Crossing the Potomac at Rowser's Ford

Crossing the Potomac at Rowser's Ford (HM14J9)

Location: Sterling, VA 20165 Fairfax County
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Country: United States of America
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N 39° 3.1', W 77° 20.04'

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J.E.B. Stuart's Most Difficult Achievement

Late afternoon on June 27, 1863, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart began assembling his cavalry brigades at Dranesville. To avoid the Union Army of the Potomac (90,000-strong) then crossing the Potomac upstream at Edwards Ferry, Stuart ordered Hampton's brigade to Rowser's Ford. Chambliss's brigade remained at Dranesville awaiting "Fitz" Lee.

Approaching Roswer's, a local citizen informed Hampton that the half-mile wide Potomac was two feet higher than normal, but still fordable. Early evening, Hampton's brigade slowly crossed the rock-strewn ford and reported to Stuart that fording artillery and ammunition would be utterly impossible.

About sunset, Fitz Lee's brigade arrived at Dranesvile and followed Chambliss's to Rowser's. Nearing the ford, the column slowed markedly. The ford was so treacherous that Stuart felt compelled to look for another crossing. After a dangerous search in the moonlight, Capt. Richard Kennon found another ford downstream but reported it impracticable from quicksand, rocks, and rugged banks. Thus, Stuart determined that his entire command would cross at Rowser's.

Around midnight, the moon began its descent and the night grew darker. Each cavalryman was given a shell or powder bag to carry as they crossed the swollen river. The wheeled vehicles and cannon were dragged across, often submerged. "You could hardley see your horse's ears," recalled a horse artillerist. Horse followed horse with water rushing over the saddles. When the line would bend down-stream due to strong current, some bold rider would advance from the opposite shore and correct the alignment.

By pure determination, the entire command was safely on Maryland soil around 3 a.m. on the 28th. Miraculously, not a man was lost and the ammunition was dry. Maj. H.B. McClellan, aptly described the crossing, "No more difficult achievement was accomplished by the cavalry during the war."
HM NumberHM14J9
Year Placed2012
Placed ByNorthern Virginia Regional Park Authority
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Sunday, October 19th, 2014 at 3:42pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 298030 N 4325102
Decimal Degrees39.05166667, -77.33400000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 3.1', W 77° 20.04'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 3' 6.00" N, 77° 20' 2.40" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)703, 571
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 2046-2052 Potomac Heritage Trail, Sterling VA 20165, US
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