Brandy Station

June 9, 1863 - Culpeper Area Battlefields

The Battle of the Brandy Station took place on June 9, 1863, and was the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign which resulted in the largest cavalry battle in North America.

Located in Culpeper County, Virginia, the Brandy Station battlefield is today preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and owned by the Virginia State Parks. Notable sites are the Graffiti House and the observation telescope with interpretive signs on Fleetwood Hill.

The Battle of Brandy Station

In one of the lesser-known battles of the American Civil War, during Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invasion route of the North, Confederate cavalry was screening the rebel movements outside of Culpeper Court House. Federal cavalry was sent to destroy or disperse this large buildup of Confederate cavalry threatening Washington, resulting in this battle.

After the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville, May 1-3, 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee is permitted to invade the North a second time in an attempt to win a victory on Northern soil to crush the will of the Northern people to continue the war. This was to result in the Gettysburg Campaign.

On June 3, 1863, Gen. Lee left Fredericksburg and headed west to the Shenandoah Valley, the invasion route of the North. Gen. Lee’s first stop was around Culpeper Court House in Culpeper County.

His cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart is massed just to the north and below the Rappahannock River near Brandy Station, a whistle-stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

Lee’s invasion plans were unknown to Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, but he certainly noticed the large mass of Confederate Cavalry in Culpeper County.

He turned to his new cavalry commander Gen. Alfred Pleasonton and gave orders to destroy or disperse the rebel threat.

At dawn on June 9, 1863, Gen. Pleasonton sent two Federal cavalry columns across the Rappahannock River. The column that crossed at Beverly Ford immediately ran into an unknown hornet’s nest of Confederate cavalry guarding the ford. With J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry alerted, this marked the beginning of the Battle of Brandy Station.

Fighting raged along St. James Church and Yew Ridge. Union Gen. John Buford was to say, “Out flew the sabers, and most handsomely they were used” as both sides engaged one another on horseback.

The advancing Federal column from Kelly’s Ford emerged at the rear of J.E.B. Stuart. What happened next was cavalry charges and countercharges as the battle swirled around Fleetwood Hill, where both sides went pistol to pistol, saber to saber, saddle to saddle, and stirrup to stirrup for hours.

In the end, the Confederate cavalry managed to thwart the Federals and own the battlefield. This Confederate victory marked the end of the Confederate cavalry’s dominance in the east. The Federal cavalry came of age at this battle, and from this point in the war on, it gained strength and confidence.

With nearly 20,000 total cavalry combatants, this will become the largest cavalry battle in North America. In the end, Union casualties will be 900, and Confederate casualties will be 400.

Notable Places of Interest at the Brandy Station Battle Site

  • Graffiti House – The battlefield visitor center with information and interpretive material on the battle.
  • Auburn House – Historic plantation home constructed in 1855 and was the site of grand Confederate cavalry reviews. (Private property)
  • St. James Church Ruins – An Episcopal church that sat on the Confederate defensive line, it was later demolished by Union troops for building materials during the winter encampment of 1863-1864.
  • Observation Telescope – Placed on Fleetwood Hill, this observation telescope gives the viewer a closer look at the surrounding battlefield landmarks.

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