in the Cavalry fights summarized on this website are due to my own
ancestor's involvement in them. My eagerness to expand my
his terse diary entries of 1863, is the catalyst for these Cavalry
digressions. This pleasant diversion regarding the Battle for
Culpeper on September 13, & subsequent skirmishing along the
Rapidan River, began with the utmost
enthusiasm two years ago, but as it dragged on, I became anxious
time. Part of the reason this section took so long to build is
that this period of the Army of the Potomac's history is largely
It shouldn't be, a lot happened. Every hear of the Bristoe
Campaign or Mine Run? Another reason it took time was the effort
I made to visit and photograph locations close to me where these events
happened. This page was planned as a photo essay.
I offer it up as it is, perhaps not as fully developed
it could be. The 13th MA Infantry is represented on this page via
Henry Forbush's diary entries, formerly of Company K, and a letter of
Lt. John B. Noyes, formerly of Company B. The page starts with an
excerpt from the 13th MA regimental history, “A Failed Apology.”
Author William Jeffrey Hunt has studied for over 30
Meade's command of the Army of the Potomac for the largely ignored
period between the Battle of Gettysburg through the appointment
General Grant in the East. He was extremely generous with his
expertise in helping me to understand specific details about the
location of cavalry troops and artillery during the fight at Culpeper,
September 13th. I pulled back on some of the information he
shared, in deference to his work, which I highly recommend. You
find his works at Savas-Beatie Books.
I'd also like to thank John Hennessy for his photos
of Somerville Ford, and my friends Walker Somerville and Brett Johnson
for walking the ground and sharing their stories of the region with me.
In early August, 1863, General Robert E. Lee
pulled his army back behind
Rapidan River, creating a stronger defensive line that was much easier
defend than one in Culpeper County. General George G. Meade
was reluctant to
advance into Culpeper County because he also knew its specific
difficulties as experienced by General John Pope a year earlier.
One of these difficulties was the lengthening of his supply lines,
which required detaching a significant force to guard the Orange &
Alexandria Railroad between Alexandria &
strategic preference was to shift his line to the left, to
Fredericksburg, where it
was easier to send supplies. The president however rejected this
plan. He wanted General Lee’s army to be Meade’s objective, and
he desired an attack if practicable. In mid September,
after a brief respite & recovery from the arduous Gettysburg
campaign, it was rumored that a portion of General Lee’s army was
detached and sent west
to strengthen the Confederate war effort in East Tennessee.
General Meade responded to this news and ordered his
entire cavalry division into Culpeper County to test to the strength of
Confederate resistance there.
Only Confederate Cavalry spread thinly across the
broad territory defended Culpeper County, but dashing and daring
Commander J.E.B. Stuart wasn’t going to yield any ground without a
On September 13, Union General Alfred Pleasonton’s
entire cavalry corps advanced upon the village of Culpeper Court-House*
from the north and the east. The opposing sides battled it out
all day. Stuart put up an obstinate resistance, delaying the
attackers until a last Confederate supply train could evacuate the
village of Culpeper Court-house. The fighting continued the next
day along the banks of the
The 2nd Corps Infantry commanded by General
G. K. Warren, newly promoted for his impressive performance at
Gettysburg, followed Pleasonton’s troops in support.
This page details the cavalry fighting on September 13 -
15, 1863, with a focus on the part played by 3rd U.S. Artillery,
Battery C. My G-G
Grandfather’s unit, assisted Kilpatrick’s Division in the fight,
William Henry Forbush’s diary entries are included on this page.
General Newton’s First Corps was initially
assist the reconnaissance, but the order was changed to favor the 2nd
slighted, Gen. Newton Complained. The result is noted in “A
*NOTE: The village surrounding the
Court-House was actually called Fairfax until the name was changed to
Culpeper in the late 1860's.
images are from
the Library of Congress Digital Collections with the following
exceptions. Illustration of the Cavalryman by Gilbert Gaul;
Illustration of the “Telegraph Officer,”
was done by artist Par H. De Sta, from "L'Alphabet Militaire"
accessed digitally; Four views of Somerville Ford taken by John
Hennessy, from the blog, Mysteries
Conundrums; "Exploring Culpeper and
Orange –– Raccoon and Somerville Fords, November 27, 2013, by John
Hennessy. The panoramic views and other photographs of
contemporary Culeper County,were taken by the author.
ALL IMAGES have been EDITED in
Return to Top of
The great Union Cavalry officer General
John Buford complained about General John Newton's tepid support for
the Cavalry reconnaissance on
August 1st. Part of Newton's First Corps crossed the Rappahannock
River, but did not advance as Buford fought the Confederate Cavalry at
Brandy Station all the way to Culpeper. Buford's initial success
reversed when Confederate
infantry arrived in time to push him back. Buford felt with
he might have held the ground. This affair
probably led General Newton [pictured] to feel slighted two weeks later
following change in plans, when the
cavalry once again advanced into Culpeper County.
The following is from “Three Years
in the Army” by Charles E. Davis, Jr., Boston: Estes
& Lauriat, 1894.
On the 13th of September we received the following order;
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE
September 12, 1863.
Commanding Officer First Corps;
I am instructed to inform you that a movement —
reconnaissance — will be made to-morrow in the direction of Culpepper
court House, and the commanding general orders that you hold your
command in readiness to move at short notice, in case the development
of the movement should be required.
Very respectfully, etc.
Subsequently the Second Corps was substituted for
the First, which caused General Newton to feel that a reflection
was cast on his corps, and it prompted him to address a letter to that
effect to General Meade, and the following reply was received:
Army of he Potomac,
September 14, 1863.
Maj-Gen. John Newton,
Commanding First Corps:
Your communication of the 13th instant, in reference to the detail of
the Second Corps to support the cavalry reconnoissance sent in
front of the arm yesterday, has been laid before the commanding
general, who regrets to learn that the detail has occasioned a
feeling of disappointment among the officers and men of your corps.
The considerations which led the commanding general to
select the Second Corps for this service were chiefly that the First
Corps formed part of a line the continuity of which the general did not
wish to break, as he could not force the consequences which might flow
from an advance, and he was by no means certain that the reconnoitering
party, together with its support, might not be driven back upon that
line, and, moreover, he had in view the fact that the requiring on its
part unusual watchfulness, and far more exhausting duties than had been
performed by the corps in rear. The commanding general trusts
that this explanation will satisfy you that in assigning he Second
Corps to the duty above indicated no distrust was entertained of the
qualification of the First Corps to perform the service equally well.
I am directed to add that, while the commanding general
has given in this instance his reasons for issuing a particular order,
he does not admit the right of any subordinate commander to call in
question his acts, and he regrets that you should have thought it
proper to do so.
Very respectfully, your obedient
The soundness of the last paragraph just saved the
apology from being a success.
Return to Table of Contents
Cavalry Clears the Way for the Infantry - Summary
Major-General George G.
Meade's Summary Report of Operations of the Army of the
Report of Major-General George G. Meade, December 6,
On the 13th of September, intelligence having been
received rendering it probable the enemy was making a retrograde
movement, Major-General Pleasonton, in command of all the cavalry,
supported by the Second Corps, Major-General Warren, crossed the
Rappahannock at several points, and after a spirited engagement with
the enemy’s cavalry, in which he captured 3 guns and many prisoners,
drove the enemy across the Rapidan, but found it impossible to force
the passage of that river. Major-General Warren, with his
corps, occupied Culpeper Court-house, taking no part in the engagement,
which was entirely a cavalry fight. The result of this movement
proved that the enemy had sent Longtreet’s corps to the Southwest, but
still held the line of the Rapidan in force.
On the 16th of September, the army
Rappahannock, and took
up a position around Culpeper Court-House, with the advance of two
corps on the Rapidan.
Report of General Robert E. Lee, C. S.
General Lee describes the action on
September 13 & 14, 1863.
Report of General Robert E. Lee, C. S.
Army, commanding Army of Northern Virginia.
Army of Northern Virginia.
September 14, 1863.
Mr. President: * *
* A little after midnight on September 13, General Stuart received
notice of an intended advance of the enemy’s cavalry and made his
On the morning of that day they came in force, having
crossed the Rappahannock at all fords from Stark’s, on Hazel River, to
Kelly’s. They were supported by a force of infantry. He
skirmished with them all day, and by 6 o’clock in the evening was
pressed back to within half a mile of Cedar Mountain, with the loss, I
regret to say of three pieces of artillery. From this point he
fell back after night to the Rapidan to prevent being turned, and to
obtain supplies more readily. He was greatly outnumbered, the
enemy having three divisions of cavalry, with infantry, and he having
three brigades, the fourth (Fitz. Lee’s) being still at Fredericksburg.
He reports that his men behaved with bravery, and that
he took a considerable number of prisoners. He left a picket
force in front of the enemy at Cedar Mountain, and I have heard nothing
from him this morning. It may be a reconnaissance in force
merely, but I have made preparations in case it should be an advance of
his whole force.
* * * *
* * * *
I am, with great respect, our
R. E. LEE,
Colonel Edward B. Sawyer,
commanding Gen. Kilpatrick's 2d Cavalry Brigade
Report of Colonel Edward B. Sawyer,
First Vermont Cavalry, commanding Second Brigade.
Second Brigade, Third Division, Cavalry Corps,
September 19, 1863.
Sir: In accordance
with orders this day received from division headquarters, I have the
honor to make the following report of the part taken by this brigade
from the 12th to the 15th instant:
The brigade moved under command of Brigadier-General
Custer, at 12 m. of the 12th instant, from Berea Church to Kelly’s
Ford, where they bivouacked for the night.
On the morning of the 13th, they crossed the
Rappahannock and marched in direction of Culpeper Court-House, the
Fifth Michigan Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Alger, having the
advance. The First Michigan Cavalry, Lieutenant-Colonel Stagg,
was ordered to Stevensburg. They met the enemy’s pickets about 1
mile before reaching town, drove them back to their reserve, when they
encountered a brigade of cavalry and artillery, and were obliged to
back and join the brigade just as they advanced into Culpeper.
They did good service in driving the enemy from the hill on the left of
After passing Brandy Station the Fifth Michigan Cavalry
were ordered to dismount and deploy as skirmishers. They advanced
through the woods and through the town, capturing 1 prisoner.
The Sixth Michigan Cavalry, Major William Wells, were
ordered to cut the enemy off on the left, but were unable to cross the
stream. They advanced toward the town in column, when they made a
charge through the town, led by Brigadier-General Custer, capturing one
piece of artillery and quite a number of prisoners.
The Seventh Michigan Cavalry, Colonel
W. D. Mann,
advanced to the edge
of the town, where they dismounted 100 men, who waded the creek and
advanced as skirmishers over the hill on the left of the town, driving
the enemy from the hill.
The whole brigade advanced about 3 miles toward the
Rapidan and bivouacked for the night.
On the 14th, the
under command of Colonel George Gray,
advanced to the Rapidan. The Sixth Michigan was deployed as
skirmishers to Somerville Ford, with the First Vermont as
support. Both regiments remained in this position thirty-six
hours under heavy fire. The First Michigan was supporting Captain
Fuller’s battery. The Fifth
Michigan was support for dismounted
skirmishers. There was no change in the position of the brigade
on the 15th instant.
For further particulars I transmit reports from
Very respectfully, your obedient
EDWARD B. SAWYER,
Colonel, Commanding Second Brigade.
Capt. L. G. Estes,
Route of Kilpatrick's Advance, September
The map below follows the path of the
main body of Kilpatrick's Cavalry Division on September 13th. The
1st Michigan Cavalry of General Custer's Brigade, was detached after
crossing at Kelly's Ford and sent toward Stevensburg where they
encountered enemy pickets. They rejoined the rest of the Division
as they entered Culpeper. Fighting started around Brandy
Station. More fighting took place just north and south of
William Henry Forbush, 3rd U.S.
Lieutenant William Duncan Fuller's
Battery, 3rd U.S. Battery C, was attached to General Hugh Judson
Division and participated in the fighting on September 13 -
15. Since September 3rd, the battery was in camp at General
Headquarters, 8 miles from Falmouth, at Hartwood Church. On
September 12th, they
moved to Kelly's Ford. The
battery traveled at least 18 1/2 miles, with General Kilpatrick's
Cavalry Division, on September 13. They were engaged though where
specifically I am not sure. I believe they assisted General
Custer's brigade during the final assault south of Culpeper to Pony
Mountain. Lt. William D.
Fuller's report is near the end of this section. A few entries
from my Great-Great
Grandfather's 1863 diary starts things off. It will be followed
by more detailed accounts.
Friday 11. Warm Day- Nothing new. Everything
Saturday 12. On Police. Left the Camp
(crossed out) Near Falmouth Va. [Hartwood Church] and came as far as
Calleys Ford and halted for Night rained all night.
Sunday 13. Crossed the River at Calleys ford
came on through Culpeper to about 4 miles the other side of the Town
and halted for the Night. Captured 3 peaces of Artillery this day.
The road turning to the right leads to
Ford on the Rappahannock River, about 1/2 mile distant, direction
west. Cavalry probably
came up along the road in the center. These are the fields
on the east side of the river, perhaps where some of them bivouacked on
the soggy rainy night of September 12. The road entering the
the left comes from Rappahannock Station.
Return to Table of Contents
At Culpeper Court-House, Part I
Engagement at Culpepper September 13
Photo Essay with Text
From, Frank Moore's "The Rebellion Record" Volume
pages 501 – 505.
The following private letter from one who accompanied
the Second New-York cavalry in the advance upon Culpeper, give the
following particulars of the skirmishing :
River, Va., Monday, Sept. 14, 1863.
Kilpatrick’s division moved Saturday morning. We
arrived at Kelly’s
Ford in the evening, and lay by our horses in marching order during the
night. Between three and four there came up one of the most
showers I ever experienced. The rain fell in torrents, and we
soon standing in pools of water. At daylight we crossed,
enemy’s picket. Our advance was rather slow and cautious till we
reached the forest bordering on the old Brandy-Station
Here we first struck the enemy in some force.
Pictured is the Rappahannock River
looking NW, taken from the modern bridge at Kelly's Ford. Trees
were less abundant during the war.
This account is from a private letter by one who
accompanied the 2nd NY in the advance: The First brigade,
under Colonel H.
E. Davies, which had the advance, kept it throughout the day, led the
charge at a gallop. We soon emerged on the old Brandy Station
battle-field. Here the sight was grand in the extreme. The
Second New-York cavalry (Harris Light) had the advance of the brigade,
and were charging over the plain, supported by the other regiments,
Colonel Davies leading every thing. Off in the distance we could
see Generals Gregg and Buford bringing up their columns at a
gallop. In the far advance charges were being made, and
skirmishers were circling over the hills like the advancing waves of a
flood-tide. Prisoners and wounded began to come in. The
plain was soon cleared of the enemy and soon our force disappeared in
pursuit. Now commenced a running fight, till we reached the
vicinity of Culpeper— the Harris Light still keeping the advance, and
giving the enemy not a moment’s rest. Whenever they made the
slightest pause, an impetuous charge from this regiment would start
them again. For two miles before reaching Culpeper, the Harris
Light was exposed to a very severe artillery fire, as great trees
broken off and shattered clearly proved.
Pictured is some of the rolling terrain
around Brandy Station. Click to view larger.
A National account
describes the action: The whole
corps advanced up the railroad toward Culpeper. General
Kilpatrick had the left, resting on the left of the railroad ; General
Buford in the centre, and General Gregg, the right — the skirmishing
and cannonading becoming quite sharp as we advanced. As the
cavalry moved across the plain in perfect order, some of the regiments
in line, some in column, and a long line of skirmishers in front, with
the batteries a little to the rear, the respective division and brigade
commanders moving up with their staffs, it presented one of the most
brilliant spectacles of the war. The rebels did not make much
resistance until we reached a point about one mile this side of
Culpeper, where they opened three batteries upon Kilpatrick’s division,
but not checking the advance in the least.
Pictured is historic Auburn Farm, once
owned by John Minor Botts, at
Brandy Station, looking west. The contending cavalry would ride
over this ground on the way towards Culpeper. It is mentioned in the
account below. ––The current owner might
like it to be a Costco.
Sept. 14, 1863.
The following is an accurate
statement of what transpired in Culpeper. About three o’clock on
Sunday morning information was conveyed to the cavalry that the enemy
were preparing to cross at Stark’s Ford, some eight miles above our
forces, and at Kelly’s some five miles below them; and that they would
no doubt be cooperated with by the corps of the enemy, which for some
time past has been encamped on this side of the Rappahannock River, at
the railroad bridge. [Gen. Newton's 1st Corps–– B. F.]
The wagons were at
once packed and sent to the rear, and the horses were ordered to be
saddled, and the men are bidden to prepare for any emergency. At
daybreak, Brigadier-General Lomax, in command of Jones’s old brigade,
now his own, and W. H. F. Lee’s, under Colonel Beale, of the Ninth
Virginia cavalry, moved at once to the front and found all quiet.
Some hours later, couriers brought information that the enemy were
crossing at Stark’s Ford, with six hundred cavalry and artillery, and
were advancing on Culpeper Court-House, by the Ridgeville road, and
were driving in the pickets there stationed. The Seventh and
Twelfth regiments Virginia cavalry were immediately sent forward to
strengthen the picket on this road. Major Flournoy at this time
the front with the Sixth regiment and a squadron of sharp-shooters from
the Ninth Virginia cavalry. About ten o’clock, Major Flournoy
fell back to Brandy Station, and shortly thereafter Captain Moorman’s
artillery opened fire on the enemy from this point. Just then
General Lomax received information that the enemy had crossed at
Kelly’s a large force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, and were
advancing on the Stevensburgh and Brandy roads. A very short time
after this a sharp carbine fire announced their arrival at
Brandy. Major Flournoy fell back rapidly, contesting every hill,
and only giving way when in danger of being out-flanked. The
Thirteenth Virginia cavalry, supported by squadrons of the Ninth,
was now thrown forward to the left of the railroad in Bott’s (formerly
J. A. Beckham’s woods. The Fifteenth Virginia cavalry was thrown
forward to the right of the railroad in same woods. Six regiments
of the enemy were now deployed in a field near Brandy, with two
batteries of artillery. The infantry of the enemy were massed
behind the cavalry and the timber. Of course our men were
compelled to again give back.
Artist Edwin Forbes sketched this view
of Culpeper from the hills just north-east of the village. The
is "Cavalry Reconnaissance to Culpeper" the date is September 16,
1863. Forbes is playing catchup, (the battle occured Sept. 13)
unless the sketch date is when he submitted the work to his
editors. ––Today this ground is covered with
The Rebel account continued:
Another stand was made by
our forces on the ground where the infantry first became engaged during
Hampton’s fight on the first of August, and here a severe fight took
place, in which artillery, musketry, and carbines were freely
used. At this time it was discovered that a column of at least
two brigades of cavalry were moving on our right flank by way of
Stevensburgh toward Culpeper Court-House. While the artillery on
the left showed that the enemy, who were moving on the Rixeyville road,
[Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg's Division] were nearly at the
Court-House, our forces, of
course, were compelled
again to give back, and this time the Court-House fell into the hands
of the enemy. In the fight made at this point, Colonel Beale,
Ninth Virginia, was wounded slightly in the leg.
A somewhat similar view to-day from a
very developed neighborhood north east of town.
The Confederate narrative, continued:
At this time a
train of cars was at the Court-House bringing off the plunder of our
people. This was fired upon some three or four times, and though
the shells exploded just above the cars, scattering the fragments over
them, yet no damage was done. One shell passed into the house of
Mr. Thomas Hill and exploded, but did no damage. I am told that
nearly every thing was removed from the depot at Culpeper Court-House,
though I hear that we lost some four or five boxes of saddles, eight
boxes of ammunition, and forty sacks of corn. The excitement and
confusion at Culpeper Court-House is said to have been very great and
very striking. Women were shrieking, soldiers were groaning with
their wounds, and children were crying from fright, and the death-shots
hissing from afar are howling and screeching over the town.
General Stuart was delaying the Federal
advance while awaiting for a train
loaded with supplies to leave Culpeper Court-house.
From: “Culpeper A Virginia County History Through 1920”;
by Eugene M. Scheel (p.
On September 13 they [Federals]
crossed the Rappahannock in force, and by late morning had reached the
outskirts of the Court House. There Rev. Barnett Grimsley was
preaching at the Baptist Church when artillery shells began whistling
overheard. Grimsley dismissed the congregation, mounted his
horse, and was off. Many in the streets ran to the Episcopal
Rectory, not for spiritual comfort, but because of its deep and
commodious cellar. As the Rev. John Cole’s frightened brother
ran, hunched over, Reverend Cole shouted, “Stand up, you’re a better
target that way.” Fannie, Reverend Cole’s daughter, was afraid
the Yankees would steal the bell. She climbed to the belfry,
draped the bell in black cloth, and cut the bell rope. The
shelling of Culpeper never should have begun, but the Federals sighted
a train pulling into the station and thought it brought
reinforcements. In reality, it had been sent up from Orange to
evacuate supplies. George Neese recalled: “The yankee
gunners overshot our guns that were firing from the [north] edge of
town, and I saw Yankee shell crashing through buildings and exploding
all over and through the northern and eastern portions of
town. I know that this was a wild and boisterous stirred-up
Sunday that the citizens of Culpeper Court House will not forget for
years to come.” The blue cavalry outflanked defending gunners and
charged through the streets of town. The melee did not end until
nightfall: The Court House was in enemy hands.
An Account from a National
The rebels did not make much
resistance until we
reached a point about one mile this side of Culpeper, where they opened
three batteries upon Kilpatrick’s division, but not checking the
advance in the least. On approaching near the town, the rebels seemed
disposed to dispute our further advance. A long line of
dismounted infantry could be seen along a fence just across a deep
creek, with two batteries in support.
General Kilpatrick ordered
General Custer to dislodge them, which he soon accomplished. The
Sixth Michigan dismounted, and engaged the rebel skirmishers, and soon
routed them in good style. The Harris Light charged the battery
on the edge of the town, capturing two guns. This brought the
division of Kilpatrick to the edge of the town.
Pictured left, is Mountain Run where the Old Brandy
Station Road crosses. Rebel skirmishers lined the creek.
On Sept. 13th, 1863, the steep banks were swollen from the
Federal troops had to cross this barrier before they could get to the
Confederate defenses. It was only passable at two places, here,
where the road
crossed, and also where the railroad bridge crossed. The 1st VT found
could not get over the creek farther to the south when they tried to
flank the Confederate position, and had to cross near the railroad
bridge. The delay in crossing Mountain Run allowed the
Confederate supply train to escape.
Report of Colonel Henry E. Davies, jr., Second New
York Cavalry, commanding First Brigade. (Excerpt) :
In pursuance of your orders I then marched to the left,
and making a détour through the woods, attacked the enemy in
the vicinity of Culpeper Court-House. My skirmishers drove them
back to the long range of hills before reaching the court-house, where
they made a determined stand with a battery of artillery, on the right
of the railroad, and a large force of cavalry.
The ridge where the Wallach House once
stood. Colonel Davies, lined up his forces and artillery here,
and to the north (left side of the picture), parallel to the
Confederate forces across
Mountain Run. Brandy Station Road would be to the left, the
railroad to the right. View looking to the East.
Col. Davies continued:
I got my battery in position and,
after some moments’
shelling, ordered a charge on the guns, which was most gallantly made
by a battalion of the Second New York Cavalry, led by
Lieutenant-Colonel Harhaus and Major McIrvin, and supported by Captain
Hasty’s battalion of the same regiment. They made a charge that
has never been surpassed in the records of the cavalry service, across
a deep ravine and creek, up a steep hill, the road rough and stony, and
through a heavy fire of shells, right up to the muzzles of the guns,
two of which they captured and brought back in triumph, together with
the officer in command of the battery and 20 of his men, and driving
his supports without firing a shot, using nothing but the saber.
The 2nd NY captures two
guns, a lieutenant and 20 men. When the 1st Vermont come
up, Custer leads them over the stream into town,
and captured a 3rd gun from the Confederates now hurriedly
Several other guns were nearly captured.
Daniel Amon Grimsley, (6th VA Cavalry Veteran) from “Battles
The Confederates posted their
guns on the hill, between Capt Vinal’s and Mr. Chelf’s, supported by
two squadrons of mounted men, while the fifth cavalry were dismounted
at Bell’s Ford in order to hold that position, and a portion of the 6th
dismounted at the railroad ford. The Federal force moved forward
very cautiously, forming their line of battle on the hill about the
George house, extending round to the left, in front of the Wallach
house, with two or three batteries stationed at intervals along this
line. Their batteries were turned principally upon the town and
the train loading at the depot, with an occasional shot at the guns on
...After the departure of the train, which escaped
without injury, taking off all the stores, the Federals showed a
purpose to force an entrance into the village, and for this purpose,
sent forward a brigade from the centre of their lines to charge Bell’s
Ford and get possession of the crossing. They came down the road,
in columns of fours, in beautiful order, and looked as though they
would sweep every thing before them, but they met at the ford a fire
from our dismounted men, protected by the large trees, that at that
time were about that point, which emptied many a saddle, broke up their
organization, and drove them back in disorder. They, however,
rallied, and crossing the fields to the east side of the railroad, the
embankment of which protected them from the fire of the guns on the
hill, dismounted some of their men, who engaged the dismounted
Confederates at the bridge, drove them back and opened the way for
their mounted men. They charged up the hill and made for the
guns. They were here met by the mounted squadrons, supporting the
guns, and driven back under the hill. The guns limber up to
retire, one coming back directly towards the depot, the other going
down to the road in front of Mr. Lathams’. [Piedmont Street –– B.F.]
The 2nd NY account continues:
The enemy finally
planted their guns up a high hill, at the entrance of the town.
It was a very commanding position. The enemy must be dislodged,
and that right speedily too. The Harris Light were ordered by
General Davies to do the work. Major McIrwin led the charge,
accompanied by Captains Downing and Mitchel, and Lieutenant Jones, and
supported by two batteries. General Custer, whose
irrepressible gallantry led him far ahead of his command, came up and
went with them. Down the hill they went at a gallop —- a perfect
avalanche of shot and shell crashing above them, and ploughing the
ground around them. Dressing the line for a moment at the foot of
the hill on which the battery was, they charged up with such
impetuosity that every thing gave way before them. With great
rapidity they dashed around in the rear of the guns, and in a moment
they were ours. After the guns were captured, General Custer came
up, armed only with his riding whip, compelling many a man to surrender
at discretion. Captain Mitchel ordered a rebel to help limber up
the guns. He replied with perfect coolness that he was not
going to help the Yankees capture their guns. He again received
the order and again refused. Mitchel then drew his saber and said
: “Now do as you are ordered.” This final pointed argument
prevailed, and the rebel said : “Well, if I must, I suppose I must.”
Harper's weekly illustration of General
Custer Charging Up The Hill Upon The Enemy's Guns"
The National account continues; (the rebels move
south of town):
and Gregg were driving the enemy on the right, and General Kilpatrick,
with characteristic boldness, was about to charge the whole rebel force
upon our left, and capture the train of cars that was moving off toward
Orange, but was prevented by the unexpected discovery of a deep creek,
which was only passable at one place in his front. This enabled
the train to escape, affording time to the rebel cavalry to take a
strong position, a little to the rear of the town, in the woods on the
Cedar Mountain road. In the mean time, General Custer, at the
of the First battalion of the First Vermont, commanded by Major Wells,
dashed into town, driving the rebels out of the town.
Return to Table of Contents
Battle for Culpeper
Court-House, Part II
Once Federals breached the north end of
town, the Confederate cavalry reteated to the
ridges south of
the village. One of these ridges intersected the old
Fredericksburg road to Mount Pony. General Stuart was now present
and took command of this force. From this position their
harrass the Union forces in the village.
Close-up showing the south end of the
village of Culpeper Courthouse, August, 1862, (view to the Northwest
from today's National Cemetery). Photo by Timothy Sullivan. Note
the troops on the flat cars in the middleground. The village back
then was called either Culpeper Court-House, or Fairfax. The name
changed from Fairfax to Culpeper after the war, to clear up the
created with the Norhern Virginia town of Fairfax which was at the
of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.
Colonel H. E. Davies, commanding the 1st Brigade,
Kilpatrick's Division, describes the fight to hold the town:
After gaining this position and the town of Culpeper, I
was fired on by a battery posted in thick woods on the left of the
railroad, and ordered the Fifth New York Cavalry to charge and take
it. They charged most bravely, but the ground being bad, were
much broken, and on gaining the crest of the hill were attacked by a
much larger body of cavalry and driven back. They were gallantly
rallied by General Kilpatrick in person, under a heavy fire, and
advanced again to the front. At that moment I was on the right of
the railroad, and ordering the Second New York to come in on the right
of the the Fifth.
I rode over and led the Fifth again into the
woods. Here we met
with General Custer, who was heavily engaged and did all that men could
do to advance. We were, however, overpowered by numbers and the
Second New York were flanked and their extreme right driven in.
At this juncture the affair looked badly and I feared the command would
be driven back, but I brought up the First [West] Virginia Cavalry, as
the last regiment at my command, which had only the day before been
supplied with Spencer’s rifles Hitherto they had not taken any
active part in the engagement, and on my call sprang from their horses
and, led by Colonel Richmond, rushed into the woods.
This timely re-enforcement changed the event and the
rebels were driven
back in confusion, followed by my brigade through the woods and across
the fields. Here I received orders from the general commanding
the division to halt and allow General Buford’s command to take the
front. From this last position we moved forward to Pony Mountain
where we encamped for the night.
I created these mapped interpretations
of the 2nd part of the fight for Culpeper Court-House based on the
reports, but it
is conjecture at best. I don't know where specific regiments were
exactly, except they were probably in position on the ridges and
indicated. I used contours from Culpeper GIS to place the
Confederates on the ridge south-east of town. Today's landscape is very
developed and photographic views are obstructed by trees, gas stations
and houses. The
artillery was active during this part of the fight but their positions
unknown. Lt. William D. Fuller of 3rd U.S. battery C only
went into position at different
points beyond Culpeper, firing on the enemy’s skirmishers, who occupied
several houses, fences, and woods, as our cavalry pursued and drove
them to and across the Rapidan River.”
The village was much smaller in 1863 than it is today, and the road
network has changed.
Major William Wells, 1st Vermont Cavalry:
We then received orders to charge
into town, which we
did, passing through, capturing eight prisoners, and one gun, with
carriage, horses, etc., complete, and occupied a knoll on the south
side of the village, where the regiment was subjected to a very severe
artillery fire from the enemy’s guns, stationed at our front and
left. We were here directed by General Custer, commanding
brigade, to attack the force occupying the woods to the left of the
town, and holding the road leading in the direction of Orange
Court-House. Companies E and I of the first battalion were sent
to the right, dismounted, and engaged the skirmishers of the enemy’s
left. The second battalion, (companies B, C, H, and G,) under
Captain Adams, being sent forward, charged the enemy, driving them from
the road, and through the woods back under the protection of their
artillery, capturing twenty-six prisoners. The fight at this
place continued for a considerable length of time, three separate
charges having been made by our men. The force in front of the
second battalion largely outnumbering their opponents, and being
strongly supported, rallied and gained a temporary advantage, during
which time they succeeded in removing their artillery stationed in our
front. A movement on our flanks was at one time attempted but it
failed in its purpose, the enemy being compelled to retire. The
repulse of the enemy along the whole line being at this time — four
o’clock P.M. — complete, they retreated in the direction of the Rapidan
The National account concludes:
had two other pieces in the woods to the rear of the town, strongly
supported by a strong force of cavalry. The Harris Light
gallantly charged up into the woods where the rebels were posted, but
were driven back by superior numbers. The First Vermont,
consisting of two battalions, numbering about one hundred and fifty
men, under command of Major Wells, now gallantly advanced to charge
under a heavy fire from the enemy’s battery. The Harris Light
promptly rallied, and both regiments charged into the woods and drove
the rebels further toward the Cedar Mountain road. Our loss here
was the heaviest of any during the day. General Custer, while
leading the First Vermont, was wounded in the leg by the bursting of a
shell, which also killed his horse, and the Harris Light sustained some
loss, the extent of which I have been unable to learn. The rebels
now formed just beyond the woods, where they had a battery in
position. The Fifth New-York and one battalion of the First
Vermont charged upon the battery, but were repulsed, the rebels
returning to the woods in great force, but were driven out the second
time, whereupon they retreated for the Rapidan, closely pursued for
four miles by General Buford, when operations for this day ceased.
Our casualties on this day were three
killed and forty wounded. On the fourteenth the cavalry advanced
Rapidan, and found the enemy strongly posted at the respective fords on
the other side of the river. In the fight the day previous the
rebels were commanded by General Stuart — his force consisted of
Fitzhugh Lee’s and Wade Hampton’s divisions of cavalry and five
The Fight for Culpeper; Conclusion
The fighting didn't end here. Some
Confederate cavalry rallied on Greenwood Hill.
J.E.B. Stuart's troops made a stand in front of Pony
brigade at Stevensburg had moved there and set up a defensive position
in front of the west slope for the Confederates to fall back
Grimsley gives good account of fight which he watched from Greenwood
Mount Pony is visible from the top
Greenwood Hill, but the view is obstructed by a recently constructed
development. In 1863, Captain Daniel Amon Grimsley, watched the
battle from this hill, which commands the south edge of town. The
view is looking East from the sidewalk in
the Greenwood estate, which is just to the right of this image.
The Confederates occupying this hill moved south to the next ridge to
take their stand in the continuing resistance to the Federal
opposed troopers of Gen. David M. Gregg's Division.
Judge Daniel Amon Grimsley:
From the Greenwood hill, the
tussle between Hampton and Kilpatrick was plainly visible. The
entire force on either side was in full view. The lines of
battle, the advancing squadrons, the charging columns, the blazing
batteries, the close grip of the skirmishers, made the scene,
notwithstanding our own close quarters, as inspiring as any that we
ever witnessed. This will be remembered as the occasion on which
Mr. Curtis, living near Georgetown, sought safety from the shells of
the Federal guns by taking refuge in the basement of Mr. James
Inskeep’s house. He had scarcely reached his supposed place of
safety before a shell entered the house, penetrated the basement,
exploded and killed him. An illustration of the soldier’s maxim
“that one place was as safe as another in battle.”
Judge Daniel A. Grimsley, “Battles in
Culpeper County” continued:
Jones, (Lomax) retiring by the
Rixeyville road, and finding the town
occupied by Buford’s troops, made a detour by way of Catalpa and Thos.
Rixey’s, and joined the forces that had passed through the village on
the hill south of Greenwood at the intersection of the Orange and
Stevensburg roads. Just before Jones came up, the Federal
cavalry, then occupying the Greenwood hill, made an effort to capture
the remaining gun left with the Confederates at this point. It
posted in the road, just in advance of the intersection of the roads
above referred to, supported by a squadron of cavalry. The
Confederates had dismounted the most of their forces here, and
concealed them in the pines that grew on the west side of the road, in
advance of the gun. From their position near the Greenwood house,
the Federals started a column to charge and capture the gun. They
came down the road and were soon protected by the descent, from the
fire of the gun on the hill.
They ascended the hill, near the gun, in fine style, and
dashed for it with the confidence of certain capture, but as they
passed these pines and exposed the flank of column, they received a
deadly fire at short range from the dismounted men, which emptied many
saddles and scattered the remainder in conclusion over the
All the Confederate forces had now gotten together, and
occupied a line from the Ward or Thompson hill to the foot of Mt. Pony
till about night, the Federals drawing off and the fight ceasing.
dark the Confederates began to retreat, and fell back that night to the
Rapidan at Raccoon Ford, and Rapidan Station. Hampton taking
position at the former, and Jones at the latter place. The
Confederates occupied the hills about the Taliaferro and Nalle houses
on the north side of the river, [Rapidan Station––B.F.] and also
some points lower down the
river about the Robertson house, and perhaps other places.
Pictured is the crest of Mount
Pony. When Stuart's Cavalry finally retreated,
Federal troops established a signal station here, with
commanding views of the surrounding area. Kilpatrick's Division
camped for the night
on the west side of the mountain, pictured. There would be more
the next day. This view taken from near Greenwood Hill.
Alfred Pleasonton's Dispatch to
Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac,
September 13, 1863 — 5.30 p.m.
dispatch of 1 p.m. I moved Buford and Kilpatrick’s commands in pursuit
of the enemy toward Raccoon Ford.
Gregg’s division taking the Cedar Mountain road, leaving
a force to hold Culpeper. I moved with the command toward
Raccoon Ford, and drove the enemy handsomely from Pony Mountain, where
our signal has been located, and then followed them to within 2 1/4
miles of Raccoon Ford. Shall stop for the night.
General Gregg reports he has had an obstinate fight, but
was driving the enemy on the Cedar Mountain road slowly. Our loss
as far as ascertained is 3 killed and about 40 wounded. General
Custer was wounded in the charge capturing the guns that were taken,
and his horse was killed under him. His gallantry was
All the indications thus far go to show that the enemy’s
army has retired. I shall endeavor to-morrow to give you definite
information. Unless the cloudy weather interferes shall be
able to communicate by signal from Pony Mountain.
We captured quite a large amount of ammunition at
Culpeper, which the enemy were endeavoring to take off by a train of
Lewis T. Nunnelee, Moorman's Battery,
Stuart's Horse Artillery.
The entire day was a lot of fuss on behalf of General
J.E.B. Stuart. After taking a tally of his battery's losses,
Confederate Gunner, Lewis T. Nunnelee wrote in his diary:
At 3 o’clock this morning it was
reported the enemy was advancing and in heavy force. At 10 A.M.
firing commenced at Brandy Station and in a short time our army
commenced to fall back, our artillery and sharpshooters taking position
along the heights from Brandy to near Cedar Run and Slaughters’s
Mountain. Keeping the large force of the enemy in check and
falling back in good order. The scene was closed a little before
night by a heavy rain.
Our battalion of horse artillery suffered considerably,
losing three pieces and near all of their detachments: Capt.
Griffin’s Battery from Baltimore, one piece, Capt. Chew’s Battery, one
piece, ours, Capt. Morrman’s, lost one piece (Howitzer) with all its
detachment except Sergt. Charles A. Boyd who made his escape. [Pictured
is artist Edwin Forbes rendition of the capture of the Rebel guns,
dated the day after).
After all firing had ceased we continued to fall back to
Rapidan Station. We had a terrible march in the dark through mud
and slush frequently sticking fast in the mud and would be pulled out
by the cannoneers. We reached Rapidan Station (10 miles) after 12
Crossed the Rapidan river into Orange Co. and parked
near our old camp of March and April last.
The captured of our howitzer detachment were Corpl.
William A. Morris, Privates Andrew H. Kirby, Charles H. Derr, William
T. French, Richard A. Watts, Richard J. Perkins, James S. Rucker,
Leslie C. Smithson, Robert A. Glenn, Aleck E. Whitten, James N. Feazle,
and William W. Turner. This was the first piece we ever lost and
had they had timely notice would have made their escape, being in a
ravine could not see the approach of the enemy. My own piece too
came very near being captured. We were standing near a thick wood
and the enemy suddenly made their appearance and but for Genl. Stuart
and his staff firing their revolvers on them they would have come on us
before we could have loaded and fired on them. The enemy was very
near on us once before while were were assisting to get Zachariah N.
Mundy to an ambulance being severely wounded.
Our wounded for the day were Zachary N. Mundy, severely
in the lungs by a piece of shell, and Thomas R. Yeatman. John
Herley was wounded, having gone with and was fighting as a cavalryman.
Here was another unaccountable mistake by commanders
making a show of fight for effect. The way I understand it Genl.
Lee expected his army to winter in Culpeper Co. but from some cause had
to evacuate it, and all the infantry forces had fallen back on the
south side of the Rapidan River in Orange Co. the cavalry alone
remaining to watch the enemy. As I first stated were were
notified at 3 A.M. of the advance in full force of the enemy’s whole
army amounting to at least 100,000 while we only had about 5,000
cavalry and could have started and fallen back across the Rapidan with
our army in a few hours, without molestation, and no loss of any
kind. Yet simply for effect we had to skirmish with all these
great odds against us and to me without the least hope of doing any
Return to Top of Page
Support; A Letter of Lt. John B. Noyes
(formerly 13th MA)
Letter, September 14th, 1863
Private John B. Noyes of the 13th Mass., spent much of
the Summer of 1862 using as much influence as he could muster, lobbying
for an officer’s commission. When he finally got one, it was
largely through the recommendation of Major J. P. Gould of the
13th. Major Gould invited Noyes to his tent, when the latter
returned to the regiment in February, 1862, the first of the Antietam
wounded to come back. Major Gould led the regiment in that
battle, and took the opportunity to get to know Noyes, a Harvard
graduate, better. Now that there were fewer men in the
ranks, that was easier to accomplish.
Major Gould was impressed with Noyes, and recommended
him for promotion. When it finally came however it was in the
28th Mass., an Irish Regiment, with an admirable record. Noyes
had wanted an appointment in a new organization. The touchy Irish
officers rejected him at first, but Lt. John B. Noyes was not to be
intimidated. He took no guff and earned the respect of both
officers and men of the 28th. He joined the regiment in the midst
of the Battle of Chancellorsville. By September 1863,
post-Gettysburg, his dis-satisfaction with the organization of the 28th
had peaked, and he went behind Colonel Byrnes back (28th MA) when the
Colonel was away from the regiment, and tried using influence
again, to get transferred elsewhere. Col. Byrnes was a cool customer,
but not unfair as Noyes judged him to be regarding promotions.
Major Gould at this time, was on detached duty, in
Boston, since just after the Battle of Gettysburg. He was
recently promised the Colonelcy of one of the new ‘veteran’ regiments
being raised by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew. (His
appointment to the 56th Mass. was later changed to the 59th
Mass.) John Noyes heard of this appointment, and now wished he
could apply to his former Major for a captain’s commission as he
expresses it in this letter. Several of his former 13th Mass.
comrades did join Major Gould’s new command as officers.
Unfortunately for John Noyes, a very capable officer, his attempts to
transfer out of the 28th MA backfired, and only caused Col. Byrnes to
delay his appointment to captain.
Noyes father was Professor of Divinity at
Harvard. John was well connected in society. Mr. Stimson
was a leading businessman of Boston whose son was a noted scientist at
the Smithsonian. And Mr. Bowen, he refers to, is doubtless, Francis
Bowen, a Harvard luminary.
The 28th Mass. was part of the 2nd Corps, so he marched
with General G. K. Warren into Culpeper county during this
reconnaissance. They passed Rapphanannock Station, where the 13th
was camped, but didn’t have time to visit them. He also talks of
the many desertions among the new recruits. A recurrent theme in
all the Army of the Potomac at this time.
His musings are always rich in detail and
commentary on the progress of the war.
Within one mile of Culpepper C.H. Va.
Camp 28th Mass. Sept. 14, 1863.
Your letter speaking of my long silence reached me Sept
have not written many letters lately to be sure, but this has been
owing to my arduous duties. I wrote however to you Aug.
23d. Sept 1st I also wrote long letters to you and
United States Ford. Those letters I entrusted to Quartermaster
Miner, and they were doubtless mailed Sept 4th or 5th. Have these
letters yet reached you? I wrote a long letter to George
9th, and one to you asking that a box be sent, Sept. 11th but omit
“Bealton Station”. Direct simply to “Lieut. John B. Noyes,
Reg’t, 2d Brig. 1st Div. 2d Corps, via Washington: Harnden’s
Express. Send in addition to articles previously ordered a piece
of soap & a couple of spoons.
Our Corps left United States Ford Sept. 4th and arrived
at the old
Camping ground the same day. We were mustered for pay Sept.
Sept. 12th we broke camp, taking every thing to start on a new
campaign? That is the question. At night we camped at
Rappahannock Station. Three of my recruits deserted. Four
deserters from my Company. Two sent to the hospital reduces the
effective strength of my conscripts from 16 to 10. The regiment
lost several on the 1st dates march. Gen’l Caldwell commanding
the Division can thank himself for a portion of the loss. The
Division marched before halting nearly 2 hours, the day terribly hot
and water scarce. The long pull caused even old soldiers to fall
out from utter exhaustion. Knapsacks and woolen blankets were
thrown away, enough to furnish all who wanted to carry such articles,
and were not supplied with them. Several of my men exchanged old
for new Knapsacks, and were glad to obtain blankets which are now
needed these cold nights. The Doctor said he never knew more men
to fall out from exhaustion. Yet the march was not more than 8 or
miles long, and from the duration of the halt it was evident that there
was no hurry. To march men in such a manner is criminal, and
injurious to the service. Recruits disposed to quit of course
seized the opportunity.
The 1st Corps is at Rappahanock Station and has
there the past month. No time was given for visiting the 13th
Mass. Reg’t as I should have liked to have done. I understand
that Lieut Thomas Welles is home on sick leave. Shortly after
the river cannonading was heard. Gen’l Kilpatrick,
he is sometimes termed and with some justice, considering the enormous
losses of late in that branch of the service was in advance with two
divisions of cavalry. As we drew near Culpepper we passed a rebel
battery of 3 guns which had been taken and sent to the rear. I
bowed to the Rebel Captain as he passed within a yard of me, and he
returned the salutation. The prisoners were a sturdy set of men
who appeared to regard their new situation variously. Some joked
and laughed some were moody and silent, one or two put on long
faces. Possibly they had been having good times at Culpepper.
Last Eve’g Lieut. W. L. Bailey, A.A.A.G. of the brigade
took tea at a
house at Culpepper at which he was aquainted. When under Gen’l
Bank’s he, with five others was accustomed to visit the house or rather
the females there dwelling. As A.A.A.G. Bailey is entitled to be
called Captain and not having his best clothes with him, he had
borrowed Capt. Gregg’s blouse. He knocked at the door which was
opened by one of the girls. Taking off his hat he looked at her
till she recognized him when she said are you a Captain ? How
are --& ---- &-- who were to come with you ? To the
question he successively replied. Bailey was a serg’t or
Corporal. Of his 5 friends, one had been killed in battle, four
had been discharged from the service on account of wounds.
This A.M. two squads of prisoners passed our camp.
One squad must
have numbered 50 men. The men looked well. Three or four
light gray uniforms. One of the men said he was “pretty well for
an old man.” Our pickets are said to be on the Rapidan.
Cannonading is now heard. Our Corps is the only one
hereabouts. Whether other Corps are to follow us I do not
know. I am fortunate this march in having my things
Lieut. Fleming’s white boy “Shag” having gone home gave his horse,
which he had picked up when near death, to Hector who cooks for Lt.
Smith and me. The horse now looks very well, Lt. Bailey giving it
occasionally. The horse carries my wollen blankets, tent,
haversack, & rations with those of Lieut Smith & Fleming.
I can assure you that marching is easier for me now that it
was on the
last campaign when I had to carry everything. Having
am not without pork and onions.
It seems that my letter was delivered to Gov.
Washburn. That letter
was dated Aug 31st or Sept 1st. I wrote to Hinckley advising him
drop the matter of my promotion, but on account of the
of the 1st Corps the letter was not mailed till Sept 4th or 5th.
If the Governor takes no notice of my letter I shall be sorry it was
written. Had the letter not been written I should have applied to
Maj. Gould of the 13th Mass for a Captaincy in the 56th Mass. of which
he is to be commissioned Colonel, as the report goes.
offered me a captaincy, which I have no doubt he would I would then
have sent an application signed by Col. Byrnes with an additional
letter containing reasons for desiring a transfer similar to those
offered in my letter to Gov. Washburn. As it is I think the
will pay no attention to my letter and if he did my chances in the
Regiment would be poorer than before. What are your sentiments on
the whole matter ?
Our armies seem to be successful every where in the
west, and South
West. I confess to no desire to march again on Richmond. I
think our Army is not equal to the undertaking. Richmond must be
taken by other means than an attack in front. When all
communications South — West have been cut off, Gen’l Lee must
battle on our own ground. Why talk then of assaulting the enemy
in their almost impregnable works?
The speech of Senator Sumner appears to me one of the
signs of the times. He remarks upon England’s course, which as
I have only read, are strong, states-manlike and conclusive. No
menace is indulged; the conduct of England is however utterly
condemned. When a friend of England of the character of Senator
Sumner, and of his repute abroad, makes such a speech, it behooves
England to beware. The people of England and its rulers may judge
from his speech what must be sentiments of American Statesmen, and
American people who have not been considered Anglophilists, and who
have even formerly been considered Anglophobists. I think Senator
Sumner deserves the thanks of the American people for his great
effort. Whatever fault may be found with the speech for its
universal freedom inspirations, the cogent & conclusive arguments
and reasonings upon the course of the English Government must be
approved by all lovers of their country.
Stephen sent me a novel a day or two ago in response to
my letter to
him written while he was on a visit to you. How does Mr.
Stimpson do ? Give him my regards when you next meet him. I
received a letter from Lieut Hoppin a few days ago, but have not had
time to answer it. Let Martha give my regards to my
does Prof. Bowen think of the present position of affairs ? I had
occasional conversations with him on war matters when I was at home
over his nice ale. Give him and Mrs. Bowen my regards.
With love to all, I am as ever,
Your Aff. Son
John B. Noyes.
Return to Top of Page
Along The Rapidan, September
The following morning, September 14, the Union cavalry
pushed its reconnaissance down to the Rapidan river to see whether the
Confederates would defend it, or if not, to force a crossing into
Orange County. A reporter covering the exploits of General
Kilpatrick's 2nd NY Cavalry, explained the difficulty of the task, due
to the terrain along the banks of the river. All of the high
ground was on the South side of the river, and this gave all the
advantages to the Southerners. He wrote:
“To fully understand the strong
position occupied by the enemy after they had been forced across the
Rapidan, and the dangers to which our brave troopers were exposed in
defending it, the reader must first have some knowledge of the
topography of the place. The banks of the Rapidan and the country
immediately adjacent, are peculiar to itself. The right bank, [south]
crossing of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Germania, is almost
one unbroken bluff, from 50 to 100 feet high, save where here and there
a roadway debouches to one of the numerous fording places, or the rains
have washed the bank away and formed a ravine. Back of these
ranges of hills interspersed with a wooded country. The left bank [north]
comparatively low, rising but a few feet above the river when at its
height, and extending back for from one half of a mile to one mile and
a quarter is a level plain, over which the eye can sweep without woods
or hills to obstruct the view. It was across this plain and the
the rebel cavalry and infantry were pursued by our gallant troopers on
Monday, the 14th, and held the same against all comers until relieved
as before stated.”
General Pleasonton rode with Buford and Kilpatrick’s
cavalry divisions to Raccoon Ford. They arrived at 9
AM. They found the Confederates present, and ready for a
fight. As soon as the Federal force was spotted the Rebels across
the river sent a short barrage of artillery fire into their midst,
narrowly missing General Buford. Fortunately no one was
killed. Dismounted troopers advanced to the ford and kept cover
under a ridge along the river bank. From here sharpshooters of boths
side kept up a
continued fire across the river for two days. General Buford
called up Edward D. Willaston’s battery, 2nd U.S. Battery D, to engage
with the enemy artillery. Artist
Alfred Waud captured it in action. While General John Buford's
1st Cavalry Division engaged the enemy at Raccoon Ford, General
Pleasonton ordered Kilpatrick's command [3rd Cavalry Division]
west towards Somerville Ford to see if a crossing could be made
there. This ford was less protected upon their arrival but that
was changing very fast. Confederate artillery was hurried forward
and a hot engagement between Lt. William D. Fuller’s 3rd U.S. Battery
C, and guns under the command of CSA Lt.-Col. Thomas H. Carter
This page will take a closer look at Gen. Kilpatrick’s engagement at
Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, pictured right.
Further to the west along the Rapidan, elements of
General David M. Gregg’s 2nd
Cavalry Division rode south from the area of Cedar Mountain toward
Rapidan Station, of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. A
scouting party commanded by Colonel Horace Sargent, 1st MA Cavalry,
found the Confederates in a strong position straddling several hills on
both sides of the river. General J.E.B. Stuart commanded
enemy troops here. He had an impregnable position especially for
the small scouting party sent to oppose him. To his
astonishment Colonel Sargent was ordered to attack. General
Gregg's orders were to find out how strong Confederate defenses were
the river. Although Col. Sargent advanced his squadrons with
extreme caution he nonetheless suffered several casualties.
General Pleasonton reported these in his dispatch to head-quarters on
the morning of September 15.
Alfred Waud's Sketch of Williston's
Battery in Action at Raccoon Ford
Artist A.R. Waud, accompanied the
expedition to the
river and captured Edward B. Williston’s Battery D, 2nd US Artillery,
in action with General Buford's Division at Raccoon Ford.
Waud's article appeared in Harper's Weekly Saturday, October 3rd
Artist Waud wrote in part:
“Your artist was the only person
connected with newspapers permitted to
go upon the recent advance to the Rapidan. An order of General
Meade’s sent all the reporters back. It was a very wet and
uncomfortable trip part of the time. I did not get dry for two
days; and was shot at into the bargain, at Raccoon Ford where I
unconsciously left the cover and became a target for about twenty of
the sharpshooters. Luckily I was not touched; but I did
riding to get out of the way. We have doubts here whether we
shall advance further. Meade keeps his own counsel; but the
idea is against moving further on this line.
“...General Buford made an
attack to unmask their force at
Raccoon Ford, while another cavalry division was doing the same at
Somerville Ford; since which time shelling and sharp-shooting has been
constantly kept up on the river banks. ...Wollaston’s battery is
shown in the view of Raccoon Ford. ...Butler’s and Wollaston’s
[Edward B. Williston, 2nd U.S. Artillery, Battery D, –– B.F.]
are the only horse
batteries of light twelves in the service. Both did good
This engraving of A.R. Waud's full
in Harper's Weekly, giving some indication of the missing half of the
The Army of the Potomac
–– General Buford Attacking the Enemy at Raccoon Ford, September 14,
1863. Sketched by A.R. Waud.
Fighting at Somerville Ford
Meanwhile, General Kilpatrick arrived at Somerville
before the enemy’s defending infantry was in place, and he immediately
troopers to try and force a crossing. The men of the 1st
Vermont, preparing to cross the open plain, were fortunately recalled
batteries were spotted suddenly deploying on
the high ground across the Rapidan. Lucky for them.
William D. Fuller’s
battery, 3rd U.S. Battery C, was called
up to engage the few Confederate defenders then present. Fuller's
accuracy was deadly and caused much suffering in the Confederate
ranks. But in the coming hour
Confederate Artillery gradually arrived to defend the crossing and
the advantage in fire-power. The newspaper correspondent
writing about the 2nd NY Cavalry, quoted above, wrote the following:
“At one time
concentrated the fire of fourteen guns upon one battery of the Third
Division. General Pleasonton directed General Kilpatrick to
"silence that battery." General Kilpatrick replied, "I cannot do
it, Sir." "Then," said the commanding General, "no one can do
it." Our battery was withdrawn.”
battery refered to was Lt. Fuller's.
General Kilpatrick reported on the day's
“On the morning of the 14th
instant, I moved my command
to Somerville Ford, on Rapidan, deployed Sixth Michigan, dismounted,
gained the ford under heavy fire from enemy’s sharpshooters, and
after an artillery duel of one hour was forced to withrdraw, but
still holding the ford.”
General Custer was wounded towards the end of the
fighting on September 13th, so Kilpatrick's 2nd Brigade, the "Michigan
Brigade" was in charge of Colonel George Gray, 6th Michigan
Cavalry. Colonel Gray reported on the 14th:
“This regiment, being the
first to reach the river and the ford, was at once dismounted, when the
men were placed in such position as to commend and protect the ford on
this side. Here they remained all that day and next, and the
intervening night, during the day-time constantly engaged in
skirmishing with the enemy. The bravery and fortitude of the men
of this regiment is almost without parallel in the annals of warfare.
“Occupying a road leading
along the river’s edge to the ford, with scarcely a semblance of
protection or cover, the enemy, on the other side, in rifle-pits, and
behind natural cover, pouring on them a continual fire of musketry, and
their guns from the surrounding heights throwing not only shell, but
also grape and canister on my men. Yet here they kept their
from the forenoon of Monday, the 14th, to nearly day on the morning of
the 15th, causing many of the enemy to fall, as could be seen
eye, and was also well attested by the frequent visits of the enemy’s
ambulances to their lines. The loss sustained by this regiment on
the 14th was 2 men killed and 5 wounded.”
The map pictured shows some
important fords along the Rapidan river. Cedar Run, (mentioned in Lt.
Fuller's report) and the Rapidan River, are outlined in light
Cedar Run flows from Mitchell's Station.
Kilpatrick's Division rode
from Pony Mountain to Raccoon Ford, then to
Somerville Ford on the
morning of the 14th. Buford's Division was at Raccoon Ford.
from General David M. Gregg's 2d Cavalry Division skirmished in the
late afternoon at Rapidan Station (not shown) . It is south of
along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, and would be below
on this map. There was a skirmish at Robertson's Ford on September
15.. The route the cavalry took is not
stated, but I have indicated some likely roads to the ford
in dark blue. From Somerville Ford to Robertson's and beyond, the
road in use then was right along side the north bank of the Rapidan
General Pleasonton's Dispatch to General
The Cavalry Commander kept General Meade
informed of the
action along the river. At 2 p.m. he sent the following
September 14, 1863 — 2 p.m.
General: I have
positions on the Rapidan at Somerville and
Raccoon Fords, the enemy occupying the opposite side. We have not
able to effect a crossing in consequence of the advantages the opposite
side gives in commanding the fords. At Somerville Ford, General
Kilpatrick reports the enemy having about 2,000 infantry, and infantry
has also been seen opposite Raccoon Ford. Two negroes report that
infantry column came down this morning and occupied the rifle-pits on
the other side.
If a corps was placed at raccoon ford and another at
Station, with a third at supporting distance at Culpeper, I could cross
the river below, and then move in rear and uncover these fords. I
believe the largest part of Lee’s army has gone South.
Picture of Somerville Ford, looking south
Photo of Somerville Ford, 2012, by the
author. Compare the contours of the hills with the engraving
LIEUTENANT FULLER'S ARTILLERY DUEL AT
I'd like to take a closer look at the artillery duel
because my G-G Grandfather William Henry Forbush, formerly of Company
K, 13th Mass. Infantry, was a member of Fuller's battery. The
battery was supported by troopers in the 1st & 7th Michigan
Cavalry. None of the Michigan units made much of the scuffle
along the Rapidan in September, 1863. They had more exhilerating
adventures to relate. But here is a little of what they wrote. Colonel
W.D. Mann of the 7th reported:
“On Monday marched to
Rapidan, where, by personal direction of General Kilpatrick, I took
position under cover of ridge in support of battery, which position I
held until night, when I removed, by order of Colonel Gray, to point
near Somerville Ford road, where I remained without casualties until
night of 15th instant.”
Colonel Peter Stagg, 1st
Michigan Cavalry, was one of the units supporting Lt. William
battery at Somerville Ford. He reported the folowing:
“On the morning of the 14th,
we reached Somerville Ford,
and were ordered to support the second section of Fuller's Battery,
posted on an eminence to the right of Cedar Run, which was engaging the
enemy across the river.
“After the battery was
to retire from the field,
we remained as a support to our dismounted men at the ford until after
dark under a constant fire from the enemy's artillery and
sharpshooters, losing 1 man killed.”
It was a menacing duel
for both sides. Here is Lieutenant Fuller's report.
of Lieutenant William D. Fuller,
Battery C, Third U.S. Artillery.
Light Company C, Third U.S. Artillery,
September 19, 1863.
obedience to orders received from headquarters Third Division of
Cavalry, I have the honor to make the following report of the
movements of this battery:
The battery left Hartwood Church on the 12th of
September, and marched to Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock, and
encamped for the night. Early next morning it crossed the river
with General Custer’s brigade of cavalry, and marched to
Culpeper. Later in the day it went into position at different
points beyond Culpeper, firing on the enemy’s skirmishers, who occupied
several houses, fences, and woods, as our cavalry pursued and drove
them to and across the Rapidan River.
The battery camped near Pony Mountain the night of the
13th instant. On the morning of the 14th, it moved down to the
Rapidan River. The battery was in position near Cedar Run, under
direction of General Kilpatrick, firing across the river at the enemy’s
cavalry and bodies of infantry, who showed themselves frequently.
The general afterward directed the battery to be brought over Cedar
Run, and to come into battery at a greater distance up the Rapidan, for
the purpose of forcing a crossing. [Lt.-Col. Peter Stagg, 1st
Michigan. says this is Cedar Run near Somerville Ford. –– B.F.]
At this point a heavy and continued engagement began
with batteries of
the enemy, advantageously posted across the river, on ground commanding
our positions completely. The enemy maintained a plunging fire on
us, from at least twelve pieces of artillery, both rifled guns and
An accurate fire was nevertheless continued by our guns
until General Kilpatrick directed the battery withdrawn by
sections. This was done with regularity, and without any
casualties. The battery had been subjected to much annoyance from
the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters, in the early part of the
day. The night of the 14th, we encamped about a mile back from
the river, near General Kilpatrick’s headquarters. I remained in
camp on the 15th. On morning of the 16th, a Confederate force
crossed the river, and attacked the cavalry on the river bank, under
cover, of a severe artillery fire across the river. I ordered a
section of the battery down at once, but the enemy had been driven back
again by our own cavalry. The section remained in position, the
guns massed by bushes in edge of the woods during the day, and was
withdrawn at night. On 17th, marched to Stevensburg.
Lieutenants Meinell and Kelly commanded sections, and,
as on many a battle-field before, worked their guns with skill and
gallantry. The accuracy of our fire was repeatedly shown, and
quite a number of the enemy’s wounded were seen carried to the
rear. I beg to call the attention to the efficient services of
First Sergt. Daniel Munger, of this battery, who also commanded a
I am, captain very respectfully,
First Lieutenant, Third Artillery, Commanding Battery.
Henry Forbush's Diary Entry, September 14, 1863
My own Great-Great Grandfalther's take on the engagement
was a bit different. He says his battery ran out of ammunition,
so its interesting to contemplate how many rounds were fired. Private
William Henry Forbush wrote:
“Monday 14. Started and
came to the Rappidan River
and Shelled the Rebels but we got out of Ammunition and fell back to a
peace of woods then went to an open field and camped for the night –”
Though he was out-gunned, Lt. Fuller didn't report any
casualties in his battery. By contrast, Lt. Jacob Counelman
reported 4 enlisted men wounded in his battery, 1st U.S. Battery
K; during the several days fighting.
However, across the river, on the Orange County
side, the Confederates had a rough
time of it. Fuller's gunners
were deadly accurate in their fire. Charles Furlow, a soldier in
the 4th Georgia Infantry was present at Somerville Ford (his diary is
at Yale University). He described the action:
“When we arrived within half
a mile of the river our Brigade was halted and ordered to stack arms
and clear the road so that the Artillery could pass, then rode down to
the river to see what was going on. In front of us I could see
nothing but a few Cavalry skirmishers who were firing now and then at
our pickets. A mile or two below, at Raccoon Ford, Genl Stewart
was fighting them and using some Artillery. About 2 o’clock our
Division Battalion of artillery came up and passed to the front.
As soon as the enemy saw it they ran out some pieces and soon a brisk
duel was going on which lasted some time. Our Artillery lost six
killed and eighteen wounded.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas H. Carter, C.S.A.,
the Confederate battery that opposed Lt. Fuller. One of his men,
Andrew Lethers, met a gruesome death; his head was shot off.*
“On the 14th, my command
joined the division near
Somerville Ford, and I was immediately ordered to the assistance of
General Early, whose artillery had not yet arrived, and who was then
skirmishing with the enemy's cavalry at the river. Here the enemy
was found in considerable force of cavalry and artillery. Four
guns of my battalion were planted on the left of Halsey's house, and
opened on a body of cavalry threatening the ford. The cavalry at
once withdrew, but the enemy soon responded with eight pieces of
artillery. After some delay, occasioned by the necessity of an
examination of the ground, additional guns were brought to the
assistance of the four already engaged, and the enemy's batteries were
forced to retire. Owing to the disparity in the number of the
guns in the early part of the engagement and the superiority of the
enemy's ammunition, the loss sustained here was heavy for a skirmish of
the kind, summing up 6 killed and 17 more or less severely
wounded. Captain Carter calls attention to the good conduct and
efficiency of Lieutenant Robinson and Privates James Allen and William
Smithers. My battalion remained in position at this ford until the
18th, when it moved to Morton's Ford.”
*Source: David F. Riggs, 13th
Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg, Va.: H.E. Howard, Inc. 1988),
p. 100. Via Patricia Hurst, Soldiers, Stories and Fights Orange
County, Virginia 1861-1865; p. 370.
sketch, Webb's Brigade On Picket, Somerville Ford.
Webb's Brigade On Picket, Somerville Ford,
Harper's Weekly, October 3, 1863
prefer to post the artist correspondent's original drawing over the
engraved version, but in this instance I believe some of the landmark
details in the engraving are more clearly defined than in the
original sketch. Patricia J. Hurst, an historian who lived along
the Rapidan River beneath Clark's Mountain wrote extensively about the
area. She included this engraving in her book Soldiers,
Sites and Fights, Orange County, Virginia, 1861-1865 and the
Aftermath. She said of this view, “This sketch appeared in
Harper's Weekly in 1863 and is the only photo that is probably in
existence of the old Somerville mill dam on the Rapidan River.
Old Somervilla is on the far right in grove of trees. The house
accidently burned during the war. Old Lessland across River Road
was then on the river at the left of the sketch. The old
Somerville Mill road shown on war maps, Route 626, is in the area of
the middle ridge of fortifications on the high ridge.”
GENERAL DAVID M. GREGG'S FIGHT AT RAPIDAN
From his position in the vicinity of Cedar Mounain,
General David McMurtrie Gregg's 2nd Cavalry Division was scouting the
river crossings further west. Rapidan Station on the Orange &
Alexandria Railroad was among them. He sent a large scouting
party of 600 men commanded by Horace B. Sargent, 1st MA Cavalry, to the
river to test the enemy's strength at that place. It turned out
to be heavily defended by Confederate Cavalry legend General J.E.B.
Stuart himself. Sargent recognized the impossibility of attacking
such a stronghold, but was ordered to do so regardless. Sargent
was careful in his approach, yet still suffered several
Benjamin W. Crowninshield gives a descriptive narrative
from his book, History of the First Massachusetts Cavalry
Volunteers, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston & New York,
General Gregg, commanding the 2nd division, on the
morning of the 14th of September ordered the 1st Massachusetts, 6th
Ohio, and 1st Rhode Island cavalry, under command of Colonel Sargent of
the 1st Massachusetts, to push the enemy across the river, and develop
his strength on the other side. As the other side was
particularly open, and at least a division of infantry could be plainly
seen there, enjoying themselves, with the bands playing popular
Confederate airs, this order seemed somewhat unnecessary, and Colonel
Sargent [Horace Binney Sargent, pictured] sent a dispatch
setting this forth, thinking General Gregg was
not aware of the situation. But on its reiteration the three
regiments pushed on towards Stuart’s cavalry, and at once encountered
the fire of a large number of pieces of artillery from the south bank,
besides that of the battery on this side, which was located near a
house on a small hill just at the ford. When the head of the
column reached the edge of the woods, on the road to the ford, it
halted, while a short survey of the ground was made by Colonel Sargent
before he should march into the open ground. The road sloped down
gradually into a meadow of large extent, which bordered the river, and
just above the ford itself was a hill with farm buildings and trees,
and about the buildings a force of cavalry –– the 9th Virginia –– and a
battery of horse artillery.
For some time the enemy did not see our men; and while
they sat on their horses chatting, somebody woke up a nest of those
peculiarly lively wasps called yellow jackets. They did not mean
to be insulted with impunity, and swarmed out in force. It was
just becoming very lively and unpleasant, when the boom of a cannon
across the river was heard, and that thrilling sound which is the
forerunner of mischief, in comparison with which yellow jackets are
amiable and delightful. Not a thought more was bestowed on them,
for the first shell came near enough to throw dirt upon the head of the
column and followers came thick and fast. The situation at once
became very hot and trying for our cavalry, who were without artillery,
and absolutely unable to inflict any damage on the enemy. Action
was embarrassing, for without artillery no injury could be done the
enemy, even on our own side of the river; while to charge him, there
was every chance of annihilation on the way to his position on the hill
above the ford. …The moment any body of men became conspicuous,
they drew the fire not only of the guns at the ford, but of a much
larger number across the river, on higher and perfectly open ground,
which could direct a plunging and intersecting fire on us, and search
out every inch of our ground. As if to add insult to
injury, a large body of infantry was there in camp, with field music,
to enjoy our discomfiture; and they did seem to enjoy it hugely.
Colonel Sargent and staff posted themselves on a little
eminence, in plain sight of the enemy, and appeared to be pleased to
make targets of themselves. At times, many guns were fired at
them, covering them with dust and dirt. Why any escaped being hit
was a marvel; but artillery fire is not always certain. Colonel
Sargent, feeling nettled that his remonstrances had not been listened
to, pushed close up and repulsed a charge made by the 9th Virginia
cavalry regiment. The Confederates seeing our inability to
inflict any injury, and protected by the strong force with artillery
across the river, reinforced their cavalry; and about dusk made an
attack on our forces and inflicted considerable damage, almost entirely
on the 1st Maryland. Our troops were in turn reinforced, and
repulsed the enemy, and after dark all were withdrawn, and the
Confederates crossed to their side of the river.
Colonel Horace B. Sargent's stated the following
casualties in his report of the engagement:
The casualties are reported as follows:
Killed, 3; wounded, 22; missing, 4. I think the
casualties in the First Maryland Cavalry were occasioned in a large
degree by charging beyond the skirmish line over bad ground and not
hearing recall of bugle. The charge was very gallantly entered
on, and opportune. We took 3 prisoners; several rebels
wounded are reported.
The next day, September 15th, General
Pleasonton's relayed these casualties to headquarters, stating 5
killed & 17 wounded.
Return to Table of Contents
Along The Rapidan, September 15
Pleasonton's Dispatch to General Meade
September 15, 1863 — 10 a.m.
The enemy have increased their force at Raccoon
Ford. Have opened fire on Buford, who has withdrawn to the woods,
but can hold his position. They have also picketed the different
fords above with infantry since last night, and have brought down
additional batteries to Raccoon and Somerville Fords. General
Gregg’s loss yesterday was 5 killed and 17 wounded.
General George G. Meade.
General Kilpatrick's Dispatch to General
Third Division, Cavalry Corps,
September 15, 1863.
Lieut. Col. C. Ross Smith,
Chief of Staff,
Colonel Gray, commanding pickets at
Somerville Ford, reports that the enemy are constantly throwing up
intrenchments opposite the ford and have four field batteries in
position. Their people from the rifle-pits are firing upon my men
by volleys. I shall strengthen my pickets at the ford. He
also reports a large number of camp fires in rear of the
batteries. I shall also strengthen my pickets at Robertson’s
Ford. The enemy have planted a battery of six guns at this ford.
Brig. Gen. of Vols., Commanding Third
Fighting At Somerville Ford
Tensions remained high all along the Rapidan River on
September 15. Confederates brought up infantry re-enforcements
and both sides dug-in during the previous night, adding earthworks and
artillery lunettes to their defensive positions. At Somerville
Ford, the 6th Michigan Cavalry still held the road in front of the
ford. The newspaper correspondent who covered the expedition
tells this story:
[QUOTE]: “On the morning of [September 15] the
rebel pickets in front of the Sixth Michigan advanced in a friendly way
to the bank of the river, and were met in the same spirit by our
men. A large number of men washed themselves in the river on both
sides, and there was the usual jesting and bantering between the
parties, the same as has frequently been recorded of pickets when not
shooting at each other. Lieutenant Segrix and a private named
George Brown, of the Sixth Michigan, finally started for the river to
wash, and when near the bank the men on the opposite side, without
giving any notice whatever, fired a dozen shots at them.
Lieutenant Segrix escaped uninjured, but his companion was wounded in
the leg and arm, and George C. Chandler, of the same regiment, was
killed. Not satisfied with this base act of treachery, they fired
and hit one of the men who was carrying Brown from the field.”
General Kilpatrick reported a
attack on the 6th Michigan, still holding the road in front of the
ford. He says the 5th Michigan came to the rescue and beat back
the attack, but neither regiment mentions the affair in their own
reports ! The same newspaper correspondent gives us a glimpse of
[QUOTE]: “While holding these fords the enemy made
several formidable attempts to cross the river and obtain a footing
upon the left [north] bank. They did succeed in landing
small parties at
several points, but were as often repulsed. The most serious
attempt was made on Tuesday, the 15th, when a general movement along
the whole line took place.
“...On the same day the picket of the Sixth Michigan,
under Lieutenant Lovell was flanked in a similar way, but Colonel Gray
[pictured, left] being on hand drove the enemy back with the
balance of his
regiment. The Fifth Michigan, Colonel Alger, came up promptly to
their assistance, but fortunately their services were not needed.
In this affair the picket fought nobly –– one man, Robert Tronax, with
his seven-shooting Spencer rifle, killing six rebels while they were
crossing the river.” [ENDQUOTE].
Over at Robertson's Ford, there was more of a dust-up
with Kilpatrick's 1st Brigade. More on that below. Here is
what General Kilpatrick reported:
“On the 15th instant, by a
skillfull attack, the enemy
succeeded in gaining a crossing at Robertson's Ford, with a force of
infantry, which Colonel Davies at once drove back, re-occupying the
“An hour later the enemy
attacked the Sixth Michigan
Regiment at Somerville Ford, but was repulsed by Colonel Alger, of the
Fifth Michigan Regiment. For the remainder of the day firing was
continued along the line without material result.”
As I said, neither Colonel Alger of the 5th Michigan,
nor Brigade Commander Colonel George Gray of the 6th Michigan made any
mention of the fighting at Somerville Ford on September 15. Here
is Colonel Gray's report:
“About 1 or 2 o’clock in the
morning of the 15th instant, the men of this regiment were relieved,
and went into camp to the rear, having been on the river bank and at
the ford, in the position above mentioned, and under the circumstances
above described, more than thirty-six hours.
“After dark of the same day,
about 8 o’clock in the evening, 100 men of this regiment were again
ordered to the ford, where they remained, as in their former position,
during the night. This brings the report of the part taken by
this regiment down to the time required by the order from brigade
headquarters. The subsequent proceedings I should be glad to
report if it was proper under that order.”
Another example of the non-reporting on September 15th
Kilpatrick's 2nd Brigade is demonstrated in Colonel Peter
“The next morning [15th] we
resumed our position as a reserve to the picket, and withdrew to the
woods at 10 p.m.”
As for the Confederates at Somerville Ford, the Georgia
volunteer, Charles Furlow, reported more fun about a
Remained at camp of the day before. Considerable fun going on, on
the picket line over a turkey. The yankees shot a turkey and
attempted to get it, but our sharpshooters drove them off. Our
men attempted to get it then but were driven off in turn by the
yankees. Thus it went on for half the day, but the yankees, I
think finally got it. This made our men mad so they went over and
captured the yankee skirmishers to pay for it.”
Private William Henry Forbush, 3rd U.S. Battery C,
suggests the day was quiet in his diary entry of September 15th,
did return to the river from camp and he did go into
wonder if he witnessed the turkey incident.
“Tuesday 15. Left and
came out to a peace of woods
and came in Battery at night limbered up and
went into Camp for the
night. Pleasant Day – ”
“Wednesday 16. The
Rebels came down on our cavalry
at the River and about 100 of the
Rebels came across
but our men drove
them off again. Pleasant day. On Guard.”
Four Views of
Photographs from the blog, Mysteries
Conundrums; "Exploring Culpeper and
Orange –– Raccoon and Somerville Fords, November 27, 2013, by John
Hennessy. Pictured top: Somerville road, view to the north, and
Somerville Ford from the south (Orange County) side looking west across
Rapidan. [the river takes a n/s bend at the ford] Bottom: View
across the river towards
'Somervalia,' Close up view of 'Somervalia.'
This 1867 Georgian-Victorian design house was built to replace the
Colonial Home that burned during the war. Bricks for the house
were made on the farm. A bridge was located at the ford until it
was replaced by current route 522.
I'm unsure if the 100 Rebels crossing the river that my
G-G Grandfather refers to, is the same incident Charles Furlow
referenced at Somerville Ford, where some pickets were captured, or if
it is a reference to the skirmishing at Roberston's Ford. I'll
have to let it stand on its
The reason so many of the reports mention being withdrawn during the
night is again explained by the newspaper correspondent quoted above.
[QUOTE]: “When in the
every man had to lie flat upon the ground, or run the chance of being
deliberately shot, for the enemy would fire at the sight of a head or
limb. Several of the Ninth New-York cavalry [Buford's 1st
Division at Raccoon Ford] amused themselves, while on picket by raising
their caps on sticks, just so the enemy could see them; this
would draw a volley instantly. Several caps held up in this way
were pierced with bullets. These pickets could only be relieved
at night. Notwithstanding the dangerous position, every man was
eager to be one of the party on picket. The men seemed to enjoy
it as much as they would to go on a picnic at home. When the
cavalry pickets were finally relieved by infantry, [the morning of
September 16] the pickets in front of one division were relieved
in the day time. One trooper at a time would walk from the
rifle-pits to the rear and one of the relief would go in. The
scene was an exciting one; and notwithstanding dozens of shots were
fired at each man in turn as he crossed the plain, a majority of the
men passed over the distance at a walk. The fact that but
few were wounded has led me to believe that possibly the cool daring of
the men aroused a little manhood in the enemy, and that they did not
try very hard to hit any one. The last to leave the rifle-pit at
this point was Lieutenant Emerson, of the First Michigan cavalry.
He is a man of commanding presence, and as he stalked across the plain,
his long beard sweeping the air, was the observed of all. When
within a few rods of cover two shots were fired at him. He at
once made an offensive gesture, when instantly a dozen bullets whistled
past his head –– one singeing his hair.” [ENDQUOTE].
These guys were tough.
DAVIES' SKIRMISH AT ROBERTSON'S
FORD, SEPTEMBER 15
General Kilpatrick's summary report
refers to minor
skirmishes at Somerville & Robertson's Ford on the
15th. Unfortunately, his officers at Somerville Ford
to say anything more about it. However, his First Brigade
commander, Colonel Henry Eugene Davies wrote a fairly
detailed report of
the rhubarb at Robertson's.
Possible location of Robertson's Ford on
the Rapidan River. View to the south. The precipitous rise
on the south
side of the river is not apparent in this view, but it does
exist. See image below.
Alfred Pleasonton to General David
M. Gregg, 8.30 a.m.
Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac,
September 15, 1863––8.30 a.m.
General Kilpatrick will connect with you to-day and give you assistance
to push the enemy in front of you across the river, if you think it can
be done. You will occupy the line of the Rapidan until further
orders, picketing well above and to your flank, and keeping me fully
advised of anything that occurs. Send your train back for
supplies, and, if you can spare the men, send to my headquarters for
your share of new horses out of the 1,000 just from Washington.
Let the officers see Lieutenant Spangler about them He is to be
found near my headquarters, north of the Rappahannock.
Twin Mountain Ridge
Pictured in this photo is the ridge
the ford, mentioned in Col. Davies' report when he writes, “In the
evening the pickets I had first established were
driven back from the river’s edge to a crest of hill some 400 yards
from the bank, which they successfully
held.” View taken from the river bank
looking north. Somerville Ford is 3 miles down river to the
Colonel H. E. Davies, 1st
Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division
Colonel Henry Eugene Davies, & Lt.
Jacob H. Counselman, pictured below.
September 20, 1863
have the honor to submit the
following report of the part taken by my brigade in the skirmishes on
the Rapidan River, from the time of our arrival on that stream until we
were relived by the infantry of the Second Corps:
On the evening of Monday, the 14th instant, I made a
camp about 1 1/2 miles back of the river, and was directed by general
commanding division to picket Robertson’s Ford. This, from all
information I could obtain in the country was pointed out to me as the
ford next above Somerville, the latter being held by Second Brigade of
this division. I sent a strong picket to this point, and
established at once a communication with the right of the Second
Brigade, and through the night and the following day, Tuesday,
September 15, made every effort to open and establish communication
with the left of Brigadier-General Gregg’s command.
In the afternoon I learned the position of General
Gregg’s pickets. His extreme left was not on the river but in
rear of Pony Mountain. I also discovered that below the ford I
was picketing, and between my position and General Gregg’s, there were
two other fords unguarded, the upper one also called Robertson’s
Ford. I immediately sent to this point a battalion of the Second
New York Cavalry, commanded by Captain Griggs, with instructions to
clear out a few of the enemy who were on the north bank, to connect
with General Gregg by patrols, to throw up rifle-pits for his carbines
and hold these fords at all hazards.
In the evening the pickets I had first established were
driven back from the river’s edge to a crest of hill some 400 yards
from the bank, which they successfully held. I should here state
that the north bank of the Rapidan, along the line I held, is entirely
commanded by the south bank, which rises abruptly from the river to a
great height, is thickly wooded at most points, and, from the
narrowness of the river within short carbine range of the other
side. I increased the picket at the ford I have first mentioned
to a battalion. These dispositions were made during the afternoon
and evening of the 15th.
At daylight the morning of the 16th, I directed that the
outposts along the whole line should be pushed to the river and a
determined effort made to clear every enemy from the north bank.
This was done most successfully by Captain Griggs on my right, who, in
a short time, drove every rebel in his front across the river excepting
a party stationed at Robertson’s house on his extreme right, who had a
position he could not take with the force at his command.
At the ford I have first alluded to, the enemy made a
determined resistance, and crossing a regiment of infantry made a brisk
attack on my lines, and for a few moments it seemed that the battalion
there on duty would be driven back. Fortunately, at this
moment they were re-enforced by another battalion of the Second
New-York that had been sent down to relieve them, who, led by Captain
Hasty, sprang from their saddles and rushed to the assistance of their
comrades. This force sufficed to hold the enemy in check, and
word having been sent to my headquarters, boots and saddles sounded,
and within five minutes after the alarm was given the brave First
[West] Virginia Cavalry, supported by a section of Lieutenant
Counselman’s battery, was galloping to the scene of conflict.
On reaching the ground they dismounted, formed, deployed
as skirmishers, and advanced across the field as well as could be done
by any infantry in our service. In less time than I have taken in
writing this report, with the assistance of Lieutenant Counselman’s
guns, the enemy were driven across the ford in confusion. They
left 3 dead on the ground, and were seen to bear off many wounded.
From the opposite bank during the day they at intervals
opened a fire on our men, which on every occasion, however, was
promptly silenced. Twice during the morning they brought
artillery into position from commanding points and opened, but were
immediately silenced and driven off by Lieutenant Counselman. [Lt.
Jacob Henry Counselman pictured.]
Just before sunset they succeeded with oxen in getting
four guns into position on the summit of the mountain beyond the ford,
and opened a heavy fire with shells upon the woods where my reserves
were stationed. This was immediately replied to by Lieutenant
Counselman, who, with a well-directed shot, blew up one of their limber
chests, when they retired. The only result of the shelling was
the killing of four horses. During the night all was quiet.
I have mentioned that the enemy had retained possession
of Robertson’s house on my extreme right, and I determined the next
morning to drive them from that position. I took a section of
artillery to the place before daylight and masked it in the woods; as
soon as day broke, by throwing out a line of skirmishers, I drew the
enemy from their position when I opened on them with the guns.
Two shells sufficed to drive them over the river and we had the
position. From this time until we were relieved by the infantry,
all was quiet with the exception of occasional firing across the river.
I would mention for good conduct and gallantry, Major
Capehart, First [West] Virginia Cavalry, and indeed the whole of his
regiment, in which each man endeavored to surpass the other in daring,
and Captains Mitchell, Downing, Hasty, and Griggs, Second New York
Cavalry, who against great odds, fought most gallantly. Of
Lieutenant Counselman and the men of his command, I would speak in the
highest terms, and desire particularly to mention Sergeant Regan and
Corporal Bartlett, of the battery, who by their admirable practice with
the guns contributed much to our success and challenged the admiration
of all who saw the shots they made. Dr. Capeheart, and Captains
Siebert and Poughkeepsie, of my staff, renders me most valuable
Our loss, considering all things, was very slight, but 1
man killed, Sergeant Norton, of Company D, Second New York Cavalry, in
whose loss his comrades deplore a brave and gallant soldier, and 6
wounded, but 1 case serious. The men were well handled by their
officers and fought most under cover; hence so slight a loss.
H. E. DAVIES,
Capt. L.G. Estes,
Colonel Davies was very soon promoted to Brigadier
Lieutenant Jacob Counselman's report
reiterates the fact that enemy batteries intermittently opened fire
from the heights across the river. He wrote:
“On the 15th, again took
position near the river, and assisted in driving the enemy’s
skirmishers to the other side. Later in the day the enemy opened
their batteries several times upon our skirmishers from the heights on
the opposite side of the river, when I
immediately engaged them each
time and succeeded in silencing them, it is believed with considerable
“As regards the manner in
which my men conducted themselves on this occasion, I can only say
their gallantry was unsurpassed, their coolness and courage, while
under the hottest fire I ever witnessed, was the subject of remark of
every one, and the commendatory words of praise which I hear on
every hand makes me proud of the battery which I command.”
This photograph shows the high ground on
the south side of the Rapidan River where Robertson's Ford once
was, and from
which Confederate Batteries fired upon their Federal
Once again the ever-present Clark's Mountain dominates the
landscape. The location of the house mentioned in Col. Davies
report is unknown, though it was close to the crossing.
River Near Robertson's Ford
Below is a photograph of the Rapidan
River at one of the locations we believe to be the old Robertson's
Ford. View is on the Culpeper side looking Southwest to the
Orange side of the river.
About Robertson's Ford
I found the following interesting
information about Robertson's Ford in the late local historian Patricia
Hurst's self published book, “Soldiers, Stories, Sites and Fights
Orange County Virginia 1861-1865 and the Aftermath” 1998. (p.
Her photograph of the ford accompanies her text. Patricia passed
away last year, 2018. A few copies of her book were offered for
sale by the Orange County Historical Society by her surviving brother,
and I picked up a copy.
Robertson’s Ford –– was a ford named for the Robertson
family on the Culpeper side of the river. The skirmishes on
September 15th and 23rd, 1863, caused confusion as shown in the
official correspondence. Ann Robertson, widow of William
Robertson III, whose property Deloraine was on the river (Culpeper
County) –– the ford Robertson’s or Deloraine was named for the family
and property. A son, William A. Robertson, resided down
river at Claremont (Culpeper County). A
horse ford was at William
A. Roberton’s home. The Robertson family owned one hundred ten
and a half acres further down river on the Orange County side.
There was a crossing to the property –– the third crossing referred to
in the Union reports. (Two members of two generations of the
Robertson family drowned in the river crossing to this tract of land.)
Previous research on the fords and traditional
information verify the first Robertson’s Ford as the ford which was
determined by the Union army also. An additional historical note
on the first Robertson Ford is that this ford when known as Downey’s
Ford was the ford Thomas Jefferson crossed en route to the White House.
Thomas Jefferson’s itinerary shows that after leaving
Orange C.H. (after visiting James Madison at Montpelier on November 2,
1800) Jefferson traveled nine miles to Downey’s Ford. He then
traveled three miles to Somerville’s Mill.* The
River Road was also known as the Stevensburg Road as Route 647
(Culpeper County) led to Stevensburg and Route 647 was reached by
traveling the River Road (Stevensburg Road) and crossing the river.
Alexander Downey owned a mill and lived on the Orange
County side of the river. The stream is still known as Downey
Mill Run and empties into the river near Robertson’s Ford. The
old ford road still remains in part on the Orange County side of the
river and road to the ford on the Culpeper side of the river.
*NOTE: “Letters for Old Trunks,
Thomas Jefferson to John Millege,” Virginia Magazine of History
and Biography 48 (1940): 98.
While Patricia Hurst knew where the Ford was, today its
exact location is a little sketchy. It is indicated in
different locations, (though very close to each other) on different
period hand-drawn maps. The map pictured shows Downes Ford, where
Robertson's is indicated on some other maps. This seems to
correspond with what Patricia Hurst wrote.
I walked the river with my friend Brett Johnson,
an impeccable and unsung researcher, and we went to the spot
where Brett thought the ford had been. Then, ee talked with the
current property owners, and they told us wehre they had created their
own mule ford on the property not far from Brett's spot, and invited us
to walk the property. It was a privilege to do so. We came
away undecided as to the exact spot along the river. But as the
sky dimmed in late afternoon light we paused on the river bank.
We stood where they once stood. It is easy to imagine that in the
quiet stillness of the dark night, you can stand here, contemplate that
fact, and perhaps hear them still. Its beautiful along the
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General Meade Reports to Washington &
Awaits a Response
General Pleasonton's cavalry
reconnaissance was a success
in providing crucial information on General Lee's whereabouts to
General Meade & the Washington authorities. General
Longstreet's Corps was detached from Lee's army, and General Lee,
with the infantry of Richard Ewell & A.P. Hill present, would
defend the line of the Rapidan River. On the morning of
the 15th General Meade
prepared his army to advance into Culpeper county if so ordered.
By the afternoon he had received enough information necessary to
accurately report the condition
of Lee's Army to General Halleck & President Lincoln.
Awaiting their response he sat
most the night.
General Pleasonton expressed worries in
the evening of September 15, the enemy would cross the river the next
his spread-out cavalry pickets. He requested General Warren
move some infantry closer to the river to meet that threat.
General Warren disagreed. He suggested Pleasonton fall back in
the event the enemy did advance. General Meade agreed with Warren's
The following communications reveal the
development of these events.
General Warren to General Meade
September 15, 1863.
following is a copy of dispatch to General Warren from General
Station, [September —. 1863.]
Major-General Pleasonton desires me to inform you that
General Kilpatrick reports that the enemy have brought up heavy
re-enforcements, and they have been cheering all along the line, and
bands playing, and they tried to stampede his pickets to-night.
You can see heavy camp-fires, and you can hear the rumbling of
artillery and trains, and he thinks your corps should be here by
daylight, as they have sufficient infantry to making a crossing against
our forces, as we have such a long line to protect. They have now
the railroad bridge to cross on.
C. ROSS SMITH,
Lieutenant-Colonel, and Chief of Staff.
General Meade to General-in-Chief Halleck,
Army of the Potomac,
September 15, 1863 — 4 p.m. (Received 4.30
Major-General H. W. Halleck :
The latest intelligence from the front is 10 a.m., when
General Pleasonton reports that the enemy have increased their forces,
both infantry and artillery, at the several crossing places threatened
by our cavalry. The enemy have likewise a force of infantry
and artillery on this side of the Rapidan (at the railroad crossing),
evidently to defend and dispute the possession of the bridge at that
place. General Warren remains at Culpeper, to which point our
trains run, and the telegraph is being opened to Mitchell’s Station,
the rebels having left their line intact. Two scouts have arrived
from below, having been some 5 miles south of Chancellorsville.
They confirm the report of the departure of Longstreet’s corps, but
heard nothing of Ewell’s or Hill’s corps leaving.
Your telegram of 11 a.m. this day has been
received. I have given orders to concentrate and mass the
different corps at the several crossing places on the
but shall wait your letter before making any further forward movement.
GEO. G. MEADE,
General Warren to Adjutant Williams, 8.50
September 15, 1863 ––8.50 p.m. rm
Deserters and the current opinion of those I can get
anything out of
are positive that Longstreet’s corps has gone to Richmond or farther
south; that Ewell’s and Hill’s corps are about Orange
General Lee is in command. Pleasonton reports Germanna Ford as
the best place to cross. He says: “If you (I) were at the
Rapidan Station now to occupy the attention of the enemy I believe I
could effect a crossing below.” I cannot move down there with
safety, unless another corps moves out here.
From the best information I can get to-night, the enemy
this side of the Rapidan bridge, so I cannot have it
reconstructed. The map indicates steep banks on each side from
that point down to Somerville Ford. The Clark’s Mountain gives
the enemy all the command, and I believe there is no command for our
artillery till Germanna Ford is reached. There is a mill race on
the other side, which gives the enemy’s infantry shelter. It
seems to me that the best way to turn the enemy is by a rapid move of
troops toward Germanna or Ely’s Fords.
General Pleasonton said he would report in full about he
to-night, but he has not yet done it. He says will you ask
General Meade to let me have the cavalry Kilpatrick and Gregg left
behind on picket ? We are very short-handed at this time.
Lieutenant Gillespie has arrived. I will send both him and
Lieutenant Roebling out to-morrow.
General S. Williams.
General Warren to Adjutant Williams, 11
September 15, 1863 –– 11 p.m.
I have seen General Kilpatrick’s dispatch. I do
not much fear an advance of the enemy to-morrow. If I understand
the object of our move the cavalry should dispute the advance of the
enemy if attempted, and fall back upon me if necessary. We
together will stop them, or fall back fighting if not strong
enough. I do not feel authorized to advance, unless another corps
moves out to take my place, in which case I think I could do it without
General S. Williams.
General Meade to General Halleck, Midnight
Army of the Potomac,
15, 1863 –– 12 p.m.
letter of this date, per Captain Wager, has
been received, read and destroyed. In accordance with the views
therein expressed, I have ordered the army to cross the Rappahannock,
and shall take up a position to-morrow with my left at Stevensbug and
right at Stone-House Mountain. I will then picket the Rapidan
with infantry, and thus relieve the cavalry, and will endeavor, by
means of the latter, to obtain more information.
I have no doubt Longstreet’s corps has gone south
Richmond. I have heard of no troops passing through Lynchburg
from Gordonsville, but he can take the road from Petersburg. He
undoubtedly gone to re-enforce Bragg. I am satisfied Lee has
still Ewell and Hill with him ; not less than 40,000 or 45,000
infantry and over 5,000 cavalry. I hardly think he will cross the
Rapidan to meet me at Culpeper, unless he is ignorant of my actual
force. If he does not, it will be a difficult problem to attack
him or compel him to fall back, as he has such advantages in the line
of the Rapidan, enabling him, by means of artillery and rifle-pits, to
hold it with much less force than is required to force the
passage. I will not make the attempt unless I can see my way
clear, and I do not much expect any great success than requiring him to
fall still farther back.
I am a little concerned about my line of communications,
which will be
lengthened by this movement some 20 miles, and I would be glad if the
cavalry now in Washington belonging to this army could be sent out, and
this arm increased by re-enforcements. I will advise you further
Infantry Relieves the Cavalry
On Wednesday morning, September 16th, as General Meade’s
crossed the Rappahannock River and advanced into Culpeper County,
elements of General Warren’s 2nd Corps infantry moved to the Rapidan
and relieved the cavalry pickets. General Kilpatrick’s 3rd
Cavalry Division moved camp to Stevensburg. The Division lost
during the 3 days fighting, 7 killed, 34 wounded, and 17 missing.
They would be on the move again a week later when General Meade ordered
a reconnaissance into Madison County on the Confederate left.
It proved less bloody than the reconnaissance to
Culpeper but still required some bold riding and fighting at a place
called Jack’s Shop. That fight would be the last one for Lt.
Fuller’s 3rd U.S. Battery C, for a little while, as they were soon
from active duty on September 26, by Captain Alexander Pennington’s 2nd
U.S. Battery M.
As for my Great-Great Grandfather he probably enjoyed
the rest, however short or long, except for the rain. I
will close with his words.
William Henry Forbush:
Thursday 17. Left the woods on the
and came near a place called Stevensburg and halted for the
night. Rainy night.
Friday 18. Left the camp and moved about
˝ a mile
to where there was not so much mud. Rainy all Day. Wrote a
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