The Battle of Buckland Mills, 1863

October 19, 1863

Fought on October 19, 1863, the Battle of Buckland Mills was a decisive Confederate cavalry victory that Rebel troopers later derisively called the Buckland Races.

Portrait of J. E. B. Stuart

J. E. B. Stuart (pictured here) and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry victory over Union troopers at the Battle of Buckland Mills was a decisive Confederate cavalry victory that Rebel’s later derisively called the Buckland Races. [Wikimedia Commons]

Prelude to the Battle

Lee Escapes After Gettysburg

Following the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863), Major General George G. Meade and the Army of the Potomac cautiously pursued General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia as it retreated into Virginia. Despite encounters at the Battle of Williamsport (July 6–16, 1863), the Battle of Boonsboro (July 8, 1863), and the Battle of Manassas Gap (July 23, 1863), Meade could not prevent Lee’s escape and called off the chase.

Lee’s Army Depleted

In September, Confederate officials pressured Lee into sending Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps to Chattanooga to reinforce Lieutenant General Braxton’s Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, which was being battered by Major General William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland. When Meade learned that Lee had weakened his army, he renewed his pursuit. In mid-September, Meade sent two columns forward to engage the remnants of Lee’s army, encamped along the Rapidan River.

Meade’s Army Depleted

The tables quickly turned, however, when Washington officials ordered Meade’s 11th and 12th Corps to Tennessee after the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863). With the size of Meade’s army also depleted, Lee responded by crossing the Rappahannock River in early October and by launching an offensive aimed at Meade’s right flank. Meade countered by beginning a withdrawal to secure his supply depot at Centerville.

Confederate Defeat at Bristoe Station

On the morning of October 14, 1863, near Bristoe Station, Confederate Lieutenant General A. P. Hill’s corps was in pursuit of Major General George Sykes’s 5th Corps, which was serving as the rearguard of Meade’s army. When Hill caught sight of Sykes’s corps early in the afternoon, he ordered an attack that resulted in a costly Confederate defeat. The loss at the Battle of Bristoe Station prompted Lee to call off his short-lived offensive. Lee fell back to the Rappahannock River, destroying the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on the way.

October 19, 1863 — Ambush at Buckland Mills

With Lee in retreat, Meade reversed his course and, once again, became the pursuer. On October 19, 1863, Confederate cavalryman General J. E. B. Stuart, who was shielding Lee’s withdrawal, lured Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick’s Union cavalry into an ambush near Buckland Mills on a small stream named Broad Run.

Confederate Trap

Led by Brigadier-General George A. Custer’s brigade, Kilpatrick’s horsemen rode east on the Warrenton Pike early in the morning and pushed Stuart’s troopers across the stone bridge spanning Broad Creek, as the Rebels feigned a retreat. Kilpatrick arrived on the scene later and continued the pursuit, placing Brigadier General Henry Davies in the lead. Despite being instructed to follow Davies’s advance, Custer ordered his weary men to rest and to take a meal. As Custer’s men ate, Kilpatrick and Davies continued to move forward, thus separating the two forces.

Custer Escapes

While Davies and Kilpatrick were pursuing Stuart, General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brilliantly executed a flanking maneuver to the Union right. As Custer’s men mounted to continue following Kilpatrick, Lee’s troopers struck from the south. Outnumbered and in danger of being trapped with the creek to their back, Custer’s men broke for the bridge. After a spirited fight, Custer got his men back across the creek, leaving Davies and Kilpatrick isolated with Stuart at their front and Lee at their rear.

The Buckland Races

As planned, the sound of Lee’s engagement was Stuart’s signal to turn and fight. Taking full advantage of his numerical superiority, Stuart mounted a full-scale assault. When the surprised Yankees discovered that Stuart’s men had surrounded them, they panicked. Stuart reported that “the enemy broke and the rout was soon complete.” In the ensuing bedlam, which the Confederates later referred to as the “Buckland Races,”

Aftermath of the Battle

The Confederate victory at the Battle of Buckland Mills saw Stuart’s men capture nearly 250 Federals and eight supply wagons and ambulances. On the next day, Stuart’s cavalry rejoined Lee’s main army.

Adding insult to injury, Stuart later wrote the following song lampooning the humbled Yankees.

The Buckland Races
A song by J. E. B. Stuart

Come listen to me, ladies,
A story I’ll relate.
Which happened in the eastern part
Of the Old Dominion State
Away down at New Baltimore,
On a day of Autumn bright.
The Yankee braggadocio
Was whipped clear out of sight.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!
Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

It was the “Buckland races,”

Far famed through old Fauqu’er,
With Stuart before their faces,
Fitz Lee came in their rear;
And such another stampede
Has never yet been seen.
Poor Kil led off at top speed,
And many a Wolverine.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!

Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Old Michigan saw sights that day

Which “Harpers” will never know,
When the Southern boys went on their way
And thrashed Kilpatrick so.
Past Buckland sped they, great and small,
Some drowned them in Broad Run.
We never yet made such a haul,
And never had such fun.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!

Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Come, ladies all, a hearty cheer,

Give three times three hurrah
For Southern lads, who never fear
To meet the foe in war.
A heart as true as any blade,
Is carried in each hand.
They’ll never forget the darling maid
They met at old Buckland.

CHORUS: Hurrah for Kil!

Who ran with such a will!
He distanced every nag that day
In the race at Buckland Mill.

Citation Information

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

  • Article Title The Battle of Buckland Mills, 1863
  • Date October 19, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Buckland Mills
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 17, 2024