Captain William Folwell provided two entries for June 25, 1863. The first was early in the morning, and apparently written as an addition to the June 24th letter:
June 25th, 7 A.M. Lt. [John] Davidson brought this letter back to me, having met his Co. on the way up. We are to lay the other Bridge here and not at Monocacy. The reserve artillery crossed here last night, and the 11th Corps is coming now. All bound for Harper’s Ferry, they say. Must get breakfast now and then to work. We expect mail today.
Brief, but alluding to a couple of points in the larger story of the crossing at Edwards Ferry. And June 25th was a busy day at Edwards Ferry, to say the least.
Let us focus on what occurred between midnight and 7 a.m. on that day:
- Sometime after midnight: Major-General Oliver O. Howard, then at the Virginia side of Edwards Ferry, receives orders to cross the Eleventh Corps the following morning.
- 3:45 a.m.: Eleventh Corps breaks camp.
- 5 a.m.: Major E. O. Beers, 15th New York Engineers, arrives at the Maryland side of Edwards Ferry with equipment to lay a second bridge at that point. But the engineers are still unsure as to where the bridge is needed (upstream or downstream of existing bridge?).
- Between 6 and 7 a.m.: Orders issued to most of the Army of the Potomac to move towards Edwards Ferry for crossing. This included the Artillery reserve which was at that time near Fairfax Court House.
And… not until 10 a.m. did a response come down from Army Headquarters providing clarity to the question about bridge placement.
I think, given what we know of the “big picture,” 7 a.m. was an important point on the time line. Troops were beginning to move towards Edwards Ferry… lots of troops. A second bridge was about to go in the water. And all sorts of things would be in motion from that point. But at 7 a.m., things were paused… perhaps stalled… as all these components were breaking the resting inertia. Those orders trickling out of headquarters were the force to break that inertia, setting things in motion.
One unit that was already in motion which I did not mention above was Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry division (not officially at that time, but soon to become the 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps). Stahel’s command returned from their picket lines on June 24 (generally on the Bull Run Mountains, for brevity here). The division was immediately ordered to cross the Potomac and march for Harpers Ferry and support the garrison there. Their assigned line of march was across Young’s Island Ford. But this is where the time line for them gets muddled. Likely, Stahel’s troopers did not reach the ford until the morning of June 25. At which time, they found the ford impassible for the entire column. At most, some of the troopers crossed. But the wagons along with the 9th Michigan Battery, which was assigned to the division, had to cross elsewhere. From dispatches on June 25 and subsequent days, it is clear Stahel’s baggage train didn’t cross with the command (and added to the traffic problems at Edwards Ferry… and to the logistic problems in Maryland). The only real accounting of their crossing comes from Major-General Hooker, indicating “General Stahel crossed the river this morning near Edwards Ferry….” Of course Young’s Island Ford was plenty near Edwards Ferry, so this is not a precise description.
I bring up Stahel’s cavalry here in an attempt to reconcile a discrepancy between Folwell and the dispatches in the Official Records. Small discrepancies in a short passage, but some that need be addressed. We have Folwell’s mention of the Reserve Artillery. There is a mountain of evidence indicating the Reserve Artillery did not arrive at Edwards Ferry until the evening of June 25. The artillery crossed the following day, following the Fifth Corps.
So what was the artillery Folwell mentioned? It is unlikely any of the reserve batteries were detached at that time, as we have no record of such. More likely is that Folwell, having enjoyed a good night’s rest, was simply passing along what came to him in conversation… in other words – rumors. Something with horse teams and wheels crossed that night, but it wasn’t the Reserve Artillery. I would hold out the possibility that some other artillery crossed early in the morning of June 25. The most likely candidate would be the 9th Michigan Battery, assigned to Stahel. And such would confirm my long standing assumption that a substantial element of Stahel’s command actually crossed at Edwards Ferry that morning. But, if I had to bet on this, my money would be on Folwell repeating rumors.
The most important part of this passage, however, is mention of the bridge to be laid. Folwell, writing at 7 a.m., knew a bridge was to be laid. But neither him or any other engineer at Edwards Ferry, at that time, knew where the commander wanted that bridge to be laid. And bridges, once laid, are difficult to move. Sort of a “you only get one shot to get it right” situation, with the entire Army of the Potomac due to arrive on the Virginia side looking for a dry crossing to Maryland. More work for Folwell and the rest of the engineers on June 25. And he would relate that in his second installment for the day, which we will look at next.
(Citations from William Watts Folwell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 417-8 (pages 423-4 of scanned copy))