Formed from headwaters that flow through four states before passing the United States capital, the Potomac River has rightfully been called the Nation’s river. First used as a highway of exploration and settlement by European settlers, the river famously served as an avenue of invasion by British forces during the War of 1812. Forgotten today, between Spring 1861 and early Spring 1862, Confederate batteries effectively stopped all riverine traffic. While the Confederate Blockade of Washington, D. C., never realistically put the fate of the city in doubt, it severely embarrassed the Lincoln Administration, particularly during a time of repeated Union disasters.
Folks often call or email inquiring about upcoming issues. For callers, when I’d say the blockade of the Potomac, after a moment or two of silence the response most often was, “What blockade . . . there was a blockade of the Potomac River? When was that?” Truth be told, my reaction was similar when Rob Orrison, Virginia Historic Site Operations Supervisor for Prince William County (Va.), pitched the idea to me in February. I wasn’t sure there would be enough to warrant a “General’s Tour” treatment. Rob and his coauthor Bill Backus said there was. Bill is Manager of Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park in Prince William County. For the historical enrichment and enjoyment of us all, they were right. Read more
After a wild couple of days, the website and and online store are back to full functionality…shop away!
By Rob Orrison and Bill Backus.
Shown is a view of the Potomac River from Confederate fortifications at Freestone Point near Dumfries, Virginia
In the late spring of 1863, the situation was growing increasingly dire for the embattled Confederate bastion at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, after audaciously cutting its supply lines to live off the land, had maneuvered some 31,000 Confederate soldiers into their earthworks at Vicksburg and was slowly starving them into submission, with unfettered access of the Mississippi River as the prize.
Helena For the First Time
There’s a special thrill seeing a Civil War battlefield for the first time. We’ve done several issues on Arkansas, but they were all in the western part of the state: Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, action in and around Fort Smith. One exception was a brief stop in a field near the defunct Civil War town of Mound City, a short distance north of Memphis on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. There a soybean farmer and a Memphis attorney located the buried remains of the illfated steamboat Sultana. It was part of a 1990 “General’s Tour” feature.
Shown is the author, Mark Christ, at the Union fortification on Graveyard Hill.
by Eric Nelson
Civil War campaigns in and around Fredericksburg, Va., required an advancing army first to jump the Rappahannock River. As a consequence, river crossings loomed large at the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Fredericksburg in 1862, the pontoon bridge sites became the initial points of contact and men died as engineers struggled to build their floating bridges under fire. The hard lesson was that bridges were best built when an army controlled both sides of the waterway. During the Chancellorsville Campaign in 1863, the Union army again crossed the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, but sent assault forces over first to seize the opposite shore before the bridge building began. These crossings in the tidal part of the Rappahannock River were a diversion from the advance of the main Union force, which occurred far upstream. Where the upriver fords remained usable and lightly picketed, an advance guard could splash across and secure the crossing site. Some fords, however, had become altered by dams and canals, and establishing military crossings there posed additional challenges.
Back in 1983 when Blue & Gray was founded, I never thought there would be a “General’s Tour” requiring anything but a dependable vehicle with a full tank of gas, good hiking shoes (boots preferred), and a proper functioning odometer. Also, since that kind of touring by its very nature had to be what I termed “turf-bound,” it was pretty clear that oceanic naval operations would not become Tour features.
Volume 32, #3