Marching Through Loudoun: June 21, 1863

There was not much marching through Loudoun on June 21, 1863.  With Second Corps closing on Thoroughfare Gap (lead elements reach there on June 20 and the remainder on June 21), Major-General Joseph Hooker had a line of infantry along the Bull Run-Catoctin line.  The arrival of the Second Corps allowed Colonel John B. McIntosh’s cavalry brigade to return back through Aldie Gap to the Cavalry Corps in Loudoun Valley.

The Potomac was Hooker’s right flank, with the Twelfth Corps in Leesburg.  On the left was Brigadier General Albion Howe’s division at Bristoe Station along with patrols from Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry (again, not yet part of the Army of the Potomac… but soon).  In the middle was Fifth Corps, also supporting the Cavalry operations in Loudoun Valley.  The First, Third, and Eleventh Corps remained idle but only a short march away from reinforcing any threatened point.


But for an army on campaign a day off the roads does not translate to a leisurely passing.  There were four important “goings on” that we should consider:

  • The Battle of Upperville – which I’ll discuss in a separate post
  • The completion of the first bridge at Edwards Ferry
  • Security of the fords near Leesburg, and Leesburg itself
  • Intelligence gathering

As mentioned yesterday, in the evening of June 20, Captain Charles Turnbull received orders to build a single pontoon span across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.  There are indications the engineers started the bridging operations that night.  But according to moon observations, the bridge builders had little light to work with.  Rains continued through the night.  And of course Turnbull was short about fifteen boats.  In short, not much could be accomplished.

Edwards Ferry 26 Apr 042
River Lock at Edwards Ferry

The engineers started the operations in earnest at first light.  The river lock downstream from the bridge site allowed the engineers to float canal boats or pontoons out of the canal itself.  Turnbull’s crew completed the bridge by 9:45 a.m. or so.  At 11:45 a.m. he reported:

The bridge has been finished two hours, and reported to General Slocum. Bridge 1,340 feet long.  Please send instructions as to who is to cross.

I interpret that last sentence to mean, “advertize this bridge is open” and not a reference to any specific unit.  Again, the bridge’s intended purpose was to provide a supply line for the Twelfth Corps.

II Corps Trip
General location of the first bridge, on Virginia side

Let us assume that the engineers started work around 7 a.m. that morning.   A three hour build time, completing at nearly 10 a.m., would compare well to bridges laid by the same men along the Rappahannock just under two months earlier.

But Turnbull’s engineers were not the only bridge builders that day.  Further to the south, Brigadier-General James S. Wadsworth, commanding the First Division of the First Corps, camped between Guilford Station and Broad Run.  Wadsworth figured his division, and the rest of the corps, would have to cross Broad Run and Goose Creek at some time.  So he started some bridge building of his own.  I’m not sure of the type, construction, units involved, or exact location (or if he built bridges over both creeks).  Later correspondence referenced a bridge near the crossing of the Leesburg Turnpike, which is a likely fit for Wadsworth’s bridge.

With the Edwards Ferry bridge in place, Major-General Slocum’s position in Leesburg was less isolated.  But he felt the need to improve the defenses.  In the afternoon he wrote to headquarters:

I can use more artillery in the works at this place than I now have.  I think more is necessary for a strong defense.  If some of the reserve could be sent here, it could be moved without delay across the river, or wherever needed.  I think holding of this position secures to us all the fords below us, including Edwards Ferry, and that the place should be held at all hazards.

Slocum’s artillery chief, Lieutenant Edward Muhlenberg, had already posted his four batteries in the forts around Leesburg, “on the west, northeast, and southeast approaches….”

From Leesburg the Twelfth Corps commanded the Virginia approaches to White’s Ford and several fords near the Mouth of the Monocacy.  But the corps lacked any attached cavalry to scout beyond the Clarke’s Gap in the Catoctin.  While the Cavalry Corps was ordered to dispatch a regiment, that would not arrive until later.  For the time being, all Slocum could do is pass along information offered by an escaped slave who said,

… the rebels have a force at Snicker’s Gap, and they are putting up works there.  He saw men digging.  He says Generals Hood, Anderson, and Jones were there.

Later in the day, Slocum passed along the words of a Rebel deserter who claimed Longstreet was also at Snicker’s Gap. Furthermore that the entire Confederate army aimed to move into Maryland.  With benefit of 150 years of hindsight, this last bit of intelligence seems inconsequential.  But roll back in time a bit.  Hooker could not be sure Lee intended to hold the Shenandoah; or repeat the invasion of Maryland from the previous year; or to move further north.  Within just these two dispatches from Slocum, Hooker had two possible versions of reality – Lee is digging in on the Blue Ridge  OR Lee intends to invade Maryland.  And those two dispatches from Slocum were but drops in a bucket of reports arriving at army headquarters (and in Washington) at this time.

Once again, Hooker didn’t find any “lost orders” to help put the picture in focus.  I’d lay the argument the information was at hand, but the analysis was lacking.  Several days would pass before Hooker (or any Federal authority for that matter) gained any great clarity of the situation.

Lastly, more of an administrative note regarding blog posts. I’m planning on a separate post on the Battle of Upperville.  Hopefully this evening, but if not this weekend (better late than never).  I plan on continuing these day-by-day postings on the movement through Loudoun at least up to June 28 (“… and mightily bored you’ll be!”).  At the same time I’ll throw in some “sidebars” that may be of interest, such as the McDowell Map sources post.  Not often as a Civil War bloggers do you get to write “This is what happened outside my front door 150 years ago today,” so I’m going use it for all I can!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 869; Part III, Serial 45, pages 246-9.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Marching Through Loudoun: June 21, 1863

  1. How could you be bored getting this kind of detailed information that shed light to the seldom described effords it takes to move a large army and the problems facing it’s commander in getting detailed information as to what his enemy are doing, so he can do the right thing.
    A very great and interesting series of posts, giving a lot of information of the events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, thank you for that, Craig.

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