THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN: THROUGH ARKANSAS EYES
Years ago, back in the late 1990’s, I tried to get up on Loudoun Heights. I tried going up the west side of the ridge and the east side of the ridge. I tried ever road I could find to get me where I wanted to go. I finally gave up went I took a gravel road that I thought was headed in the right direction and ended up in someone’s backyard.
This terrain around the confluence of the Shenandoah River and Potomac is very unique. Loudoun Heights, which is in Virginia, just juts straight up from the Shenandoah River on its west side and the Potomac on its north side. The distance between the base of the Heights to both rivers isn’t that much, but the base did support a road during the Civil War. This road has been widened with our modern day road construction, but, if you don’t pay attention, you can be traveling east from West Virginia and end up in Virginia or Maryland before you know what hit you.
The biggest obstructions to army movement had to be streams, creeks, and rivers. Location and securing of fords was a major consideration in a campaign. Large bridges in this area of Northern Virginia and South Western Maryland, except for the bridges at Harper’s Ferry, did not exist. Fords were the only vehicles of crossing used by the populace for commerce and by the armies as a means of traversing the water obstacles to perpetuate a rapid moving campaign.
I guess I have always wondered what the men in the ranks experienced in these crossings. I have read the Confederates took off their shoes, trousers, cartridge boxes, cap boxes, and haversacks to cross the Potomac at White’s Ford in early September. Where they able to get all that equipment and clothing above the water level for the period of time needed to cross? How long did it take to cross?
Even though they crossed with bonfires on both sides of the river during the crossing of the Potomac at Shepherdstown by Jackson’s Division and Walker’s Division on the night of September 16th, could they really see well enough to stay in the shallow part of the river? Did some of the soldiers drown? Was it the same in the water as on the roads, you followed the slow movement of the people in front of you and had to stay in the water depending on how the traffic congestion?
Once you got to the other side, how much time were you given to reassemble your clothing and equipment? Or, were you hurried along and had to put your clothes on as best you could? If this were the case, you had to remain barefooted for a while before you could get all the clothing and equipment situated. Shoes would probably have gone on last.
This was just one more logistics problem for each soldier among the many they had to face in a campaign.