Edwards Ferry – Army HQ and the Artillery

Another installment on the Army of the Potomac’s crossing of the Potomac River in June 1863 on their march to Gettysburg.  Thus far, I’ve briefly looked at the particulars of each of the Army of the Potomac’s infantry corps as they crossed at Edwards FerryI, II, III, V, VI, XI, and XII.  Before looking at the Cavalry Corps, for complete coverage I should mention the crossing of the Army’s headquarters, The Artillery Reserve,  Crawford’s Pennsylvania Reserves Division, and Stannard’s Vermont Brigade.  In the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss the first two here.

On June 26, 1863, the Army Headquarters moved from Fairfax Courthouse to Edwards Ferry and on to Poolesville. (Note 1)  According to the orders posted the previous day, the headquarters schedule called for a start at 3 a.m., and would pass through Hunter’s Mill before reaching the Leesburg Pike. (Note 2)  The obvious route used was Hunter Mill Road, north through Hunter’s Mill, where road crossed Difficult Run, very close to the intersection of the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad (later the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad).  From there the route connected to the Leesburg Pike east of Dranesville.  From Dranesville, a march of twelve miles brought the column to Edwards Ferry.  Looking again to the McDowell map, the first half of the route is depicted below.

AOP Headquarter's June 26 March
AOP Headquarters' June 26 March

The second leg, a straight march down Leesburg Pike, was rather simple so I won’t waste space here amplifying the obvious.  All told the distance to the crossing point was around 24 miles.  The distance from there to Poolesville was another five.  This route kept the headquarters well east of the VI Corps, which was moving up through the Chantilly-Frying Pan-Herndon axis to Dranesville.

The headquarters element, including presumably the escorting troops, obviously moved faster than the infantry corps.  But even with an early morning start, the column couldn’t have arrived at Edwards Ferry before early afternoon.  Such an arrival places the headquarters at the crossing point about the same time General W. S. Hancock’s II Corps is arriving.  Recall that Assistant Adjutant General Seth Williams cautioned Hancock at 1:50 p.m. on the 26th to allow the passage of other corps trains before moving the II Corps across. (Note 3)  Might Williams’ dispatch have simply been a formality backing up a face to face conversation?

Regardless, the Army Headquarters arrived in Poolesville by early evening.  By 6 p.m. General Joseph Hooker was conversing with Washington via the telegraph with regard to erroneous reports of the General’s presence in the Capitol. (Note 4)   Hooker would have yet one more day at the head of the Army of the Potomac.

The official records offer less details of the Artillery Reserve’s movements.  Orders at 7 a.m. on June 25 placed the artillery in motion for Edwards Ferry.  The five brigades were expected to reach Edwards Ferry that evening.  (Note 5)  The artillery was scheduled to cross on the lower bridge on the following day. (Note 6)  Additional orders forwarded on June 25 elaborated, stating that, “The Artillery Reserve will cross on the lower bridge at Edwards Ferry, and follow the Fifth Corps.” (Note 7)

Such movement orders placed the Artillery Reserve, with 145 pieces of artillery (Note 8), at the crossing point on the morning of June 26.  Running back over the “numbers” and the planning factors, if one adds in the caissons, wagons, and such, the Artillery Reserve had a column over four miles long, if lined up nose to tail.  However, if General R.O. Tyler, commanding the artillery, was true to the orders, this column waited until the V Corps closed on the bridges in the afternoon of June 26.  Even if the guns crossed earlier, it is likely the traffic contributed to the delay reported by II Corps which was also directed to cross on the lower bridge that day.

Route of the Army Headquarters Today:  The route today passes through several congested areas.  But is somewhat easier to replicate than the VI Corps march.  Starting at the Fairfax Courthouse, proceed north on Chain Bridge Road (Va. 123) toward Vienna.  About a mile from the Courthouse, continue straight through the intersection with Fairfax Boulevard (U.S. 50) and a mile further, pass over Interstate 66.   At about three miles from the Courthouse, work into the left hand lane and prepare for a left hand turn onto Hunter Mill Road (CR 674).  Roughly three miles north, cross straight through the intersection with Lawyers Road (CR 673).

Hunter Mill Road has many Civil War related sites, and as mentioned several times before, the bust guide to the area is offered by the Hunter Mill Defense League.  Of note to the passing of the Headquarters is the area around Hunter’s Mill itself, where the road crosses both Difficult Run and the old railroad right of way.  At the later there is a pull off to the left.  A Civil War Trails wayside stands along the trail, on the opposite side of the road, but is relates events from 1862.

Intersection of Hunter Mill Road and W&OD Today
Intersection of Hunter Mill Road and W&OD Today

Continue on Hunter Mill Road.  About mile further north, the road turns left and intersects with Sunrise Valley Drive.  Hunter Mill Road turns north (right) at this intersection and passes under the Greenway Toll Road (Va. 267).  At 2.3 miles from the intersection, modern Hunter Mill Road ends at Baron Cameron Avenue (CR 606).  Turn right and immediately work over to the left lane.  At the next stoplight turn left (west) onto Leesburg Pike (Va. 7).   Continue on what should be a rather familiar route, if you have looked at the infantry corps mentioned in previous posts, down the Pike for roughly 12.5 miles.  Turn right (north) onto Belmont Ridge Road, continuing past two stoplights and then turn left onto Riverpoint Drive.  One may follow the drive around to the Kephart Bridge Landing Regional Park, and thence along the hiking trail to Edwards Ferry.

At this time I do not have sufficient information about the Artillery Reserve march to suggest a route.

——————————–

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 from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 314.
  3. 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.
  4. Dispatch from Hooker to Major T. T. Eckert, 6 p.m., June 26, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 58.
  5. Orders from Hooker to Brigadier General R. O. Tyler, 7 a.m., June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 306.
  6. Orders from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 314.
  7. Orders from Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 318.
  8. Based on Abstract from returns of the Army of the Potomac, June 20, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 151.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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