Friday, June 15, 2012

Forge Bridge

Forge Bridge marker W-19 in New Kent County, VAMarker No. W-19
New Kent County, VA

Marker Text: The site of Forge Bridge over the Chickahominy River is located about a mile south of here. On 14 June 1862, Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart and his cavalry brigade crossed there on their famous ride around Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Because the bridge had been burned in May, Stuart's men first built a makeshift bridge of barn timbers to replace it. On 13-14 June 1864, the VI and IX Corps of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac crossed the river there en route to Petersburg after the Battle of Cold Harbor.

Location: On U.S. Route 60, just east of Chickahominy River bridge, Providence Forge, VA and is grouped with marker W-20 (Providence Forge) near intersection with Route 155. Erected by the Department of Historic Resources in 1998.

  Today is the third marker, I have related to J.E.B. Stuart's ride around McClellan. As indicated on the two previous markers (Stuart's Ride Around McClellan), on June 12, 1862, C.S.A. Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart left Richmond at the head of a 1,200 cavalry troops apparently going to assist General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia. Stuart did not go to the Shenandoah Valley, instead, at the request of General Robert E. Lee, recently made commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Stuart was on a reconnaissance mission around McClellan's Union army now north and east of Richmond.

  Robert E. Lee was confronting, just outside of the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) capital city, Richmond, Virginia, a huge Federal army, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of Union General George B. McClellan. Lee planned to attack the Union army's right flank, isolated on the northern side of the Chickahominy River, but he needed to know its disposition.

  Just as it had happened when McClellan's Army got to the Chickahominy River crossing the river was the greatest problem facing Stuart on June 14, 1862 as he moved toward the James River to the south. The Chickahominy River was still running high from spring rains and the Stuart's men had problems fording the River. Stuart decided to rebuild the bridge, which Confederate General Joseph Johnston had burned as he retreated up the peninsula ahead of McClellan's Army about a month earlier.

Providence Forge marker with Forge Bridge marker W-19 along U.S. Route 60

Photo taken looking west on U.S. Route 60.  Forge Bridge Marker W-19 is in the background. Click any photo to enlarge.

  Using spare wood from a nearby barn, Stuart's men strengthened the structure and planked its top only to set fire to it when they had crossed. The fire attracted some nearby Union cavalry, who skirmished with Stuart's rear guard.

  Upon returning to report to General Lee, Stuart's men had traveled 150 miles with 165 captured Union soldiers, 260 horses and mules, and various quartermaster and ordnance supplies.

  Confederate newspapers had a heyday with Stuart's ride around McClellan. The maneuver was a public relations sensation. Stuart's ride had made him as famous as Stonewall Jackson in the eyes of the Confederacy. If Stuart had he done nothing else during the entire Civil War, this one event would have assured J.E.B. Stuart's place in military history.

  Virginia College has a very good web page on Stuart's Ride around McClellan with a map of the ride and many photos of the places where events along the ride occurred.

  Throughout the Civil War crossing the Chickanominy River would be challenging for both armies. Almost exactly two years later, on June 13-14, 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac crossed the Chickanominy River at the same location on route to Petersburg after the Battle of Cold Harbor. Crossing or fording a river, as it was often called, was always a challenge for an army during the Civil War and often determined the outcome of a military engagement based on how much rain had recently fallen or bridges that had been destroyed.

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