C&O Canal > Piedmont and the Sugar Lands > Berlin/Sandy Hook

Notes on Berlin (aka Brunswick), Sandy Hook, and Maryland Heights

Reference in C&O Canal Companion: Mile 55 and 59.5

This is one of several photographs taken by Alexander Gardner at Berlin (now Brunswick),
showing a pair of pontoon bridges laid across the Potomac and the piers from the bridge
burnt by the Confederates in 1861. A Union encampment lies in the foreground,
on a field above the C&O Canal, with a supply train. The Library of Congress dates this as taken
in September/October 1862, which would place it after the battle of the Antietam
(This and other photos of Berlin and Antietam can be viewed on-line at the Library of Congress'
American Memory site --search for "Alexander Gardner" in the Prints & Photos collection)


To be added

Mile 55:

Confederate forces were stationed in Berlin in May of 1861, but soon withdrew, destroying the bridge across the Potomac on June 9. When General McClellan finally decided to put his troops in motion on October 26, over a month after the battle at Antietam, most of them crossed twin pontoon bridges that the engineers had just finished at Berlin. That included the First and the Ninth Corps, commanded by Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside, who were destined to succeed McClellan. Two other corps crossed at Harper's Ferry, and a smattering of units crossed at other locations. The crossing at Berlin was completed on November 2, and by November 6 the engineers had been ordered to ship the pontoons downstream for use on the Rappahannock. Late that evening McClellan received the orders relieving him of his command. Burnside took over the Army of the Potomac, and both he and the pontoon bridges ended up at Fredericksburg in December, where disaster ensued.

The Army of the Potomac followed essentially the same procedure in July of 1863, after the battle of Gettysburg, completing pontoon bridges at Berlin July 17, as well as at Harper's Ferry.

Mile 59.5:

The railroad landing and little community of Sandy Hook at the base of Maryland Heights served as an entryway from Maryland to Harper's Ferry, and as such, it saw a great deal of activity before and during the Civil War. In fact, John Brown first set foot in Sandy Hook on July 3, 1859, boarding there for a few days until he was able to rent the Kennedy farmhouse.

The first sign of trouble came around midnight on October 16, 1859, when Patrick Higgins walked up to the Harper's Ferry bridge from his home in Sandy Hook, intending to relieve the night watchman, only to be surprised by two strangers and taken prisoner. While being led across the bridge, he struck one of his captors, John Brown's son Watson, and ran to the Wager House on the Virginia side of the bridge as a bullet grazed his scalp.

By the next afternoon, a platoon of Marines from Washington got off a B&O train at Sandy Hook, having received telegraphed instructions from Colonel Robert E. Lee to wait for him at this spot. Lee was not aware at the time that one of the local militia units, the Jefferson Guards, had used a flatboat to cross the Potomac above the Harpers Ferry dam and then come down the towpath and driven off three of Brown's men who were guarding the bridge. When Lee arrived on a special train around 10 o'clock that evening and was apprised of the situation, he ordered the Marines to march up to the railroad bridge and cross over to the town. There they found a wild scene as drunken militia and curiosity seekers staggered around the small downtown area, occasionally discharging their firearms in the air or at the armory yard. Out of concern for the hostages' safety, Lee wisely postponed the final assault on the engine-house until the next morning.

In the first year of the Civil War, Colonel John White Geary arrived at Sandy Hook with a regiment that he had raised in Pennsylvania, and promptly began sending letters from "Camp Geary." Ironically, Geary had had previous brushes with Ossawatomie Brown's violent legacy, during his brief stint as governor of the territory of Kansas in 1856-57. While he may not have cared for Brown's methods, his experiences with the bloodthirsty proslavery forces in Kansas converted Geary into a fervent abolitionist and Union man.

In mid-September of 1861, he observed in a letter to his wife: "I am sitting on the Bank of the Potomac just [at] the point of confluence of the Shenandoah with it. The Potomac is at present a clear beautiful stream ... The Shenandoah is very muddy at present, and rolls its water along with equal haste, into the same channel with the Potomac, but the waters seem to refuse to commingle and become one. The clearness and limpidity of the Potomac is discernable for miles, and the muddyness of the Shenandoah equally so in the distance, refusing to join their waters and mingle into one grand kindred stream. I cannot help thinking it resembles the condition of our country ..."

Geary's creative writing skills were not confined to his letters home. As one historian put it, he "excelled at crafting long, detailed reports that turned minor engagements into epic contests." His reports of skirmishes at Pritchard's Mill above Harper's Ferry (September 15, 1861) and at Point of Rocks (September 24, 1861) are classics of this style. Oddly, for someone who reported on every nuance, there appears to be no official report of a successful engagement mentioned in a letter to his wife on August 6, 1861: "Yesterday a skirmish occurred at Point of Rocks, a few miles below us, the result of which was, the killing of 5 of the rebels, the capture of 15 prisoners, and twenty horses. The prisoners are all Virginians, all old acquaintances of mine. Some of them employees of mine when I was at Point of Rocks managing the Furnace." Geary may have been trying to protect his old hands--he also tried to arrange to exchange at least one of these men for Union prisoners.

Geary eventually was made responsible for the river border down to Monocacy, until his men crossed the Potomac on a pontoon bridge thrown across at Harper's Ferry in February of 1862 and occupied Lovettsville and other points in Northern Virginia. Geary went on to lead his men at Gettysburg and in Sherman's campaign in Georgia, and was elected governor of Pennsylvania after the war. His political success before and after the war was no accident.Later in the war, he arranged for 173 officers under his command to sign a petition requesting that he be promoted from brigadier to major-general. Though he appears to have been less than adroit at intelligence-gathering and military strategy, he was an able administrator and hardly the worst of the Union's many politician-generals.

In 1862, as the Confederates advanced into Maryland, a detachment under Colonel Maulsby was hurriedly stationed at Sandy Hook. After Colonel Miles Dixon, the commander at Harper's Ferry, rode down to inspect the position on several occasions, he suddenly decided that it was indefensible and ordered Maulsby to withdraw. The Union line of defense during the battle was to be Maryland Heights, looming above Sandy Hook.



Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside depicted as McClellan's subordinates,
but soon to succeed him as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
Both would also lend their last names to the vernacular expressions
for camp followers and facial hair.
(Lossing's Pictorial Field-book of the Civil War)


Additional Notes

The bridge at Berlin:

The Brunswick Historical Commission notes a series of attempts to build bridges at Berlin/Brunswick. The incorporation of a "Berlin & Potomac Bridge Company" was authorized in 1848 by the Maryland Assembly. The Virginia legislature authorized a "Loudoun Bridge Company" in its 1853-54 session, and appopriated $30,000 for construction. The Maryland Assembly gave its assent to the Virginia plan on March 10, 1854. County records indicate that this 1,600-foot, 8-pier bridge was in operation by July 25, 1857.

In 1870, five years after the Civil War ended, the Maryland Assembly incorporated "The Berlin Bridge Company." However, a replacement bridge using the old piers was not actually begun until three years after the great flood of 1889, under the auspices of the "Berlin and Lovettsville Bridge Company."


An aerial view of the Brunswick roundhouse, taken in October, 1995,
shortly before
it was demolished.
(Photo by CM High; pilot Mark Terry)



From Lieutenant Israel Green's account of the U.S. Marines'
mission to Harper's Ferry in 1859:

With a detachment of ninety marines, I started for Harper's Ferry that afternoon on the 3:30 train, taking with me two howitzers. It was a beautiful, clear autumn day, and the men, exhilarated by the excitement of the occasion, which came after a long, dull season of confinement in the barracks, enjoyed the trip exceedingly.

At Frederick Junction I received a dispatch from Colonel Robert E. Lee, who turned out to be the army officer to whom I was to report. He directed me to proceed to Sandy Hook, a small place about a mile this side of the Ferry, and there await his arrival. At ten o'clock in the evening he came up on a special train from Washington. His first order was to form the marines out of the car, and march from the bridge to Harper's Ferry. This we did, entering the enclosure of the arsenal grounds through a back gate


From the Official Records, Series 2, Volume 3

Page 755- [RICHMOND],

December 16, 1861. Hon. J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War.

SIR: I respectfully ask your attention to the following case and its favorable consideration: Some time in August last, I believe, a young man in the Loudoun Cavalry, Arthur Dawson, was with five others surrounded and captured by the enemy. The tender years and estimable character of this young man induced many persons at the time to interest themselves to procure his exchange. He was one of three sons of a widow lady (all of whom were in our service), and his mother who resided immediately between the lines of the two armies near Leesburg excited by her bereaved and distressed condition the sympathy of the officers of both. Colonel Geary, commanding a Pennsylvania regiment opposite Leesburg, had been in former years when an officer on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad a guest at the house of this lady and seemed to retain some recollection of her former kindness to him. He offered at the time to secure the exchange of young Dawson for one Henry Johnson, of New Hampshire, a prisoner of Bull Run. On the other hand Colonel Hunton, of the Eighth Virginia Regiment (near Leesburg), endeavored to obtain the consent of this Department to the exchange. The letter* of Colonel ilunton (on file) and another* from Lieutenant Pearce on the same subject are herein inclosed. The answers to the same are on our letter books. The application was then refused on grounds stated in the reply, as the United States Government had not then recognized any exchanges. Since, however, exchanges have been of late effected in many instances by mutual consent. I lately wrote to the mother, Mrs. Dawson, who is a cousin of my (late) father and said that if Colonel Geary would renew his proposition I hoped there might now be a better chance of success. I have just received her reply, from which I append an extract: I am delighted to inform you that Colonel Geary is not only willing but anxious to make the exchange. He says if assurances will be sent to him from the proper authorities in Richmond that such can be done he will have Arthur brought to him at the Point of Rocks (Potomac, Loudoun County) in exchange for his man Pratt, who was taken prisoner by Colonel Ashby at Harper?s Ferry on the 16th of October. He belongs to Company A, Twenty-eighth Regiment Pennsylvania Volnnteers; that he must be brought np to Leesburg and the exchange made opposite the Point of Rocks, where Arthur was captured. Arthur Dawson (at first confined in Fort McHenry) is now confined in Fort Warren, near Boston. Pratt was recently and is yet I suppose a prisoner in Richmond. May I venture to hope that the honor- able Secretary of War will give a favorable consideration to this application in behalf of this young soldier and his widowed mother, and will permit me to return her an answer of promise that her request shall he granted as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made l

Very respectfully,

NOTE.?Prepare letter to Mrs. Dawson informing her that as soon as Colonel Geary has her son in his possession I will send Pratt to Point of Rocks for exchange for young Dawson.



From the Official Records, Series 1, Volume 19, Part I:

Page 556-557 from testimony of Col. WILLIAM P. MAULSEY:

For several days preceding the evacuation of Maryland Heights I was in command of the eastern approach to it, by way of railroad and canal, and Sandy Hook. I was ordered by Colonel Miles to hold the eastern approach to Maryland Heights. In his order he said, I think, ?This position is not to he abandoned. 1 will, if necessary, re-enforce you with half my command.? I am not sure that these words were all in the written order, as he was in the habit of adding verbally to his written orders. My command at that point consisted of five companies of my regiment. Three more of the regiment were nnder command of Colonel Ford, on Maryland Heights, and two under Colonel Miles, at Harper?s Ferry. I think eight companies of the Eighty-seventh Ohio, Colonel Banning, were ordered to report to me, and three pieces of artillery, Captain Potts. In the first instance I stationed my force at Sandy Hook, with one piece of artillery guarding at the point where the railroad, canal, and conntry roads leading down Pleasant Valley united. The remainder of my command I stationed on the onter heights, being the same ridge occupied by General Banks? army last sum- mer. I threw out a line of skirmishers, covering the base of that height. I occupied that position the better part of two days and one night. I think the afternoon of the second day Colonel Miles rode up and remarked that that position was not tenable, and ordered me to fall back to the eastern slope of Maryland Heights. I did so, and while in the latter position another piece of artillery was furnished me. While thus situated, I discovered a large wagon-train of the enemy at a distance of about 3 miles, in Pleasant Valley ........

CAMP AT SANDY HOOK, September 12, 1862. Col. DIXON S. MILES, Commanding:

COLONEL: The enemy is in sight with a large wagon train; apparently making its way toward Weverton and Knoxville. We, of course, are strong enough only to defend ourselves when attacked, according to your orders, and I make this communication in order that you may understand the condition of affairs, and take such action as you may deem proper. The train is apparently guarded by a heavy force of cavalry and infantry. The artillery, if any, is not yet in view. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

WM ~. MAULSBY, Colonel, Commanding.

The same evening, I think, I received from Colonel Miles the following communication:

SEPTEMBER 12, 1862. Colonel Maulsby, Conirneudi Sandy Hook: A large force is represented marching on you; it may be our own army, but if it is the enemy your position is not a defensible one, and as soon as you know to a certainty it is the enemy you must fall back to the head of the bridge with your whole command, bringing the two guns along. Do it deliberately; obstruct the road against a charge of cavalry. Send Cole out to distinctly understand what is the character of the force marching on you. I will visit you so soon as I can. Our troops are driven out of Solomon?s Gap, and a large infantry force is advancing on Maryland Heights. I shall now place guns to play on the road, from the bridge to Sandy Hook. Have the trees cut down by Captain ?~am ford s company to unmask the road on bank of canal. Have this done at once. Your obedient servant, D.S. MILES, Colonel Second infantry, Commanding.

Page 534-535, report of Lieutenant Binney, Col. Miles? aide-de-camp Saturday, September 6, 1862.?

General Lee?s army, in part, enter Frederick City. Colonel Banning, Eighty-seventh Ohio, with his two howitzers, falls back to Berlin and shells the rebels? advance guard, and on the opposite side of the Potomac. Colonel Banning again retreats before superior numbers to Knoxville; his guns are worked by a section of Captain Graham?s company (A), Fifth New York Artillery. The sergeant refuses to leave his guns, and takes them from hill to railroad on a car pushed by hand to Sandy Hook, but leaves one limber and equipments. Scouts and refugees report the enemy in large force, and advancing toward Knoxville. They advance toward Banning?s position, who shells their advance and retires back to Sandy Hook, and forms a junction with Colonel Manlsby?s Maryland regiment. Colonel Miles visits his outposts, and makes every preparation to meet the enemy and check their advance in every or any direction. He sends an engine and platform car to Berlin, and recovers the limber to howitzer, equipments, and ammunition left by Banning at Berlin. Our telegraphic communications eastward cut off; obliged to forward via Wheeling, Pittsburgh, &c. The operator receives the following dispatch: ?How are you, General Pope l General Jackson?s army.? Quiet from dark until midnight. An alarm from Sandy Hook. Colonel Miles and his staff, Lieutenant Binney, aide-de-camp, and Lieutenant Willmon, go down to outer vedettes, and remain until day-break. Return.
Sunday, September 7,1862.?Colonel Miles and staff again visit Sandy Hook, and go out as far as Weverton Mill, on road to Berlin and Point of Rocks.
Tuesday, September 9, 1862.?Colonel Miles, with his aide, visits Sandy Hook and Maryland Heights; returns, and goes out on left ridge of Bolivar Heights, toward the Shenandoah, and examines the points likely to be turned by the enemy on that flank.
Colonel Miles and staff again visit Sandy Hook; visit Colonel Banning?s outposts as far as Weverton.

From the Official Records, Series 1, Volume 19, Part II:

Page 333
POINT OF ROCKS, MD., September 18, 1862.
Captain ECKERT: Went to Sandy Hook. Line all right to Harper?s Ferry Bridge, except between two poles. Thirty rebel pickets this side of the bridge, but were about leaving wheu I left, at 5 o?clock. There are less than 200 rebels in Harper?s Ferry. No artillery. A large fire broke out as I was leaving, probably the pontoon bridge and Government property. The tents left by our troops remain standing. A rebel lieutenant told two women, who left Harper?s Ferry at noon, that they were surrounded, and should leave as soon as possible. A negro from Shepherdstown states that the rebels attempted to cross the river last night, but, water being too deep, many were drowned. Our men that were killed on Maryland Heights during Saturday?s fight are still unburied. The rebel killed and wounded were about 355 in that day?s fight. Citizens of Sandy Hook are burying our dead. We will go in advance as soon as relieved, and thence to Harper?s Ferry. The bridge at Harper?s Ferry was burned, but the piers are good. They tried five times to blow them up, but did not succeed.

WM. C. HALL, Operator.

Page 372 [Indorsement.]
OCTOBER 2, 1862.
Send copy to Mr. Garrett, saying that a telegram from William Prescott Smith, desiring a quartermaster to be stationed at Sandy Hook, was referred to General Ingalls, chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, for such action as may be proper. The Quartermaster-General cannot supply captains of the Quartermaster?s Department for every post where they might be desirable.


Series 1, Volume 19, Part I
From General McClellan's report on South Mountain, Antietam, etc.

Pages 86-87

On the 25th of October the pontoon bridge at Berlin was constructed, there being already one across the Potomac and another across the Shenandoah, at Harper?s Ferry. On the 26th two divisions of the Ninth Corps and Pleasonton?s brigade of cavalry crossed at Berlin and occupied Lovettsville. The First, Sixth, and Ninth Corps, the cavalry, and the reserve artillery crossed at Berlin between the 26th of October and the 2d of November.

The Second and Fifth Corps crossed at Harper?s Ferry between the 29th of October and the 1st of November. Heavy rains delayed the movement considerably in the beginning, and the First, Fifth, and Sixth Corps were obliged to halt at least one day at the crossings, to complete, as far as possible, necessary supplies that could not be procured at an earlier period.

Series 1, Volume 19, Part II

Page 580

General-in- Chief.
Captain BOWERS,
WARRENTON, November 14, [1862.] Adjt. Gen. Engr. Brig., Washington, D. C.:

On November 6, Captain Spaulding was directed to move bridge material from Berlin to Washington, and mount at once one complete bridge train in Washington. Is that train ready to move, with horses and everything needed supplied; if not, how long before it will be ready?

Lieutenant of Engineers.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, November 14, 1862?2.45 p. m.

Captain BOWERS, Adjt. Gen. Engineer Brigade, near Navy- Yard, Washington: In addition to the bridge train, which Captain Spaulding has been previously directed to fit out in Washington, General Burnside desires to have one more complete train mounted and horsed as soon as possible, and, with the other, sent with a company, at least, and Captain Spaulding in command, by land to Fredericksburg, Va., the eight tool wagons from draw-bridge to accompany the trains. Please advise me how long before they will be ready, and, on their starting, advise me of that.

Lieutenant of Engineers.


From the Official Records, Series 1, Volume 27, Part III:

Page 697

July 14, 1863. (Received 9.45 p. in.)

General HAUPT, Chambersburg: Our headquarters will be at Berlin, Md., to-morrow night. General Meade desires that you will see that the Orange and Alexandria and Manassas Railroads are in good running order. Couch will probably be left in command of this district. It would be well, I think, to have the Cumberland Valley Railroad repaired. He could draw his supplies from Frederick.

RUFUS INGALLS, Brigadier-General.

July 14, 1863.

General R. INGALLS, Chief Quartermaster, Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac: Your dispatch received. It will take several days to repair the railroad bridge at Harper?s Ferry. The railroad beyond there on Winchester road has been entirely destroyed. General Naglee ordered the break in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal repaired three days ago, and presume it is about completed. It is reported to me that the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad has the duplicate timbers to repair the bridge, but at what point I am not advised. Have inquired of W. P. Smith, master of transportation. The break in the canal was below Berlin.

E.P. FITCH, Gaptain, and Assistant Quartermaster.

Page 690

July 14, 1863?4.20 p. m.

General WARREN, Chief Engineer, Headquarters Army of the Potomac: If the canal is serviceable from here to Shepherdstown, I could be there by daylight to-morrow, and probably have the bridge completed by 11 a. m. How wide is the river there? In order to get material for more than 620 feet of bridge, I must dismantle the land train you ordered made up. After receiving your order to build the bridge here, I could not spare men to work on the canal. The canal superintendent has gone down to do the work, but I don?t think he has fairly commenced the work yet. It will take him two days to repair the break, with plenty of wheelbarrows, which he has not on hand.

I. SPAULDING, Lieutenant- Colonel of Volunteer Engineers.

Page 691

July 14, 1863?3.15 p. m.

General H. W. BENHAM,
Commanding Engineer Brigade, Washington: I have just completed a bridge across the Potomac, at Harper?s Ferry. General Warren telegraphs me to be prepared to throw another bridge at Shepherdstown or Berlin, and that he has sent to you for more bridge material to be sent up. If the bridge is built at Berlin, I shall want 600 feet more pontoon bridging. The material should be sent to Berlin by railway. There is a break in the canal below Berlin, so that the bridging could not be sent up by canal for several days. Please have better material sent up than was put in the last train. Most of the chesses are unfit for use. Please ask Colonel Pettes to have our letters sent by mail to Sandy Hook.

I. SPAULDING, Lieutenant-Colonel of Volunteer Engineers.

Page 715

July 17, 1863?6.30 p. m.

Col. WILLIAM H. PETTES, Comdg. Fiftieth New York Vol. Engineers, Washington: We completed the bridge across the Potomac at Berlin this morning, piecing it out with about 700 feet of damaged bridge material, which we picked up in the canal and river here, and repaired. The material from Washington arrived this afternoon, and we have commenced the second bridge. Captain Personius joined me to-day with about 35 men. After to-day, my headquarters will be at Berlin.

I. SPAULDING, Lieutenant-Colonel Fiftieth New York Volunteer Enqineers.



  • Brunswick: 100 Years of Memories, Brunswick History Commission, Brunswick, Maryland, 1990.
  • Wever of the B&O Railroad and Weverton, Peter Maynard, The Brunswick Historical Press, Brunswick, Maryland, 1996
  • Lieutenant Israel Green's account of the Marines' actions at Harper's Ferry appeared in The North American Review, December 1885, Volume 141, Issue 349.
  • John Brown, 1800-1859, A Biography Fifty Years After, by Oscar Garrison Villard, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, New York, 1910. [Reprinted by Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1929, Alfred Knopf, 1943.]
  • The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, With Legends of the Surrounding Country, Joseph Barry, Thompson Brothers, Martinsburg, West Virginia, 1903. [Barry identifies John Brown's hosteler at Sandy Hook as Ormond Butler.]
  • Epitome of the Life of "Ossawotamie" John Brown, Including the Story of the Attack on Harpers Ferry and His Capture, Trial and Execution, as related by Cleon Moore, Esq., of Charles-Town, W.Va., edited and published by Mrs. Livia Simpson Poffenburger, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 1904. [Moore gives a brief account of accompanying the Jefferson Guards as they crossed the Potomac and drove Brown's raiders from the B&O Railroad Bridge.]
  • A Politician Goes to War, The Civil War Letters of John White Geary, Edited by William Alan Blair, Selections and Introduction by Bell Irvin Wiley, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1995
  • The Photographic History of the Civil War, Fort Sumter to Gettysburg, edited by William C. Davis and Bell I. Wiley, under the direction of the National Historical Society, first volume of two-volume 1994 compilation published by Black Dog & Levethal Publishers, New York, by arrangement with Cowles Magazines. [The editors date the photograph at the top of this page as being taken in July 1863, after the Gettysburg Campaign -- see page 1335]
  • Pictorial Field-book of the Civil War, Volume 1, Benson J. Lossing, originally published in 1877, republished in 1997 by The Johns Hopkins University Press, with new introduction by Reid Mitchell



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