Not much remains to mark the scene of one of Robert E. Lee’s biggest military blunders.
The Second Battle of Rappahannock Station was fought on November 7, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early near Rappahannock Station, Virginia during the American Civil War. This devastating Confederate defeat cost Robert E. Lee two veteran brigades and resulted in over 2,000 total casualties, mostly Confederate.
After defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and months of inconclusive maneuvers in northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee withdrew his 45,000-man Army of Northern Virginia south of the Rappahannock River to wait out the winter. He left a small force on the north bank of the river to guard a pontoon bridge near Rappahannock Station, where he hoped to compel Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade to divide his 76,000-man Army of the Potomac and expose it to attack.
Meade divided his army as anticipated, but things didn’t go well for the Confederates. Meade sent Maj. Gen. William H. French’s III Corps to cross the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford and Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps to attack Lee’s bridgehead at Rappahannock Station. On November 7, Union troops brushed aside the Confederate defenders at Kelly’s Ford, while Sedgwick bombarded Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division at the bridgehead. The delayed attack tricked Lee into thinking Sedgwick’s advance was only a diversion, so he sent no help to Jubal Early.
This often-overlooked prelude to the Second Battle of Bull Run saw combat between New York’s ‘Excelsior Brigade’ and the ‘Louisiana Tigers’.
The Battle of Kettle Run (aka First Bristoe Station) was fought on August 27, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell in Prince William County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 450 to 550 total casualties and was a tactical Union victory, though Confederate forces were able to destroy two trains and miles of railroad before withdrawing.
Bristoe Station was a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, an important rail line running north-south from Alexandria, Virginia to Gordonsville. It formed the northern half of the only rail link between the Union and Confederate capitals at Washington, D.C. and Richmond. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies sought to control this railroad for themselves or deny its use to the enemy.
In August 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing on a flanking march around Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia to strike at Pope’s supply base at Manassas Junction. On August 26, Jackson’s men raided the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station and moved north.
Scattered markers and signs amidst modern buildings and highways are all that remain to mark the scene of this early Civil War battle.
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The Battle of Hoke’s Run (Falling Waters/Hainesville) was fought on July 2, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and Confederate forces commanded by Col. Thomas J. Jackson in Berkeley County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a tactical Union victory, though it allowed Confederate forces to concentrate and achieve victory at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21. Hoke’s Run resulted in 114 total casualties.
After the Commonwealth of Virginia formally seceded on May 23, 1861, Union troops moved to secure territory bordering Maryland and Washington, DC. Confederate Col. Thomas J. Jackson’s 4,000-man brigade was ordered to delay the Federal advance toward Martinsburg, then a town in Virginia (today, West Virginia). On July 2, 1861, Union Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson crossed the Potomac River with two brigades totaling approximately 8,000 men.
Jackson, who would go on to earn the nickname “Stonewall” and become one of the Confederacy’s most famous generals, deployed his men and four artillery pieces in Patterson’s path just south of Falling Waters. A brief fight erupted, Col. J. J. Abercrombie’s brigade turned Jackson’s right flank, and Jackson fell back. After two miles, Patterson broke off pursuit and ordered his men to make camp.
A couple interpretive signs are all that mark the location of this prelude to the first major battle of the Civil War.
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The Battle of Blackburn’s Ford was fought on July 18, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. James Longstreet in Prince William and Fairfax Counties, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a Confederate victory and resulted in 151 total casualties.
In mid-July 1861, Union Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s 35,000-man Army of Northeastern Virginia advanced into Virginia toward the railroad junction at Manassas. Standing in his way was the 22,000-man Confederate Army of the Potomac under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. At Centreville, McDowell ordered Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler’s division to look for a crossing over Bull Run Creek at Blackburn or Mitchell’s fords. At Blackburn Ford, Tyler saw only a few Confederate artillery pieces and ordered forward a single brigade commanded by Col. Israel B. Richardson.
Tyler failed to see Brig. Gen. James Longstreet’s brigade hidden in the woods on the opposite shore. The inexperienced combatants subsequently slugged it out in the oppressive afternoon heat, until the 12th New York Infantry Regiment began to withdraw. After several hours of fighting, Union troops fully retreated in the face of Confederate reinforcements under Col. Jubal A. Early.
Visit the remnants of a Civil War camp with a picturesque view of the Allegheny Mountains
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The Battle of Greenbrier River (Camp Bartow) was fought on October 3, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson in Pocahontas County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was inconclusive and despite 95 total casualties, both sides returned to their camps to fight another day.
After Gen. Robert E. Lee and Brig. Gen. William W. Loring’s ineffectual and ultimately aborted attack on the Union army camped on Cheat Mountain in mid-September, Union Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds planned a counter-attack on Confederate forces at Camp Bartow on the Greenbrier River. A victory there would end Confederate resistance along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, which linked Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with the Ohio River.
On October 3rd, Reynolds led his approximately 5,000-man brigade against Brig. Gen. Henry R. Jackson’s 1,800 (Jackson’s ranks had been thinned by sickness). Early that morning, Confederate skirmishers detected Reynolds’ advance and spoiled his surprise. Despite four hours of artillery bombardment and assaults on both flanks, Jackson held firm. His men were dug-in on a hill with a commanding view of Union forces below.
Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the second oldest rural cemetery in the nation. It was established in 1836 on 74 acres of land overlooking the Schuylkill River. Its lovely neoclassical gatehouse was designed in a Roman Doric style by architect John Notman (1810-1865). Laurel Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.
Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) was a Scottish-American physician who settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was a personal friend of George Washington. He fought in the French and Indian War and in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, where he was killed at the Battle of Princeton.
Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade (1815-1872), nicknamed the “Old Snapping Turtle,” is most famous for commanding the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg. He commanded the V Corps during the Battle of Fredericksburg and replaced Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker as commander of the army. His star faded after Gettysburg, however, as General Ulysses S. Grant personally directed operations in the Eastern Theater. He made Philadelphia his home and died of pneumonia brought on by his old war wounds.
George Washington personally awarded a Badge of Military Merit to a soldier wounded in the attack on Fort Slongo, making him the first recipient of what became known as the Purple Heart.
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The Battle of Fort Slongo (aka Salonga) was fought on October 3, 1781 between American patriot forces commanded by Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge and British forces defending Fort Salonga on Long Island, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The Americans were successful in capturing the fort and all its supplies.
In the fall of 1781, the Continental Army was eager to strike a blow against British-occupied Long Island. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge chose 50 men from Cpt. Richards’ company and 50 dismounted dragoons commanded by Cpt. Edgar to make an attack on the lightly garrisoned Fort Slongo. Maj. Trescott volunteered to lead the attack. The fort’s commander, Maj. Vanalstine, had gone to New York City and was not present at the battle.
Each force had a different mission. Edgar’s men would assault the garrison, while Richards’ men would surround it and make sure no one escaped. A picked group of ten dragoons led the attack, followed by Maj. Trescott and Cpt. Edgar and the remaining dragoons. The assault began at 3am and was over quickly. The Patriots captured 21 men and one brass cannon, while only sustaining one casualty.
A reading from the new edition of my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, released in October 2020!
In part three: Hidden History, I examine events some believe are better left unremembered. What is the history of Coles County’s ghost towns? What were some of its most infamous murders? What happened in the Tornado of 1917? Never-before published information about Mattoon’s battle with Prohibition and even a local chapter of the KKK is inside.