The Folwell letters, June 25, 1863, morning entry: “We are to lay the other Bridge here….”

Captain William Folwell provided two entries for June 25, 1863.  The first was early in the morning, and apparently written as an addition to the June 24th letter:

June 25th, 7 A.M.  Lt. [John] Davidson brought this letter back to me, having met his Co. on the way up.  We are to lay the other Bridge here and not at Monocacy.  The reserve artillery crossed here last night, and the 11th Corps is coming now.  All bound for Harper’s Ferry, they say.  Must get breakfast now and then to work.  We expect mail today.

Brief, but alluding to a couple of points in the larger story of the crossing at Edwards Ferry.  And June 25th was a busy day at Edwards Ferry, to say the least.

Let us focus on what occurred between midnight and 7 a.m. on that day:

  • Sometime after midnight:  Major-General Oliver O. Howard, then at the Virginia side of Edwards Ferry, receives orders to cross the Eleventh Corps the following morning.
  • 3:45 a.m.:  Eleventh Corps breaks camp.
  • 5 a.m.:  Major E. O. Beers, 15th New York Engineers, arrives at the Maryland side of Edwards Ferry with equipment to lay a second bridge at that point.  But the engineers are still unsure as to where the bridge is needed (upstream or downstream of existing bridge?).
  • Between 6 and 7 a.m.: Orders issued to most of the Army of the Potomac to move towards Edwards Ferry for crossing.  This included the Artillery reserve which was at that time near Fairfax Court House.

And… not until 10 a.m. did a response come down from Army Headquarters providing clarity to the question about bridge placement.

I think, given what we know of the “big picture,” 7 a.m. was an important point on the time line.  Troops were beginning to move towards Edwards Ferry… lots of troops.  A second bridge was about to go in the water.  And all sorts of things would be in motion from that point.  But at 7 a.m., things were paused… perhaps stalled… as all these components were breaking the resting inertia.  Those orders trickling out of headquarters were the force to break that inertia, setting things in motion.

One unit that was already in motion which I did not mention above was Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry division (not officially at that time, but soon to become the 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps).  Stahel’s command returned from their picket lines on June 24 (generally on the Bull Run Mountains, for brevity here).  The division was immediately ordered to cross the Potomac and march for Harpers Ferry and support the garrison there.  Their assigned line of march was across Young’s Island Ford.  But this is where the time line for them gets muddled.  Likely, Stahel’s troopers did not reach the ford until the morning of June 25. At which time, they found the ford impassible for the entire column.  At most, some of the troopers crossed.  But the wagons along with the 9th Michigan Battery, which was assigned to the division, had to cross elsewhere.  From dispatches on June 25 and subsequent days, it is clear Stahel’s baggage train didn’t cross with the command (and added to the traffic problems at Edwards Ferry… and to the logistic problems in Maryland).   The only real accounting of their crossing comes from Major-General Hooker, indicating “General Stahel crossed the river this morning near Edwards Ferry….”  Of course Young’s Island Ford was plenty near Edwards Ferry, so this is not a precise description.

I bring up Stahel’s cavalry here in an attempt to reconcile a discrepancy between Folwell and the dispatches in the Official Records.  Small discrepancies in a short passage, but some that need be addressed.  We have Folwell’s mention of the Reserve Artillery.  There is a mountain of evidence indicating the Reserve Artillery did not arrive at Edwards Ferry until the evening of June 25.  The artillery crossed the following day, following the Fifth Corps.

So what was the artillery Folwell mentioned?   It is unlikely any of the reserve batteries were detached at that time, as we have no record of such.  More likely is that Folwell, having enjoyed a good night’s rest, was simply passing along what came to him in conversation… in other words – rumors.  Something with horse teams and wheels crossed that night, but it wasn’t the Reserve Artillery.  I would hold out the possibility that some other artillery crossed early in the morning of June 25. The most likely candidate would be the 9th Michigan Battery, assigned to Stahel.  And such would confirm my long standing assumption that a substantial element of Stahel’s command actually crossed at Edwards Ferry that morning.  But, if I had to bet on this, my money would be on Folwell repeating rumors.

The most important part of this passage, however, is mention of the bridge to be laid.  Folwell, writing at 7 a.m., knew a bridge was to be laid.  But neither him or any other engineer at Edwards Ferry, at that time, knew where the commander wanted that bridge to be laid.  And bridges, once laid, are difficult to move.  Sort of a “you only get one shot to get it right” situation, with the entire Army of the Potomac due to arrive on the Virginia side looking for a dry crossing to Maryland.  More work for Folwell and the rest of the engineers on June 25.  And he would relate that in his second installment for the day, which we will look at next.

(Citations from William Watts Folwell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 417-8 (pages 423-4 of scanned copy))

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.)


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.


The weight of reports coming in from Pennsylvania clarified the situation for Major-General Joseph Hooker. The Army of Northern Virginia was indeed heading into Maryland and Pennsylvania in strength.  Instead of a small raid, General Robert E. Lee now mounted a full scale invasion.  The great battle of this campaign would not occur south of the Potomac, and the Army of the Potomac had to move north.  The line along the Bull Run and Catoctin Mountains was no longer needed.

Just after midnight, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, Eleventh Corps Commander, finally received the orders to cross the river and move into Maryland towards Middletown.  Behind this, Hooker put in motion over half of the army and adopted the “wing” arrangement which he’d derided the previous winter.  Early in the morning, to Major-General John Reynolds he instructed:

Assume command of the Third and Eleventh Corps, with your own. They are all under orders to cross the river to-day. A brigade of Stahel’s cavalry, with four pieces of artillery, is ordered to report to you. I wish them to seize Crampton’s Pass, and the one through which the National road passes, Turner’s Gap, to-day, to be supported with a brigade of infantry and a battery as soon as they can get up. My advices of last night inform me that the rebels do not hold them. General Stahel should be at Young’s [Island] Ford early this morning. The movements must be rapid, the troops to move in the direction of South Mountain Pass.

Later, at 7 a.m., orders to Major-General Winfield S. Hancock in command of the Second Corps put his command in motion towards Edwards Ferry, but with an intermediate stop at Gum Springs (which the Third Corps left that morning).  At the same time, orders put the Reserve Artillery under Brigadier-General Robert Tyler on the road from Fairfax Courthouse towards Edwards Ferry.  And shortly after those orders, Hooker passed instructions to Brigadier-General Samuel Crawford to put his division of Pennsylvania Reserves on the road.  General Slocum, in Leesburg with the Twelfth Corps would prepare to move.

By day’s end, these movements put three infantry corps and a cavalry division across the Potomac, more or less.  The map below depicts those movements (and note that I’ve removed the Engineer Brigade and 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry for simplicity here):


My attempt here to depict the movement of the units, the morning location is shown in gray, with blue lines and arrows showing the general route of march.  The blue unit symbols depict the general locations in the evening.  Notice the arrival of Crawford’s division (Third Division, Fifth Corps, though not officially as of this time in 1863).  That division arrived at Fairfax Station and Vienna on the evening of June 25.

That’s the simple version of the day’s movements, suitable for the large scale studies.  In earlier postings, I’ve broken this day’s crossing down incrementally, so please consult those maps for the crossing sequence. But four story-lines emerged during the day to overshadow even the size of this grand movement – bridge placement, congestion, Confederate cavalry, and rains.  Let me address each in brief.

As I closed with yesterday, the engineers had orders to place a second bridge at Edwards Ferry.  But they had no instructions as to where to place that bridge.  The previous evening Captain Charles Turnbull asked headquarters for guidance.  At 5 a.m. Major E. O. Beers, who’d arrived with the 15th New York Engineers, also inquired as to where headquarters wanted the bridge.  But no answer came.  By mid-morning, troops were on the first bridge (which, recall was placed above the mouth of Goose Creek on June 21), but the second bridge, desperately needed to speed the movement, was not in place.

Angrily, army headquarters inquired about the reasons for the delays.  At 11 a.m., Turnbull responded, “having receive no instructions, I have put the second bridge on the south side of Goose Creek.” Furthermore, with all the barge traffic on the canal, the bridging equipment arrived late, at around 10 a.m.  Turnbull and Beers related that construction had started shortly after the boats arrival and they were working quickly to complete the work.  By 2:30 p.m., Beers reported, “The second bridge is completed and in use…. The bridge was put down in three hours.  It consists of sixty-five boats.” (Notice the second blue line at Edwards Ferry representing the second bridge.) Shortly after completion, troops were moving on it.  Still, from the headquarters perspective, the delay cost some five hours.

Having only to form up the troops and march the short distance to the first bridge, Howard had started crossing his corps at 3:45 a.m.  But even with that early start, the Eleventh Corps would not clear Edwards Ferry until well into the afternoon.  Even then, straggling wagons interrupted the flow.  The traffic problems were due to a number of issues.  Certainly the single bridge contributed to the congestion.  At the same time, Howard’s corps showed up with an excess of horses (see the remarks about horses from the earlier post).  Officers and orderlies leading individual horses slowed the pace of the crossing.  And of course, as the quartermaster complained the previous week, the Eleventh Corps had too many wagons.

Adding to this congestion, a portion of Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry division made their crossing at Edwards Ferry.  While some of the troopers crossed at the assigned point – Young’s Island Ford – the division trains and at least one brigade crossed at Edwards Ferry.  The congestion at the bridge and in Maryland, snared Stahel’s wagons.  His division would be short of supplies even as they raced for the South Mountain passes.

Another factor adding to the congestion was the road network on the Maryland side.  From the crossing site, most units had to move to Poolesville on a single road.  Sending units down the canal towpath relieved some of the congestion. But with mixed results.  This issue had no direct solution and would remain a problem for the next few days.

With the Army of the Potomac astride the river, there was ample opportunity for the Confederates to strike and disrupt, if not damage, the Federals.  But the Rebels made only one significant appearance during the day.  As the Second Corps cleared out of Thoroughfare Gap and Haymarket, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart slipped through nearby Glasscock’s Gap (see the yellow star on the map).  After throwing a few shells at the column, Stuart sparred with the Federals.  In response, a brigade of Federal cavalrymen rode south from Aldie to escort the infantry.  Both sides avoided enlarging the fight and disengaged.  While the Federals were slightly delayed, Stuart’s time line was irreparably damaged.

While the Federals marched on June 25, rains began to fall again.  The rising river hindered crossing at Young’s Island Ford.  It also added mud to the already congested roads.  As the Third Corps moved across in the evening, they were directed to use the canal towpath.  So on the Maryland shore the corps made a left turn and marched up between the river and canal.  Their miserable march continued until the early hours of June 26, ending near the Mouth of the Monocacy.

As June 25 came to a close, Hooker issued orders for continued movement.  He would cross the Potomac with everything under his command.  Readers should note, the first three infantry corps across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry just happen to be the same three corps which Reynolds moves up to Gettysburg on July 1.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 305-6 and 311.)