Posted by: The staff | September 9, 2013

“Third Fredericksburg,” pt. 2: Brandy Station Repurposed and Rare Pictures Considered


from: Harrison

In part 1 of this post, I offered a preliminary take on the Army of the Potomac’s Rappahannock River bridgehead established June 5, 1863 at Franklin’s Crossing, a short distance downstream from Fredericksburg. Although the intermittent fighting there on June 5 and the week following is typically interpreted as the opening combat of the Gettysburg campaign, my earlier post made a case for “Third Fredericksburg” as an alternate designation (one that I’ll continue to use here).

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s Battery), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southeast with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southeast with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

That earlier blog post also offered an interpretation that was critical of Hooker. Since we’ve just closed-out the sesquicentennial summer for the bridgehead (abandoned after nine days, in the early morning hours of June 14, 1863), I’d like to balance my previous take with one that’s friendlier towards the Union commander. Once again, I’ll focus on what was known to Hooker (or imagined by him) and inspired the creation and holding of the bridgehead, as opposed what was known to his opponent. Equally important, comparing the planning for Hooker’s June operations at and near Fredericksburg—whether implemented or cancelled—with that for his Chancellorsville moves helps us better understand both.

Some quick review: on June 5 Hooker concluded that Lee was likely leaving the Fredericksburg lines intending to either interpose his troops between Hooker’s army and Washington or cross the upper Potomac. Hooker ordered his engineers, supported by infantry of John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, to establish pontoon spans and a bridgehead at Franklin’s Crossing as a “demonstration,” albeit one with a fact-finding goal that initially made it more of a reconnaissance-in-force.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (location “B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (“B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

By late morning that same day, however, Hooker had expanded his plan for the Franklin’s operation into a major attack that would see the Federals, in Hooker’s words, “pitch into” the rear of Lee’s possibly strung-out, departing army at or near Fredericksburg. Planning for the attack was soon cancelled; Lincoln and Halleck quashed the scheme in responses received by Hooker around 4 p.m. Meanwhile, Hooker received news from the bridgehead that Confederates were assembling in the Prospect Hill-Deep Run line “from all quarters…and still arriving.” Around nightfall on June 5, he notified the President that he had come to doubt the likelihood of a Confederate departure from Fredericksburg and vicinity, and that he now intended to maintain the bridgehead for only “a few days.”

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Yet the prospect of striking the rear of a departing or dramatically weakened enemy someplace near Fredericksburg continued to intrigue the Union commander. Less than a day later, on June 6, cross-river observations of an apparent Confederate evacuation of positions north of Deep Run and northwest of the bridgehead prompted Hooker to order Sedgwick to make a “reconnaissance.” Sedgwick was authorized to commit his “entire corps, if necessary.” As it turned out, he needed only until midmorning on the 6th, and the services of the single division already present in the bridgehead (Albion Howe’s), to determine that, “The enemy are strong in our front,” and that “I cannot move 200 yards without bringing on a general engagement…. It is not safe to mass the troops on this side.”

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from an similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees at right; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from an similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees in right-middleground; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

Hooker again proposed a major thrust near Fredericksburg on the evening of June 10, with the bridgehead now occupied by John Newton’s division of the Sixth Corps. The army commander telegraphed Lincoln with a more elaborate scheme for an attack: “throw a sufficient force over the river to compel the enemy to abandon his present position” around Fredericksburg and then undertake a “rapid advance on Richmond.” Hooker characterized his plan as “the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.”

My previous post on suggested one way to read Hooker’s June 10 plan: he was continuing an exercise in post-Chancellorsville legacy repair, with little expectation of approval for his proposals and engaging mainly in semantics. The Prospect Hill-Deep Run line was growing ever more formidable, as Sedgwick had tersely noted on June 6. In quashing Hooker’s first attack-plan for Third Fredericksburg, on June 5, Lincoln and Halleck had echoed Hooker’s own, previously stated aversion to tackling fortifications frontally.

Key sites in Gen. Joseph Hooker’s planning for Third Fredericksburg, June 1863. Courtesy Library of Congress (base map).

Key sites in Gen. Joseph Hooker’s planning for Third Fredericksburg, June 1863. Courtesy Library of Congress (base map).

By the time of the June 10 proposal to Lincoln and Halleck, however, Hooker’s ideas for clearing the first hurdle en route to Richmond were far more imaginative than mere frontal assaults against the Prospect Hill-Deep Run position. Hooker’s own writing about his goals, as those evolved between June 6 and June 10, reveal a two-part approach of (1) capitalizing on Union operations that diverted the Confederates’ strength from certain segments of their lines around Fredericksburg, then (2) crossing the Rappahannock at those weakened or unoccupied areas.

Another detail from the Waud sketch. The tall, artillery specific stretch of fortifications dates the drawing to Battery D’s June 1863 occupation of the bridgehead; duty there in April-May 1863 had seen them place their guns merely “behind one of the army’s rifle pits,” according to Lieut. Charles Nelson Warner of Battery D. In contrast, his diary for June 1863 records “earthwork thrown up in front of us after dark” on June 7 in the bridgehead, confirming the account of major earthmoving that night to protect both infantry and artillery. Artillerist Warner noted further labor on “the earthwork” on at least one additional day: June 10.

Another detail from the Waud sketch. The tall, artillery specific stretch of fortifications dates the drawing to Battery D’s June 1863 occupation of the bridgehead; duty there in April-May 1863 had seen them place their guns merely “behind one of the army’s rifle pits,” according to Lieut. Charles Nelson Warner of Battery D. In contrast, his diary for June 1863 records “earthwork thrown up in front of us after dark” on June 7 in the bridgehead, confirming the account of major earthmoving that night to protect both infantry and artillery. Artillerist Warner noted further labor on “the earthwork” on at least one additional day: June 10.

Hooker’s first, lengthy response in writing, on June 10, to the news of the Battle of Brandy Station was to redefine his cavalry/infantry effort there from a stand-alone attempt to “disperse and destroy” enemy mounted forces intent on a major raid to something quite different: the first stage of a supporting operation for Hooker’s principal move, which would be made back east, near Fredericksburg. As telegraphed to Lincoln, Hooker’s June 10 plan opened with his assessment of Brandy Station: the Confederate mounted force had been delayed but certainly not destroyed, and Lee, Hooker hoped, now felt compelled to add “a heavy column of infantry to accompany the cavalry on the proposed raid,” concentrating first on punching-across the Union-held Rappahannock crossings beyond Brandy Station (an enemy focus that Hooker’s cavalry would intensify by resisting “the passage of the river”).

Hooker informed Lincoln that his proposed encouraging of the “manifest tendency” of Lee’s main force “to drift in that direction”—Culpeper, Brandy, and the Rappahannock’s upper reaches—“would so much weaken him in my front”—the central stretch of the Rappahannock (downstream from its confluence with the Rapidan), held mainly by Confederates of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps—“that I can throw a sufficient force over the river to compel the enemy to abandon his present position” in the vicinity of Fredericksburg. That Confederate position, moreover, would have been weakened still further by Hooker’s repurposing of the existing Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead from a springboard to “pitch into” the enemy (June 5), or at least to aggressively reconnoiter enemy defenses (June 6), to a means of attracting and holding an “accumulation” of Confederate forces, as Hooker described the bridgehead on June 7.

The Library of Congress dates this rarely seen sketch of Banks Ford to the days immediately after Chancellorsville, and about a month before the ford was spotlighted in Hooker’s Third Fredericksburg planning. View is from Union side of the river; slanting depression at center is likely the road that accessed the lowermost of the two prewar Banks’ Ford crossings. Building at right is perhaps a ferryman’s house or a structure associated with William S. Scott’s sawmill, which cut timber here. (This particular crossing hosted a Federal pontoon bridge on May 3-5, 1863, during Chancellorsville; a second pontoon bridge spanned the river about 300 yards downstream from this building—to the left in the picture—on May 4-5, at a location that had not served as a crossing point before the war.) Alfred Waud sketch Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress dates this rarely seen sketch of Banks Ford to the immediate aftermath of Chancellorsville, and about a month before the ford was spotlighted in Hooker’s Third Fredericksburg planning. View is from Union side of the river; slanting bank at center is likely the road that accessed the lowermost of the two prewar Banks’ Ford crossings. Building at right is perhaps a ferryman’s house or a structure associated with William S. Scott’s sawmill, which cut timber here. (This particular crossing had hosted a Federal pontoon bridge on May 3-5, 1863, during Chancellorsville; a second pontoon bridge spanned the river about 300 yards downstream from this building—to the left in the picture—on May 4-5, at a location that had not served as a crossing point before the war.) Alfred Waud sketch Courtesy Library of Congress.

Hooker’s 1863 correspondence and 1864 testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War reveal the particular crossing places that he was considering elsewhere along the central Rappahannock. In messages sent on June 6 and 7, 1863, Hooker asked General George Meade to have Fifth Corps units venture “a feeler” or by any other “stratagem” learn “what troops the enemy have” at the ford-exits opposite the riverbank held by Meade’s men. The ensuing exchange among Hooker, Meade, and division commander George Sykes specified both Banks’ and United States Fords as points of interest; Meade on June 5 had relayed Sykes’ promising report of “no signs of infantry at United States Ford or indications of large camps in its vicinity.” In 1864, Hooker asserted before the Joint Committee that Banks’ and United States Fords had been “weakly held” in June 1863, “and both practicable, as reported, for crossing.”

Additionally, Hooker on June 8, 1863 requested a reconnaissance of riverside topography as far downstream from Fredericksburg as the Seddon farm (“Snowden”) that would search “carefully” for Confederate positions, noting “all covered and exposed approaches thereto.” Prior to Chancellorsville, Hooker’s Chief Engineer, Cyrus Comstock, had provided an analysis that gave Seddon’s a mixed review as a crossing place: artillery on the Union side of the river would command the direct approaches to likely Confederate positions on the opposite side, but the Port Royal road’s bocage-like banks offered the enemy strong defenses, and there was likely danger from flanking artillery fire. At least part of the examination ordered on June 8 seems to have fallen to Gen. John Reynolds’ staffer Stephen M. Weld, who on June 9 made two separate trips to look across the Rappahannock for “anything new from the rebel force opposite Mrs. Seddon’s.” Weld reported that he “could discover nothing.”

Alfred Waud also drew this companion picture of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead, less complete and even more obscure than his other panorama, from the same viewpoint.  He now gives what are presumably the same gunners, of Battery D, more of a combat stance. (I’ve cropped and contrasted the picture to better present its faint details; the two halves were drawn as a single scene but over the years have faded to slightly different tones.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

Alfred Waud also drew this companion picture of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead, less complete and even more obscure than his other panorama, from the same viewpoint. He now gives what are presumably the same gunners, of Battery D, more of a combat stance. (I’ve cropped and contrasted the picture to better present its faint details; the two halves were drawn as a single scene but over the years have faded to slightly different tones.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

Lincoln rendered Hooker’s planning moot at 6:40 p.m. on June 10, when he telegraphed a rejection of the proposal, 90 minutes after its receipt in Washington. Brandy Station, it turned out, was repurposed for no more than a day. Hooker’s resulting disappointment seemed sincere to Provost-Marshal General Marsena Patrick, whose diary entry for June 13 (the last full day of the bridgehead’s occupation) records, “I think & know, that Hooker feels very bad—He is prohibited from crossing to [w]hip Hill”—a sense of lost opportunity that Hooker echoed nine months later, in his 1864 testimony concerning United States and Banks’ Fords. Yet his correspondence with Meade and Sykes in June 1863 had been somewhat vague and halfhearted on the scope and intent of possible moves across the Rappahannock. Hooker’s June 8 directive to seek an additional crossing place at or near Seddon’s may reflect concurrent, ongoing consideration of all promising options, but it may also indicate that, at the time, he had readily agreed with Sykes’ final assessment, forwarded late on June 6: “I [Sykes] am opposed to any movement across the river with the forces I have at Banks’ and United States Fords.”

This iconic but undated Timothy O’Sullivan photograph of Battery D in the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead was perhaps taken on June 7, 1863; historian John Kelley has discovered a different image, showing the bridgehead from across the river, bearing a contemporary label with that date. A June 7 timeframe is also supported by the apparent absence of the prominent artillery/infantry fortification sketched by Waud, not built until that night. Yet the diary of Lieut. Warner notes “Battery photographed” on June 8, while making no mention of any photographic activity on June 7 (or of sketching at any time). Possibly, Battery D posed for O’Sullivan behind and away from the fortification on June 8, or Warner erred in his diary notation by transposing the day. Or perhaps O’Sullivan made a second, now-vanished image of the battery on June 8. Courtesy Library of Congress.

This iconic but undated Timothy O’Sullivan photograph of Battery D in the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead was perhaps taken on June 7, 1863; historian John Kelley has discovered a different image, showing the bridgehead from across the river, bearing a contemporary label with that date. A June 7 timeframe is also supported by the apparent absence–at least at first glance–of the prominent artillery/infantry fortification sketched by Waud, not built until that night. Yet the diary of Lieut. Warner notes “Battery photographed” on June 8, while making no mention of any photographic activity on June 7 (or of sketching at any time). Possibly, Battery D posed for O’Sullivan behind and away from the fortification on June 8, or Warner erred in his diary notation by transposing the day. Or perhaps O’Sullivan made a second, now-vanished image of the battery on June 8. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Yet I remain fascinated by the similarities between Hooker’s June 10 scheme and associated planning, and his ideas before and during Chancellorsville in April and May. In the June 10 proposal, as with his pre-Chancellorsville proposal submitted two months earlier (on April 11), Federal cavalry were to play a key role in drawing Lee’s main strength away from the Fredericksburg area. And as in Hooker’s next plan for Chancellorsville (finalized on April 19), a major bridgehead at Franklin’s Crossing in June took on the role of attracting and holding an enemy accumulation.

Hooker’s readiness to adapt to changing circumstances in his planning for Third Fredericksburg—to encourage and exploit the “manifest tendency” of his opponent to shift northwestward—could be cited as support for historian Stephen W. Sears’ argument that the Union commander possessed impressive flexibility in grand tactics. Sears highlights in particular Hooker’s idea to salvage the situation, late during the battle of Chancellorsville, by withdrawing the bulk of his army across the river at United States Ford and re-cross it at Banks’ Ford to join the Sixth Corps and renew the offensive.

Noel G. Harrison

Text sources in order of first appearance above—June 5 “demonstration”: Official Records (“OR”) 27: 1st part: 32-33, 3rd part: 8; June 5 attack proposal: OR 27: 1st part: 30-31, 33; June 6 reconnaissance: OR 27: 3rd part: 12-13; original “disperse and destroy” goal of Brandy Station: OR 27: 3rd part: 27; June 10 proposal—“mortal blow,” enemy’s “manifest” drift : OR 27: 1st part: 34-35; Franklin’s Crossing repurposed to attract “accumulation”: OR 27: 3rd part: 13, 24; U.S. Congress, Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War (“Joint Committee”), p. 26; Banks’ and United States Fords potential crossings: OR 27: 3rd part: 9, 17-18, 24; OR 51: 1st part: 1046; Joint Committee, p. 160; Seddon farm potential crossing: OR 27: 3rd part: 33; OR 51: 1st part: 980-981; War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld, 1861-1865, pp. 211-212; Lincoln rejects plan: OR 27: 1st part: 35; Patrick on Hooker’s disappointment: David S. Sparks, ed., Inside Lincoln’s Army: The Diary of Marsena Rudolph Patrick, p. 258; Sykes’ final assessment on June 6: OR 27: 3rd part: 17; Hooker’s April plans and idea to salvage Chancellorsville: Stephen W. Sears, Chancellorsville, pp. 118-119, 132, 169-170, 399, 407, 423.

Picture- and caption sources in order of first appearance above–Waud bridgehead panorama #1: “Cross the Rapidan” [sic], Library of Congress; map: detail of map, Edmund D. Halsey MS diary, June 12, 1863, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP; account of night work: Alfred S. Rowe, The Tenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry… pp. 196-97; Warner diary, various dates: James R. Lafferty, Jr., trans., “The War Diaries of Lt. Charles Nelson Warner, U.S.A. 1862-1865,” entries for December 1862, April, May and June 1863; estimated site of Mannsfield: John Hennessy, Digging Mannsfield; base-map for sites of June planning; Waud Banks Ford: “Blind Ford & Scotts Mill,” Library of Congress; sawmill and Chancellorsville pontoons at Banks’ Ford: Noel G. Harrison, Chancellorsville Battlefield Sites, pp. 199-203; Waud bridgehead panorama #2: “Soldiers preparing for battle” (left half), “Sharpshooter covering artillery men” (right half), Library of Congress; Timothy O’Sullivan photograph; John Kelley research: “Hidden in Plain Sight: The First Photographs of the Gettysburg Campaign.”

Bibliographical Note—Historian Edwin B. Coddington would scoff at Hooker’s proposals of June 5 (its rejection “well founded”) and June 10 (“fantastically bad,” with the additional burden of hubris about reaching and capturing Richmond). Coddington argued that the first obstacles confronting these plans, the Confederates at and near Fredericksburg, were “well protected by earthworks” and “could offer stiff and perhaps prolonged resistance.” Historians Edwin C. Fishel and Stephen W. Sears would take the opposite view in brief comments in books covering broader subjects, stating that Hooker’s notion of a June attack in the Fredericksburg area had a real chance for success. Fishel did not speculate on means and locations; Sears commented in a footnote that Hooker “never fully developed his plan” beyond envisioning the passage of additional Federals at unspecified places “above and below Fredericksburg” but not “attacking the entrenchments there frontally.” (Edwin B. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, pp. 53, 67; Edwin C. Fishel, The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War, pp. 430-31; Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 83, 550.) A fine compilation of eyewitness writings about soldier life in and around the Franklin’s Crossing June bridgehead is in Noah Andre Trudeau’s “False Start at Franklin’s Crossing” (America’s Civil War, July 2001: 32-37, 86-88). Finally, my colleague Eric Mink has posted online this Union engineer’s map, dated “June 7 1863” but showing the completed infantry/artillery fortification, which was not actually built until that night. The date may refer to the finalized plan for the earthwork’s location, not the finished product; a party of Federal engineers had indeed “laid out a line” for it on the afternoon of June 7. (Gilbert Thompson, The Engineer Battalion in the Civil War, pp. 35-36.)

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the blog! My GGGF fought with the NJ 26th Infantry (the last of the smooth bores as I understand). I certainly would love to help preserve the Franklin’s Crossing location which is presently in the back of a dang Walmart! If anyone knows of a preservation effort, please contact me.

    • Andrew, Thank you for the read and comment. Franklin’s Crossing was unfortunately the site of heavy development in the early/mid 20th century–a huge sand- and gravel pit on the Stafford County riverbank (Wal Mart occupies part of that pit, thus its semi-sunken location), and a wasterwater-treatment plant and sprawling cellophane-factory on the Spotsylvania County side. The wooded, lower slopes and shoreline of the Spotsylvania riverbank are still evocative, however, and an adjoining landowner has kindly allowed access for tours given by park staff on occasion in the past, when time and resources have been available. If/when we are able to do that again, we would of course advertise it in advance as a public program. Noel

      • Thanks for the reply. If you can provide as much advance notice as possible to any tour of the crossing site I would be very appreciative as I am from New Orleans. Would also jump at the chance to purchase and preserve any related property.

  2. This is an interesting view of Bank’s Ford that I have seen before. On the cleared slopes across the Rappahannock is a view of a portion of concentric entrenchment’s manned by elements of Wilcox’s bridgade (their encampment was in the woods just south-to the left in the sketch), and what appears to be a fortification on the crest of the slope. Could this be the still extant, 6-gun artillery emplacement located several hundred feet downstream of the lower pontoon crossing used for Sedwick’s retreat? or is this another fortification that has since disappeared in the sprawl of CVA-South. To me, the fortification appears to be to the rear of these entrenchments rather than to the north, as is the case of the 6-gun emplacment.
    I am reminded of a report that General Warren made when examining the fortifications of Bank’s Ford (and the Rappahannock River defenses in general). When he described the Confederate fortifications near Banks’
    Ford in great detail. He noted that:
    “… Here, too, a foothold on the opposite hills gave a command of all
    the enemy’s line. A place of such importance was guarded by the enemy with the utmost care. His earth parapets, placed so as to sweep with musketry every crossing-place and practicable slope, were in three lines from the water’s edge to the summit of the slope, and traversed so as to quite protect the defenders from our artillery fire. It might seem
    that these successive lines would be of little use after the first one was carried, as those who fled from the first would mask the fire of the other, so that pursued and pursuers might enter together. The tactics of the rebels, however, provided for this; the first lines generally surrendered when overpowered instead of running, and thus no confusion is produced in the succeeding lines. At Banks’ Ford, moreover, two of these lines were so
    close to each other that both could in places bring their fire upon a party crossing the river, the rising slope permitting the rear line to shoot over that in front. The obstacles here were so great to our forcing a passage that the enemy forbore to plant a redoubt on the summit of the hill, thus, as it were, inviting us to try it. A large force constantly near the place rendered a surprise impossible, and, in addition, the bend in the river was such
    that though Fredericksburg was but 3 miles distant over a good plank road (OR Series I, vol. XXV 1889:196-197).”
    General Warren’s report presents a grim picture for any Federal hopes to sweep across Banks’ Ford to the rear of Lee’s positions. The implication was that any attack against these fortifications would come at a high price .

    • Raymond, Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. It brought back fond memories of my stumbling across and mapping that unusual fortification (“L”-shaped, with 7 embrasures, if memory serves) in 1990, during some preliminary fieldwork and documentation for what is now, I understand, a conservation easement donated by the developer and held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to protect that and other Banks Ford fortifications, on both sides of the river. Your guess is as good as mine whether the 7-embrasure structure is the one on the skyline in Waud’s sketch. It seems in the picture a tad too far southwest (to the right) from what I recall seeing on the ground, although I can’t imagine that any other fortification offered a more prominent profile there. And no question: the Confederate earthworks at the Banks Ford crossings were formidable, although of course Hooker in his pre-Chancellorsville planning hoped to draw-off their defenders and effect a crossing easily at Banks’, which was accomplished on May 3. Noel

  3. The caption in the sketch reads “Blind Ford,” which is on the Rapidan.

    • Thanks, Erik. Yes, and more great memories of working with you on riparian history and preservation. Technically of course you are right, but the Rapidan Blind Ford, as shown on Michler’s Chancellorsville map, has trees or at least heavy vegetation in a thick belt along the river and no fortifications on the Confederate side, features that are different from those in the Waud sketch. Beyond this—and the lack of a known “Scott’s” mill at the Rapidan site—what convinced me that “blind” was merely a generic description for Waud was the very close match between this picture and another of his sketches of Banks’ Ford…but as drawn from a viewpoint on the bluffs above William Scott’s riverbank sawmill. That sketch isn’t readily available online, but it appears after p. 212 in Sears’ Chancellorsville book. Noel

      • You are the man, Noel. Thanks.

  4. Excellent post. Well researched and it points out another bit of history that is too often overlooked.

  5. Noel,
    There is another Waud sketch called “Taylor’s Dam on the Rappahannock.” It depicts a scene farther downstream, looking toward Banks Ford. I wonder if he did them on the same day?

    • Great thought, Erik, on the possibility of Waud doing a panoramic series of, well, panoramas…although we may never learn the specific dates for most. Here for readers’ convenience is the sketch you refer to, and here’s another–evidently the most “upriver” of Waud’s Banks’ Ford pictures–from a previous post by John Hennessy. Noel

  6. Thanks for providing all three images. They are a pretty good window into how the landscape looked. On the last sketch, of the actual Banks Ford, the road coursing down the hill on the left is still there, as is the stone abutment of the dam, which is to the left in the complete image.

    • oops. The stone abutment is on the right of the image.


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