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.)

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.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 23, 1863

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

Colonel George H. Sharpe

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

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

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

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

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

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

PotomacCrossings1

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

PotomacCrossings2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June23Positions

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

“Blinky”… er… William French

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

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

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

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

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

Marching Through Loudoun: June 21, 1863

There was not much marching through Loudoun on June 21, 1863.  With Second Corps closing on Thoroughfare Gap (lead elements reach there on June 20 and the remainder on June 21), Major-General Joseph Hooker had a line of infantry along the Bull Run-Catoctin line.  The arrival of the Second Corps allowed Colonel John B. McIntosh’s cavalry brigade to return back through Aldie Gap to the Cavalry Corps in Loudoun Valley.

The Potomac was Hooker’s right flank, with the Twelfth Corps in Leesburg.  On the left was Brigadier General Albion Howe’s division at Bristoe Station along with patrols from Major-General Julius Stahel’s cavalry (again, not yet part of the Army of the Potomac… but soon).  In the middle was Fifth Corps, also supporting the Cavalry operations in Loudoun Valley.  The First, Third, and Eleventh Corps remained idle but only a short march away from reinforcing any threatened point.

June21Positions

But for an army on campaign a day off the roads does not translate to a leisurely passing.  There were four important “goings on” that we should consider:

  • The Battle of Upperville – which I’ll discuss in a separate post
  • The completion of the first bridge at Edwards Ferry
  • Security of the fords near Leesburg, and Leesburg itself
  • Intelligence gathering

As mentioned yesterday, in the evening of June 20, Captain Charles Turnbull received orders to build a single pontoon span across the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.  There are indications the engineers started the bridging operations that night.  But according to moon observations, the bridge builders had little light to work with.  Rains continued through the night.  And of course Turnbull was short about fifteen boats.  In short, not much could be accomplished.

Edwards Ferry 26 Apr 042
River Lock at Edwards Ferry

The engineers started the operations in earnest at first light.  The river lock downstream from the bridge site allowed the engineers to float canal boats or pontoons out of the canal itself.  Turnbull’s crew completed the bridge by 9:45 a.m. or so.  At 11:45 a.m. he reported:

The bridge has been finished two hours, and reported to General Slocum. Bridge 1,340 feet long.  Please send instructions as to who is to cross.

I interpret that last sentence to mean, “advertize this bridge is open” and not a reference to any specific unit.  Again, the bridge’s intended purpose was to provide a supply line for the Twelfth Corps.

II Corps Trip
General location of the first bridge, on Virginia side

Let us assume that the engineers started work around 7 a.m. that morning.   A three hour build time, completing at nearly 10 a.m., would compare well to bridges laid by the same men along the Rappahannock just under two months earlier.

But Turnbull’s engineers were not the only bridge builders that day.  Further to the south, Brigadier-General James S. Wadsworth, commanding the First Division of the First Corps, camped between Guilford Station and Broad Run.  Wadsworth figured his division, and the rest of the corps, would have to cross Broad Run and Goose Creek at some time.  So he started some bridge building of his own.  I’m not sure of the type, construction, units involved, or exact location (or if he built bridges over both creeks).  Later correspondence referenced a bridge near the crossing of the Leesburg Turnpike, which is a likely fit for Wadsworth’s bridge.

With the Edwards Ferry bridge in place, Major-General Slocum’s position in Leesburg was less isolated.  But he felt the need to improve the defenses.  In the afternoon he wrote to headquarters:

I can use more artillery in the works at this place than I now have.  I think more is necessary for a strong defense.  If some of the reserve could be sent here, it could be moved without delay across the river, or wherever needed.  I think holding of this position secures to us all the fords below us, including Edwards Ferry, and that the place should be held at all hazards.

Slocum’s artillery chief, Lieutenant Edward Muhlenberg, had already posted his four batteries in the forts around Leesburg, “on the west, northeast, and southeast approaches….”

From Leesburg the Twelfth Corps commanded the Virginia approaches to White’s Ford and several fords near the Mouth of the Monocacy.  But the corps lacked any attached cavalry to scout beyond the Clarke’s Gap in the Catoctin.  While the Cavalry Corps was ordered to dispatch a regiment, that would not arrive until later.  For the time being, all Slocum could do is pass along information offered by an escaped slave who said,

… the rebels have a force at Snicker’s Gap, and they are putting up works there.  He saw men digging.  He says Generals Hood, Anderson, and Jones were there.

Later in the day, Slocum passed along the words of a Rebel deserter who claimed Longstreet was also at Snicker’s Gap. Furthermore that the entire Confederate army aimed to move into Maryland.  With benefit of 150 years of hindsight, this last bit of intelligence seems inconsequential.  But roll back in time a bit.  Hooker could not be sure Lee intended to hold the Shenandoah; or repeat the invasion of Maryland from the previous year; or to move further north.  Within just these two dispatches from Slocum, Hooker had two possible versions of reality – Lee is digging in on the Blue Ridge  OR Lee intends to invade Maryland.  And those two dispatches from Slocum were but drops in a bucket of reports arriving at army headquarters (and in Washington) at this time.

Once again, Hooker didn’t find any “lost orders” to help put the picture in focus.  I’d lay the argument the information was at hand, but the analysis was lacking.  Several days would pass before Hooker (or any Federal authority for that matter) gained any great clarity of the situation.

Lastly, more of an administrative note regarding blog posts. I’m planning on a separate post on the Battle of Upperville.  Hopefully this evening, but if not this weekend (better late than never).  I plan on continuing these day-by-day postings on the movement through Loudoun at least up to June 28 (“… and mightily bored you’ll be!”).  At the same time I’ll throw in some “sidebars” that may be of interest, such as the McDowell Map sources post.  Not often as a Civil War bloggers do you get to write “This is what happened outside my front door 150 years ago today,” so I’m going use it for all I can!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 869; Part III, Serial 45, pages 246-9.)

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.

June20Positions

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.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 19, 1863

I like comparing situations across time to help with frame of reference. For instance at this time in 1863, the Army of the Potomac was oriented to the west. The last time the army had faced west to give battle was at Antietam. Days before that bloody battle, the Army of the Potomac marched out from Frederick towards gaps in the Catoctin Mountain. After several small, but sharp, cavalry actions (which my friend Laurence Freiheit has written about at length) the army reached passes in South Mountain.

Now nine months later, the army faced the Virginia side of the Catoctin, and Bull Run Mountains to the south. Large, and vicious, cavalry actions occurred between those rims and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. But, Major-General Joseph Hooker didn’t find any “lost orders” on which to guide his movements.

On June 19, 1863, Hooker continued to build the “Bull Run-Catoctin” line (my phrase and observation, not Hooker’s, to be clear) by moving the infantry corps forward. First Corps marched to Guilford Station, just one stop up on the Alexandria, Loudoun, & Hampshire Railroad (rail-less at this time in the war). Major-General George Meade’s Fifth Corps moved up to Aldie. Behind them, the Third Corps moved into the area of Gum Springs. Second Corps started movement for Thoroughfare Gap reaching Centreville.

June19Positions

Beyond Aldie, the Cavalry Corps opened a day long fight with their Confederate counterparts. Let me cover the Battle of Middleburg in a separate post. But while we are thinking about the horse soldiers, Colonel John B. McIntosh’s brigade from Second Division remained in the Thoroughfare Gap and Haymarket area, guarding that important pass. Further out, Colonel Othniel De Forest, sent out the previous day to reconnoiter to Warrenton, ran into resistance there. De Forest’s command was as part of Major-General Julius Stahel’s division. While not part of the Army of the Potomac at the time, within a ten days, the division would be – and under a new set of commanders.

But let me discus two events which put focus on Leesburg. With armies in motion and the possibility of battle practically every hour, the Twelfth Corps paused briefly to exercise martial responsibilities. Brigadier-General Alpheus Williams recorded this in his letters home:

Today we had the most unpleasant duty of shooting three deserters, about the first capital punishments which have taken place in the army for this offense. Two of them, of the 46th Pennsylvania Volunteers, deserted about two weeks ago when we were under orders to march towards the enemy. They bought citizens’ clothes, but were apprehended while trying to get off by Aquia Creek. The other (13th New Jersey Volunteers) deserted a year or more ago and was sent back from home. He neglected to avail himself of the pardon offered by the President in April last…. The whole corps was paraded in a large field and formed three sides of a square. By Gen. Hooker’s orders the execution was under my direction as commander of the division to which the men belonged. The carrying out of details I put, of course, on my provost marshal. Three graves were dug some two feet apart in a slight depression of the field, and on the gentle swell of the ground the troops were formed so every man could see the execution.

One of these days I must trace down the location of this incident (and see if possible to have it marked, of course).

While this grim duty was completed, Major-General Henry Slocum carried on a significant correspondence with army headquarters. In a report at 10:40 a.m., Slocum urged the placement of a pontoon bridge at Edwards Ferry. In response, Army Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield sent a barrage of questions:

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? We think the enemy are in the Shenandoah Valley, Longstreet and A. P. Hill, one portion, perhaps, this side of the Blue Ridge. Ewell is reported in Maryland or Pennsylvania, but we cannot get any reliable or definite idea from there. The whole country, generals and all, seem struck with heavy stampede.

If General Warren is at the mouth of the Monocacy, request him to report here by safe route through your corps.

Do you hold Noland’s and Hauling Fords? They are held by our cavalry on the opposite side.

Slocum replied with the logic of a man seasoned in the problems encountered while campaigning in enemy territory:

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.

Supply. I’ve covered this in detail over many posts on Edwards Ferry. It is my opinion the placement of this first bridge was driven more by logistical requirements than any need to pass the army into Maryland. The redoubt mentioned by Slocum is Fort Evans. As seen on this map, that work dominates the approaches Edwards Ferry.

Northeast Approaches to Leesburg

Built in 1861-2 during the Confederate stay in Leesburg, the fort remains today as one of the best preserved in Northern Virginia.

Fort Evans 008

Convinced by Slocum’s reply, Butterfield cut orders for the engineers to begin building a pontoon bridge over the Potomac.

One last bit to consider. How was this conversation between Slocum and Butterfield transmitted? Leesburg and Fairfax Courthouse are some 27 highway miles apart. There was no direct telegraph line between. So those messages passed through a mixed network using wig-wags and telegraph, some of which is depicted on the map below:

Stations In Use During Crossing
Signal Stations: June 19-22.

Each message carried the tag “via Poolesville” indicating the message went from Leesburg to Poolesville by wig-wag, and then through Washington to Fairfax by telegraph. With First Corps moving up to Guilford Station, the telegraph lines extended out to that point down the railroad right of way, but not beyond.

Closing June 19, the army’s itinerary for the day read:

The First Corps marched from Herndon Station to Guilford Station; the Third Corps from Centerville to Gum Springs; and the Fifth Corps from Gum Springs to Aldie. Gregg’s cavalry division, except McIntosh’s (late Wyndham’s) brigade, advanced to Middleburg. McIntosh’s brigade moved from Aldie to Hay Market.

Now five infantry and one cavalry corps occupied Loudoun County.

(Citations from From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams, edited by Milo Quaife, pages 216-7 and OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Part III, Serial 45, pages 208-9.)