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J.E.B. Stuart's Potomac Crossing

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Tom Elmore, Mar 11, 2017.

  1. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

    Jan 16, 2015
    In his official report, Stuart wrote that Hampton’s brigade, in the advance, was ordered to move directly for Rowser’s Ford on the Potomac. Hampton forded the river at that point after dark on June 27, but he reported back that the artillery would not be able to cross there.

    Stuart looked for another solution. He said, “A ford lower down was examined, and found quite as impracticable from quicksand, rocks, and rugged banks.” Eventually the rest of his command crossed at Seneca Falls around midnight.

    Richard Byrd Kennon, a courier for Stuart, later recalled that Stuart requested that he attempt to find an alternate route across the Potomac that night. Kennon rode his horse “Red Indian” across a ford and back, but the crossing was so difficult that he had to rest his horse for a time on a rock outcropping. In the meantime Stuart waited on the bank until he lost hope of seeing his courier again. However, Kennon completed his reconnaissance, although “Red Indian” was in no condition to continue the journey, so Kennon swapped horses with his servant (slave), Stirling, and directed him to return home with “Red Indian.”

    As an aside, I find it interesting that Stirling would supposedly have accompanied Kennon into Maryland and Pennsylvania were it not for this mishap. Other cavalrymen in Stuart’s command had servants along during the campaign, but I would have guessed that they accompanied the wagon trains that followed the main body of the army.

    Despite the many obstacles encountered, surely the most difficult faced by any command in either army, the rest of Stuart’s men made it across safely. The next morning, June 28, they resumed their trek toward Rockville, Maryland.

    But before departing, they completed another military mission - disrupting barge traffic along the canal that ran parallel to the river. John William Watson of Company K, 3rd Virginia Cavalry recalled that they “burned five canal boats at daybreak.” Sgt. Lawson Morrisett of Company B, 4th Virginia Cavalry thought it was seven boats. One of these was laden with commissary supplies, according to a member of the Black Horse Troop (Company H, 4th Virginia Cavalry). Capt. Frank S. Robertson of Stuart’s staff later wrote, “It was amusing to see the canal boats come gliding unexpectedly into these sleepy Rebs. One was a packet crowded with ladies and officers. They stared at us blankly as they passed on to where we had a committee at work giving paroles and burning freight boats."

    Our colleague, Eric Wittenberg, is praised for his work on this topic in these helpful references:

    Wallyfish, theoldman and lelliott19 like this.

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