The Battle of Brandy Station — The Gettysburg Campaign Begins

June 9, 1863

The Battle of Brandy Station was fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America on June 9, 1863. The outcome of the battle was inconclusive, although the Confederates claimed a tactical victory and the Union Cavalry claimed a moral victory. The battle was the largest cavalry battle of the war, and the largest cavalry battle ever to occur in the Northern Hemisphere.

JEB Stuart, Civil War General

Major General J. E. B. Stuart commanded Confederate forces at the Battle of Brandy Station, also known as the Battle of Fleetwood Hill. It was the first engagement of the Gettysburg campaign and the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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, 1863, Cavalry Charge, LOC
This illustration depicts a cavalry charge at the Battle of Brandy Station. Image Source: Library of Congress.

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.

General Alfred Pleasonton, USA, Civil War
General Alfred Pleasonton (USA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

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.

General John Buford, Civil War
General John Buford (USA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

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.
Lt William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, Civil War
General William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee (CSA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

Battle of Brandy Station, Casualties, Generals, and Participants

Principal Union Commanders

Principal Confederate Commanders

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

Union Casualties

  • 866 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured)

Confederate Casualties

  • 575 (killed, wounded, and missing/captured)

Result

  • Inconclusive

Battle of Brandy Station Dates and Timeline

These are the main battles and events of the Gettysburg Campaign in order.

Battle of Brandy Station Suggested Reading

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“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. Volume 1: June 3–21, 1863 by Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Eric J. Wittenberg

“If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania”: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac March to Gettysburg. Volume 2: June 22–30, 1863

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.

Out Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel T. Davis

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.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of Brandy Station — The Gettysburg Campaign Begins
  • Date June 9, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Brandy Station, Gettysburg Campaign, Civil War
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 17, 2024

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