Brandy Station 1863: First Step Towards Gettysburg
by Dan Beattie, Osprey Publishing
In 1863 Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker reformed the Army of the Potomac, including its long-maligned cavalry, which he molded into a corps under Brig. Gen. George Stoneman— and then proceeded to misuse during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hooker dismissed Stoneman and Brig. Gen. William Averell, and re-formed the Cavalry Corps again under Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Even as he did, intelligence seeped in of a new Confederate offensive in the offing, and Hooker ordered Pleasonton to “disperse and destroy” that force.
What followed on June 9, 1863, was the largest cavalry battle fought in the Western Hemisphere. Although it ultimately ended in a narrow Rebel victory, the fight reflected the improvements made to the Union cavalry by Hooker, who had once sarcastically remarked, “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?”
As with other books in Osprey’s “Campaign” series, Brandy Station provides a good perspective on the battle within the context of previous and subsequent events. The protagonists are comprehensively represented, though some may quibble over Dan Beattie’s omission of the death of Major John Pelham, commander of Stuart’s “Flying Artillery,” at Kelly’s Ford. Beattie ably sums up the battle that marked a major step toward restoring confidence in the Federal horse. Nevertheless, he concludes with the caveat that Pleasonton’s subsequent failure to gather intelligence on the ANV’s movements in the wake of subsequent battles showed that the blue-coated cavalry still had a way to go.
Originally published in the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.