The Folwell letters, June 19, 1863: “Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.”

In the previous installment, we followed Captain William W. Folwell as he, Company I of the 50th New York Engineers, and pontoon equipment barged up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on June 18, 1863, heading for Nolan’s Ferry.  At times, Folwell’s narrative seemed dreamy, somewhat distant from the war.  Yet at other parts, the war seemed poised to strike light lightning.  His letter closed with Company I nearing their destination… and expecting rain.  That is where his letter of June 18 picked up:

Monocacy Aqueduct, June 19th, ’63, 10 A.M.

The rain came on and fell in the biggest kind of torrents for three hours.  It, however, ceased as we were closing up on the main body of the train at this place, about 8 o’clock P.M. I got the order to tie up and lie by for the night.  The men spread their blankets on the boats, drank their coffee, and went to sleep.  Several officers got leave to sleep in a house on the tow-path side.  We left the door open, and so slept well till daylight.  The housekeeper made us a good breakfast of our own provisions and gave me some milk in addition.

First point of order here is an explanation of the location.  When departing Georgetown, Folwell’s party was going to Nolan’s Ferry.  But the party stopped instead at the Mouth of the Monocacy… or, well, technically at the Monocacy Aqueduct.  Let me pull up a map from the Sesquicentennial postings in order to put these placenames in perspective.:

PotomacCrossings1A

In the upper right we see were the Monocacy River joins the Potomac.  There were several named (recognizable names, to us Civil War types) in that vicinity.  Several transportation routes, including the canal, converged at that corner of the map.  However, Folwell’s engineers were supposed to proceed roughly two and a half miles up the canal to Nolan’s Ferry.  The pause at the Monocacy was in some part due to White’s raid at Point of Rocks on the night of June 17.  But also factoring here are the vaccinations as Hooker, and staff, tried to sort out the situation.  And that is the stuff I’ve built several blog posts about.

Moving back from the big picture, Folwell’s breakfast must have been a welcome departure from eating over a campfire.

12:15 P.M. Went up the canal with the Major and Capt. Turnbull of the Regulars, to select a point for getting our material into the river.  We have to unload balks, chess, etc., and carry them down to the river, and then haul the boats out on the tow path and drag them down the bank into the water.

Very interesting, and important, assessment of a tactical problem.  The equipment was but a few yards from the river.  But those few yards were the towpath and bottom land next to the river.  Queue up the “easier said than done” cliche.  We will see later the engineers found a better way to unload when actually putting up the bridges at Edwards Ferry a few days later.  But for now, let’s stick with June 18.

This we do when orders rec’d.  Meantime, we are encamping upon a nice piece of ground on the heel path.  Our company wagons have come up, also our horses.  By some ill luck, our own personal baggage has been left behind.  The Quartermaster in order to equalize the load, took this baggage from my company wagon, and put it on to a separate empty wagon, which vehicle has remained in Washington.  Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.  My company desk has all my private company papers in and your picture.

So it is “hurry up and wait” for Folwell.  Though I cannot pin it to a specific instance, the orders received were one of a series of commands and countermands while Hooker and staff sorted things out.  And we know Hooker would continue to change his plans with respect to bridging the Potomac through those late June days.  The next move would take Folwell back down the canal to Edwards Ferry.  And that’s the next installment.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 411-12 (pages 417-8 of scanned copy).)

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2 thoughts on “The Folwell letters, June 19, 1863: “Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.”

  1. Darned auto-correct! “Vaccination” for “vacillation.” “Queue” for “Cue”

    Fascinating stuff, Craig! Keep up the great work! JW

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