Days ago I wrote that the Army of the Potomac entered Loudoun County on June 17 at the end of a pivot maneuver that oriented the army to the west. On this day (June 25) in 1863 the army began another pivot. This move would not only turn the army to generally face northwest (or north if you wish), but also put the army over the Potomac. The story of that maneuver started on June 25 and ended on July 1. I’ll cover that move through June 28, as it leaves Loudoun.
At midnight June 24, the army retained the “Bull Run-Catoctin” line, but had the Eleventh Corps prepared to move over the Potomac.
The weight of reports coming in from Pennsylvania clarified the situation for Major-General Joseph Hooker. The Army of Northern Virginia was indeed heading into Maryland and Pennsylvania in strength. Instead of a small raid, General Robert E. Lee now mounted a full scale invasion. The great battle of this campaign would not occur south of the Potomac, and the Army of the Potomac had to move north. The line along the Bull Run and Catoctin Mountains was no longer needed.
Just after midnight, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, Eleventh Corps Commander, finally received the orders to cross the river and move into Maryland towards Middletown. Behind this, Hooker put in motion over half of the army and adopted the “wing” arrangement which he’d derided the previous winter. Early in the morning, to Major-General John Reynolds he instructed:
Assume command of the Third and Eleventh Corps, with your own. They are all under orders to cross the river to-day. A brigade of Stahel’s cavalry, with four pieces of artillery, is ordered to report to you. I wish them to seize Crampton’s Pass, and the one through which the National road passes, Turner’s Gap, to-day, to be supported with a brigade of infantry and a battery as soon as they can get up. My advices of last night inform me that the rebels do not hold them. General Stahel should be at Young’s [Island] Ford early this morning. The movements must be rapid, the troops to move in the direction of South Mountain Pass.
Later, at 7 a.m., orders to Major-General Winfield S. Hancock in command of the Second Corps put his command in motion towards Edwards Ferry, but with an intermediate stop at Gum Springs (which the Third Corps left that morning). At the same time, orders put the Reserve Artillery under Brigadier-General Robert Tyler on the road from Fairfax Courthouse towards Edwards Ferry. And shortly after those orders, Hooker passed instructions to Brigadier-General Samuel Crawford to put his division of Pennsylvania Reserves on the road. General Slocum, in Leesburg with the Twelfth Corps would prepare to move.
By day’s end, these movements put three infantry corps and a cavalry division across the Potomac, more or less. The map below depicts those movements (and note that I’ve removed the Engineer Brigade and 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry for simplicity here):
My attempt here to depict the movement of the units, the morning location is shown in gray, with blue lines and arrows showing the general route of march. The blue unit symbols depict the general locations in the evening. Notice the arrival of Crawford’s division (Third Division, Fifth Corps, though not officially as of this time in 1863). That division arrived at Fairfax Station and Vienna on the evening of June 25.
That’s the simple version of the day’s movements, suitable for the large scale studies. In earlier postings, I’ve broken this day’s crossing down incrementally, so please consult those maps for the crossing sequence. But four story-lines emerged during the day to overshadow even the size of this grand movement – bridge placement, congestion, Confederate cavalry, and rains. Let me address each in brief.
As I closed with yesterday, the engineers had orders to place a second bridge at Edwards Ferry. But they had no instructions as to where to place that bridge. The previous evening Captain Charles Turnbull asked headquarters for guidance. At 5 a.m. Major E. O. Beers, who’d arrived with the 15th New York Engineers, also inquired as to where headquarters wanted the bridge. But no answer came. By mid-morning, troops were on the first bridge (which, recall was placed above the mouth of Goose Creek on June 21), but the second bridge, desperately needed to speed the movement, was not in place.
Angrily, army headquarters inquired about the reasons for the delays. At 11 a.m., Turnbull responded, “having receive no instructions, I have put the second bridge on the south side of Goose Creek.” Furthermore, with all the barge traffic on the canal, the bridging equipment arrived late, at around 10 a.m. Turnbull and Beers related that construction had started shortly after the boats arrival and they were working quickly to complete the work. By 2:30 p.m., Beers reported, “The second bridge is completed and in use…. The bridge was put down in three hours. It consists of sixty-five boats.” (Notice the second blue line at Edwards Ferry representing the second bridge.) Shortly after completion, troops were moving on it. Still, from the headquarters perspective, the delay cost some five hours.
Having only to form up the troops and march the short distance to the first bridge, Howard had started crossing his corps at 3:45 a.m. But even with that early start, the Eleventh Corps would not clear Edwards Ferry until well into the afternoon. Even then, straggling wagons interrupted the flow. The traffic problems were due to a number of issues. Certainly the single bridge contributed to the congestion. At the same time, Howard’s corps showed up with an excess of horses (see the remarks about horses from the earlier post). Officers and orderlies leading individual horses slowed the pace of the crossing. And of course, as the quartermaster complained the previous week, the Eleventh Corps had too many wagons.
Adding to this congestion, a portion of Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry division made their crossing at Edwards Ferry. While some of the troopers crossed at the assigned point – Young’s Island Ford – the division trains and at least one brigade crossed at Edwards Ferry. The congestion at the bridge and in Maryland, snared Stahel’s wagons. His division would be short of supplies even as they raced for the South Mountain passes.
Another factor adding to the congestion was the road network on the Maryland side. From the crossing site, most units had to move to Poolesville on a single road. Sending units down the canal towpath relieved some of the congestion. But with mixed results. This issue had no direct solution and would remain a problem for the next few days.
With the Army of the Potomac astride the river, there was ample opportunity for the Confederates to strike and disrupt, if not damage, the Federals. But the Rebels made only one significant appearance during the day. As the Second Corps cleared out of Thoroughfare Gap and Haymarket, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart slipped through nearby Glasscock’s Gap (see the yellow star on the map). After throwing a few shells at the column, Stuart sparred with the Federals. In response, a brigade of Federal cavalrymen rode south from Aldie to escort the infantry. Both sides avoided enlarging the fight and disengaged. While the Federals were slightly delayed, Stuart’s time line was irreparably damaged.
While the Federals marched on June 25, rains began to fall again. The rising river hindered crossing at Young’s Island Ford. It also added mud to the already congested roads. As the Third Corps moved across in the evening, they were directed to use the canal towpath. So on the Maryland shore the corps made a left turn and marched up between the river and canal. Their miserable march continued until the early hours of June 26, ending near the Mouth of the Monocacy.
As June 25 came to a close, Hooker issued orders for continued movement. He would cross the Potomac with everything under his command. Readers should note, the first three infantry corps across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry just happen to be the same three corps which Reynolds moves up to Gettysburg on July 1.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 305-6 and 311.)