150 Years Ago This Week: Marching north, through Rappahannock

June 1863

After the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, north of Culpeper Courthouse, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered two-thirds of the Confederate army to begin the march north toward Pennsylvania. The Third Corps of the army, under command of Lt. Gen. Ambrose P. Hill, remained a few days at Fredericksburg, keeping an eye on Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Federal army.

Both the First and Second Corps, under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, respectively, marched north through Rappahannock County; Gen. Ewell’s troops traveled on the Sperryville Turnpike (now U.S. 522) to Sperryville, where they camped for a night. The Confederates then continued their march through Washington to Gaines’ Crossroads (now Ben Venue) and north on the Richmond Road (Route 729 today) through Flint Hill to Chester Gap.

Passing through Chester Gap, they entered the Shenandoah Valley and moved on Winchester by way of Front Royal. Gen. Longstreet’s troops marched north on the Richmond Road, passed through Gaines’ Crossroads and then turned east, crossing the Rappahannock River into Fauquier County at Rock Ford (now the bridge on Crest Hill Road, Route 647). From there the troops marched north to Markham and continued toward Berryville in Clarke County

The southerners in the valley engaged Union forces in several locations between Front Royal and Winchester as they approached Winchester. Fighting took place at White Post, Bunker Hill and along Opequon Creek. On Sunday and Monday, June 14 and 15, Gen. Ewell’s troops fought the Federals in Winchester under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy. The Union troops were driven out of Winchester and scattered toward Harpers Ferry. Gen. Milroy’s actions in the Second Battle of Winchester resulted in a month-long Court of Inquiry, after which his military career was virtually finished.

Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart screened Gen. Longstreet’s movements, and engaged and defeated Union cavalry in Aldie and Middleburg, Loudoun County, as the Federal horsemen attempted to keep an eye on the Confederate army. The Federals, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, had left the area around Fredericksburg and moved north by way of Fairfax County in an attempt to get ahead of Gen. Lee’s army, which was crossing the Potomac River into Maryland.

While the Confederates were moving north, panic spread throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the state capital at Harrisburg, a newspaper reporter described the “perfect panic. Every woman in this place seemed anxious to leave.” At the capitol building, books, papers, paintings and valuables were packed for evacuation. Trains were crowded with people loaded down with luggage.

In Boone County, Ind., a Federal army enrolling officer was attacked by a group of men, who held him down while local women pelted him with eggs. Reacting to the Confederate advance north, President Lincoln requested 100,000 militia from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.

At the same time, in the campaign to take Vicksburg, Miss., Union troops under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks called on the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson to surrender. The requested was denied, and 6,000 Federals launched an assault against 3,750 Confederate defenders. After a day of intense fighting, the Confederate lines held, and Gen. Banks’s troops withdrew. The sieges of Port Hudson and at Vicksburg continued.

At Vicksburg, Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant relieved Maj. Gen. John McClernand of corps command; Gen. McClernand was a thorn in Gen. Grant’s side because of conflicting orders. When Gen. McClernand issued a congratulatory order to his men for the latest assault on Vicksburg, he praised his men and cast aspersions on the other elements of the Union army there.

Gen. Grant said Gen. McClernand was self-serving, incompetent and insubordinate. The command of Gen. McClernand’s corps was given to Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord, and resulted in more peace and cooperation among Gen. Grant’s staff.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.