Old friends, torn apart by war, clash in a chivalric contest of sabres and revolvers in one of the Civil War’s best-known cavalry battles.
The Battle of Kelly’s Ford (aka Kellysville) was fought on March 17, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Averell and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee in Culpeper County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle, which resulted in 211 total casualties, was a draw but was the first time in the Eastern Theater that Union cavalry held their own against their Southern counterparts.
In a war that produced so many great quotes, the Battle of Kelly’s Ford gave us one of the best. The opposing commanders, William Averell and Fitzhugh Lee, were friends at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before the war. On February 25th, Fitzhugh Lee led a raid across the Rappahannock River and captured dozens of Averell’s men. Lee sent his old friend a note saying “You ride a good horse, I ride a better. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”
After the battle of Kelly’s Ford, Averell left two captured Confederate officers with a sack of coffee and a note saying: “Dear Fitz, Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”
On the morning of March 17, 1863, Brig. Gen. Averell forced a crossing of the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford with three cavalry brigades and one battery of artillery, for a total of 2,100 men. His objective was to destroy Confederate cavalry in the area and stop raids like that of February 25th. His old friend, Brig. Gen. Lee (nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee), opposed him with approximately 800 men. Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, the Confederates’ flamboyant cavalry chief, and Stuart’s chief of artillery, Maj. John Pelham, were also on hand.
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.
A scenic drive will take you to often-forgotten sites of Civil War drama along the Rappahannock River.
The First Battle of Rappahannock Station (White Sulphur Springs/Freeman’s Ford) was a series of skirmishes fought from August 22-25, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet around Rappahannock Station, Virginia during the American Civil War. This inconclusive battle allowed the Confederate army to outflank Union forces and win the Second Battle of Bull Run three days later. It resulted in 225 total casualties.
In July 1862, Maj. Gen. John Pope’s newly formed 51,000-man Union Army of Virginia began to consolidate across northern Virginia. After a bruising at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9th, Pope withdrew his army behind the Rappahannock River, where he skirmished with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 48,500-man Army of Northern Virginia and waited for reinforcements. Between August 22 and 25, the two armies fought minor skirmishes at Waterloo Bridge, White Sulphur Springs, Freeman’s Ford, and Beverly Ford.
On August 22nd, Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel directed Big. Gen. Carl Schurz to cross the river at Freeman’s Ford and ascertain or disrupt the movement of Jackson’s corps. Schurz sent the 74th Pennsylvania Regiment, which captured some supplies and sent for reinforcements. That came in the form of two regiments from Brig. Gen. Henry Bohlen’s brigade. They quickly ran into Isaac Trimble’s brigade, who with help from John Bell Hood, overwhelmed Bohlen’s men and sent them fleeing. Bohlen himself was shot in the chest and killed while directing his men back across the ford.