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Volume 30, No. 5 – May 2017

The President’s Message:

Please be sure to tell your friends, acquaintances, and family about the Round Table. I am always amazed how surprised someone is that our organization exists. Be sure to invite them to a meeting.
Gerridine La Rovere

May 10, 2017 Program

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, the members of the CWRT will conduct a discussion. The topic will be the Fascinating Facts About President's Who Served in the Civil War.

April 12, 2017 Program:

JEB StuartAfter Chancellorsville, the initiative in the East had shifted to the Confederates.  The two armies lay opposing each other across the Rappahannock River.  In early June, Lee directed his forces to move northwest from their positions near Fredericksburg, thus beginning the invasion of the North that was to end at Gettysburg.  Leading this movement would be the brigades of Confederate cavalry commanded by General J.E.B. Stuart.  By June 8th the Southern horsemen were positioned just south of the river and the infantry corps of Longstreet and Ewell were at Culpeper.  Stuart had established his headquarters at Fleetwood, a mansion house on a high ridge a half mile northeast of Brandy Station, a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad between Culpeper and the river.  So as to take advantage of the available grazing areas in the vicinity and to guard the various fords, the camps of Stuart’s five brigades were widely scattered on the night of June 8th.

Fitz Lee was ill, but his troops, under the command of Munford, were at Oak Shade Church, 7½ miles northwest of Fleetwood.  Rooney Lee was near Welford’s Ford on the Hazel River, two miles west of the Rappahannock.  Grumble Jones had his camp near St. James church, just off the Beverly-Brandy Station Road.  Both Hampton and Robertson were in the area around Brandy Station.  The pickets at Beverly were from Jones’ brigade, while those at Kelly’s were under Robertson’s orders.  Even more dangerous than the scattering of his brigades, however, was the location of the camp of Beckham’s four batteries of horse artillery.  They were in the woods on the Beverly Road between the ford and St. James Church.  Thus, the artillery was closer to the river than any cavalry unit except the pickets.  Here, without support, it could be easily overrun by any attacking force.  On June 9th Stuart was to begin the march north by crossing the river.

The presence of the Confederate cavalry near the river had attracted the attention of the Northern authorities.  General Halleck in Washington had decided this concentration was merely a prelude to another of Stuart’s raids.  The new chief of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps, General Alfred Pleasonton, agreed with Halleck.  General Hooker was not convinced but, whatever its meaning, he ordered Pleasonton to do something about it.  In his subsequent writings Pleasonton claimed that Hooker had directed him to make a reconnaissance in force.  That this was absolutely untrue is proven by the actual order written by Hooker on June 7th.  This read, “…you will divide your cavalry to carry into execution the object in view, which is to disperse and destroy the rebel force assembled in the vicinity of Culpeper and destroy its trains and supplies of all descriptions to the best of your ability.”

 To carry out Hooker’s orders Pleasonton was given two brigades of infantry, under Ames andPleasonton Russell, and five batteries of horse artillery.  The 1500 foot soldiers, added to his three divisions of cavalry gave him a combined force of 10,981 men with which to contest Stuart’s 9,536.  In accordance with his instructions, Pleasonton divided his force into two columns.  The right wing, with which Pleasonton himself would travel, would consist of Buford’s First Division and Ames infantry.  This force, approximately one-half of the combined total, would cross the river at Beverly Ford at dawn on June 9th and then would march to Brandy Station four and a half miles away.  At the same time, the left wing, consisting of Gregg’s Third Division, Duffie’s Second Division, and Russell’s Infantry, was to cross the Rappahannock at Kelley’s Ford, eight miles downstream from Beverly.  The cavalry portion of this column under the overall command of Gregg would move past Paoli Mill to the crossroads at the Madden-Doggett houses.  There Gregg would turn northwest on the direct road to Brandy Station to unite with Buford.  Together the two divisions would then march to Culpeper and attack Stuart in his camps about noon.   Duffie, with his small division, would march directly through Stevensburg toward Culpeper to guard the Federal left flank.  Russell’s infantry, once across the river was to move toward Beverly to connect with Ames in protecting the fords and the Union supply line.  It was a good plan but it was based on a fatal flaw.  The Southern cavalry was not at Culpeper, but instead was further north around Brandy Station, much nearer the river and at the exact point where Buford and Gregg were to unite.

By 8:30 P.M. on June 8th, Pleasonton had concentrated his entire force near Kelly’s Ford, having marched the twenty miles from Warrenton since noon.  Rain had fallen that afternoon, soaking the dust on the roads and thus helping to conceal the Federal movements.  The troops were allowed a few hours rest, and told to be ready to move out at 3:00 A.M.  Promptly at that hour, Buford started toward Beverly Ford, leaving Gregg to delay his advance so as to cross at Kelly’s as the First Division did the same at the upper ford.  At 4:30 A.M., Buford’s lead brigade, commanded by Benjamin “Grimes” Davis, crossed the river, surprising the Confederate pickets.  The few Southerners managed to fire several rounds, but Davis easily pushed passed them to the north edge of a heavily wooded area.  The road from the ford ran through these trees, but was very narrow and was bordered on either side by ditches.  Thus the Federals were compelled to remain in their column of fours as they advanced, rather than being able to deploy in line of battle.  As Davis and his troopers were entering the woods, they were met head-on by the Southern reserve picket force.  Although heavily outnumbering the small group of Confederated, the Federals, hampered by the lack of room to maneuver, pulled back, leaving Davis alone in their front.  As the colonel turned to urge his troops forward, he was charged by a lone Southern officer who shot Davis in the head, killing him instantly.  The death of their commander again caused the Federals to pause momentarily.

The firing had, of course, awakened not only Beckham’s artillery, parked in the southern edge of the woods, but also the remaining regiments of Jones brigade camped in the fields around the church.  Beckham directed two of his guns to take position in the road, while the remainder fled to the safety of the higher ground at the church.  Jones sent parts of two regiments forward to delay the Federals while the rest of the brigade attempted to establish a defense line.  The Southerners, many half-dressed and riding bareback, charged, but were struck in turn by the reformed Federals.  The Confederates, outmanned and outflanked, were forced to pull back out of the woods, the two artillery pieces following behind the cavalry.  Both units rejoined Jones and Beckham near the church.  As the Federals continued to advance, Jones ordered his three remaining regiments to charge and they struck the Northerners as the latter emerged from the woods into the clearing north of the church.  However, the Confederates were again repulsed and they withdrew.  Each side now established a battle line, the Federals in the trees along the north side of the clearing, Jones and Beckham on the high ground near the church south of the clearing.

Brandy Station

Back on Fleetwood Hill, Stuart received a dispatch from Jones describing the Federal crossing and the situation.  Attempting to concentrate his brigades, Stuart sent orders to Hampton, Rooney Lee, and Munford to bring their brigades to Jones’ support.  In his message to Hampton, he directed that one regiment be left in reserve at Brandy Station. Hampton designated M.C. Butler’s 2nd South Carolina to perform the task.  Stuart sent his remaining brigade, Robertson’s, out the Brandy Station – Kelly’s Ford Road to protect the Confederate right flank and strengthen the guard over that vital river crossing.  As a precautionary measure, all of the headquarters equipment and baggage were placed in wagons and sent south to Culpeper.  Stuart, himself, then rode to examine the line Jones had selected.

Jones and the artillery were in the center facing generally north with their backs to the railroad.  Hampton, coming up on the right, extended the line in a southeasterly direction. However, it was the position taken by Rooney Lee that was to prove the key to this part of the battlefield.  Advancing down the Hazel from Welford's and then cutting across country, Rooney came on the scene in the area between the Cunningham and Thompson farms.  Here he found a stone wall running northeasterly almost perpendicular to Jones.  Posting his dismounted troopers behind this wall and his own artillery on a hill behind the Green house, Lee was an obvious threat to the Federal right flank and rear.  Stuart was well satisfied with the dispositions that fate had imposed upon him. 

On the Federal side, Pleasonton had accomplished a surprise, but had been surprised himself.  Instead of a quick march to Brandy Station hindered only by an astonished picket force, Pleasonton and Buford had encountered heavy resistance by both cavalry and artillery.  Rather than leaving Ames' infantry at the ford, Pleasonton directed them into the center of his line at the edge of the woods, with the cavalry posted on both flanks.  As soon as his line was established, the Federal commander, recognizing the danger to his rear posed by Rooney Lee, ordered a cavalry attack by his right.  Though gallantly made, the assault was beaten back.  Encouraged by this success, Jones, fighting dismounted and with Hampton's aid, then engaged Ames in a series of charges and countercharges over the open ground between them, but neither side was able to gain an advantage.  During this period Pleasonton notified Hooker of the severe fighting.

Finally, just before noon, the Confederate pressure appeared to be building and once more Rooney Lee's position on the Federal right flank became a matter of grave concern.  The answer was to detract Southern attention from the offensive to the defensive.  To accomplish this, a mounted charge was ordered, with its target the artillery firing from the Green house hill.  Quickly covering the 800 yards between the opposing forces, two Federal regiments reached the guns and passed through them.  Before they could solidify their position, however, they were each hit on the flanks and, unsupported, were forced to retreat.  However, the tactic had worked.  Stuart's troopers paused and allowed the fighting at the church to lull into intermittent skirmishing and artillery fire.

Meanwhile, things had also not gone as planned at Kelly's Ford.  Duffie, the lead division, got off to a late start and then took the wrong road.  As a result of the delay, Gregg did not have his column across until almost 6:00.  He encountered little opposition and began moving southwest.  However passage of the river had not been unobserved.  Pickets from Jones brigade, posted upstream at the railroad bridge had seen him and reported it to Stuart.  Also in the area were Beverly Robertson and his small two regiment brigade, which were to specifically watch Kelly's Ford.  As Gregg crossed, Robertson sent couriers to Stuart with the news.  They never arrived, but Stuart heard about Gregg from Jones' pickets.  The Confederate commander directed the regiment he was holding in reserve, Butler's 2nd South Carolina, and also Wickham's 4th Virginia, to move south to Stevensburg to cut off the Federal column should they get past Robertson and march in that direction. Getting past Robertson did not prove to be much of a problem.  Robertson took up a position astride the direct road from Kelly's to Brandy Station.  From there he could see the Federals moving southwest directly across his front toward Stevensburg.  Incredibly, he did absolutely nothing.  He did not attack the flank of Gregg's column nor did he send out scouts to observe and report Gregg's progress.  Robertson simply spent the day blocking a road the Federals did not plan to use and awaiting further orders from Stuart.  His brigade did not suffer a single casualty although it spent twelve hours within hearing distance of the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War.  Gregg, finally realizing that Robertson was nearby, left Russell's infantry to guard the ford and prevent Robertson from following the Federal cavalry.

There were three roads that led from the Kelly's Ford—Stevensburg Road to Brandy Station.  Robertson was blocking the one nearest the river. Butler was moving down the road that leads to Stevensburg.  The third road, the Fredericksburg Road, was directly between the other two.  In the heat of his fight with Buford, Stuart seems to have completely forgotten this road for, at no time, were any Confederate troops posted on it.  This is the road Gregg had planned to take all along and he reached it after a march of four miles.  Here Duffie continued on toward Stevensburg and Culpeper, while Gregg and his own Third Division turned northwest to Brandy Station.

As he started, Gregg began to hear the guns of Buford's fight.  Soon he received a dispatch from Pleasonton advising him for the first time of the battle at the church.  Gregg gave orders to his brigade commanders, Sir Percy Wyndham, who was in the lead, and the impetuous Judson Kilpatrick to quicken the pace.  As Gregg and Wyndham emerged from the trees south of the railroad tracks, they could hear renewed firing in the direction of the church.  Realizing that the entire Confederate force must be at hand and wanting his whole command under his direct control, Gregg paused to dispatch an order to Duffie cancelling his previous instructions and directing him to retrace his steps and close up on Kilpatrick's rear.  As the courier dashed away, Gregg turned his attention Fleetwood Hill.

Earlier that morning, as Stuart left his headquarters atop the hill to go to Jones' front, he ordered his aide, Major Henry McClellan, to maintain a command post on the height.  Through the hours before noon McClellan had seen all of his messengers sent to various parts of the fields until now, unbelievably, he was all alone.  As he watched the Confederates begin to pick up the battle before the church after its noontime lull, McClellan was approached by a Southern scout who stated that a Federal column was approaching Brandy Station.  Not knowing the man, and not believing that such a force could have bypassed Robertson, McClellan sent him back to verify his information.  Within five minutes the scout returned, yelling at the major to look for himself.  As he did so, McClellan could see blue uniforms in the trees near the station.  Realizing the importance of the hill, from which a force holding it could enfilade the church line and block any retreat to Culpeper, the major cast about for help, while sending the scout to warn Stuart.

At the base of the north slope of the hill sat one of Beckham's guns under the command of Lt. R.W. Carter.  Its ammunition nearly exhausted, the gun and its crew had been withdrawn from the battle at the church.  A desperate McClellan ordered Carter up to the top of Fleetwood and directed him to open a slow, deliberate fire at the head of the Federal column.  Gregg, already somewhat confused by the change in circumstances from that which he had expected when he crossed the river, and ignorant of Buford's exact position, stopped as Carter's shots began to fall slowly around him.  Believing that the Confederates would not fire upon him, even with a single gun, unless they held the hill in strength, Gregg directed Wyndham to pass through Brandy Station cautiously and to unlimber his own artillery.

When the courier from McClellan gave Stuart the message of Federals in his rear, he was incredulous.  He had been surprised once this day and now it had happened again.  Yet as the sound of Carter's gun reached his ears and other witnesses arrived to relate the scene at Fleetwood, the truth became undeniable.  Immediately, Stuart sent word to Hampton and Jones to return to the hill.  As Captain Martin's three rifled guns of the 6th New York Artillery dueled with Carter, Wyndham realized the true situation on top of the hill.  His brigade, with his own former regiment, the 1st New Jersey, in the front, was ordered to charge up the south slope and take the crest.  McClellan, seeing that it was a race for the top, rushed down the north slope to urge on the leading Confederate unit.  For the next hour and a half Fleetwood Hill and the neighboring Barbour House Hill to the northwest would be the arena for fighting the likes of which had never been seen before on the American continent, and would never be seen again.  Charge and countercharge.  Mounted force against mounted force.  The saber and the pistol were the arms of the day as deadly hand to hand combat covered the field.

Each side dueled on, no quarter asked, none given.  Commands became hopelessly mixed, battle lines were non-existent.  Finally it was force of numbers, not lack of fighting skill that compelled Gregg to withdraw toward Brandy Station, abandoning Fleetwood to its original occupants.  It was left to Lomax's 11th Virginia to make the assault which at last permanently cleared the crest and captured Martin's guns.  As Gregg retired from the field, he must have wondered what had happened to Duffie whose 2nd Division might have tipped the scales for the Federals.

After leaving Gregg at the crossroads, Duffie had moved rapidly toward Stevensburg.  An advance battalion sent to secure the town was pushed back by the head of Butler's column, moving from Brandy Station pursuant to Stuart's orders.  Duffie concentrated his force near Hansborough Mountain.  Butler pursued and established a line across the Kelly’s Ford-Stevensburg Road.  A preliminary, but timid, advance by Duffie was repulsed by the heavily outnumbered Confederates.  Duffie then launched a massed assault which overran Butler's position, forcing him to move to block the Brandy Station-Stevensburg Road.

The new Confederate line was near the Beckman house.  As Butler was preparing to make a stand there, a Federal solid shot ricocheted off the road, cutting off his leg at the ankle before passing through his horse, the horse of Stuart's aide W.D. Farley, and finally mortally wounding Farley himself.  The Confederate position, hastily thrown up, was not strong and the much heavier Federal force could have easily brushed it aside.  Just as Duffie was forming for the charge that would have carried him to Brandy Station and Gregg's aid, he received the order from Gregg directing him to return by the way he had come and then to follow Gregg's route.  Not realizing that this order had been sent without an understanding of Duffle's present position and that he could far better obey its intent by pushing forward, Duffie broke off contact with Butler and Wickham and withdrew out of the battle.  He did not rejoin Gregg until the latter had already pulled away from Brandy Station en route, by a circuitous path, to unite with Buford's left flank at the church line.

Buford and Pleasonton were just where Stuart had left them when he had pulled Hampton and Jones back to Fleetwood.  The Federal commanders could not advance while the fight for the hill raged because of the position of Rooney Lee on Buford's right flank.  To move forward would have further exposed the Federal rear and the vital supply and withdrawal line to Beverly Ford.  To attack Lee would have necessitated a northward march, away from Gregg.  Thus Pleasonton did the best thing he could do; he stayed put, hoping that Gregg could push Stuart back into Buford so that between the two Union forces, the Confederates could have been crushed.

As Gregg joined Buford near the church, Stuart too brought his forces back and the fighting resumed once more.  The Federals made the initial charge, utilizing both cavalry and infantry.  Although successful at first, Buford was once again forced back by another strong attack on his right by Rooney Lee.  In this assault, Lee was assisted by Munford's brigade which finally reached the Confederate left after a confusing march caused by ambiguous orders from Stuart's headquarters.  Lee and Munford were counter-attacked in turn and then the fighting lapsed into a lull once more.

With a dispatch from Hooker in hand authorizing him to return to the north bank of the Rappahannock if he felt he could not make headway, just after 3:00 Pleasonton began an orderly withdrawal.  Buford and Ames forded at Beverly while the men of Gregg, Duffie, and Russell crossed at the railroad bridge.  By 7:00 the Federals were gone and the Confederates made no attempt to pursue or harass them.  Each side had had enough.



Last changed: 05/02/17

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