Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cavalry Week

Two significant cavalry battles of the Civil War took place during this week. The Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 was the largest cavalry battle to ever take place on American soil, and yet, it is an obscure battle to the mainstream. Whenever I mention it, most people have never heard of it. In fact, I became curious only because the battle took place on my birthday!

The battle was a confrontation between Confederate cavalry commanded by General J.E.B. Stuart, and Union cavalry under General David Gregg. It was considered a Confederate victory, even though it was more like a draw, and the Rebels were taken by surprise, which nearly cost them the battle. When I visited the battlefield several years ago, I discovered a fascinating piece of history that was nearly lost. The Graffiti House stands at the edge of the battlefield on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. After years of neglect, the building was almost demolished, but in 1993, a discovery was made. Under layers of paint, signatures of both Union and Confederate soldiers, along with drawings they’d made, were written in charcoal on the walls, one of which was by General Stuart himself. Since that time, the structure ha become part of the Brandy Station Foundation, and is in the process of being restored.

The other notable battle took place on June 10, 1864, in what is known as Brice’s Crossroads. In this battle, General Nathan Bedford Forrest set out to destroy the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which was supplying General Sherman in anticipation of his March to the Sea. Forrest confronted Union General Samuel Sturgis, and defeated the much larger Union opposition.

Because of these two important battles, I hereby declare this week to be National Cavalry Week, in hopes that these battles will not be forgotten, like so many other, smaller Civil War battles have been. The idea of soldiers fighting on horseback has always intrigued me, and I hope it will inspire others as well.

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