Yes, let’s tell that story. It’s time to bring the USCT to the fore.

Yesterday Emmanuel Dabney posted his thoughts about the future of Civil War history, leaving readers with a set of questions about the focus of interpretation:

So what do you think? If you are interpreting USCTs at a museum, historic site, or battlefield, how have you incorporated their stories in your interpretation? If you haven’t, why not?

His questions are direct, and right on target, in my opinion.

Back at the first of January, I had the privilege of speaking along side some of the other Loudoun County historians regarding the Emancipation Proclamation. My assigned task was to relate the military aspects of the proclamation. As you probably gather from my writings, I tend to focus on how things are applied, in the practical sense. So discussed the proclamation as an executive order – how it was applied by the military, and that emancipation was thence tied to success on the battlefield. But I also put emphasis on the oft forgotten section of the proclamation which authorized the USCT. The contribution of the USCT in the war was nothing short of crucial. In the end, their weight tipped the scales in the favor of the men in blue.

Emancipation depended the military… yet at the same time, the military depended on emancipation. The two were welded into a composite instrument by way of the proclamation.

One of the other speakers at the event was Kevin Grigsby, another of our Loudoun historians. Kevin has identified about 250 black men from Loudoun who served in the USCT. They fought on battlefields in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and of course Virginia. You’d think with such widespread service, their stories would be well known and shared. In a recent article run in the Washington Post, Kevin offered his take on why this is not the case:

“I don’t want to say they lived an anonymous life,” he said. “But they just kind of settled back in. There weren’t parades or statues or monuments; they came back as victors.”

“I can’t even imagine what it was like for an African American . . . to have had that moment,” Grigsby said. “In some cases, you went from a slave to a liberator . . . to a protector and then, within so many years, you begin to see that freedom slowly peeled back and you have the rise of Jim Crow.”

“So it’s no wonder that it took all these years later to kind of start discovering, wow, we had a lot of Civil War vets who were African American here,” he added. “You have to remember you are in Virginia, and that story kind of got overlooked.”

That is, to me at least, a good explanation as to why the USCT story was, for lack of a better word, buried. And that us back to Emmanuel’s set of questions.

I’ve mentioned here a time or two, a hallmark of the sesquicentennial, as compared to the centennial, is the diversity of stories… or shall I say broader spectrum of colors. It may be in Cleveland or here in Loudoun, but there is a strong current pushing us to a place with a more complete understanding of the war. We have every opportunity to bring these overlooked and overshadowed stories to the fore.

While no major actions in Loudoun involved USCT, those veterans lay in the county’s cemeteries.

Waterford 055

That is where, in my opinion, we in Loudoun might tell the story of the USCT. The way I see it, the cost of a historical marker is a comparatively small investment considering the return. Particularly in order to speak to a portion of our collective history that deserves to be told in rich, bold colors.


Rappahannock Station Battlefield

Another example of the “good fight” for Civil War battlefield preservation.

At Remington, Virginia a portion of the Rappahannock Station battlefields are within the bounds of a county park.  The Fauquier County Parks and Recreation Department acquired the ground, supported by several groups to include the Piedmont Environmental Council.  A couple of years back, the department sponsored an archeological survey of the ground (summary posted here).

Now a local committee seeks to add interpretation and improve access to the Rappahannock Station battlefield. A presentation from their January meeting is on line.  As stated on the web site:

Fauquier County is in the process of preparing an implementable interpretive park plan and conceptual park site plan for 26 acres of publicly-owned land along the Rappahannock River located within the Rappahannock Station and Rappahannock II core Civil War battlefields. Fauquier County Department of Parks and Recreation and its community partners seek to develop a historically and environmentally sensitive river access plan meeting local recreational needs and cultural tourism goals. The planning process will involve and educate the local community regarding the ecological and historical significance of this site.

The corridor along modern US 15, the focus of “Journey Through Hallowed Ground“, features many historic sites including the scenes of Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg, Brandy Station, and Cedar Mountain.  Adding interpretation to the Rappahannock Station site allows the connection of many threads in the Civil War story – the 2nd Manassas Campaign, Gettysburg Campaign (coming and going!), Army of the Potomac 1863-4 Winter Encampment, and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.  In addition to the bugles and banners, the county park location is adjacent to the setting for one of the war’s most memorable photos.

I applaud the efforts of those involved with the project.  And I look forward to the day I can report about quality interpretive markers on the Rappahannock Station battlefields which orient and educate visitors.

Rowsers Ford, Part 2

In the first post on Rowsers Ford, I focused on General J.E.B. Stuart’s crossing on the night of June 27-28, 1863.  Now I turn to discuss what I know of the site’s history and look at the landmarks that can aid with interpretation of the site.

Rowsers Ford Vicinity, McDowell Map

First off, the location of Rowsers Ford had much to do with Seneca Falls.  The river drops between 7 and 10 feet over the span of a mile as it passes over an erosion resistant section of bedrock.  While not as impressive as Great Falls, the rapids at Seneca Falls were an impediment to river traffic.  As mentioned in the first post, the Patowmack Canal Company built a skirting canal on the Virginia side of the river to get boat traffic upstream.  The abutments for the canal still stand at some points along the river bank.

Rowsers 6 Mar 10 070
Abutments of the Potowmack Canal, Virginia Side

When the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal began construction beyond Great Falls in the late 1820s, it built Dam No. 2 at the head of Seneca Falls, taking advantage of the rock as a foundation.  The main section of the dam ran perpendicular to the river flow, but angled downstream near the Maryland shore.  There River Lock No. 2 allowed water to pass into the C&O Canal.

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River Lock No. 2

The river lock fed water to locks down stream from Canal Lock 23, also known as Violettes Lock.

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Canal Lock 23

The company had grand plans to utilize the dam for mill works.  “Rushville” on the Maryland side appears as a cluster of buildings on the McDowell map.   The river lock also drew in traffic from the Virginia side of the river (in a similar arrangement to that at Edwards Ferry).   The only trace of such activity are several old road traces leading down to the Potomac today.

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Trail / Road Trace leading from Seneca Road to Rowsers Ford

Down stream from the locks, and dominating the waterway, is Blockhouse Point.

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Seneca Falls from Blockhouse Point

Overlooking the maze of islands and the rapids of Seneca Falls, Blockhouse Point is named for the guard installations placed there during the Civil War.  The view at that time was perhaps even better, because fewer trees stood along the river.  But as related earlier, the position was unmanned at the time Stuart crossed.   In the view above notice the high ground on the opposite (Virginia) shore.  This prominence stands just downstream of Lowes Island and what is called the Old Channel of Sugarland Run on the McDowell map.   The high ground sits in the way on the Virginia shore where potential crossing points existed.

All of these landmarks – river, hills, falls, dam, canals, and locks – existed at the time of Stuart’s crossing.  And each to some extent can tell us where Stuart did or did not cross.  The location of the high ground on the Virginia side is important in that regard.  As one can see from even a distance, the ground slopes down sharply to the river bottom.   The crossing site, or sites, had to be on either side of that hill.  I’ve annotated the location of the landmarks and added the trace of road traces and foot trails on a Google Earth image below:

Vicinity of Rowsers Ford Today

The key landmarks are noted in red.  To the lower left are parts of the road and trail network on the Virginia side.  Seneca Road ends just above the bottom edge of the map, but a foot trail (indicated in green) continues down the slope and around the hill in question.  A modern access road joins the trail there, traced in blue.  Near that intersection an old road trace leads down to the river (indicated in yellow).   Another trail leads from Seneca Road, down the east slope of the hill, to the Potomac (marked in purple).

Star # 1 is the approximate location of the Potowmack canal abutments seen above.  That is the furthest upstream anyone might have made the first “jump” into the Potomac, assuming the men used an “island hopping” approach.

Star #2 is at the junction of the old skirting canal and the old channel of Sugerland Run. If you follow the road on the McDowell Map as a reference, then Rowsers Ford was here.

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Mouth of Old Channel Sugarland Run and Potowmack Canal

Looking downstream from the same position illustrates the earlier point about the slope of the hill.  Look at the right side of the photo below.

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Downstream on the Potowmack Canal

Clearly horse-drawn artillery would have issues maneuvering around and down that hill.

Stuart’s account does not say specifically that all of the command crossed at a single point, and in fact almost infers that two paths were used – one for the cavalry and one for the artillery.  (Personally I believe all of the command crossed at point #2.)   If indeed the artillery crossed downstream as alluded to, my guess is that point was near that indicated by star #3 on the map above.  Unfortunately, at the time of my last visit the underbrush had grown enough to prevent a good photo of the channel.   (I’ll endeavor to brave the elements in the fall to secure a proper photo!)

Regardless of where the Confederates stepped into the river channel, they had roughly 800 to 1000 yards to traverse.  If the river bottom has not changed significantly in the years since the war, the troopers and gunners contended with rocks, a maze of river channels, and suck-holes.  The river was, as noted both in Stuart’s report and that of the Union forces crossing at Edwards Ferry, high due to recent rains.  But at least Stuart’s troopers benefited from good illumination that night.

You’ll notice I have tagged this post as “Needing a marker.”  Sadly, for all the significance to the Gettysburg Campaign, Rowsers Ford is poorly and confusingly interpreted by historical markers.  One Maryland marker stands along Violettes Lock Road, and in my opinion that is the only properly placed marker.   A Civil War Trails marker titled Rowsers Ford stands at Seneca Aqueduct and Lock Number 24, nearly a mile away, and has confused more than a few visitors.   Worse yet, on the Virginia side, state marker number T-38, titled “Gettysburg Campaign,” stands near the Northern Virginia Community College – Loudoun Campus along Potomac View Road.  According to the marker, Stuart passed by on his way to Gettysburg.  By my estimate, Stuart got no closer than three miles from that marker!

I would hope some day we can have a set of interpretive markers in place along the trails at the end of Seneca Road.

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Dranesville Developments

Practically every work day, I drive through Dranesville, Virginia.  I’ve discussed the battle fought there in 1861 in a lengthy post.  The cross-roads there were mentioned often in dispatches.  Several skirmishes were fought around that area.  Confederate troops marching to Leesburg, and eventually on to Sharpsburg, Maryland, passed through in September 1862.  The following June, a significant portion of the Army of the Potomac made their way to Edwards Ferry, this time heading for destiny at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.   And General J.E.B. Stuart passed, practically right behind the Federals, on part of his ride around the Union army on the way into Pennsylvania.  There really should be a Gettysburg Campaign marker there.   I have often said a proper Civil War tour of Northern Virginia should include at least a short stop at Dranesville, if for nothing else to consider the wartime road network.

Over the last six months I’ve watched some tree clearing on the north side of Leesburg Pike (Modern Virginia 7).

A new housing development has taken root there.

Workers have started landscaping.

I know, previous development had encroached and suffocated this battlefield years ago.  Practically nothing remained from which to “take in” the field as it must have looked during the war.  Even the terrain elevations were altered by gas stations, strip malls, and public buildings.  Truth be known, we “lost” this battlefield decades ago.

Heck, at the time of the 1861 battle, the wooded area now being cleared was likely open pasture.  So to some degree, we are restoring the original treeline.  But the apartments and other buildings will certainly remove the last undeveloped parcel on the north side of the road, where the Federals stood during that battle.

But I cannot help but think of the other battlefield I often pass on the way to work – Chantilly.  And what might have been.

If we had set aside at least some of the ground.

If we had educated and interpreted more.

If we had countered development with reasonable constraints.

Freedom Hill’s Fort

Trace lines of fortifications appear all around Northern Virginia.  These are reminders of the Civil War and the efforts by both sides (although mostly the Federals) to secure strategically important ground.  Most apparent are the fortifications which secured the approaches to Washington, D.C. extending across parts of Arlington and Fairfax Counties along with the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria.   Beyond that “wall” was a no-mans-land, where partisans raided chased by Federal patrols.  In order to secure vital points, Federals constructed several smaller works.  One of these stood between the towns of Vienna and Lewinsville, within cannon range of the Leesburg Pike.

Freedom Hill is one of several rises between Difficult, Scott’s, and Pimmit Runs.  To the west of the hill, Wolf Trap and Old Court House Runs, both tributaries to Difficult Run, form a series of valleys.  As seen on this cut from the McDowell Map, the hill occupies key terrain commanding the road network.

Freedom Hill Area (from McDowell Map)

The hill is about 500 yards south of the Leesburg Pike (traced in Orange on the map above).  At the time of the Civil War, two roads intersected near the crest.  What was Chain Bridge Road in those days comes up from the southwest from Vienna.  Chain Bridge Road then passed through a couple of turns before continuing to the northeast toward Lewinsville and eventually Chain Bridge near the mouth of Pimmit Run (traced in the map above in yellow).  Heading north out of the intersection was a road (traced in green) intersecting the Leesburg Turnpike, then connecting to the Lewinsville Road.  Johnson Hill Road, from Hunter Mill to the west, also intersected at Freedom Hill (here in blue), eventually connecting to the Leesburg Pike to the east.  (possibly becoming modern McGarity’s Road beyond that point).

A couple of place names stand out on the McDowell map.  First the “Old Courthouse” indicated was the location of the first Fairfax County Courthouse, from colonial times but abandoned in 1752.  Second, “Tyson” indicates the home of William Tyson, postmaster of Beech Grove Peach Grove, and a local Unionist.  John B. Farr, an ardent local secessionist from Dranesville, drove off Tyson in the fall of 1861 (OR, Series II, Volume 2, Serial 115, p. 1290).  Tyson returned later and continued as postmaster.  When that post office closed, the locality was renamed Tyson’s Corner.  Also note the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad (later the Washington & Old Dominion) passing to the south and west of Freedom Hill.

Freedom Hill first appears in the Civil War dispatches with regard to topographical surveys and reconnaissances conducted in October 1861.  Brig. Gen. George McCall dispatched troops to Freedom Hill while covering these activities (OR, Series I, Volume 5, Serial 5, p. 32).  Perhaps then it is fitting to use the McDowell map above, as it was built off the input from those surveys.

The hill became a staging point for numerous patrols into western Fairfax County.  Notably on February 7, 1862, portions of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry used Freedom Hill as a rally point, making a patrol through Vienna, Flint Hill, Fairfax, and Hunter Mill.  The patrol engaged pickets and captured several Confederates.  But Freedom Hill was only used as a temporary base, with all forces returning to Camp Griffin further north along the Chain Bridge Road (OR, Series I, Volume 5, Serial 5, pp. 504-8).   The 5th Pennsylvania made another patrol through Freedom Hill, this time supported by portions the 43rd New York and 6th Maine Infantry Regiments, on February 22.  But again, Freedom Hill was not a permanent base, but rather a staging point (OR, Series I, Volume 5, Serial 5, p. 509).  During the Second Manassas Campaign, no formal base or installation stood at Freedom Hill, but the location was mentioned in several dispatches.

During the spring of 1863, Brig. Gen. Julius Stahel’s Cavalry Division used Freedom Hill while patrolling its assigned sector.  At least one letter from Lt. Col. Russell Alger, of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, indicates the division maintained a detached outpost (see George Custer’s Ascension to Command the Wolverines, by Robert F. O’Neill, Jr., Blue and Gray Magazine, Vol. XXVI, #3, 2009, p. 27).  In August of that year, Col. Charles Lowell, 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, posted 75 troopers at Freedom Hill.  Still no garrison held the Freedom Hill, and no permanent fortifications stood on the site (OR, Series I, Volume 29, Serial 48, p. 68).

However on New Years Day 1865, a couple of troopers from the 13th New York Cavalry ran into a concealed force of thirty Confederates near Freedom Hill.  One of the Federals escaped capture, and spread the word, but patrols failed to capture any of the Confederates (OR, Series I, Volume 46, Serial 96, p. 17).  Perhaps this incident was the last straw, as on January 10 Major General Christopher Augur, commanding the Department of Washington, directed Colonel William Gamble to “establish at Freedom Hill a post to be garrisoned by one company of heavy artillery, to be taken from the present location at Prospect Hill.”  (OR, Series I, Volume 46, Serial 96, p. 92).  Gamble’s First Separate Brigade at that time consisted of the 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, 16th Massachusetts Battery, 202nd Pennsylvania Infantry, 8th Illinois Cavalry, and the 13th and 16th New York Cavalry (OR, Series I, Volume 43, Serial 91, p. 850).

Thus in all likelihood, the 5th Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery built this position:

Remains of the Fortifications on Freedom Hill

Today an artillery position and a few associated mounds stand in Freedom Hill park, along Old Courthouse Road (CR 677).  The layout of the earthwork indicates this to be a field artillery fighting position.  Absent are parapets, ditches, covered ways, or other structures associated with more elaborate fixed fortifications.

Interior of the Works

In profile, the work resembles those seen on battlefields like Gettysburg or Spotsylvania, as opposed to the fortifications in the Washington defenses:

Profile of the Work

The red “stakes” in and around the works are remains of Fairfax County historical markers.  Currently missing, the site is in need of some form of interpretation.

On the McDowell map above, I marked the site of Freedom Hill’s fort with a six-pointed star.  While possible such a star fort stood at the site, that is only speculation on my part.  However, looking to the west, at Vienna, another six-pointed star notes the location of a fortification which does have such a perimeter trace.  Remains of the star fort in Vienna stand on the grounds of the local American Foreign Legion Post.   That fort guarded the railroad line.  But noting the terrain, field contours, and wood lots indicted on the McDowell map, guns from the Vienna fort and Freedom Hill’s fort interlocked across the valley formed by Wolf Trap Run.  A half-dozen Napoleons or rifled guns might seal off any approach from the west.

But today, such a line of sight is a different story.  The ground around Freedom Hill is mixed residential, office complexes, and shopping malls.  Looking from a point about 600 yards west of Freedom Hill near the intersection of Westwood Drive and Old Courthouse Road, this view captures some of the terrain elevations.  The taller trees beyond the turn of the road in the distance are actually those upon Freedom Hill’s southwestern edge.

Freedom Hill from the West

Still one must have a good feel for the geography to even guess at the wartime appearance.

Before closing, I would note that Freedom Hill’s brushes with history did not end with the Civil War.  In the later half of the 20th century, political and business leaders looked for technology centers close to the Capitol, yet distanced to mitigate damage due to some enemy attack.  Given the road structure of the time and many other variables, Tyson’s Crossroads fit that requirement best.  As time progressed, the proliferation of government contractors and government offices brought the need for improved telecommunications support.   Little wonder the first major hub in what we know today as the internet stands on the north side of Freedom Hill (and the MAE-East is not far from there).  If you are interested in that bit of non-Civil War history, which happens to explain a bit about how you came to be reading these words on a computer, it is well documented in Paul Ceruzzi’s Internet Alley:  High Technology in Tyson’s Corner – 1945-2005.

Young’s Island Ford

Preface:  Before advancing too far into the discussion of Young’s Island Ford, I would like to express my thanks to Nancy Anwyll, of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, for her assistance with my research.  I would still be fighting the underbrush along the Potomac without her advice!

Young’s Island Ford is one of several crossing points of the Potomac River in the vicinity of Leesburg, Virginia.  Unfortunately, the placename has long become obsolete and the historical record leaves a less than precise description of the location.  The crossing point was used in two major campaigns, and for countless routine crossings.  While no major combat activity occurred there, this locality is a candidate for an “on the back roads” article or perhaps even an interpretive marker.

Young’s Island Ford was among those evaluated by General Henry Slocum, commanding the Federal XII Corps, during the Gettysburg Campaign (see Edwards Ferry time lines).  In a dispatch to General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, on June 24, 1863, Slocum wrote:

I have all the fords within 10 miles of Edwards Ferry examined.  Young’s Island Ford, 3 miles below Edwards Ferry, is the best one, and can be crossed with trains.  White’s Ford, 2 miles above Edwards, is next in point of practicability, but is very difficult, and I would not dare to attempt crossing a train at night.  The river is quite high. [Note 1]

Slocum’s distance references likely were a bit off.  If he were referring to river distances, Edwards Ferry is near mile 31 on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, while Whites Ford is near mile 39.    So given the deviation offered by Slocum’s figures for White’s Ford, Young’s Island Ford could be anywhere up to 12 miles below Edwards Ferry!  Still within some degree of rational estimation, Young’s Island was downstream from Edwards Ferry and must not have been far from the mouth of Broad Run (on the Virginia Side).  Despite the passage of Stahel’s Cavalry Division at the ford, no other concrete description of the point is offered during the dispatches of the Gettysburg campaign.

A better description of Young’s Island was made by General Horatio Wright, commanding the Federal VI Corps, in July 1864.  In a dispatch to Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Wright updated the status of his pursuit of Confederate General Jubal Early’s command following the July raid on Washington.  Writing from Poolesville, Maryland, he noted:

I have put the force here in motion for Leesburg, crossing at White’s Ford, and have instructed General Ord to move as rapidly as practicable to the same point, crossing at Young’s Island, about one and a half miles below Edwards Ferry…. [Note 2]

Wright, with the mention of the same three crossing points as Slocum, offered a different location for Young’s Island Ford relative to Edwards Ferry.   His movement orders correspond with itineraries from Captain Andrew Cowan’s 1st New York Independent Battery and the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  Cowan reports placing his guns to cover a crossing of the Cavalry at the ford on July 15. [Note 3]  Major William H. Fry of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry reported:

July 15, crossed the Potomac at Young’s Island Ferry. [emphasis mine] Upon rising the crest of the hill we were saluted with a few shells from a battery near the mouth of Goose Creek. Encamped on Young’s Island. [Note 4]

From these three different 1864 citations are several points to consider.  First, the Ford site was closer to Edwards Ferry than described by Slocum.  Second, because Cowan did not mention any engagement, it is likely the mouth of Goose Creek at Edwards Ferry was just out of range of his guns.  My records show Cowan’s Battery was equipped with 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Thus the Maryland side of the crossing point was at least a mile from the Virginia side of Edwards Ferry.  Lastly, Fry indicates the crossing was a ferry site.

Opting Wright’s location as a better figure, and keeping in mind the crossing point may have operated as a ferry, the next source to consult is contemporary maps.  The “McDowell Map” of 1861 does not even indicate the location of Young’s Island, much less a crossing point.  Another map from the period is Jedediah Hotchkiss’ map of Loudoun County, created sometime in the 1860s.

Hotchkiss Map Section
Hotchkiss Map Section

Hotchkiss indicates several islands in the river, but no names or crossing point.

In fact, the only contemporary map which even mentions Young’s Island as a place name are Maps #988 and #989 from a set of U.S. Coastal Survey maps in the University of Alabama collection.  The two map sheets clearly indicate Young’s Island as the largest, and the first, downstream from Edwards Ferry.  Today this island is noted as Selden Island.  Map #988 covers the Potomac River from Whites Ferry to Young’s Ford.  Below is a section of that map showing Edwards Ferry just left of center, and Young’s Island on the right.

White's Ferry to Young's Island
Edward's Ferry to Young's Island

Closer inspection shows a dashed line from the island to the Maryland shore.  A stray mark on the map conveniently points to the line in the center of this cut from the map (look hard it is very faint but dead center):

Close View of the Island
Close View of the Island

The line somewhat reinforces the idea a ferry operated along that section of the river, as alluded to in Major Fry’s report.  Granted, there still could have been two different crossing points (as the case with White’s Ford and White’s Ferry).  But at a minimum the Coastal Survey maps lock down the location of Young’s Island.  Loudoun historian and map-maker Eugene Scheel indicated a more exact location for the ford on his maps of the area, and it correlates to the Coastal Survey map.

Selden Island today is owned by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (part of the Janelia Farm Campus), but is rented out as a sod farm.  In the past it has been the subject of archeological excavations focused on pre-colonial Native American occupations.  But while the island itself is posted today, part of the Potomac Heritage Trail skirts the Virginia side of the Potomac through the area, at least offering a glimpse of potential crossing points.

Not indicated on the Coastal Survey map but drawn on Sheel’s map is a road leading off the Leesburg Turnpike (modern Va. Highway 7) to the Island.  Today that road is gated, but a pull off allows a view of what may be a wartime lane (located here).

Road to Young's Island
Road to Young's Island

The closest trailhead on the Potomac Heritage Trail is on the other end of this road, closer to the Island.  From the Leesburg Turnpike, turn onto Smith Circle (CR 823) and follow that road to Island Avenue and turn left.  After a short distance, turn left again onto Potomac Drive.  At the end of Potomac Drive, park to the side of the turnabout.  At the trail head is an access gate onto the road seen above.


After passing through the gate, the trail turns right and parallels the road.  At the north end of the road is a single span bridge to the Island.  The distance is just under 100 yards.

Bridge to Young's Island
Bridge to Young's Island

The trail passes near the bridge abutments, where what may be an old road bed drops to the river channel.

Possible Crossing Point to the Island
Possible Crossing Point to the Island

I cannot say for sure if this is the actual wartime crossing point to the island without more investigations on the far side.  Since that is off limits presently, I’ll save that story for another day, perhaps.  At some point, to further validate the location of Young’s Island Ford, or Ferry, I will eventually tromp down along the Maryland side looking for old paths or other traces.



  1. Dispatch from Slocum to Hooker, June 24, 1863. OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 45, p. 286.
  2. Dispatch from Wright to Army HQ, 7 a.m., July 14, 1864. OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 70, p. 268.  This same dispatch is repeated on Serial 71, p. 350.
  3. Report of Capt. Andrew Cowan, First New York Battery, of operations July 11-30.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 70, p. 280-1.
  4. Report of Maj. William H. Fry, Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanding Provisional Cavalry Regiment, of operations July 9-23.  OR, Series I, Volume 27, Serial 70, p. 248-250.

More Unison Battlefield News

I’ve mentioned the preservation efforts at Unison, here in Loudoun County a couple of times before.  In the slow pursuit from Antietam in the fall of 1862, Federal and Confederate cavalry clashed in Loudoun Valley in a series of engagements that included Unison.   The site is on my “Needs a marker” list.

Preservation efforts at Unison are again in the news, with an article in yesterday’s Leesburg Today.  Historians working with the Unison Preservation Society are applying to enlarge the boundry of the battlefield historic district.  If approved, the district will extend from Philomont on the Snickersville Turnpike (CR 731) down to U.S. Highway 50 near Upperville.  The proposed change also extends west to Paris and Asby’s Gap.

If approved, this new boundary no only includes sites related to the  1862 fighting, but also parts of the June 1863 cavalry fighting associated with the Gettysburg campaign. The boundary change is not a solid assurance of preservation, however.  Local zoning rules still apply.  But if approved at least additional checks would exist to (hopefully) prevent rampant development, which is the often cited ill of Northern Virginia.

The current district is defined a 2003 application to the Department of the Interior for National Register of Historic Places inclusion.  The application is available on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources site (PDF).  The Unison Preservation Society offers a copy of the National Park Service report on the battle, for a $25 donation, on their web site.