White’s Ford Regional Park to open on Monday

Officially, on Monday June 9, Loudoun can boast another Civil War site for the public to visit – White’s Ford Regional Park.   This park has been a while in the makingand making…. and making.  But now it will be open to the public:

Famous Potomac River Crossing Becomes Regional Park

On Monday, June 9, 2014, NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) will officially open and dedicate White’s Ford Regional Park. The beautiful 295-acre property is located on the shores of the Potomac River just north of Leesburg, and will offer visitors a passive recreational experience, highlighted by a trail and water access as well as interpretation of the site’s great historical significance….

The press release goes on to relate the historical significance of the ford site, particularly in regards to the Civil War.  And I’m honored to say I’ll be playing a (small) role in the interpretive markers relating that Civil War activity that will go up at the site sometime in the future.  Beyond just the Civil War, White’s Ford was a river crossing site dating back to ancient times, and its history is much more than men carrying muskets over the Potomac.

The official opening ceremony starts at 10:30 on Monday, June 9.  The location is White’s Ford Regional Park, 43646 Hibler Road, Leesburg, VA 20176.  Directions:  From Leesburg take Rt. 15 North. Turn right on Spinks Ferry Road (Rt. 657). Turn right on Limestone School Road (Rt. 661). Turn left on Hibler Road (Rt. 656) and follow to park.

Marching BACK through Loudoun: Return of the Army of the Potomac

Careful you don’t get whiplash as I shift between theaters. Last month I offered a series of posts detailing the movement of the Army of the Potomac through Loudoun. But let’s not forget the Army of the Potomac came back through Loudoun during the later half of July 1863. My research into that movement is not as thorough, however, as the Edwards Ferry crossings in June. At some point in the future, I’ll resolve that deficiency. But for now, let me call out movements from 150 years ago today (June 17) and mention the bridging operations that facilitated that movement. And just as during the June crossings going north, the bridges were vital to the return going south.

We last discussed the pontoon bridges, the engineers took them up at Edwards Ferry on June 28. About a thousand feet of bridging, from a set not used at Edwards Ferry, followed the Army into Maryland. Orders were to remove the rest of the bridging for refit in Washington. But the bulk of equipment remained at the crossing site until July 4. Damage to the C&O Canal, inflicted during Major-General J.E.B. Stuart’s crossing at Rowser’s Ford, prevented the timely movement.

Brigadier-General Henry Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade, and Army headquarters exchanged frequent messages from July 4 through July 15 about the bridging equipment. At some point I need to offer a detailed analysis of those. But the bottom line is that Benham had repairs to make, lacked transportation, and contended with a turbulent rise of the Potomac. I don’t think the engineers could have laid any pontoon bridges earlier than completed in mid-July.

Between July 15 and morning of July 17, the engineer brigade put in bridges at Harpers Ferry (over both the Potomac and Shenandoah) and at Berlin, Maryland. On July 15, Brigadier-General Gouverneur Warren reported a “bridge over the Potomac will now let troops pass into the Shenandoah Valley.” Engineers built a pontoon bridge and repaired the railroad bridge along with a “wire bridge” at that point. Warren then turned the engineers to build a bridge over the mouth of the Shenandoah River. “We are at it,” Warren related.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ira Spaulding reported one bridge over the Potomac at Berlin was complete on the morning of July 17. The span measured 700 feet. Spaulding complained of damaged material in use that required replacement and repair. Later that day Spaulding built a second bridge there, at about the same place the engineers put in spans the previous fall to facilitate another pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. The map below shows the operational area with key locations highlighted and yellow lines (small yellow lines) for the bridge locations.


Using Harpers Ferry and Berlin afforded the Army two good crossing sites separated sufficiently to reduce congestion, while keeping units close for mutual support.

When the Army of Northern Virginia escaped across the Potomac, Major-General George Meade began shifting the Army of the Potomac to pursue. This pursuit resembled the slower pursuit offered by Major-General George McClellan the previous fall. The infantry corps moved back towards South Mountain on July 15. By July 17, the Third and Fifth Corps camped along the Potomac.

The first movement orders putting the Army’s infantry back in Loudoun came at 2 p.m. on July 17. Major General William French, commanding the Third Corps at that time, received orders to move “by the Harper’s Ferry Bridge, and across the Shenandoah at its mouth, and proceed up the Valley of Sweet Run some 3 or 4 miles, and bivouac for the night.” This was a leisurely move compared to the crossings of June. Orders urged French to bring up supplies, to include replacement equipment for the troops. By 7:40 p.m. French reported going into camp just over a mile from the Shenandoah Bridge.


Although I don’t have particulars, the Fifth Corps moved across the bridges at Berlin around the same time, reaching Lovettsville on the Virginia side. So that night, 150 years ago, two Federal infantry corps were camping in Loudoun… again.

And also out that evening were marching orders for July 18. The Third Corps would move out to Hillborough, followed by the Second Corps, which was to cross at Harpers Ferry early that morning. The Twelfth Corps would hold at Harpers Ferry waiting orders to move forward.


The Fifth Corps would advance from Lovettsville out to the Waterford-Hillsborough Road (the old Vestal’s Gap Road if you are following here). The First Corps received orders to cross at Berlin and march to Waterford. The Reserve Artillery would cross after the First Corps, but then fall in behind the Fifth Corps. Headquarters relocated to Lovettsville. Both Eleventh and Sixth Corps would hold at Berlin waiting instructions to cross. Lastly, the tired cavalry troopers would cover the crossing on the Maryland side.

The only major deviation to these orders came mid-day on July 18. Brigadier-General John Buford’s cavalry division slipped into line in front of the Eleventh Corps and crossed that afternoon at Berlin. Otherwise, the army spent a relatively uneventful day marching. The remainder of the Army crossed the Potomac on July 19. The Army of the Potomac stayed much shorter on this visit to Loudoun. By July 24 all of the major combat elements moved south and cleared out of the county.

Three days to cross in June. Three days to cross back in July. And some of the bloodiest fighting ever seen in between.

Marching Through Loudoun: June 28, 1863

As the morning broke over Loudoun County on June 28, 1863, not only had the Army of the Potomac completed its passing, but also the Army of Northern Virginia… of course save some Confederate cavalry posted on the Blue Ridge and what stragglers remained from the long marches.

The engineers completed the task of pulling up the bridges at Edwards Ferry that morning.


Orders from army headquarters had the “land pontoon,” that Brigadier-General Henry Benham mentioned the previous day, moving up to Frederick and following the Fifth Corps on the line of march. The remainder of the bridging, at Benham’s suggestion, was supposed to move down the C&O Canal to the Navy Yard for repairs. But there was a problem with that plan – Stuart had damaged the canal at Lock No. 23. So for the time being a lot of equipment lay at Edwards Ferry.

That bridging equipment laying at the crossing site was a resource the army might need on short notice, should fortunes turn. So it had to be secured. At 2 p.m., Major-General Henry Halleck, in Washington, asked Major-General George Meade about Edwards Ferry:

It is reported here that the supplies at Edwards Ferry and returning by the canal are left unprotected. If so, Lee’s cavalry will probably destroy them. It is reported that Lowell’s battalion of cavalry, left at Poolesville, was sent to Sandy Hook, contrary to my orders. If so, there is not a cavalry picket on the line of the Potomac below Edwards Ferry, and we have none here to send out.

Meade replied promptly indicating he’d directed Lowell back to Poolesville. It would be several days, July 4 according to a report from Benham, before the equipment was in Washington.

That closes my sesquicentennial coverage of the march of the Army of the Potomac through Loudoun and the crossing at Edwards Ferry. I could probably offer up a dozen more long winded posts about particular aspects of those two subjects, which I’ll save for “slow” blogging days where I need a filler. But for now let me revisit some of the conclusions I offered up a few years ago with respect to Edwards Ferry:

Hooker anticipated major fighting in Loudoun prior to June 24, and prepared to meet Lee. Three infantry corps fronted the Bull Run and Catoctin Mountains, with three more within immediate supporting distance.

First bridge at Edwards Ferry supported supply route. Such alleviated the pressure on the road network through Loudoun. This also lends the argument Hooker didn’t anticipate moving into Maryland, in force, prior to June 24.

The road network brought the army to Leesburg. One or more of the river crossing sites around Leesburg had to be used when the army moved across the Potomac.

Hooker wanted second bridge at Monocacy on June 24. But, with the report of Confederate activity west of Leesburg, he opted to co-locate the second bridge at Edwards Ferry. A well planned river crossing for an army like that Hooker commanded should have at least two lines, within mutual supporting range but not so close as to cause traffic problems. I’d submit Hooker’s hand was forced by those false reports. (And I’ll admit, there are no primary “a-ha!” sources stating such exactly. My presumption is based on the timeline more than anything else.)

Confusion over movement and bridge placement cut into time line. At least half a day on June 25 is lost due to these issues. Double bridge placement added to congestion. I’d offer no set figure of time lost. But with Hancock, Crawford, and others reporting wagons from the preceding corps still crossing at Edwards Ferry, even on the last day of the crossing the trains were still tangled up.

Improper positioning of cavalry allowed Stuart to cross the Potomac. We can “armchair general” this all day. But lets also consider the cavalry was stretched thin with the requirement to cover the movement across the Potomac.

Edwards Ferry crossing enabled success at Gettysburg. I think that part is somewhat self evident. Given that Hooker’s “strike for his line of retreat” was never really an option, the Army of the Potomac had to move into Maryland and eventually Pennsylvania. A crossing point upstream of Edwards Ferry was not practical for several reasons, namely security. A crossing point downstream was not practical due to poor access points and the width of the river. And of course a march into Washington and back out to Maryland would add several days to the movement. By that time, Lee’s infantry might be past the Susquehanna. As it was, the speed at which the Army of the Potomac was able to move up during that last week of June took a little initiative away from Lee, forcing him to concentrate the far flung Army of Northern Virginia. The events of June 25-27 lead to the events on July 1-3.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 63.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 27, 1863

In contrast to previous days, June 27th was a relatively orderly crossing at Edwards Ferry. While serious command issues rose and came to a sharp conclusion, the troops kept crossing the river. At least through the morning, Major-General Winfield S. Hancock remained in the Edwards Ferry vicinity, tracking movements.

First in the line of march on this morning 150 years ago was Brigadier-General Crawford’s Pennsylvania Reserves. He reported the command was on the bridges by 9:25 a.m. “I will join General Meade to-night. Sedgwick left Dranesville this morning. Road is encumbered by trains of Third Corps.”

Around the same time, Brigadier-General John Buford’s division crossed at Edwards Ferry, NOT the Mouth of the Monocacy as ordered the previous day. Here is one of those gaps of information that I’d love to resolve. Were the previous day’s orders countermanded? Apparently so, as Assistant Adjutant-General A.J. Alexander reported Buford’s movement. But I’d love to see the full conversation and what prompted the change.

Around mid-day, Hancock reported on the progress as he returned from Edwards Ferry:

General Sedgwick and part of his command have arrived and the trains are rapidly crossing. The supply train of the Fifth Corps and General Crawford’s trains are in advance. General Crawford’s troops have crossed. The artillery are well out on the road I came.

Around 1 p.m., headquarters inquired, via telegram, as to the state of the crossing. The response came at 8:35 that evening, from Brigadier-General Henry Benham, who at last had moved up from Washington:

I have been here awaiting the passage and taking up of the bridges since 11 a.m. During this time the cavalry supply train and about two-thirds of the Sixth Corps have crossed on lower bridge. Vermont Brigade and Wright’s division are now to cross on upper bridge. The First Division of cavalry have passed, and there is now passing the First Brigade of General Gregg’s division. It is now almost entirely across. I understood that this cavalry division was to be the last to cross.

So as the sunlight faded on June 27th, the last parts of the Army of the Potomac had left Virginia. Brigadier-General David M. Gregg brought the rear guard across, and the Army of the Potomac left Loudoun County. The only action left, with respect to activity in Loudoun, was to pull up the bridges.


(UPDATE: Minor change to the map today.  Gregg’s cavalry division “took over the picket line” from Buford’s on June 26.  I interpret that to mean Gregg stayed in the vicinity of Aldie until the morning of June 27.  Gregg arrived in Leesburg around 1 p.m. that day.)

In his report, Benham added his concerns about pulling up the bridges in a timely manner. No doubt that sat well among the headquarters staff with whom he’d argued with over the last several days. Benham had a “land pontoon” train, with under 1,000 feet of bridging, ready to move from Poolesville. He planned to move remainder of bridging, that pulled out at Edwards Ferry, back to Washington by way of the C&O Canal. Some components of the bridges were out of the water by midnight (taking advantage of 83% moon illumination that particular night). But most of the work would wait for the following morning. Somewhat anti-climatic, but the great crossing was over.

One other Loudoun County crossing occurred, starting that evening and completing in the early hours of June 28. Major-General J.E.B. Stuart with three brigades of cavalry reappeared earlier on June 27 after taking a wide route around the marching Federal infantry. The Confederate troopers fought a brief engagement at Fairfax Courthouse. After a rest, the column moved to Dranesville where they found Sixth Corps campfires still warm and captured a few stragglers. But Stuart had orders to join with Lieutenant-General Richard Ewell somewhere in Pennsylvania. To get there, he needed a safe crossing of the Potomac. And good fortune smiled on Stuart that evening. Rowser’s Ford, which depending on where you stand is on the extreme eastern tip of Loudoun County, was free of Federal pickets, according to a civilian who met Brigadier-General Wade Hampton. Although the river was higher than usual from the rains.

Hampton’s brigade crossed early in the night, but reported to me that it would be utterly impossible to cross artillery at that ford…. A ford lower down was examined, and found quite as impracticable from quicksand, rocks, and rugged banks. I, however, determined not to give it up without a trial, and before 12 o’clock that night, in spite of the difficulties, to all appearances insuperable, indomitable energy and resolute determination triumphed; every piece was brought safely over, and the entire command in bivouac on Maryland soil.

In all actuality, the crossing likely continued well into the early morning. But Stuart was across the Potomac, although a little late.

While Stuart crossed, on the other side of Maryland, Major-General George Meade received word he was the next commander of the Army of the Potomac. Exit Major-General Joseph Hooker.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part II, Serial 44, page 693; Part III, Serial 45, pages 353 and 354.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 25, 1863

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.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 23, 1863

June 23, 1863 was another day with no major troop movements in Loudoun County.  At this time five infantry corps and the cavalry corps camped across Loudoun. The remainder of the Army of the Potomac sat just across the county line in Fairfax and Prince William Counties.  For all the potential energy, the army lacked a fixed target.  Major-General Joseph Hooker needed to know what his opposite number, General Robert E. Lee, was up to.  Five days worth of cavalry contests in Loudoun Valley failed to reveal that information.  At the same time, this fellow was also busy trying to find the desired information:

Colonel George H. Sharpe

Colonel George H. Sharpe, Hooker’s intelligence chief, pulled reports from a network of spies and scouts.  Early on June 23, he provided an assessment to his boss:

…The line of the enemy’s infantry begins between Piedmont and Rectortown, and runs thence toward Front Royal, where there is considerable force. Divisions of Pickett and Hood lying in rear of Snicker’s Gap, in position to defend it. Three companies of infantry at Millwood, opposite Ashby’s Gap, and the rest of Longstreet’s corps between Front Royal and Winchester.

As regards the enemy’s movements, they heard that Ewell was establishing a line, so as to draw stores from Maryland and Pennsylvania. Learned from a Confederate soldier, disabled in a house, that A. P. Hill was also in the Valley.

How accurate was this report?  The day before, Lee called for Lieutenant-General Richard Ewell to move his corps into Pennsylvania by way of Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg.  The front edge of Ewell’s command had already drawn first blood in Pennsylvania.  The other two corps of the Army of Northern Virginia were around Berryville, Virginia, just over the Blue Ridge from Loudoun County.  Cavalry fighting over the previous days had given Lee some pause, prompting him to push Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ division at Ashby’s Gap. In short, Sharpe correctly identified the locations of major commands, though the mention of infantry east of the Blue Ridge was incorrect.  Likewise Sharpe’s assessment of Lee’s intentions were a mixed bag, in so much that Lieutenant-General James Longstreet was not settling to defend the Blue Ridge.

Throughout June 23, observers on Maryland Heights over looking Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (yes, as of June 20) and Shepherdstown, Maryland, reported significant movement of troops and wagon trains heading north. A growing preponderance of information weighed upon the desks at army headquarters.

Keep in mind the discipline of military intelligence is not just concerned about enemy activity, but also includes information about civilian activity, weather, terrain, route (not just road) conditions, and other subjects.  With respect to terrain and route conditions, Hooker’s headquarters also needed to know about the fords of the Potomac.  Early on the 23rd, inquiries went to Major-General Henry Slocum in regard to several potential river crossing sites.  Let me highlight those using one of the Confederate maps (as they seemed to know the fords better!).  Here’s the section upstream of Edwards Ferry:


And here’s the fords downstream of Edwards Ferry to the Loudoun County line:


Slocum reported that Nolan’s Ford was “impracticable” while “White’s Ford, 3 miles above Edwards Ferry, is the best ford in this vicinity.”  Hooker asked again as to the status of fords around mid-day, expanding the scope a bit.  Slocum must have sent out patrols to investigate, as his response came back at midnight:

Chick’s Ford is 1 mile below Noland’s. It is practicable for cavalry and infantry, but not for artillery or trains. White’s Ford is about the same; the bottom is rough. Seneca Ford, 2 miles below Goose Creek, is said to be good. I will send an officer to it early to-morrow. The approaches to all these fords are good. My wagon train is parked near the bridge at Edwards Ferry, and can be run across without delay.

Seneca Ford, I believe, is a reference to Youngs Island Ford.  So with some solid information in hand, Hooker started some movement.  If the army had to cross the Potomac, it would need more than one pontoon bridge.  The previous day, the Engineer Brigade received orders to move components for another bridge to the area, via the C&O Canal.  By mid-day seventy-two pontoons were heading upstream along with other associated materials to build 1,200 feet of bridge (another 200 feet of bridging was at Edwards Ferry).  The orders alluded to bridge placement at the Mouth of the Monocacy.

Hooker also ordered General Henry W. Benham forward, with his whole command, to supervise the construction of this second bridge.  To this Benham fired back:

I do not distinctly understand what is desired by the last telegram, just received, directing me to report with my command ready for the field at the Monocacy.

Nearly all the regulars are at Edwards Ferry. Nearly 360 of the Fiftieth Regiment are there, on the way to the Monocacy, for which place the bridge has gone. Besides the men in the workshops here, I have but little over 200 effective men of the Fiftieth Regiment here to aid in repairing the large number of pontoons now here, out of order, and the 360 three-years’ men of the Fifteenth Regiment are almost in mutiny, and unfit for the field at present; only 180 found on duty at inspection to-day.

Shall I take the 200 men of the Fiftieth and the teams and empty pontoon trucks to the Monocacy, or leave the teams and trucks here, to draw the pontoons now here, when repaired?

I think it very important to have the trains repaired as soon as possible, and it needs the whole force now here to do it speedily. Please let me know where headquarters are.

From Benham’s point of view, there was no love for the engineers. (I’ve depicted the Engineer Brigade, minus, on the map below.)

Hooker also started moving combat formations.  Having returned from the reconnaissance of Fauquier County and points across Prince William County, Major-General Julius Stahel’s division received orders returning to Fairfax Courthouse.  Hooker needed the cavalry force to cover a different sector, so those troopers would get little rest.


Another move made on June 23 involved little marching but a lot of subterfuge at the command level.  Major-General Winfield S. Hancock had some issues with date of rank among his division commanders.  Major-General William French had the edge, and Hancock was fine with his presence, but the two major-generals had the same date of rank.  With plans to consolidate the corps into two divisions, Hancock had two brigadiers – John Gibbon and John Caldwell – who might command the second division.  Hancock preferred Gibbon, but Caldwell had seniority.  Hooker, on the other hand, needed a capable officer at Harpers Ferry who had sympathy to his demands.  The solution for these conundrums was to put French in command at Harpers Ferry.  So on this day French received orders to move to his new command… a beleaguered command that it was.   The brigade at Poolesville, Maryland would move with French to Maryland Heights.

“Blinky”… er… William French

The third order for movement on June 23 to consider moved Captain Samuel McKee’s detachment of US Regulars Cavalry (1st Cavalry if my notes are correct) from the Mouth of the Monocacy to Aldie, crossing “at Chick’s ford, if practicable.”  Cavalry Chief, Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton, needed these troopers to replace Reserve Brigade losses incurred at Upperville.  However this move left significant portions of the Maryland river bank unguarded.

Saving the most important for last, late in the day Major-General Oliver O. Howard received this notice:

March your corps to Harper’s Ferry, via Edwards.  Make the march in two days.

The coiled spring was about to be released.  But not before a lot of countermanding and counter-countermanding.  That story tomorrow!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 266-7 and 271-3.)

Roads to Gettysburg – Marching through Loudoun

I mentioned these events earlier, but let me post a reminder today:

Roads to Gettysburg – The Army of the Potomac Marching through Loudoun

During the last week of June 1863, most of the Federal Army of the Potomac crossed through Loudoun County marching north in pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  To leave Loudoun for Maryland, the Federals built a set of bridges over the Potomac River at the mouth of Goose Creek.  The crossing is considered one of the greatest in American history.   Most of the troops which would fight days later at Gettysburg Pennsylvania marched over those bridges.  In observance of this event, the Loudoun Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee presents a series of programs highlighting the passage of the army.

June 22:  “Marching through Loudoun” – car caravan tour of the routes used by the lead Federal troops marching towards Edwards Ferry.    The tour starts at Claude Moore Park, in Sterling, at 9 am and conclude around noon in Ashburn.  The tour will feature several sites related to the march of the First and Eleventh Corps.

June 26:  Dedication of the new Edwards Ferry Civil War Trails Marker, 7 pm, at Kephart Bridge Landing at Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park (43942 Riverpoint Drive, in Lansdowne).  After the dedication, local historians will lead a tour to the bridge sites. The tour’s timing is 150 years to the hour of the crossing of General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps.  Tour will conclude by 9 pm. Dress for a moderately paced hike.  Bring water and insect repellant.

June 29: “Bridges to Gettysburg” – a walking tour of the Edwards Ferry crossing site.  Meet at the Kephart Mill site (43942 Riverpoint Drive, in Lansdowne) at 9 AM.  A one mile hike to the bridge sites, with several stops along the way to consider Goose Creek Canal and structures located in Elizabeth Mills Riverfront park.  The tour will conclude by noon.  Dress for hiking.  Bring water, insect repellant, and sunscreen.

II Corps Trip

I’ll be leading these tours, so feel free to contact me (via comments here or by email – caswain01@gmail.com) if you have any questions.