The Commencement of the Army of the Potomac’s Third Campaign

Engineers laid two pontoon bridges across the Potomac River at Berlin, Maryland in late October 1862 (modern-day Brunswick, Maryland). After six weeks of reorganization, refitting, and resupplying, the Army of the Potomac was again on the move. Federal soldiers and newspaper correspondents recorded the scenes that transpired as the army crossed its namesake river into Virginia over the next several days, beginning the Loudoun Valley Campaign, the campaign that proved to be Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s last as a military commander.

Only when the column, crossing the Potomac by the pontoon bridge, stepped on Virginia soil, one of those impressive omens which the Greeks called fate, seemed to thrill through the men, and lusty cheers spontaneously broke from twenty thousand throats, awoke responsive echoes from the Virginia hills, and announced that the third campaign was commenced. (New York Times, October 30, 1862)


Thursday, October 30. Our turn to cross the Potomac will come in two hours. Our sick are hastily forwarded to Washington by rail. The regiment was assembled and Chaplain Way invoked the guidance of the Lord of Hosts as we should move on in the holy cause of our country’s rescue, and that our friends in far away Michigan may be permitted to welcome us to hearth and home when our task is done. Tents were struck, knapsacks slung and off we moved for the Potomac which was crossed to the tune of Yankee Doodle. This day our lady visitors left us, and as we moved up the Virginia bank, they stood on the opposite shore of the river waving a tearful adieu.

Winding our way up the steep Virginia bank of the Potomac, we traversed once more the “sacred soil,” as the Virginians boastingly termed the earth of that State. (O.B. Curtis, 24th Michigan Infantry)


next morning [November 3, 1862] reached Berlin, on the banks of the river, at an early hour. Here a pontoon bridge was constructed (the magnificent bridge across the Potomac at that place having fallen a victim to the ravages of war), on which the boys crossed, with a feeling of mingled curiosity and insecurity, carefully leading their horses along the frail roadway, and half expecting all the time that the whole thing would go to the bottom the next moment. Such was the impression received on crossing a pontoon bridge for the first time, as the boats swayed to and fro with the current, or rose and sank under the tread of the horses, and men and horses reeled as if drunken. All got over safely, however, and had a better opinion of the efficacy of pontoons when they again stood on solid ground, though that was the ‘sacred soil,’ than when in the centre of the river on the bridge. (History of the First Main Cavalry, 1861-1865)

1 Response to The Commencement of the Army of the Potomac’s Third Campaign

  1. I don’t know why, but I would LOVE cross a river, any river, on one of these pontoon bridges just to see what it feels like.

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