America's Best History Spotlight

On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.

Kelly's Ford

Battle of Kelly's Ford, Virginia

As you pop through Virginia to the more well-known battlefields of Manassas or Fredericksburg and even those below that scale like Balls Bluff, you're in the vicinity of others that saw action and import, but are even further off the beaten track. One of those is the land where the Battle of Kelly's Ford was held. While that will likely change once the Culpeper Battlefields State Park begins operations next year, the 160th Anniversary of the battle that occurred on March 17, 1863, was held through its current stakeholders by bus, hike, and awesome talks at multiple sites. Photo above: Drawing of Kelly's Ford on the Rappahannock River, 1864, Edwin Forbes. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Info, What's There Now, History Nearby

Battle of Kelly's Ford

Battle of Kelly's Ford, Virginia

Kelly's Ford is an area along the Rappahannock River where Union soldiers crossed to get to their Confederate enemy. What is now the Route 3 area of Virginia had been the site of battles since December of the year before when Burnside attempted to scale Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, then marched in the mud. As spring approached, troopers constantly moved around the area, looking for movement toward a larger scale battle. On March 17, 1863, they would find a smaller engagement, rated C on the A-E scale, as Union cavalry under William Averill forced the troopers of Fitzhugh Lee across the Rappahannock River at Kelly's Ford, moving them back several miles through woods and open fields. He did not follow up, a Union tradition at the time, but artillerist John Pelham was killed on the Confederate side (a noticeable loss), and this was the first time Union cavalry in the reorganized Army of the Potomac had proved their worth.

The Battle of Kelly's Ford was the first all cavalry battle of the war and would lead to action later that spring at Chancellorsville and Brandy Station. There were 2,100 Union troopers engaged versus 800 Confederates.

There are some interesting places to visit, although the site in not interpreted in the way you've probably come to expect at larger battlefields. That will likely change soon with the better resources of the Culpeper Battlefields State Park coming in 2024. On the southern side of the Rappahannock River near Kelly's Ford (bridge on Route 620), there are three wayside exhibit panels that explain the battle action. Above, west, of that intersection up Kelly's Ford Road, to the intersection of Route 673, the land between the road and the river was used in the battle. There are trails on the C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area land that take you to some of the sites, as well as on the land now preserved by the American Battlefield War Trust and others. You can search for the Pelham marker, it's about eight hundred yards from one of the trailheads. You'll need a map for which one. You can see still standing battlefield landmarks, field hospitals, and trails to the site of the original river cross. These are not easy to find, best to ask a local when you're there or better yet, those at the Graffiti House, the Museum of Culpeper History, or the new 2024 State Park when up and running.

Photo above: Another wayside marker on southern side of bridge quarter to half mile from actual crossing, 2014, America's Best History. Photo Below: Montage of (left) Major Pelham in West Point uniform, 1858, Gilbert Studios. Courtesy Alabama Archives via Wikipedia Commons; (right) Pelham marker on Kelly's Ford battlefield, 2008, Craig Swan. Courtesy, Historical Markers Database.

Major Pelham and Marker

Where Is It

If you're coming up from the larger battlefields of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, continue on Route 3 west about ten miles. Look for Route 620 (it's not that well marked on the road, ask someone before you go too far) and take a right. Stay on Route 620 till you get to the Kelly's Ford intersection and bridge. Three of the wayside markers are there.

From Route 15 south, you can take Route 651 east near Remington to Route 620. You'll be on the other side of the bridge there. The C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area is all around you in this area, predominantly on the northern side of the river. However, the three main sites of the battlefield are on the southern side of the Rappahannock, west after the bridge. Best to have a driving tour map.

Minute Walk in History

Take a driving and walking tour with battle guides and visitors from the American Battlefield Trust and Culpeper Museum of History as they trace the steps of the cavalry at the Battle of Kelly's Ford on the 160th Anniversary tour of the battlefield. Narrated to the words of Union Cavalry General William Averell, you will see the locations of the three phases of the battle while listening to the report of the commander on the field. Narration by Jason Donovan.

Major Pelham and Marker

What is There Now

1,192 acres saved by the American Battlefield Trust, formerly the Civil War Trust, 4,539 acres within the C.F. Phelps WMA, and additional acreage saved by organizations around Culpeper.

There are three wayside exhibits on the south side of the bridge over the Rappahannock, just west of the actual Kelly's Ford. A half mile or more walking trail can take you there, but beware, it's hard to find, often wet, and not well marked, yet. When you hit the river, keep going and look for the lone Kelly's Ford sign. Thanks goodness the friendly guides during the 160th Anniversary tour of the Kelly's Ford battle knew where they were going.

Other items of interest include the Pelham marker, field hospitals, additional walking trails to sites like the remnants of the stone wall (same trail as Pelham's marker, plus other more Wayside exhibits and parking area that overlooks the open battlefield land that you can say was the site of Phase 3 of the battle.

Also, although more noted for the Battle of Brandy Station, the Graffiti House off Route 15/29 can provide some information about Kelly's Ford. It's only a couple miles away toward the town of Culpeper itself.

How Much to Visit
American Battlefield Trust Land - Free. Please donate to the trust for any of their current land preservation efforts for the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. In 2024, the Trust will begin to deed their land over to the state of Virginia to become part of the Culpeper Battlefields State Park. Plans are still being made about the how and what will change at that time. Expect more waysides, tour, maybe even a Visitor Center, but there are no known plans to date. First deed should be let in July 2024, and therefore the new park technically open.

C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area - Day fee $4 or Yearly fee $24 or free if you have a Virginia hunting or fishing pass. There are no collection facilities here. Permits may be bought online or at a location that sells Virginia Fishing and Wildlife permits.

Photo above: Photo above: Union cavalry in hand to hand combat with Confederate troopers. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Courtesy Library of Congress.

Battle of Kelly's Ford - American Battlefield Trust
Culpeper Museum
Visit Culpeper Virginia
Phelps WMA
Virginia WMA Access Permits

History Nearby

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Culpeper Battlefields State Park (Brandy Station Battlefield, Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Kelly's Ford Battlefield). The town of Culpeper itself has a myriad of interesting historic sites, from the Train Station Visitor Center, with walking and driving tours. One unique museum we found very interesting, ... the oldest house in Culpeper, logs and all, the Burguntine House.

Photo above. Painting of Robert E. Lee looking over the Fredericksburg battlefield, unknown date and author. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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