This past Saturday, I had an opportunity to visit the Brandy Station battlefield. On the walk out to Buford’s Knoll (Brig. Gen. John Buford’s command post during the engagement) I captured this picture. The tree line in the center foreground marks the Beverly Ford Road. Remnants of the original road trace still remain, but today the bulk of the highway is paved while part of it is in gravel. This area also witnessed the opening phase of the battle.
Around 4:30 on the morning of June 9, 1863 Brig. Gen. John Buford’s cavalry division crossed the Rappahannock River at Beverly Ford. Col. Benjamin Davis’ brigade led the way. Davis’ lead regiment, the 8th New York, struck pickets from the 6th Virginia Cavalry from Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones brigade. Davis’ troopers punched through the picket line and rode in column along the road. Unbeknownst to Davis as he cleared the river bottom, he approached the enemy horse artillery park. Its capture would be a serious blow to Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry. Then, fate struck.
Riding at the head of the 8th New York, Davis was spotted by the retreating Lt. Robert Allen of the 6th Virginia. Allen wheeled his horse and approached Davis, who had turned around to encourage the Empire Staters. Davis sensed Allen’s presence and immediately turned and swung his saber. As Allen ducked he fired a single shot from his pistol which struck Davis in the head. He was probably dead before his body hit the ground. With Davis out of action, Buford’s leading brigade was without a commander. Slowly, the tide began to turn.
Word of the Union advance had reached Jones’ camps and more gray regiments entered the fray. The 8th Illinois, which followed behind the 8th New York, was struck by the newly arrived 7th Virginia and elements of the 6th Virginia. Within minutes, the two senior officers in the 8th Illinois were wounded and out action. Their loss along with Davis’ death helped slow the momentum of the Union advance. This bought enough time for the Confederate artillery to withdraw to St. James Church Ridge where Stuart formed his main defensive line. He held it throughout the morning until he was forced to pull brigades out to meet a new Union threat in his rear at Fleetwood Hill. This ridge line, the site of St. James Church and Fleetwood Hill may also be visited today.