The Gettysburg Cavalry Actions

This entry is part 4 of 27 in the series The Gettysburg Campaign

As the Confederate Army moved north, General Robert E. Lee had ordered his cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart to screen it from observation by the the Union cavalry. During the course of this movement north, the two cavalry contingents fought a number of actions.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker did not know Lee’s intentions and suggested to Washington that it might be an auspicious time to attack the Confederate capital, Richmond. Lincoln was forced to remind Hooker that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was the objective. Lincoln was also concerned that Washington would be uncovered and Lee might make an attempt to capture the Union capital.

General Alfred PleasantonFollowing Lincoln’s orders, the Union Army of the Potomac decamped from Fredericksburg on June 14, 1863 and arrived at Manassas two days later. Hooker ordered Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, his cavalry commander, to locate the Confederate army and determine its intentions.

Army movements during the Civil War do not consist of neat columns marching all in line. Rather armies, both North and South, moved in parallel columns in groups of varying sizes. The Confederate movement north into Maryland and ultimately, Pennsylvania was just such a movement.

Lee had divided his army into their component corps, led by Lt. Gens. James Longstreet, Richard Ewell and A.P. Hill. Lee had assigned his corps their own routes and objectives. Ewell was on the western side of the army while Longstreet and Hill were generally to his right or east. It was for this reason why Ewell’s Corps was the only one engaged at Second Winchester on June 13-15, 1863.

Lee had positioned Stuart’s cavalry screen on his right or eastern flank to prevent the Union cavalry from observing his movements. The Army of the Potomac mirrored Lee’s northward movement with their cavalry on the the left or western flank and their parallel columns of infantry to the east or right.

Elements of both cavalry forces first clashed at Aldie in Loudon County, Virginia on June 17th. The Union force numbered a brigade of about 2,000 troopers from 6 different regiments, commanded by Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.

The Union brigade commander was 27-year old New Jerseyan who had graduated from West Point in 1861. He rose steadily from a second lieutenant of artillery to a captain in the 5th New York Zouaves. By the end of September 1861, he was a lieutenant colonel in the 2nd New York Cavalry. He assumed brigade command in February 1863 and division command several months later.

Facing Kilpatrick and his brigade was the Confederate brigade of  Col. Thomas T. Munford, who commanded 1,500 Virginia troopers. Munford was an 1854 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. He joined the Confederate army as a lieutenant of infantry and then moved to the cavalry, where he commanded a regiment. He was promoted to brigade command in the Valley, where he served under Stonewall Jackson and eventuallyGeneral Judson Kilpatrick commanded Jackson’s cavalry after the death of Turner Ashby.

The Battle of Aldie was an inconclusive meeting engagement between these two brigades. Aldie was a tactically important village where the Little River Turnpike intersected both the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike and Snicker’s Gap Turnpike, which respectively lead through Ashby’s Gap and Snickers Gap of the Blue Ridge Mountain into the Shenandoah Valley.

The clash resulted in four hours of stubborn fighting with both sides staging mounted assaults by regiments and squadrons. The Confederates had originally began their day on a reconnaissance and foraging mission. Munford had stationed pickets in Aldie to watch for Union cavalry. When the enemy did arrive, both sides began to feed increasing numbers of troopers into the battle until all of them were engaged.

The tide finally turned as Union reinforcements charged into the fray in the fading light and the 6th Ohio overran Capt. Reuben F. Boston’s detachment on the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike, capturing or killing most of his men. The fighting died down around 8 p.m. as Munford withdrew his command west towards Middleburg. The Union force sustained 305 casualties while the Confederates lost between 110-119.

J.E.B. Stuart had established his headquarters at Middleburg in Loudon County and positioned his brigades throughout the Loudoun Valley to maintain on watch on the Union army movements.

On June 17, 1873, Col. Alfred N. Duffié had been ordered by General Alfred Pleasanton, the Union Cavalry Corps commander, to take his 280-man ist Rode Island Cavalry regiment west from Centreville to Middleburg. Duffié, following his orders to the letter, brushed aside the Confederate pickets from Col. John R. Chambliss‘s Thoroughfare Gap.

Thinking the small Union force was just the vanguard of a larger force, the Confederates hesitated to strike. By 4:00 PM, Duffié’s small regiment had arrived at Middleburg where they disrupted Stuart’s evening of socializing with local ladies. Stuart and his staff quickly retreated to Rector’s Crossroads, the location of his closest brigade.

Col. Thomas MunfordHe ordered Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson to move his brigade to Middleburg and crush the Union force. Duffié barricaded the streets of Middleburg, dismounted half of his regiment behind stonewalls, and sent for help from Judson Kilpatrick‘s brigade near Aldie.

After a three-hour firefight, the Union troopers were routed. Many of them were captured the next morning and only 31 men returned to Centreville with the French-born colonel. He would never again hold a cavalry position with the Army of the Potomac, although he served in other areas.

The following day the fighting flared up again when troops commanded by Union Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg encountered Confederate pickets around Middleburg. Both sides eventually withdrew rather than fight.

On June 19th, Gregg attempted a single envelopment of Stuart’s position. He ordered his cousin, Col. J. Irvin Gregg, to make a frontal assault while Brig. Gen. John Buford‘s division swung north towards Pot House (New Lisbon). After a flanking march, Buford eventually occupied the ground around Pot House, pushing back two regiments of Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones‘s brigade in a mild skirmish.

Gregg’s frontal assault succeeded in forcing Stuart to withdraw his cavalry and horse artillery from the high ground west of Middleburg. The Confederates attempted several unsuccessful counterattacks.

Late in the day, Buford sent the U.S. Reserve Brigade back from Pot House, and the 2nd and 6th U.S. Cavalry regiments seized a hotly contested hill south of the tiny village of Millville as darkness fell. Stuart was forced to abandon his position, falling back along the turnpike to stonewalls beyond a ravine along a stream known as Kirk’s Branch. A still cautious Pleasonton refused to follow up his success and ordered his men to rest and send out pickets.

Union losses in the June 19 fight were reported as 16 killed, 46 wounded, and 37 missing. Stuart lost perhaps 40 men, including his chief of staff and friend, Heros von Borcke from Prussia, who was badly wounded by a bullet in his neck.

The final battle in this series of cavalry actions took place at Upperville in Loudon County on June 21, 1863. Stuart’s objective was the continued to delay any Union advance into the Shenandoah Valley.

Wade Hampton‘s brigade of Confederate cavalry had reinforced J.E.B. Stuart, and was deployed near Beverly Robertson‘s brigade along the General J.E.B. StuartAshby’s Gap Turnpike. John R. Chambliss‘s brigade moved northward and joined “Grumble” Jones near Union, Virginia. Thomas T. Munford‘s brigade was still farther north, guarding access to the Snickersville Gap. John Mosby‘s partisan rangers scouted the Union positions and provided much needed intelligence on their movements.

Pleasanton had asked for and received infantry reinforcements from the V Corps. The Union plan was to force Stuart out of his positions. Pleasonton sent Judson Kilpatrick’s brigade along the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike, supported by Col. Strong Vincent‘s brigade of infantry, with David McM. Gregg’s cavalry division in reserve. John Buford’s division would try to turn the flank.

The Union forces attacked at 8:00 AM on Sunday, June 21, 1863 with artillery, cavalry and infantry. The Confederates gradually withdrew to the west, using the terrain to slow down the advancing Union troops. Stuart’s troopers held off the Union advance for two hours at a bridge that crossed Goose Creek. However, they were forced to continue their withdrawal to Upperville in a continual fight.

Meanwhile, Buford’s division had moved around the Confederate flank where they encountered “Grumble” Jones and Chambliss’ Confederate brigades, escorting Stuart’s supply train just north of Upperville and attacked. Kilpatrick continued his frontal attack and nearly entered the village of Upperville before being repulsed.

Stuart’s troops finally established a strong position at Ashby Gap and maintained the security of Lee’s army from Union observation. His determined delaying tactics prevented the Union command from learning anything important about their enemy’s army.





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