Fought between Union and Confederate forces 160 years ago on August 22, 1862, the skirmish at Freeman’s Ford along the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County, Virginia was a brief and seldom-remembered episode in American Civil War history. Its role in the larger Northern Virginia Campaign was inconsequential, but it was no less harrowing for the men exposed to enemy fire than any other engagement.
The Northern Virginia Campaign is widely considered to be Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s most successful military campaign. It culminated in the Second Battle of Bull Run, in which an entire Union army was nearly destroyed. This paved the way for Lee’s invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American history. The Northern Virginia Campaign resulted in over 25,000 total casualties.
In August 1862, Maj. Gen. John Pope’s 51,000-man Union Army of Virginia, consisting of three infantry corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, and Maj. Gen Irvin McDowell, withdrew behind the Rappahannock River along his main supply route, the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, and waited for reinforcements.
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