipating his arrival.  However here’s were I get confused.

First, who was the Second Corps waiting on? First, Third, and Eleventh all reported clearing the bridges the day before.  Twelfth Corps was crossing on the upper bridge.  Fifth Corps was behind Twelfth Corps, and out of Hancock’s way.  And Sixth Corps was still in Fairfax County at this point.  Only the Artillery Reserve was crossing the lower bridge in front of Second Corps based on march orders.

Second, there are some conflicting reports of the times Second Corps finally crossed.  Hancock posted his report of the day at 11:45 p.m. that day:

My command is just going into camp about 1 mile from the river.  My headquarters are near the residence of Mr. Vesey, about one-quarter of a mile to the right of the Poolesville road…, and 1 mile from the river.   My own train, and those of commands which preceded mine, have crossed the bridge.  There are no trains the other side of Goose Creek, to my knowledge, excepting those of the Sixth Corps. (Note 7)

Yet several other first hand accounts state some regiments did not cross until 10 or later in the evening.  (Note 8)  Perhaps Hancock was taking pen to paper right after watching the last of his command cross?

The marching distance from Gum Springs to Edwards Ferry is about fifteen miles.  If the men moved at a fair pace of two miles an hour, that puts the lead elements at the crossing site around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m.  The trailing elements should have closed up on the bridge by 5 p.m.  Yet the crossing was prolonged into the night.  Makes me wonder who’s wagons were holding up Hancock’s crossing.

At any rate, let me close another long entry here.  Much more I’d like to discuss, particularly the action at Haymarket.  But that’s for another day!

Line of March Today:  I would break this down into two legs, with the first being the march of June 25, starting well outside Loudoun County.  The best starting point is the Civil War Trails wayside at Thoroughfare Gap.   From there follow John Marshall Highway (Va. 55) into Haymarket, about four miles.  A set of waysides at the Haymarket museum provide interpretation for the actions nearby.

The route enters heavy traffic around Haymarket, and while the historical line of march covered the side roads, I suggest moving through using the main roads.  Va. 55 intersects with the Old Warrenton Turnpike (now US 29, the Lee Highway) about two miles further on in Gainesville.  Taking US 29 to the east (a left turn through traffic lights), continue toward the Manassas National Battlefield Park.  About four miles on (after passing Pageland Lane), turn left (north) onto Featherbed Lane (CR 622).  As Harry Smeltzer will tell you,  I prefer to route around the major intersection in the middle of the Manassas Battlefield.  Furthermore, this course allows one to stop and visit points on the 2nd Manassas battlefield.

Featherbed Lane ends at Sudley Road (Va 234), so carefully make a left turn (north) there.  About a half mile, turn right onto Gum Springs Road (CR 659) and continue north.  It is usually not safe to park near the bridge over Bull Run, so allow my photos (above and here) suffice.

Old Road Bridge over Bull Run?
Old Road Bridge over Bull Run?

Continue on Gum Springs Road for a total of seven and a half miles.  The road today passes through some rural farmland, interrupted with new housing construction.  Portions of the road are under construction today, and will transform into four lane “feeder” road.

Rural Section of Gum Springs Road
Rural Section of Gum Springs Road

So tour it while you can!

Soon to be Multi-lane Road
Soon to be Multi-lane Gum Springs Road

Along the way Gum Springs crosses Braddock Road (CR 620) which approximates the wartime Centreville Road; and John Mosby Highway (US 50) which uses the course of the old Ashby’s Gap Turnpike.  After crossing the later road, at a stoplight, continue on Gum Springs Road, passing through Arcola, which was Gum Springs during the war.  This leg ends with the intersection with Evergreen Mills Road (CR 621).

The second, June 26, leg of the march is the same recommended for the Third Corps in an earlier post.  For brevity I’ll just refer to that description.


  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. 142-3.  Second Corps’s movements listed are:  June 16 from near Aquia to Wolf Run Shoals; June 17 from Wolf Run Shoals to Sangster’s Station; June 20 from Sangster’s Station to Centreville then to Thoroughfare Gap.
  2. The activity is outside the scope of this article.  The dispatches referenced are from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 255-258, p. 267-271, p. 280, p. 287, p. 290.
  3. Orders from Hooker to Hancock, 7 a.m., June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 306.
  4. Hancock breifly discussed the action in a dispatch on June 25 (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 309).  Stuart briefly deals with the action in his offical report (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 44, p. 692).  For a through analysis of this action, placing it into the proper perspective, see Plenty of Blame to Go Around:  Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Whittenberg and J. David Petruzzi, p. 3-9.
  5. Orders from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 314.
  6. Dispatch to Hancock (at Edwards Ferry) from General Seth Williams, 1:50 p.m., June 26, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 334.
  7. Dispatch from Hancock to Butterfield, 11:45 p.m., June 26, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 338.
  8. Franklin Sawyer, in A History of the Eight Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, states his regiment crossed at 10:00 p.m.  (Quoted in Schildt’s Roads to Gettysburg, p. 250).

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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