Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – New Hampshire

New Hampshire was represented by one line in the fourth quarter summary for 1864. That one line accounted for the lone field battery from the state:

  • 1st Light Battery: At Brandy Station with four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The battery remained under command of Captain Frederick M. Edgell. In October the battery transferred out of the Third Brigade, Reserve Artillery to the Third Corps, Army of the Potomac. And with that formation, they were in winter quarters during the February when their return was submitted.

Allow me to expand upon this battery’s service through the fall a bit, as we have space to do so and… well… anytime we have a Brandy Station story I like to pontificate. The winter quarters was the 1st New Hampshire’s fourth visit to Brandy Station, if my count is correct. The first being at the opening of the 2nd Manassas Campaign, in the late summer of 1862, as part of Pope’s command.

Going forward to 1863, as part of the Reserve artillery, the battery passed through Brandy Station, and Culpeper at the close of the Gettysburg Campaign. Of course, that stay ended when Confederates initiated the Bristoe Campaign. In November, the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock into Culpeper County again. And on November 8, Edgell’s battery fought around Brandy Station. I’ll let his words summarize the engagement:

My battery marched with the reserve batteries of the Third Corps, on the morning of the 7th. Crossed the river at Kelly’s Ford at dark the same day and took position with the Second Division, reporting to General Prince. On the morning of the 8th, reported to General Carr, Third Division, and marched with his advanced brigade, arriving at the railroad at 10 a.m. About noon the enemy were found posted with artillery on a ridge east of the railroad and about a mile north of Brandy Station. One section of my battery was ordered up, and opened on the enemy with shell at about 2,000 yards distance. This, with the advance of our skirmishers, caused them to retire after firing a few rounds. My section immediately occupied the position, but finding the enemy out of range, pushed on and took position in the edge of the wood to the left of and near Brandy Station. The enemy now opened, with two 20-pounders and two smaller guns, at about 1,800 yards distance, to which we replied, and they again retired. My remaining section now came up and took position to the right of the railroad, and fired a few shots at bodies of the enemy’s cavalry, but with what effect is not known. This closed the operations for the day.

My battery expended in the whole affair 56 rounds of percussion and time shell, but a strong wind blowing across the line of fire much impaired its accuracy.

I have no casualties to report.

OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 48, page 573

Captain George E. Randolph, commanding the artillery brigade of Third Corps, recorded in more detail the number and type of rounds fired by the New Hampshire gunners – 20 Schenkl case, 10 Schenkl shell, and 30 Hotchkiss fuse (time or percussion not specified) shell. Randoph said 60 rounds, while Edgell said 56. Perhaps the New Hampshire battery fired four additional rounds on the previous day. Randolph went on to relate Edgell complained about the Schenkl percussion fuses, as they failed to burst on occasion. But added “I was surprised at this, for I have seldom known them to fail.” However, he did note the other batteries did not seem to have a problem.

After the fight on November 8, the Army of the Potomac pressed the Army of Northern Virginia out of Culpeper for the last time in the war. That, in turn, setup the Mine Run Campaign with the Federals moving over the Rapidan into the Wilderness. After the anti-climatic close of that campaign, the Army of the Potomac returned to Culpeper for winter quarters. First Sergeant Samuel S. Piper later described, in a service narrative for the state’s Adjutant General, the battery’s quarters as, “at Brandy Station, Va., on the plantation of the Hon. John Minor Botts.” Piper went on to call it the best camp the battery ever had. While I have not seen a photo of the New Hampshire battery in those quarters, we do have a photo of Auburn, Botts’ house on the plantation:

I am not certain exactly where the Third Corps’ artillery park was that winter. Likely between Auburn and the railroad station. Readers will recall Auburn still stands. Hopefully some future owner will recognize the significance of the structure and restore the house to its past prominence.

There are two other formations from New Hampshire that we should mention here. Both were employed as heavy artillery, and thus didn’t have cannon or stores of their own to report:

  • 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery Company: Not listed. Garrison of Fort Constitution, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Captain Charles H. Long remained in command.
  • 2nd New Hampshire Heavy Artillery Company: Not listed.  Garrison of Fort McClary, Portsmouth Harbor, across the entrance in Maine. Captain Ira M. Barton commanded. 

Both companies spent the winter months guarding Portsmouth. In May, both moved to Washington, D.C. to replace the other “heavies” sent forward to the front lines. Later, those two companies formed the nucleus of a full regiment of New Hampshire heavy artillery formed starting in the late summer of 1864.

The stories aside, we turn to the ammunition reported. No smoothbore, so we can move right to the Hotchkiss columns:

  • 1st Light Battery: 169 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

On to the next page for more Hotchkiss rounds:

  • 1st Light Battery: 26 percussion fuse shell, 182 bullet shell, and 80 canister for 3-inch rifles.

The next page tallies those Schenkl shells that Edgell complained of:

  • 1st Light Battery: 180 shell for 3-inch rifles.

And another Schenkl entry on the next page:

  • 1st Light Battery: 145 case shot for 3-inch rifles.

Turning to the small arms:

  • 1st Light Battery: Eight Colt army revolvers, seven Colt navy revolvers, and twelve cavalry sabers.

Cartridge bags reported on the next page:

  • 1st Light Battery: 12 cartridge bags for 3-inch rifles.

Lastly, pistol cartridges, fuse, primers, and other items:

  • 1st Light Battery: 200 navy caliber pistol cartridges; 485 paper fuses; 1,300 friction primers; 23 yards of slow match; 500 pistol percussion caps; and 5 portfires.

One might call attention to the lack of metallic fuses reported here. Edgell complained about the Schenkl fuses in November. Then in February had no tallies. Had he discarded the object of his ire? I don’t think so. It seems the returns counted the rounds, with fuses, as a whole unit. And the columns on this page were used to account for fuses issued separate from the projectile. Regardless, we have Edgell reporting both Hotchkiss and Schenkl, a mix not preferred by Brigadier-General Henry Hunt in charge of the Army of the Potomac’s artillery.

Raccoon Ford Solar Farm update: Victory along the Rapidan, but follow through needed to complete win

Let me pass along an update on the threat to the Rapidan Fords, mentioned earlier this month.

Cricket Solar, the project aimed at placing a large-scale solar farm in southern Culpeper County, formally withdrew their conditional use permit on August 26. Spokesperson for the project indicated Cricket Solar was taking the action in order to “ensure that any project proposed represents Cricket’s best effort to address community concerns.” Which in essence means the project could not reconcile their plan with valid concerns and objections. A sizable number of those concerns were the impact on historical resources. The irony in the case of this solar farm project is the main “pro” argument in its favor was to create renewable energy alternatives in order to preserve natural resources… yet the cost of developing that renewable energy option was the destruction of natural and historical resources!

Yes, this is a win for preservation. However, I think we need to apply some lessons learned from our study of the Civil War in this situation. A battle is won, to be sure. But that victory is but a fleeting moment in the campaign to reach an objective. How many Civil War generals won significant victories on the field, only to see that victory ring hollow due to delayed pursuit and failure to follow through toward the strategic goals?

The goal here, for me as a preservationist (and I trust you too, reader) is to ensure places like Raccoon Ford are not perpetually under threat of development. We should not need to queue up, year after year, the same discussion about preserving these places – Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Morton’s Ford, Hansbrough Ridge, and Raccoon Ford. These places should instead be recognized for the intrinsic value possessed … and thus preserved and entrusted to future generations.

But how to do that?

I submit that preservation efforts are much like those wartime campaigns we study. Each effort must have stages and phases leading ultimately that goal of preservation. And in that light, our next step forward should renewed calls to establish a state park in Culpeper County that covers, at minimum, the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields.

Consider – the discussion of the Cricket Solar project brought the area’s Civil War history back to the fore. Specifically, we’ve seen localized discussion about what did happen “in my back yard.” Call it “renewed” interest… or in many cases a “newfound” interest (which is rewarding, for those of us engaged in the discussion). With that rise in interest, there is now a ready made foundation for follow on public discussion. Poll after poll taken indicated the citizenry of the county preferred to preserve these sites, be that motivated by interest in history or concern for the environmental impact. Those sentiments logically lead to renewed efforts for a state park. Then, ultimately, a seed for further preservation of the county’s important historic sites.

No, I’m not advocating for the entire county to be placed “under glass” or some other starry-eyed notion. Rather that attention be paid to those sites deserving preservation. We should, in this age, be able to recognize good stewardship techniques that balance and moderate development while protecting what needs to be preserved. In the case of Culpeper County, the best stewardship technique, in my opinion, takes the form of a state park.

We should follow up our victory this week with decisive action. Now is the time for the American Battlefield Trust and allies to renew the push for a Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields state park. It is time to move this campaign forward!

Virginians! Time to make a call, for the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields

This post goes out to all readers in Virginia…. and to those who have relatives and friends in Virginia.

I bring to your attention a set of budget amendments – 363 #7s, 363 #8s, and
363 #12h – presently under consideration by the state legislature. Each of these carry the explanation:

This amendment directs DCR to make recommendations as to the potential suitability of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefield as potential recreational areas or state or regional parks and report its findings to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by October 1, 2019.

These are “budget neutral” amendments that would direct the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to review options to create a park comprising of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields. In short, this would prompt a study which gets the proverbial foot in the door towards the creation of a battlefield park. And that’s something you’ve heard me campaign towards for some time.

The American Battlefields Trust has made it easy for Virginians to reach their representatives to express thoughts about these amendments, as well as a few others related to preservation efforts in our state. As the Trust says, a couple of phone calls of support could go a long way – both to getting to our goal of a battlefield park, for those two important battlefield, and for funding other state preservation projects.

“…the bridges are always wider than the flood….”

I direct you to a short post from Harry Smeltzer, published yesterday.  The center piece of that post is this photo:


My friend, Bud Hall, took this picture earlier in the week.  You are looking at Ruffin’s Run.  Normally, it is a sleepy little stream that bisects the northern end of the Brandy Station battlefield.  Crossing at this bridge is Beverly’s Ford Road, an ancient path to… well Beverly’s Ford, an important crossing of the Rappahannock. And you are looking in the direction of the Rappahannock, which is not far beyond the distant tree line at the end of this road.  Ruffin’s Run flows from left to right in this view.  As you can see in this photo, the run is just returning to its banks having expanded out across the flood plain, showing just how strong and nasty it could be!

On the morning of June 9, 1863, Colonel Benjamin “Grimes” Davis lead his brigade down this very road (coming towards the camera).  It was here… well more accurately in that tree line in the distance… that the Gettysburg Campaign began when Davis’s men engaged Confederate pickets covering Beverly’s Ford.  Davis, however, would not return this way.  He was mortally wounded just a short way down the road (behind the photographer) that morning as the fighting unfolded.

Yet, that is just the “banner event” which one might link to this spot.  I run out of fingers and toes counting the number of times we read of Federal or Confederate troops passing this very road on the way to, or coming from, Beverly’s Ford.  And of course, during the winter of 1864, this was practically a highway with Federal troops moving to and fro within their winter encampment.  A simple blog post is not sufficient to detail this location’s pedigree.

And let us be thankful this spot is preserved and being maintained to within bounds of its historical appearance.  While we might quibble over the safety rails and width of the modern gravel road, lacking that it is from wagon ruts.  But we will agree this spot leaves the integrity of Ruffin’s Run and its floodplain.  No additional drainage is there to clear excess water from those spring and summer freshets.  That bottom land grows up wild.  The stream is as “untamed” as it was in 1863.  Thankfully, because preservationists thwarted attempts to convert this ground into a racetrack or office complex.  It’s battlefield.  And Grimes Davis would probably not have much trouble orienting himself, if brought to the spot over a century and a half after that fateful day.

Great, battlefield preserved…. greenspace… but what of it?  I’ll tell you what of it.  That nice ribbon of mud across the road is the stream talking to us.  That is a history lesson.  Put yourselves in the saddle as a trooper crossing Ruffin’s Run or any similar stream in the central Virginia Piedmont – say, as I offered to Harry, Stoneman’s raid at the time of Chancellorsville.  Just one heavy rain might surge that stream to overflow up past the banks and into the flood plain.  So from that ribbon of mud in the foreground out to the distant rise beyond, we are fording.  Fording a raging, angry stream which on the map is but a dashed line indicating a minor little flow.  Everything you own and possess will soon be wet… including the tender hind quarters that sits in that McClellan saddle.  While in good weather this crossing would barely get a passing consideration.  In bad weather, this is simply a bridge which… well… isn’t long enough.

There are some who’ll jump into the conversation about preservation to say, “you don’t really have to stand there in order to understand the battle.”  Maybe one can grasp the high level points by just looking at a map accompanying good prose.  But nothing, I would challenge, can ever replace the actual ground of the battlefield as a primary source.  And therefore, any historian who writes of a battle without actually becoming intimately familiar with the ground does so with feet firmly planted in thin air.

Now Harry closes with a wonderful quote from Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, which I’ll likewise quote here (emphasis is Harry’s and mine):

In the land of theory…there is none of war’s friction. The troops are, as in fact they were not, perfect Tactical Men, uncannily skillful, impervious to fear, bewilderment, boredom, hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Commanders know what in fact they did not know…Lorries never collide, there is always a by-pass at the mined road-block, and the bridges are always wider than the flood. Shells fall always where they should fall.

We sometimes easily fall into the “wargamer” trap of thinking all battlefield occurrences can be distilled down to statistical probabilities with great certainties.  Folks will tell us how “morale” and “unit cohesion” should work based on nice, clean predictions, distilled into “factors.”  Or we will roll a pair of six sided die and consult a table to determine if the rains prevent unit movement.  The real world just doesn’t work that easily.  Every step is another contention, large or small, to be resolved.  Maybe the passage is eased by a bridge.  Or maybe the stream has flooded over the bridge and there simply is no way around save getting wet.  And that’s not just in war, mind you!

In my early days, I had the honor of serving on the staff of Brigadier General Herbert Lloyd.  The man carried around a book to record quotations.  And he offered a copy of that collection as professional reading material to all serving with him (I still have mine, in easy reach as I type).  A quote that General Lloyd passed along, which if it was not his own, sure sounded like such, went:

Battles will always be fought uphill, in the mud, with the sun and wind in your face, at a point where four map sheets come together.  There will be adversity, so prepare for it.

The lesson, which calls out from that muddy flood plain of Ruffin’s Run, is simply – adversity will always be there.  It’s knowing how different people adapt to meet that adversity which makes history a worthy course of study.

Hansbrough’s Ridge winter encampment site WILL be preserved!

Last week, Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star ran an article by Clint Schemmer, and concurrently run on their website, detailing efforts to preserve a Civil War site on Hansborough’s Ridge, in Culpeper County:

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Civil War Trust and others are working to save Hansbrough’s Ridge, a commanding rampart near Stevensburg that sheltered a big part of the Army of the Potomac in the bitter-cold winter of 1863-64. The site is a Virginia Historic Landmark.

The VOF board voted Thursday to give the trust a $250,000 grant toward preserving the 174-acre site, contingent on a conservation easement being placed on it. The property, which stretches from State Route 3 north almost to Cole’s Hill, includes incredibly well-preserved remnants of soldiers’ camps, field hospitals, defensive trenches and a signal station.

In addition to the VOF grant, a pledge from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the seller leave the Civil War Trust and other preservationists within a short reach of closing this deal.  Clint’s article states around $50,000 would be needed to reach the sale price.

Hansbrough’s Ridge is one of those “lesser known” and “off the beaten path” sites where one can actually SEE history in situ.  Specific to its “battlefield” status, significant action played out across Hansbrough’s Ridge during the battle of Brandy Station.   Later in the same year of the war, the ridge became the winter home for portions of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps.  From late December, 1863 through the first days of May, 1864, soldiers lived on the Hansbrough’s Ridge.  When they broke camp there, they marched southeast towards the Rapidan River and the infamous Wilderness of Central Virginia.  Those steps down Hansbrough’s Ridge were the first of the Overland Campaign.

What makes Hansborough’s Ridge so remarkable is, in part due to remoteness from populated sections of the county and also in part due to geology of the ridge, the campsite was left unchanged for decades.  As the article notes:

Virginia historians say they know of only one surviving place from the war’s Eastern Theater that is somewhat comparable. It’s the 41-acre Stafford County Civil War Park, which holds three earthen forts and the remains of winter huts that Union troops built to warm themselves in the winter of 1862–63, a transformative time that many called their army’s “Valley Forge.”

Similarly, the following winter was important to resting and refitting soldiers of the Army of the Potomac who had been fighting for two years, and to drilling new recruits.

“Pristine” is a word often overused, in my opinion, in regard to Civil War sites.  There are precious few sites that are, by definition, pristine.  I can say that Hansbrough’s Ridge is absolutely the closest I’ve seen to pristine in my forty years of visiting Civil War sites.  In my visits, I’ve seen hut sites … not rock piles that were hut sites… but the actual hut sites with the walls as clearly defined as the day the soldiers left.  Some of these localities were captured in wartime photographs, offering vital context to what we see on the ground today.

I’m hesitant to post a lot of photos of the site, pending closure and firm security of the site from trespassing.  But allow me to offer one:

HR WE Site 037

We know, based on accounts of the soldiers who stayed on Hansbrough’s Ridge, were those bricks likely came from.  But that’s just the “thread” to follow here.  It will bring us to the larger story of how those soldiers lived; what they experienced; and most importantly, why they spent a cold, lonely winter on a ridgetop in Virginia.

That story is not just one of artifacts or rock-piles, but the context of their presence.  There are other reminders – in place, mind you – that speak of the haste as the soldiers broke camp that spring.  All of which is why this is an important site to preserve.  This site needs to be studied – properly and professionally – not looted by those who would “relic hunt” thus removing context from the artifacts.  You see, it is the RIDGE itself, and not some solitary button or dropped musket ball, that will tell this story.  The whole RIDGE.

And with a broader vision, we consider the efforts to preserve Hansbrough’s Ridge in light of efforts to create a state park for Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields.  I can see a time when visitors can contemplate both battlefield and encampment while touring Culpeper’s Civil War sites.

“Ransack a Historic Site” Weekened is what I call it

Ransacking.  What does that mean?

past tense: ransacked; past participle: ransacked
  1. go hurriedly through (a place) stealing things and causing damage.

I say that word aptly fits a caption for photo:


The photo was taken on November 14 of last year.  The location is on the Brandy Station battlefield, at a site which I will not disclose.  The site is owned by a preservation organization and is not open to relic hunting or other similar activity.  The holes were left by a “digger” who felt the need to step onto posted, marked, and preserved land in order to “get a piece of history” to hold in their hand.

Coincidentally, on the same day at another place on the Brandy Station battlefield, I took this photo:

Brandy Station 011

I normally try to “frame out” people when taking photos of Civil War battlefields, for functional reasons (as those make better illustrations for blog posts).  But in this case, the subject was the individuals in the photo.  These were participants in the Diggin’ In Virginia (DIV) XXXII, held on November 13-15, 2015.  And as you can see in the foreground, the ground was giving up many long held secrets that day.

I cannot state for a fact that the individual who dug the preserved, posted area was involved with the DIV event. But the timing is far too coincidental for this to be random happenstance.  Furthermore it is not the first time that myself or others have noticed this sort of coincidental occurrence. Since many of the DIV participants look for “bragging rights” about their finds, there is some desire to show some exciting items retrieved from the ground.  So clearly there is motivation for some to go “off the reservation”, if I may, and loot areas that are not part of the event… not to mention legally off-limits.  But the nature of the event and the hobby is that those offenses are covered up (… perhaps the ONLY thing these people are likely to leave buried, ironically…).  Nobody wants to discuss the illegal aspects of the hobby.  Just much shouting about “nectar” retrieved where the machine registers a beep.

Earlier this winter, I was contacted by an individual asking for a “provenance” assessment on some artifacts.  The items included friction primers and a rifled projectile fragment of a particular type.  The individual didn’t want to disclose the exact location.  But the contact asked if I could confirm that a particular battery had a particular type of projectile at the battle of Brandy Station.  The writer was very excited at “the prospect of having a piece of history that could tell the story of the battle!”

With measured words, I responded. Because of the nature of the removal, those artifacts ceased to be artifacts at the moment of removal.  Period.  No matter how great and wonderful the item might be, it is no longer an artifact when its archaeological context is disturbed. Only if surveyed, documented, and analyzed in-situ, does it remain an artifact.  Anyone with a Archaeology 101 class behind them, or more than an hour watching “Oak Island” on the History Channel, knows this well.  Thus the story, which might have been teased out of those items when they were artifacts, was forever lost.  Irretrievably lost.  Any value of the items was as scrap metal, unless the owner attempt to “snake oil” a prospective buyer.

The other aspect of this, which has impact beyond just the value of what is now essentially scrap metal, is that the site itself was injured due to the ransacking.  The artifacts in the ground were components of the history that occurred on that ground.  When those of us mindful of history go to those sites with a mind to designate and preserve, we use those artifacts as the source material which validates other research.  All too often we are confronted with a conundrum… we know the site was important in an event such as a battle, but to prove such beyond doubt one needs to tie artifacts specifically to the event.  Otherwise, one might well say the battle happened over at … say… that fence row… or maybe at the other one.  Those sort of suppositions are best supported by documented archaeological surveys.  Unfortunately, without the artifacts, there is no story.  And without the benefit of supporting artifacts as sources, things such as National Register nominations, which would help secure matching grants for preservation, tend to go flat.

I bring all this up today for consideration for a reason.  In a couple of weeks, another DIV event will be held on the Brandy Station battlefield.  As before, the event is on private property (if you didn’t know, these events play on the margins in the legality of easements and such… but I’ll save that for another day).  While I cannot speak strongly enough about the damage the DIV events have done to ransack the history of Culpeper County, I also have to say there’s little I can do about it but complain.

But I would call upon the organizers and the leaders of the hobby to do more to police their own.  Scenes such as this should not occur:


That’s our shared history and heritage being ransacked (and in this particular case looting and trespassing to boot!).  The “hobby” should identify the individuals who perpetrate acts such as this and make very public examples of them.  But I’m not holding my breath… the is a hobby predicted on taking, no matter what the implications.  All I can say to those who participate in such is, “then please go prove me wrong.”  Name names.  Demonstrate where some punitive action is taken. Or provide evidence that will lead to prosecution where a crime occurs.

Better still, why not help preservation of these sites instead of ransacking … and thus sabotaging efforts those of us who want the stories to be told.

(Photos courtesy of Clark “Bud” Hall.)

“The most important hand-to-hand contest” of the war on Fleetwood Hill: Shock action of cavalry at Brandy Station

In previous installments about cavalry tactics, we’ve looked at the use of the saber and revolver.  Observers such as Alonzo Gray specifically cited these weapons for use in “shock action”.  We might say that shock attacks, delivered with either the saber or, less often in Gray’s assessment, revolver, were the most important offensive component to the mounted arm.  One might use the carbine to skirmish or develop an enemy position.  But it was with saber and/or revolver in hand that the cavalry would deliver its weight against an enemy battle line.

As we’ve seen, the revolver had some advantages in close combat, but the saber remained the preferred weapon from the American perspective.  Discussing the shock action, Gray wrote:

It will be noticed that the saber was the only weapon used for shock action except when the ground was unfavorable, such as a close or wooded country.  Under such conditions the revolver was substituted for the saber.  To secure favorable and decisive results a cavalry commander must make a quick decision and quickly take the initiative.  A timid cavalry leader will usually fail where a bold one will succeed.  In many cases a bold and sudden attack will result in small losses, and boldness will take the place of numbers.

We can apply this sage wisdom to a large number of battlefields from the Civil War.  Of those many battles to consider, Gray offered numerous examples from the fields of Culpeper County… of which no small number occurred on Fleetwood Hill.

Gray returned to Major Henry B. McClellan and The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart (page 277) for one vignette, specifically an account from Captain James F. Hart, commanding Hart’s South Carolina Battery:

The battery I commanded moved abreast of Hampton’s column in its gallop toward this new foe; and as we came near Fleetwood Hill, its summit, as also the whole plateau east of the hill and beyond the railroad, was covered with Federal cavalry. Hampton, diverging towards his left, passed the eastern terminus of the ridge, and, crossing the railroad, struck the enemy in column just beyond it.  This charge was as gallantly made and gallantly met as any the writer ever witnessed during nearly four years of active service on the outposts. Taking into estimation the number of men that crossed sabres in this single charge (being nearly a brigade on each side), it was by far the most important hand-to-hand contest between the cavalry of the two armies.  As the blue and gray riders mixed in the smoke and dust of that eventful charge, minutes seemed to elapse before its effect was determined.  At last the intermixed and disorganized mass began to recede, and we saw that the field was won to the Confederates.

An excellent quote selection by McClellan and later by Gray to illustrate the nature of the fighting.  For those who are not familiar with the flow of battle at Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, the charge Hart described was part of the action to drive Brigadier-General David M. Gregg’s division off Fleetwood Hill.  Such was the crescendo of combat for the day.  And what we see here, in terms of shock action by cavalry, is a textbook case.  The charge hit the Federals on the hill and drove them off by close, hand-to-hand action.

McClellan prefaced his presentation of Hart’s words with some clarification, “I transcribe the following from Major J.F. Hart’s narrative, premising only that the charge which he so graphically describes was made… by the 1st North Carolina Cavalry, supported by the Jeff Davis Legion….”  However, that is not to say those two formations from Brigadier-General Wade Hampton’s brigade were the only ones involved with that “gallantly made” charge.  Gray also cites the report of Colonel Pierce M.B. Young, commanding Cobb’s Legion, also part of Hampton’s Brigade:

About 12 a.m. I received information through one of General Stuart’s aides, that his headquarters were in great danger of being captured by a large body of the enemy, which had gotten in the rear. I immediately moved up in the direction of General Stuart’s headquarters, when General Hampton ordered me to move forward at a gallop, and engage the enemy to his front and right. After moving about a mile at almost a full run, I began to ascend the hill upon which were General Stuart’s headquarters. The general sent me the second aide, saying that his headquarters were in possession of the enemy, and desired that I should clear the hill.

About this time a regiment of the enemy, which was supporting one of their batteries near General Stuart’s headquarters, swept down the hill, charging my front. I immediately ordered the charge in close columns of squadrons, and I swept the hill clear of the enemy, he being scattered and entirely routed. I do claim that this was the turning point of the day in this portion of the field, for in less than a minute’s time the battery would have been upon the hill, and I leave it to those whose province it is to judge to say what would have been the result had the battery gained its destination. We killed and captured 60 of the enemy, utterly routing him, with but little loss to ourselves. Among the captured were several commissioned officers, including the lieutenant-colonel.

Examining the nature of shock action of cavalry, we see another account describing the same charge.  Gray did note that Young’s account implied the use of Poinsett’s 1841 drill – close column of squadrons in the charge.

Of course, there is a Federal side to this also.  And they were likewise delivering their shock action to the Confederates on Fleetwood Hill.  Gregg reported:

The country about Brandy Station is open, and on the south side extensive level fields, particularly suitable for a cavalry engagement. Coming thus upon the enemy, and having at hand only the Third Division (total strength 2,400), I either had to decline the fight in the face of the enemy or throw upon him at once the entire division. Not doubting but that the Second Division was near, and delay not being admissible, I directed the commanders of my advance brigade to charge the enemy, formed in columns about Brandy House. The whole brigade charged with drawn sabers, fell upon the masses of the enemy, and, after a brief but severe contest, drove them back, killing and wounding many and taking a large number of prisoners. Other columns of the enemy coming up, charged this brigade before it could reform, and it was driven back. Seeing this, I ordered the First Brigade to charge the enemy upon the right. This brigade came forward gallantly through the open fields, dashed upon the enemy, drove him away, and occupied the hill. Now that my entire division was engaged, the fight was everywhere most fierce. Fresh columns of the enemy arriving upon the ground received the vigorous charges of my regiments, and, under the heavy blows of our sabers, were in every instance driven back.

We see from reading accounts from both sides of the line that on June 9, 1863 Fleetwood Hill witnessed some of the most important “shock action” charges of the war.  That’s not my hyperbole.  It is derived from the words of the men who were there, mind you.  Indeed, we should study the action on Fleetwood Hill with this importance in mind.

And how best to study that action?  From the very ground it was fought across.


And you and I can walk that ground and consider the actions… thanks to the successful acquisition of Fleetwood Hill by Civil War Trust and partners in 2013.  In fact, on next Monday, October 26, the Trust officially “cuts the ribbon” on Fleetwood Hill and will show off the new interpretive trail over that most historic topographic prominence.

(Citations from Alonzo Gray, Cavalry Tactics, as Illustrated by the War of the Rebellion, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Cavalry Association, 1910, pages 34-35;  Henry B. McClellan, The Life and Campaigns of Major General JEB Stuart, Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1885, pages 276-7; OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 950; and Part II, Serial 44, page 732.)