Edwards Ferry – Cavalry Corps Crossing – Part 1

Time for me to re-engage on the Edwards Ferry story.  I’ve collected links to the previous posts on the Edwards Ferry Crossing page to the right.  I’ll pick up where I left off, with the infantry across the Potomac.  Now was the turn of the Cavalry Corps.

Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s command (at this time consisting mainly of Brig. Gen. John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division and Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s 2nd Cavalry Division) had arrived in Loudoun County beginning on June 17, 1863, encountering portions of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry near Aldie. (Note 1)  What followed were five days of spirited, pitched cavalry maneuvers with three major battles  across Loudoun Valley, as the Federals attempted to pierce the Confederate cavalry screen. I don’t have space here to delve into this important aspect of the Gettysburg campaign here, but shall at a later date. (Note 2)

Brig. Gen. Julius Stahel’s Cavalry Division, was an augmentation pulled from the Washington Defenses.  Looking at the dispatches, Stahel had the unenviable position of reporting to both Maj. Gen. Heintzelman in Washington and to Maj. Gen. Hooker commanding the Army of the Potomac… and receiving directions and requests from both!   Through the middle of June, Stahel’s command worked the area behind and to the right of the Army of the Potomac, patrolling river crossings and gaps as far west as the Blue Ridge.  In addition to seeking contact with the Army of Northern Virginia, Stahel’s men were actively seeking out the Partisan Rangers of Maj. John Mosby. (Note 3)

Perhaps the best way to describe it is the Army of the Potomac pivoted around Stahel’s area of responsibility.  By June 22, his command moved forward from Buckland Mills to Warrenton, now on the left flank of the Army of the Potomac.  Stahel’s command withdrew from that point on June 23 back to Fairfax. (Note 4)  At Fairfax, Maj. Gen. Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, directed Stahel to proceed to Harpers Ferry.  Stahel dutifully forwarded a copy of this order to Heintzelman, complaining “I shall comply with… although my command has not yet recovered from the fatigue of the last few days’ march.”  (Note 5)

Stahel apparently did start movement promptly, or at least within a reasonable time. But before his command got far down the road, Hooker changed directions again.  With the orders on June 25 to Maj. Gen. John Reynolds to assume command of the Right Wing of the Army, Stahel’s Division was assigned to Reynolds with the mission to scout the South Mountain passes (north of Harpers Ferry).  The orders specified Stahel would cross at Young’s Ford (or Young’s Island Ford).  (Note 6)  However, unknown to Hooker, the river was much too high at the ford for Stahel’s entire column.  (Note 7)  While, the troopers likely pressed on in spite of high water at the Ford, the trains did not.  The following evening, Stahel’s assistant adjutant-general, Major H. Baldwin reported the supply train still detained at Edwards Ferry.  Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard complained to Reynolds later that he must pull from the XI Corps supplies to keep Stahel’s cavalry on the line. [Note 8]

Stahel reported reaching the South Mountain passes on June 26, and added intelligence about the Confederate movements.  However, Howard and Reynolds were just not impressed.  On June 28, among the last orders with Hooker’s name as the Army commander relieved Stahel and sent him to Maj. Gen. Darius Couch’s Department of the Susquehanna. (Note 9)  Stahel’s command was incorporated directly into the Army of the Potomac that day, with parts used to constitute the 3rd Cavalry Division under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, with brigades assigned to newly minted Brig. Gens. Elon Farnsworth and George A. Custer.(Note 10)

Even if only Stahel’s trains crossed the pontoons, I think it was a significant addition to the confusion at Edwards Ferry on June 25-26.  And certainly the lack of supplies contributed to the poor performance of Stahel’s command.  Without trying to overstate the importance of the delayed trains, had the command followed up with a spirited advance to and beyond South Mountain, might this have given the Federal leaders the needed details of Confederate dispositions?  Perhaps a less reaching supposition, the delayed trains were a contributing factor leading to the relief of Stahel. The change of commands within what was Stahel’s Division brought to the foreground several individuals who would play significant roles in the remainder of the Gettysburg Campaign.

I’ll forgo a suggested driving route approximating Stahel’s movements at this point.  First, the movement to the area of Edwards Ferry followed routes up from Fairfax, described in the infantry corps articles.  Second, myself and a few others are still working to pinpoint the best way to visit Young’s Island Ford on the Potomac.  From what I can tell, the ford was near the mouth of Broad Run, where modern day Selden Island sits in the Potomac.

The last major elements to cross at Edwards Ferry were Brig. Gen. John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division and Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s 2nd Cavalry Division, of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps.  I shall look at their crossing next.

———————————————

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. Reports of Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, U.S. Army, commanding the Cavalry Corps,  June 17-22, 1863. OR. Series I, Volume 27, Serial 43, p. 906-13.  The Battle of Upperville is outside the scope of this post, but an overview account of the action, with an excellent set of maps is provided by the Citizens Committe for the Historic Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville.
  3. In one dispatch from Col. C.R. Lowell, 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry reported that Mosby had arrived at Middleburg, Virginia and “disbanded immediately” (Serial 45, p. 74). “Disbanding” could mean many things here and I cannot determine if this references simply dispersing of Mosby’s command, or was more wishful thinking on the part of the Federals.
  4. 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.  The movement of Stahel’s Division is also recorded in a series of dispatches between Army of the Potomac Headquarters, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, and Stahel, recorded in Serial 45, pp. 267-70.
  5. Dispatch from Stahel to Heintzelman, June 24, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 283.
  6. Orders to Reynolds, June 25, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, pp. 305-306.
  7. Dispatch from Maj. Gen. Slocum to Hooker, June 25, 1863, 11 a.m.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 312.
  8. Dispatch from Baldwin to Brig. Gen. Seth Williams, Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, June 26, 1863, 7 p.m.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 337.  The situation is confirmed with Howard’s report to Reynolds at 8:15 p.m., Serial 45, pp. 337-8.
  9. An interesting comparison is Stahel’s report to Reynolds on June 26 and Reynolds’ report to Hooker on the same day (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, pp. 334-5).  Reynolds plainly states, “The cavalry sent out by Stahel does nothing.”  The orders relieving Stahel appear on p. 373 of Serial 45.
  10. Headquarters Cavalry Corps, Special Orders No 98, June 28, 1863.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 376.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Edwards Ferry – Cavalry Corps Crossing – Part 1

    1. Thanks Don, but I realize I left out one additional note. Maj. Charles Capehart of the 1st WV Cavalry added in his official report the brigade which he was part of (1st Vt, 5th NY) “left their camp at Fairfax Court-House, Va., and moved to Edwards Ferry; thence to Poolesville, Crampton’s Gap, and Frederick City, Md., where the division was reorganized….” Sort of a brief synopsis of three days of riding, but he does specifically state Edwards Ferry. Just leaves me to conclude that I cannot conclude anything about where Stahel’s Division crossed!

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