On the morning of August 5, 1862, Private Oliver Cromwell Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut arrived at Aquia (pronounced Ah-KWE-ya) Creek Landing, Virginia aboard the steamer “Columbia.” Oliver and his companions would find a quite busy logistical operation at this important Union transportation center on the Aquia Creek.
Aquia Creek Landing is located at the confluence of the Aquia Creek and the Potomac River in Virginia. The first Englishman to explore Aquia Creek and the area near the landing was Jamestown Colony leader, John Smith around 1610. The native Powhatans named the creek Quiyough which would later be changed to Acquia with the “c” being dropped around the time of the Civil War. Early settlers initially attempted to use the area for mining operations, but this endeavor never provide the expected profitability.
Beginning in 1815, a steamship company began providing service from the city of Washington to landing as a much faster alternative to the road to Fredericksburg which had developed into a transportation hub for points south. A railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond was completed in 1837 which made the landing on Aquia Creek even more attractive. The year 1842 saw a critical development in the story of Aquia Creek Landing as the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad extended their rail line from Fredericksburg to the landing. This now allowed cargo and passengers to move faster than ever from Washington to Richmond connecting to other areas in the north and south.
As the Civil War began, Confederate military leaders recognized the importance of this transportation link and moved forces quickly to secure it. The Confederate forces built fortifications and gun emplacements to protect the landing and on May 31/June 1, 1861 traded fire with the Union gunboats in the creek. The result of this action was inconclusive although the Confederates continued to hold the landing until early 1862 when the Union Army moved south in large numbers. The Confederates destroyed many of the docks and buildings and disabled the railroad as they evacuated the area.
As George McClellan began his drive toward Richmond from Fortress Monroe in 1862, Major General Irvin McDowell with the troops of his Department of the Rappahannock captured Fredericksburg. McDowell determined to establish Aquia Creek Landing as his headquarters in April 1862 because it provided clear lines of communication with Washington via water and rail. On April 20, 1862, McDowell and President Abraham Lincoln held meetings with other members of the cabinet aboard the cutter Miami anchored just off the landing. Union forces rebuilt the landing and placed the railroad to Fredericksburg back in service to support interior operations.
Two views of Aquia Creek Landing in 1862-63
When the steamer “Columbia” docked at the landing on August 5, 1862, Oliver Case and the other soldiers of the 8th CVI where greeted by a busy logistical hub moving troops and supplies toward Fredericksburg. The troops of the 8th were quickly loaded onto railcars with Oliver gaining a prime seat on top of one of the cars.
Oliver and the 8th would return to landing less than one month later as the Union Army suffered a major defeat at Second Manassas and all Union troops were recalled to defend Washington. As the Union left Aquia Creek Landing in September of 1862, they destroyed it completely. The landing would be Oliver’s last view of Virginia, but General Burnside would return at the head of the Army of the Potomac in November of 1862. After the humiliating defeat at Fredericksburg in December and the infamous winter “mud march,” Union forces would again burn Aquia Creek Landing. Although the Union rebuilt it again in May 1864, the landing would never again see the level of activity it had experienced in August and September of 1862.
Today, the landing is a small, quiet park at the end of a two-lane road built atop the old railroad line.
Aquia Creek Landing 2012