Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863: Gettysburg Act One or Third Fredericksburg?

From: Noel Harrison

I’ve been thinking about historical context ever since reading the posts by my colleagues (here and here) about the variety of wartime uses of Franklin’s Crossing on the Rappahannock, situated just downstream from Fredericksburg.

My interest today is in one of those uses: the Federals’ assault crossing and bridge-laying at Franklin’s for the third time during the war, in June 1863. Directly or indirectly, the event would be classified as the curtain raiser of the Gettysburg campaign, by the compilers of the three-part volume 27 of the Official Records in 1889 and by most historians.

A Gettysburg context makes perfect sense to people who know the future. The bridgehead established on June 5 was indeed abandoned, early on June 14, before it could host or become the springboard to a battle. After Chancellorsville, which had occurred one month before, the next battle to involve the majority of units in the two opposing armies was indeed at Gettysburg, in early July. (Their mounted forces, with some infantry involvement, fought at Brandy Station on June 9, and a Confederate corps engaged and routed a Union division at and near Winchester on June 13-15.)

The rarely seen image at left (courtesy of the New York Public Library,, in accordance with its policy on non-commercial use of low-rez files) shows the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, and looks north in a “Confederate’s-eye view” across the site of the June 5 pontoon-borne assault. I based the “June” date on the tree leaf-out that distinguishes the photographs of that month from those made during the Second Fredericksburg operations here a month before, as noted in the work of historian John Kelley. At right, from the collection of the Library of Congress, is a better-known companion view that looks in the opposite direction, an image that Kelly dates specifically to June 7.

(A high-resolution version of the New York Public Library photograph—entitled “View of the Rappahannock, showing pontoon and the enemy’s lines” Image ID: 1150134, in the Library’s Digital Gallery—may be ordered via section 2 of the “Use of Content” guidelines here.)

Yet Joseph Hooker ordered the June operation at Franklin’s Crossing not knowing the future but attempting to predict and influence it. More important, he maintained the bridgehead for more than a week as part of two successive plans to move the Army of the Potomac southwest or south to fight in east-central Virginia, not north or northwestward to fight above the Potomac. (Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter in late August 1862 had similarly suggested Fredericksburg as a base from which to threaten the rear areas of the Army of Northern Virginia moving north or northwest, specifically with a Union push “toward Hanover, or with a larger force to strike at Orange Court-House.”)

At Franklin’s in June 1863, the Rappahannock was passed, and combat did occur, unlike the similarly difficult-to-classify “Mud March” of the previous January. Again, a Gettysburg context for the June events makes sense to some degree—and I certainly don’t reject it—but might there be a companion- or alternate context that is not grounded in hindsight? My approach to that question, below, will focus only on what was known, at the time, to the man whose orders created the bridgehead, and (with the exception of a quotation at very bottom) avoid a parallel discussion of what was known to his opponent.

The Franklin’s Crossing operation was the intended first step in an evolving scheme. For the purpose of stating my case, I’ll dub this “Third Fredericksburg.” I have no more desire to inflate Hooker’s plan into a conceptual masterpiece than I do the resulting, intermittently brisk engagement of June 5-14 into anything approaching the intensity of the “Second Fredericksburg” component of the Chancellorsville campaign, in late April and early May, much less that of the First Fredericksburg fighting of December 1862.

This map by John Hennessy shows the three-bridge configuration at Franklin’s Crossing at the onset of the Second Fredericksburg operations on April 29, 1863, and provides a good orientation to the modern landscape there. The Union pontoon bridges completed on June 6, 1863—just two, though—were situated in the same general location occupied by the three spans a month before.

Yet the story of the June 1863 events offers an opportunity—surprisingly neglected thus far—to better understand the man who had planned and managed Chancellorsville. Hooker, after all, chose Franklin’s for his opening infantry move in June, just as he had done in April at the outset of Second Fredericksburg.
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High-Ranking Skedaddle: a Previously Unidentified Sketch of Spotsylvania?

From Noel Harrison:

The following sketch appears among the many pictures recently added to the Library of Congress’ digital collections. The Library identifies the artist, Alfred R. Waud, the principal subject, Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George Meade, and the year, 1864, but neither the location nor the specific date. The sketch probably appears here for the first time in an interpretive venue:

A high-resolution version is here.

Waud’s handwritten caption reads:

Narrow escape of Genl Meade Some cavalry dashing out of the woods suddenly upon the genl & his attendants came very near cutting off Their retreat and making a capture of the party. Prominent near the genl., Col. Michler on a rough track or farm road that wound along the foot of a tree covered knoll out from which came the rebs to cut them off.
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Sketching and Mapping Lincoln’s 1863 Reviews, pt.2: Could Different Theories Each be Right? (Plus, Additional Mysteries)

From Noel Harrison: This blog recently posted
two contemporary depictions of Abraham Lincoln’s Grand Review of
part of the Army of the Potomac on April 8, 1863: a panoramic
sketch by Harpers Weekly special artist Alfred
R. Waud and a map by an unidentified cartographer. These are among
the many new records appearing over the past year or two in the
Library of Congress’ online collections. Here again are
the map and sketch: Each is an extraordinary
document of the April 8 reviewing but is baffling for its apparent
incompatibility with the other, as I described in that earlier
blog-post. And since the time of that post, additional, related
mysteries have suggested themselves. Although the 8th was but one
of four days in April 1863 that saw Lincoln review troops
assembled in complete corps for inspection—at various locations in
Stafford County—it was the only day that saw him review more than
two corps. He reviewed the Second, the Third, the Fifth, and
the Sixth (as well as the army’s artillery reserve). Yet the
editors at Harper’s did not select Waud’s
panoramic sketch of April 8 for conversion to a woodcut.
Instead of focusing on that day’s blockbuster event and Waud’s
breathtaking depiction of it, Harper’s
pictorial reporting on the April review—published in its issue of
May 2, 1863—consisted of two woodcuts based on Waud’s sketches of
smaller spectacles that occurred on other days: the Cavalry Corps
passing in review before the President on April 6 (sketch at top in
John Hennessy’s post here),
and Lincoln and others watching the First Corps pass on April 9

Reviewing the First Corps on April 9, 1863.
First Corps commander John Reynolds probably bearded figure in
front at far left; next Second Corps commander Darius Couch, with
cigar; then Third Corps commander Daniel Sickles on opposite side
of Lincoln; and then a headless Joseph Hooker. Library of

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A Stafford County Photograph and Sketch Give Faces to Wartime Freedom

from: Harrison

How soon after the summer of 1862 did Northern photographers resume documenting the Fredericksburg area’s wartime scenes? Considering this general question led me down an unexpected path to a particular part of a particular month in 1863, and to a certain area of Stafford County. The story I found was one of different artistic media that had converged to record and popularize an iconic tableau of freedom but, ironically, left its date and location unidentified.

(In the current absence of known photographs of the Confederate occupation of the area in May 1861-March 1862, a series of views of the Union occupation during the summer of 1862 holds distinction as the earliest-known photographic window onto local wartime landscapes. To my knowledge, no such images verifiably dated to December 1862 have been found.)

An oft-published image of the still-smoking ruins of the Phillips House in Stafford, which caught fire on February 14, 1863, marked an early post-battle resumption of local photography that, thanks to the drama of the blaze and consequent recording by various writers, is dateable to within a day or two:

Yet it’s hard to imagine that the lapse in photo-documentation of outdoor scenes in the Fredericksburg area continued through an event as attention-grabbing as the December 1862 battle. After the summer of 1862, did the camera lenses really remain uncapped until mid-February 1863?

Previously, I devoted a series of posts to another candidate for the distinction of earliest post-battle photograph of a local landscape: a stereograph depicting a flag-of-truce exchange, amid no less than 160 spectators, on the Fredericksburg riverfront. Although I would be delighted if this image turned out to document the post-battle truce crossings there on December 17-18, 1862, my current suspicion is that the actual date will prove to be sometime in February or March 1863, as suggested in different records at the Library of Congress, and when truce crossings indeed also occurred.

In an article published in the journal Fredericksburg History and Biography, I considered a third photograph as the area’s earliest outdoor-view following the December battle. Let’s revisit that image in order to update research, and to take advantage of the opportunities for higher-resolution analysis of pictures afforded by this blog.

In its issue for January 31, 1863, Harper’s Weekly devoted an entire page to a woodcut-illustration (below left) of formerly enslaved people. The caption titled the woodcut “CONTRABANDS COMING INTO CAMP IN CONSEQUENCE OF THE PROCLAMATION.” Harper’s noted that the woodcut was based upon a sketch (below right) by special artist Alfred R. Waud, bearing his manuscript caption, “An arrival in Camp—under the Proclamation of Emancipation.” On a separate page in the same issue of Harper’s, Waud noted that the picture was intended to document the “beginning of the effect of the President’s Proclamation of Freedom”—the Emancipation Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln signed and issued on January 1, 1863:

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An Artwork Both Breathtaking and Baffling: Alfred Waud Takes the Long View in Stafford County

from: Harrison

The many striking works of Harper’s Weekly special artist Alfred R. Waud include this sketch of one of the Army of the Potomac’s Stafford County reviews in 1863.  The sketch’s appearance on this blog probably represents its first-ever publication in an interpretive venue:

(Higher-resolution versions are available here.)

The scope of Waud’s extraordinary picture, and its identification of the reviewed troops as the “Infantry of the Army of the Potomac” generally, suggest that his subject was the largest of the reviews, held on April 8 under the gaze of President Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln may be astride the horse slightly advanced from all the others on the rise at lower left.

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Edwin Forbes Leaves Us a Colorful Stafford County Mystery, in Black-and-White

From Noel Harrison:

For me, few eyewitness artworks better match the written accounts of the bleakness and tedium of Civil War life than this sketch by special artist Edwin Forbes:

His drawing depicts one and perhaps two brush shelters, and occupants, of a Federal picket station situated in Stafford County on Potomac Creek, somewhere upstream from its gorge crossed by the famous “Beanpoles and Cornstalks” railroad bridge.

It’s March 13, 1863. In a diary entry for that day, a soldier in one of the regimental camps guarded by the picket line noted, “A little snow this morning—some clouds—clear this evening.”

On the one hand, Forbes accurately captures the eternal, overarching reality of soldier life: the “wait” part of “hurry up and wait.” The sketch’s undistinguished setting, moreover, characterized the terrain along at least a third of the length of the picket line that surrounded the Army of the Potomac’s camps in southern Stafford in November 1862-June 1863. Much of the line extended between low, brushy hills north and west of the Rappahannock, far from the diverting vistas (and banter with enemy pickets) that duty along the river and its high bluffs afforded.
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An unseen sketch of Fredericksburg, December 1862

From:  Noel G. Harrison (originally published as part of a larger post over at Fredericksburg Remembered):

The vast Civil War output of special artist Alfred R. Waud (pronounced “Wood”) includes this sketch of Fredericksburg during the December 1862 battle.  The discussions of the sketch on this blog and on Fredericksburg Remembered probably represent its first appearances in interpretive venues despite its status, at least in my opinion, as one of the most powerful artworks in Waud’s entire portfolio: 

The specific date and location within Fredericksburg are not identified by the online catalog for the Library of Congress, where the sketch resides.

Erik F. Nelson, a senior planner with the City of Fredericksburg, has observed that the heavy smoke suggests a moment early in the Federals’ December occupation and shortly after the cessation of their bombardment:  sometime in the late afternoon or evening on December 11. 

With regard to possible location, the window- and door placements on the partially rendered building at left bear some resemblance to those of the Wallace House and Store. That once stood at the corner of Caroline and William streets (more recently the “Ben Franklin”-store corner) and appears in the right foreground of a different battle illustration from the Library of Congress collections–a frequently published sketch drawn by special artist Arthur Lumley on the night of December 12:

Rarely seen today, however, is the word-sketch that Lumley, a native of Ireland, added to the back of the same piece of paper (spelling original):

This night the city was in the wildest confusion sacked by the union troops = houses burned down furniture scattered in the streets = men pillaging in all directions – a fit scene for the French revolution and a discrace to the Union Arms – This is my view of what I saw.