Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart had been impressed with the recent actions of his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton. In the last week of November and second week of December, Hampton had led successful raids behind the Union lines. Following the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, Stuart directed Hampton to ride north once again. On December 17, Hampton crossed the Rappahannock and headed for the Federal rear.
Hampton rode at the head of a handpicked force. It consisted of 100 men from the 1st South Carolina, 75 men from the 1st North Carolina, 2nd South Carolina and Cobb Legion, 80 men from the Phillips’ Legion and 60 from the Jeff Davis Legion. Just several days earlier, Hampton had captured an enemy sutler train at Dumfries and he hoped for similar results.
Hampton camped at Cole’s Store that night and then moved on to Kanky’s Store along Neabsco Creek the next morning. There his troopers surprised and captured a Federal picket post. Hampton then decided to move on to Occoquon, a small town which sat on the banks of a river of the same name. For this movement, he elected to divide his command. Doing so gave him the ability to capture any Federals in the village and the surrounding pickets while still maintaining the element of surprise. If he encountered stiff resistance, he could easily maneuver elements of his force to assist the others. Lastly, he would have added flexibility in covering a retreat.
Hampton dispatched Colonel Will Martin with the Jeff Davis Legion, 1st North Carolina and 2nd South Carolina along the river road to the village. Major Will Delony and the Cobb Legion were to march up the Telegraph Road. Hampton remained with the reserve which consisted with the 1st South Carolina and the Phillips’ Legion which moved along the Bacon Race Church Road.
Delony managed to capture 20 blue pickets outside the town before he rejoined Hampton. Meanwhile, Martin entered the village and found a wagon train from Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps attempting to cross the river at a cable ferry. Martin hailed the train guard who quickly surrendered and sent word back to Hampton, who soon arrived in the town. Hampton’s pleasure with Martin’s accomplishment was tempered with the news from one of the prisoners that 2,500 Union cavalry were marching south from Alexandria toward Occoquon. While the Confederates set about the task of ferrying the wagons across the river, Hampton sent Capt. Tillman Clarke and about 40 men from the 2nd South Carolina and Phillips’ Legion to guard Selectman’s Ford, a crossing point above the village.
The intelligence proved correct for shortly after Clarke departed, the blue column appeared. Under the command of Col. Josiah Kellogg of the 17th Pennsylvania, it consisted of his regiment, a squadron from the 6th Pennsylvania under Col. Richard Rush, and elements from the 12th Illinois. As Kellogg approached the ferry, Hampton’s troopers opened fire and brought his advance to a halt. A new regiment, Kellogg’s men were at a disadvantage as they had yet to receive carbines. At Rush’s suggestion, Kellogg sent his squadron, supported by elements from the Seventeenth to force their way over Selectman’s Ford.
Waiting for Rush were Clarke’s sharpshooters, posted on high ground above the river. Clarke immediately sent a courier to Hampton informing him of the Federals’ appearance at the ford. Rather than hold off a superior force, Hampton judiciously decided to abandon his effort and withdraw. He sent Col. John Black of the 1st South Carolina to the rear with what wagons had been captured while Martin covered the retreat. Clarke was ordered to hold on for another hour and then abandon his position.
With Black and Martin moving, Clarke departed at his directed time. Kellogg and Rush followed, but Clarke launched a counterattack and drove back his antagonists. Clarke continued to skirmish with the blue troopers as Hampton and the rest of his men made their way south. Hampton proceeded to Greenwood Church and then headed for Cole’s Store. That night he camped along Tacket’s Fork of Cedar Run. On the morning of December 20, Hampton reached the safety of Confederate lines on the south bank of the Rappahannock.
The Occoquon Raid proved to be another boon for Hampton. He captured 150 Union soldiers and made off with 20 wagons and 30 stands of infantry arms. His operations in November and December had been nothing short of brilliant. Hampton had established himself as a rising star in the Army of Northern Virginia.