Marching Through Loudoun: June 22, 1863

After all the fighting on June 21, 1863, and with no marching orders, would the Army of the Potomac have a relaxing, uneventful day?  Not with this fellow around.

Raiding supply lines and disrupting communication was Major John S. Mosby business.  By June 1863 he was already the most prominent Confederate partisan ranger.  And the Federals would sleep much better if he were put out of business.  Major-General George Meade, commanding the Fifth Corps, attempted just that on this day (June 22) in 1863.  From correspondence from Meade to General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the nearby Eleventh Corps:

I came near catching our friend Mosby this morning. I had reliable intelligence of his expected passing a place about 4 miles from here at sunrise. I sent 40 mounted men (all I have) and 100 infantry, who succeeded in posting themselves in ambush at the designated spot. Sure enough, Mr. Mosby, together with 30 of his followers, made their appearance about sunrise, but, I regret to say, their exit also, from what I can learn, through the fault both of foot and horse. It appears Mosby saw the cavalry, and immediately charged them. They ran (that is, my horses) toward the infantry, posted behind a fence. The infantry, instead of rising and deliberately delivering their fire, fired lying on the ground; did not hit a rebel, who immediately scattered and dispersed, and thus the prettiest chance in the world to dispose of Mr. Mosby was lost.

The troops Meade used were from the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry and 14th U.S. Infantry.  The location was Ewell’s Chapel, as Meade indicated, about four miles south of Aldie.  One man killed in the action, Sergeant Martin Aumiller, may still remain at the chapel site, in an umarked grave.

EwellsChapel_June23 002
Site of Ewell’s Chapel

This sensitivity to the operations of Mosby underscores another issue facing the Army of the Potomac while operating in Loudoun and surrounding counties.  The only rail line remaining in the area, the Orange & Alexandria, ran to the southwest.  So the army needed clear, secure roads for supply routes.  In the operational area I’m considering for these posts, there were three turnpikes the army could draw upon – The Warrenton Turnpike, The Little River Turnpike (which became the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike past Aldie), and the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike.  I’ve added them in gold for today’s map, along with the general location of Ewell’s Chapell for reference.


I’ve also included the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal for good measure, as that was Major-General Henry Slocum’s preferred supply line.  As you can tell from the map, just looking at eastern Loudoun County, there were a lot of side roads to patrol and many potential ambush sites to clear.

The wide area the Army of the Potomac occupied also strained communication.  On the letter to Howard, Meade added “- I don’t know what we are going to do.  I have had no communications from headquarters for three days.”  Consider Meade commanded an infantry corps on the front line at a critical sector. Some of his troops fought in Loudoun Valley.  And he had received no communications.  (Although I’d point out Meade had received instructions to support the Cavalry a few days earlier, though indirectly.)

However, the army headquarters was communicating instructions to the engineers at Edwards Ferry.  Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield asked if Captain Charles Turnbull could put a bridge over Goose Creek near its mouth.  Butterfield also inquired about blazing a road from the pontoon bridge to the camps of Howard’s Eleventh Corps.  The bridge and road were logical additions to allow Howard, at a rather remote location, to draw supplies from across the Potomac.  The additions would also allow for rapid movement of that corps should Hooker decide to move across the Potomac, which was a growing possibility on June 22.  Butterfield also noted that “General Wadsworth is bridging Goose Creek near the pike,” but was not specific to the location or construction.  I’ve placed a small blue line on the map with my guess Wadsworth’s bridge was at the site of the turnpike bridge.

For June 22, the Itinerary of the Army of the Potomac was short: The Cavalry Corps and Barnes’ (First) division, of the Fifth Corps, returned from Upperville to Aldie.  Stahel’s cavalry division moved from Buckland Mills, via New Baltimore, to Warrenton.  The Army of the Potomac was like a coiled spring.  Waiting.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Part III, Serial 45, pages 255-6.)

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