Confederates Abandon “Gibraltar of the West”

March 1, 1862 (Saturday)

All across Tennessee, troops of both armies were on the move. The fall of Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson had completely crushed the thin Rebel line. The few Confederate troops not captured at the forts had fled to Nashville, where they joined the rest of General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee. Less than a week later, they were all retreating to Murfreesboro. Along the Mississippi River, General Leonidas Polk’s troops, soon to be commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard, clung to their positions at Columbus, though it was believed even that bastion would have to be abandoned.

Beauregard, however, wanted to take command of the entire Confederate west. On February 26th, he wired Johnston, still in Murfreesboro, asking him to move to West Tennessee, as the Federals were planning an attack. Johnston agreed and began to move his army south towards Decatur, Alabama, via Shelbyville, hoping to join with Beauregard in the defense of Memphis. On this date, Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee was on its way.1

This was the situation in Tennessee before Grant's Fort Donelson Campaign. (click to expand)

General Beauregard had his own plans for covering the Mississippi River and Memphis. He would abandon Columbus and anchor his left upon New Madrid and Island No. 10. The railroad towns of Corinth and Iuka, Mississippi would hold the right. The center could be held through towns like Jackson, Humboldt, and Union City. Though spread thin, the railroad could be used to quickly transport troops.2

And this was the situation after the Donelson Campaign. (click to expand)

General Polk began to evacuate Columbus on this date. Most of his 17,000 troops were to go to the New Madrid area, while the rest went to Humboldt. To take command of the troops in the Madrid Bend area, General John McCown was dispatched and arrived on February 26. He found the place nearly indefensible, predicting that New Madrid could hold out six hours against a Union naval force. He found the other river defenses in even worse shape.

On this date, the department’s Chief of Artillery, James Trudeau arrived and inspected Island No. 10, and concluded that it was “in no measure fortified.” However, ten heavy artillery companies arrived on the same day, bringing a sliver of hope to the Confederates.3

While the Rebels prepared their defenses, a growing Union force under General John Pope had been assembling in Commerce, Missouri, 100 miles up the Mississippi River, but only fifty miles by land. Pope had quickly thrown together 10,500 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 600 workers and engineers. They stepped off from Commerce on February 28th. On this date, they were still marching, but rains and mud had slowed them to a crawl. Pope himself became seriously ill through the deluge.4

__________________

Jeff Thompson’s New Toys

Standing in the way of Pope’s Army of the Mississippi were the Swamp Fox, General Jeff Thompson, and about eighty-five cavalrymen, slinking through the sloughs near Sikeston. With them, they had six breech loading 1-pounders, experimental cannons manufactured in Memphis. They were mounted on four wheels and each pulled by two horses.

Moving down the road from Sikeston to New Madrid was the vanguard of Pope’s force, the 7th Illinois Cavalry. Thompson believed the Union force to be small enough to scare away with his six new toys. He sent his nephew, Willie, north to get a better idea of what was coming towards him. When Willie drew within sight of the Union pickets, they shouted to him, “Whose men are you?”

Willie replied that they were Jeff Thompson’s men. “What are you doing here?” asked the Union picket.

“Hunting a fight!” Willie yelled back.

“By God, you’ll get it!” replied the Federals.5

Willie raced back, but Thompson, still thinking it was a small patrol to his front, fired one of his small cannons. Then, the entire 7th Illinois and other regiments of Union cavalry deployed to his front.

Jeff Thompson knew he couldn’t last. He ordered most of his men and his artillery to fall back to New Madrid as quickly as possible. He would try to distract the Yankees as best he could. Thompson’s best bought his men only a few minutes, as the Federal cavalry pitched into them, chasing the Rebels for sixteen miles.6

The Union troopers captured three of the small guns and several prisoners. The Federals chased Thompson to within four miles of New Madrid.7

When General Pope had a chance to examine the captured artillery, he found them interesting. “The pieces of artillery are of small caliber, breechloading, beautifully rifled, and handsomely mounted on four wheels, drawn by two horses each,” wrote Pope to General Halleck that evening. “They have an ingenious repeating apparatus at the breech, and were undoubtedly made for service in this swampy, low region.”8



  1. Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. []
  2. The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn. []
  3. Island No. 10; Struggle for the Mississippi Valley by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock. []
  4. General John Pope by Peter Cozzens. []
  5. Island No. 10 by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p173. Thompson’s Report. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p110. Col. James D. Morgan’s Report (he commanded the First Brigade of Pope’s First Division). []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p580-581. These cannons were Hughes Breech-Loading Cannons, made in 1861 by the Street & Hungerford Company. Here’s a video of one being fired. More about it here. []

Confederates Take Tucson, Arizona! California Prepares for the Worst

February 28, 1862 (Friday)

The Confederate capture of Tucson, Arizona may seem like a strange footnote of a campaign that is itself often a strange footnote. But once taking a look into the details, it begins to make more sense in a big picture sort of way.

In the decade before the war started, the United States acquired a small chunk of land from Mexico (via the Gadsden Purchase). This included land south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande, much of modern southern Arizona, including Tucson. Most of the white people living there were Texans and Southerners. When the purchased land, known unofficially as “Arizona,” was added to the large New Mexico Territory [modern Arizona and New Mexico], they were less than thrilled.

For starters, their capital was all the way up in Santa Fe, a rough and difficult journey of nearly 600 Apache-filled miles. Due to the isolation, Tucson became a dangerous place, populated by fugitives and banditos. For another, adding the land to a previously-established territory that outlawed slavery was a slap in the face to Southerners in favor of slavery’s expansion into the west.

Southern sentiment in the west was, at least at first, more prevalent than is often remembered. While the fervor for war was heating up, it was estimated that southern California held 16,000 secessionists, while the Colorado area (not yet a territory) had 7,500, with many in Denver. Southwestern New Mexico Territory, including Tucson and Mesilla, was almost entirely pro-secession. They had been since entering the bosom of the United States nearly a decade before.

While most of “Arizona’s” population was Mexican, they were more or less indifferent, believing that one white government was just as bad as the next. The white population, mostly Southern, however, began to stir, flying flags of secession and even establishing companies of Arizona militia.

Due to Tucson’s location on the old Butterfield Overland Stage Route into Southern California, it was deemed a vitally important link in opening up the west for the Confederacy. Also due to Tucson’s location, it would have to wait a while before being officially occupied.

In July of 1861, the Confederates under Lt. Col. John Baylor invaded southeastern New Mexico Territory. The Confederate Territory of Arizona was established, and General Henry Hopkins Sibley was selected to conquer it for the South.

While Sibley was gathering his Army of New Mexico, John Baylor, by this time the territorial governor of Arizona, was raising an army of his own to head west towards Tucson and the Pacific. He believed that the population of southern California, combined with the lack of Union troops, would make his campaign a smashing success. However, by October, with rumors of Union troops landing in Mexico, as well as southern California’s support waning, Baylor gave up his plan. Again, the people of Tucson were on their own.

After a surprising number of months, in February of 1862, Sibley was moving north towards Albuquerque and Sante Fe. He did not, however, forget about Tucson. It was also February that General Sibley received word that no Union troops had landed on Mexican soil and that Mexico (well, a nearly autonomous state with little connection to the national government) had recognized the Confederate States of America as a legitimate nation.

While he began his campaign towards Albuquerque, he also dispatched Captain Sherod Hunter and sixty men to Tucson. From there, a diplomat would meet with Mexican authorities in hopes of establishing a Confederate harbor in Guaymas, 300 miles due south of Tucson, on the coast of Sonora.1

After a speedy, but stormy march from Mesilla, Capt. Hunter and his band arrived in Tucson, Arizona on this date. There, he found nearly the entire population (not quite 1,000 people) hailing him and his men as heroes. As the rumors of US troops landing in Mexico and Indians preparing to attack had frightened the residents, they finally felt protected.2

With the Rebels stirring and even conquering in New Mexico and Arizona, it was only a matter of time before the United States troops in California had something to say about it. As young men in the north flocked towards the colors of the Union, young men in California did the same. As the United States Regular Infantry troops were pulled out of the west to fight in the east, volunteer regiments were formed to cover all points west of the Rocky Mountains. Mostly, this was to guard against Indian attack, but in Arizona, they had to deal with the Rebels as well.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1861, the 1st California Cavalry Regiment, under Col. James Henry Carleton, was mustered into service in Oakland. By November, they were stationed in southern California, and their numbers swelled to nearly 1,000. Mostly, they were keeping a lid on the dwindling, but still formidable, secessionist sympathizers who were trying to make their way to Texas. Five companies of the 1st California had made it to Fort Yuma on the Colorado River [across from modern day Yuma, Arizona].3

Rumors had spread through January and February that Confederate Col. John Baylor and 1,000 Rebels were at Tucson, their eyes set upon Guayamas.4 Union officers in California petitioned Washington for an invasion of Sonora, aiming specifically for Guayamas, figuring that the Rebels would want it and that if it was taken, Southern California could be easily invaded.5

By the end of January, General-in-Chief George McClellan had approved the formation of the California Column. It would consist of the 1st California and a battery of artillery (later, the numbers would be augmented). The objectives of the mission were to “recapture of all our forts in Arizona and New Mexico, driving the rebel forces out of that country or capturing them, and opening the southern mail route.”6

Col. Carleton, not yet at Fort Yuma, ordered scouting parties to be sent from the fort in the direction of Tucson, to get a feel for the supposed 1,000 or so Rebel troops heading west. He specifically selected Captain William McCleave of the 1st California Cavalry, ordering him and thirty men to act as scouts. They would become the vanguard for the California Column.7

By the end of February, Col. Carleton was preparing to leave his headquarters in Los Angeles for Fort Yuma. He would be personally overseeing the California Column’s advance into Arizona. Also, Captain McCleave was preparing to leave Fort Yuma. The rumors of Col. Baylor’s 1,000 Confederate soldiers in Tucson were still held as fact when but sixty Rebels claimed the Arizona town for the South.



  1. Thus far, the background information has been provided by the wonderful book Blood & Treasure; Confederate Empire in the Southwest by Donald S. Frazier. I strongly recommend this one if today’s post is of even fleeting interest to you. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 9, p707-708. []
  3. Records of California Men in the War, 1861-1867, published in 1890. This is an incredibly interesting work – mostly a compilation of reports, but drawn well together. I skipped around the book, but have used pages 324; 668-669. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 50, Part 1, p825. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 50, Part 1, p829-831. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 50, Part 1, p836. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 50, Part 1, p847-848; 851-852. The OR concerning the Department of the Pacific reads much differently than the other volumes. It was much more casual out in the far west. There seemed to be a feeling of independence not shared in the east. It’s also fun to see how both Carleton and Riggs, the commander at Fort Yuma, almost looked up to Captain McCleave, holding him as a hero of the wild west. I found a bit more about him here. []

McClellan Fails by Four to Six Inches – Lincoln and Stanton Swear Up a Storm

February 27, 1862 (Thursday)

Sometimes plans simply don’t come together. There are days when one little thing can make everything go wrong at once. For Union General George B. McClellan, this was one of those days. While the General allowed his main plan to attack Richmond from the Virginia Peninsula to simmer on the back burner, he focused on a sub-plan closer to home.

Wanting to secure the B&O Railroad at Harpers Ferry, he planned to construct a semi-permanent floating bridge, constructed of canal barges. In order to establish a beach head, the previous day, he had General Nathaniel Banks throw up a temporary pontoon bridge across the Potomac, linking the Maryland side to the Virginia side. With that accomplished, and after Banks crossed most of his division, McClellan wanted to start the work on the semi-permanent floating bridge.

While the idea was a good one, something went wrong with the planning.

The canal barges to be used in making the floating bridge were floated up the C&O Canal to be passed through the lift locks into the Potomac River. The specific barges that were selected by McClellan were actually made for use in a different and larger canal. Like period railroads and the span of their rails, there was no standard width for a canal or its boats. The barges used in this other canal were four to six inches larger than the ones used by the C&O Canal.

When the barges were floated up the canal, it made no difference at all; they passed through without a problem. However, these four to six inches became unbelievably important in the early morning hours of this date.

As the men working the lift-locks prepared to pass the first canal barge from the canal into the Potomac River, they discovered that the barge was too large (or the lock too small) by a mere four to six inches. After the army engineers took in the situation, it was further discovered that the problem was not going to have an easy solution.1

By mid-afternoon, after what must have been a very taxing day, General McClellan wired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, informing him that the lift-lock was “too small to permit the canal boats to enter the river, so that it is impossible to construct the permanent bridge as I intended.” McClellan also let it be known that he was not to blame. The military railroad employees, said the General, had always asserted that the lock was large enough. He concluded that the only other option was to reconstruct the railroad bridge that was destroyed by the Rebels.

The plan to capture Winchester, Stonewall Jackson’s base of operations, would probably have to be scrapped, as the “tedious work” of rebuilding the bridge would give the Rebels time to be reinforced from Manassas.

While they certainly couldn’t narrow the barges, the Secretary of War asked why the lift-locks couldn’t be enlarged. McClellan replied that they could be enlarged, “but entire masonry must be destroyed and rebuilt, and new gates made.” This was, said McClellan, “impossible in the present stage of water and requiring many weeks at any time.” Rebuilding the railroad bridge, while tedious work, could be “rebuilt many weeks before this could be done.” It being (apparently) quicker to build a bridge than widen a lock, McClellan decided to hold off on taking Winchester (which was General Banks’ idea, anyway), and stick to just covering the B&O Railroad at Harpers Ferry.2

Oddly, prior to leaving Washington for Harpers Ferry, McClellan downplayed the Winchester objective, letting both President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton know that his main goal was to cover the railroad. Even something as catastrophic as not being able to span the Potomac was no problem if the commanding General stuck to his provincial goals.

To add to his troubles, a storm had kicked up and was playing havoc with the rickety temporary pontoon bridge thrown across the river by General Banks’ men. The bridge was in danger of collapsing, stranding two brigades on the Virginia side. Throughout the day, McClellan had fed their baggage and supplies across, but didn’t want to risk sending troops.3

Since it was clear that the temporary bridge would not hold, McClellan saw little reason for more troops to come to the Potomac. En route were 10,000 men under General Sedgwick and several brigades from other divisions. All were halted.4

Meanwhile, in Washington, after receiving the telegrams from McClellan, Secretary Stanton strode furiously to the White House to let Lincoln in on the bad news. President Lincoln was almost proud of McClellan, telling friends that “McClellan has, in this case, left himself no loophole through which to escape; for he has said to both Stanton and myself, ‘If this move fails, I will have nobody to blame but myself.'”

After Stanton read the wires to the President, they both figured that McClellan was about to completely abandon the move on Winchester. Filled with irritation and bitterness, Stanton exploded, “It means it’s a damn fizzle! It means that he doesn’t intend to do anything!” Lincoln, in turn, “swore like a Philistine,” and slammed his fist upon his desk. “Why the hell didn’t he measure first?”

He continued: “Why in the damn nation… couldn’t the general have known whether a boat could go through that lock before spending a million of dollars getting them there. I am no engineer but it seems to me that, if I wished to know whether a boat would go through a hole or a lock, common sense would teach me to go and measure it. I am almost despairing at these results. Everything seems to fail.”5



  1. McClellan’s Own Story by George B. McClellan. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p728-729. []
  3. McClellan’s Own Story by George B. McClellan. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 1, p543. []
  5. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. These accounts are culled from the writings of Lincoln’s secretary, John Nicolay. []

Union Brigades Cross the Potomac into Harpers Ferry!

February 26, 1862 (Wednesday)

Union General George B. McClellan’s main plan, the one to steam the Army of the Potomac down the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia Peninsula, was basically on hold while he fiddled with a sub-plan that he was trying to scale back.

The sub-plan, mostly invented by General Nathaniel Banks, was to move his division across the Potomac at Harpers Ferry and occupy Winchester, the base of operations for Stonewall Jackson. McClellan, more than happy to only take Harpers Ferry (and so control the B&O Railroad), met in the morning of this date with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

During the chat, he told them of his plans to build a semi-permanent floating bridge constructed of canal barges. McClellan, however, wasn’t sure that it could be built. The Potomac had been flooding, its current deadly and swift. He also told them that if it truly couldn’t be built, he would oversee the rebuilding of the railroad bridge destroyed by the Rebels. This would, of course, take quite a bit of time, so it’s fair to assume that both Lincoln and Stanton were pulling for the floating bridge.1

To establish a bridgehead on the Virginia side of the river, General Banks was throwing across a makeshift pontoon bridge. The pontoons came quickly by rail, while the canal barges were being floated up the C&O Canal.

Constructing a pontoon bridge was no easy task. It was handled by some engineers and 100 men from the 3rd Wisconsin. First, they improvised an abutment on the Maryland shore, while another group rowed against the current to the other side of the Potomac to do the same. The pontoons were floated into place and planks laid over them. One after the other, this was done until it spanned the river. Due to the steady current, a rope was stretched from shore to shore, fifty feet above the bridge. A line was then run from the pontoons to the rope in order to provide greater stability.

As the bridge was finished, a short officer walked out upon it and congratulated the engineers on a job well done. This man was General McClellan, who had made the journey from Washington, arriving at one o’clock just in time to oversee the final work. While sturdy enough to carry troops, it was clear that it was temporary, as the racing Potomac bowed the bridge in nearly a semi-circle.2

McClellan was the first to cross the rickety thing. When he reached the Virginia shore, he immediately ordered two brigades to follow. As a brass band played, the General welcomed them to Harpers Ferry.3

Crossing such a pontoon bridge was only slightly less dangerous than undertaking its construction. Officers were not allowed to ride their horses, and the troops were ordered to march at the “route step” (meaning to casually walk). As a private in a Massachusetts regiment related, “the oscillation of the cadence step or trotting horse is dangerous to the stability of a bridge of any kind, much more so the seemingly frail structure of boats and timbers, put together with ropes, here described.”4

The troops were marched through the town, up into Bolivar Heights, where they made their camp. Being familiar with the ground, several companies of the 3rd Wisconsin were placed around the camp to act as pickets. Towards evening, the steel sky grew darker and dropped its cold dejections upon the Union soldiers. The rain also fell upon the Confederate scouts keeping a suspicious eye upon Banks and McClellan.5

Two additional brigades were also crossed, but even more troops, as many as 50,000, were heading towards this new Harpers Ferry crossing. Throughout the night, General McClellan stayed close to the telegraph office, wiring Washington for cavalry and to tell them the good news about the pontoon bridge.

“We will attempt the canal-boat bridge tomorrow,” wrote a triumphant McClellan. “The spirit of the troops is most excellent. They are in the mood to fight anything.”6

__________________

Rebels take Socorro, New Mexico

After a two day truce to bury the dead, Confederate General Henry Sibley and his officers were inspired by their victory over Col. Canby at Valverde, near Fort Craig, New Mexico, but were unsure what to do. Col. Canby’s force was still in Fort Craig. The Rebels had demanded the surrender of the fort and army, but Canby wisely declined. Some in the Confederate ranks wanted to storm the works, but more thoughtful mind prevailed.

They decided to move north, leaving the fort and the 3,500 Yankees inside it. Figuring out their plan, Canby sent scouts up the Rio Grande with orders for Union outposts to remove all supplies that might fall into the hands of the Rebels.

Forty miles above Fort Craig, Rebel cavalry captured the town of Socorro by lobbing a few rounds of artillery into it. The New Mexican militia, barely Unionists, quickly gave in and handed the Confederates quite a haul of provisions.

By the evening of this date, the main body of Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico, 2,500-strong, marched into town. Taking over the village, the Confederate soldiers commandeered adobe houses. Their surgeons established hospitals and continued to treat the 150 wounded from the Battle of Valverde. The wounded included Capt. Willis Lang, who led the ill-fated charge of the Lancers. He would be buried in the village.7

Most of the Confederate troops figured that they would resupply and then go back to attack Fort Craig. This idea was probably bolstered by the fact that there was nothing for either the men or horses to eat. General Sibley had two choices. He could either do what his men (and probably Col. Canby) expected him to do and go back to attack the Union fort, or he could continue north. If he chose the latter, he could possibly find forage along the way, but would most definitely not run into any Union opposition.

The only formidable enemy base was Fort Union, about 200 miles away, on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, far past Albuquerque and Santa Fe, even north of Las Vegas. Fort Union only boasted several hundred Union volunteers. Their numbers, however, could be augmented.

Over the next several days, General Sibley would make up his mind.8



  1. McClellan’s Own Story by George B. McClellan. []
  2. Recollections of a Private by Warren Lee Goss, 1890. []
  3. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []
  4. Recollections of a Private by Warren Lee Goss, 1890. []
  5. History of the Third Regiment of Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865 by Edwin Eustace Bryant, Higginson Book Co., 1891. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p727. []
  7. This is actually a very sad story, best told at the website FindaGrave.com. In short, according to the site: “He is buried in an unkept, derelict piece of land which was once a cemetery. It is now privately owned and visitors are not welcome. Shots have been fired. Graves have been abused and robbed.” New Mexico is apparently a very rough place. []
  8. Combined accounts from Blood & Treasure by Donald. S. Frazier and Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. []

Nashville Falls to the Union; Crossing the Potomac

February 25, 1862 (Tuesday)

Two different Federal forces were approaching Nashville, recently abandoned by the Rebels. Up the Cumberland River, General William “Bull” Nelson, with 7,000 men, was, by morning, five miles away from the city. General Don Carlos Buell, with a small portion of his Army of the Ohio (about 9,000, so far), had made it to the banks of the Cumberland River, opposite Nashville.

Buell had no intention of crossing into the city until he had most of his army with him. He was aware that the Confederates had fallen back from Nashville following the loss of Fort Donelson, but was playing it safe.

It was much to his surprise that he spied General Nelson’s men entering the city aboard transport ships.1 Nelson, after examining one of the abdicated Confederate river batteries, entered the city, taking possession of the public square. Realizing at some point that General Buell was across the river, Nelson, who was now under Halleck and Grant, took a boat to meet with his former commander.

This left Col. Jacob Ammen in charge. Around noon, Ammen met with Nashville’s mayor, who asked for a pass to see General Buell, so they could properly surrender the city. The rest of Ammen’s day was spent being called upon by the citizenry. Most claimed to be strident, dyed in the (blue) wool, Union men. Others, told him where to find secessionists and the supplies left behind by the Rebel army. Due to these Unionists, tons of provisions were discovered.2

While Ammen was hearing from the locals, Generals Buell and Nelson were deciding what to do next. Buell didn’t want to leave Nelson all alone in the city for fear of Rebel attack. He also didn’t want to abandon the newly-taken foothold. Though he thought it was too early to cross, he did so anyway, loading his men onto the transport ships and taking them across to Nashville. After they were on the shore, he sent the ships back to Grant at Clarksville, so they could bring back General C.F. Smith’s Brigade. One thing Buell did not want was to be attacked by the Rebels with his back to the bridgeless Cumberland River.3

As Buell entered the town, he saw no violent demonstrations, but saw little Union sentiment. “The mass of people appear to look upon us as invaders,” he reported the following day.4 Though most of the residents seemed resigned to their occupation, at least one was prepared to speak her mind.

As he rode along High Street, his troops following, a wealthy Southern woman came out of her house, and walked towards General Buell, shouting praise for Jeff Davis. Buell made sure that the large house was made into a hospital.5

__________________

Geary Tries Again

The storm that had swelled the rapids of the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry had passed. It had claimed the lives of six men of the 28th Pennsylvania as they attempted to cross it on a makeshift skiff. General George McClellan wanted to cross General Nathaniel Banks’ Division into Harpers Ferry and secure the B&O Railroad. Banks wanted to do all of that in addition to taking Stonewall Jackson’s base at Winchester.

For either plan to succeed, they needed a bridge. The railroad bridge had been destroyed and would take too long to repair, so McClellan wished to build a semi-permanent floating bridge made from canal boats (basically barges). Until that was ready, he would built a regular, temporary pontoon bridge.

By this date, the pontoons were coming by rail and were just about ready, while the canal boats, specifically selected for the job, were being shipped up the C&O Canal.6

Col. Geary, commander of the 28th Pennsylvania, was determined to cross the river and establish a beachhead at Harpers Ferry. He somehow managed to get eight companies and two pieces of artillery across using the rickety skiff and rope ferry system that proved deadly the previous day.

The weather on this date was calm and cool. The Potomac’s current, however, was still dangerously swift. The rope that was the guide for the ferry broke during a crossing and two companies had to be taken over in boats.

Once in Harpers Ferry, Geary threw five companies and the artillery over the Shenandoah River. They established garrisons, filling the three fortifications that had been built earlier.7

Meanwhile, the rest of Banks’ Division, 18,000-strong, as well as General Sedgwick’s Corp of Observation, 10,000-strong, continued or began their marches towards Harpers Ferry.8



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p425. Buell’s Report. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p659-660. Ammen’s Diary. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p669. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p425. []
  5. The Forty-First Ohio Volunteer Infantry by Robert L. Kimberly and Ephraim S. Holloway, W. R. Smellie, 1897. []
  6. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p511-512. Geary’s Report. []
  8. Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, February 25, 1862. As well as Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []