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.
Battle of Kelly's Ford and the Phelps Wildlife Management Area, 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, but are even further off the beaten track. One of those is the land where the Battle of Kelly's Ford was held. Photo above: One of the wayside exhibits about the Battle of Kelly's Ford.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Battle of Kelly's Ford, Virginia
Kelly's Ford is an area along the Rappahannock River where soldiers crossed to get to the other side, i.e. the 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. 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. On the southern side of the Rappahannock River at 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 site, as well as on the land now preserved by the Civil War Trust. You can search for the Pelham marker. 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.
Photo above: Union cavalry in hand to hand combat with Confederate troopers. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, courtesy Library of Congress. Photo Below: Land within the Phelps WMA along the Rappahannock River that was part of the ground where the Battle of Kelly's Ford was held.
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. 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.
What is There Now
1,192 acres saved by the Civil War Trust.
4,539 acres within the C.F. Phelps WMA.
3 wayside exhibit placards on the west side at Kelly's Ford. Pelham marker.
Walking trails to some battle sites.
How Much to Visit
Civil War Trust Land - As far as we can tell, free. Of course, they'd like as much in donation as you can spare to buy and preserve more battlefield land.
C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area - Day fee $4 or Yearly fee $23 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.
Battle of Kelly's Ford - Civil War Trust
Virginia WMA Access Permits
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield (including the Wilderness and Chancellorsville sections),
Brandy Station Battlefield.
Photo above. Museum of Indian Culture, Allentown, Pennsylvania.