Bridge Placement at Edwards Ferry – Virginia Side

Having looked at the Maryland shore, let me turn to the Virginia side to discuss the placement of the bridges for the June 1863 crossing by the Army of the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.   I offer again the rough sketch I’ve made of the crossing site with the locations of important points noted:

Key Points in the Edwards Ferry Vicinity

The blue areas are of course the waterways of the Potomac River, Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and Goose Creek (with Cattail Branch forking off the later and running to the west).  A line roughly parallel to Goose Creek depicts the route of the Goose Creek Canal.  Blue-gray boxes show the locations of canal and river locks.  The green lines show the approximate routes of wartime roads.  Hashed lines on the north bank of Goose Creek indicate the higher ground on that side.  Finally the yellow boxes show the locations where I believe the bridges were laid.

On the Virginia side, there were abutments for the two main bridges, above and below the mouth of Goose Creek.  And there was a pontoon bridge spanning Goose Creek, close to the Potomac, which allowed traffic to divert to either of the main bridges as needed.

The first of the main bridges, placed on the night of June 20-21, ran from the north side of the creek.  As the local Federal commander, General Henry Slocum, intended to use this crossing for logistical support of his 12th Corps in Leesburg, this bridge likely lead directly to the Edwards Ferry Road.  At the time of the war, warehouses stood in that area, but today the site is a golf course.

Looking Across the Potomac from Upper Bridge Site

In the photo above, the modern boat ramp at Edwards Ferry is just right of center.

The lower bridge, constructed on June 25, extended from the south side of the creek’s mouth.  No placemarks or old road courses aid identification of the exact spot.  I would propose, based on the need to reduce congestion as traffic moved through and my assertions regarding placement of the bridge abutment on the Maryland shore (mentioned in my earlier post), the Virginia terminus stood no more than a 100 yards from Goose Creek.

The location of the Goose Creek Canal influenced the placement of the pontoon bridge spanning the mouth of Goose Creek.  The canal terminated near the mouth of the creek.  My references do not state a full “river lock,” as which stood on the Maryland side, governed passage of the boats, likely only an open canal ditch lead to the first lock of the canal.  I’ve labeled this a “river lock” on the map above, playing loose with the definition.  However, I have seen some stones, which appear shaped, along Goose Creek where the entrance should have been.

Remains of a River Lock?

Remains of a river lock?  Maybe.  Or perhaps washout from the locks further upstream.  Or just plain old rocks that look shaped.

The canal ditch curved off the creek roughly 50 feet inland.

Canal Bend into the Creek

At about 250 feet from the canal entrance is the first lock on the canal.

Elizabeth Mills Lock

The photo above was taken standing upstream from the lock.  Some what an oddity, the canal company specified a two lock “staircase” but when built it included an extra set of gates.

Below the lock, the canal continues a mile upstream to the site of Kephart’s or Elizabeth Mills.  In the photo below, note the depth of the canal ditch (on the right).   The canal towpath, partly intact, runs as a trail through the center of view.  To the left in the trees is Goose Creek.

Section of Goose Creek Canal

At the mill site the canal intersected the “California Road” where a bridge stood before the war.  Confederate sympathizers burned the bridge early in 1862 (likely about the time Federal forces occupied Leesburg).

Surviving "California Road" Bridge Abutment

Because the road worked up a steep grade on the north bank of the creek, a pontoon bridge at this point was impractical.

Road Grade on North Bank

The canal continued about a quarter-mile westward, through the mill works, and rejoined the creek with a guard gate.  At the time of the Civil War a dam, supplying water to the canal and keeping the stretch upstream deep enough for navigation, spanned the creek near that gate.  Today all that remains is a set of rapids.

So considering this section of canal, particularly noting the depth of the canal ditch, I would submit the short pontoon bridge spanning Goose Creek was placed downstream of the canal, very close to the mouth of the creek.  Had the engineers spanned the Goose Creek canal, certainly they would have mentioned such in the reports.  Furthermore, the steep slopes on the northern bank were not attractive to moving the volume of traffic seen with the passing of an entire army.

However, if the bridge over the creek were too close to the main pontoon bridges, crossing traffic would interfere with those heading over the Potomac.  I submit span crossing Goose Creek ran from a point about 100 to 150 yards upstream from the Potomac.

Likely Spot of Goose Creek Pontoon Bridge

The view above was taken from the north bank, looking over a modern day canoe dock.  If pressed, I would say the pontoon bridge over Goose Creek was just upstream from that dock.  The ground on the north bank in that section of the creek is more of a flood plain, without the steep grades further upstream.

North Bank of Goose Creek near its Mouth

Terrain, some man-made features, operational factors, and a bit of common sense must have worked into the decisions made by those engineers at the time of the crossing.   However the ground on either side of the Potomac is much changed since those days when an entire army crossed the river on its way to Pennsylvania.  Golf courses and houses stand where open fields, roads, and boat landings were in 1863.  Save some canal masonry and perhaps a few old trees, little else serves witness to the event.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

One thought on “Bridge Placement at Edwards Ferry – Virginia Side

  1. I just walked Goose Creek this morning and concur with your assessment. The north shore of the creek is steep enough to be called a cliff in some places, except near the present day canoe landing where you’ve placed the bridge.

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