Rappahannock Station Battle Hero
Library of Congress

Rappahannock Station

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Pressured by Washington to make another attack on General Robert E. Lee’s army in northern Virginia, and perhaps enjoying the success of his partial victory over Lee at Bristoe Station three weeks earlier, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade ordered an assault against Lee’s infantry along the Rappahannock River on November 7th, 1863. A single pontoon bridge at Rappahannock Station was the only connection between Lee's army and the northern bank of the river. The bridge was protected by a bridgehead on the north bank consisting of redoubts and trenches. Confederate batteries posted on hills south of the river gave additional strength to the position. As Lee anticipated, Meade divided his forces, ordering Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick to the bridgehead and positioning Maj. Gen. William H. French five miles downstream to engage a Confederate line near Kelly’s Ford. To counter this move, Lee shifted a force under Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes to Kelly’s Ford, where they were overwhelmed by French. At Rappahannock Station, Sedgwick’s men skirmished with Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates before launching a brutal nighttime bayonet attack. The Federals overran Early’s bridgehead taking more than 1,600 prisoners. Defeated, Lee retreated into Orange County south of the Rapidan River while the Army of the Potomac occupied the vicinity of Brandy Station and Culpeper County. Later in November, before the winter weather ended military campaign season, Meade would attempt one more offensive against Lee at Mine Run.

Battle Facts

Result

Union Victory
COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
4,000

Union

2,000

Confederate

2,000
Total Estimated Casualties
2,093

Union

419

Confederate

1,674