Brandy Station…Fleetwood Hill

Our friend, Eric Wittenberg, is making a concerted effort on his blog to save 50 acres of the Brandy Station Battlefield. For those of you that may not be too familiar with the battlefield, we have posted a short story, authored by Clark “Bud” Hall, which appeared in the Culpeper Star-Exponent. After you have taken the time to read it, please stop by Eric’s blog and see how you can help save this piece of battlefield. Click Here to read about Eric’s efforts.  

Fleetwood Hill: The Famous Plateau

“The Most Marched Upon, Camped Upon, Fought Upon, Fought Over Piece of Real Estate in American History.”

As one enters Culpeper County on U.S. Highway 29 from the northeast, your vehicle proceeds about four miles and soon passes a little knoll on the right. Scooped from the flood plain of the Rappahannock River, this grassy, gentle hillock marks the southern terminus of a two and a half mile ridge that witnessed more fighting, more often, than any other piece of ground in this country—in any war.

Fleetwood Hill—geologically the beach of a primeval sea—overlooks a broad, flat, Triassic plateau that sweeps all the way to the river. “This hill commands the finest country for cavalry fighting I ever saw or fought upon,” avowed an experienced colonel.

A military commander bent on advancing his troops for attack toward Culpeper Court House from Fauquier must first ford the Rappahannock and then deploy his command on a broad front as he moves for attack. Unfortunately for the would-be attacker, this is the precise point where a serious obstacle presents itself because the aggressor soon learns (the hard way) his advance is threatened by artillery, infantry and flanking cavalry on Fleetwood Hill to his front.

A Confederate staff officer described the attacker’s dilemma: “This hill commanded the level country toward the Rappahannock and a force…must either carry the position or turn it.” A Southern horseman—he a son of Culpeper—also observed, “There was no movement of troops across the borders of Culpeper that artillery did not blaze from its summits and charging squadrons, on its slopes and around its base, did not contend for supremacy.”

Immortally characterizing Fleetwood Hill as “the famous plateau,” Jeb Stuart’s Chief of Staff penned colorful accounts of the Battle of Brandy Station. This huge cavalry action was highlighted by massive, decisive charges, concluding finally when Federal attackers were driven off Fleetwood on June 9, 1863. In fact, there were 21 separate military actions on Fleetwood Hill during the Civil War—far more than any other battle venue in this country.

Increasing its strategic import for military commanders, Fleetwood hovers above the village of Brandy Station, just a half mile away. Significantly, the ridge—and artillery thereupon—overlooks five converging road junctions in the hamlet. (An early name for the village was in fact “Crossroads.”) Of further consequence, the vital Orange & Alexandria Railroad sliced past the southern base of the hill and the village was a transport station.

The famous Carolina Road (Rt. 685), the major north-south thoroughfare of the Colonial and Civil War eras, bisects the southern terminus of the ridge—a roadway utilized dozens of times by both marching armies to shift artillery and wagons. For the convenience of passing or camping troops, “a remarkable spring,” Herring’s Spring, flowed strong and clear from the base of the hill on the north side (still does) and Flat Run marks the bottom of the southern slope.

During the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac in 1863-1864, the entirety of the length of Fleetwood was used as a well-drained camping platform by thousands of troops. Gen. George Meade selected a spur of Fleetwood as his headquarters site and it is on Fleetwood that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Meade planned the Overland Campaign.

So the next time you are headed out on Highway 29 past Brandy Station, kindly glance up at the little knoll just west of the road and note that this unpretentious little ridge has seen more military action than any other piece of ground in American history. And you will also then smugly conclude that “Fleetwood Hill: The Famous Plateau,” provides yet another momentous historical distinction for our own Culpeper County.

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