November 7, 1863: Second Battle of Rappahannock Station



In the fall of 1863 the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia engaged in fruitless maneuvers of no ultimate strategic significance.  Lee, with Longstreet in the West, was too weak to want to fight a general engagement and Meade lacked the capacity to force Lee to fight a major battle if he did not wish to.  Several small battles were fought during this time, however, including the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station which resulted in a convincing victory for the Army of the Potomac and an embarrassing defeat for the Confederates.

By the end of October Lee had withdrawn south of the Rappahannock River, hoping that his Army could hold the river line during the coming winter.  He kept a fortified position north of the river at Rappahannock Station, wanting to use this as a handy point at which he could cross the river, threatening the flank of any movement by Meade south of the Rappahannock, or along the Rappahannock.  This made sense, but it also exposed the Confederate defenders of the bridgehead to a sudden Union attack.

Such an attack occurred on November 7.  Jubal Early’s division held the bridgehead defenses that day.  Meade ordered Major General William French and his III Corps to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford five miles downstream, while Major General John Sedgwick would take the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station with his VI Corps and cross the river.  The plan went like clockwork.  French crossed at noon while Sedgwick, after an artillery bombardment of the Confederate bridgehead attacked at dusk.  The Confederate defenses collapsed.  Union losses were 419 while Confederate casualties were 1607, most of them prisoners of war.  Although nothing came of the battle as Lee immediately marched south to avoid allowing Meade to force him into a general engagement, the battle was a shot in the arm for Union morale, and a bad day for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Here is General Lee’s report of the engagement: (more…)

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 7, 1863: Second Battle of Rappahannock Station  
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