Above drawing is of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, 1862, Edward Forbes. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Lithograph of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Circa 1862-1872, Currier and Ives. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields
On July 1, 2023, coming to a Virginia landscape near Culpeper, the Culpeper Battlefields State Park will open in Virginia. The battles of Cedar Mountain in 1862 and the cavalry Battle of Brandy Station one year later, as the armies moved toward Gettysburg, are finally getting the historic nod they deserve. In February 2022, the push by the Civil War Trust and other organizations for a Virginia State Battlefield Park came to pass. With thousands of acres of land already preserved on both sides of Culpeper, Virginia, its time was well past due. For now, the land is still there and interpreted by volunteers, with a Graffiti House serving as a Visitor Center for Brandy Station. So your visit is certainly worth it now, but by 2023, a more permanent presence will come and elevate these two battles to the rightful place among the battlefields you already may know more about.
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Battle of Cedar Mountain Then
The Battle of Cedar Mountain occurred on August 9, 1862, after Major General John Pope had been given a new assignment. He would head the Army of Virginia and defend the north part of the state, as well as Washington, D.C., while the Army of the Potomac and General McClellan pursued the Seven Days Battles toward Richmond. Those battles were not going as planned, however, and after the Seven Days Battles were lost, the Confederates moved toward Pope as he approached Culpeper Court House and the rail junction at Gordonsville. With 14,000 men under General Stonewall Jackson, and part of A.P. Hill's division, the Confederate forces totaled 16,858. Pope only had 8,030 soldiers under General Nathanial Banks to defend its positions around Cedar Mountain south of Culpeper when August 9 arrived.
At first, the Federal forces held their ground, but as the day grew long, A.P. Hill counterattacked the Union right. The Confederates, with their advantage in manpower, would win the battle, causing the Union Army to begin its retreat by 7:45 p.m. Casualties for the Union had mounted to 2,353 versus 1,338 for the South. The aftermath of the Battle of Cedar Mountain was conclusive; it pushed the fighting of the Civil War in Virginia north, away from Richmond, and into Union held territory.
Battle of Brandy Station Then
Although Civil War scholars recognized the cavalry battle at Brandy Station as the start of the Gettysburg campaign, the Battle of Brandy Station was, at the time, a diversionary tactic by Robert E. Lee to hide his trek north. He sent General JEB Stuart with his cavalry on June 9, 1863 to provide this diversion. It was not a surprise, however, to the Union Cavalry under the command of Major General Alfred Pleasonton. He struck Stuart's camp in a dawn attack before Stuart could launch his attack; the largest cavalry battle ever on American soil ensued.
Eleven thousand cavalry soldiers for the Union battled nine thousand five hundred of Stuart's men at locations such as Fleetwood Hill, St. James Church, and Richardson's Farm. The fighting lasted for fourteen hours until Pleasonton left the field. Despite his withdrawal and a larger casualty total (866 to 433 killed, wounded, and missing), the Battle of Brandy Station was considered a huge morale win for the Union. It was the first time the Union cavalry had been able to stand toe to toe with Stuart.
Image above: Drawing of the Cavalry Battle at Brandy Station, 1864, Edward Forbes. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Graffiti House, Brandy Station Visitor Center. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Battle of Cedar Mountain Now
Today, the Cedar Mountain battlefield, with four hundred and niney-eight acres preserved by the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield and the Civil War Trust, is interpreted by a seven stop, wayside markered trail over one half mile long. Other trails stem from the main trail, extending that length to about double, and take you to other spots, such as the Stonewall Brigade Monument and the Third Wisconsin Monument. Give yourself at least an hour for the trail system.
Battle of the Brandy Station Now
Preservation efforts at Brandy Station have been successful at the permanent preservation of 2,153 acres through the Brandy Station Foundation and Civil War Trust (as of February 2020). There are battlefield trails with wayside markers at Fleetwood Hill, St. James Church, and Buford's Knoll. The Graffiti House, a hospital during and after the battle, is open to visit, with signature graffiti from soldiers on its walls. There are guided tours available from volunteers, exhibits, and orientation from staff during open hours.
Minute Walk in History
Yes, you can visit them now, but soon, in 2024, the three battlefields around Culpeper, Virginia; Cedar Mountain, Kelly's Ford, and Brandy Station, will become one Culpeper State Battlefield Park. Take a walk now through a lot of land saved by the American Battlefields Trust, aka Civil War Trust, and others, and see what the three sites have to offer now, with more coming in the future. The Battle of Brandy Station was the largest all cavalry battle of the Civil War.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
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Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields
Things You Should Not Miss
1. The Graffiti House. This house, which will help you orient yourself to the area's two battlfields, is a treat for several reasons. It was here during the Battle of Brandy Station plus Brandy Station winter encampment, and, predominantly, it contains graffiti signatures from the soldiers who were here. House is open weekends only from 11-4 from March to early December. Lectures on last Sunday of each month from April to September. Group tours available for $5 per person; call ahead for those. Gift shop.
2. Walk the interpretive trail at Cedar Mountain. The main trail (yellow) is one half mile in length and will take an hour or so. If you have time, extend your visit to the red trail that takes you to some of the lesser visited locations.
3. Take advantage of a volunteer tour of the Brandy Station Battlefield. These occur on weekends during the spring, summer, and fall. Call ahead to the Graffiti House to find out when these occur. They're volunteer staffed, so not available all weekend days.
Photo above: Drawing of the charge of Union troops against Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, 1862, Edwin Forbes. Courtesy Library of Congress.