Brandy Station with Bud Hall

Yesterday historian Clark “Bud” Hall led our Leesburg (Va.) Civil War Roundtable through a tour of Brandy Station.  This was one of those trips I could write about in 32-type, bold print.  Trip to a Civil War cavalry battlefield in good weather – good.  Trip to Brandy Station – excellent.  Listening to Bud Hall speak about the battle standing on the  site – priceless. If you are not acquainted with Bud, perhaps the best way to put it is he probably knows more about this battle than the participants.

"Bud" Hall Uses a Wartime Photo to Orient the Group
"Bud" Hall Uses a Wartime Photo to Orient the Group

Our trip visited several sites on the field:

  • Buford’s Knoll
  • St. James Church
  • Farley (Welford House)
  • The Grafitti House
  • Auburn (Botts House)
  • Kelly’s Ford

If I provided a stop-by-stop, point-by-point accounting here, likely my typing would go well into next month.  Furthermore, I’d not do justice to the presentation.  Allow me to mention some points that stand out to me, but strongly encourage the reader to attend a tour with Bud to get the full, rich story of this battlefield.

Bud Hall Explaining the Merrit-Lee Duel
Bud Hall Explains the Merritt-Lee Duel on Yew Ridge

Any battlefield analysis should start logically with”why here?”  Bud answered that with an overview of the terrain and transportation routes.  The road network, and proximity to the railroad, brought the armies to Brandy Station.  An elevation northeast of the town, Fleetwood Hill, offered a commanding view of the routes.  Four cavalry actions were fought around Brandy Station.  Nearby battles at Rappahannock Station in 1862 and1863 spilled over to the Brandy Station area.  During the winter of 1863-64, a large portion of the Army of the Potomac camped around the station.  And none of this counts the number of skirmishes and reconnaissances conducted.  In short, there are layers of Civil War activity.  If you ask, “Where were they during the battle?”  The response will likely be, “Which battle?”

Some indentations on top of Buford’s Knoll make that point better than my words:

Confederate Gunpits on Buford's Knoll
Confederate Gunpits on Buford's Knoll

In late September 1862, artillery from Gen. James Longstreet’s Corps dueled with Federal artillery on the northeast side of the Rappahannock River.  Our guide pointed out the location of those Federal batteries in the distance.

Looking North Toward the Federal Positions
Looking North Toward the Federal Positions

Now keep in mind, on June 9, 1863 the ground on which the group was standing when those photos were taken was held by Federals in Gen. John Buford’s Cavalry Division.  In fact several Federal horse batteries deployed across the same knoll, facing south, confronting Confederate cavalry under Gen. Fitzugh Lee.  Which leads to another “curiosity” of sorts.

From the Federal Position Looking at the Ridge
From the Federal Position Looking at the Ridge

During the middle phases of the June 9, 1863 battle, Confederates posted artillery behind the ridge the the west of Buford’s Knoll.  The gunners did not have line of sight on the Federal position, but were able to lob, at elevation, shells onto the Federal position.  While I can document instances where field artillery was used in what we would call “indirect” mode during the Civil War, such was usually accompanied with a signal detachment which communicated feedback on the fall of the rounds.  I cannot recall, save this particular incident, the use of horse artillery in such mode, and firing without the observation support.  The fire was apparently effective, as several Federal batteries were compelled to quit the position.

At the next stop, St. James Church, our guide’s presentation focused on one of my favorite instances of the battle – the charge of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Rush’s Lancers).  Bud added to the story with a discussion of the actions that occurred after the repulse of the Lancers.  The 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, posted on the Confederate left, counter-charged the advance of the 6th U.S. Cavalry.  Now with most of the audience from Loudoun County, the 35th is one of our local favorites.  You say “Lige White” and ears perk up!  Here, the 35th practically crossed the field and mixed with the Regulars making an assault near Beverly’s Ford Road on Hart’s (do I have that right?) South Carolina Battery.  The best photo in my collection to illustrate the “crossing” is from a previous visit in May:

The 35th Virginia Crosses the Field

Consider from this point of view, the 6th Pennsylvania’s charge was more or less directly AT the camera.  Then in later action, the 35th crossed from left to right.  The line of Confederate horse artillery was posted along the road to St. James Church behind the camera.  The Virginians mixed in with the Regulars on the other side of the field.  Fearing his guns would be lost, Hart ordered his guns to fire into the melee on friend and foe alike. The question was raised at this point regarding the artillerist’s command.  With White’s men engaged, was it really necessary to order such a desperate response?  Or did the battery commander panic a bit?  Furthermore, looking at the maneuver of the “Comanches” across the field one must wonder if the 35th was acting on “target fixation.”  All questions from the peanut gallery as it is.  Perhaps topics that will be cleared up in the future with anticipated books in the works covering this battle.

Another stop was Farley ( Welford House).

Farley (Welford House)
Farley (Welford House)

Bud pointed out this house was used by a score of generals from both sides during the war as either headquarters or for more sociable activities.  A wartime photo, looking at the other side of the house, shows the Federal VI Corps headquarters on the lawn.  After the June 1863 battle of Brandy Station, that front lawn was described as filled with dead and wounded from both sides, testifying to the intensity of the fighting at this sector of the battlefield.

Lawn of Farley and Welford Road
Lawn of Farley and Welford Road

Again a reminder that when we speak of the Civil War at Brandy Station, it is not just one battle or campaign.  To the left in the view above is the road to Welford’s Ford.  During the 2nd Manassas Campaign, Jackson’s Corps marched down that road to start the flanking maneuvers around Pope’s Army.

Another of the stops on our tour was Fleetwood Hill.  Eric Wittenberg has mentioned this site in a couple of recent postings, so I won’t re-hash a story here.  Suffice to say the presence of a modern structure on the hill robs the visitor today.  It is difficult to visualize the scene or interpret the lay of the land today with the house on the hill.

Fleetwood Hill Today
Fleetwood Hill Today

One vignette offered by Bud at this point concerned Martin’s 6th New York Light Battery.  As the fighting reached a crescendo, a section of Martin’s guns was overrun by the (here they are again) 35thVirginia Cavalry Battalion.  At least one of the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles was disabled by the gunners, by bursting the barrel.  Again, ears perked up.  To my knowledge, only one 3-inch Ordnance Rifle was recorded as “bursting” during the war.  That was during the Wilderness in 1864.  Well, now I know of a second such instance of failure.  Bud indicated the gunners had done something to disable the gun, causing the metal failure.  Needless to say, I’d like to trace down the particulars of the gun in question, and what exactly was done to destroy it.

That’s just the high points!  As related above, I could likely write for a month on the topics discussed during our seven hours on the battlefield.  I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the work, and in some cases blood, sweat and tears, put into Brandy Station by Bud Hall.  If you have the opportunity to attend one of his tour, jump on it!  You will learn something you didn’t know, and you will be entertained.

In closing, one of the recurring themes in my research, is consideration of the terrain itself as a primary source.  Brandy Station is a ready example of that.  One cannot understand the June 9, 1863 battle without considering that terrain as the context of the military actions.  We are blessed in two ways with regard to that terrain.  First that someone has put forth the time and effort to preserve what could be of the field.  Second that someone has done the research and can provide the key to interpret that terrain.

Bud, next time we meet, drinks are on me!

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