The Civil War at Ferry Farm

Ferry landing and pontoon bridge
Ferry landing and pontoon bridge at Ferry Farm
The boyhood home of America’s most famous warrior did not itself witness war until 1862, when Union armies twice used Ferry Farm and neighboring Pine Grove. During the Union occupation of Fredericksburg that summer, Union engineers built a bridge of canal boats across the river at the ferry landing. Down the Ferry Road and across this bridge passed not only thousands of Union troops heading into town, but also President Abraham Lincoln, who visited Fredericksburg on May 23, 1862. Ferry Farm is one of only a handful of properties in America visited by both Washington and Lincoln.

The Union army returned to Ferry Farm and Pine Grove again in November, 1862—this time not to occupy, but to fight. Union troops tore down both the house at Pine Grove and the remnants of buildings at Ferry Farm to build shelters for themselves. Artillerymen excavated gun pits on the heights of Pine Grove (just north of Ferry Farm). Union soldiers frequently wrote of walking the grounds at Ferry Farm, speculating on the location of Washington’s cherry tree, trying to match his famed throwing arm by throwing rocks across the river (none apparently succeeded), or reflecting on the irony that the nation Washington helped form was, 86 years later, divided and at war with itself.

Before dawn on December 11, 1862, Union engineers swept across Ferry Farm to the waterfront, broke through a skim of ice on the river, and started constructing a pontoon bridge to carry the Union army into Fredericksburg. The Confederates resisted fiercely from houses and gardens on the Fredericksburg side of the river. Union infantrymen swarmed the western riverbank, trying to quell the Confederates. Union artillerymen moved their guns to the crest at Ferry Farm overlooking the river. All told, nearly 150 Union cannons bombarded the town—probably a dozen of them from what are today Ferry Farm and Pine Grove—with dozens more on the heights east of modern-day Route 3. The bombardment left Fredericksburg a wreck. By day’s end, Union engineers finished the bridge at the Ferry landing—the so-called “middle crossing”—one of three pontoon crossings the Federals constructed that day. The Union army started across, headed toward disaster at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Four days later, the army returned, battered and discouraged, leaving thousands of dead and wounded on the field.

Wagons at pontoon bridge
Ferry Farm pontoon bridge as seen
from Fredericksburg City Dock
For the next six months, the Union army would make Stafford County its military home. Encampments for more than 100,000 men sprawled across the landscape, from Stafford Court House to White Oak. No large encampment was built on what is now Ferry Farm, but the need to guard the riverfront ensured a constant military presence. Union pickets along the river bantered with their Confederate counterparts. At one point, after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, troops at Pine Grove staged an informal truce, swam to the middle of the river, and traded newspapers and tobacco atop the wreck of vessels sunken midstream.

The Union army constructed pontoon bridges at the Ferry Crossing in both May, 1863 and May,1864 (during Wilderness and Spotsylvania ). Thousands of Union wounded passed over these bridges, up the Ferry Road, and on to hospitals in Washington. Their passage marked the end of wartime drama at Ferry Farm.

Below is a short video of the 2012 re-enactment of this event at Ferry Farm.