Having extracted themselves from a dangerous position on the Rapidan River and then covered the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac over the Rappahannock, Brigadier-General John Buford’s First Cavalry Division was worse for the wear. But on campaign, the cavalry rarely rest. At 10:30 A.M. on October 12, 1863, Buford received these orders:
Major-General Sedgwick will, in addition to his own corps, take command of the Fifth Corps and Buford’s division of cavalry, and advance immediately to Brandy Station and take position at the heights there, driving the enemy and holding the position. He will report his progress to the commanding general, and also the force, position, and movements of the enemy.
General George Meade needed to know if the Confederates remained in strength across the Rappahannock in Culpeper County. A reconnaissance in force could shake out that information.
By noon, Buford had his division across the Rappahannock:
After advancing about 2 miles, the enemy’s pickets were driven in, and the advance commenced skirmishing with the enemy. Finding his force insignificant, a general advance was ordered, and he was driven to within 1 ½ miles of Culpeper. The object of the expedition being accomplished, the division returned and bivouacked on the left of the infantry near Brandy.
The Federals only encountered Colonel Thomas Rosser’s 5th Virginia Cavalry.
But Buford focused attention to other matters than simply chasing Confederates:
Every man of the command seemed gratified at having again passed over their old fighting ground, because they were enabled to recover the bodies of some of their comrades who had fallen the day before, and to administer to and remove several wounded men who had been neglected and who would undoubtedly have perished but for their timely assistance. It was truly gratifying to be able to recover these wounded men, and to bury the men that had been stripped and abandoned by the enemy.
That evening, the infantry moved back across the Rappahannock first starting around midnight. Before dawn had a chance to break on October 13, Buford’s men were across bringing up the rear. The division’s next assignment was covering the Army’s trains during the march back to Centreville.
Of note, the actions on October 11-12, 1863 were the last major fights over Fleetwood Hill. They were also the last major fighting (though not the last skirmish) in which John Buford commanded troops. Buford had but two months more to live.
We think of Fleetwood Hill, and June 9 comes to mind. Well those October fights are also a reason this hill was made sacred by the blood of those who fought. The same can be said for the August 20, 1862 fighting. I run out of fingers counting other engagements fought on and around that rise of ground. Fleetwood Hill was among the most important geographical features contested during the Civil War. That’s why we should celebrate victory in the LAST contest over Fleetwood – which lead to its purchase and preservation. If some people had been given their way, Fleetwood Hill would be a racetrack entrance, part of an office complex, or…. lake front property.
(Citations from Buford’s report of the Bristoe Campaign, OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 48, page 349.)