Cavalry Affairs N-5

Historical Marker Text
Near here Wade Hampton with a small cavalry force surprised and captured 5 officers and 87 men of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, November 28, 1862. At that time Burnside was moving toward Fredericksburg. On February 25, 1863, Fitz Lee, on a reconnaissance, attacked Union cavalry here, driving it back on Falmouth where the Union army was encamped. [1931]

Extended Research
The Army of the Potomac, with its new commander, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, arrived at Fredericksburg November 15, 1862, camping on the east side of the Rappahannock River, in the initial stage on its first “on to Richmond” campaign. Delivery of the pontoon boats they needed in order to make bridges was delayed, and those precious days gave the Army of Northern Virginia time to march to Fredericksburg to face their enemy and prevent them from reaching Richmond. Union troops were inactive for days, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee needed to know if Burnside still Wade Hamptonintended to cross into Fredericksburg or if he had decided to transfer his army down the Chesapeake Bay (O’Reilly 44). On November 27, Brigadier General Wade Hampton and 208 of his Carolina and Georgia cavalrymen crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford, encountering an entire Federal picket reserve at Hartwood Church (O’Reilly 44, Freeman 398). The reserve unit was the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Hampton’s men captured approximately ninety-two officers and men, as well as scores of horses (Finfrock 24 and Freeman 398). Significantly, this was the first time that cavalry from far southern states carried out an independent operation in Virginia (Freeman 399). The cavalry division’s commander, Major General James E. B. Stuart, lauded the undertaking, saying that, “General Hampton and his gallant command deserve the highest praise for this handsome affair” (Finfrock 25).

In February of 1863, the newly formed Union Cavalry Corps, commanded by Major General George Stoneman, was stationed as the army’s far right flank, with picket lines extending beyond Hartford Church. Lee wanted to find out whether the Union infantry was still camped around Falmouth, and to learn the intentions of the Army of the Potomac’s newest commander, Major General Joseph Hooker. On the morning of February 24, the Confederate Cavalry chieftain, Major General J. E. B. Stuart, sent Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade on a reconnaissance mission. They set out for the Union picket lines in order to gather intelligence and crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford. Conditions for the march were terrible. The river was swollen from recent rains, and there was over a foot of snow on the ground to contend with (Wittenberg 48-49).

After camping for the night at Morrisville, Lee’s cavalry reached Union picket lines by early afternoon on February 25, piercing through them to attack the picket reserves and the main body, striking the 3rd Pennsylvania cavalry (Wittenberg 49). After a series of attacks and counterattacks that afternoon, Lee withdrew, having determined the position of the enemy. Re-crossing the Rappahannock late that night, before any Union cavalry could catch up to them, rebel forces had taken 150 Yankee prisoners, 30 of which belonged to the 3rd Pennsylvania cavalry (Wittenberg 56). Rain and the rising river the next day made pursuing the Confederates across the Rappahannock a virtually impossible task. While Lee had achieved his goal, the exhausted Federal cavalry returned to camp with frustration. The expedition which took place that day became known as the Battle of Hartwood Church, and within days the Battle of Fredericksburg took place.

Photo Credit
Burke Davis, “Wade Hampton,” Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1957).

For Further Reference
Cisco, Walter Brian. Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2004.

Davis, Burke. Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier. New York: Rinehart and Co., 1957.

Finfrock, Bradley. Across the Rappahannock. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1994.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.

Jacobs, Lee, ed. Gray Riders: Stories from the Confederate Cavalry. Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1999.

Longacre, Edward G. Lincoln’s Cavalrymen: A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000.

O’Reilly, Francis Augustín. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.

Regimental History Committee. History of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, Sixtieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, in the American Civil War, 1861-1865. Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1905.

Wittenberg, Eric J. The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc., 2003.

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