Battle of Brandy Station, Summary

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Battle of Brandy Station
Civil War Cavalry History

Battle of Brandy Station

Other Names: Fleetwood Hill

Location: Culpeper County, Virginia

Campaign: Gettysburg Campaign (June-July 1863)

Battle of Brandy Station.jpg
Battle of Brandy Station

Largest Civil War Cavalry Battle
Largest Civil War Cavalry Battle.gif
Largest Civil War Cavalry Battle

Date(s): June 9, 1863

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Pleasonton [US]; Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart [CS]

Forces Engaged: Corps (22,000 total)

Estimated Casualties: 1400 total (US 900; CS 500)

Description: At dawn June 9, the Union cavalry corps under Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton launched a surprise attack on Stuart’s cavalry at Brandy Station. After an all-day fight in which fortunes changed repeatedly, the Federals retired without discovering Lee’s infantry camped near Culpeper. This battle marked the apogee of the Confederate cavalry in the East. From this point in the war, the Federal cavalry gained strength and confidence. Battle of Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle of the war and the opening engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign. The duel was also the largest cavalry engagement ever conducted on American soil.

Result(s): Inconclusive

Source: National Park Service

Recommended Reading: Brandy Station, Virginia, June 9, 1863: The Largest Cavalry Battle of the Civil War (Hardcover). Description: The winter of 1862-1863 found Robert Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac at a standoff along the Rappahannock River in Virginia. In December 1862, outnumbered Confederate forces had dealt the Union army a handy defeat in the Battle of Fredericksburg. A demoralized Union army was waiting for spring and revitalization. The latter came in late January 1863 in the form of Major General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. Relieving the disgraced and outmatched Burnside, Hooker reorganized his troops, establishing regular drills, procuring adequate rations and instituting company colors, thereby giving his soldiers back their fighting spirit. Lee, also with his eye on the spring campaign, concentrated on maintaining his strength and fortifications while struggling with the ever-increasing problem of adequate supplies. Continued below…

As the spring campaign--and Hooker’s new fighting approach--began, cavalry units from both sides took on an increased importance. This culminated in the largest cavalry battle of the war, fought near Brandy Station, Virginia on June 9, 1863. Compiled from various contemporary sources, this volume details the contributions of cavalry units during the spring campaign of 1863. Although the work discusses early encounters such as the Battle of Chancellorsville, the main focus is the Battle of Brandy Station, which marked the opening of the Gettysburg campaign and Lee’s last offensive into the North. Here, forces commanded by J.E.B. Stuart and Alfred Pleasanton fought a battle which ranged over 70 square miles but left no decisive victor. At the end of the day, Confederate troops were still in possession of the territory and counted fewer casualties, yet Union forces had definitely taken the offensive. While historians still debate the significance of the battle, many now view it as a harbinger of change, signifying the beginning of dominance of Union horse soldiers and the corresponding decline of Stuart’s Confederate command. Appendices contain information on individual units with recorded casualties and a list of West Pointers who took part in the battle. Photographs and an index are also included.

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Recommended Reading: Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg (Hardcover). Description: In June 1863, the Gettysburg Campaign is in its opening hours. Harness jingles and hoofs pound as Confederate cavalryman James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart leads his three brigades of veteran troopers on a ride that triggers one of the Civil War's most bitter and enduring controversies. Instead of finding glory and victory-two objectives with which he was intimately familiar-Stuart reaped stinging criticism and substantial blame for one of the Confederacy's most stunning and unexpected battlefield defeats. In Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi objectively investigate the role Stuart's horsemen played in the disastrous campaign. It is the first book ever written on this important and endlessly fascinating subject. Continued below…

Stuart left Virginia under acting on General Robert E. Lee's discretionary orders to advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he was to screen Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell's marching infantry corps and report on enemy activity. The mission jumped off its tracks from virtually the moment it began when one unexpected event after another unfolded across Stuart's path. For days, neither Lee nor Stuart had any idea where the other was, and the enemy blocked the horseman's direct route back to the Confederate army, which was advancing nearly blind north into Pennsylvania. By the time Stuart reached Lee on the afternoon of July 2, the armies had unexpectedly collided at Gettysburg, the second day's fighting was underway, and one of the campaign's greatest controversies was born. Did the plumed cavalier disobey Lee's orders by stripping the army of its "eyes and ears?" Was Stuart to blame for the unexpected combat the broke out at Gettysburg on July 1? Authors Wittenberg and Petruzzi, widely recognized for their study and expertise of Civil War cavalry operations, have drawn upon a massive array of primary sources, many heretofore untapped, to fully explore Stuart's ride, its consequences, and the intense debate among participants shortly after the battle, through early post-war commentators, and among modern scholars. The result is a richly detailed study jammed with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern cavalry, and fresh insights on every horse engagement, large and small, fought during the campaign. About the author: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

 

Recommended Reading: The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War's Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863. Description: "For cavalry and/or Gettysburg enthusiasts, this book is a must; for other Civil War buffs, it possesses the qualities sought by students of the conflict. . . . [It] bristles with analysis, details, judgments, personality profiles, and evaluations and combat descriptions, even down to the squadron and company levels. The mounted operations of the campaign from organizational, strategic, and tactical viewpoints are examined thoroughly. The author's graphic recountings of the Virginia fights at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, the Pennsylvania encounters at Hanover, Hunterstown, Gettysburg, and Fairfield, and finally the retreat to Virginia, are the finest this reviewer has read under a single cover. Continued below...

For those who enjoy the thunder of hoofbeats, the clang of sabers, and the crack of pistols and carbines, this book has all of it. Generals and privates share the pages, as the mounted opponents parry and thrust across hundreds of miles of territory from June 9 to July 14, 1863."-Civil War Times Illustrated (Civil War Times Illustrated).

 

Recommended Reading: The Mutiny at Brandy Station: The Last Battle of the Hooker Brigade (Hardcover). Description: THE MUTINY AT BRANDY STATION presents, in microcosm, the character and actions of men who served the United States Army of the Potomac in 1864. The story follows key players through the reorganization, the courts martial, and into the Wilderness using direct quotes from their diaries, memoirs, and reports as well as original transcripts of the trials. 78 black and white illustrations.

 

Recommended Reading: The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863. Description: In The Union Cavalry Comes of Age, award-winning cavalry historian Eric J. Wittenberg provides a long-overdue challenge to the persistent myths that have unfairly elevated the reputations of the Confederate cavalry’s “cavaliers” and sets the record straight regarding the evolution of the Union cavalry corps. He highlights the careers of renowned Federal officers, including George Stoneman, William W. Averell, Alfred Pleasonton, John Buford, and Wesley Merritt, as well as such lesser-known characters as Col. Alfred Duffie, a French expatriate who hid an ugly secret. Continued below…

Wittenberg writes a lively, detailed account of a saber-slashing era in which men fought for duty, honor, and bragging rights. Indeed, a taunting note left behind by Confederate Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee on a raid at Hartwood Church, Virginia, in 1863 sparked Northern retaliation at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford. The Federal cavalry then evolved during the trials of Stoneman’s Raid, with their hard work culminating in the Battle of Brandy Station, where they nearly broke the unsuspecting Confederates in a fourteen-hour maelstrom that is considered the greatest cavalry battle ever fought in North America. A skillfully woven overview, this unforgettable story also depicts the strategic and administrative tasks that occupied officers and politicians as well as the day-to-day existence of the typical trooper in the field. The Union Cavalry Comes of Age shows that Northern troopers began turning the tide of the war much earlier than is generally acknowledged and became the largest, best-mounted, and best-equipped force of horse soldiers the world had ever seen.

 

Recommended Viewing: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation, reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era he depicts. Continued below...

The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller, and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every student."
 

Recommended Reading: Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: In the study of field fortifications in the Civil War that began with Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War, Hess turns to the 1864 Overland campaign to cover battles from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor. Drawing on meticulous research in primary sources and careful examination of trench remnants at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Bermuda Hundred, Hess describes Union and Confederate earthworks and how Grant and Lee used them in this new era of field entrenchments.

 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts (Hardcover). Description: After a lifetime of reading, Burke Davis put together a book of amazing and interesting pieces of information that don't usually show up in the historical accounts of the Civil War. ...Wonderfully entertaining look at some intriguing oddities, unusual incidents, and colorful personalities connected with the Civil War. It includes 25 names the war was known by, personal quirks of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Take a look at some interesting examples below…

Here are a few examples of his research:

The Civil War was known by more than twenty-five names. The most unusual include: The Brothers War; The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance; The War for the Union; and The War of the Rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln had smallpox when he gave the Gettysburg Address and several members of his wife's family were soldiers in the Confederate Army. Also, President Lincoln admitted that one of his favorite tunes was "Dixie."

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA, had twenty-nine horses shot from beneath him during the war. Belle Boyd started her career as a spy for the South when, at the age of seventeen, she killed a Federal soldier. After the war, about 3,000 former Confederate officers left the South and moved to foreign countries.

 

Recommended Reading: Civil War Curiosities: Strange Stories, Oddities, Events, and Coincidences. Description: Civil War Curiosities uncovers those unusual persons, attitudes, and events that take you beyond a textbook understanding of the Civil War. A collection of fascinating anecdotes and colorful stories, this book covers a wide variety of subjects, including newfangled weapons that changed the nature of war, the outrageous media inaccuracy in covering the conflict, the phenomenon of  ‘silent battles,’ and various disguises, atrocities, and mix-ups. Continued below...

Just one of the accounts which I loved… It tells of when Sam and Keith Blalock joined the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Regiment, they claimed to be old friends who were distantly related. It was months before anyone discovered "Sam's" real name was Melinda. When Keith signed up to fight the Yankees, his wife put on a man's attire and went with him to war. I found this book (research) to be the most interesting and fascinating read.

 

Recommended Reading: More Civil War Curiosities: Fascinating Tales, Infamous Characters, and Strange Coincidences. Description: Garrison recounts numerous instances of friendly fire casualties, the unperfected art of spying, banishments and deportations, grisly tales of missing limbs, disguises, and much more. The unusual and the bizarre are the continual trademarks of this work. The stories are lively, interesting and even thought provoking. The work takes you outside the realm of modern textbooks to give you the inside scoop of the Civil War. A truly fascinating read! Continued below…

A Reader's Review: "I have three of Garrison's books: The Amazing Civil War, Civil War Curiosities, and More Civil War Curiosities. I would recommend each and every book to anyone! The facts that Garrison writes about are both interesting and captivating and being a high school American History teacher, I plan on using the facts that I have found no where else to captivate my students and give them a perspective on the war that they may have never found otherwise."

 

Recommended Reading: Civil War Trivia and Fact Book: Unusual and Often Overlooked Facts About America's Civil War. Description: More than 1,600 interesting and little-known facts are assembled in this unique volume that will tantalize Civil War buffs. Fascinating trivia and facts abound in this rich collection about America's most brutal and intriguing war. Continued below...

Questions are presented in categories that make it easy to test your knowledge. Also included are interesting sidebar articles, lists of little-known facts, anecdotes, and over 50 unusual black-and-white photographs. With a thorough index, 2,000 Questions and Answers about the Civil War, it provides a valuable resource for students, researchers, and Civil War buffs.

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