The Folwell letters, June 20, 1863: “We make the river 1475 feet wide”

On June 19, 1863, Captain William W. Folwell and Company I, 50th New York Engineers were among a detachment of engineer troops at the Mouth of the Monocacy.  Their original orders had them moving to Nolan’s Ferry with the intention of placing a bridge over the Potomac at that point.  They had even conducted a leaders’ reconnaissance of the site to determine the best way of handling equipment out of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to the river.

But, we know, from the distance of 150 plus years, the Army of the Potomac wasted a lot of paper and telegraph transmissions changing and countermanding orders. The situation was in flux.  And as such, a soldier – particularly an engineer with the task of laying a bridge – went through the cycle of hurry up; wait; start; stop; repeat.  That, more so than pitched battles, was the experience of the soldier.

The next entry in Folwell’s diary/letters is actually transcribed (in the typewritten version on line) as June 26.  I believe that in error, with the correct date being June 20.  But thought I would mention that here in case my assertion is incorrect.  Regardless, we find Folwell at our favorite spot – Edwards Ferry:

Saturday, June [20], 1863.

Here we are at Edwards Ferry, 12 miles below Monocacy where we lay all day yesterday.  It was just dark when the order came for us to get down to this place.  No sooner had we started than the rain began pouring in torrents and continued for some hours.  About midnight it ceased.  We were going all night.  Fortunately, there are only three or four locks on the way, which allowed our men to get some rest.  Towards morning, I spread my blankets and lay down for a nap and took a very good one.

We still wait orders. Majors [Ira] Spaulding and [Wesley] Brainerd go to Washington this A.M. This leaves [Captain Michael H.] McGrath in command.  This grinds me, for I laid Pontoon Bridges before ever McGrath tho’t of getting in to the Regt. I have told the Major what I think, and hope that an arrangement will be made by which I can be relieved. We make the river 1475 feet wide, i.e., 75 bays of Bridge required, 74 boats.  We have only 64 along. The Major is writing a dispatch to Gen. Benham stating the case. What a change of base since last Saturday night when we took up the Bridge over the Rappahannock.  Of the situation, I know nothing.  Have heard no news in several days.  I am getting on better than you would think without my baggage and [my] chest.  It may be days before I see them.  My horse is safe; that is one comfort.

There’s a lot to consider in just two short paragraphs.  Let’s break this down in sequence.

Why were the engineers ordered to Edwards Ferry?  Or more accurately what drove that change?  Well, we can go back to correspondence between Army of the Potomac Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield and Twelfth Corps commander Major-General Henry Slocum. That corps arrived in Leesburg on June 18, becoming the anchor for the army’s right flank as it pivoted to face west.  On the 19th, Butterfield pressed Slocum for, among other things, an assessment of Potomac crossing points.

Late in the evening, Butterfield asked, “What advantages are to be gained by putting a bridge at Edwards Ferry? Are there any reasons why we cannot cross at Noland’s and Hauling Fords?” To which Slocum replied, as if to deflect the subject:

I think the bridge should be built at Edwards Ferry to supply us. I have not force enough to keep the route to Vienna, or to hold many fords on the river in the country filled with guerrillas. Edwards Ferry is most accessible, and is covered by a strong redoubt on this side. Our supplies should be sent from Georgetown, by canal, to Edwards Ferry.

The dialog is important to the storyline.  Not only does this answer the why and what, but gives a glimpse into the situation as understood by the participants at the command level.  As I’ve tread over the commander’s intent at this stage of the campaign in earlier posts, let us focus for now on the intent for the bridges.  Up until at least midnight on the 19th, Butterfield (and by extension Major-General Joseph Hooker in command of the army) was focused on a bridge to move troops.  But Slocum wanted a bridge to shorten, protect his supply line.  Slocum’s reasoning won out by dawn of June 20.  And that, I would submit, tells us a bit about what Hooker had decided was the main course of action he should pursue at that point in time.  In other words – on June 20, the intent was to stay in front of Washington and anticipate battle in Loudoun.  Of course, that would change in a few days.

Moving beyond commander’s intent, we see again the heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets.  I contend that when the Army of the Potomac marched, the weather was always either too hot, or too wet, or a lot of both.  In this particular case, the rains would also have the effect of swelling the Potomac which the engineers would shortly need to bridge.

And to that point, the estimate was 1475 feet, with the particular equipment needed detailed by Folwell.  So let’s back up to June 16 and a report from Brigadier-General G. K. Warren.  While listing the various potential crossing points of the Potomac, assessed for ease of access, capacity, and river width, Warren wrote:

Conrad’s Ferry, near Leesburg, is a good place for a pontoon bridge, requiring 600 feet.  Above Edwards Ferry we can make a pontoon bridge, requiring about 700 feet.  There is here at least an outlet lock from the canal into the river; also a bridge over the canal.

Conrad’s Ferry is today’s White’s Ferry, and crosses upstream of Harrison’s Island and Balls Bluff. And readers should be familiar with Edwards Ferry’s location in relation to Leesburg.  If not, here’s the map again:


But 600 and 700 feet, respectively?  No.  Not even in the middle of a hot, dry summer (which 1863 was not).  Today, the river at Conrad’s/White’s Ferry is 975 feet wide, based on my field notes.  Standing upstream from Goose Creek, the width at Edwards Ferry is 1,260 feet… again today, 150 plus years after the war.  Clearly Warren did not visit these sites in person… or if he did, his manner of estimating distance was faulty.  And this error by Warren would cost the engineers, and by extension the Army of the Potomac, valuable hours.  (Warren, I would offer, was much better at calling for reinforcements to beleaguered sectors of the battlefield than making proper engineering assessments… after all, what does a Chief Engineer get paid for?)

Let us give some allowances here for the river being up due to the rains that Folwell mentioned.  But more importantly, Folwell and team had to add some length to the bridging as they accounted for abutments and other needs – raw crossing distance vs. actual feet of bridging needed.  Still, Warren’s assessment was horribly wrong.  The impact?  The engineers at Edwards Ferry did not have sufficient equipment to do their job.  This became a problem for Spaulding, Brainerd, and… at the top of this all… Benham.

So the estimates were wrong.  Just order up some more pontoons, right?  Well in the first place, Benham was busy refitting, repairing pontoons which had just been used opposite Fredericksburg and at other points in the march north. Furthermore, we have to consider those pontoons as a strategic resource, to be husbanded by Hooker and even further up by Halleck and Lincoln in Washington.

Thus we see a curious exchange of messages between the engineers and headquarters. At 5:20 p.m. Butterfield ordered the engineers to lay a bridge at Edwards Ferry, along with a bridge over Goose Creek.  Responding at 7:20, Captain Charles Turnbull indicated he didn’t have enough pontoons, but would start the work anticipating more equipment from Washington.  But at 9:20, Butterfield inquired about the river widths at other points, adding, “If 1,400 feet, general [Hooker] does not want bridge laid at Edwards Ferry.”

My take on all this – Hooker had a card to play with these pontoons.  He was informed by his top engineer that 1400 feet would give him TWO crossing points.  But when it came time to play the card, he is informed the pontoons would not cover even ONE crossing point!  Granted, the army could get more pontoons.  But that translated into a little “rob Peter to pay Paul” when Hooker’s staff started projecting towards future operations.  Hooker would “pay” for that bridge, but it strained resource more than anticipated.

All of which impacted Folwell’s work.   In addition to the bridging, we see he was concerned about command arrangements.  I don’t have much on McGrath.  He mustered as a first lieutenant in Company F in July 1862.  Then was advanced to captain in October of  the same year (though his rank was only advanced on December 26, 1862, back-dated to October).  He replaced Spaulding in command of Company F.  So there would be some natural inclination from Spaulding toward his former command, perhaps.  But date of rank was more likely the justification. Folwell’s data of rank, to captain, was December 11, 1862.  In the military, with respect to command assignments, date of rank carries more weight than experience.

However, I find much of Folwell’s concern a minor issue, no matter how much it did “grind” him.  The man in charge of the bridging was Turnbull.  He “commanded” the engineers at Edwards Ferry on the evening of June 20.  And it was Turnbull who would give instructions to Folwell.  So as the afternoon turned to dusk and then to night, Folwell’s orders involved placing a bridge at Edwards Ferry.  That’s where we will turn next in this series.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 412-13 (pages 418-9 of scanned copy); OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 149, 208-9, and 229.)

Fortification Friday: “Arrangements Intended for the Comfort and Health of a Garrison”

All well and good to build up a fort, complete with obstacles and defilements for to make the attacker’s job that much harder. Better still to have the interior arrangements for proper placement, and protection, of batteries, with bombproof magazines filled with ammunition at the ready.  And maybe even offer some bombproofs just so the garrison can seek shelter from enemy fire.  But we must remember that for most of the fort’s existence, it will be more “home” for the garrison than defensive structure.

In short, a fort has to be “livable”, otherwise the garrison will go sour.  And by sour, we are referring to failing health and morale.  Disease and malaise have often felled more than bullets and shells.  Writing before the war, Mahan gave only general instructions in his treatise on fortification. But for the post-war instruction, Wheeler set aside a section specifically to discuss what he classified as, “Arrangements Intended for the Comfort and Health of a Garrison.”

Nature of the arrangements. – A garrison compelled to live within an enclosed space like a field work, should be provided with all the arrangements which are necessary for the health and for the comfort of the men, consistent with surrounding circumstances.

The arrangements essential to the health and comfort of the men include those intended to protect them from the weather, to provide for their support, and to supply their necessities.

Necessities?  Yes, we are talking, for the most part, about facilities for personal hygiene, food preparation, and berthing. Hurrah for the Sanitary Commission!  Of course, under the “consistent with surrounding circumstances” the commander might bring in other amenities such as a hospital or sutler store. But, all depended upon circumstances.

As for particulars:

The principal arrangements are the tents, huts, or shelters in which the men are sheltered; the guard-houses, and rooms for those on duty; the kitchens and bake-ovens in which the food is prepared; the sinks or privies, and the places provided for the men for washing themselves and their clothing; the hospitals for the sick; etc. Wells, or means of providing the garrison with a supply of good drinking water, form no unimportant part of the arrangements necessary for the comfort as well as the health of a garrison.

But for all that importance, Wheeler lacked the space necessary to best cover this subject:

The limits of this book will not admit of a discussion, nor even a reference to the various divisions, of this important section of the interior arrangements of a field work.

Those arrangements are second only to those required for actual defense, and in many cases they are equal, as the defense of the work in a great measure depends upon them.

The only rule that can be laid down is to make all these arrangements of a temporary character, and to place them so that they can be removed, at a moment’s notice, out of the way of any interference with an active defense of the fortification.

Certainly, Wheeler’s words on this subject reflected extensive experience from the Civil War. We can find evidence attesting to this at numerous surviving sites.  In addition to the works, we see company streets laid out with tent pads or huts provided; kitchens in close, but safe, proximity; sinks, not so close in proximity; and always attention paid to water.  Not just clean water for drinking and cleaning, but also ensuring any standing, stagnant water was drained away.

With respect to the limited space allocated within the fortification manuals, there were other classes at West Point and other manuals of instruction. Perhaps best serving that point, we consult Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry, published in 1863:

In camp, the best water will be pointed out before the men are dismissed… The places for cooking and sinks must be pointed out to the orderly sergeants of companies… The cooking places must be chosen with a view to avoid danger of fire.

It must be explained to the men, as a standing order, that when no regular sinks are made, nor any particular spot pointed out, they are to go to the rear, at least 200 yards beyond the sentries of the rear guard.  All men disobeying this order must be punished.

Punished for the sake of their own health and comfort, mind you!

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 155-6;  Daniel Butterfield, Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1863, page 53.)

“With these changes this army will be a unit in all respects”: Sherman organizes for his march on Atlanta

On this day (April 2) in 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman wrote Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant seeking approval for organizational changes in his department, in front of preparations for the spring campaign season:

Hdqrs. Military Division of the Mississippi,
Nashville, Tenn., April 2, 1864. (Received 6 p.m.)
Lieut. Gen. U.S. Grant,
Washington, D.C.:
After a full consultation with all my army commanders, I have settled down to the following conclusions, to which I would like to have the President’s consent before I make the orders:

First. Army of the Ohio, three divisions of infantry, to be styled the Twenty-third Corps, Major-General Schofield in command, and one division of cavalry, Major-General Stoneman, to push Longstreet’s forces well out of the valley, then fall back, breaking railroad to Knoxville; to hold Knoxville and Loudon, and be ready by May 1, with 12,000 men, to act as the left of the grand army.

Second. General Thomas to organize his army into three corps, the Eleventh and Twelfth to be united under General Hooker, to be composed of four divisions. The corps to take a new title, viz, one of the series now vacant. General Slocum to be transferred east, or assigned to some local command on the Mississippi. The Fourth Corps, Major-General Granger, to remain unchanged, save to place Major-General Howard in command. The Fourteenth Corps to remain the same. Major-General Palmer is not equal to such a command, and all parties are willing that General Buell or any tried soldier should be assigned. Thomas to guard the lines of communication, and have, by May 1, a command of 45,000 men for active service, to constitute the center.

Third. Major-General McPherson to draw from the Mississippi the divisions of Crocker and Leggett, now en route, mostly of veterans on furlough, and of A. J. Smith, now up Red River, but due on the 10th instant out of that expedition, and to organize a force of 30,000 men to operate from Larkinsville or Guntersville as the right of the grand army; his corps to be commanded by Generals Logan, Blair, and Dodge. Hurlbut will not resign, and I know no better disposition of him than to leave him at Memphis.

I propose to put Major-General Newton, when he arrives, at Vicksburg.
With these changes this army will be a unit in all respects, and I can suggest no better.

Please ask the President’s consent, and ask what title we shall give the new corps of Hooker, in lieu of the Eleventh and Twelfth, consolidated. The lowest number of the army corps now vacant will be most appropriate.

I will have the cavalry of the Department of the Ohio reorganize under Stoneman at or near Camp Nelson, and the cavalry of Thomas, at least one good division, under Garrard, at Columbia.

W. T. Sherman,

Looking at this request 150 years after the fact, we know Longstreet’s corps in East Tennessee returned to Virginia before Major-General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio had anything to say about the matter.  The Army of the Ohio was for all practical matters simply the Twenty-third Corps when counting maneuver elements.  But Sherman purposely kept that command separate for use as a “left guard.”

Major-General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland formed Sherman’s “center.” And Sherman mentioned two very significant changes within that army.  The first of which, consolidating the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps into (though not known at the time of writing) the Twentieth Corps, involved old Army of the Potomac formations sent west in the fall of 1863.  Generals Alpheus Williams, John Geary, and Daniel Butterfield retained divisions in that consolidated corps.  And of course, Major-General Joseph Hooker remained employed as the head of that corps.  So the names involved were familiar to you “easterners.”

The Fourth Corps, Army of the Cumberland, received a new commander in the form of Major-General O.O. Howard.  Major-General John Newton, formerly of the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps, took command of the Second Division of Howard’s Corps.  So disregard that “exiled to Vicksburg” line from Sherman.  Major-General Henry Slocum drew that assignment instead.

The Fourteenth Corps, Thomas’ old corps, was, in my opinion, the cornerstone of the Army of the Cumberland.  But despite Sherman’s reservations, Major-General John Palmer remained at the head.  Don Carlos Buell left the service instead of serving under Sherman.  Buell’s explanation was he held date-of-rank over Sherman.  Read into that what you will, as Grant has long since weighed in on the matter.

The Army of the Tennessee was once Grant’s command and later Sherman’s. Now it served under the very capable Major-General James McPherson. Note however, the three corps in that army had non-West Pointers in charge – Major-General John A. Logan with the Fifteenth Corps; Major-General Grenville Dodge with the Sixteenth Corps; and Major-General Frank P. Blair with the Seventeenth Corps.

With mention of these commands and commanders, I would pose a question.  Were the personalities and internal friction in Sherman’s command any better or worse than that of armies in the east?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 32, Part III, Serial 59, page 221.)

Camp to the “left of the Magnetic Iron Ore” : Finding Eleventh Corps Camp

One intriguing aspect of the marching through Loudoun County is the location where the Eleventh Corps camped during their stay.  Most of the other units found camps near well known placenames – Leesburg, Aldie, Guilford Station, Gum Springs.  But the Eleventh camped at “Trappe Rock.”  The placename is not marked on any modern maps.  And we can’t trace an evolution to modern placenames (Farmwell to Ashburn, for instance).  Instead this is a vague reference to some place known then, but not known today.

Trap rock is supposed to be stuff like this:

Maybe it is out there along Goose Creek and I’m just not adventuring far enough into the underbrush.

At one time I thought it may refer to outcroppings in the quarry astride the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Park. But I’ve dismissed that option as being impractical for several reasons.

Going back to the orders that sent the Eleventh Corps to “Trappe Rock” those read:

The First Corps, General Reynolds, and Eleventh Corps, General Howard, will march at 3 a.m. for Leesburg from Centreville, one corps taking the route by Frying Pan, old Ox Road, and Farmwell Station, crossing the railroad; the other by Gum Springs, Farmwell, crossing Goose Creek near Trappe Rock.

Another clue is from the supplemental instructions sent out on June 16.   At that time, the orders for the First and Eleventh corps were intermixed. The respective commanders, Major-General John Reynolds and Major-General Oliver O. Howard, were told to decide amongst themselves who went to Trappe Rock and who went to Herndon Station (and eventually Gilford Station).  The supplemental instructions issued at noon that day read in part:

If the column via Gum Springs can find a better and more practicable road via Bitzer’s, the dam and lock to the left of the Magnetic Iron Ore (see the map), there is no objection to going that way.  A road may be found via Gum Springs, T. Lewis, Freeman’s, Moran’s, Bitzer’….

Those are specific place names on the McDowell map, and are easy to correlate.


There are two “Trappe Rock” mentions in that area of Goose Creek.  Only one is near a “Magnetic Iron Ore” notation.  We also see that Major-General Dan Butterfield was hovering over the McDowell map when writing these orders.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, the orders of June 16 were invalid within hours of their issue.  Instead of just marching past “Magnetic Iron Ore” and “Trappe Rock” the Eleventh Corps was to hold there.  In an update to Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton on June 17, Butterfield noted, “General Howard is at Goose Creek (Trappe Rock mill-dam and canal lock).”  Looking at the Goose Creek map, there was indeed a mill, dam, and canal lock in that vicinity.  It was know as Cochran’s Mill, thought it is unclear to me when that name was in effect (pre- or post-war).  That location matches to the area upstream of the present day, and abandoned, Balls Ford Bridge.

Belmont Ridge Rd 14 June 09 114

If so, the area has changed a bit since the Eleventh Corps camped there:


(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 150 and 151.)

“The loss in horses will doubtless be great” – Gettysburg Campaign’s strain on horses

This post was inspired by Childs Burden, who highlighted this particular facet of the Gettysburg Campaign in a recent presentation at Middleburg.

UPDATE: See the address attached at the bottom of this post.

From time to time I’ve mentioned the disposition of horses, particularly in reference to the mobility of field artillery.  Since I’m discussing the passage of the Army of the Potomac through Loudoun County in June 1863, I should mention the strain of horseflesh involved with that movement.
Horse-power translated to combat power – particularly cavalry and artillery.  Horse-power also translated into transportation facilitating the logistics supporting the army.  So the loss of horses, combat or otherwise, translated to a loss of combat effectiveness.

Brigadier-General Rufus Ingalls, Chief Quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, brought this up on June 19 in correspondence with the Quartermaster-General, Brigadier-General Montgomery C. Meigs in Washington:

The loss of cavalry horses in battle and on scouts is already beginning to be heavy. Probably 500 have been thus lost within as many days. Our cavalry is doing splendid service, and must be kept well mounted at this juncture. I am sending out trains of forage to-day, with forges, blacksmiths, &c., to Aldie, where Pleasonton’s headquarters are. Will you please order a good supply of horses? Three or four thousand should be kept on hand and well shod, ready for issue…

At the same time, to Army of the Potomac Chief of Staff, Major-General Daniel Butterfield, Ingalls related the status of horses within the Army of the Potomac, providing a breakdown of the number of animals, wagons, and ambulances by corps:


The table used data from May and June, 1863.  So we must consider the losses at Chancellorsville and Brandy Station with these numbers.  Ingalls felt the numbers for animals and wagons for the First, Second, Eleventh, and Twelfth corps as of June 1 was reliable.

By comparing the amount with the different corps, above named, it will be seen that the Eleventh Corps is more liberally supplied with transportation than any other corps in the army.

Ingalls added his estimate of about 4,000 wagons with the army as of June 19.  In another table, Ingalls added the ratio of wagons to men:


I’m not certain, given the variances in dates for base data, this is worth a lot on face.  But I do call attention to the “in pencil on original” note, and assume “D.B.” is Daniel Butterfield.  One wagon was seven days of supply for fifty men.  Returns indicate the army had 108,433 officers and men on June 20.  According to Butterfield’s rule of thumb, the army needed 2,169 wagons and had 4,000.  Likely this was already on Butterfield’s list. Instructions had already gone out on June 18 directing the army to examine all trains to:

… exclude all excess of personal baggage. All useless and cumbersome articles of wooden benches, bedsteads, and cooking stoves must be destroyed or thrown out of the train…. No hospital tents will be carried, excepting those of the medical department….  Ambulances permitted at corps, division, and brigade headquarters, by order of March 10, must be reduced as follows: One instead of two spring wagons at corps headquarters: one instead of two ambulances at brigade headquarters. The surplus to be turned in…. If division, brigade, or other commanders violate this rule, corps commanders will cause the ambulances to be taken from them and turned in, and the officers court-martialed for disobedience of orders.

However, the most effective means of reducing baggage is to subject the command to long marches.  And the army would have plenty of that in June, to the determent of the animals.

Again on June 20, Ingalls asked Meigs for more horses:

General Pleasonton will probably engage Stuart’s entire cavalry force to-morrow at an early hour near Aldie. The loss in horses will doubtless be great. He has been fighting every day with splendid effect, but, of course, with a daily loss of horses.  Please do all you can to have as many good horses ready as possible. It is most important. Both armies are now using their cavalry.

Perhaps as a pique, or perhaps by coincidence, Meigs made mention of the “carelessness and unnecessary waste” of horses, singling in on the Eleventh Corps:


My concern with this table is the date – June 12.  In the column of “Horses killed in battle” the number is almost an entire artillery battery’s allotment.  Surely these include numbers lost at Chancellorsville.  Regardless, Meigs leveled criticism, complaining that 1,100 horses were abandoned during the march up from the Rappahannock.  Many of these horses had the “U.S.” brand, but not the “C” brand for condemned:

As no officer has a right to sell a Government horse or mule until condemned and branded (c), these certificates will be disregarded, and the animals seized and turned over to the quartermaster at the depot. Many such are spread throughout the lower counties of Maryland, and will be seized wherever they come within reach of the Government officers or police.

Meigs sternly wrote, “It requires great vigilance and severity to protect the public interests during such rapid movements as are now in progress.”

A few days later, Ingalls responded, and brought to light a somewhat humorous episode.  During the withdraw north, the army had 2,500 condemned horses at Aquia.  The quartermaster ordered those animals herded to Alexandria.  Along the way, these tired animals got mixed in with the marching troops.  Some were then acquired by footsore troops, while others wandered off.  Ingalls noted the recovery of 1,300, but others were scattered.

When the cavalry fighting reached a crescendo in Loudoun Valley, the needs Ingalls spoke of came calling.  On June 22, Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton, Cavalry Chief, reported following the fighting at Middleburg, “… it will take at least 1,500 horses to supply the losses of the last fourteen days.”  Ingalls, and Meigs, would meet those needs.

AMU_30 June 019

But unfortunately, as the campaign continued, there would be more of those “last fourteen days” as the Army moved up to Pennsylvania and back.  And the quartermaster would forward fresh mounts and draft animals.  It wasn’t just a soldier’s war.

UPDATE:  Clark B. Hall passed along an address arranged for the 1997 dedication of Paul Mellon’s bronze warhorse monument honoring the service and sacrifice of all Civil War horses.  I think it a more fitting closing to this post than mine: The Horses.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 197, 212-13,  230, and 258.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 22, 1863

After all the fighting on June 21, 1863, and with no marching orders, would the Army of the Potomac have a relaxing, uneventful day?  Not with this fellow around.

Raiding supply lines and disrupting communication was Major John S. Mosby business.  By June 1863 he was already the most prominent Confederate partisan ranger.  And the Federals would sleep much better if he were put out of business.  Major-General George Meade, commanding the Fifth Corps, attempted just that on this day (June 22) in 1863.  From correspondence from Meade to General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the nearby Eleventh Corps:

I came near catching our friend Mosby this morning. I had reliable intelligence of his expected passing a place about 4 miles from here at sunrise. I sent 40 mounted men (all I have) and 100 infantry, who succeeded in posting themselves in ambush at the designated spot. Sure enough, Mr. Mosby, together with 30 of his followers, made their appearance about sunrise, but, I regret to say, their exit also, from what I can learn, through the fault both of foot and horse. It appears Mosby saw the cavalry, and immediately charged them. They ran (that is, my horses) toward the infantry, posted behind a fence. The infantry, instead of rising and deliberately delivering their fire, fired lying on the ground; did not hit a rebel, who immediately scattered and dispersed, and thus the prettiest chance in the world to dispose of Mr. Mosby was lost.

The troops Meade used were from the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry and 14th U.S. Infantry.  The location was Ewell’s Chapel, as Meade indicated, about four miles south of Aldie.  One man killed in the action, Sergeant Martin Aumiller, may still remain at the chapel site, in an umarked grave.

EwellsChapel_June23 002
Site of Ewell’s Chapel

This sensitivity to the operations of Mosby underscores another issue facing the Army of the Potomac while operating in Loudoun and surrounding counties.  The only rail line remaining in the area, the Orange & Alexandria, ran to the southwest.  So the army needed clear, secure roads for supply routes.  In the operational area I’m considering for these posts, there were three turnpikes the army could draw upon – The Warrenton Turnpike, The Little River Turnpike (which became the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike past Aldie), and the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike.  I’ve added them in gold for today’s map, along with the general location of Ewell’s Chapell for reference.


I’ve also included the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal for good measure, as that was Major-General Henry Slocum’s preferred supply line.  As you can tell from the map, just looking at eastern Loudoun County, there were a lot of side roads to patrol and many potential ambush sites to clear.

The wide area the Army of the Potomac occupied also strained communication.  On the letter to Howard, Meade added “- I don’t know what we are going to do.  I have had no communications from headquarters for three days.”  So Meade, commanded an infantry corps on the front line, at a critical sector. Some of his troops fought in Loudoun Valley.  And he had received no communications.  (Although I’d point out Meade had received instructions to support the Cavalry a few days earlier, though indirectly.)

However, the army headquarters was communicating instructions to the engineers at Edwards Ferry.  Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield asked if Captain Charles Turnbull could put a bridge over Goose Creek near its mouth.  Butterfield also inquired about blazing a road from the pontoon bridge to the camps of Howard’s Eleventh Corps.  The bridge and road were logical additions to allow Howard, at a rather remote location, to draw supplies from across the Potomac.  The additions would also allow for rapid movement of that corps should Hooker decide to move across the Potomac, which was a growing possibility on June 22.  Butterfield also noted that “General Wadsworth is bridging Goose Creek near the pike,” but was not specific to the location or construction.  I’ve placed a small blue line on the map with my guess Wadsworth’s bridge was at the site of the turnpike bridge.

For June 22, the Itinerary of the Army of the Potomac was short: The Cavalry Corps and Barnes’ (First) division, of the Fifth Corps, returned from Upperville to Aldie.  Stahel’s cavalry division moved from Buckland Mills, via New Baltimore, to Warrenton.  The Army of the Potomac was like a coiled spring.  Waiting.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Part III, Serial 45, pages 255-6.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 20, 1863

At 4 a.m. on this day (June 20) in 1863, General Henry Slocum forwarded a report to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. The content in the message was, for the most part, just a repeat of the previous day’s correspondence – need a bridge at Edwards Ferry, redoubts cover that crossing point, and the execution. But the filed copy, which was later transcribed into the Official Records, included the annotation “Received, War Department, 8 a.m.” Normally, this might not seem significant. However, as mentioned yesterday, message traffic from Leesburg relayed to Poolesville. From there the message went by telegraph to the centralized telegraph station in the War Department Building in Washington. From there the message was relayed again by telegraph to Army headquarters at Fairfax Courthouse. Not only did these transfers take time, it also meant in some cases authorities in Washington had access to information before Major-General Joseph Hooker received it.

On the evening of June 19, a heavy thunderstorm rolled through. By some accounts rains continued off and on until the 21st. In Loudoun Valley, the cavalry forces rested and regrouped following a hard day’s fighting. Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton reported the presence of Confederate infantry, but determined those were up to support his opposite number, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart. Pleasonton added, “I have been attacking Stuart to make him keep his people together, so that they cannot scout and find out anything about our forces…Lee is playing his old game of covering the gaps and moving his forces up the Shenandoah Valley.” A bit of advice often given in regards to scouting operations – if you cannot find the enemy, at least make sure the enemy does not find you – might apply here for Pleasonton. (And might we ask if information denied Stuart, and thus General Robert E. Lee, played into decisions on the Confederate side.)

Late in the afternoon, Hooker sent orders to Pleasonton authorizing the cavalry to press the Confederate cavalry on the 21st. Hooker also directed two brigades from the Fifth Corps, at Aldie, to support the cavalry. “The commanding general is very anxious that you should ascertain, at the earliest possible moment, where the main body of the enemy’s infantry are to be found at the present time, especially A.P. Hill’s corps.” Thus set in motion events leading to the fourth major cavalry battle of the campaign.

In other cavalry operations, Major-General Daniel Butterfield, Chief of Staff, called for another set of patrols by Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry. “…a force of cavalry, to go, via Manassas, Bristoe, Catlett’s, and Dumfries, returning by Wolf Run Shoals; another, via Brentsville, Howison’s Ford, and Greenwood, returning by Wolf Run Shoals. Five hundred men in all will answer the purpose…” Again, these troopers were not, at that time, part of the Army of the Potomac. And of course those places were well outside my “study area” of Loudoun. But those troopers soon would be part of the Army and be marching through Loudoun. Furthermore, the Army leaned on Stahel at this time due to an overall shortage of cavalry for the required missions. Pleasonton’s divisions had to concentrate for what amounted to a covering force battle in Loudoun Valley. That left Stahel as the only force for scouting in other directions.

In addition to Stahel, other troops from the Washington Defenses – Major-General Samuel Heintzelman’s command – operated across the Army of the Potomac’s sector. I’ll refer to those as part of the Twenty-second Corps on the map and depict them in green.


In Centreville was a 7,262 man division under Brigadier-General John Abercrombie. Many of those troops were counting the last days of their enlistments. But two of these brigades, along with two artillery batteries, would join the Army of the Potomac within days (including a fresh brigade of Vermonters, posted at the time in vicinity of Wolf Run Shoals). Another division, consisting of the Pennsylvania Reserves under Brigadier-General Samuel Crawford, posted brigades at Upton’s Hill, Fairfax Station, and Vienna. My pal Ron Baumgarten has covered their garrison life in detail over a series of posts recently. The Reserves would also soon join the Army of the Potomac. One other force of note was a brigade of 2,000 infantry posted at Poolesville, Maryland.

June 20th saw limited movement among the infantry corps of the Army. Brigadier-General Albion Howe’s division of the Sixth Corps marched to Bristoe Station (again, off my map above) to guard the left flank. Second Corps continued its march to Thoroughfare Gap, with one division left back at Gainesville.

What I consider the most significant activity of the 20th came at 5:20 p.m. Butterfield sent orders to Captain Charlest Turnbull:

Lay one bridge at Edwards Ferry. Upon receipt of this, communicate to General Slocum, at Leesburg, your orders. Having laid one bridge, send boats and force enough for bridging Goose Creek, near Leesburg and Alexandria pike, say 75 feet wide.

However, Turnbull had a problem. He arrived at Edwards Ferry with 1,200 feet of bridging and 60 pontoon boats. He estimated the river at 1,400 feet wide, and it was rising due to the rains.

Earlier in the day Major Ira Spaulding related to Brigadier-General Henry Benham that the detachment at Edwards Ferry needed more bridging. At around 9 a.m. he requested “fifteen boats, completely furnished; also about 50 extra chesses, and some extra lashings in coils, uncut.” Spaulding then started for Washington, presumably to sort out equipment and forward what was needed. Anticipating that equipment would arrive by morning, Turnbull affirmed to Butterfield, “Will go ahead and do the best I can.”

At the close of June 20, the Army of the Potomac had firmly established the Bull Run-Catoctin line with the Second Corps at Thoroughfare Gap; Fifth Corps at Aldie; and Twelfth Corps at Leesburg. Three more infantry corps were just a short march away in reserve. And the cavalry corps was looking for Lee’s main body … in the wrong place, but at least they were looking. But the engineers were about to put in place a resource which, once the Confederate main body was found, allow the Army of the Potomac to pivot again in pursuit.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 223-29.)