June 9 Gettysburg Campaign: The Battle of Brandy Station

Franklin Horner, the Union soldier in 35 Days to Gettysburg, reports that a magazine at Fort Lyons, one of the chain of forts protecting Washington, blew up, killing a number of soldiers. It reminds me of how many deaths in war are accidents. Over half of all the deaths in the Civil War were disease related. But, in a strict sense, almost all deaths in war are accidents. With very rare exceptions (suicide bombers, kamikazes in World War II) do soldiers go into battle intending to be killed. Soldiers usually go out of a sense of duty, hoping they will survive. If they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time through no desire of their own they become casualties.

Thomas Ware, the Confederate camped near Culpeper, hears cannonading almost the whole day. Midday, his unit is called in from drill to march toward the sound of the guns. He would learn later that night that the famed Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart had been driven back from his camps near Brandy Station and that Ware’s infantry unit had been called to support the cavalry.

Brandy Station would become the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the continent. Stuart, much to his consternation, was caught by surprise on two counts. First, after two days of reviews, he was supremely confident in the effectiveness of his cavalry corps, and being surprised at dawn on June 9,  was not something that should happen to such a fine body of troopers. Secondly, he was surprised by how well the Union cavalry fought. In the first two years of the war, young men from the big cities in the north signed up for the cavalry, never having ridden a horse in their lives. When they ran into Confederates, who were more familiar with horses, the results were disastrous. In addition, Union commanders used the cavalry units for couriers. It wasn’t until General Alfred Pleasanton reorganized the Union cavalry that they became a cohesive fighting unit. Brandy Station showed how well the Yankees had learned to ride and how effective their reorganization was. While Stuart claimed victory because he continued to hold the field after the fight, even he had to admit, if only to himself, that the boys in blue had done an admirable job this day.

Brandy Station is considered by many historians to be the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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