Following the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), Confederate General Robert E. Lee abandoned his invasion of the North and withdraw his Army of Northern Virginia to Virginia. Despite prodding from President Abraham Lincoln, the victorious General George Meade did not aggressively pursue Lee with the Army of the Potomac. Instead, minor skirmishes dominated the rest of the campaign year in the East.
Pleasonton Crosses the Rappahannock River
On September 12, 1863, Major General Alfred Pleasonton led his cavalry corps of three divisions of the Union Army of the Potomac from their camp near Warrenton, Virginia and crossed the Rappahannock River. Pleasonton’s aimed to attack Confederate Major General J. E. B. Stuart’s headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Virginia.
Early the next morning, Pleasonton’s troopers forded the Hazel River and drove off scattered Confederate pickets and skirmishers. Advancing on the main Rebel defensive line near Culpeper by early afternoon, Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick ordered a mounted charge by Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s Michigan Brigade. Custer’s men routed the Confederates, capturing over 100 prisoners and three artillery pieces.
Federals Occupy Culpeper Court House
Pleasonton’s men then converged on Culpeper Court House in three columns and drove the cavalry corps of two divisions of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia across the Rapidan River. Pleasonton’s success enabled the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General Gouverneur K. Warren’s to occupy Culpeper Court House that evening. By the next morning, the Confederates established a strong new defensive line on the other side of the Rapidan River, which the Federals decided not to assault.
Casualty totals at the relatively minor Battle of Culpeper Court House are unknown, other than the roughly 100 Rebels captured.
In October 1863, the Confederates pushed back, briefly reoccupying Culpeper County. However, a decisive Union victory at the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station (November 7, 1863) placed the area under Federal control for the rest of the war.