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Confederate Crossing of the Potomac Moving North

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Tom Elmore, Mar 10, 2017.

  1. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Lee’s infantry and artillery crossed the Potomac at two points on their journey north, either at Boteler’s Ford, located about a mile and a half below Shepherdstown, (West) Virginia, and at the ford opposite Williamsport, Maryland. Boteler’s Ford was said to have comprised two nearby crossing points, one used by the infantry, and the other by the artillery and wagon trains.

    The width of the Potomac at Boteler’s Ford was approximately 200 yards - one soldier said it took 25 minutes to cross. It was considerably wider at the ford opposite Williamsport. The current was manageable, and terms such as "pleasant" and "refreshing" were used to describe the water temperature. The river bottom was rocky. Water depth was generally uniform, although an occasional deeper hole was recorded. The water depth at any given crossing varied from day-to-day, and sometimes hour-to-hour, depending on recent rainfall.

    The entire army waded (or rode horses) across, there being no pontoon bridges available on this occasion for the Confederates. When depth is mentioned, it is usually described by a soldier in relation of the water level to his body, so, using an average soldier’s height of 5’8” as a guide, the following translated measurements have been adopted, although the reader is cautioned about taking the numbers too literally:
    “knee deep” – 1’9”
    “little over knee deep” or “just above the knees” – 1’11”
    “waist deep” – 3’1”
    “armpit deep” – 4’5”

    The men carried their ammunition, valuables and clothes (if they had stripped) above their head when fording, often on their bayonets. The great majority crossed without mishap, but an unlucky few lost their footing and soaked their ammunition, and sometimes lost their possessions and even their weapon. Those who momentarily went under became the butt of jokes from their comrades. The only tragedy involved part of Wright's Georgia brigade, when an overloaded ferry boat they were using was swamped, drowning several soldiers.

    Some commanders did not allow their men to remove their clothing before crossing (which took additional time), while others permitted it, or else let the men decide for themselves (many chose to do so). Thousands of men emerging from the water without their pants created an embarrassing situation for some Maryland women who had gathered on the opposite shore to welcome them.
    Mention of clothes on: Benning, Mahone and Archer.
    Mention of clothes off: Robertson, O'Neal and Walker.
    Apparently permitted to choose: Davis, and Pender's division.

    Regarding the artillery, an artillery battalion was assigned to each infantry division, leaving two artillery battalions to form a corps reserve. This explains why battalions within a corps crossed on different dates and locations. I have also uncovered an unusual instance when sections of a single battery (in Dance’s battalion) apparently crossed a week apart, which may be explained because it had swapped two guns in a reshuffle after some were captured from Milroy’s force at Winchester.

    On the following list, the time of crossing and depth of water is listed, if mentioned.

    Rodes’ division, crossed at ford opposite Williamsport:
    June 15 – Ramseur’s brigade (led the division)
    June 15, about 8 p.m. – Iverson’s brigade
    June 15, time unknown – Doles’ brigade (Rodes inferred that it followed Iverson)
    June 17, 1 p.m., depth 1’9” – Daniels’ brigade
    June 19, morning, depth 1’11” – O’Neal’s brigade

    Second Corps Artillery:
    June 15, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – Carter’s battalion (2-3 batteries)
    June 15, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – Dance’s battalion (part)
    June 18, time unknown, Boteler’s Ford – Latimer’s battalion
    June 22, afternoon, Boteler’s Ford – Dance’s battalion
    June 22, time unknown, Boteler’s Ford – Nelson’s battalion
    June 22, time unknown, Boteler’s Ford – Jones’ battalion

    Johnson’s division, crossed at Boteler’s Ford:
    June 17, time unknown – Jones’ brigade
    June 18, 4:30 p.m., depth 3’1” – Steuart’s brigade
    June 18, around 5 p.m. – Walker’s brigade
    June 18 or 19, time unknown – Nicholl’s (Williams’) brigade

    Early’s division, crossed at Boteler’s Ford:
    June 22, 8 a.m. – Hoke’s (Avery’s) brigade
    June 22, 9 a.m., depth 2’8” – Smith’s brigade
    June 22, morning – Gordon’s brigade
    June 22, time unknown – Hays’ brigade

    R. H. Anderson’s division, crossed at Boteler’s ford, except for part of Wright’s brigade:
    June 23/24, night, ferry boat above Shepherdstown – Wright’s brigade
    June 24, morning – Wright’s brigade
    June 24, 9 a.m., depth 3’1” – Lang’s brigade
    June 24, 10 a.m. – Posey’s brigade
    June 24, time unknown, depth 3’4” – Mahone’s brigade
    June 24, time unknown – Wilcox’s brigade

    Heth’s Division, crossed at Boteler’s Ford:
    June 24, time unknown, depth 3’0” – Pettigrew’s brigade
    June 25, 7:30 a.m., depth 3’0” – Davis’ brigade
    June 25, 8 a.m., – Brockenbrough’s brigade
    June 25, time unknown, depth 3’1” – Archer’s brigade

    Pender’s division, crossed at Boteler’s Ford, depth 3’8”:
    June 25, 10 a.m. – Thomas’ brigade
    June 25, 1 p.m. – Lane’s brigade
    June 25, time unknown – Perrin’s brigade
    June 25, time unknown – Scales’ brigade

    Third Corps Artillery, crossed at Boteler’s Ford:
    June 24, time unknown – Lane’s battalion
    June 25, morning – Pegram’s battalion
    June 25, 9 a.m., depth 3’1” – Garnett’s battalion
    June 25, 11:30 a.m. – McIntosh’s battalion
    June 25, time unknown – Poague’s battalion

    Pickett’s division, crossed at ford opposite Williamsport:
    June 25, 3:15 p.m. – Kemper’s brigade
    June 25, 5 p.m. – Armistead’s brigade
    June 25, time unknown, depth 4’3” – Garnett’s brigade

    First Corps Artillery, crossed at ford opposite Williamsport:
    June 25, evening – Eshleman’s (Washington) Artillery Battalion
    June 25, 7:15 p.m. – Alexander’s Artillery Battalion
    June 25, time unknown – Dearing’s Artillery Battalion
    June 25 or 26, time unknown – Cabell’s Artillery Battalion
    June 26 – Henry’s Artillery Battalion

    Hood’s division, crossed at ford opposite Williamsport:
    June 26, about 6:30 a.m., depth 1’11” – Benning’s brigade
    June 26, 8 a.m. – Law’s brigade
    June 26, morning – Anderson’s brigade
    June 26, noon, depth 4’5” – Robertson’s brigade

    McLaw’s division, crossed at ford opposite Williamsport:
    June 23, time unknown, depth 4’6” – Semmes’ brigade
    June 26, 12:45 p.m. – Kershaw’s brigade
    June 26, 2 p.m. – Wofford’s brigade
    June 26, time unknown – Barksdale’s brigade

    J.E.B. Stuart’s division:
    June 15, morning, ford opposite Williamsport – Jenkin’s brigade
    June 17, night, Grubb’s Ferry above Point of Rocks – 35th Virginia Battalion Cavalry
    June 24/25, midnight, opposite Hancock, Maryland – Imboden’s brigade
    June 27, night, Rowser’s Ford – Hampton’s brigade
    June 27/28, midnight, Seneca Falls – brigades of Fitz. Lee and W. H. F. Lee
    July 1, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – W. E. Jones’ brigade (three regiments)
    July 1?, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – Robertson’s brigade

    Horse Artillery
    June 26, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – Jackson’s battery
    July 1, time unknown, ford opposite Williamsport – Chew’s battery
    July 1, 2 p.m., ford opposite Williamsport – Shoemaker’s battery
     

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  3. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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  4. Wallyfish

    Wallyfish Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    Very informative posts.

    If there was a mishap and ammunition got wet (or from a heavy rain), could the charge be dried for later use or was it rendered useless after it got wet?

    I am a fisherman and I have waded many streams and rivers. I know the perils of wading even with modern wading shoes with traction studs. But I have never hunted so I have no experience with ammunition.

    Lastly, how would they keep cannon powder dry during fording large waterways like the Potomac?

    Thanks for the write up and photos.
     
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  5. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Apparently the water was not high enough to cause a concern for artillery ammunition in the caissons and limbers, at least in the main body of the army. However, it was a problem for some guns carried along with J.E.B. Stuart's three brigades on their journey around the Federal army, because the fords they used were considerably deeper, so much so that some of the horses had to swim. According to Captain Frank S. Robertson, on Stuart’s staff, this problem was (ingeniously) handled by passing out artillery ammunition to the cavalrymen to be carried across on horseback. On the return journey, much of the southern artillery crossed on a pontoon bridge.

    From what I have just learned, black powder was unusable once it became wet, since one of the components was water soluble, but no doubt we'll hear from an expert on this question. Perhaps it is the basis for the idiom, "keep your powder dry."
     
  6. J. Horace

    J. Horace Private

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    A newspaper article from Raleigh News and Observer I think.

    And an ad for some cheap Bourbon.

    seventryfive.jpg

    seventyfive2.jpg

    seventyfive3.jpg
     
  7. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    A pint of whiskey for less than a dollar?

    Ahhh! Those were the days!
     
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  8. J. Horace

    J. Horace Private

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    Probably produced a pretty good headache though.
     
  9. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    Oh, indeed!
     
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  10. Miles Krisman

    Miles Krisman Corporal

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    A little more information on Rodes' Division crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport:

    As Rodes awaited orders, he allowed his men to rest until after 10:00 A.M. on the morning of June 15, 1863. The Division had marched hard over the last week, averaging twenty to twenty-five miles a day in oppressive heat. By late morning, the men were underway heading north on the Valley Pike and glad to have had the extra rest as they were to endure “the most trying march they had yet had.” The roads were rocky, rough, and difficult for the two-thirds of the soldiers that had no shoes. Many attempted to follow the columns through nearby fields.[1] The Division arrived at the river across from Williamsport by dark. Rodes had the Brigades of Ramseur, Doles and Iverson cross the Potomac at once using Light’s Ford just east of the pike. The brigades of O’Neal and Daniels remained on the Virginia side of the river to protect the crossing. O’Neal’s Brigade awaited the arrival of the 6th Alabama Infantry, they having been left as guards at Martinsburg while the division Pioneers had torn up the railway. In obedience with orders, Rodes held his men at Williamsport for the next three days.[2] This was a welcomed respite for the men. General Rodes had become quite concerned about their physical condition since they had marched hard every day since departing Culpeper and he stated, “It was not until this day that the troops began to exhibit unmistakable signs of exhaustion, and the stragglers could be found in the line of march...A halt at Williamsport was absolutely necessary from the condition of the feet of the unshod men. Very many of these gallant fellows were still marching in ranks with feet bruised, bleeding, and swollen and withal so cheerfully, as to entice them to be called the heroes of the Pennsylvania Campaign. None but the best soldiers could have made such a march under the circumstances.”[3]



    [1]“Warrior in Gray – General Robert Rodes of Lee’s Army” by James K. Swisher, page 112

    [2] O.R. Series I, Volume 27 (Part II), page 550

    [3] “Warrior in Gray – General Robert Rodes of Lee’s Army” by James K. Swisher, page 112
     
  11. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

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  12. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    It didn't look like it when we were there in September following the gathering in Gettysburg. That was around the same time as the battle, one feature of which you can see if you followed the link was the drowning of many members of the Corn Exchange Regiment when they fled back across the dam to the Maryland side. I guess it might be possible at some time of the year, but I would've thought in the late summer like this would be the best time to try but I wouldn't want to do it myself.
     
  13. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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    I wouldn't claim to be an expert, but I recall reading about powder being spread out on cloths to dry in the sun. Perhaps it had only gotten damp as opposed to being completely soaked.
     
  14. James_tiberous

    James_tiberous Corporal

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    Wonderful thread! I believe Hooker wanted the Harprs Ferry garrison sweep in behind the Chicago nfederate army to cut off the crossing. That's what finally mad him resign is an argument over that
     
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  15. SharonS

    SharonS Private

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  16. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    I too had trouble photographing that spot, but "solved" the problem by having Mike (who was driving) stop along that narrow road just long enough for me to take the picture without even getting out of our car!
     
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  17. DR_Hanna

    DR_Hanna Sergeant

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    I assume he is quoting Rodes, who apparently believed the myth of barefoot Confederates.
     
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