Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Rockville Expedition Continues

Charles P. Stone may not have found the phantom Confederate armies along the Potomac on June 14, but June 15 he met more organized Confederate resistance. looking for the 300 to 400 reported soldiers, Stone seized the opportunity to occupy two more of the River crossings, leaving only the crossing at Point of Rocks undefended, having taken a large part of his command to Poolesville.

"I have the honor to report that the troops of the expedition have to-night captured Edwards Ferry and Conrad's Ferry, the two approaches to Leesburg," he reported at the end of a day of marching. "The former is held by a portion of the Pennsylvania Regiment, a piece of artillery under Lieutenant Hasbrouck, and twenty cavalry. The latter is held by a portion of the first New Hampshire Regiment."

Red markers show the major crossings west of the city, blue show positions of Stone's units on June 15, 1861, and tents indicate locales of major armies. View Rockville Expedition - June 15 for a fully interactive map

Like many of the troops around Washington, both the Pennsylvania and New Hampshire regiments were made up of volunteers from state militia set to serve a 90 day tour. Stone's four battalions of DC Militia were of similar short service, as were his cavalry. His only long-term soldiers were the men of the 14th Infantry and the two gun crews.

Stone continued his report that evening with a bit of intelligence much better than the previous day's tip about Confederate units: "It is believed here that Harper's Ferry has been evacuated and that the garrison has retired, by way of Winchester, towards Manassas Junction. I shall send scouts out tomorrow. Ascertain, if practicable, the truth or falsity of this story."

In fact, the Confederate forces under Joe Johnston had begun falling back towards Winchester, destroying everything at Harper's Ferry, in accordance with the plan Jefferson Davis had sketched out in his reply to G.T. Beauregard a few days before. But it would be another few days before his Union army opposite, the ancient Mexican War hero Robert Patterson, realized that. His report of the same day said "reports from Captain [John] Newton are that Harper's Ferry is abandoned and destroyed. I believe it designed for a decoy." It would not be the last time Johnston deceived Patterson.

Meanwhile, Stone continued plans to stretch his little force from the army in Washington to Patterson's force near Harper's Ferry. He had already ensured operation of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal again for commercial traffic and largely shut down the smuggling from Baltimore. On this day in history either his men or Patterson's also blew up a one ton boulder that Southern-sympathizing men had pushed off a mountain onto the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad track at Point of Rocks.

But the Southern response was becoming more organized. One of his DC Milita officers reported "that the enemy are erecting works nearly opposite his position, on the canal, at the mouth of Seneca Creek. The enemy at Leesburg were frightened, it is said... and burned the Goose Creek Bridge (railroad)... They have not, however, yet evacuated the place."

As always, Stone finished his report to the War Department with an update on his men: "The command is well and doing well."

N.B. Every now and then the Official Records yield something that makes me laugh out loud. Maybe it's from reading them too much, or maybe it's from too clearly knowing the personalities of obscure, petty, vainglorious generals like John Bankhead Magruder, but his response to fellow petty general Ben Butler in this report is pretty hilarious. Sadly, neither of these ridiculous characters will significantly grace DC with their presence during the war, though Butler would be elected to Congress.

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