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.
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.