The Battle of Rappahannock Station took place on November 7, 1863. Following Gettysburg, Union General George Meade took the fight against Robert E. Lee’s defenses along the Rappahannock River. The resulting conflict at Rappahannock Station was described as a ‘complete and glorious victory’ for the Union Army.
This battlefield is located in Fauquier County, less than 5 miles from the Brandy Station battlefield in Culpeper County. Today, the American Battlefield Trust has preserved nearly 900 acres of the battlefield. Notable sites include Kelly’s Ford and Rector Tract Park.
The Battle of Rappahannock Station was part of a series of battles fought after Gettysburg, known as the Forgotten Fall of 1863. Both armies sparred up and down the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and maintained close contact with each other. Rappahannock Station was the first major Union offensive attack since the Battle of Gettysburg.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee made his way back into Virginia and finally settled in Culpeper County. There was a period of inactivity out east while the war effort and troops were sent west to Chattanooga, Tn.
Gen. George Made was then pressured by Washington to do something as the campaign season drew to a close.
Following a minor Union success at Bristoe Station on October 14, 1863, Gen Lee positioned his Confederate army in a line along the south bank of the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County.
Gen. Lee then established a strong defense fortification on the north bank of the Rappahannock River near the village of Rappahannock Station (today Remington) along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. This foothold on the north bank, connected by a single pontoon bridge, would help to prevent a flanking movement by the enemy and would also make them divide their forces.
Gen. Meade divided his forces just as Gen. Lee predicted. Union Gen. Sedgwick attacked the Confederate fortifications at Rappahannock Station, while 5 miles downriver, Union Gen. French forced a crossing at Kelly’s Ford. Once across, both Union army wings were able to converge at Brandy Station in Culpeper County.
Meade’s plan went into action on the afternoon of November 7, 1863, as Union Gen. French stormed across the river at Kelly’s Ford. Gen. Lee’s plan depended on meeting Gen. French with his main force while his smaller force at the Rappahannock Station bridgehead held Gen. Sedgwick until Gen. French could be defeated.
Union Gen. Sedgwick shelled the rebels at Rappahannock Station all afternoon with no sign of attack, making Gen Lee believe this was only a feint. The famous Louisiana Tigers of Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s Division held the rebel fortification at Rappahannock Station which consisted of two earthen redoubts on a hilltop connected by a trench. Confederate batteries on the south bank gave them additional protection.
Gen. Sedgwick would later skirmish with the Confederate Tigers at dusk before he launched a thunderous bayonet assault at night, something rare in Civil War battles.
The Federals penetrated the Confederate defenses, and a desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued. Believing the Federal force was much more significant due to poor nighttime visibility, the rebel defenders broke and ran for the other side of the river. Hundreds of rebel prisoners were taken.
With a large Federal force on the south bank of the Rappahannock River, Gen. Lee believed that Culpeper County was untenable and withdrew his Army of Northern Virginia to the south, to the other side of the Rapidan River in Orange County.
Gen. Mead went on the occupy Culpeper County, where he made plans for one last offensive before winter called off the campaign season. This led to the Mine Run campaign, the last battle of the Forgotten Fall of 1863.
Rappahannock Station became an embarrassing Confederate defeat as 1,700 Confederates were killed, wounded, or captured; nearly eighty percent of those involved. Meanwhile, the Union army only suffered 400 casualties.
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