Battle of Kelly's Ford, VA

Photos/text courtesy of Craig Swain, Leesburg, VA
For any use of these photos contact
1. National Park Service summary of the battle and driving tour
2. A History of Kellysville, from the Inn at Kelly's Ford
3. Battle Summary: Kelly's Ford, VA
4. Battle of Kelly's Ford

The battle of Kelly's Ford occurred on March 17, 1863, St. Patrick's Day.  During the winter after the Battle of Fredericksburg, the main armies remained idle, resting from the vigors of the previous campaigning season.  The land along the Rappahannock River remained the "no man's land" between the armies.  General Hooker, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac reorganized the cavalry, with the aim of finally countering Gen. JEB Stuart's Confederate Cavalry.  After Confederate Gen. Fitzhugh Lee raided Hartwood Church in Stafford County, Hooker felt it was time to let loose his mounted troopers to test their metal.  He Ordered General Stoneman, Chief of Cavalry, to raid into Culpeper County with the aim of confronting Fitz Lee's forces.  Stoneman sent a division under Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, with attached artillery, across Kelly's Ford, south of Remington, to root out Lee's cavalrymen.  After a morning crossing, facing spirited pickets, Averell took two hours to mass his forces.  The delay allowed Fitz Lee to bring up parts of several regiments, about 800 men total, to confront the Federal advance.  Outnumbered two to one, Fitz Lee's troopers gave ground.  The battle generally raged to the northwest along Kelly's Ford Road (modern CR 674).  Still the Federals never really pressed their advantage.  At this stage in the battle, JEB Stuart and a party that included artillerist Maj. John Pelham arrived on the field.  Finding Fitz Lee's cavalry in difficulty, Pelham joined one of the cavalry charges.  While directing forces to a break in a stone wall held by the Federals, Pelham was mortally wounded by a Federal artillery shell.  A full counterattack by Averell's Division forced Lee back down Kelly's Ford Road, to the northwest.  The fighting ranged back and forth forth until finally late in the afternoon, sensing his mounts were too tired to continue, Averell ordered a fall back to the Ford. 

Kelly's Ford should be remembered as the first of a series of cavalry engagements in the first half of 1863 in which the Federals began to show increasing competence and ability.  Averell reported 78 men lost in the action.  At the same time, it is an example of the affects of attrition on the Confederate cavalry, both on the men, horses, and leaders.  Overall Fitz Lee reported 170 men lost, including the "gallant" Pelham.


(November 2007) Enlarge  Marker-1  Marker-2   This pull off on the northeast, or Federal, side of the Rappahannock offers a trail to the buffs overlooking the river. While some 400 yards upstream from the ford itself, the bluffs offer a view of the river course. Federals defended the bluff at different times during the war to guard the ford and access to Orange County. The two markers here indicate actions during both the Battle of Kelly's Ford and later during the Battle of Brandy Station

(November 2007) Enlarge  Looking upstream from the modern bridge on a misty morning. While the modern visitor might wonder why the troopers couldn't ford the river pretty much anywhere. But to the 19th century horse bound army, the leaders had to consider tender hooves and easily impaired spoked wheels. The area just downstream from the bridge had a mill dam, and a siding canal afforded light boats a passage point round these rocks. The canal path further impeded crossing here



(November 2007) Enlarge  Looking downstream from the bridge, the site of the modern bridge. The ford was around 300 yards downstream from this point, where the river course bends to the left. A bridge built just prior to the war crossed the site, but apparently was dismantled or destroyed sometime during the early part of the war. The ford site was well used during the war. In addition to the crossing during this battle, it was also used during the Brandy Station battle, Chancellorsville Campaign, and on several occasions in the fall of 1863

(November 2007) Enlarge  From the intersection of modern CR. 672 and 620, looking south across the grounds of the Kelly's Ford Inn. Initially, Confederate pickets resisted the Federal advance here. Once they were cleared, Averell's division assembled here and prepared to move out to the northwest against Fitz Lee's troopers


(January 2008) Enlarge  Marker  Kelly's Ford Inn occupies the site of the historic crossing point. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Kellysville was a thriving mill town, with a textile mill, saw mill, four mill, blacksmith shop and copper shop. Like many locations near the fall line in Virginia, water power aided industry, and transportation links soon followed. The Rappahannock canal, with limited success, allowed river boats to skirt rapids and reach this point. After the war, the industries never fully recovered and the site today is dairyland


(November 2007) Enlarge  High ground to the north of the intersection. Averell's left flank was anchored here while he assembled his Division. At the time of the battle, portions of Kellysville stood where the cattle graze

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