Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to fight the battle above the Mason-Dixon. He began marching his army west from Fredericksburg toward Culpeper Court House. Lee wanted the protection of the Shenandoah Valley and asked General J.E.B. Stuart to mask the army’s movements with his cavalry.
Stuart had about 9,500 cavalry troops at Brandy Station—a small crossroads between the Rappahannock River and Culpeper—on June 8, 1863. Lee ordered Stuart to lead a raid across the river on June 9th to create a diversion.
Federal General Joseph Hooker, having guessed Stuart’s plan, deployed his cavalry under General Alfred Pleasonton to attack on June 9th. His men surprised Confederate pickets at Beverly’s Ford at 4:30 am and chased them back to their camp near St. James Church on the road to Brandy Station.
Confederates suffered until their artillery was ready to fire on Union troops at the church. Union General Buford ordered his troops to charge. They were repulsed.
In the meantime, Union General David Gregg brought his cavalry behind Stuart’s men with Fleetwood Hill blocking them. Union artillery fired on Fleetwood Hill, startling Stuart but he rallied in time to fight the Union’s charge.
After almost five hours of hard fighting, Pleasonton received reports of Confederate reinforcements and withdrew at 5 pm. Union casualties totaled 866 with 81 killed. Confederate casualties were 523.
The infantry used to joke, “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?”
The fierce battle at Brandy Station ended that.
The Union cavalry was respected after the battle.
And the battle hid the Confederate march northward.
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Brandy Station,” Civil War Trust, 2017/05/01, http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/brandy-station.html?tab=facts.
Long, E.B with Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.