Edwards Ferry – Sixth Corps Crossing

Continuing with my look at the Edwards Ferry crossings in June 1863 by units, following the Twelfth, Second, and Fifth Corps which crossed on June 26 was the Sixth Corps.

Major General John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps was the last of the infantry corps to cross the Potomac at Edwards Ferry, due to its long march from Fairfax County.  In the week prior to the crossing (19-24 June), elements of the Sixth Corps were posted around Germantown, Centreville, and Bristoe Station (General Howe’s Second Division at the later).  On June 25, the Corps concentrated around Germantown and Centreville, preparing for the movement to Edwards Ferry. (Note 1)

In accordance to Major General Joseph Hooker’s movement instructions for June 26, The Sixth Corps proceed at 3 a.m. using a route from the above mentioned bivouacs to Chantilly Church; thence to Frying Pan; and on to Herndon Station; continuing to Dranesville; then follow the Leesburg Pike to Edwards Ferry.  The Sixth Corps had the mission of securing the engineers as they recovered the bridges, and then would follow the Second Corps.  (Note 2)   The route specified did not use Ox Road, which cut almost directly across from Germantown to Frying Pan, and would have saved some distance.

Going back to the McDowell map, the route taken on June 26 by Sixth Corps followed this course:

VI Corps Line of March - June 26
VI Corps Line of March – June 26

The route kept the the Corps well away from the other elements moving on that day.  But all told, the men had to cover over 15 marching miles that day to reach Dranesville.   From There the Corps had another 12 miles down the Leesburg Pike to reach the pontoon bridges.

VI Corps Line of March - June 27
VI Corps Line of March – June 27

Thus for two days of marching, the Sixth Corps covered between 25 and 30 miles of well worn roads.  At 1 p.m. on June 27,  General Butterfield at the Army’s headquarters, inquired about the arrival of Sixth Corps. (Note 3)  Somewhat belatedly, General Henry Benham, Engineer Brigade commander, responded at 8:35 p.m. that two-thirds of the Corps was across.  He stated that Wright’s Division was crossing on the upper bridge.  The march did not stop until the Corps had reached Poolesville.

On paper, the march of Sixth Corps seems short compared to the 25 to 30 mile-a-day pace the same men would sustain in Maryland and Pennsylvania moving up to Gettysburg.  However, keep in mind the road structure the Corps moved across was muddy and badly worn by the previous week’s activity.

Also note that practically as the dust of Sixth Corps’ march settled, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry moved through Fairfax Courthouse and Dranesville (June 27-28).

The Line of March Today:  I’ll present the Sixth Corps march in two legs.  First the June 26th march.  This route takes a visitor through the heart of Northern Virginia’s commuter country, so time this route around rush hours, and still prepare for delays.  The road infrastructure has changed in the 140 plus years since the war, so this is not a step-by-step trace, but rather an approximate line, using the most expeditious roads without deviating substantially.

A good starting point is Fairfax Courthouse, which has significance in nearly every Eastern Theater campaign.  From the Courthouse proceed west on Main Street (CR 236) until the rather cumbersome intersection with Fairfax Boulevard.  There proceed straight through the intersection, and Main Street now becomes U.S. 50.  About a half mile further, the intersection with Jermantown Road is roughly the wartime location of Germantown.  In another half mile, Carefully select the correct lanes while navigating through the I-66 interchange.   Stay on U.S. 50 West, for a total of six miles from Jermantown Road, to the intersection of Centreville Road (CR 657).

This is roughly were a toll house stood on the old Little River Turnpike.  Just to the southeast is the 1862 Chantilly Battlefield.  Likely the toll house stood a little back to the east, but without sending the visitor along several side streets, this is close to the line of march.  Howe’s Division, moving up from Centreville, about four miles south, entered the line of march around this point.   Turn north (right) onto Centreville Road.

About three and a half miles on Centreville Road, on the right is Frying Pan Meeting House, a prominent locality on wartime movement reports.  Just beyond is Frying Pan Branch, passing under the road unnoticed.  Several Mosby-related sites are nearby, but I’ll skip those to stay on topic for now.

Frying Pan Meeting House
Frying Pan Meeting House

Centreville Road becomes a multi-lane, often congested traffic artery at this point, passing through several stoplights, and under the Greenway Toll Road.  Shortly after the overpass, about two and a half miles from Frying Pan, the road turns into Elden Street (CR 228).  Follow Elden Street as it turns to the right and becomes CR 606 and passes through Herndon.  At the signs for the Washington & Old Dominion crossing, turn into Lynn Street and park if able.  This is Herndon Station, a favorite target of Mosby’s men, and where the VI corps crossed what was the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad.

Return to Eldon Street.  The wartime route continued northeast from this point, but the modern road structure prevents a direct route to Dranesville.  The road becomes Baron Cameron Avenue.  After about 1.7 miles from Herndon Station, turn north (left) onto Reston Parkway (CR 602) at a stoplight.  Just over two miles further, turn west (left) onto Leesburg Pike (Va 7).  Then proceed about a half mile to the intersection with Georgetown Pike (Va. 193).  This was the village of Dranesville during the war.  A convenient place to stop is the Dranesville Tavern Park, at the next stoplight, about a half mile further down the Pike.

For the second leg, representing the march of June 27, return to Leesburg Pike and continue west.  If you have read the previous marches, many places should be familiar, crossing Sugarland Run and Broad Run along the way.  After about 8.6 miles turn onto the exit for Lansdowne Boulevard.  At the light, turn left onto Riverside Parkway.  At the next light turn right onto Upper Belmot Road, then left onto Riverpointe Road.  Follow the road around to Kephart Bridge Landing Regional Park.  A trail here follows Goose Creek down to the site of the lower pontoon bridge.


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. 142-3.
  2. Orders from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 314.
  3. Dispatch from Butterfield to Captain Turnbull, 1 p.m., June 27, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p.353.
  4. Dispatch from Benham to General S. Williams, 8:35 p.m., June 2, 1863, OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 353.