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 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.)

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:


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


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.


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.)