The Folwell letters, June 26, 1863, afternoon entry: “It is an old story to see the Army cross”

Looking at the pace, progress of the crossings at Edwards Ferry, the flow of troops on June 25, 1863 was not sufficient given the critical operational situation.  The three corps which crossed that day – the Eleventh, First, and Third, in that order generally – did so with delayed progress.  Not only delays as the engineers placed a second bridge, but the units making the crossing brought their own delays… not the least of which were the additional horses brought by the Eleventh Corps.   And we see the rains, which were recorded by Captain William Folwell’s letter of the day, which caused the Third Corps much misery as the crossing and march into Maryland continued into the early morning hours.

By contrast, June 26 was a flood of men and equipment.  Although on paper, again only three corps crossed – the Twelfth, Fifth, and Second, in that order.  Add to that movement the Artillery Reserve, Army Headquarters element, and the majority of six corps worth of wagon trains.  The march must have seemed endless to any eyewitness.  And Folwell was just such an eyewitness.  Just after noon on June 26, he resumed writing a letter home, this being a post-script to a letter written the previous evening:

P.S.  June 26th, 1863, 1 P.M.

The letter I wrote last evening must lie over till tomorrow as we can only send and receive a mail on alternate days.  We get our mail at present by the little steamer packet which runs on the canal from Georgetown to this place.  To-day we have a fine misty rain, falling steadily, which keeps all of us not on duty under cover.  I have written you a short letter and would have done you a long one if the Major ([E.O.] Beers) and some of the other officers had not come in and spent a large part of the forenoon with me.  The 12th Corps had crossed this morning and the troops of another, (I think the 2nd) have just appeared on the opposite hills.  Gen. Hooker and staff came over just before noon and followed the advance of the Army.  We have yet no information as to the destination of the forces.  Gen. Hooker seemed anxious to have the wagon trains hurried up and commended on of our officers (Capt. [Martin] Van Brocklin) whom he saw moving them on. I have not been out of camp to-day.  It is an old story to see the Army cross, for me.  Bain [Lieutenant Mahlon Bainbridge Folwell] is well and full of business as both adjutant and Quartermaster of detachment.  I hope his troubles are over.  We shall know soon, for Hdqrs. left Washington yesterday and will probably reach here to-morrow.

Though just a brief addendum to the letter, there are many observations which match well into the narrative of the crossing.  The time line given by Folwell is consistent with that of the official reports. The mention of a misty rain is duly noted.  Furthermore, Hooker’s concern, clearly recorded here by Folwell, about the wagons and further delays, should receive a highlight.

On a lower level, we get a small glimpse into engineer operations during a crossing.  There is much “just wait, watch, and stand ready” for them during such a crossing.  As Folwell said, “an old story” by this point in the war.  It is significant that Beers spent time at Folwell’s tent during the morning.  I’ve always felt, based on comments by other officers, Beers was the type of leader to be at the most critical point.  And Folwell’s place, on the Maryland side of the crossing, would be that critical point –  should repairs be needed, another bridge be required, or yet another set of orders come down.

We often associate the C&O Canal with mule-drawn boats.  But steam-powered boats were operated, as the C&O Canal Association reminds us.

lrg-539-1592-155-2-7

Poor Mahalon, though.  His “troubles” were that of additional duties.  Presumably, those would be over when the main body of the 50th New York Engineers moved up from Washington.  A small, personal aspect of the crossing which would probably have escaped record, had we not consulted Folwell’s letters.  Later in the evening, Folwell would start a fresh new letter, offering more observations on a most active day at Edwards Ferry.

(Citations from William Watts Folwell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 420-21 (pages 426-7 of scanned copy))

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:

PotomacCrossings1A

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.)

The Folwell letters, June 19, 1863: “Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.”

In the previous installment, we followed Captain William W. Folwell as he, Company I of the 50th New York Engineers, and pontoon equipment barged up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on June 18, 1863, heading for Nolan’s Ferry.  At times, Folwell’s narrative seemed dreamy, somewhat distant from the war.  Yet at other parts, the war seemed poised to strike light lightning.  His letter closed with Company I nearing their destination… and expecting rain.  That is where his letter of June 18 picked up:

Monocacy Aqueduct, June 19th, ’63, 10 A.M.

The rain came on and fell in the biggest kind of torrents for three hours.  It, however, ceased as we were closing up on the main body of the train at this place, about 8 o’clock P.M. I got the order to tie up and lie by for the night.  The men spread their blankets on the boats, drank their coffee, and went to sleep.  Several officers got leave to sleep in a house on the tow-path side.  We left the door open, and so slept well till daylight.  The housekeeper made us a good breakfast of our own provisions and gave me some milk in addition.

First point of order here is an explanation of the location.  When departing Georgetown, Folwell’s party was going to Nolan’s Ferry.  But the party stopped instead at the Mouth of the Monocacy… or, well, technically at the Monocacy Aqueduct.  Let me pull up a map from the Sesquicentennial postings in order to put these placenames in perspective.:

PotomacCrossings1A

In the upper right we see were the Monocacy River joins the Potomac.  There were several named (recognizable names, to us Civil War types) in that vicinity.  Several transportation routes, including the canal, converged at that corner of the map.  However, Folwell’s engineers were supposed to proceed roughly two and a half miles up the canal to Nolan’s Ferry.  The pause at the Monocacy was in some part due to White’s raid at Point of Rocks on the night of June 17.  But also factoring here are the vaccinations as Hooker, and staff, tried to sort out the situation.  And that is the stuff I’ve built several blog posts about.

Moving back from the big picture, Folwell’s breakfast must have been a welcome departure from eating over a campfire.

12:15 P.M. Went up the canal with the Major and Capt. Turnbull of the Regulars, to select a point for getting our material into the river.  We have to unload balks, chess, etc., and carry them down to the river, and then haul the boats out on the tow path and drag them down the bank into the water.

Very interesting, and important, assessment of a tactical problem.  The equipment was but a few yards from the river.  But those few yards were the towpath and bottom land next to the river.  Queue up the “easier said than done” cliche.  We will see later the engineers found a better way to unload when actually putting up the bridges at Edwards Ferry a few days later.  But for now, let’s stick with June 18.

This we do when orders rec’d.  Meantime, we are encamping upon a nice piece of ground on the heel path.  Our company wagons have come up, also our horses.  By some ill luck, our own personal baggage has been left behind.  The Quartermaster in order to equalize the load, took this baggage from my company wagon, and put it on to a separate empty wagon, which vehicle has remained in Washington.  Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.  My company desk has all my private company papers in and your picture.

So it is “hurry up and wait” for Folwell.  Though I cannot pin it to a specific instance, the orders received were one of a series of commands and countermands while Hooker and staff sorted things out.  And we know Hooker would continue to change his plans with respect to bridging the Potomac through those late June days.  The next move would take Folwell back down the canal to Edwards Ferry.  And that’s the next installment.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 411-12 (pages 417-8 of scanned copy).)

“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,
Major-General.

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.)

Missed assignment at Rowser’s Ford

For this post, let me pitch a curve ball – let it hang out there over the plate – and see if anyone crushes it.  I’ll say this is but an interpretation that I ask you to roll around a bit to see how it fits.

If you’ve studied Major-General J.E.B. Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg, you are familiar with the story.  Colonel Charles R. Lowell, commanding a battalion of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, was supposed to be guarding Rowser’s Ford on the night of June 26-7, 1863.  But a set of contradictory orders from Major-General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, and Major-General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commanding the Washington Defenses (22nd Corps if you wish).  This missed assignment can be traced through a series of events to a proximate cause… well perhaps.  So let me walk this one backwards to demonstrate.

First, the area of operations we are discussing – the western side of Montgomery County, Maryland:

PoolesvilleArea

This is a snip from Martenet and Bond’s map of Montgomery County, Maryland and more a political map than topographical (which is always my preference).  But it will do.  The map is oriented about 45° off to the right, with true north pointing roughly to the upper left corner.  You see Poolesville in the middle with Edwards Ferry below;  Rowsers Ford on the right and the Mouth of the Monocacy on the left.

Charles Russell Lowell

As mentioned an earlier post, on June 25, Lowell received orders to cover the Potomac crossings, from the Mouth of the Monocacy to Great Falls.  His command based out of Poolesville.  Let me offer Lowell’s own words, from a letter to his future wife Josephine Shaw* written on July 1, 1863, the command confusion that occurred over those days in late June:

On Friday night [June 26] at half past ten, I got orders to report next day to General Slocum.  As I had to get in my patrols from a space of over thirty miles and had besides to reduce the baggage of the Regiment from eight wagons to two, I didn’t start til 8:30 the next morning, made a comfortable march of twenty-five miles, reported as ordered, and went quietly into bivouac for the night, as I supposed. But at 11 came two dispatches from General Heintzelman, one ordering me to remain at Poolesville, or to return if I had left, the other notifying me that General Halleck sent the same order.  I was considerably disturbed, and telegraphed at once to General Hooker and to General Heintzelman and notified General Slocum.  In the morning, 4 o’clock, I got order from General Hooker to report to General French, and from French to report immediately; also orders from Heintzelman to take no orders that did not come through his, Heintzelman’s, Headquarters.  This was embarrassing, but I decided with much reluctance to obey Heintzelman….  So I moved down the Potomac about fifty-seven miles, and, when I reached the mouth of the Monocacy, met some of my wagons with the news that the rebels in strong force had crossed the Potomac at the very ford I was especially to watch….

So this explains why no Federal pickets covered Rowser’s Ford on the night of June 27-28, leaving an open door into Maryland for Stuart.

But why was Lowell’s cavalry there in the first place?  Days before they were covering the southern approaches to Alexandria (which, had they not moved, might have put them in contact with Stuart on June 26-7).  But a shifting of cavalry detachments in Maryland left an opening that Lowell’s command had to fill.   Lowell’s orders placed him in the operational sector controlled by Hooker, replacing a unit from Hooker’s Cavalry Corps.  Over the previous week, Hooker had issued orders to other formations out of the Washington Defenses, particularly Major-General Julius Stahel’s division, without input from Heintzelman.  So you might say Hooker had reason to assume Lowell was his to order about.

What was the unit shifted out of Maryland?  A detachment of cavalry from the Reserve Brigade, Cavalry Corps, under Captain Samuel McKee had patrolled the area around the Mouth of the Monocacy from mid-June until June 23.  At 11:35 p.m. on the evening of the 23rd, McKee received orders to “Report with your command to General Pleasonton at Aldie tomorrow.  Cross at Chick’s Ford, if practicable.”

McKee’s men had to cross into Virginia and then of course cross back again in a few days.  Why was McKee ordered to move?  Well, on June 22, Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton, in a report to Hooker’s headquarters, suggested the move:

If it is deemed necessary that a force from this corps should remain on the Upper Potomac, I would request permission to relieve Captain McKee by a regularly organized force, but would respectfully suggest that some of the cavalry which is in Washington may be put upon that duty.

Why did Pleasonton want McKee back?  Explaining his status after the fighting in Loudoun Valley, Pleasonton wrote, in the same report:

As an example of the reduction in numbers, I would state that, when the Reserve Brigade, consisting of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth U.S. and Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, went into action on the 21st instant, it only numbered 825 men, the remainder of the men of this brigade being either dismounted or at the mouth of the Monocacy with Captain McKee, who has or should have 1,100 men. Under these circumstances, I have the honor to request that Captain McKee’s command and all other effective men of this command may be ordered to join me at once, and that prompt measures may be taken to supply the number of horses that I need.

Most of the Reserve Brigade’s casualties came near the close of the fighting at Upperville.  The brigade made an ill-fated charge on Vineyard Hill and suffered heavily for it.

If Pleasonton had not sent the Reserve Brigade into a difficult charge at Upperville, he wouldn’t have needed McKee at Aldie.  Lowell would have remained in Virginia and might have encountered Stuart in Fairfax County instead of missing him in Montgomery County.  And maybe someone would have been covering Rowser’s Ford on June 27-28. Or maybe not.  Regardless, the reason Lowell was in Maryland to begin with was due to something that happened days earlier in Loudoun Valley.  At a minimum, this demonstrates that operational moves don’t happen in a vacuum.

* Josephine Shaw was the sister of Robert Gould Shaw. This of course explains Lowell’s interest in events at Darien, subject of another post I’m working up.

(Citations from Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell: Captain Sixth United States Cavalry, Colonel Second Massachusetts Cavalry, Brigadier-general United States Volunteers, by Edward Waldo Emerson, pages 268-9;  and OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 258-9 and 273.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 26, 1863

On June 25, 1863, Loudoun County witnessed a lot of movement.  Even more Federal troops were on the move on June 26.  In the evening of the 25th, Major-General Joseph Hooker issued orders for the next day:

The following movements of troops will take place to-morrow, the 26th instant, viz:

I. The Twelfth Corps (Leesburg) will march at 3 a.m. to-morrow, leaving a sufficient force to hold Leesburg until the Fifth Corps comes up; will cross the upper bridge at Edwards Ferry and the Monocacy at its mouth, and proceed up the Potomac as far as Trammelstown (Point of Rocks), and then to Middletown, unless otherwise ordered. The detachment that remains behind will rejoin the corps on the arrival of the Fifth Corps at Leesburg.

II. The Fifth Corps (Aldie) will march at 4 a.m., crossing Goose Creek at Carter’s Mill; thence to Leesburg, crossing the Potomac at the upper bridge at Edwards Ferry and the Monocacy at its mouth, and follow the river road in the direction of Frederick City. The Reserve Artillery will cross on the lower bridge at Edwards Ferry, and follow the Fifth Corps.

III. Headquarters will leave at 3 a.m., via Hunter’s Mills, to Poolesville, where the camp will be to-morrow. IV. The Second Corps (Gum Springs) will march at 6 a.m. to-morrow, via Farmwell, Farmwell Station, and Frankville, cross on the lower bridge at Edwards Ferry, and take the road crossing the Monocacy a little below Frederick City.

V. The Sixth Corps (Centreville and Fairfax) will march at 3 a.m., via Chantilly Church, Frying Pan, Herndon Station, and Dranesville, to Edwards Ferry, and, after covering the withdrawal of the bridges, will follow the Second Corps.

VI. The Cavalry Corps will cover the movement till all the trains have crossed the Potomac, when one division will be thrown forward to Middletown.

These orders, which governed the movements through June 27, put the entire Army of the Potomac in Maryland… for the first time since the previous October.  For today’s map, consider the twisting blue lines which, in some cases, represented the line of march of several formations.  As yesterday, the grey unit symbols indicate the start position and the blue is the evening location.  (And again, I’ve posted a set of maps focused on the crossing sequence.)

June26Positions

Notice the division of Brigadier-General Samuel Crawford (third of Fifth Corps) reached Edwards Ferry that evening.  And Brigadier-General George Stannard’s Brigade, which would become part of the First Corps’ Third Division, moved up to Herndon Station.

In addition to the movement, Special Orders No. 173 released nine batteries from the Army of the Potomac to the Washington Defenses.  While on paper this seemed to reduce the artillery arm at a critical time, these batteries were worn down, short on equipment, and short on personnel and animals.  Even with this reduction, the Army of the Potomac took 362 artillery pieces north.

There are several events, which readers are likely familiar with, in regards to the movement north playing out on June 26 – the movement of Major-General John Reynolds’ wing toward the South Mountain passes; Hooker’s dispute with Major-General Henry Halleck over Harpers Ferry; the poor performance of Major-General Julius Stahel and his relief.  But those all occur “over” the Potomac.  So allow me to focus on things in Loudoun for now.

As mentioned in the orders, the Cavalry Corps had the duty of covering the movement.  That duty fell to Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s division.  At 1 a.m., Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton issued orders for Gregg to relief Brigadier-General John Buford’s pickets.  The orders also sent Gregg’s trains to Edwards Ferry, to reduce one more encumbrance for the rear guard to worry about.  Gregg sent one column down the Little River Turnpike towards Fairfax to ensure that road was clear.  The other troopers closed the picket lines in from the south, converging near Leesburg.

Likewise, Pleasonton ordered Buford to send his wagons and artillery across at Edwards Ferry.  Buford’s troopers, however, would cross at the Mouth of the Monocacy, at the fords in that vicinity.  (Keep those orders in mind tomorrow.)  Buford’s command camped around Leesburg that evening, waiting to cross the next day.

At the crossing site, rains continued.  The Twelfth Corps started early that morning on its short march to Edwards Ferry.  Crossing on the upper bridge, the corps turned up the canal towpath.  Major-General Henry Slocum made no mention of the difficulties that hindered the Third Corps the previous evening on the same route.   While Slocum’s command crossed, the Reserve Artillery moved on the lower bridge and then to Poolesville.

As these and other units converged on Edwards Ferry, the crossing point became a choke point.  Muddy roads, stragglers, and baggage wagons congested the roads leading to the crossing site.  On the far side, one road lead to Poolesville.   Around mid-day, Brigadier-General Marsena Patrick arrived and started making order out of the mess.  Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac crossed and headed out for Poolesville.

Also at around mid-day the Second Corps and Fifth Corps closed on the crossing site. To help clear up the mess, army headquarters issued instructions to Major General Winfield S. Hancock, commanding the Second Corps, to hold his column until the preceding formations had crossed their trains.  This would delay Hancock’s crossing until well into the evening.  One of his infantrymen, Captain Samuel W. Fiske of the 14th Connecticut (Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps), wrote:

Then I will speak of the way our division got over a river. Problem: A division and its trains to cross the Potomac.  Means: A double pontoon-bridge. Time needful for doing it; Just about one hour.  Way in which the thing was militarily accomplished: Said division was encamped, after a day’s march, near Edward’s Ferry, on the southern side.  At nine, P.M., orders came to strike the tents, pull up stakes, and move.  We accordingly moved – about half a mile, and halted till nearly midnight, then crossed over, and stood in the muddy road two or three hours waiting for orders to encamp. Finally, receiving orders, turned off into a large field of wheat just ready to cut, and bivouacked at four, A.M.  At half-past six, A.M., received orders to evacuate the wheat-field, which was already destroyed, and Uncle Sam will have to pay for, and encamp in a grass-field a little distance away, which Uncle Sam will have to pay for.  Then, a little later, came the order to move on the day’s march. So here was the hour’s work accomplished in the course of the night by making three removes of camp, and at the trifling expense of a night’s rest to the troops between two days’ marches, and with the ultimate result of getting the same exhausted troops to Frederick City a day later than they were ordered and expected.

Hancock himself closed the day with a report to headquarters:

My command is just going into camp about 1 mile from the river. My headquarters are near the residence of Mr. Vesey, about one-quarter of a mile to the right of the Poolesville road (going from here toward Poolesville), and 1 mile from the river My own train, and those of commands which preceded mine, have crossed the bridge. There are no trains the other side of Goose Creek, to my knowledge, excepting those of the Sixth Corps.

A brigade of cavalry is covering the roads leading to the bridges on the south side of Goose Creek. The Sixth Corps had not arrived at 11 o’clock.

The hard marching of June 26 put three more infantry corps in Maryland.  Only one corps, the Sixth, two cavalry divisions, and the newly attached Crawford’s Division and Stannard’s Brigade remained in Virginia.  The long line of men, animals, and equipment was almost across the Potomac.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 314 and 338.  Samuel W. Fisk, Mr. Dunn Browne’s Experiences in the Army, Boston: Nichols and Noyes, 1866, pages 175-6.)

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.

June24Positions

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):

June25Positions

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.)