The Folwell letters, June 24, 1863: Waiting on orders and hoping for mail

If pressed to put a label on June 24, 1863, from the perspective of the Army of the Potomac, I’d have to say “hesitations.”  Such would allude the posture at army headquarters as Major-General Joseph Hooker deliberated about how to apply his force to a ever changing situation.  A cloud lay over his situational awareness.

I detailed the situation, and lack of appreciation thereof, back in the sesquicentennial.  Tactically the most important movement of the day was the Eleventh Corps marching to Edwards Ferry.  However, the Engineers suffered as headquarters issued orders, only to countermand and issue new orders later in the day.   Here’s the summary of the brigade’s dispositions at the start of the day, from that sesqui post:

[Brigadier-General Henry Benham] … had 300 engineers of the Regular battalion at Edwards Ferry.  Another 360 of the 15th New York Engineers were at the Monocacy, waiting bridging equipment.  At the Washington Navy Yard, he held 135 men to repair equipment brought up from the Rappahannock and 250 more of the 50th New York Engineers.  Benham wanted to remain in Washington, with those 385 men, to supervise the repairs, which he estimated would take a week.  Headquarters agreed to continue the repairs, but still ordered Benham to the field at Edwards Ferry.

So in the morning the intent was to have a bridge near the Mouth of the Monocacy to complement the one at Edwards Ferry.  The bridge at Edwards Ferry was already heavily used, with supply trains going across to Virginia (so much that replacement parts were requested).  So it would reason a second bridge might be needed as supply needs increased.  Indeed, sage wisdom from many grey-haired logisticians says an army in the field should have a minimum of two supply lines.

But before we label this planned bridge at the Monocacy as “supply line #2”, consider the proposed location.  Such would be on Loudoun County’s “Lost Corner” where the Potomac bends out at an exposed angle.  The Virginia side of the crossing was exposed to attack from the west, over Catoctin Ridge.  Furthermore, the location is but 5-6 miles downstream from Point of Rocks, where Confederates had just raided.  So, my conjecture is that if a bridge was needed for a second supply line, then it would have been downstream of Edwards Ferry (say… Young’s Island or the Seneca Creek area… either of which brings up other “what if?” inquiries).   And thus the proposed Monocacy Bridge was instead intended for troop movements.

All this said, and speculated, the bridge at the Monocacy was not to be.  By the end of the day, the engineers then at the Monocacy and those transiting to that position were instead ordered to concentrate at Edwards Ferry.  I think (again, my speculation) that reports from Major-General Henry Slocum, then in Leesburg, about Confederate movements about Snicker’s Gap caused Hooker to reconsider the bridge.

In the middle of all this changing situation sat Captain William Folwell and Company I, 50th New York Engineers, minding their bridge at Edwards Ferry.  And Folwell’s entry for the day was short… perhaps better said… abrupt:

Edwards Ferry, June 24th, ’63.

Lt. [John] Davidson of Co. H. came up yesterday in charge of animals and returns today.  Strange enough Chaplain did not send our mail.  However, we have so far opportunity to send off the letters we write.  Yesterday afternoon, we moved camp across the canal on to a fine place of sloping ground. My tent stands on a spot from which there is one of the most charming prospects imaginable. The winding of the river, the wooded shores backed by green fields of grain and grass, the bridges and the people on them altogether form a very beautiful scene. I presume I shall have to leave it soon, for we have a telegram announcing that another company is on the way with 1000 ft. of Bridge, which is to be laid at Monocacy.  Probably Co. I will be ordered to assist.  It is a little hard on us who are here that they will not think enough of us at Washington to send us our mail while they are living in high style.  Some of the officers having sent for their wives.  Yes, we are to move up to Monocacy tonight.  I hope Co. A. Capt. [George W.] Ford will arrive with the boats, 1400 ft. of Bridge material will be sent.  Here’s Davidson.  Off –

On a personal side, what stands out is this discussion of the mail.  The Chaplain mentioned would be Edward C. Pritchett, who served the regiment through most of the war.  And shame on those “rear area” officers who were “living in high style” back in Washington!

We also see the bridge at Monocacy as an anticipated task.  We sense the “coiling of the spring” as Folwell prepared to support that endeavor.  I don’t quite know what to presume from the cut off at the end of this entry.  I’ve presented it here precisely as it appears in the type-written transcription.  Is that to say “we are off!” Or is that the first word of a new sentence cut off?

The next entry picks up on June 25th at 7 A.M.  A day and time which we know, from the historical record, was perhaps the most difficult of the campaign for the engineers.  We’ll pick up Folwell’s account there.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 417 (pages 423 of scanned copy))

 

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