Civil War History


Battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862


Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

A new threat to the Confederacy lurked in Northern Virginia in the summer of 1862. The Lincoln Administration turned to Major General John Pope. Pope forged an army out of several union commands embarrassed by Jackson in the Valley and christened his new fighting force the Army of Virginia.

Vexed by Pope’s move on Culpeper Courthouse, Robert E. Lee quickly dispatched Jackson to Gordonsville with the grave order: “I want Pope to be suppressed.”

Outnumbered by Pope’s forces, Jackson looked for an opportunity to strike. Pope unwittingly divided his army along the Rapidan River. Jackson then advanced hoping to isolate a portion of Pope’s army near Culpeper.

Pressing forward on August 9, 1862, Jackson’s troops encountered Union cavalry and artillery blocking the road near Cedar Run. Confederate Brigadier General Jubal A. Early hastily formed a line of infantry and artillery on the shoulder of Cedar (or Slaughter’s) Mountain. Confederate artillery firing from the mountain as well as from a small wooded knoll known afterward as the Cedars dueled with Union artillery posted on the Mitchell Station Road.

The battle entered its most furious phase when the Federal commander on the field, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, launched two attacks against the Confederate line.

The Confederate guns retreated while much of their infantry support fled from the Union onslaught. Jackson rode into the center of the storm waving his sword with the scabbard still tightly rusted to it. Defying fire from three sides, Jackson brandished his “sword” and a battle flag, and banked on his name to rally the troops. The famed leader arrested the panic and restored order. A.P. Hill’s timely arrival established a stronger line and sent the Federals reeling back across the fields. As darkness fell, Jackson embarked on a concerted attack that swept Banks from the field.

Jackson’s 22,000 Confederates came dangerously close to defeat at the hands of Banks’ inferior but aggressive force of 12,000 Federals. Cedar Mountain was the only battle in which Stonewall Jackson attempted to draw his sword and lead his troops by example. Swayed by his personal involvement, Jackson later asserted that Cedar Mountain was the most successful of his exploits.”

Two days after the battle, Jackson withdrew to meet Robert E. Lee and begin the campaign leading to the battle of Second Manassas and the demise of John Pope. Once joined with Lee, Stonewall Jackson never again directed a campaign as an independent commander.

Battle of Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863

Colonel Alfred N. Duffie


Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The Battle of Kelly’s Ford was “the first pure cavalry fight east of the Mississippi River” of any appreciable size. The battle was the first opportunity for the Union cavalry to amass a significant force, because the horsemen had been concentrated into a corps only a few weeks earlier.

In early March, Union Brigadier General William Averell received orders to leave the main body of the Army of the Potomac, then opposite Fredericksburg. His instructions were to lead his troopers west up the Rappahannock River, cross it at Kelly’s Ford, and defeat a Confederate cavalry force near Culpeper, 10 miles west of the ford, led by Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee.

With 3,000 cavalrymen and a battery of six cannons, Averell set out on March 16th. Fearing that a significant enemy force to the northwest might threaten his right flank, Averell detached 900 of these troopers to Catlett Station, 15 miles north of Kelly’s Ford.

Lee quickly learned learned of Averell’s movement, but was unsure whether Averell would attempt to cross the river at Kelly’s Ford or at Rappahannock Ford, four miles farther upstream and north of Kelly’s. Lee reinforced the 20 Confederates guarding Kelly’s Ford. The bulk of Lee’s command, 800 horsemen and Captain James Breathed’s four-cannon battery, was posted in Culpeper.

The Federals arrived at Kelly’s Ford early on the morning of March 17th. After three failed attempts, Federal reinforcements splashed across the river and scattered the Virginians.

Averell, correctly believing that his aggressive opponent would advance from his camp, decided to rest his horses and await Lee. This delay allowed Fitz Lee time to hurry forward and assume a blocking position. Accompanying Lee were Major General J.E.B. Stuart, his commander, and Major John Pelham, the gallant 24-year-old horse artilleryman and hero of Fredericksburg.

Lee ordered the 3rd Virginia to charge. The 5th Virginia, accompanied by Pelham, joined the attack. Suddenly, an exploding shell knocked Pelham off his horse and a sliver of metal penetrated the back of his head. Shortly thereafter, a Federal countercharge drove the Virginians back.

Meanwhile, Colonel Alfred Duffie moved his brigade forward, hoping to entice a Confederate attack. Lee took the bait and charged. Duffie then sprung his trap, bringing forward three other Federal regiments to strike the Southern horsemen on both flanks.

Lee withdrew the entire Confederate line about one mile to a position near Newby’s or Dean’s Shop, behind Carter’s Run. As Averell cautiously approached, Lee’s horsemen charged. Although the attack was repulsed with relative ease, Averell’s feeble pursuit halted on the ground of Lee’s former line. Fearing that he faced a large enemy force aligned in a strong position, Averell deemed “it proper to withdraw.”

Although technically a Confederate victory, the Battle of Kelly’s Ford exacted a high price from the Southerners. They lost 146 men killed, wounded and missing, compared with a Federal loss of 85. Confederate losses were magnified by the death of the popular and promising young John Pelham.

Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863

Union Camp At Brandy Station


Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The Battle of Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent. Of the 20,000 soldiers involved, about 17,000 were of the mounted branch. Brandy Station is also the first battle of the war’s most famous campaign – Gettysburg.

The Confederates had planned for June 9, 1863, to be a day of maneuver rather than a battle. Two of the army’s three infantry corps were near Culpeper, six miles southwest of Brandy Station, poised to move into the Shenandoah Valley and thence up to Pennsylvania. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, at Brandy Station, was to screen this movement with his 9,500-man cavalry division, while the remaining infantry corps held the cavalry division, while the remaining infantry corps held the attention of the Union Army at Fredericksburg, 35 miles southeast of Brandy Station.

The Federals knew that Confederate cavalry was around Culpeper, but its intelligence had not gathered information of the sizable infantry force behind the horsemen. Army of the Potomac commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, interpreted the enemy cavalry’s presence around Culpeper to be indicative of preparations for a raid on his army’s supply lines. Accordingly, he ordered his Cavalry Corps commander, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, to “break up Stuart’s raid in its incipiency.”

The Confederates apparently did not expect any harassment from the enemy cavalry, for the day before the important screening mission was scheduled to take place, the Southern troops conducted a grand review for General Robert E. Lee at Inlet Station, just two miles southwest of Brandy Station. Meanwhile, 8,000 Federal cavalrymen, organized into three divisions, and about 3,000 Northern infantrymen were preparing to disrupt the Confederate plans.

On June 9th, Brigadier General John Buford’s column of 5,500 soldiers splashed across the fog-shrouded Rappahannock River surprising the Confederate picket’s at Beverly’s Ford.

Realizing that the Southern artillery blocking the direct route to Brandy Station was too strong to be dislodged, Buford determined to anchor his right on the Hazel River and try to turn the Confederates left. But he found Brigadier General W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee’s brigade blocking his advance. After sustaining heavy losses, the Federals wrestled ground away from the Confederates. Then, to the amazement of Buford’s men, the Confederates started pulling back.

The Southerners were shifting to meet a new threat, adjusting to their second surprise of the day, Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s Union division of about 2,800 men had orders to cross the river at Kelly’s Ford and proceed on roads leading directly into Brandy Station. Between Gregg and the battle taking place between Buford and Stuart was a prominent ridge called Fleetwood Hill. The eminence had been Stuart’s headquarters, but the general was at the front.

Gregg swung around east of Brandy Station and attacked up the southern end and eastern slope of Fleetwood Hill. A series of confusing charges and countercharges swept back and forth across the hill. The Confederates cleared the hill for the final time, capturing three guns and inflicting 30 casualties among the 36 men of the 6th New York Light Artillery, which had attempted to give close-range support to the Federal cavalry.

Meanwhile, “Rooney” Lee continued to confront Buford. Reinforced by Colonel Thomas Munford, commanding the brigade of the ailing Fitzhugh Lee, “Rooney” Lee launched a counterattack against Buford at the same time as Pleasonton had called for general withdrawal, and the battle was over.

Despite being surprised by his adversary twice in the same day, Stuart was able to retain the field. union losses numbered 866. Confederate casualties were reported at 575. but the overwhelming superiority that the Confederate cavalry once enjoyed was gone.

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