150 Years Ago: The Battle of Edwards Ferry

Just a footnote to history and overshadowed by the important fighting upstream at Balls Bluff, 150 years ago today Federals and Confederates clashed along Goose Creek at Edwards Ferry.

Union General Charles P. Stone, conducting demonstrations along the Potomac that included the movements to Harrison’s Island and eventually Balls Bluff, moved troops to Edwards Ferry on October 20, 1861.  While fighting raged to the north the next day at Balls Bluff, Stone sent portions of two brigades (Generals Frederick Lander and Willis Gorman) across at Edwards Ferry.  Units deployed included the 7th Michigan, Company K of the 19th Massachusetts, and the 1st Massachusetts (Andrew’s) Sharpshooters of Lander’s Brigade; and the 1st Minnesota, 34th New York, and 2nd New York State Militia (84th New York) of Gorman’s Brigade.  Additional un-brigaded units sent across the river included two howitzers of Battery I, 1st US Artillery under George Woodruff, portions of the 3rd New York Cavalry, and the 16th Indiana and 30th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Edwards Ferry Site1
Upper Crossing Site at Edwards Ferry

Throughout the day on October 21, Confederate commander General Nathan Evans focused on Balls Bluff, paying little attention to Edwards Ferry.  Victory in that sector allowed him to post the 13th Mississippi under Colonel William Barksdale to confront the Federal buildup along Goose Creek.

Edwards Ferry North Side
Site of the Federal Positions Today - River Creek Country Club

Skirmishing continued from the evening of the 21st through to the 22nd.  Around mid-day, Barksdale attempted to flank or probe around the Federal lines using the Kephart Mill Road in an advance.  Federal numbers and Woodruff’s two 12-pdr howitzers blunted the move.  The next day, Stone directed some patrols from Edwards Ferry, but for the most part these were grasps into thin air.  Evans had pulled back content to rest upon the victory of October 21, and avoid another general engagement.  The Federals would likewise withdraw across the Potomac.

All told casualties at Edwards Ferry were minimal – less than five men killed on both sides in the fighting.  But numbering in the wounded was General Lander.  Complications from that wound would take Lander’s life in March 1862.

The fighting at Edwards Ferry is rightfully overshadowed by the more important actions at Balls Bluff.  Perhaps the Army of the Potomac’s crossing at Edwards Ferry in June 1863 is indeed the most significant wartime activity at the site. Linking the events at Edwards Ferry in more than just geographic location, many of the Federal units that participated in the 1861 action would march across the Potomac on the pontoon bridges in 1863 on their way to Gettysburg.  And the 13th Mississippi would stand across the fields from them again on those hot July days.