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1863 March 19: Battle of Kelly’s Ford

March 19, 2013

The Battle of Kelly’s Ford, also known as the Battle of Kellysville, took place on March 17, 1863, in Culpeper County, Virginia.  Twenty-one hundred Union cavalry troopers under Brigadier General William W. Averell¹ crossed the Rappahannock River to attack the Confederate cavalry that had been harassing them that winter.  Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, one of J.E.B. Stuart’s key subordinates, counterattacked with a brigade of about 800 men.  Lee repeatedly had to fall back in the face of superior numbers and artillery, but the battle was technically a Confederate victory because Averell’s men failed to destroy Lee’s smaller force and they withdrew at dusk.  The Federals believed they had won a moral victory because, for the first time, they had held their own against Stuart’s legendary cavalry.

This letter, from Polk County Press editor Sam Fifield’s brother Hank, was printed in the Press on April x, 1863.  Henry O. Fifield served in Company C of the 1st Minnesota Infantry.

Army Correspondence
Camp 1st Minn. Volunteers,
near Falmouth, Virgina.

                  March 19th, 1863

DEAR BROTHER:— Your letter of the 26th of February has been received, but owing to circumstances I have neglected to answer until this late hour.  On the 17th inst. General Averill [sic] forced a passage over the river at Kelly’s Ford, charged the rebels in their intrenchments, killing and capturing the entire force, besides securing a large number of horses that were picketed near by.  After this our men encountered the forces of the rebel Stewart [sic] and Fitzhugh Lee, who came up to reinforce their defeated comrades, and after a severe hand-to-hand engagement routed them with great slaughter.  Our forces retired to our lives, bringing in 150 prisoners, the captured horses, and our dead and wounded.

Things begin to look like a forward movement again.  I hope we shall soon see active service as we are all tired to death with this lazy camp life.  We have fighting before us and I for one wish to “go in” and do it, and have it done with.

There are rumors that we are to be sent home to form a part of the expedition across the plains.  As much as we wish to see the loved ones at home, we had rather follow the fortunes of the Grand Army.  We do not wish it to win Glory under our brave Hooker [Joseph Hooker] without having a hand in.  The Governor is expected here to-morrow with our new flag.  But though the old flag is tattered and torn—hardly anything left but the ball shattered staff—we would far rather march under its rags, than under the brightest banner ever wrought by human hands.  Our “dear old flag!”  We all love it with one united heart.  No foe can ever cause it to bow down to the dust.  It has waved defiance in the face of the enemy on many a bloody field.  Through nineteen battles the “old flag” has been borne by our brave boys, through victory and defeat, through fire and rivers of blood it has waved in our midst; is it any wonder then that the old flag is dear to us all?

Ask the gallant BLOOMER² who bore it on the bloody field of Antietam if the First Minnesota love their old flag!  He loved it and clung to it until wounded and bleeding he lie on the field of carnage amid the dead and dying, and to-day the crutch and the maimed body gives evidence of that love!

Our regiment has seen hard service since we left our peaceful homes but we are the same to-day as then, ready to stem the tide of battle to fight, to die, for Liberty and our glorious Country.  It is true our number is fearfully thinned.  Out of 1400 men who have joined our ranks, but 250 remain for duty.  Thus 1,150 have been “spirited away,” from the banks of the Potomac to the swamps of the Chickahominy.

Gen. Hooker is a good and brave man, and we hope under his lead to achieve victory!

But I must close.

As ever, yours truly,     HANK

P. S.  The Taylor Falls boys are all well, and wish to be remembered by the good people of that place.

1.  William Woods Averell (1832-1900) was a graduate of West Point and a career military officer. Averell and Fitzhugh Lee were close friends at West Point and Lee had been sending his old friend taunting messages across the river during the winter of 1862-63. Averell had missed the Battle of Antietam and most of the Maryland Campaign as he recovered from a bout of malaria, known at the time as “Chickahominy Fever.” He did, however, command a Cavalry Brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg.  After the Civil War, he invented American asphalt pavement, which made him a wealthy man.
2.  Samuel Bloomer (1835-1917) served in Company B of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. He was from Stillwater, Minnesota. His biography on the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment website gives the details of the incident referred to here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 27, 2013 10:10 pm

    Not far from where I live….Kelly’s Ford !

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