Culpeper County, VA | Mar 17, 1863
In 1863, the recently organized Union Cavalry Corps possessed superior equipment and the advantages of a plentiful supply of men and horses over their Confederate counterparts, but lacked the confidence, experience, and leadership to challenge Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart's troopers. That March, Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee conducted raids against elements of the Union line along the Rappahannock River. In response, on March 16th, 2,100 Union cavalrymen under Brig. Gen. William Averell set out to “rout or destroy” Lee and his cavalry as the Confederates sheltered south of the river near Culpeper Courthouse. The next day, Averell forced a crossing at Kelly's Ford, 25 miles upstream from Fredericksburg, and pressed forward two miles into open ground. Averell repulsed several of Lee's attacks, forcing the Confederate cavalry from the field with a counterattack. Stuart's youthful and "gallant" artillery chief, Major John Pelham, was killed. With victory in his grasp, Averell withdrew back across the river that evening. Lee had avoided being crushed, which meant that Averell had failed in his primary objective, but the battle proved that Union cavalry was a force to be reckoned with. The battle set the stage for Brandy Station and other cavalry actions of the Gettysburg Campaign that summer.