- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

The huge fight at Brandy Station, Va., with about 10,000 horsemen on each side, was the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War. It was also a classic all-mounted fight, in which the troopers put away their firearms (for fear of shooting the wrong person in the dusty melee) and hacked at each other with cold steel.
This great riot on June 9, 1863, regarded as the opening fight of the Gettysburg campaign, also included some desperate dismounted combat with rifles and carbines, a face-in-the-dirt experience grimly foreshadowing World War II
When Union Gen. Alfred Pleasanton brought nearly 11,000 troops across the Rappahannock River in a daring and stealthyattack in the pre-dawn hours of June 9, he divided his force, and they crossed at two widely separated fords.The southern prong included two divisions of cavalry and a brigade of infantry; the northern prong, a large cavalry division and a brigade of infantry.
This northern wing, under the command of Gen. John Buford who would win fame at Gettysburg and accompanied by Pleasanton himself, crossed at Beverly Ford north of the railroad crossing at present-day Remington and fought all day to reach Brandy Station. There, the forces had hoped to link up with the two-division southern wing commanded by Gen. David M. Gregg.
Before being able to join with Gregg, however, Pleasanton and his force found exactly what they were not looking for, at the steep heights near the junction of the Hazel and Rappahannock rivers north of Brandy:Gen. Jeb Stuart's whole cavalry division.Pleasanton had thought Stuart's cavalry was at Culpeper, miles away, and he also found that the dogged Rebel defense of the hilly region made for very rough going.
Here the fight that started with saber-slashing cavalry charges by both sides soon turned into a more pedestrian fight, as dismounted Southern horsemen fought dismounted Yankee cavalry and their brethren of Gen. Adelbert Ames' brigade of Union infantry.For once, as they faced the dangerous and heavily armed ranks of infantry, the Southern troopers were glad that they had missed out on the issue of carbines and were armed with Enfield rifles.
The 9th Virginia Cavalry, a part of Brig. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's brigade, was holding the north end of the battlefield on the rugged heights of the Green, Cunningham and Thompson farms near where the Hazel flows into the Rappahannock and Lee's regiments were stretched thin.
Gregg's Federals of the southern divisions had failed to take Fleetwood Hill and link up with the northern wing, so Buford committed even his reserves in one last desperate push. The Union cavalry and infantry were hurled toward a weak point in the Confederate line.But Rooney Lee, seeing the weakness and fearing the worst, had wisely shifted the 9th Virginia Cavalry there. The 9th Virginia was defending, mostly on foot, against Buford's attack (the 11th Virginia under Col. Lomax had pulled out of Rooney Lee's dangerously weakened line and was driving the last Yankees off Fleetwood Hill).
Rooney Lee massed the 9th under Col. R.L.T. Beale for a counterattack.They swept down on the Pennsylvania Lancers and drove them back against a stone wall in deadly confusion.It was every man and horse for himself as the Pennsylvanians tried to get back under, over, around or through the barrier they had just cleared, streaming back toward the Rappahannock at a gallop.They might have been driven clear into the river if a Federal artillery barrage had not stopped the 9th Virginia in its tracks.
Providentially for the Confederates, part of the 9th had been cross-trained as sharpshooters just before the battle.Roughly 1,000 sharpshooters advanced into the woods on foot through hellish fire, losing many men and especially their mounted officers, eventually hugging the ground and using every rock and stump for cover.
The scene was described in terrifying detail by Thomas Talliaferro Hoskins, 18, of Essex County, Va., in a letter home to his father the next day:
"Camp on Hazel River, Culpeper, June 10th, 1863
"Dear Papa
"We reached here this morning after spending a very trying day yesterday, said to be the biggest Cavalry fight since the war. On yesterday morning we were ordered to march. The impression among the men was that we were going up into Rappk. Co., but on marching two or three miles we were attracted by the Roar of Artillery near Brandy station, 5 miles below Culpeper C.H., which taught every man to know where he was going.
"On approaching the scene of conflict, our Squadron, having recently been converted in to Sharp Shooters, was ordered with the rest of the sharp shooters, about a thousand in number, to drive the enemy S.S. about 2000 strong, consisting of two Regt. of Infantry, from a large body of woods in front of our lines. Every man on foot, we advanced toward under a heavy fire of canister & shell. The officers being mounted. Lieut. Latane's horse was killed by a shell. Capt. Harris' and half doz. others.
"After advancing in the woods about 1/2 mile the fire became general & for about 3 miles along the line there was an incessant roar of small arms which lasted all day. During the fight Charles Ward of our Company was struck in the head by a minnie ball & killed instantly. Emmett Lipscomb & Pilkinton were wounded, the latter mortally and the former slightly. In all there were about 50 killed in the woods. We finally succeeded in driving the enemy out of the woods with great loss on their side. It being the first fight of the kind we ever were engaged in Capt Harris said we deserved great credit. It reminded me more of Bird hunting than any business I was ever engaged in, both parties hiding behind tree stumps & cover, [any] place suited. & firing on each other whenever a head was left uncovered. I am almost certain I killed one & probably more. Poor Chas Warde killed one and started to him when he was killed. When a Yank would show himself someone would draw bead on him and he would fall dead as a wedge.
"Gen Lee was badly wounded in legs, when Col Williams of (2 NC) took command of Brigade & he was killed in 15 min. after taking command. Others Cols, Capts &c; were killed & many privates who were in the charge. The 11th Va Cavalry captured a battery of 3 guns with great loss. We drove them across the River & are now safe in camp. Write soon, give all news. I have not gotten but one letter from home since latter part of May. Much love to all in haste
Your devoted son
"T.T. Hoskins.
"Direct Culpeper C.H. As soon as that horse gets in good order please send him up as my horse is too small
"In great haste TTH"
Buford tried again with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry under then-Capt. Wesley Merritt.It hit the flank of the 9th Virginia, and a deadly hand-to-hand melee ensued.Just then the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry under Col. Solomon Williams came up and drove the Union attackers back, almost as far as the Federal cannon themselves.The 10th Virginia also came to the aid of the 9th, and the Carolinians raised a great Rebel yell and pitched in.Finally, Col. T.T. Munford, badly delayed by ambiguous orders that seemed to want him elsewhere, arrived on the field with three regiments from Fitzhugh Lee's brigade and joined the fight.
At this point, Buford was still trying to drive his forces up the eastern slopes to join Gregg's column on Fleetwood Hill.Things still looked bad for the Confederates as Rooney Lee could no longer stay in the saddle with his terrible leg wound, and Col. Williams had been shot through the head and was gone.
Moreover, what should have been most significant of all, there actually was a junction of Union forces momentary contact between the right of Gregg's and the left of Buford's, around the southeastern slopes of Fleetwood Heights.Yet it was at just that moment when Buford and the other division commanders received Pleasanton's orders to withdraw.
The men, who had been up since midnight, marching since 3 a.m. and fighting since before dawn, were exhausted and ready to call it a day. Pleasanton had orders from commanding Gen. Joseph Hooker allowing him to withdraw across the Rappahannock if he could make no headway against the stiff Rebel resistance. Stuart's Confederates, badly battered, were glad to let him and his 11,000 invaders go.

Richard E. Crouch is a lawyer in Arlington. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, "Brandy Station: A Battle Like None Other," from William Bend Books, Westminster, Md.

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