Yesterday I attended a tour, organized by the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, following the II Corps route through Northern Virginia in June 1863 on their way to Gettysburg. The tour was led by my friends James Lewis and Brian McEnany. Needless to say, many of the sites and the material presented overlapped with my Edwards Ferry project. So this made for a good day trip for me, led by some knowledgeable folks. One spot that piqued my interest early in the tour was Wolf Run Shoals.
Wolf Run Shoals, on the Occoquan River, was an important crossing point for travelers between Alexandria and Richmond dating to colonial times. In fact, a small plaque at the site indicates that Washington and Rochambeau used the road and ford in 1781 when in route to Yorktown to bottle up Lord Cornwallis.
The wartime “McDowell Map” indicated the ford was still in use at the time of the Civil War.
Like many places in Northern Virginia, Wolf Run Shoals was not simply the site of one incident or action, but several over the span of the war. Confederates maintained positions in this vicinity during the winter of 1861-2. As the armies moved further south, supply trains passed through the area. And of course such attracted raiders.
However the most notable events at Wolf Run Shoals occurred in June 1863. At the time, the 2nd Vermont Brigade, under Brig. Gen. George Stannard, at the time part of the Washington garrison, posted troops at the Shoals. As the Army of the Potomac moved north to react to the Confederate maneuvers, the Left Wing of the army passed through. As related on a marker in nearby Occoquan, Pvt. Ralph O. Sturtevant of the 13th Vermont Regiment, observed “The van of General Hooker’s army arrives on the 14th and crosses the Occoquan on a pontoon bridge laid across at Occoquan Village near our camp. We assist in laying the bridge and then for a number of days sit on the bank and watch the moving army, infantry, cavalry and artillery; a whole army corps cross here.” The Federal II Corps crossed at Wolf Run Shoals on June 17. After a few days spent in the Centreville area, the II Corps moved to Thoroughfare Gap. Recall also that Stannard’s Brigade was assigned to the Army of the Potomac around this time. On June 25, the Vermonters departed from the Occaquan, leaving Wolf Run Shoals unguarded.
This opening did not go un-exploited by the Confederates. On June 26, the lead elements of Maj. Gen. JEB Stuart’s cavalry camped south of the Occoquan. The next day, the Confederates crossed the river at Wolf Run Shoals, heading toward Fairfax Court House. Stuart’s movements that day placed his three brigades behind the Federal army corps moving north, but well to the east of main lines of march.
Today Wolf Run Shoals is accessible, but looks little like the wartime ford. The site is protected in the Fountain Head Regional Park. The best way to reach the site is from the Fairfax County Parkway (Hwy 7100), take the exit south onto Ox Road (Va. 123). At the next light past the exit interchanges, turn west (right) onto Chapel Road. After two tenths of a mile turn south (left) onto Wolf Run Shoals Road. After about three miles, the road links with Henderson Road for about three tenths of a mile. Then Wolf Run Shoals turns south (left) again. After a mile the road ends at a parking area at the trail head. Follow the trail down to the ford site.
During the Civil War several islands in the Occoquan made this an easy ford site. Today the Occoquan Reservoir covers the site, submerging the islands. The south side of the river is private property as near as I can tell. On the north side a building on private property matches to wartime photographs of the area.
It does take some imagination, to see the ford in low water, and the banks and ridges devoid of trees, but at least the visitor can stand at the site of the road leading to the ford. Certainly worth a visit if you are interested in the Gettysburg Campaign, or off the beaten path Civil War sites.