Edwards Ferry – Stannard’s Brigade Crossing

Last week while working downtown, I enjoyed a lunch with college with a mutual interest in the Civil War.  He has focused much of his study on Brigadier General George Stannard’s Second Vermont Brigade.  Last year, I’d tabled discussion of that unit’s crossing at Edwards Ferry pending more research.   But my friend was rather quick to offer up details, including scanned copies of several primary sources.

In addition, he passed a link to the Vermont in the Civil War site, an outstanding digital archive of materials!  (The site notes a video documentary of the 2nd Vermont Brigade’s march to Gettysburg.)  Of this wealth of information, two pieces summarize the brigade’s movements toward Gettysburg rather well.   The first, Chapter 11 of “Life in Camp” by J.C. Williams, Company B, 14th Vermont Infantry (also on Google Books) offered a day-by-day account of the march.   The second, a transcription of George Grenville Benedict’s “Vermont in the Civil War”  (Burlington, Vermont: Free Press Association, 1888), includes a narrative of the brigade’s movements in Chapter 26 (PDF).

With these bits of information, I can now amend the crossing time line and detail the brigade’s line of march.

Prior to the Gettysburg Campaign, the Second Vermont Brigade defended the southern approaches to Washington, D.C. and was not part of the Army of the Potomac.  On June 22, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Edward R. Platt, reporting to the Army headquarters, detailed the disposition of Stannard’s men.  The 12th, 13th, and 14th Vermont along with the 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery (Captain John Sterling’s Battery) held a line along Occoquan Creek.  In particular the 12th and 14th along with the artillery camped near Wolf Run Shoals.  The 13th Vermont held a position along Telegraph Road near Occoquan Mills.  Platt mentioned other fortifications protecting Sallie Davis’s Ford and Selecman’s Ford, but added the force at hand was not sufficient to hold the line.  (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 259).  I have depicted the positions occupied by the Second Vermont Brigade on June 23 on a segment of the McDowell Map, along with the three defensive positions mentioned by Platt.

Dispositions of Stannard's Brigade - June 23

Not mentioned in Platt’s report but discussed in Benedict’s narrative, the 15th Vermont marched from Bristoe Station up the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from Union Mills as the Federal army withdrew northward.  The 16th Vermont camped near Union Mills.

The following day, Stannard received orders assigning his command to the First Corps, and to move through Centreville to join the line of march.  Stannard, however, waited until June 25 to begin the movement.   Concentrating first at Union Mills, the Vermonters moved on to Centreville.  According to William’s account, his regiment arrived at Union Mills at 10 am that day and halted while other elements of the Brigade arrived.  At 3 pm the Brigade took up the march again, arriving at Centreville after 5 pm.

On June 26, the brigade began the day’s march at 5:30 am, but progressed little as the 3rd and 6th Corps traffic had priority on the roads.  Williams noted arriving at Frying Pan around 5 pm, then marching two more hours to reach Herndon Station where the brigade camped for the night.

Stannard's Brigade Line of March June 26

While the brigade marched went into camp at Herndon Station, General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry reached the Vermonters’ former post at Wolf Run Shoals.    Stuart crossed the creek on the following day, heading through Fairfax Courthouse en-route to Rowsers Ford on the Potomac, and onward with an epic ride to Gettysburg.

The brigade rose early on June 27, taking the Alexandria, Loudoun, & Hampshire Railroad right of way to Guilford, arriving at 6 am.  From there, the brigade marched to the Leesburg Pike and halted near Broad Run around 10 am to allow the 6th Corps trains to pass.  The Brigade arrived at Edwards Ferry at 3 pm, but again waited for the 6th Corps to complete crossing.  Acting as the rear guard of the Army, the 2nd Vermont Brigade crossed the pontoons that evening and marched toward Poolesville before going into bivouac.

Stannard's Brigade Line of March - 27 June

At that point the brigade’s march steps beyond the scope of my study, but allow me to briefly summarize.  On the 28th, the Vermonters crossed the Monocacy and pressed on to Adamstown, Maryland.  The following day the brigade moved through Frederick all the way to Creagerstown.  The Vermonters reached Emmitsburg on June 30.  On the morning of July 1, two regiments of the brigade, the 12th and 15th Vermont, took up duties guarding the Corps trains.  The remaining three regiments reached the battlefield at Gettysburg late in the afternoon.  There the 2nd Vermont took a position in the center of the Federal line from which on July 3 these men aided in the repulse of Pickett’s Division.

As Benedict points out, between June 25 and July 1, the Second Vermont Brigade marched like veterans.  In fact, the brigade gained a day over their fellow First Corps counterparts as they headed for Gettysburg.


HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of February 22

Thirty-two new entries for the Civil War category at the Historical Marker Database this week.  These represent Civil War related sites in Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.  Here are the particulars:

– Three markers from Decatur, Alabama this week.  Morgan County, was traversed by the combatants on a number of occasions.  Federals used the Old State Bank building as a depot during one of their stays.  A nearby lake formed on the Tennessee River is named for Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, who lived just west of the city.

– Federals accidentally burned the Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama during the war.  Nearby is a Confederate memorial erected in 1905.

– Three Connecticut memorials this week, all from New Haven County.  A simple plaque stands in memory of the veterans of Orange, Connecticut.  In Wallingford, a soldiers memorial placed by the G.A.R. complements a separate memorial listing the names of those from the community who died in the war.

Clara Barton began her efforts to care and support the soldiers on the battlefields from 437 Seventh Street, Washington, D.C.   After the war she returned to lead efforts to aid those searching for missing soldiers.

Albert Pike‘s military career was not spectacular, but he is the only Confederate General memorialized by an outdoor sculpture in Washington, D.C.

– Continuing from last week’s marker entries for Civil War activity around Griffin, Georgia are six more state markers.  One marker notes the local leaders who represented the county in the state’s secession convention.  Following that vote, the county sent the Spalding Grays off to war, to become Company D, 2nd Infantry Battalion.  The famed Kentucky “Orphan Brigade” transitioned from line infantry to mounted infantry at Griffin in September 1864.   In November 1864, the Georgia militia units staged in Griffin as General Sherman’s men marched through on their way to Savannah.  Several hundred Confederates, and one Union soldier, lay at rest in the town’s Confederate cemetery.

– Manchester, Michigan boasts a colorful statue on its veterans memorial.

– The GAR Memorial in Park Cemetery, Carthage, Missouri features the names of four top Union commanders – Grant, Sherman, Meade, and Sheridan.

Gilbert Van Zandt was born in Port William, Ohio.  At age ten, he joined Company D, 79th Ohio Volunteers and was likely the youngest enlistee in the Union Army.

– The Bloomingburg Cemetery, Bloomingburg, Ohio is the final resting place for over 100 Union veterans, including one Medal of Honor awardee.  Many were part of the town’s African-American community.  The town was a stop on the Underground Railroad before the war.

– Dating back to the 1850s, the St. Colman Catholic Church was founded by Irish immigrants.  A number of Civil War veterans are buried in its cemetery.

– The 109th Infantry Regiment, one of many who’s World War service is memorialized at the 28th Division Shrine in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, traces its lineage back to the 17th and 119th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

– A tall memorial in front of the Lee County Courthouse in Bishopville, South Carolina honors the county’s Confederate veterans.

– Sumter County, South Carolina honors its Confederate dead with a memorial listing their names.

– The Baruch Home in Camden, South Carolina has a connection to Dr. Simon Baruch, Confederate Surgeon.

– Local militia units met at the Warrenton Muster Grounds near Liberty Hill, South Carolina for nearly a century before the Civil War and for half a century afterward.  As the marker notes, many of these meetings were more political than military in nature.

– A state marker near Cypress Crossroads, Lee County, South Carolina notes a skirmish fought on February 27, 1865 at nearby Mount Elon.  The Confederates delayed a mounted force of Federals scouting in advance of the army during the march through the Carolinas.

– Federal troops destroyed the railroad bridge over the Broad River near Peak, South Carolina in 1865.

– Two more entries related to Potter’s Raid through South Carolina at the end of the war.  One notes a skirmish at Spring Hill, South Carolina on April 16, 1865.  The other mentions fighting at Dinkins’ Mill on April 18, 1865.

– The most memorable passage of the week comes from Texas.  According to a state marker in Richmond, Texas, “The state set up camps of instruction, to teach Texans to walk and fight.” (So easy to take that out of context!)  As the marker notes, a large proportion of Texans opted to join cavalry units during the war.  But with operational needs for infantry, many cavalry regiments were dismounted for service as infantry.  That move didn’t always set well with the troopers.

– Two new markers at Balls Bluff battlefield in Leesburg, Virginia provide an overview of the battle and detail nearby sites associated with the October 1861 battle.

Pennsylvania Military Museum

Last spring we made a stop at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.  The visit was more of a “stop and stretch” opportunity than a planned visit.  Because the museum recently underwent renovation, I’d had it on my list for some time just never had the opportunity.  Going in I figured the majority of displays would focus on World War I and II topics.  However I found a rather noteworthy selection of Civil War artillery pieces on display.

The Museum itself dates to the late 1960s.   It spawned from the need to preserve and present the story of World War I veterans and support the 28th Division Shrine.

28th Division Shrine

The Shrine dates to the 1920s when the veterans used the former training facility for reunions.  In 1940, the veterans formally dedicated the shrine.  Since that time, the shrine expanded to include those who died in World War II.  The 28th Division, considered the nation’s oldest, contains many formations with long histories and lengthy lineages.  Proud of their unit histories, many of the veteran’s memorials on site mention regimental service in the Civil War and Spanish-American War in addition to the World Wars.

For example, the 111th Infantry Regiment traces its history back to colonial days and includes service in the Civil War as the 18th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment and later the 72nd Pennsylvania.  The 112th Infantry, 107th Field Artillery, and 108th Field Artillery Regiments also have battle honors and campaign streamers dating to the Civil War.

Civil War Honors on the 111th Infantry Memorial

With a mission to recount “the story of Commonwealth citizens who served our country in defense of the nation,” the museum expanded coverage with the recent renovation.  Now exhibits span from the colonial and Revolutionary War on to the Vietnam War.  I was told that future plans include exhibits pertaining to the Pennsylvania National Guard service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Civil War section includes four artillery pieces.  The rarest of the set is a 6-pdr Griffin Gun.

6-pdr Griffin Gun

A product of Phoenix Iron Works, this type is often noted as the predecessor to the famous Ordnance Rifle and shared the same wrought iron construction technique.  However, the museum interpretation notes the Philadelphia Committee of Safety purchased a dozen of these weapons, including this piece, in the fall of 1862 when Confederates were roaming about Maryland.  As such, I’d consider this weapon more a “sibling” to the Ordnance Rifle.

A 12-pdr Model 1857 Light Field Gun, better known to us as a “Napoleon,” stands on the carriage next to the Griffin gun.

12-pdr Napoleon - Hooper #40

This Napoleon bears the marks of Henry H. Hooper & Company, registry number 40.  It was cast in 1862 and inspected by Thomas J. Rodman.  The weight stamp is 1,232 pounds.  Behind the Napoleon is a 12-pdr Confederate iron field howitzer from Tredegar Foundry.  The exhibit boundary prevented closer examination at this time.

6-pdr Model 1841 - Ames #30

The other Civil War field piece is a 6-pdr Model 1841 Field Gun.  Muzzle and trunnion stamps indicate N.P. Ames of Springfield, Massachusetts cast this gun in 1842.  It weighed 882 pounds and was inspected by James Wolfe Ripley.  The date of manufacture opens the possibility the gun once battled against a cannon sitting nearby.

Mexican 18-pdr Cannon

Pennsylvania troops captured this gun at the battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847.  The museum interpretation cites Fawcett, Preston, & Co. of London as the manufacturer, better known in our Civil War context for production of Blakely Rifles.

The non-Civil War exhibits, which were the majority for good reasons, included a Model 1917 6-ton Tank, the American licensed produced Renault FT-17 light tank.

Model 1917 Light Tank

As the display points out, a young Captain named Eisenhower used tanks like this one to train soldiers at Camp Colt in Gettysburg during World War I.  Recall that Camp Colt stood not far from where the 72nd Pennsylvania (see the 111th Infantry above) defended Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863.  I thought it was an interesting note at the time, and perhaps a good note to end my report on the museum.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum reopens for the season on March 14.  There is a six dollar admission fee, but there is a lot of history to take in. The Museum also hosts a series of military history lectures and living history events.

Model 1835 Mountain Howitzer

I introduced the mountain howitzer class and traced some of the history in an earlier post.  Today I will detail the standard mountain howitzer used during the Civil War.

12-pdr Mt Howitzer at Fort Washington, MD

As mentioned before, the Model 1835’s design borrowed heavily from a French weapon of this class.  But the U.S. Army intended to use its mountain howitzers on terrain ranging from swamps to high mountains.   The Model 1835 followed a simple form.  A recess over the chamber, base ring and muzzle ring interrupted the otherwise plain tube form.  A standard knob topped the flattened conical breech face.

US 12-pdr Mountain Howitzer Model 1835

The Mountain Howitzer’s chamber measured 2.75 inches in depth and 3.34-inches in diameter, technically about “4-pdr” gauge.   Through the length of a 2.75 inch neck, the cylindrical chamber expanded to the full 4.62 inch bore diameter.  These dimensions, smaller than the standard 12-pdr Field Howitzer which had a 4.25 inch deep chamber with a 3.67 inch diameter, meant the mountain howitzer used less powder than its contemporaries firing the same caliber projectiles.

Differing from the French design, the Americans opted for larger, centered trunnions.  However, at 2.7 inches in diameter, the mountain howitzer could not use standard field carriages.  The chart below compares the field howitzer types to the mountain howitzer particulars on the fight hand column.

Comparison of Regulation Field Howitzers

Mentioned in the previous post on mountain howitzers, artillerists had three options for moving the Model 1835.  The basic carriage weighed 515 pounds configured for towing by one horse or mule.  A separate pack animal carried ammunition.

12-pdr Mt Howitzer Configured for Draught

As displayed in the figure, the saddle designed for the mountain howitzer featured a transom with notches in line with the trunnions.  This allowed the artillerists to break down the carriage and weapon for pack onto two animals (again with a third carrying the ammunition).


Some secondary accounts claim gunners could fire the howitzer off the back of the horse in this configuration.  I would simply ask the logical question in response – to what tactical good?

By the 1850s, the Army found a need to move the mountain howitzer at a gallop or behind two horses for higher speed on the open plains of the west.  The resultant arrangement became the prairie carriage and resembled a miniature field carriage in many respects.  The configuration weighed 940 pounds with limber.


Each mountain howitzer ammunition chest contained two shells, five case, and one canister.  The Model 1835 used the same shell and spherical case projectiles as a standard 12-pdr field howitzer.  But due to the smaller chamber, it used half the powder charge.  The howitzer used fixed ammunition, with the powder charge fixed to a sabot formed to fill the neck of the chamber.  A strap then bound the case or shell to the sabot.


However, the mountain howitzer’s canister round differed from the standard 12-pdr canister.  While the field issue canister used 1.05-inch diameter cast iron balls in the “can,” the mountain howitzer used 0.69-inch lead musket balls.   By regulation 4 layers of 37 musket balls gave the 12-pdr mountain howitzer canister 148 balls.

Being a smoothbore muzzle-loader, some of the mountain howitzer drill matched that of the field pieces.  But the piece required enough special instructions for handling that the Army issued a set of supplemental instructions in 1851.  In terms of tactical considerations, again the small size of the mountain howitzer factored into planning.  For example instructions noted the Model 1835 when deployed as a section in battery fronted 10 yards with a 31 yard depth.  But a field howitzer in the same configuration fronted 18 to 21 yards with a 47 yard depth.  Smaller cannon means smaller footprint.

Generally, smaller cannon also equated to shorter range.  Every reference including those from the Civil War period state the maximum range of the 12-pdr mountain howitzer was 1005 yards, firing a shell with 0.5 pounds of powder, at 5 degrees of elevation.


Personally I raise a question here with regard to that performance.  Frankly, it does not square with what I know of ballistics. For starters, the listed range of the 12-pdr field howitzer, firing the same projectile at the same elevation, but with a full pound of powder is 1072 yards.  So adding half a pound of powder improves performance by only 67 yards?

Furthermore, the stated rage graduations from the instructions indicate some jump in performance as the elevation was increased.  Consider this comparison between the regulation range tables for the 12-pdr Model 1841 Field Howitzer and the Model 1835 Mountain Howitzer:

Comparison of 12-pdr Howitzer Ranges

In spite of the initial gap in performance below 2 degrees,  projectiles fired from the mountain howitzer seemed to close the gap with the field piece as elevation increased.  So I have to ask, if both pieces were elevated to 6 or 7 degrees, would the little mountain howitzer out range its larger field counterpart?

A standard rule of ballistics reasons that, all things being equal, the weapon with the longer bore offers better range.  The Model 1835 had a bore length of 5.5 calibers compared to 9.36 calibers for the Model 1841 Field Howitzer.  Perhaps even more telling, the Navy’s 12-pdr heavy boat howitzer, with a slightly longer bore at 10.8 calibers, ranged to 1085 yards (firing a 10 pound shell, with a one pound charge, at five degrees elevation).

On the other hand, maybe the Army’s Artillerist Manual, as cited in the previous article, provides a clue to the Mountain Howitzer’s remarkable range table.  Recall that John Gibbon wrote, “The total range of the mountain howitzer sometimes reaches 1200 yards, after the shell has ricocheted three or four times.”   Perhaps the range indicated for the mountain howitzer included one or two of those ricochets?

So are all those manuals wrong?  Is the cited range for the mountain howitzer in error?  Or was it done knowingly to conceal the limitations of the weapon system?

One thing I am sure of though, the 12-pdr Model 1835 Mountain Howitzer played an important role in American history, not just military history.   While serving with some distinction during the Civil War, it was out west that the little mountain howitzer found the most use.

Mountain Howitzer at Fort Sumter

Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

French, William, William Barry, and Henry J. Hunt.  Instruction for Field Artillery.  US War Department.  New York:  D. Van Nostrand, 1864.  Reprinted by Stackpole Books, 2005.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of February 15

Another week past, and another week of entries for the Civil War category at the Historical Marker Database.  Twenty-two new entries this week, covering Civil War related sites and topics from Arizona, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and  Texas.

– A memorial to the Confederates of Arizona stands in Bolin Park in front of the state capital in Phoenix.

– In front of the Meriden, Connecticut city hall stands a memorial listing the names, dates, and place of death of those from the community who died in the war.

– A Cultural DC marker in the Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C. explains that what is today government office buildings was a market place at the time of the Civil War.  Pennsylvania Avenue was the major route for troops moving to and from the capitol’s defenses.

– A simple memorial stone honors the Confederate soldiers and sailors buried in Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa, Florida.

– Three state markers around Griffin, Georgia note the location of Camp Milner, where many Georgia troops formed before moving out to the various assignments throughout the Confederacy.  The camp was named for Ben Milner, who financed several companies from Spalding County.  One of the companies formed in the county was the Ringold Rangers, which became Company C, 13th Georgia.  During the Spanish-American War, Camp Milner became Camp Northen as the National Guard mobilized for that war.

– Three memorials in the 28th Division Shrine at Boalsburg, Pennsylvania reference their respective unit’s lineage back to the Civil War – The 108th Field Artillery, the 111th Infantry Regiment, and the 112th Infantry Regiment.

– Washington Park, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina features memorials to General P.G.T. Beauregard, Poet Henry Timrod, and the Washington Light Infantry.  The later provided troops for Companies A and B, 25th South Carolina, and Company A of the Hampton Legion.  Also in the park is a memorial plaque using a prayer composed by Ellison Capers, which honors the Confederacy.

– Elsewhere in Charleston, a plaque notes the site of St. Andrews Hall, which no longer stands.  The hall witnessed activity related to the state’s secession.

– Moses Mordecai lived in the Poyas-Mordecai house in Charleston before the war.  After a wartime career as a blockade runner, Mordecai moved to Baltimore.  Later he orchestrated the reburial of South Carolinians who fell at Gettysburg.

– Also in downtown Charleston, the Confederate Home supported the war widows and orphans.

– Three entries this week from Sumter County, South Carolina detail the closing actions of the war in the state.  In April 1865, General Edward Potter’s Federals advanced through the county several skirmishes in pursuit of fleeing Confederates.  Some of the skirmishing occurred on April 15 near Beech Creek and Stateburg.  Potter made his headquarters at nearby Oakland Plantation on April 19.

– A state memorial stone in Burnet, Texas relates the career of Confederate General Adam R. Johnson.

Manassas with a Coat of Snow

If you’ve watched the news lately, the big weather story last week was a set of snowstorms which hit the Central Atlantic states.  Schools closed.  Government offices closed.  And most of us just huddled inside, shoveled snow between storms, and stoked the fireplace.  The staff and I have been cooped up for near on a week.  So with clear skies on Sunday, we headed out on a trip.  I figured that Manassas was close to home and the staff likes the trails there.  Plus, we don’t often see photos of Bull Run in the snow.

Matthews Hill Parking Lot

Even three days after the last big snowstorm, the snow was deep.  I praise the park maintenance team for clearing the parking area.  There are businesses (and government) parking lots downtown still under snow.  But, praise be!  At least we can visit the battlefield!

Tracks in the Snow

No, not a Yeti track.  We were not the first visitors, of course. Several hardy souls had traversed Matthews hill and left tracks for us to follow.  These appeared to be from a visitor with snowshoes.  The snow up the hill was about two foot deep in some parts.

View from Matthews Hill

But the work uphill in the snow was worth it for the view.  I’ve captured this angle in several seasons, but never under snow.

From Matthews Hill, we drove to the Visitor Center to warm up a bit.  Along the way we passed Buck Hill to find….

Buck Hill Sledding

The ground behind the Stone House was the prime attraction at Manassas!  Looked like at least fifty kids were taking advantage of slope.

Folks who tour the battlefields with me know I’m rather touchy about being respectful of the sites.  So I spent a good five minutes convincing the staff that we could not simply join in with the other kids.  Especially with me wearing a Civil War Preservation Trust ball cap!

Onward to Henry House Hill where Thomas Jackson looked cold.

General Jackson in the Snow

As shown from the tracks, the Henry House was not a popular stop in the snow.

Henry House in the Snow

In the Visitor Center the park staff assured us that sledding was permitted, and even pointed out a few locations they recommended.  That said, MY staff began asking to hit the slopes.  We drove to the less heavily visited “New York” Hill.  There we spent a good forty-five minutes as the staff enjoyed the winter sports.  And I stood there at the top with my CWPT hat on!  Sort of hard to say no when the park staff has given a four-year old the green light.

Down Hill Course on "New York" Hill

Now, where I grew up, we had neither hills or snow, save for a few 1-2 day storms.  I have no experience snow sledding.  But apparently it is some natural act, as my staff quickly mastered this course.  No medals were given, but I did have the opportunity to explain the Brooklyn Fourteenth Monument.

When my staff reported “I’m cold” then we drove around to check out some more sites.

We visited the Railroad Cut area.

Railroad Cut in Snow

And made our way around to Chin Ridge.

Chin Ridge Trail

Again let me point out that the park staff had cleared this and other areas to aid visitors.  Those are bobcat tracks to the left of the trail path.

The Stone Bridge wore its snow blanket well.

Stone Bridge and Icy Bull Run

But with Bull Run well frozen so thick, I wondered silently if one could bypass the bridge entirely without taking a dip.

That was our tour of a snow-coated Manassas.  A bit of history mixed with a bit of recreation.  And the staff now has another battlefield memory to lean on in future years.

Fort Mill Ridge, West Virginia

One of our day trips in the fall, we visited Fort Mill Ridge just west of Romney, West Virginia.  I’ve posted the historical markers on site and noted such in the weekly updates, but the fort deserves a proper trip report.

In the March of 1863, a brigade under the command of Colonel Jacob M. Campbell of the 54th Pennsylvania, fortified a low ridge on the west side of the South Branch of the Potomac River about a mile west of Romney.  The brigade consisted of the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry and 1st West Virginia Infantry, along with Battery E, 1st West Virginia Artillery and the Ringgold, Washington, and Lafayette (all Pennsylvania) Cavalry.  Campbell’s command blocked Confederate attempts to control the South Branch, thus shielding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Northwest Turnpike.  The place Campbell selected commanded the turnpike as it passed into Mechanicsburg Gap and southern approaches to Romney.  The location also provided some protection from the ever-present threat of surprise Confederate raids.  With a camp along Mill Creek, Campbell’s men were safe under the guns on the ridge.

Mill Creek with Ridge in Background

Campbell’s men erected a near textbook fortification.  A central, square redoubt included firing positions for artillery.

Reconstructed Gun Platform in Central Redoubt

Further out from the redoubt ran an outer ring of entrenchments, compete with exterior glacis.

Outer Entrenchments

Protected ways connected the interior and exterior works.

Protected Way Trench Line

Further north from the central redoubt, and closer to the turnpike, was an artillery on a lower elevation.  The 3-inch Rifles of Captain Alexander Moore’s Battery E easily commanded the turnpike and the gap to the west of the fort.

Operationally speaking, the highlights of the garrison’s limited activities included brushes with Captain John H. McNeil’s Confederate raiders. However when elements of the Army of Northern Virginia entered the Shenandoah Valley in June 1863, exposing Campbell’s fort.  With the defeat of Federal forces at Winchester and Martinsburg, Campbell fell back to the west.  This opened the South Branch for General John Imboden’s command, who occupied Romney then later Cumberland, Maryland in support of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania.   So in the end maneuvers negated the fortifications on the ridge which did not play into any important combat actions.

Today the fortifications are part of the Fort Mill Ridge Wildlife Management Area, administered by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.  The ridge second growth pine and hardwood cover the fort site.   I would rate these works as excellent, perhaps in better condition than any others I’ve seen.

Northwest Corner of Central Redoubt

The central redoubt includes exterior traverses at each corner.  These extend into the ditch around the redoubt.  Such placement worthy of note.  The traverse prevented an enemy from using ricochet fire to clear the ditch, implying the defenders planned to use the ditch as a secondary defensive line.

East Side Exterior Entrenchments

Unlike some fort sites, even the exterior entrenchments are well preserved.  The photo above shows the east side of the works.  These were well placed and would have deterred a direct assault from that quarter.

Exterior Entrenchments on South Side

The profile of these entrenchments is still well-formed after all these years.

Mechanicsburg Gap

While the second (and third?) growth timber covers the site, with the foliage down in the fall we were able to make out the line of site to Mechanicsburg Gap on the west side.   Given such a view I would recommend visitors plan a late fall or early spring visit to the site.

Overall I rate the fort highly with regard to preservation.  While the road to the site is steep, it is not difficult to drive and has ample parking.   For a full walk of the trail, I’d reserve between 45 minutes and an hour.  That is unless you are with someone like me who proceeds to pace out the works and examine them in detail!

So for those battlefield stompers out there, consider a short side trip to Fort Mill Ridge if you are in the Romney area.