Battle of Brandy Station Summary
The Battle of Brandy Station was fought on June 9, 1863. Union forces led by General Alfred Pleasonton clashed with Confederate forces led by General J.E.B. Stuart near the town of Brandy Station, Virginia. Early on the 9th, Union forces led by General John Buford and General David McMurtrie Gregg crossed the Rappahannock River, intending to attack the Confederate camp. Buford’s men were engaged by Confederates under the command of General William E. “Grumble” Jones, slowing the Union’s advance toward Brandy Station. The delay gave Stuart time to move south and form battle lines, however, Gregg attacked from the south. The move surprised Stuart and provided relief for Buford. The battle continued through the day until Confederate reinforcements arrived, forcing Pleasonton to order his men to withdraw. Stuart successfully defended the field, drove his attackers away, and kept them from discovering the location of the Confederate Army, which was marching north, leading to the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the battle was inconclusive, the Union Cavalry gained momentum and confidence that allowed it to compete with the Confederate Cavalry for the remainder of the war
Battle of Brandy Station Facts
- Also Known As: The Battle of Brandy Station is also known as the Battle of Fleetwood Hill.
- Date Started: The Battle of Brandy Station started on June 9, 1863.
- Date Ended: The battle ended on June 9, 1863.
- Location: The Battle of Brandy Station took place in Culpeper County, Virginia, in and around the town of Brandy Station.
- Campaign: The battle was part of the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863.
- Who Won: The outcome of the battle is considered a draw.
- Fun Fact: The Battle of Brandy Station is considered to be the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War.
Battle of Brandy Station History and Overview
In early May 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia soundly defeated Major General Joseph Hooker and his Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Despite the Confederate victory — which is widely considered to be Lee’s greatest victory of the war — his army needed food, horses, and equipment. With northern Virginia ravaged by two years of combat, Lee decided to launch his Second Invasion of the North.
Lee planned to disengage from Union forces near Fredericksburg and move the Army of Northern Virginia northwest across the Blue Ridge Mountains. From there, he planned to move northeast through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Once he was in Union Territory, he planned to have his men acquire provisions and take them by force, if necessary.
Lee began gathering his army near Culpeper, Virginia, and troop movements began on June 3, 1863. To mask his intentions and screen the assembly of his invasion force, Lee stationed his cavalry, commanded by Major General J.E.B. Stuart, at Brandy Station, a few miles northeast of Culpeper.
Union officials mistakenly interpreted Lee’s cavalry deployment as evidence of an impending attack on Hooker’s supply lines or, perhaps, an assault on the nation’s capital. Stung by the defeat at Chancellorsville, Hooker went on the offensive and ordered Major General Alfred Pleasonton to lead his cavalry corps, augmented by 3,000 infantrymen, in a two-pronged attack to “disperse and destroy” the enemy cavalry.
What Happened at the Battle of Brandy Station?
At 4:30 a.m. on June 9, 1863, Brigadier General John Buford led 5,500 Federal soldiers across the Rappahannock River, surprising Stuart’s pickets at Beverly’s Ford. At the same time, Brigadier General David McMurtrie Gregg led 2,800 Federal cavalrymen and infantrymen across the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford, about four miles downstream.
Jones Delays Buford
After crossing the Rappahannock, Buford’s command moved south toward Stuart’s encampment at Brandy Station. Confederate Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones’s brigade rushed forward and briefly delayed Buford’s advance long enough for Stuart’s main force to escape and form battle lines to the south. As Buford advanced farther, he encountered stiff resistance, resulting in heavy federal losses.
Gregg Surprises Stuart
At approximately 11 a.m., Gregg’s forces surprised Stuart a second time when the Confederates approached Brandy Station from the south, providing Buford’s soldiers some relief. A series of charges and countercharges ensued for the rest of the battle, which continued until Confederate infantry reinforcements from Culpeper approached.
Union Forces Withdraw from Brandy Station
By late afternoon, Pleasonton ordered a withdrawal as the Confederate reinforcements began to arrive.
Battle of Brandy Station Outcome
Despite being surprised twice on the same day, Stuart drove his attackers from the field. The Confederates suffered fewer casualties than the Federals (575 to 866) making the battle, technically, a Confederate victory. Nevertheless, the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War served as a morale booster for the battered Army of the Potomac by showing that the Union cavalry was emerging as a worthy opponent for its formerly, far-superior Confederate counterpart.
Battle of Brandy Station Significance
- Largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the American Civil War.
- First engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s son, Brigadier General William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee was wounded and captured by Union forces while recovering two weeks later.
Battle of Brandy Station, Casualties, Generals, and Participants
Principal Union Commanders
- Major General Alfred Pleasonton
Principal Confederate Commanders
- Major General J.E.B. Stuart
Union Forces Engaged
- Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and infantry brigades from the 5th Corps (about 11,000 men)
Confederate Forces Engaged
- Five Confederate cavalry brigades (about 9,500 men) of the Army of Northern Virginia
Number of Union Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 11,000
Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 9,500
- 866 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured)
- 575 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured)
Battle of Brandy Station Dates and Timeline
These are the main battles and events of the Gettysburg Campaign in order.
- June 5—6 — Battle of Franklin’s Crossing
- June 9, 1863 — Battle of Brandy Station
- June 13–15, 1863 — Second Battle of Winchester
- June 17, 1863 — Battle of Aldie
- June 17– 19, 1863 — Battle of Middleburg
- June 21, 1863 — Battle of Upperville
- June 27, 1863 — Battle of Fairfax Court House
- June 29, 1863 — Corbitt’s Charge
- June 30, 1863 — Battle of Hanover
- June 30, 1863 — Skirmish of Sporting Hill
- July 1, 1863 — Battle of Carlisle
- July 1–3, 1863 — Battle of Gettysburg
- July 3, 1863 — Pickett’s Charge
- July 3, 1863 — Battle of Fairfield
- July 4–5, 1863 — Fight at Monterey Pass
- July 6–16, 1863 — Battle of Williamsport
- July 8, 1863 — Battle of Boonsboro
- July 10, 1863 — Battle of Funkstown
- July 23, 1863 — Battle of Manassas Gap
Battle of Brandy Station Suggested Reading
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Mingus and Wittenberg, the authors of more than 40 Civil War books, present a history of the opening moves of the Gettysburg Campaign in the 2-volume study. This compelling study is one of the first to integrate the military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg. This first volume covers June 3–21, 1863, while the second, covers June 22–30, completes the march, and carries the armies to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg.
In Out Flew the Sabers: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863 — The Opening Engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign, Civil War historians Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel T. Davis covers the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. That clash turned out to be the opening engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign — and the one-day delay it engendered may very well have impacted the outcome of the entire campaign.