Monthly Archives: June 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of June 28

For the first week of summer, we had twenty-four new entries in the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database.  These are from sites in Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Here’s the run-down:

– The Wilton Veterans Memorial, Wilton, Connecticut, placed by the American Legion, honors veterans from all wars from the Revolution to Vietnam.

– A state marker in Midville, Georgia (known as Burton during the war) provides an overview of the March to the Sea, and indicates the Seventeenth Corps spent the night of November 30, 1864, along with General Sherman’s headquarters, in Burton.

– 268 Confederates lay in Oak Hill Cemetery, Newnan, Georgia.   The men were patients in nearby Confederate hospitals during the war.

– A memorial in Shelbyville, Indiana notes that 3,261 men from the county served in the war.  The memorial also lists the regiments in which these men served.

Eutaw, in Waldorf, Maryland, was the home of Captain William Dement, commander of the 1st Maryland Artillery Battery, CSA.

– Several entries from Elmira, New York this week.  A large metal marker in town details the Federal muster camp, later transformed into a prison camp.  A monument next to the marker mentions one of the few reminders of the camp still on site – a flagpole.  In Woodlawn National Cemetery, a memorial honors the Confederates who died at the prison and buried in the cemetery.  According to another memorial, the Confederates were not reinterred due to the honorable way they were buried.  The story, which deserves more treatment than the space I have, involves a former slave named John W. Jones.

– Another memorial in Woodlawn Cemetery, at Elmira honors the dead, both Federal and Confederate, from the Shohola Railroad Accident (July 15, 1864), who were reburied in the cemetery.

– A memorial at the county courthouse in Elmira, New York honors the 107th New York Volunteers, which served in both Eastern and Western theaters during the war.

– A forty-foot tall memorial in Antwerp, New York, honors that locality’s veterans.

– A marker in Hattaras, North Carolina notes the loss of the USS Monitor on December 31, 1862 off Cape Hatteras.  The marker also lists other  ships and men lost off the cape during the war.

– Two markers from downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania this week.  One discusses the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad, which brought early tourists to the battlefield.  Another discusses the adjournment of classes at Gettysburg College as the battle started in July 1, 1863 and the subsequent use of the buildings as a hospital.

– In Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania a memorial to the soldiers and sailors from Carbon County mentions five campaigns of the war – Wilderness, Hampton Roads, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Appomattox.

– In Orangeburg, South Carolina a state marker notes the house used by General Sherman on February 12, 1865 during his march through the state.

– A stone marker on the shores of Fort Loudoun Lake, outside Knoxville, Tennessee indicates the birthplace of Admiral David Farragut.

– Confederate Park in Fayetteville, Tennessee features a Confederate Memorial and two 8-inch Rifled Rodman Guns (which were produced as 10-inch smoothbores under wartime contracts).

– A plaque in Richmond, Virginia notes the location of the Second Alabama Hospital.

– A Civil War Trails marker on the Glendale Battlefield, outside Richmond, Virginia, details the charge of the 69th Pennsylvania in the battle.

– The Ridge Baptist Church in Henrico, Virgina served as a hospital during the war.

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Rowsers Ford, Part 2

In the first post on Rowsers Ford, I focused on General J.E.B. Stuart’s crossing on the night of June 27-28, 1863.  Now I turn to discuss what I know of the site’s history and look at the landmarks that can aid with interpretation of the site.

Rowsers Ford Vicinity, McDowell Map

First off, the location of Rowsers Ford had much to do with Seneca Falls.  The river drops between 7 and 10 feet over the span of a mile as it passes over an erosion resistant section of bedrock.  While not as impressive as Great Falls, the rapids at Seneca Falls were an impediment to river traffic.  As mentioned in the first post, the Patowmack Canal Company built a skirting canal on the Virginia side of the river to get boat traffic upstream.  The abutments for the canal still stand at some points along the river bank.

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Abutments of the Potowmack Canal, Virginia Side

When the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal began construction beyond Great Falls in the late 1820s, it built Dam No. 2 at the head of Seneca Falls, taking advantage of the rock as a foundation.  The main section of the dam ran perpendicular to the river flow, but angled downstream near the Maryland shore.  There River Lock No. 2 allowed water to pass into the C&O Canal.

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River Lock No. 2

The river lock fed water to locks down stream from Canal Lock 23, also known as Violettes Lock.

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Canal Lock 23

The company had grand plans to utilize the dam for mill works.  “Rushville” on the Maryland side appears as a cluster of buildings on the McDowell map.   The river lock also drew in traffic from the Virginia side of the river (in a similar arrangement to that at Edwards Ferry).   The only trace of such activity are several old road traces leading down to the Potomac today.

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Trail / Road Trace leading from Seneca Road to Rowsers Ford

Down stream from the locks, and dominating the waterway, is Blockhouse Point.

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Seneca Falls from Blockhouse Point

Overlooking the maze of islands and the rapids of Seneca Falls, Blockhouse Point is named for the guard installations placed there during the Civil War.  The view at that time was perhaps even better, because fewer trees stood along the river.  But as related earlier, the position was unmanned at the time Stuart crossed.   In the view above notice the high ground on the opposite (Virginia) shore.  This prominence stands just downstream of Lowes Island and what is called the Old Channel of Sugarland Run on the McDowell map.   The high ground sits in the way on the Virginia shore where potential crossing points existed.

All of these landmarks – river, hills, falls, dam, canals, and locks – existed at the time of Stuart’s crossing.  And each to some extent can tell us where Stuart did or did not cross.  The location of the high ground on the Virginia side is important in that regard.  As one can see from even a distance, the ground slopes down sharply to the river bottom.   The crossing site, or sites, had to be on either side of that hill.  I’ve annotated the location of the landmarks and added the trace of road traces and foot trails on a Google Earth image below:

Vicinity of Rowsers Ford Today

The key landmarks are noted in red.  To the lower left are parts of the road and trail network on the Virginia side.  Seneca Road ends just above the bottom edge of the map, but a foot trail (indicated in green) continues down the slope and around the hill in question.  A modern access road joins the trail there, traced in blue.  Near that intersection an old road trace leads down to the river (indicated in yellow).   Another trail leads from Seneca Road, down the east slope of the hill, to the Potomac (marked in purple).

Star # 1 is the approximate location of the Potowmack canal abutments seen above.  That is the furthest upstream anyone might have made the first “jump” into the Potomac, assuming the men used an “island hopping” approach.

Star #2 is at the junction of the old skirting canal and the old channel of Sugerland Run. If you follow the road on the McDowell Map as a reference, then Rowsers Ford was here.

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Mouth of Old Channel Sugarland Run and Potowmack Canal

Looking downstream from the same position illustrates the earlier point about the slope of the hill.  Look at the right side of the photo below.

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Downstream on the Potowmack Canal

Clearly horse-drawn artillery would have issues maneuvering around and down that hill.

Stuart’s account does not say specifically that all of the command crossed at a single point, and in fact almost infers that two paths were used – one for the cavalry and one for the artillery.  (Personally I believe all of the command crossed at point #2.)   If indeed the artillery crossed downstream as alluded to, my guess is that point was near that indicated by star #3 on the map above.  Unfortunately, at the time of my last visit the underbrush had grown enough to prevent a good photo of the channel.   (I’ll endeavor to brave the elements in the fall to secure a proper photo!)

Regardless of where the Confederates stepped into the river channel, they had roughly 800 to 1000 yards to traverse.  If the river bottom has not changed significantly in the years since the war, the troopers and gunners contended with rocks, a maze of river channels, and suck-holes.  The river was, as noted both in Stuart’s report and that of the Union forces crossing at Edwards Ferry, high due to recent rains.  But at least Stuart’s troopers benefited from good illumination that night.

You’ll notice I have tagged this post as “Needing a marker.”  Sadly, for all the significance to the Gettysburg Campaign, Rowsers Ford is poorly and confusingly interpreted by historical markers.  One Maryland marker stands along Violettes Lock Road, and in my opinion that is the only properly placed marker.   A Civil War Trails marker titled Rowsers Ford stands at Seneca Aqueduct and Lock Number 24, nearly a mile away, and has confused more than a few visitors.   Worse yet, on the Virginia side, state marker number T-38, titled “Gettysburg Campaign,” stands near the Northern Virginia Community College – Loudoun Campus along Potomac View Road.  According to the marker, Stuart passed by on his way to Gettysburg.  By my estimate, Stuart got no closer than three miles from that marker!

I would hope some day we can have a set of interpretive markers in place along the trails at the end of Seneca Road.

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Rowsers Ford, Part 1

In the winter, after the big snows had melted off, I took a trip, with my friend Jim Lewis out to the site of Rowsers Ford along the Potomac River.  Jim is a valuable partner on these hikes, as he knows the old road traces better than anyone I know of.   And he is not afraid to get down in the weeds, literally, in his quest to find history.   We were in search of landmarks that could help identify the site where Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart cross the Potomac on the night of June 27-28, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign.

The events which brought Stuart to Rowsers Ford are fodder for what is among the hottest topics in the study of the American Civil War – Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg.  After the battles in Loudoun Valley, June 17-21, Stuart received orders to move north in support of the Army of Northern Virginia and its invasion of Pennsylvania.  Fate, situation, and other factors perhaps including personal preference dictated that Stuart would sweep around the rear of the Federal Army of the Potomac, skirting past the Washington defenses.

Allow me to briefly discuss the route that brought Stuart to Rowsers Ford, as the subject deserves more space than I have (and is fully discussed in Chapter 1 of Plenty of Blame to Go Around:  Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi).  After crossing Occoquan Creek at Wolf Run Shoals on the morning of June 27, Stuart continued toward Fairfax Courthouse, sending General Fitzhugh Lee’s Brigade toward Burke Station and Annandale.  Stuart’s main command proceeded up Hunter Mill Road toward Dranesville and the Leesburg Turnpike, reuniting with Lee’s Brigade in the afternoon.

Stuart was practically on the heels of the rear elements of the Federal Sixth Corps, noting evidence of the passing throughout the day’s march.  Somewhat limiting Stuart’s options, that corps was still crossing the Potomac at Edwards Ferry while the Confederate cavalry occupied Dranesville.   The only reasonable crossing site for Stuart was Rowsers Ford, at the mouth of Sugarland Run on the Potomac.  And as fate would have it, the unit designated to guard that particular crossing point, the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, had been redirected due to confusion in command.

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Seneca Road (straight ahead) looking across Georgetown Pike, Route taken by Stuart to Rowsers Ford

Leading Stuart’s column, the Brigade of General Wade Hampton reached the ford but reported the river difficult to ford, being higher than normal due to recent rains.  Stuart’s report leaves the exact location open to some interpretation.  While implying that Hampton’s cavalry crossed at the ford, he mentions a lower ford downstream considered for crossing artillery.  That second ford site he described as “impracticable from quicksand, rocks and rugged banks” in his report of the Gettysburg Campaign.  But he “determined not to give it up without trial, and before 12 o’clock that night, in spite of the difficulties, to all appearances insuperable, indomitable energy and resolute determination triumphed; every piece was brought safely over, and the entire command in bivouac on Maryland soil.”  (OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part II, Serial 44, p. 693)

Every reference to Rowsers Ford indicates it crossed the Potomac  just downstream of Dam No. 2, which provided water for Lock Number 23 (or Violettes Lock) on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal.   Downstream from the dam is a section of river known as Seneca Falls.  While not as impressive as Great Falls, the river drops over a section of exposed rock and around several islands before rounding Blockhouse Point.  The result is an area laced with river channels and small islands.

On the Virginia side of the river, Sugarland Run splits around Lowe’s Island, with the old channel reaching the river just downstream of the dam.  Cut into the banks of the Virginia side, the predecessor of the C&O, the Patowmack Canal Company placed a skirting canal to allow boats to avoid Seneca Falls.  Paring with Blockhouse Point, several ridges on the Virginia side restricted access to the river.  However, an expanse of timber-less bottom land, laced with side channels off the river, covered the area immediately next to the river.

Referencing the wartime “McDowell Map” the vicinity of Rowsers Ford appeared as such:

Rowsers Ford Vicinity, McDowell Map

I’ve added red lettering for key landmarks.  What is today named Seneca Road, following the trace of the road to Rowsers Ford, appears traced in gold.  Dam No. 2 and Locks 23 and 24 are marked in blue.  The possible locations of the different fording points mentioned by Stuart are dashed yellow.   Note the map’s dashed boundary line running from the lower left to the vicinity of the ford at the river.  That is the county line dividing Loudoun and Fairfax County.  Either county can rightfully claim the “ford.”

As mentioned in some other posts, there are some minor issues with water course traces and roads in the McDowell map survey.  The depiction of the island in the middle of Seneca Falls does not match current day maps, nor does it provide any reference to the old Patowmack trace.   And the river channel is not well-defined around Blockhouse Point.  Still there are several key points with which to reference in order to pinpoint the location where Stuart crossed.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll provide some photos of the site and provide my two-cents on the crossing site.

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