Guarding the Chain Bridge

Background of the Article

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ryan recounted his experiences as captain of the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteers in an article appearing in the Washington Post in 1902. His regiment’s mission was to guard the Chain Bridge from Confederate attack. For a brief overview of the article, read this account of the hardships of military life which included civilian suits as uniforms, ammunition that did not fit, and exploding muskets:

Article: First March in Mud

First Assistant Secretary of the Interior Ryan recalls the moment when the 141st Pensylvanians guarded the Chain Bridge at night, as a regiment without a round of ammunition. 

Ryan was the captain of the 141st Pennsylvanian volunteers, and also an ex-minister to Mexico. The Pensylvanians came from Harrisburg to Washington in 1802. They were armed with old ancient weapons, an old Belgium rifle. Some of these rifles were made of cast iron, and when fired would often kill more of their own men than their enemies due to explosion. 

One night, they were marched across Long Bridge and over to Arlington Heights. It was the day of the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. They were exhausted and haulted to rest, when an order came through ordering them back to Chain Bridge. It was twelve miles away from their location. 

The order meant that the rebels had won Bull Run and the Pennsylvanian men had to get to the bridge in order to defend an attack on Washington. It was raining terrible, and the pike leading back to the bridge was a broad stretch of mud. They were located just near Fort Marcy, and by the time they finished the forced night march, they realized there wasn't a round of ammunition in the regiment. 

The city sent ammunition to the men, but it wouldn't fit their muskets. Rumors spread of the reble approach, but when Thomas Ryan and his lieutenant colonel investigated they could not see a foe in the distance. 

The armies soon after passed on up to Antietam, where the great battle was fought. The 141st remained for some time to guard the Chain Brige, and witnessed severe fighting before the end of the war. 

Last updated: January 3, 2018