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brandy station civil war



Old Photo Brandy Station

The Battle of Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American Continent. Of the 20,000 soldiers involved, about 17,000 were of the mounted branch. Brandy Station is also the first battle of the war's most famous campaign-- Gettysburg.

The Confederates had planned for June 9, 1863 to be a day of maneuver rather than of battle. Two of the army's three infantry corps were near Culpeper, six miles southwest of Brandy Station, poised to move onto the Shenandoah Valley and thence up to Pennsylvania. Major General J.E.B. Stuart, at Brandy Station, was to screen this movement with his 9,500-man cavalry division, while the remaining infantry corps held the attention of the Union Army at Fredericksburg, 35 miles southeast of Brandy Station.

The Federals know that Confederate cavalry was around Culpeper, but its intelligence had not gathered information of the sizeable infantry force behind the horsemen. Army of the Potomac commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, interpreted the enemy cavalry's presence around Culpeper to be indicative of preparations for a raid on his army's supply lines. Accordingly, he ordered his Cavalry Corps commander, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton to "break up Stuart's raid in its incipiency."

The Confederates apparently did not expect any harassment from the enemy cavalry, for the day before the important screening mission was scheduled to take place, the Southern troops conducted a grand review for General Robert E. Lee at Inlet Station, just two miles southwest of Brandy Station. 

Civil war Encampment Brandy Station

Meanwhile, 8,000 Federal cavalrymen, organized into three divisions, and about 3,000 Northern infantrymen were preparing to disrupt the Confederate plans.

About 4:30 a.m. on June 9th, Brigadier General John Buford's column of 5,500 soldiers splashed across the fog-shrouded Rappahannock River surprising the Confederate pickets at Beverly's Ford. Nearby Southern horsemen from Brigadier General William "Grumble" Jones' brigade, awakened by the sound of gunfire, rode into the fray partially dressed and often riding bareback. They struck Buford's leading brigade, commanded by Colonel Benjamin F. "Grimes" Davis, near a bend in the Beverly's Ford Road and temporarily checked its progress. In the fighting Davis was killed.

Davis' brigade had been stopped just short of where the Confederate Horse Artillery was camped and was vulnerable to capture. Cannoneers swung one or two guns into position and fired down the road at Buford's men, enabling the other pieces to escape and establish the foundation for the subsequent Confederate line. The artillery unlimbered at the Gee House and at St. James Church--structures located on two knolls on either side of the Beverly’s Ford Road. Most of Jones’ command rallied to the left of this Confederate artillery line, while Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s brigade formed to the right. The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry suffered the greatest casualties of any regiment participating in the battle when it unsuccessfully charged across a field to the very muzzles of the guns at St. James Church.

Realizing that the Southern artillery blocking the direct route to Brandy Station was a force too strong to be dislodged, Buford determined to anchor his right on the Hazel River and try to turn the Confederate left. But he found Brigadier General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's brigade blocking his advance with some troops on a piece of high ground called Yew Ridge and some dismounted troopers positioned along a stone wall in the front. After sustaining heavy losses, the Federals wrestled the stone wall away from the Confederates. Then, to the amazement of Buford's men, the Confederates began pulling back.

The Southerners were shifting to meet a new threat, adjusting to their second surprise of the day. Brigadier General David M. Gregg's Union division of about 2,800 men had orders to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford and proceed on roads leading directly into Brandy Station, but discovered its way blocked by Brigadier General Beverly Robertson's Brigade. however, Gregg determined that another road network leading to the battlefield by a more circuitous route was completely unguarded. Following these roads, his lead brigade under Colonel Percy Wyndham arrived in Brandy Station about 11 a.m. Between Gregg and the battle taking place between Buford and Stuart was a prominent ridge called Fleetwood Hill.

The eminence had been Stuart's headquarters, but the general was at the front and the only force on Fleetwood when Gregg arrived was a 6-pounder howitzer, which had been sent to the rear for want of reliable ammunition.


Major Henry B. McClellan of Stuart's staff pressed this gun into service and sent a desperate plea to his chief for reinforcements. Wyndham meanwhile formed his men into line and charged up the western slope of Fleetwood.


As he neared the crest, the lead elements of Jones's brigade, which had just withdrawn from St. James Church, rode over the crown.

map of brandy station battle

Map of the battlefield on June 9, 1863

Gregg's next brigade, led by Colonel Judson Kilpatrick, swung around east of Brandy Station and attacked up the southern end and the eastern slope of Fleetwood Hill, only to discover that their appearance coincided with the arrival of Hampton's Confederates. A series of confusing charges and countercharges swept back and forth across the hill. The Confederates cleared the hill for the final time, capturing three guns and inflicting 30 casualties among the 36 men of the 6th New York Light Artillery, which had attempted to give close-range support to the Federal cavalry.

Colonel Alfred Duffié, with a small 1,200-man division, was delayed by two Confederate regiments in the vicinity of Setvensburg and arrived on the field too late to participate in the action.

While Jones and Hampton withdrew from their initial positions to fight at Fleetwood Hill, "Rooney" Lee continued to confront Buford, falling back to the northern end of the hill. Reinforced by Colonel Thomas Munford, commanding the brigade of the ailing Fitzhugh Lee, "Rooney" Lee launched a counterattack against Buford at the same time as Pleasonton had called for a general withdrawal, and the battle was over.

Despite being surprised by his adversary twice in the same day, Stuart was able to retain the field. Union losses numbered 866; Confederate casualties were reported at 575. But the overwhelming superiority that the Confederate cavalry once enjoyed was gone.  Copyright © 1996, 2010



cedar mountain battle
battle of cedar mountain

Take a look at this panoramic photograph of Cedar Mountain Battlefield taken by Timothy O'Sullivan in 1862. The second image is a close-up of the left portion of the photograph! Photo Courtesy: Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield

Stonewall Jackson, with 22,000 men, formed a line of battle at Cedar Mountain. The 12,000 Federals, under Nathaniel Banks gained an early advantage against Jackson. It was the only battle in which Stonewall Jackson attempted to draw his sword and lead his troops by example. Swayed by his personal involvement, Jackson later asserted that Cedar Mountain was the most successful of his exploits. A confederate counterattack, lead by Culpeper native, A. P. Hill, repulsed the Federals and won the day. Over 3,500 men were killed or wounded that day, during the deadliest day in Culpeper’s history.


The Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield (FCMB) is an organization dedicated to working with the local community to protect, restore, manage, and interpret the Cedar Mountain Civil War Battlefield in Culpeper County. They have launched an ambitious project to restore the 152-acres of the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Cedar Mountain Battlefield Park to its historical landscape. Volunteers are needed to help with this project.

To find out more about the FCMB go to

kelly's ford


Following the December 1862 Federal debacle at Fredericksburg, and the infamous Mud March of January 1863, both sides settled into winter camps on opposite sides of the Rappahannock River.  Several cavalry raids and skirmishes broke the dull routine of camp life during the long winter.  The largest and most important of these occurred on March 17, 1863, near the Rappahannock crossing at Kelly’s Ford.


The Battle of Kelly’s Ford was “the first purely cavalry fight east of the Mississippi River” of any appreciable size. The battle was the first opportunity for the Union cavalry to amass a significant force, because the horsemen had been concentrated into a corps only a few weeks earlier.


In early March, Union Brigadier General William Averell received orders to leave the main body of the Army of the Potomac, then opposite Fredericksburg.  His instructions were to lead his troopers west up the Rappahannock river, cross it at Kelly’s Ford, and defeat a Confederate cavalry force near Culpeper, 10 miles west of the ford.  Averell wanted to impress army commander Major General Joseph Hooker, who had earlier remarked, “Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?”  Averell was further motivated by the prospect of defeating his good friend and former West Point classmate, Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, commanding the Confederate cavalry in that region.


During the winter, Fitz Lee sent Averell several messages taunting him about the inferiority of Federal cavalry.  Lee left an especially challenging message before withdrawing from a raid in late February: “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home.  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.”

With 3,000 cavalrymen and a battery of six cannon, Averell set out on March 16th to accept Lee’s challenge.  Fearing that a significant enemy force to the northwest might threaten his right flank, Averell detached 900 of these troopers to Catlett Station, 15 miles north of Kelly’s Ford.


Fitz Lee quickly learned of Averell’s movement, but was unsure whether Averell would attempt to cross the river at Kelly’s Ford or at Rappahannock Ford, four miles further upstream and north of Kelly’s.  Lee reinforced the 20 Confederates guarding Kelly’s Ford.  His available sharpshooters were poised to move to either ford.  The bulk of Lee’s command, 800 horsemen and Captain James Breathed’s four-cannon battery, was posted in Culpeper.  The Kelly’s Ford defenders, about 85 members of the 2nd and 4th Virginia Cavalry regiments, found shelter in a dry millrace and blocked the approaches to the ford along the both river banks with abatis – obstructions formed by felled trees.

winter encamp


After the Confederate defeat at Bristoe Station in October 1863, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade pressed Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia south across the Rapidan River into Orange County. The Union army then settled in for the winter around Culpeper Courthouse in Culpeper County, while the Confederates encamped along the south bank of the Rapidan.

The rail station at Brandy became the major transportation hub for the winter encampment.

Supplies, visiting dignitaries and people of notoriety came to Culpeper during this time. Officer’s wives came and toured the area with pomp and pageantry. Grand balls were held in the homes of prominent citizens.
For five months, the two combatants studied each other, resupplied and reinforced their armies, and tested each other's lines with occasional thrusts. In March 1864, Grant arrived in Culpeper County, having been appointed commander of all Union armies by President Abraham Lincoln and having decided to accompany Meade rather than remain in Washington. With his presence, the war in Virginia would enter a new and even bloodier phase when the Federals crossed the Rapidan on May 4th to begin a campaign that would inflict some 45 percent casualties on each army within two-and-a-half months.

Birney's Headquarters
50th New York Engineers Brandy Station
Fleetwood Hill
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