Antietam, a Virtual Tour
Blackford's Ford, Boteler's Cement Mill and Shepherdstown

1. Richard Edling, Philadelphia, PA
2. Chris Shelton, Indianapolis, IN
3. Brian Duckworth, NC

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1. Botelerís Ford War Department Marker B. F. 3 Marker
2. National Park Discussed for Battle of Shepherdstown Site
3. West Virginia in the Civil War
4. TheHistoryNet | Battle of Shepherdstown
5. Battle Summary: Shepherdstown, WV

6. WV Historical Markers

A day after the tactical draw at Antietam (September 17, 1862), Robert E. Lee began to pull his Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac at Shepherdstown. General William Pendleton, Lee's chief of artillery, covered the retreat with 44 guns of the reserve artillery. Pendleton set up his guns atop the high bluffs overlooking the ford on the Virginia side, above the empty shell of an old cement mill. The Confederates spent all night wading the river, but by daybreak nearly the whole of the army was across. Two small brigades of infantry stayed with the artillery to prevent rapid Union pursuit.
Potomac River Ford
Known as Boteler's Ford, Blackford's Ford, Pack Horse Ford, and other names, the shallow crossing of the Potomac River less than a mile downstream from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was used by travelers since Native American times. After the highway bridge at Shepherdstown was destroyed early in the Civil War, the ford was a convenient crossing point between Confederate Virginia (this area would become West Virginia after June 20, 1863) and the border state of Maryland. Confederates crossed the Potomac at Boteler's Ford most notably during the Maryland Campaign of 1862, the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, and Early's 1864 Raid on Washington, D.C. The Battle of Shepherdstown occurred when Union forces attempted to pursue Lee's retreating army after the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862.
Raid Across the Potomac
Union cavalry arrived on the Maryland side of the river soon after dawn and began to probe the Confederate position across the Potomac with artillery and rifle fire. Under orders from McClellan to pursue the enemy, Fitz John Porter's 5th Corps took over from the cavalry after about two hours. Porter aggressively put more cannon into position and ordered the First U.S. Sharpshooters and one company of the 5th New York Infantry forward. They used the dry trench of the C & O Canal as cover and began to pick off Confederate gunners on the far side of the river. Some Union artillery shells crashed into Shepherdstown itself, causing confusion and chaos among the townspeople and wounded rebels left there.
As the day wore on, the Union fire steadily increased, the Confederate cannons began to run low on ammunition, and Pendleton spread his infantry out to cover the guns. The Southern commander gave orders for the cannon to stay in position until they could withdraw under cover of darkness, reporting that "it was, of course, a critical and anxious hour."
Pendleton's anxiety increased as Union infantry actually crossed the river. Just before dark, an attacking party of about 500 men waded across under the cover of a barrage of fire, and forced the Confederate infantry back. The Southerners managed to pull most of their cannon out, but the raiding party was able to capture five pieces. The Yankees pulled back to the east side of the river for the night, taking their captured guns with them. In the confusion and darkness, however, Pendleton reported to Lee that Union forces were in Virginia and had captured the entire reserve artillery. Lee and Jackson reacted by ordering A. P. Hill's and Jubal Early's Divisions to stop their withdrawal, turn, and drive the pursuers back into Maryland.
Battle of Shepherdstown
September 19-20, 1862

As the Confederates reacted to the assumed crisis, Union commanders were planning a follow-up to their raid. Three brigades from the 5th Corps crossed the Potomac at 7:00 a.m. and proceeded toward Shepherdstown and down the Charlestown Road. Advanced skirmishers soon met A. P. Hill's Division closing in on the ford from the west. With the Confederates advancing in force, and only a small number of Federals on the Virginia side, Porter gave orders for all Union troops to return back across the river into Maryland.
Under the cover of artillery fire from the east bank, the Yankees began to wade back across. But Colonel Charles M. Prevost, commanding the newly formed 118th Pennsylvania Infantry (known as the Corn Exchange Regiment), refused to withdraw until he received orders from his direct superior. Hill's Confederates smashed into the Pennsylvanians just as they began to deploy atop the bluffs overlooking the ford.
This was the Northerners' first battle, the first opportunity many of them had to discover their issued Enfield rifles were defective and would not fire. Colonel Prevost was wounded trying to steady his men, other officers led a bayonet charge which was smashed, and the regiment broke apart. Some tried to escape by climbing down the bluffs under Confederate fire, and many died as they fell to the rocks below. Others picked their way past the old cement mill, ran across the slippery dam, or waded across at the ford. Of the 700 men in the 118th who crossed the river that morning, only 431 came back across.
When the Confederates smashed this attempt by the Union army to pursue Lee, McClellan was convinced that the Southern army still had plenty of fight left in it. He decided to delay any further effort to pursue until reinforced. The Battle of Shepherdstown ended the Maryland Campaign, Lee's first invasion of the North.

Photos/text this page courtesy of Richard Edling, PA    

(8-2007) Blackford's Ford interpretive marker
Interpretive Markers on this page are located near the James Rumsey Bridge, Shepherdstown, WV

(8-2007) Ferry Hill Place interpretive marker


(8-2007) Swearingen's Ferry and Pack Horse Ford interpretive marker

(8-2007) The James Rumsey Bridge interpretive marker
Link: James Rumsey


(8-2007) The new James Rumsey Bridge over the Potomac River. View from the Maryland side of the river


(6-2002) Old James Rumsey Bridge (1939) from the West Virginia side of the Potomac

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