For many visitors to our nation’s capital in Washington D.C., it is a must to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. This long 3-hour drive can be broken up by seeing two outstanding Civil War battlefields halfway in Culpeper along the way! Save time and avoid headaches by getting a local battlefield guide to show you the way.
The Battle of Brandy Station
The first battlefield, Brandy Station, is a little over an hour away from Washington D.C. and part of the Culpeper Area Battlefields. Located 10 miles above historic downtown Culpeper, it was the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign which led to the largest cavalry battle in North America!
Brandy Station was fought on June 9, 1863, as Robert E. Lee started his second invasion of the North which ultimately led to the battle of Gettysburg.
In early June 1863, Robert E. Lee started his second invasion of the North when he secretly left Fredericksburg and headed for the Shenandoah Valley. To keep Union Gen. Joseph Hooker from knowing his plans, Lee massed his cavalry under the command of JEB Stuart near Culpeper. This caught the attention of the Federals. Union cavalry Gen. Alfred Pleasonton was given orders to disperse and destroy the rebel force assembled in Culpeper.
On June 9, 1863, Union cavalry splashed across the Rappahannock River and immediately blundered into Confederate cavalry. The largest cavalry battle in North America was underway! The epicenter of the battle swirled around Fleetwood Hill where sabers clashed between Southern cavaliers and Northern horse-soldiers. Though a Union loss, they proved for the first time they could go toe to toe against rebel cavalry, transforming the Federal cavalry from this day on.
Preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and owned by the Virginia State Parks today there are multiple stops unfolding the battlefield story. The Graffiti House operates as the battlefield visitor center and is open seasonally. The beautiful surrounding countryside can be viewed through a public telescope on Fleetwood Hill where one can see where dramatic cavalry charges took place and bring the kid out of anyone. One can find trails for people and horses alike
The Battle of Cedar Mountain
The second battlefield, Cedar Mountain, is 1.5 hours away from Washington D.C. and is also part of the Culpeper Area Battlefields. Located 6 miles below historic downtown Culpeper, it was the last independent command of Stonewall Jackson. An important keystone battle, it’s both the end of the defense of Richmond and the genesis of the Second Manassas campaign.
Frustrated with the performance of Union Gen. McClellan outside of Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln decided to take matters into his own hands, He created another Union army and directed it towards Richmond’s back door. With Union Gen. Pope in command, we will launch a total war on Virginia soil for the first time. Infuriating Gen. Robert E. Lee, he will send Gen. Stonewall Jackson to deal with this miscreant.
With temperatures soaring, the battle of Cedar Mountain was fought on August 9, 1862. The battle started under the shadow of Slaughter Mountain near Cedar Run creek when a massive artillery duel erupted. Both sides charged and counter-charged across a corn field. After a hidden Union flank attack, Stonewall Jackson rallied his men in an epic moment of the war turning the tide!
Cedar Mountain is a unique Civil War battlefield where one can stand in one spot and see most of the battlefield. With a 1-mile loop walking trail, it’s the perfect location to stretch your legs after a long drive.
The battlefield was preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and is owned by the Virginia State Parks. There is a contact station visitor center open seasonally. The original road trace has a recreated rail fence. One can find cannons displayed as well as metal silhouettes of soldiers on their battlefield trail.
The Historic Town of Culpeper
The historic downtown Culpeper sits between these two battlefields just over an hour away from Washington D.C. During the Civil war, it was known as Culpeper Court House, the county seat of Culpeper County. An important town along the Orange and Alexandria railroad, it saw its fair share of troops from both sides fighting, marching, encamping, and burying their comrades.
One can find many Civil War connections in downtown Culpeper. Everything from Confederate General A.P. Hill’s house to a myriad of Civil War Trails signs. The Culpeper National Cemetery has several impressive Civil War monuments among more than 7,500 Civil War soldiers that are interred there from the surrounding battlefields and actions.
Today, the crown jewel of the Culpeper Area Battlefields has a quaint Mayberry “Main Street U.S.A.” feel. The turn of the century train depot is still an active Amtrak station serving Washington D.C. and beyond Inside, it also houses the Culpeper Visitor Center and the Museum of Culpeper History. One can learn about rare dinosaur footprints found in Culpeper, the Civil War, and amazingly more!
Downtown, historic architecture abounds along with charming boutiques, unique shops, and independent restaurants. Hungry? Try the Frost Café with a 1950’s diner vibe or It’s About Thyme with a European feel. Wanting counter service instead, then be sure not to miss Shawn’s BBQ and you can thank us later.