Notes on Edward's Ferry & Goose Creek

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Miles 30.7 and 30.9

Union troops arriving at Edward's Ferry for crossing, October 1861.
(Library of Congress)

To be added

Mile 30.7: was not begun until 1849. By 1854, this system of four skirting canals was open as far as the mouth of the Little River. But this was only the first 12 miles of a canal system that had been planned to reach as far as the Snicker's Gap Turnpike (20 miles). Paddlers who venture up Goose Creek to the first rapids will still find traces of the old canal bed as well as some sturdy old stone locks.

In his last report to Virginia's Board of Public Works in 1857, the resigning president of the company was brutally honest: "The faint hopes which I entertained at the date of my former report as to the prosepective value of the work have long sice vanished and candor compels me to say that I consider it of little value, either to the state or to the individuals who have expended their money on it." He pointed to the "attractions of speedy railroad facilities" as the cause of the canal's demise, specifically the Loudoun branch of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad. The latter railroad never made it to Hampshire County on the other side of the Shenandoah Valley, and so it became the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad and is now known as a 45-mile rail-trail from Alexandria to the foot of the Catoctin Mountains.

Mile 30.9:

Early in the Civil War, General Charles Stone set up a large Union encampment here, and established a commissary on the canal. Several units from Minnesota and New York were sent across here in October 1861 as a "demonstration" to draw attention from the more serious foray at Ball's Bluff (see mile 34). Some of the wounded from Ball's Bluff were brought down to the hospital at "Camp Stone" after the battle.

Professor Thaddeus Lowe, the Union's "chief aeronaut" brought his Intrepid up to Edwards Ferry on December 15th and made frequent ascensions to observe the Confederate encampments on the other side of the river near Leesburg. It had taken a great deal of personal initiative and successful demonstrations near Washington that summer, as well as a nudge from President Lincoln, for Lowe to get old-fashioned General Winfield Scott to fund the construction of five balloons. Younger commanders such as General Hooker and General Stone were at least intrigued by the advantages of aerial observation, though they were frequently frustrated by its unavailability in poor weather. (In addition to poor visibility, icing was mentioned as a particular problem that winter.)

During the winter, the Potomac froze over on occasion, and where General Stone had earlier commented with dismay on the custom of opposing pickets wading to mid-river to exchange pleasantries, one of the Minnesotans now wrote in a letter home that Union pickets had ventured across the ice to shake hands with their Confederate counterparts and exchange coat buttons. In the spring of 1862, the balloon corps left the area to accompany the Army of the Potomac on its southern journey to the Peninsula campaign. (Also see Mile 69.4) General Stone, unfortunately, did not accompany them. He was arrested without warning on February 8, 1862 and imprisoned for over six months on vague suspicions of secessionist sympathies, allowing letters to be carried back and forth over the Potomac, and misconduct related to the debacle at Ball's Bluff, though no formal charges were ever made against him.

When Major-General Hooker determined that Lee was moving through Maryland to Pennsylvania after the battle at Chancellorsville, he decided to make a major crossing here (June 25-27, 1863), based on the recommendations of the Army Engineers. Unfortunately, when Major Spaulding arrived to begin building two pontoon bridges across the river, he found himself woefully ill-equipped because the original estimate of 700 feet was short by about 640 feet.

When the bridge was finished and units began crossing, some of them headed up the towpath to a bivouac at the Mouth of the Monocacy or continued on to Point of Rocks. While this may have appeared a convenient route just a few days earliers, the columns of Union soldiers found it muddy and slow going due to heavy rains. Many men slid into the canal, and at least one stubborn mule was pushed off the path and drowned. Other units followed an inland route, on roads through the towns of Poolesville, Barnesville, and Hyattstown to Frederick. The day after the crossing was completed, June 28th, Major-General Meade learned that he had been appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac in place of General Hooker, and it was Meade who led the Union forces at Gettysburg a week later.

Edwards Ferry continued to be a much-used civilian crossing-point throughout the war, raising Union suspicions of spying and smuggling. In a notable incident, several women friends from Leesburg were arrested while visiting in Poolesville in June 1864; after 3-4 weeks in the Old Capitol Prison, they were released and crossed in a skiff at Edwards Ferry. Imprisonment did little to dampen their partisan sympathies -- one of the women later recalled that she had to stand during the crossing to conceal cavalry boots that she had attached to her hoop skirt. Another member of the party, Elizabeth White, was the wife of the famed partisan raider, Elijah White (see biographical note for mile 35.5).

Additional Notes

Goose Creek:

The engineer hired for the Goose Creek project was none other than General William Gibbs McNeill, who had done survey work for the James River and Kanawha Canal and the C&O Canal, and was briefly the president of the C&O Canal Company (1841-1842) before running into trouble with the company's board of directors.
The first president of the Goose Creek & Little River Navigation Company was George Carter, who owned the "Oatlands" property and its mill further up Goose Creek. The last president was Colonel H.B. Powell.
Mills along the route served by the completed portion of the canal system included Clapham's Mill (closest to the Potomac), and Cooke's Mill, Cochran's Mill, Francis' Mill, Ball's Mill. The canal system was not completed further up Goose Creek and Little River, and so it never reached Oatlands or Aldie Mill.

Edward's Ferry:

A contemporary illustration in Leslie's shows the Union soldiers "retreating" across a pontoon bridge at Edward's Ferry after the Battle of Ball's Bluff. However, there was no pontoon bridge at the time--General Stone gave a very precise account in his testimony of the time it took for the boats to carry the men across the Potomac.


Stone walls of one of the abandoned locks
of the Goose Creek Navigation Company.
(CM High, 2000)



Testimony of Captain J.J. Delany, Second Regiment, New York Militia,
regarding the actions at Edward's Ferry during the Battle of Ball's Bluff

About sunrise on the 21st of October our regiment was drawn up in a line, resting on the bank of the river. The first object that attracted my attention was the means of crossing. I had come there with my mind fully prepared to find a pontoon bridge, or something of that kind. But when I saw nothing but some common flatboats, which would average about thirty men to each one, and even that would crowd those working the boats across, I was considerably astonished. I said but little, but I thought a great deal. We were crossed over and took up our position on the right of the Minnesota rgiment, with my company deployed as skirmishers, with my right resting upon the Leesburg road, adjoining the house formerly, and perhaps then, occupied by a Mr. Buckley. There was an intrenchment upon the left of where we were, visible to the naked eye. But still we were out of the reach of any musketry there. I continued on that spot until, I suppose, about two o'clock on Tuesday morning, when I was relieved, or rather received orders to fall back quietly. When I got down to the ferry below, I found that the Minnesota regiment, or the greatest part of it, as well as my own regiment, with the exception of my company, had all been crossed over the river. As I approached the river company H, the last company of ou regiment, had nearly completed the crossing, when they were ordered to return to the Virginia side. Accordingly, between that time and daybreak, all the troops returned again--those that had crossed on Monday.


It was raining very severely during the day, and themen were out in the low ground there, which, at the last overflow, had been some fifteen or twenty inches under water, right where our men then lay. During the night the wind blew up very fresh, and during Wednesday it was impossible to cross. There were canal boats on the Maryland side, but they could not be got across to us. With the means we had it would have been impossible to cross the river then. If there had been a hawser there, by which the boast could have been pulled over, we could have gotten across. During Wednesday afternoon the wind lulled to such an extent that they mangaged to get some boats over to us, and after dark that night all the men were sent across to the Maryland side.

On Wednesday afternoon I had been again ordered out on picket, and was posted on the Leesburg road, in advance of the position I had a formerly occupied, a quarter of a mile or so, in face of a very thick timber. I was there in conjunction with three other companies, company K, nineteenth Massachusetts, company I, first Minnesota, and company K, of the fifth Connecticut. We had intrenchments thrown up there by the orders of General Abercrombie, and were digging rivle pits and filling up the angles of the fence there which had been torn down, and we placed our men behind them during all that night. At about half past three o'clock in the morning my command received orders to withdraw and take our intrenching tools with us. The one who first brought me the order was dressed in a half military and half civil dress, and I did not know but what it was a ruse on the part of the enemy, or something of that kind, and I did not pay much attention to it. I told him I wanted a more authentic order than that. In the course of the next half hour an orderly came up with the same orders, and I then ordered the companies to move off. We got down to the bank and found that all the troops had been drawn off, with the exception of a dozen or so men scattered around keeping the fires up. On both banks of the river, on the Maryland side as well as the Virginia side, the camp fires were very numerous, and persons seeing them would suppose there were a great many troops encamped there. About sunrise I got across and marched to our camp, and found that the rest of the regiment had been in camp since two o'clock.


In 1861, Harper's Weekly published this drawing of
Professor Lowe preparing the "Intrepid" for an ascent in Northern Virginia.

from the Official Records Series 1, Volume 3
pages 268-70

December 16, 1861.
Lieut. Col. A. V. COLBURN,
Assistant Adjutant-General:

DEAR SIR: I returned yesterday from Poolesville, after stationing a balloon and necessary inflating apparatus with General Stone?s division. This is the third of the new inflating apparatus which has been sent out, and three more are now ready to go as soon as the other two balloons are finished. I commenced inflation at Edwards Ferry on Friday at 4 p. in., and in three hours generated gas sufficient to lift 1,200 pounds. On Saturday luorning I ascended quite early and took an observation of the enemy?s country. Very few troops were visible, and these were scattered both up and down the river. We could see into nearly every street of Leesburg, but scarcely any troops were visible. The main body appears to be between Leesburg and Centerville?I should judge fifteen or twenty miles below the former?as camps and heavy smokes were quite visible in that direction. Later in the day I ascended again, and a nulnber of their tents which were visible in the morning inside of their earth-works between Edwards Ferry and Leesburg were taken down, and teams were observed moving toward the village of Leesburg. In the afternoon I was accompanied in my ascension by General Stone, who added several points to his map. The balloon still remains inflated, and will be ready for use at all times, in charge of a competent assistant aeronaut. The balloon now located at Budd?s Ferry has been inflated over two weeks without any replenishing. The communication of W. G. Fullerton, of December 2, in reference to photographic pictures taken from the balloon which was referred to me, has been examined, and I would say that the author advances no new ideas. As soon as other matters connected with the balloons are accomplished I shall give the photographic matter a thorough and practical test.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. S. C. LOWE, Aeronaut.

The Official Records include several other reports from Professor Lowe,
such as this one from February 10, 1862:

Since my last observation I have discovered an increase of encampments in and about Leesburg, Va. They have commenced throwing up earth-works on the south side of Goose Creek and one mile and a half from the river. No additional improvement has been made upon the old work that commands the ferry, and I think it is still unfinished. The large fort west of Leesburg has been improved. It also appears that they have mounted some heavy guns. I could see no change about the works south of Leesburg. (I should judge that these were intrenchments.) There are two large encampments (new) on the road running to the west from Leesburg, near the large stone house, which is, I think, one mile from town; also an encampment in the woods south of the large fort and west of the two encampments near the stone bridge. On the north and south side of Leesburg I noticed an increase of encampments close to the town. In and around the large fort west of Leesburg there is, I think, a regiment. On Goose Creek, about three miles from the river, there are some encampments. I could not tell how many there were, as they are partly concealed by the woods. About five miles to the southeast of Goose Creek and one mile from the river I observed large quantities of smoke rising from the woods. To the rear of Ball?s Bluff I observed a small camp (two or three companies). Judging from the size and number of encampments, I should think there were from 10,000 to 12,000 troops opposite.



The Union Crossing at Edward's Ferry June 25-27, 1863
Official Records Series 1 - Volume 27 (Part I)

Extract from report of Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, U. S. Army,
commanding Second Division, Angust 16, 1863 [page 529]

On the 16th, we remained at Manassas Junction, resting.
On the 17th, marched to Centreville, and on the 19th to Gum Springs, where the division remained until the 25th, when at 10 a.m. it marched to Edwards Ferry, through Fairfarm and Franklinville, and crossing the Potomac on the pontoon bridge about 5 p.m., marched on the tow-path of the canal to the mouth of the Monocacy, reaching that point about midnight, after a march of not less than 25 miles, that portion on the tow-path being rendered very fatiguing and exhausting by a heavy rain that set in at nightfall. The whole command, officers and men, were more exhausted by this march than by that of the 14th and 15th.
On the 26th, the division marched to the vicinity of the Point of Rocks, and bivouacked on the farm of Dr. Duvall, near the summit of the Catoctin Mountain.
On the 27th, marched to the vicinity of Middletown, on the Hagerstown pike, via Jefferson.
On the 28th, marched through Frederick, crossed the Monocacy 3 miles above, and bivouacked for the night 7 miles from that town, on the Woodsborough road.

Extract from report of Capt. Matthew Donovan,
Sixteenth Massachusetts Infantry. July 29, 1863 [page 550ff]

Thursday, June 25, received orders to pack up at 4 a.m.; started at 8.30 a.m.; marched to the mouth of Monocacy River (in Maryland) by way of Edwards Ferry, arriving at 1 a.m. of the 26th. On this march we did not have time to make coffee, day or night.
Friday, June 26, started at 9 a.m. and marched to Point of Rocks; bivouacked for the night.
Saturday, June 27, started at 8 a.m. for Jefferson, arriving at 1 p.m.; from there marched to Burkittsviile, arriving at 5 p.m.; our regiment ordered on picket on Crampton?s Gap, in the South Mountain; passed a quiet night.

Extract from report of Got. Robert McAllister,
Eleventh New Jersey Infantry.

BELVIDERE, N. J., August 3, 1863.

June 25.?Left Gum Springs at 10 a.m. and made rapid march to Edwards Ferry; crossed the Potomac, and proceeded along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the Monocacy, where a remnant of the regiment arrived at 12.30 a. m. This march was so rapid and the road in such a bad condition that most of the men were compelled to stop at various points along the canal from complete exhaustion.
June 26.?Major Kearny was sent back early in the morning to bring up the men. Left early in the forenoon, most of the men having arrived, and marched to Point of Rocks, where we arrived late in the afternoon, and bivouacked on the heights half a mile from the town.

Extract from report of Maj. William H. Hugo,
Seventieth New York Infantry. [Page 562ff]

Left Gum Springs on the morning of the 25th, at 9.30 a m.; crossed the Potomac into Maryland at Edwards Ferry about 2 p. m., and continued marching, following the tow-path of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, to the mouth of the Monocacy, where we bivouacked for the night. On the 26th, marched to Point of Rocks, where we bivouacked for the night. On the 27th, crossed Catoctin Mountains, and passed through Jefferson, bivouacking a short distance from Middletown. On the 28th, we resumed our march, passing through Middletown and Frederick City, and bivouacking near Walkersville.

Extract from report of Col. George C. Burling, Sixth New Jersey Infantry,
commanding Third Brigade [page 569-570 ].


Remained here [Manassas Junction] until Wednesday morning, when we again started toward Centreville, arriving there that afternoon, remaining until Friday, the 19th, and, then started toward Gum Springs, arriving there near dark.
Remained in this place until Thursday, the 25th, and then marched to Edwards Ferry, crossing the river on pontoons, and continued our march to Monocacy Aqueduct, arriving about midnight.
The next morning the march was resumed to Point of Rocks. Bivouacked for the night, and resumed the march in the morning, passing through Jefferson about noon. Bivouacked near Middletown that night. Started in the morning; crossed the Catoctin Mountain, passing through Frederick City, and bivouacked 7 miles out on the Liberty turnpike.

Extract from The Itinerary of the Army of the Potomac and co-operating forces, June 5?July 31, 1863,
Compiled by Mr. Joseph W. Kirkley, of the Adjutant-General?s Office,
under direction of Adjutant-General Richard C. Drum, U. S. Army. [Page 143]

June 23.?Stahel?s cavalry division moved from Warrenton, via Gainesville, to Fairfax Court-House. June 24.?Newton?s (Third) division, Sixtli Corps, moved from Germantown to Ceutreville, and the Eleventh Corps from Cow-Horn Ford, or Trappe Rock, on Goose Creek, to the south bank of the Potomac, at Edwards Ferry. Stahel?s cavalry division moved from Fairfax Court-House to near Dranesville.

June 25.?The First Corps marched from Guilford Station, Va., to Barnesville, Md.; the Third Corps from Gum Springs, Va., to the north side of the Potomac, at Edwards Ferry and the month of the Monocacy; the Eleventh Corps from Edwards Ferry, Va., to Jefferson, Md.; and the Artillery Reserve from Fairfax Court-House, Va., to near Poolesville, Md. These commands crossed the Potomac at Edwards Ferry. The Second Corps marched from Thoroughfare Gap and Gainesville to Gum Springs. Howe?s (Second) division, Sixth Corps, moved from Bristoe Station to Centreville; Crawford?s division (two brigades) of Pennsylvania Reserves, from the Defenses of Washington, marched from Fairfax Station and Upton?s Hill to Vienna. Stannard?s Vermont Brigade, from the Defenses of Washington, left the month of the Occoquan en route to join the Army of the Potomac. Stahel?s cavalry division moved from near Dranesville, Va., via Young?s Island Ford, on the Potomac, en route to Frederick, Md.

June 26.?Headquarters Army of the Potomac moved from Fairfax Court-House, Va., via Dranesville and Edwards Ferry, to Poolesville, Md.; the First Corps from Barnesville to Jefferson, Md.; the Second Corps from Gum Springs, Va., to the north side of the Potomac, at Edwards Ferry; the Third Corps from the mouth of the Monocacy to Point of Rocks, Md.; the Fifth Corps from Aldie, Va., via Carter?s Mills, Leesburg, and Edwards Ferry, to within 4 miles of the mouth of the Monocacy, Md.; the Sixth Corps from Germantown and Centreville to Dranesville, Va.; the Eleventh Corps from Jefferson to Middletown, Md.; the Twelfth Corps from Leesburg, Va., via Edwards Ferry, to the mouth of the Monocacy, Md.; and the Cavalry Corps (Buford?s and Gregg?s divisions) from Aldie to Leesburg, Va. Stahel?s cavalry division was en route between the Potomac and Frederick, Md. Crawford?s Pennsylvania Reserves moved from Vienna to Goose Creek, Va.

June 27.?Headquarters Army of the Potomac moved from Poolesville to Frederick, Md.; the First Corps from Jefferson to Middletown, Md.; the Second Corps from near Edwards Ferry, via Poolesville, to Barnesville, Md.; the Third Corps from Point of Rocks, via Jefferson, to Middletown, Md.; the Fifth Corps from a point between Edwards Ferry and the mouth of the Monocacy to Ballinger?s Creek, near Frederick, Md.; the Sixth Corps from Dranesville, Va., via Edwards Ferry, to near Poolesville, Md.; the Twelfth Corps from near the mouth of the Monocacy, via Point of Rocks, to Knoxville, Md.; Buford?s cavalry division from Leesburg, Va., via Edwards Ferry, to near Jefferson, Md.; Gregg?s cavalry division from Leesburg; Va., via Edwards Ferry, toward Frederick, Md.; and the Artillery Reserve from Poolesville to Frederick, Md. Stahel?s cavalry division reached Frederick, Md. Crawford?s Pennsylvania Reserves moved from Goose Creek, Va., via Edwards Ferry, to the mouth of the Monocacy, Md.



  • "The Goose Creek & Little River Navigation," W.E. Trout, III, Virginia Cavalcade, published by the Library of Virginia, Winter 1967 issue. [The Balch Library in Leesburg has on file a longer draft of the article, including sketches of the skirting canals and the location of the many mills along Goose Creek and Little River.]
  • THE GOOSE CREEK SCENIC RIVER ATLAS, Historic Sites on the Goose Creek and Little River Navigation in Loudoun County, By Wm. E. Trout, III, Virginia Canals & Navigation Society.
  • The story of the imprisonment and release of Elizabeth White and her companions is told by Mrs. John Sellman (Annie Hempstone) in Volume XXXV of The Confederate Veteran, 1927.
  • Report of Humphrey Brooke Powell is quoted on page 552 of Landmarks of Old Prince William, A study of origins in Northern Virginia, Fairfax Harrison, Richmond, Virginia, 1924, reprinted by the Prince William County Historical Commission. [Prince William County in its present state is located south of the Occoquan River, but before of Fairfax and Loudoun counties were created out of it, it stretched all the way to the Blue Ridge.]
  • "The Goose Creek & Little River Navigation," W.E. Trout, III, Virginia Cavalcade, published by the Library of Virginia, Winter 1967 issue.
  • Captain Delany's testimony taken from pages 398-399 of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1863-1866, U.S. Congress. [Pages 252-510 of the Report are reprinted as The Battle of Ball's Bluff, Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, New York, 1977]
  • Description of pickets crossing in winter is from a letter by Joseph Spencer, quoted in LAST FULL MEASURE: The Life & Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, by Richard Moe, Holt, NY, 1993 [Contains a chapter on the 1st Minnesota's experiences while stationed at Edward's Ferry in 1861.]
  • See the description of likely crossing points for the Union army in Series 1, Volume 27, Part III the Official Records -- Chief Engineer Brigadier-General G.K. Warren?s report of June 16, 1863, Engineer Major Spaulding on June 20, and Major-General Slocum.
  • Civil War Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland, Charles T. Jacobs, published by The Montgomery County Historical Society, 1983 and revised 1996
  • Roads to Gettysburg, John Schildt, McClain Printing Company, Parsons, WV, 1978
  • Military Ballooning during the Early Civil War, F. Stanbury Haydon, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2000. [Paperback reprint of the first volume of a 1941 edition entitled Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate Armies.
  • The Eye of the Storm, Scrapbooks of Private Knox Sneden, published on-line by the Musarium and in print by Simon and Schuster's Free Press, 2000. [Entries for April contain interesting accounts of Professor Lowe's balloon corps in operation during the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862.]
  • Ball's Bluff, A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow, Byron Farwell, EPM Publications, McLean, Virginia, 1990.
  • The Historian's Guide to Loudoun County, Virginia, Volume 1: Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders 1757-1766, John T. Phillips, II, Goose Creek Productions, Leesburg & Middleburg, Virginia, 1996.



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