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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: The Battle of Fleetwood Heights, also known as Brandy Station. June 9th 1863.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Battle of Fleetwood Heights, also known as Brandy Station. June 9th 1863.

By Kevin Carroll excerpts and notes taken from Jeb Stuart, written by John Thomason

After the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee decided upon taking to the aggressive and began to reposition the Army of Northern Virginia closer to the Valley for the pending invasion of Pennsylvania. Northern General Joe Hooker, still licking his wounds from Chancellorsville, made no movement south of the Rappahannock.

General JEB Stuart, in charge of Confederate cavalry, positioned his forces in a screen watching the river crossings from Kelly’s Ford northwest past the Rappahannock River bridge to Beverly Ford 2 miles farther up the river to the northwest. He had recently received the brigades of Wade Hampton, Beverly Robertson and Grumble Jones as well as several hundred new carbines that were sent up from the ordinance department so that by the end of May he had nearly 10,000 effectives in his force, the largest cavalry force assembled by the Confederates during the war. Stuart also had five batteries consisting of 20 guns in his battalion of horse artillery.

In early June, near Culpepper, General Lee reviewed the cavalry Division and wrote his wife that “I reviewed the cavalry in this section yesterday, it was a splendid sight. The men and the horses looked well. They have recuperated since last fall. Stuart was in all his glory. Your sons and nephews were well and flourishing……”

On June 8th, following the review, Stuart was ordered to cross the river the next day and cover, on the right, the northward movement of Longstreet and Ewell’s Corps as they began their march north. Stuart established his HQ at Fleetwood Heights, a partially wooded ridge running roughly a mile north of the Orange and Alexandria RR. Brandy Station is at the southern foot of the ridge. Three miles east is the Rappahannock and the road up to Beverly Ford skirts east of the ridge. Six miles southeast is Kelly’s Ford six miles southwest is Culpeper Court House.

Hooker ordered his cavalry commander, General Alfred Pleasanton, to cross the river and smash up the Confederate cavalry before Stuart and his boys could do any mischief. What happened next evolved into the largest cavalry engagement ever fought on the American Continent. Forming in two columns Pleasanton directed the 2nd and 3rd Federal cavalry Division’s along with an infantry brigade under David Gregg to cross the river at Kelly’s Ford with intentions to push hard for Brandy Station coming in on both the Madden and Stevensburg Roads. The 2nd column consisted of the 1st Federal cavalry Division, the reserve cavalry brigade, and Ames’ infantry brigade, under John Buford, to cross the river up at Beverly Ford and sweep down on Brandy Station from the northeast.

At dawn on June 9th, 1863 the battle opened when a brigade of Buford’s cavalry under Davis stormed over the river crossing and into the pickets of the 6th Virginia cavalry. The fighting soon became vicious and Davis was soon killed but his brigade forced the 6th to retire with a loss of 30 men and horses. The Federals pushed up and into the edge of a Confederate artillery camp which surprised them forcing them to also pull out but not before issuing a few welcoming rounds of canister into the charging Yankees. By now the alarms were sounding and Stuart formed a defensive line near St. James Church positioning Jones brigade to the right with its back to the railroad facing north and Rooney Lee’s brigade facing east. Hampton’s brigade rode in and formed to the right of Jones. Buford faced the center of the angle and was effectively blocked. Robertson had moved his brigade down towards Kelly’s Ford but was bypassed by the column of Gregg who had passed the road he was on and moved his column farther west to advance on the aforementioned roads. This effectively took Robertson out of the fight as for some reason he did not bother to adjust or compensate for what was happening on other sections of the field that day. To his left and right and in his rear, the hottest kind of fighting raged on all morning but in keeping with his original orders, Robertson maintained his line on the road between Brandy Station and Kelly’s Ford.

The Federal column under Gregg split up as he sent the detachment of Duffie towards Stevensburg where they were promptly engaged by Wade Hampton and stopped. Gregg’s force met no resistance bypassing Robertson and coming between himself and Hampton on the road up to Brandy Station where he effectively came in on the rear of Confederate cavalry which was effectively blocking Buford’s attack. As Gregg’s column came into site one of Stuart’s staff officers, Major McClellan, sounded the alarm but Stuart and his line were too occupied with Buford to notice. McClellan got one of Chew’s guns and began firing it into the long blue line which forced Gregg to shake out into battle line and call up his own guns which gave a thorough raking to the heights which were all but unoccupied. This artillery gets Stuart’s attention as he yells to a courier “ride back and see what that foolishness is all about!”

McClellan tells a Colonel Harmon from the 12th Virginia coming over to see what was happening, “For God’s sake they are right on you!” Harmon instinctively charges into the 1st New Jersey who by this time was scaling up the slope of the heights forcing them back after heated combat. Stuart now realizes he has been turned and galloping towards the hottest point in the field comes across the spectacle of Gregg’s full force attacking the heights and the scattering of the few Confederate elements fighting for their lives to hang onto the high ground until help arrives. That help soon materializes in the form of Hampton first, followed by Rooney Lee and later Jones who with great skill and audacity kept Buford bottled up while lending much needed support to Fleetwood Heights at the opportune time to support the line.

Harmon’s Virginian’s reformed and charged again gaining a Yankee battery, the blue clad gunners defended their guns with pistols and sponge staffs until support drove back the Confederates again. Then it was Gregg’s turn to charge but was met by Hampton’s column arriving in squadrons, Carolinians followed by Mississippian’s, yelling the rebel yell as they smashed into Gregg’s flank riding through it and into his reserves. Several more Federal guns joined the melee and many of Hampton’s riders fell to the blast of close range canister fire. It was later said that Hampton’s charge involved more close sabre hand to hand combat than at any other point in the war. Hampton’s son was wounded in battle and afterwards he asked him removed from his command due to the stress of having a son in combat with him.

The battle continued to ebb and flow but progressively moved eastward as Gregg reluctantly gave ground realizing the combination with Buford was not going to occur as planned. The other half of his column, under Duffie, was still milling about near Stevensburg and could not get around the cavalry screen that Hampton had left as he moved up to the sounds of the heaviest fighting on the slopes of Fleetwood Heights. General Lee had become concerned about the cacophony of battle happening in the distance and urged General Ewell to march a Division to the support of Stuart. They never made it to the field as by the time they were nearby, the Federals were in full retreat.

The Federals lost 936 men of which nearly have were prisoners, six flags, and three guns. Confederate losses were 523 including one flag. Considering the tactical surprise Stuart suffered he recovered his troops admirably and perhaps fought the men as well as in any battle of the war. Naturally, Pleasanton and the northern press spun their defeat into a victory stating that the mission was on a reconnaissance in force and not meant to break up the Confederate cavalry. Since the mission did nothing to locate the whereabouts of the Army of Northern Virginia it fails that test as well.


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