St. James Church
The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863
Fought in the second week of June 1863, Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North America. With momentum firmly in hand after his stunning victory at Chancellorsville, General Robert E. Lee decided to launch a second Northern invasion. On June 3, the Army of Northern Virginia began the movement away from Fredericksburg. The first leg of the march took the Confederates to Culpeper Court House. From there, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry division was to screen the infantry as the march continued to the Shenandoah Valley. Stuart's concentration, however, was detected by Union cavalry led by Alfred Pleasonton. Under the assumption that Stuart planned a raid around his right flank toward Washington, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, directed Pleasonton to cross the Rappahannock River and destroy the Confederate cavalry.
Early on the morning of June 9, Union Gen. Alfred Pleasonton sent columns over the Rappahannock at Beverly Ford and Kelly's Ford. Following the crossing at Beverly Ford, the Union troopers truck Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's camp in the vicinity of a rail station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Brandy Station. The Confederates quickly rallied, and the Federals ran into stiff resistance at St. James Church and the Richard Cunningham farm. After moving over Kelly's Ford, the Union cavalry split up. One division headed for Brandy Station while the other made their way to Stevensburg. The arrival of blue troopers at Brandy Station threatened the rear of Stuart's position. Stuart countered by deftly shifting his brigades, and the two sides clashed in mounted combat on a long, low ridge that rose from the station called Fleetwood Hill. Correspondingly, Pleasonton's force at Stevensburg were stymied by Confederate horsemen. Unable to break through Stuart's position, Pleasonton abandoned the field after fourteen hours of fighting.
Six months later, Union soldiers tore down St. James Church for materials to make their quarters during the winter of 1863-1864, when the Army of the Potomac wintered in Culpeper County.