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Library of Congress

Rappahannock Station

Fauquier County, VA  |  Nov 7, 1863

On November 7, 1863, Union General George G. Meade launched a two-pronged attack against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s lines in the Battle of Rappahannock Station, resulting in a Union victory and forcing Lee to retreat below the Rapidan River. 

How It Ended 

Union Victory. After overwhelming Confederates downstream at Kelly's Ford, Union forces under General John Sedgwick launched a nighttime assault on the Confederates at Rappahannock Station, resulting in a stunning Union victory and forcing Lee to retreat below the Rapidan River. 

In Context

In the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac marched back to Virginia. That fall, Robert E. Lee launched an offensive, however, was repulsed at the Battle of Bristoe Station on October 14. Lee pulled back to the Rappahannock River.

Meade pursued and launched  an assault on Confederate lines on November 7th. General William H. French's Third Corps attacked Lee at Kelly’s Ford while General John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps struck the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station.

Forces Engaged
4,000
Union
2,000
Confed.
2,000

French’s men struck the Confederate lines first, taking the position at Kelly’s Ford, and he managed to capture around 300 Confederates in the process. Meanwhile, at about 3 pm, Sedgwick’s advance captured key locations on the hills looking above the Confederate defenses at Rappahannock Station.

Once Sedgwick’s advance got underway, Confederate General Jubal Early called upon Lee for reinforcements and received three North Carolina regiments under Colonel Archibald Godwin’s brigade, which aided General Henry T. Hays’ Louisiana brigade. Sedgwick did not press any further for the rest of the afternoon and bombarded the Southern lines. However, Union General David A. Russell’s division launched an assault on the Confederate lines after nightfall and successfully captured the position at Rappahannock Station.

Union
419
0 killed
0 wounded
0 missing & captured
Estimated Casualties
2,093
Union
419
Confed.
1,674
Confederate
1,674
0 killed
0 wounded
0 missing & captured

By the end of the fight, Russell’s men had overrun the Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station and taken more than 1,600 of Early’s men prisoner. With his position along the Rappahannock breached, Lee withdrew below the Rapidan River.

1. What Confederate brigade defended the bridgehead at Rappahannock Station?

Henry Hays's “Louisiana Tigers” along with Archibald Godwin’s North Carolinians defended Rappahannock Station.

2. Why was the bridgehead at Rappahannock Station important to the Confederates?

Robert E. Lee’s overall strategy was to use the bridgehead at Rappahannock Station to its fullest advantage, hoping that, with this position, he could divide any attacking army, threaten their flank, and defeat them. However, once the Federals under Sedgwick gained control of the bridgehead, Lee’s ideas of maintaining a presence along the river and area were tarnished, and he was forced to abandon his plans and move further south to the Rapidan River.

All battles of the Bristoe Campaign

Bristoe Station
Prince William County, VA  |  Oct 14, 1863
Result: Union Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,920
Union: 540
Confederate: 1,380
Buckland Mills
Fauquier County, VA  |  Oct 19, 1863
Result: Confederate Victory
Est. Casualties: 310
Union: 260
Confederate: 50
Rappahannock Station
Fauquier County, VA  |  Nov 7, 1863
Result: Union Victory
Est. Casualties: 2,093
Union: 419
Confederate: 1,674

Related Battles

Fauquier County, VA | November 7, 1863
Result: Union Victory
Commanders
Forces Engaged
4,000
Union
2,000
Confed.
2,000
Estimated Casualties
2,093
Union
419
Confed.
1,674