Visit the scene of the largest cavalry battle on American soil, where sabres flashed and Union troopers ended Confederate cavalry dominance in Virginia.
The Battle of Brandy Station (aka Fleetwood Hill) was fought on June 9, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart around Brandy Station, Virginia, during the American Civil War. The battle, which inaugurated the Gettysburg Campaign, was a marginal Confederate victory, resulting in a total of 1,430 casualties.
Late in May 1863, fresh off their victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia moved into Culpeper County in preparation for a march north to take the war into Union territory. Secrecy was essential, since Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Union Army of the Potomac was still camped nearby. It was J.E.B. Stuart and his 9,500 horsemen’s job to shield Lee’s army, and Alfred Pleasonton’s job to find out what Lee was up to.
Pleasonton had at his disposal approximately 8,000 of his own troopers and 3,000 infantry from the V Corps. He divided his force into two wings and crossed the Rappahannock River at Beverly’s Ford and Kelly’s Ford, intending to envelop what he believed to be a smaller Confederate force. If not for poor coordination and quick action by Stuart, he nearly succeeded.
Mounted fighting see-sawed back and forth throughout the day, prominently on Fleetwood Hill and St. James Church, where the Union 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry charged Confederate cannon on horseback. After ten hours of continuous fighting, Pleasonton ordered a withdrawal, leaving Confederates in command of the field. Lee’s movements remained hidden (for the time being).
Though a tactical Confederate victory, Union cavalry finally proved it could go toe-to-toe with Confederate horseman. Stuart was widely criticized for allowing Pleasonton to catch him by surprise. When the smoke cleared, 69 Union troopers were dead, 352 wounded, and 486 missing. The Confederates lost 51 killed, 250 wounded, and 132 missing.
Fought between Northern and Southern states from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War erupted over questions of slavery and the primacy of the Federal government over individual states. It ended with Northern victory and restoration of the Union. Nearly 850,000 people died in the conflict, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Most of the war’s battles were fought in the South, devastating its economy and leaving generational scars.
The Brandy Station Foundation and American Battlefield Trust have worked together since the 1990s to preserve this important battlefield. Brandy Station Battlefield Park opened in 2003. It is, actually, three disconnected parks highlighting different aspects of the battle, and an old house used to hold wounded soldiers. The Graffiti House, so-called because of the many Civil War soldiers who carved their names in its walls, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and painstakingly restored.
Brandy Station Battlefield Park is open from dawn to dusk. Admittance is free. The parking area for Buford’s Knoll Walking Trail is located off Beverly Ford Road at GPS coordinates 38.532069, -77.858115. The parking area for Saint James Church Walking Trail is located at the intersection of St. James Church and Beverly Ford roads at GPS coordinates 38.521490, -77.866102. And the Fleetwood Hill parking area is located off Fleetwood Heights Road at GPS coordinates 38.509534, -77.879728.
The Graffiti House is located at 19484 Brandy Road in Brandy Station, Virginia. It’s open Saturday and Sunday from 11:00am to 4:00pm, closed from December 15th until March 1st. For more information, call (540) 727-7718.