1863 November 14: Second Battle of Rappahannock Station
Following is The Polk County Press’ summary of the week’s news from its November 14, 1863, issue.
The first item does not refer to the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, which took place took place back on March 17, 1863. Rather, it describes the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station, which took place on November 7, 1863. It was part of the Bristoe Campaign—a series of small battles in Virginia in October and November of 1863. Union General George G. Meade, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, unsuccessfully attempted to defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. A single pontoon bridge with bridgehead at the town of Rappahannock Station was the only connection Lee retained with the northern bank of that river. On November 7, Meade crossed the Rappahannock at two places. A surprise attack by General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps at dusk overran the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station, capturing two brigades (more than 1,600 men) of General Jubal A. Early’s division. Meanwhile General William H. French forced a crossing five miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. The fighting at Kelly’s Ford was less severe, but the Confederates retreated, allowing the Union troops to cross and the Federal army to reunite.
At last the cloud of war which has so long lingered near the horizon, has lifted itself black and heavy, and the lightning flashes the news to all parts of the country that the battle has again begun in earnest. On the 8th inst., the Army of the Potomac commenced to advance on the enemy. At KELLY’S Ford the advance division, under Gen. RUSSELL¹ met the rebels, and a severe battle ensued.
Gen. SYKES’ [George Sykes] corps,—the 5th,—commenced the attack, by charging the earth works of the enemy, and after a desperate struggle for four hours gained the rifle pits and captured a number of prisoners. The whole division, led by Gen. RUSSELL in person, with fixed bayonets then charged the main works, which were occupied by the old rebel corps of Gen. EWELL [Richard S. Ewell], and carried them by storm, capturing over 2,000 prisoners, and a number of cannon. The fight was one of the most desperate of the war as well as one of the most bloody.—The loss of the enemy will reach 3,000 in killed and wounded, and 2,500 prisoners. Our loss will reach 2,000 in killed and wounded. We lost no prisoners. The whole advance was a surprise as well as a success over the rebels.
While the battle was going on, Gen. BUFORD [John Buford] with his division of cavalry pressed forward and drove the rebels across the Rappahannock at Falmouth, and Gen. KILPATRICK² occupied Fredericksburg heights. Gen. SEDGWICK advanced in another direction, crossing the Rappahannock and driving the rebels before him, succeeded in reaching Culpeper, which place he occupied. Several skirmishes were had with the rebels on the march, resulting in the success of the Union arms in every instance. On the 9th our whole Army was in motion and LEE in full retreat across the Rapidan. A general engagement is likely to take place at any moment, if it has not already been fought.
Washington despatches of the 10th contain the following:
Seventeen hundred muskets were gathered as fragments since the recent fight, most of them bearing the stamp of 1861, and all in serviceable condition. Two of the cannon captured were 10-pound Parrots, and 2 10-pound Napoleons, with caissons, limbers and all complete.
Scouts from the front to-night report Kilpatrick as having thoroughly reconnoitered the country from the forks of the rivers and North of Culpepper [sic]. They report that he surprised the enemy and captured 400 prisoners at Ellis Ford.
Gen. Buford made a reconnaissance yesterday towards Rixieville [sic] and came upon a portion of the rebel Gen. Wilcox’s division, and after a sharp skirmish compelled them to fall back. Darkness prevented pursuit.
Our troops do not occupy Fredericksburg nor Falmouth, Kilpatrick’s cavalry only having visited there one day before our advance. If the rebels maintain their position between Culpepper [sic] and the Rapidan, it is quite probable a battle may be fought. This is Lee’s chosen battle ground according to his official report of our advance a few weeks since.
Maj. Gen. Sedgwick reports, officially, the capture of four guns, eight battle flags, and over 1,500 prisoners. Maj. Gen. French took over 400 prisoners. Gen. Sedgwick’s loss is about 300 killed and wounded. Maj. Gen. French’s loss is about 70. The conduct of both officers and men in each engagement was most admtrable [sic].
(Signed) GEO. G. MEAD,
. . . . . . . . . . . .Major General
Gen. HEINTZLEMAN [Samuel P. Heintzleman] has been relieved from his command. There is no reason made known to the public for his removal.³
The President and Cabinet are making every effort to relieve the sufferings of our prisoners at Richmond. From Chattanooga we have news that everything is quiet and all opperations [sic] in our army progressing finely.
During the week there has been sensatiou [sic] dispatches in circulation, stating that Fort Sumter had been captured. Later advices state that the seige [sic] was progressing as usual, and that the nest of treason was still in the hands of the rebels. Important news is expected from that quarter soon.
The Ohio Copperhead conspirators have been indicted, the court charging, among other things, a plot to rescue MORGAN [John Hunt Morgan], the prisoners from Camp Chase and Camp Douglas ; also a plot to seize the U.S. steamer Michigan.
1. David Allen Russell (1820-1864) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer who served in the Mexican War and fought in the Rogue River War and the Yakima War. When the Civil War started, Russell accepted a commission as colonel of the 7th Massachusetts Infantry, leading them in the Peninsula Campaign and the Sevel Days Battles. He was brevetted lieutenant colonel in the regular army for gallant and meritorious service, and in 1862 was promoted to major in the U.W. 8th Infantry. Still in command of the 7th Massachusetts, he fought in the Battle of Antietam. Later in 1862, Russell was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and commanded a brigade during the Rappahannock campaign. He later fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg, but was primarily held in reserve during the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1864, Russell fought in the Overland Campaign and was mortally wounded during the Battle of Opequon (aka Third Battle of Winchester).
2. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836-1881) was commonly referred to as Judson Kilpatrick. He graduated from West Point in 1861, just after the Civil War started. He was commissioned in the 1st U.S. Artillery, but within three days he was a captain in the 5th New York Infantry. Kilpatrick was wounded in the Battle of Big Bethel (June 10, 1861) and by September 1861 was lieutenant colonel of the 2nd New York Cavalry, a regiment he helped to raise. At the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-31, 1862) he lost a full squadron of troopers in a reckless cavalry charge, but was still promoted to full colonel in December of that year. Because of his aggressive and fearless manner, he was nicknamed “Kill Cavalry.” He was jailed in 1862 on charges of corruption, accused of selling captured Confederate goods for personal gain. Kilpatrick gained public fame during the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863 by leading a cavalry sweep behind Confederate lines, capturing wagons, burning bridges, and riding around Lee. on June 9, 1863, Kilpatrick fought at Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle of the war, and received his brigadier general’s star on June 13.
3. Although this map was not created to show this particular battle, it does show the location of Rappahannock Station, Kelly’s Ford, and surrounding vicinity. From the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published under the direction of Redfield Proctor, Stephen B. Elkins, and Daniel S. Lamont, Secretaries of War, by George B. Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph W. Kirkley, Board of Publication ; compiled by Calvin D. Cowles (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895). Available in Special Collections, UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center (E 464 .U6), or digitally at Ohio State University’s eHistory.
4. In October 1863 Heintzelman’s command of the Department of Washington, and the 22nd Army Corps, ended when he was superseded by General Christopher C. Augur. He will eventually be sent to the Northern Department, where his duties mainly consisted of keeping watch over prison camps and monitoring Copperhead activity in the Midwest.