Historical Significance of “Assault on Beverly’s Ford Road” Painting

Commentary by Clark Hall
Assault on Beverly’s Ford Road: Morning Attack of the 8th Illinois Cavalry at Brandy Station Keith Rocco

The American Battlefield Trust commissioned this painting by renowned artist Keith Rocco, depicting the early morning fight of the 8th Illinois Cavalry near the St. James Church at Brandy Station — one of the properties the Trust and its members have worked to save.

At first light on the morning of June 9, 1863, the Battle of Brandy Station was inaugurated when General John Buford’s “Right Wing”—comprised of 6,000 troopers and 1,500 infantrymen—approached Beverly’s Ford with orders to “disperse and destroy” enemy troopers situated in Culpeper County. The 8th New York Cavalry led the assault across Beverly’s Ford and a surprised Confederate picket on the southern bank of the Rappahannock River shouted, “Yonder come the Yankees!”

Shouting fiercely and swinging sabers overhead, the New Yorkers slashed across the river and were confronted by a sharp burst of fire from Rebel pickets concentrated on Beverly’s Ford Road. Taking casualties, the 8th New York nevertheless pressed on and forced the 6th Virginia Cavalry troopers back.

Camped the night before around St. James Church, a mile back of the river, General William E. "Grumble" Jones’s Brigade wasted no time in organizing a counter-attack. Three regiments charged north up the ford road and hit the 8th New York Cavalry frontally, and on the right flank. At this point, Col. Benjamin F. "Grimes" Davis was mortally wounded, and matters appeared desperate for the Empire State regiment.

However, the 8th Illinois, a brick of a unit exceeding 500 troopers that a Confederate opponent termed “by far the best Volunteer Regiment of Cavalry in the Federal service,” did not share the observation that the 8th New York was “forced to withdraw.” After crossing the river, the 8th Illinois cantered down Beverly’s Ford Road in a four-man front and shockingly observed that “the New York boys...coming back on the full run...in confusion.”

Wasting no time in filling the vacuum, the 8th Illinois surged ahead and ploughed into the by-now spent 6th Virginia Cavalry, “causing a rapid retreat on our part,” a Rebel acknowledged. Driving forward, the Illinoisans fired on the right flank of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, and soon an 8th Illinois squadron bolted down into the woods west of the road resembling blue wolves after their prey, “shouting as we rushed to the charge...they (the 7th Virginia) took themselves away fast as possible.”

Noting with admiration that the Federals “approached rapidly and boldly,” Major Robert F. Beckham ordered a detached gun to fire into the oncoming enemy—it did so, “doing terrible execution,” and Captain Sandy Forsyth was blasted to the ground, badly wounded. Captain Elon Farnsworth quickly rode up, observed Forsyth lying on the ford road underneath his horse. Captain Farnsworth immediately took command, while Sgt. George Hupp galloped up on his left flank, in the ford road. (This is the moment depicted in the painting.)

This print is available for purchase at the Trust's Shop

Related Battles

Culpeper County, VA | June 9, 1863
Result: Inconclusive
Estimated Casualties