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Battle of Brandy Station

Fought near Culpeper, Virginia, on June 9, 1863, this was the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War.


Following his victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began moving the Army of Northern Virginia into Culpeper County, Virginia, from where he planned to launch attacks to the north in order to secure horses, food, and other supplies for his men.. To screen his movements, he placed General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry at Brandy Station, just east of Culpeper.

On June 8, 1863, Stuart decided to stage a grand parade to boost morale and to show off his troops to local residents. Meanwhile, a large contingent of cavalry and infantry under Union Major General Joseph Hooker was camped across the Rappahannock River. When Hooker was informed of Stuart's movements, he thought Stuart was preparing to launch an offensive and ordered General Alfred Pleasanton, with two brigades of infantry under Brigadier Generals Adelbert Ames and David A. Russell, to plan and launch a pre-emptive attack.

The Battle

Pleasanton's assault began at about 4:30 am on June 9. The plan was for the right wing, comprised of Brigadier General John Buford's 1st Cavalry Division, a reserve brigade under Major Charles J. Whiting, and Ames's unit, to cross at Beverly's Ford and advance south toward Brandy Station, while the left wing, led by Brigadier General David McM. Gregg, was to cross to the east at Kelly's Ford and attack Stuart from the east and south.

Buford quickly overwhelmed the Confederates at Beverly's Ford and pushed south. Aroused from their sleep, men under Brigadier General William E. Jones, many of them only half-dressed, rushed to the ford and briefly stalled Buford's advance, allowing Stuart's Horse Artillery to escape to the south and establish a position on two knolls flanking Beverly's Ford Road (Jones on the right, Brigadier General Wade Hampton on the left). The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry then unsuccessfully charged forward in an attempt to take out Confederate guns near St. James Church, while Buford tried to get around the Confederate left. Along the way, Buford encontered Brigadier General W.H.F. Lee, who had established a position behind a stone wall in front of Yew Ridge. After much heavy fighting, Buford successfully drove Lee out of that position.

Meanwhile, Gregg had successfully crossed the river with his 3rd Cavalry Division, Colonel Alfred Duffie's 2nd Cavalry Division, and Russell, but had been blocked from advancing directly down Kelly's Ford Road by Brigadier General Beverly H. Robertson's brigade. He was, however, able to shift his advance to the south and take advantage of an unguarded road into Stuart's rear.

Colonel Percy Wyndham's brigade led Gregg's force into Brandy Station at about 11 am, but found themselves separated from the main battle by Fleetwood Hill, where Stuart's headquarters had been located prior to the battle. As Gregg's troops prepared to assault the hill, Confederate Lieutenant John Carter managed to mount a single cannon at the top of the hill and fire a single shot into the Union ranks. Believing that the Confederates had a line of guns just over the top of the hill, Gregg slowed his advance long enough for Jones's troops to ride in from St. James Church and meet the charge. Meanwhile, an assault on the south slope led by Colonel Judson Kilpatrick's brigade was met by Hampton's men.

The Battle of Brandy Station, which featured many spectacular cavalry charges, saber fights, and lots of hand-to-hand combat between dismounted troops, lasted well into the late afternoon. By sunset Pleasanton was leading his men away from the battlefield, and Stuart's men had successfully held the hill. Although the Confederates technically won the battle, they learned that the Union cavalry was a far more formidable opponent than had been believed. A total of about 20,000 soldiers were directly involved in the battle, of whom 17,000 were cavalry, making it the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Union losses included 81 killed, 403 wounded, and 382 missing; Confederate losses were estimated at 523.

map of the Brandy Station battle
map of the Brandy Station battle

'Cavalry Charge Near Brandy Station,' by Edwin Forbes
'Cavalry Charge Near Brandy Station,' by Edwin Forbes

American Civil War
Brandy Station Foundation
Civil War Battlefield Trust
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

Robert E. Lee
J.E.B. Stuart

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> Campaigns and Battles

This page was last updated on June 08, 2018.