157th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain

Each year the Friends of Cedar Mountain commemorate the August 9, 1862 Civil War battle in Culpeper County with a living history event for all ages. The 2019 schedule is below.

Valley Guards, 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Cedar Mountain
Photo by Buddy Secor, Ninja Pix

Saturday, August 10

11:00 am  Opening shot

11:00 am  Combined arms demonstration I (Infantry and Artillery)

1:00 pm     School of the Soldier (Open to Public)

3:00 pm             Combined arms demonstration II (Infantry and Artillery)

5:00 pm             Camp life: camps open to public

7:00 pm     Ancestors ceremony honoring the fallen at Cedar Mountain

8:00 pm     Battlefield torchlight tours (students free; $5/adult supports battlefield preservation)

Sunday, August 11

10:00 am  Combined arms demonstration (Infantry and Artillery)

12:00 pm  School of the Soldier (Open to Public)

Daytime events are free. Donations are always welcome, and all proceeds benefit preservation efforts of Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield (friendsofcedarmountain.org).

Parking: Carver Center, 9433 James Madison Highway; shuttle bus to event every 15 minutes.

Visit the Civil War exhibit at the new Carver Center 4-County Museum. More than 200 African American men from the counties of Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison and Orange left their homes to join on the side of the Union during the Civil War. Their Sacrifice: Our Freedom, an exhibit curated for the Carver 4-County Museum, highlights some of those men. View original Civil War artifacts and read of soldiers’ devastating experiences documented from pension files. Exhibit open: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Saturday & Sunday, August 10-11, 2019.

The Civil War in Culpeper and Fauquier Counties

The Upper Rappahannock River Mapping Project: The Civil War in Culpeper and Fauquier Counties, 1862-1864 documents the broad and complex historical landscape that extends across much of Virginia’s Culpeper and Fauquier Counties, anchored along the Rappahannock River. During 1862-1864, nine battle engagements – including Cedar Mountain – took place in this area, and its strategic importance during the Civil War is supported by this report’s in-depth analysis that includes a wealth of current resources as well as historic photos and maps. An excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about the historical landscape of Culpeper and Fauquier Counties.

Click on the image below to read the full report on issuu.com

The origin of the name “Raccoon Ford”

Much of the history of Raccoon Ford that is discussed relates to the Civil War, but the area also may have played a role in our country’s early history. Ron Vecchioni, who is currently renovating historic St. Paul’s Church in Raccoon Ford, shared the following information:

It was the Marquis de Lafayette’s stop here in the spring of 1781 that earned the hitherto unnamed ford across the Rapidan River its name.   While waiting for additional forces to join him, Lafayette directed his troops to begin cutting down trees to build ramps on either bank of the Rapidan River, to aid in moving their supply wagons and cannons across the shallowest point in the river.

 As his troops began cutting down nearby trees for construction of the ramps they came to a tree with a mama raccoon and her kit of babies.  There are two versions of the events that transpired there.  In one version the tree is unceremoniously cut down and the raccoons scampered across the river, hence the name Raccoon Ford. 

 In the other version, a heated argument breaks out, as Lafayette, who has never seen raccoons before, directs his men to leave the animals unmolested and instead cut down another tree a further distance away from the river.  This of course meant more physical labor for the troops. 

Who knows which version is the truth?  It is however safe to say that there was a tree, there were raccoons in it, and Lafayette was there. 

Thus Raccoon Ford was the springboard for the final campaign of the American Revolution.  It was here that Lafayette’s 1,000 Continental soldiers and 2,000 New York Militia waited for “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s Army to join up.  Wayne arrived with an additional 800 Pennsylvania Continentals on June 10, 1781.  A few days afterwards, William Campbell’s force of 1,000 additional militia gathered from southwestern Virginia arrived.

With a sizable force of over 4,500 armed men, Lafayette now was strong enough to march towards and confront Cornwallis who was advancing up the Virginia peninsula towards Richmond, Virginia.  At Yorktown Lafayette was joined by a Continental Army led by General George Washington along with French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau.  The combined land force encircled Cornwallis and laid siege to Yorktown.  With the help of the French Navy blockading the Chesapeake Bay from the British Navy, Cornwallis had no choice but to surrender on October 19, 1781.

 The Yorktown campaign was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War.  The defeat of Cornwallis and capture of his entire army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.  The 13 colonies had finally won their independence and the United States of America was created, and the whole thing began at a little unnamed river crossing on the Rapidan River now known as Raccoon Ford in southern Culpeper County, Virginia.

Contributed by Ron Vecchioni

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Solar project threatens historic mansions, landscapes along Rapidan River

On June 30, 2019, the Culpeper Star Exponent published an article describing the impact a proposed 1300-acre utility-scale solar project would have on the antebellum properties surrounding Raccoon Ford.

An excerpt:

RACCOON FORD—Before war came, Congressman and secessionist Jeremiah Morton designed three mansions along a few miles of Algonquin Trail in southern Culpeper County.

The stately homes withstood armies’ fighting, encampment and occupation during the Civil War, and still stand today. Restored by their owners, they have storied pasts and anchor former plantations near the Rapidan River, named by a Colonial governor for Queen Anne of England.

Farmland surrounds the graceful houses—Greenville, Struan and Sumerduck—in an area on the Rapidan that’s mostly untouched by time and steeped in early history, including that of Indians and African-Americans. The countryside also yields many accounts from the War Between the States.

“Where else in the country do you have a Civil War laboratory like this? Nothing has changed,” Civil War historian Clark “Bud” Hall said during a visit to the mansions of Algonquin Trail.

Change could be coming, though, as county officials consider allowing a utility-scale solar plant to be built on 807 acres of agriculturally zoned parcels along the rural route.

Cricket Solar LLC, the project’s developer in Irvine, California, says the green initiative will generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes a year.

The Culpeper County Planning Department is reviewing revisions to an application submitted in December by Cricket that would place more than 270,000 solar panels in the Raccoon Ford area.

Read the full article

Map of 1864 Rapidan River landscape

Clark B. “Bud” Hall is a historian and preservationist who has written widely on the role of cavalry in the American Civil War. In 2012 he received the Civil War Trust’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” in recognition of his 25-year efforts to protect America’s hallowed ground. He is an expert in the history of the Civil War in Culpeper County and is a frequent contributor of articles on local history to the Culpeper Star Exponent. Hall shared the map below with the following comments:

This 1864 map by Captain William H. Paine depicts the still-pristine territory along the Rapidan River near Raccoon Ford. On the lower left, the confluence of the Rapidan and Robinson (Horseshoe) rivers is seen just beneath “Garnett’s Mill.” Fifteen miles to the east, downriver, Mine Run enters the Rapidan. 

In the center-right of this superb military map, Raccoon Ford is shown in bold script by the mapmaker and he did that for the ample reason that Raccoon Ford is the single most significant ford on the Rapidan Front.

Note the mapmaker has highlighted Robinson (now Struan); Nalle (now Greenville); and Stringfellow (Summerduck) – all historic properties that continue to thrive in the Raccoon Ford area. Morton’s Ford, site of a February 1864 battle, is situated just beneath Robinson.

The officer who created (and field-checked) this map, Captain William Paine, was the top mapmaker in the Army of the Potomac. After the Civil War, Captain Paine, an engineer, built the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Editor’s note: For more about William Paine, please see http://www.petersburgproject.org/william-h-paine-cartographer.html

Raccoon Ford flooding … now, and then, and now

The Rapidan is a temperamental river when there are heavy rains, and the Raccoon Ford area is particularly susceptible to flooding. In 2018, Raccoon Ford Road in Orange County across the Rapidan from Raccoon Ford was closed 6 times due to flooding. Midway through 2019, there has been only one road closure, but the water level in the river has risen precipitously during several of the year’s rainstorms.

The following clipping from 1902 indicates that this is a longstanding issue.

More than 100 years later, the road bed continues to be “encroached upon.” Over the last year, the Virginia Department of Transportation has repeatedly undertaken stabilization projects on the river bank alongside Raccoon Ford Road. Our bets are on Mother Nature.

Culpeper Civil War Timeline References to Raccoon Ford

This listing (references included) was compiled by Michael Block.

Michael Block has been on the board of directors of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield in Culpeper County since 2012 and is currently serving as its vice president. He has also served on the board of the Brandy Station Foundation and on both the Culpeper and Fauquier Sesquicentennial Committees. He is a 20-year veteran of the Air Force.

Some entries are one-line observations; others are full diary entries. The references to “skirmish at Raccoon Ford” come from Daniel Grimsley’s account of the war in Culpeper County.

Monday, July 28, 1862

                  Reconnaissance at Raccoon Ford

Tuesday, August 19, 1862

-88thPennsylvania Infantry Regiment

Diary of John D. Vautier

Cold & chilly in the Morning but very hot the rest of day. At daylight we were drawn up in line of battle on the old Cedar Mtn, battle ground, expecting the Rebels to cross Raccoon ford in pursuit. They not appearing we resumed the line of march & marching through Culpepper made for Rappahannock Station. Night overtook us before we reached the river and the roads were in a horrible condition for there was deep holes & large stones in it all along. Frequently someone would fall & in some cases serious injuries were received. If a man fell out & slept by the road side all night (as many did) they were a sure candidate for Rebel prisons, for our rear guard was not far behind & the Enemy advance was close on to them. We were also short of rations & were forced to pick up pieces of crackers to eat & appease our hunger. Reached the Rappahannock at Mid Night & crossed, having marched 25 miles from our starting point. Lieut. Hudson died. (http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Vautier-28#Transcript_of_John.27s_Civil_War_Diary)

Wednesday, August 20, 1862 

Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Tuesday, November 4, 1862

-Fluvanna Artillery

Arrived in Culpeper . Jennings Cropper Wise described the new camp as “an excellent one about one mile from the town, where clear streams furnish water, and kept the meadows late into the winter, and where woods sheltered the animals form the bleak north winds.” During the battery’s stay, the men received clothing parcels from home.  The battery departed (for Fredricksburg) at 4pm, November 19, stopping at Raccoon Ford for the evening. (Fluvanna Artillery, David G. Martin, pp 62-63)

Wednesday, November 5, 1862

-Fluvanna Artillery

Attempted to cross the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford at 9am., but found a traffic jam of wagons, so they forded the river at Mr. Hodgson’s, a half-mile upstream. (Fluvanna Artillery, David G. Martin, p 63)

Thursday, April 30, 1863

Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Sunday, June 7, 1863

-Ewell’s Corps

Forded the Rapidan River at Raccon Ford and proceeded upstream to Summerville Ford, where he found Jubal Early’s troops in the process of crossing. Ewell continued forward at a rapid gait and reached Culpeper Courthouse at 10:00am, Ewell made his headquarters at the Cooper House, a deserted building northeast of town on the Rixeyville Road. Rodes men camped a couple miles beyond the house. Early and Johnson halted south of town. (Richard S. Ewell: A Soldiers Life, by Donald C. Pfanz. P280-81)

-2ndCorps ANV

Diary of Jed Hotchkiss

We were up at an early hour and had prayers by Mr. Lacy. Then march on and crossed the Rapidanne at Raccoon Ford and then turned up and went to Summerville Ford where the troops were crossing, Rodes in front, who had spent the night not far from the Ford, followed by Early who had come up from near Verdiersville and who was followed by Johnson’s division which had been camped behind him. McLaw’s division of the First Corps had camped the night before near Raccoon Ford. We found Rodes well on the road and across the Ford. The troops soon recognized General Ewell and began to cheer him the ardor they felt for their old commander. He took off his cap and rode rapidly along the line. We came on, quickly, to Culpeper C.H., getting there about 10 a.m. and there found General Lee who had come to our camp of Friday night on Saturday and crossed Raccoon Ford today. General Longstreet was there also, — having his headquarters about a mile southwest from town. McLaw’s was just coming in; he encamped on the Sperryville road. Rodes went out three miles toward Rixeyville and Early and Johnson halted on the road four miles back. We found Hood’s division just coming back from towards the River and encamping near town. We took our quarters at Mr. Cooper’s House, a mile and a half northeast of town. The day had been fine and bracing, the country looks beautifully, the grass being high and thick. I saw JEB Stuart. (Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, edited by Archie P. McDonald, p149)

-6thNorth Carolina Infantry

The men splashed across the muddy Rapidan at Raccoon Ford at noon on the 7th. By 4 o’clock that evening the regiment was encamped within five miles of Culpeper Court House. (The Bloody Sixth: The Sixth North Carolina Regiment Confederate States of America, History by Richard W. Iobst, p122)

Wednesday, August 19, 1863

Mooreman’s Battery

Diary of Lewis Nunnelee

March early in the morning passed Locust Grove where we took right hand road for Raccoon Ford. Passed Burr Hill at Bartlett’s Mill’s on Mine Run. Crossed Rapidan River at Raccoon Ford into Culpeper Co. When in 3 miles of the Co. House took the left and joined the battery 4 miles from Co. House on Cedar Run and Slaughter’s Mountain and on the farm of Robert Patton. The no. 2 rifle piece, however, was on picket near Brandy and Napoleon piece sent off for repairs. (Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion: Mooreman’s and Hart’s Batteries, Edited by Robert J. Trout p63)

Tuesday, September 15, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Thursday, September 17, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Friday, September 18, 1863

-78thNew York

Pvt. William Smith (company E) executed for desertion. Originally buried P.P. Nalle’s, near Raccoon Ford, moved to Culpeper National Cemetery, Plot: 343

-9thVirginia Cavalry

Portion of a letter from Henry Basye, Company D, to his wife, Annie

I am going to send you a few lines by one of our detailed men going home. I sent you one the other day by Dr. Harding. Thus man was going home sooner but his horse was lame. General Stuart sent in more details for men who want to go home for horses. L. Hall sent one in for me. The order is not to let any man go home if he has a good horse. Kate is in good order and hearty. A good man have gone home on good horses and brought back the same horse. I got a letter that was sent to me from Ma yesterday as it would be found broken up on the road. He discusses a colt that Captain has that he wants. We had a big cavalry fight at Culpepper – the enemy drove us back across the Rapidan River. We are now in Orange County near Raccoon Ford. We are not but 30 miles from Fredericksburg. The 15th [Regiment] was used up. We did not lose a man from our company but there were a number of horses shot in our company. I had my likeness taken but it is not a good one. I wanted to take it with my hat on but he [photographer] said the brim threw blackness on my face and would make it look black. I told him to try it anyway and he shoved my hat so far back it looks bad. I shaved my face and you will see it when Mr. Betts brings it home. Direct your letter to Orange Court House. I am going to attend to Gus Betts business until he comes back. Annie, William Dodson was killed dead, old man Bat’s son. He was there when he was killed and did not have time to bury him. It was done in a charge. They had to retreat and leave him. Old Mr. Bat’s horse was shot through the leg. I hope you are well since you have weaned “Stonewall”. Henry Basye. (from the Historical Shop Website, http://www.historicalshop.com/sitecontents/confederate/document.htm, accessed January 2, 2015)

Saturday, September 19, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Tuesday, September 22, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

-3rd Wisconsin Infantry

Camp of 3rd Wis. Vol.
Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River, VA
September 22, 1863

Dear Brother:

It is sometime since I wrote to you. I thought I would not write until we got into business again. Well here we are again right in front and as usual doing picket duty. Considerable of a changing from drilling on Broadway N. Y. to the wilds of Va. Our lines are on one side of the river the rebs on the other. We have been here 4 days. The first two days they fired at us whenever they would hear a man. Our men did not fire. They now come down to the river and talk together. They are strongly fortified and have a strong position. We are under marching orders again with eight days rations. I do not know when but I think there is an advance movement. 
We remained in New York City two weeks then returned the same way. Went on transports. We [were] gone four weeks. Had a very pleasant time. Had no trouble. While there the nights have been quite cool of late. Begins to look like fall. We are beginning to count the months now. Have nine months to stay from the twenty nineth of this month.
I received the money you lent me while at N. Y. All safe. Have not received pay since. 
I must quit. The brigade inspector inspects us this morning. I must get ready.
No more at present.
Your brother, 
J. W. Hunter

I will send Elizabeth my picture.

Excelsior Brigade website: accessed 25Jan19

Thursday, September 24, 1863

-88thPennsylvania Infantry Regiment

Diary of John D. Vautier

Weather Clear. Lt. Leavan goes home. Struck tents at 9 a.m. & went down near the Raccoon Ford. Our Regt. goes on picket. The Enemy are on the other side on the high bank. In the night I crawled up to the bank & there on the opposite side by a fire were 2 Rebels, not more than 20 yards from me. I could shot one of them very easily, but they [last line of page cut off] (http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Vautier-28#Transcript_of_John.27s_Civil_War_Diary)

Friday, September 25, 1863

-9thVirginia Cavalry

Letter from Pvt. John W. Cummins to his father

Camp near Raccoon Ford, Sept. 25th1863

Dear Father: As I have a chance to write you a letter I will. I have not heard anything direct from home since I left there. I think you might send me a letter by some of the scouts that are constantly coming over it you would try. We have fallen back across the Rapidan River and are camped near Raccoon Ford. We are looking for a battle every day. Our squadron has been made Sharpshooters and as we fell back on the 13thwe had to dismount and fight them as infantry. We had two wounded and one missing from our company. J. Brown and W. Tolson. We had to leave Brown on the field. He was shot through the thigh with a grape shot. I helped to bring him about a hundred yards but they graped us so from two batteries that we had to leave him. How any of us got out safe I cannot tell. I had my gun shot from out of my hand but picked it up and trotted back to my horse which was back in the rear and I tell you I was glad to see him. Cousin John is well but not in the fight on account of his horse which is lame. J. E. Barber is well and sends his love… I wish you would try to have me a pair of boots made as it is impossible to get them over here.  Write every chance you get. In a hurry, from your affectionate son, J.W. Cummins (The Years of Anguish: Fauquier County in the Civil War, p96)

Monday, October 5, 1863

-7thIndiana Infantry

This letter appeared in the Indianapolis Daily Journal on October 5, 1863 on page 2 columns 4 and 5. The spelling and punctuation are unchanged from the original publication. 

Letter from the 7th Indiana by Chaplain R.W. Jewell 
Bivouac 7th Indiana Volunteers, 
Near Raccoon Ford, 
Rapidan River, Virginia. 

Editor Journal: On Thursday last, 24th inst., while all were quietly eating dinner, in camp near Culpepper, the “pack up” was sounded. Dinners were finished in double quick time, and in less than fifteen minutes all were prepared to go whithersoever the commander desired. It is both amusing and surprising to see how quick this army can prepare for marching. After the usual delay in taking up order of march, we were all put in motion toward the Rapidan, and after an easy and quiet march of some six miles over a narrow, unfrequented, but level and dry, though not dusty road, thickly hedged with pine, cedar and other undergrowth, we reached our present bivouac, about one mile from the river, and near a little mountain, from which the rebel camp and the “Johnny rebs” themselves can be seen plainly with the naked eye. It is but “a step” over, but we do not take that step, and in fact it is a rather a perilous step to take. We are not allowed to give the relative positions of the different commands. We do not pretend to know the objects of this movement, and will not therefore undertake to give them. 
Execution of a Deserter. 
     Yesterday, 25th inst., near this place, Charles Williams, of the 4th Maryland volunteers, Company D, 1st Corps, 3d Division, at 4 P. M. was shot to death for desertion. I was present at this painful affair, and will give your readers a few facts, if you have not a more able correspondent. 
     The division to which the condemned man belonged was formed into a hollow square, the east side open, where was an open grave, the fresh dirt telling that it had been dug but a short time previous. At a little after 3 P. M. the convict was marched on the ground, in at the open side of the square, and all round the lines, close to the men. A brass band and muffled drums, led by the officer of the occasion, went in front, discoursing the most mournful music; indeed it seemed as if every instrument was a living, heart-broken thing. Next after the band marched the firing party, with their deadly weapons at a shoulder, and bayonets unfixed. This party was composed of twelve soldiers. Then came the rough coffin, borne by four men; then came the doomed man, walking behind and looking upon that coffin which was soon to contain his earthly remains. He was a common sized man, dressed in black pants, white shirt, no coat, and a well worn round-crowned woolen hat, his face cleanly shaven. His step was firm, and in time with the dead march, he looked neither to the right nor the left. His left arm was drawn round behind, and his right arm down by his right side, the left wrist being handcuffed to the right arm immediately below the elbow, so that his breast was laid bare for the leaden messengers of death to do their awful work without hinderance. By his right side walked a Chaplain, but during the awful march no words passed between them.-Behind him with fixed bayonets marched a heavy guard. During the time occupied in marching around the lines, the whole multitude seemed to hold their breath and gaze with pity, and many with flowing eyes, at that healthful man, in the prime of life, marching to his own funeral dirge, and gazing upon the weapons that were in a few moments to pierce his heart and brain; and that coffin and grave so soon to receive his dishonored remains. Oh, God! what awful reflections were ours at that dread time; but how horribly awful must have been those of that doomed man! On went the solemn procession—his body the living hearse for his dead honor—the band making the very air to wail and weep. At last they file off to the open grave; here, at its edge, they halt; the coffin is let down by its side; the band marches from the scene; the guards and firing party take up their proper distances; the doomed man is left alone with the Chaplain; they both seat themselves, facing each other, astride the coffin, and, in this position, the man of God lifts his eyes and voice to heaven in earnest, eloquent supplication for that soul which was so soon to pass into the presence of its maker, to give an account of the deeds done in the body. What an awful position was this! Not many have sat upon the coffin with one who was so soon to fill it, and invoke the mercy of God upon that unfortunate being. Prayer over, the preacher made some remarks; then for some moments they stand in common conversation. There is not the least indication of fear; nor the slightest trembling or restlessness of position; not the blanching of eye or palor of countenance could be detected, but a firm attention, with a soldierly attitude, he stood and listened to the last words of his chaplain. Now the bugle admonishes us that the fateful moment is near; he hates to part with the preacher; presently the officer advances and the chaplain retires; the poor fellow takes a calm and deliberate survey of the heavens and earth and at the long lines of gleaming bayonets about him, and at his executors, who stand ready to carry out the sentence of death; then with a sigh, submits his eyes to be blindfolded, and all earthly objects are shut out forever. The office retires, and then he stands beside his coffin, as firm as a marble statute. A note from the bugle, and every piece is at an aim; another note they belch forth fiery death into his bosom; he falls back over his coffin, and his head, neck and heart are pierced through; he moves not a muscle, he quivers not; the sentence is complete; he is dead. 
     As soon as the fact was officially announced by the surgeons of the occasion, the corpse of the executed man was placed on the ground, alongside of his coffin, and all the division were marched in review, so that every man might see the fearful fate which is before the man who deserts his cause, colors and comrades in this our hour of peril. 
     We had poor opportunities of gaining information, but learn this man had deserted some four or five times; hiring as a substitute, getting the money, and then deserting and hiring again. When arrested he was playing substitute in the 90th [? not clear in original] Pennsylvania, and while on drill was apprehended by his old captain. 
     We will now let him alone; he fills an ignominious grave. If he has relatives, a loving wife, with a high sense of honor, we pray God to comfort them. It is a matter of great regret that one who could meet death so firmly, should prove himself so unworthy to live, and live to so little purpose, and die so ignobly. 
Rosecrans’ Defeat. 
     There is great sorrow in this army caused by the defeat, or falling back, of this gallant General’s command. All had hoped he would be able to hold his ground against the rebels, but it seems he has not. This army appreciates Rosecrans, and feels the importance of his complete success, and it is to be hoped that he may be able yet to turn the table on his enemy. It has been said here, ever since it was found that a portion of Lee’s army had gone to fight Rosecrans, that the Western boys would find different material to deal with to what Bragg’s forces are; yet it seems that Thomas’s invincibles could make Longstreet’s veterans run before them as chaff before the wind. 
     Much concern is also felt for Burnside, but all have confidence in his honor and generalship. 
What Will This Army Do? 
     God knows, but it is quite doubtful whether the President, Meade, or any of the subordinates do. We may cross, and we may not. We may stay here, fall back, or do something else, but time and circumstances can alone determine. One thing is true, and that is this: Whatever this army is ordered to do, if it be in the range of possibility, they will do it. No braver and more willing men live.- There is a foolish prejudice in the minds of some men who are always talking about going ahead. If these croakers desire to know why this army does not go ahead, or if they are very anxious that we should “go ahead,” let them ask Uncle Sam for a “suit of blue,” a gun, &c., and come down and go with us, and we will do them good;” show them the rebel rifle pits, artillery and muskets on the frowning heights of the Rapidan, and then tell them to “go wence.” Talk is cheap, but it takes caution and courage to go ahead in the face of such opposition as is met with in this Department. This army has been talked into one or two fearful and disastrous battles, and it is time the Commanding General be allowed to do his own planning, and that those who cannot right face a squad of four men, and who are at home amid featherbed luxuries, either hold their piece, or speak words of encouragement, instead of disparagement. Thus let it be in the future. 
The Weather 
     Is clear and dry, but quite cool, and rather windy; rather healthy than otherwise. 
     In this regiment, and the whole corps the health is good. I have not seen a funeral in the time I have been here, (except that of the deserter above spoken of, ) which is nearly a month.http://www.civilwarinteractive.com/forums/forum32/636.html

Saturday, October 10, 1863

Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

-2ndPennsylvania Reserves

At two o’clock in the morning, our division moved towards Culpeper, and then turning to the left marched around Poney Mountain and bivouacked at Raccoon Ford, where we remained until two the next morning. (Our Campaigns: The Second Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, by Evan M. Woodard, edited by Stanley W. Zamonski, p 235)

Sunday, October 11, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Wednesday, October 14, 1863

Telegraphic News.

From Gordonsville.

Gordonsville, Oct.13. 

–A small force of our cavalry engaged Kilpatrick yesterday evening near Culpeper C. H., and were driven back within a mile of the town, when they were reinforced and pushed the enemy beyond Brandy Station. Another portion of our cavalry surrounded a portion of Kilpatrick’s force on Sunday near Brandy and captured nearly three hundred prisoners. 

Fourteen more prisoners were captured by our cavalry in a skirmish with Buford yesterday. 

These, with others picked up and captured between Robertson river and Brandy, amounting to three hundred and eighty, mostly cavalry, were brought here to-day. They were from over eighty different regiments. 

Dr. John A. Nelson and Lts. Lomax and Taloe, 2d Va. cavalry, were killed in a skirmish at Raccoon Ford on Sunday last. 

It is reported that the enemy burnt Rappahannock bridge on Sunday. (Richmond Daily Dispatch) 

Saturday, October 17, 1863

-Richmond Times Dispatch

Latest from the north.

We have received, through the courtesy of the officers of the Exchange Bureau, New York papers of Wednesday, the 14th inst. The principal news in them is about the “falling back” of Meade’s army, which has been going on since Saturday last. A letter from Headquarters of the Army of Potomac, dated the 10th, says: 

The Herald, of the 14th, says: 

Dispatches of yesterday show that our cavalry encamped on Saturday night a few miles beyond Germania Ford, and on Sunday morning were attacked by the enemy in large force, and were compelled to withdraw towards the river, and crossed at Marston’s Ford. But it appears that in the meantime the rebels had crossed in force at Raccoon Ford, and in overwhelming numbers, upon our right flank, rendering it necessary for General Buford to fall back still farther. At Stevensburg, eight miles southeast of Culpeper, another fight was had, Gen. Custer reinforcing Gen. Buford and driving the enemy. Continuing to fall back, the rebels overtook our troops again at Brandy Station, but after another severe fight, in which the enemy was repulsed with heavy loss, our command was allowed to reach the Rappahannock without further damage. Our loss in Buford’s corps is about three hundred. 

The Washington Star, of the 12th, says: 

The enemy made a feint of moving up the valley on the southern bank of the Robertson river, and our cavalry under Buford crossed at Germania Ford and took possession of the earthworks abandoned by them. When our force was all across the enemy came against Buford in great force, drove him across the river, without time to destroy the crossing, and pursued him to Rappahannock Station. 

(Richmond Daily Dispatch)

Wednesday, October 21, 1863

-The recent cavalry fighting in Culpeper.

The Lynchburg Virginian publishes the following extract from a letter which gives the first intelligible account of the recent cavalry fighting in Culpeper that we have seen: 

Last night while we were the only brigade of our corps left on the line of the Rapidan, near Raccoon ford, the enemy, I suppose to cover the retreat of his army, attempted, and succeeded in effecting, the crossing of a large cavalry and artillery force at the ford below us. Small as our force was it had to be divided, and one part was sent to aid the cavalry at the lower ford while the rest remained at Raccoon ford. The portion at the lower ford (Morton’s ford) engaged the Yankees at an early hour this morning, keeping them at bay. No demonstration was made against the upper ford, where I was stationed. The enemy’s flank was thus exposed to us. Gen. Fitz Lee determined to take advantage of this, and about 10 o’clock crossed over at Raccoon ford with a brigade of cavalry and our force of infantry — about two regiments. A fine charge made upon their flank relieved our force engaged below, and they commenced retrograding. They did not, however, fail to offer a stubborn resistance, and more than once our cavalry showed signs of giving way. Our infantry was brought up, and upon the Yanks getting a view of them, they allowed their discretion to surpass their valor, and yielded to the necessity of the case. Our forces pressed the advantage thus gained, and the Yankees, not having succeeded in uniting their whole force, continued to retreat. After this was kept up for a while, they were more successful in getting their whole force together, and in the vicinity of Stevensburg, a small village, they drew up their lines in a commanding position and offered us battle. It was a grand sight to see their numerous lines drawn up in battle array on the wide extended plain. 

We were in an open field, as level as a floor; they occupying the only eminence in the vicinity. Orders soon came from General Lee (Fitz.) for us to advance and charge them. –There was no flanking, no shelter, no protection whatever to our men, but the manner in which our lines advanced drew encomiums from every beholder. The charge was made with a cheer. They delivered terrible volleys of musketry in our midst, and their artillery ploughed through the lines; but there was no halt — no wavering. Above the din of battle their yell was heard. On and on went the line — volley after volley was poured against them; but resistance by the Yankees was useless. They begin to waver, and, in a moment more, away go their lines to the rear in one confused mass. It was a grand sight. Our cavalry continued the pursuit, our brigade not being hotly engaged again.–The pursuit was continued until we reached Brandy Station, near which we now are.

A desperate fight occurred at this point between the opposing cavalry forces. For a while the issue was doubtful, and once I feared a panic in our cavalry. They rallied to waver no more till the Yankees were driven beyond the Rappahannock, at Kelly’s ford. A decided victory has been gained by our troops. The moral effect gained by the movement of our Commanding General, Lee, cannot be over-estimated. 

In conclusion, it gives me great pleasure to bear testimony to the valor and fighting qualities of our cavalry. In the past, they may have acted badly, but not so to-day. –Their conduct in this engagement has been beyond reproach. It was gallant — worthy of the most chivalrous age. 

Our loss has been severe — not so heavy as that of the enemy. We have captured many prisoners, with their horses and equipment’s; and what was more to the purpose of our hungry men, a good many boxes of crackers, &c.  (Richmond Daily Dispatch)

Wednesday, November 4, 1863

-Richmond Daily Dispatch

Tributes of respect.

At a meeting of Co. G, 4th Va. Cavalry, held at their camp near Brandy Station, on the 26th day of October, 1863, Lieut. D. A Timberlake was called to the Chair, and Sergt. W. L. Wingfield appointed Secretary; whereupon the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted: 

Whereas, it has seemed best, in the dispensations of an all wise and just Providence, to take from us our beloved Captain, William B. Newton, who fell, shot through the brain, whilst leading most gallantly the 4th Va. Cavalry in the charge at Raccoon Ford, on the 11th October, the officers and men of his company do Resolve– 

1. That in his death our Confederacy has lost one of its most earnest, faithful, and devoted defenders, wise in counsel, gallant in the field, with the highest order of intellectual abilities and social qualities of the most winning character, he was universally respected and admired as the model of a soldier, a patriot, and a man; and so early a death has cut short a career which promised to be of distinguished honor to himself and great usefulness to his country. 

2. To us, the officers and men of his company, his loss is irreparable. We mourn him as our trusted leader, our beloved companion, and our best friend. 

3. To his afflicted family we tender the assurance of our deepest sympathy and condolence in this their sore bereavement. 

4. That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the family of the deceased, and a copy be also sent to the daily Richmond papers for publication. 

D A Timberlake,

(1st Lt. Co. G, 4th Va. Cav.,) Chairman.

W. L. Wingfield,

(1st Serg’t Co. G, 4th Va. Cav.,) Sec’y.

at the same time, the following preamble and resolutions were offered and unanimously adopted in relation to our late brother-in-arms, J. W. Nash, who fell dead while at the head of the company in the same desperate charge at Raccoon Ford, October 11th:

Whereas, God, in his all-wise Providence, has seen fit to take from us our late associate and brother-in-arms, J. W. Nash: Therefore, be it resolved, 

1. That few soldiers have died who in life were more beloved, more faithfully trusted and esteemed, or in death more deeply regretted. His cheerful spirit, his true and benevolent heart, made him the idol of his own family and friends, and marked him as a most sincerely-esteemed man in his company. Whether gathered now around that desolate hearthstone, or shattered by the exigencies of this cruel war far from thence, their griefs and their memories are too deep for utterance and too sacred for portraiture. In the discharge of his duties he was faithful, untiring, and accommodating. 

2. We tender our heartfelt sympathy to his widowed mother, sisters and brothers; but, with them, rejoice to know that he was a true and gallant soldiers and a sincere Christian. 

3. That these resolutions he sent to the Richmond papers for publication, and a copy thereof he sent to the family of the deceased. 

D. A. Timberlake, (1st’lt. Co. G, 4th Va Cav.,) Ch’n. 

W. L. Wingfield, (1st Serg’t, co, G., 4th Virginia Cav.,) Sec’y. (also appeared November 6)

Friday, November 6, 1863

-12thAlabama Infantry Regiment

Diary of Captain Robert Emory Park

(November 6 and 7)Suffered from neuralgia in my face. Late in the day a terrible cannonading towards Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station surprised us, and our brigade, under Colonel O’Neal, of the 26thAlabama, was marched rapidly to the ford. Though in great pain, I commanded my company, and we were soon in line of battle, and under a heavy shelling. This we had to endure for some time. Two North Carolina companies were captured by the Yankees in their rapid movement. At the station, Hay’s Louisiana, and Hoke’s North Carolina brigade lost heavily in prisoners. The attack seems to have completely surprised our generals. Were in line of battle until 12 o’clock at night, then marched by the right flank across Mountain Run at Stone’s Mills. Passed through Stevensburg, and went within two miles of Culpeper C. H., there halted and formed line of battle. Battle’s brigade extending from top of a lofty hill towards Brandy Station, and joined by Early’s division. We began to throw up breastworks as a protection against shell in case of attack, in two different places, using our tin cups, tin plates and bayonets, in place of spades and picks, of which we had none. How many earthworks have been quickly built in old Virginia by these simple implements! Orders came to stop our work and move to Raccoon Ford, which we reached at 9 o’clock at night, and crossed in great darkness. Colonel Pickens kindly gave me a seat on his horse behind him to cross Mountain Run and Rapidan river and I was enabled to keep dry. A great favor. After Rodes’ division waded the river we were marched down to Morton’s Ford, arriving at half past 10 o’clock, and halting at the old camp ground we occupied before our tramp to Bristow Station after General Meade in October. Just one month from the time we left we returned. As sleep had been a stranger to me for two nights, I enjoyed my sleep, and all neuralgic pains left me, or were no longer noticed. Diary of Captain Robert Emory Park, 12thAlabama Regiment. Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXVI (1898) p23-24

Saturday November 7, 1863

-53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment

Diary of Louis Leon

To-day, as several of us went to get some straw near Kelly’s Ford, we heard firing, and the long roll beat. Looking up we saw the Yankees crossing the river. We double-quicked to camp and got there just in time to fall in with our regiment, to intercept the enemy, but they had already crossed the river before we got there. We manceuvered about until dark, when my corps of sharpshooters was ordered out. We were within one hundred yards of the Yankees, and saw them around their fires very plainly. On the morning of the 8th we retreated in very good order. I certainly was glad of it, as we were in a very bad fix. We marched until sun-up and halted on Stone Mountain, passed through Stevensburg. Stayed here all night, and resumed our march and halted on the morning of the 9th. We then crossed the Rapidan at the Raccoon Ford, and are now camped at our old camp at Moulton Ford. We marched, since leaving Kelly’s Ford, forty miles. The distance is only seventeen miles. We were certainly surprised for the first time since the war. We did not dream the enemy was on us before the firing commenced. Our brigade was cut off from the army twice, but our General Daniels got us through safe. Nothing new up to the 26th. (www.soldierstudies.org)

Sunday, November 8, 1863

-ANV 2ndCorps

Diary of Jed Hodgekiss

Col. W. Proctor Smith was at the position we were directed to when we got there, looking at the ground. As soon as day came, I went over and looked over the ground of Gen. Rodes’ [division] on the right, with Gen. Rodes, and then came back and helped Gen. Johnson select his line, next on the left, Early extended towards the railway, and then A.P. Hill. The wagons were ordered across the Rapidan. Iselected a crossing and had a foot bridge made; then our men fortified the line and there we spent the day, cavalry fighting at the front. About dark we started for Raccoon Ford. Rodes in the advance followed by Johnson; Early came by Somerville Ford. General Ewell came on in his carriage. I rode ahead with Pendleton & Carroll ans we came on to Hon. Jere Morton’s (“Morton Hall”) and got there about half past 9 p.m. Tired and hungry; got some corn-bread and milk. The day was fine. The troops crossed over the Rapidan River. We slept on the floor of “Morton Hall” – Dr. Block with us. (Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, edited by Archie P. McDonald, p182)

Sunday, November 22, 1863

-2ndCorps (ANV)

Portion of a letter from Jed. Hotchkiss to his wife Sara

Hd. Qrs. 2ndCorps 

Nov. 22nd1863 
My Dear Wife:

   It has been some days since I wrote to you a letter of any length, as the letter I sent by Capt. Carroll enclosing $100–, … We are quietly resting here, with no signs of an advance, tho’ the enemy may come any day, if they intend any movement this year. I suppose the Yankees have got the cars running to CulpeperC.H. as they have finished the bridge &c. They are encamped near CulpeperC. H, & from there back to Brandy — The President came up yesterday & is to review our corps in a few days — it is said the President is in fine health & looking better than he has for a long time. Col. Pendleton went up to Orange C.H. to church today & says the Pres. & Gen. Lee were both there–. Gen Ewell & family went to Charlottesville last week, as his leg is not very well — though we hear he is better & will be back in a few days. Gen. Early commands the Corps in his absence & is here at our Hd. Qrs. …. I suppose Gen. Ewell will bring his family back, though all are much opposed to having women in camp, as officers neglect their duties to attend to their wives & when any movement takes place instead of seeing their commands off — Mrs. E. seemed to think all were glad to see her go, for she had to make that remark as she bade us good bye. Hon. Jere Morton’s family is here in part of the house, having left their house on the bank of the river, fearing that if the Yankees attempt to cross, a fight may take place near the house and they do not wish to be in the midst of it. Mrs. Morton is one of your trim, smart, busy bodies — at the same time one of the most perfect ladies I have ever met with — tho’ we see very little of her since Mr. Morton went away a few days ago & she, good wife that she is, keeps her room, disconsolate I suppose, until her nice old man returns. We had a good rain all day yesterday, but it cleared off this morning & we have had an elegant day – warm & sunshiny … & Capt. Milbourn of the Signal Corps has just come in — says there are 3 Corps of the Yankees on this side of the river, & two Corps on the other ridge — My Company keeps up a running fire of wit & humor, so my letter has but little connection, tho it will be a message — … my butter is lasting well and they are now issuing Sweet Potatoes as rations to all the army I wish you had some of them -…This is the first Sunday that it has been quiet for a month — it seems almost strange to have a day of rest. Last Sunday we had just finished breakfast when they opened artillery at Raccoon ford & we thought they were coming over — so we hurried up & packed & flew round & started the wagons off, & the troops went to the front & there was a general stir – but it all amounted to nothing — only a cavalry demonstration — so we got back to our old quarters & got dinner about 8 P.M. — .. Kiss Anne & Nelly for me – – Pa sends them his blessings & hopes they are always good & kind & trying to be good — Do not overwork yourself my Dear, try to get along by doing as little work as possible & I hope I may be able to fix you better at Christmas — Write often My Dear — I long to see you — May God’s blessing attend you — 
Your loving husband
Jed. Hotchkiss
(Valley of the Shadow website, http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/ot2www-valley?specfile=/web/data/civilwar/valley/valley.o2w&act=surround&offset=2679845&tag=Augusta+County:+Jedediah+Hotchkiss+to+Sara+A.+Hotchkiss,+November+22,+1863&query=culpeper)

Thursday, November 26, 1863 (Mine Run Campaign)

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Friday, November 27, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Monday, November 30, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Monday, November 30, 1863

                  Skirmish at Raccoon Ford

Tuesday, January 19, 1864

-104thNew York Volunteers

Portion of a letter by Capt. Henry W. Wiley, Company B

Near Cedar Mountain, January 19, 1864

“…We broke camp near Kelly’s Ford on the 24 of December…marched by the way of Brandy Station and Culpeper to this place which is called Mitchell’s Station and is within one half mile of Cedar Mountain and within one mile of the battlefield where Banks had such a terrible battle with Jackson, Aug 9, 1862, and where our Regt first witnessed the horrors of a battlefield. We arrived here about sundown of the same day which Christmas Eve and bivouacked for the night. Next day a strong force went out reconnoitering just at night the Rebs opened a couple of pieces of artillery on Capt. G.W. Wills who had command of a squadron of cavalry, that were doing picket near Raccoon Ford…without doing any harm to him or his command…I was detailed the first night after we arrived here to act as Brigade Officer of the picket and sent out after nine oclock at night with 200 men to form the line with instructions to connect with the cavalry on each side of the RR…which made my line two miles long…by this time it was one o’clock in the morning…during the night. I took possession of a farm house and the negro huts which had been vacated by the inhabitants…I was relieved after being out two days…our brigade is in the advance of the whole arm being two miles in advance of the cavalry and doing picket as far front as the cavalry. We are about two miles from the 130th NY Dragoons…about 50 of the old men here reenlisted…5 of my company been reenlisted…I took 2 Rebs as prisoners they were from the 2nd Georgia Battalion, and were very intelligent men and talked nearly sensible. They said that they had now been in the Rebel army most three years and they though that they were destined to be whipped in the end and that too very soon as we had more men and more money and we were now determined to whip them and they thought it was no use of staying there any longer. Their camp was only three ,lies from my picket line…”.

HCA auctions 7/19/12 http://www.hcaauctions.com/LotDetail.aspx?inventoryid=30297

Saturday, February 6, 1864

-104thNew York Volunteer Infantry

Portion of a letter by Henry A. Wiley

Cedar Mountain

Letter Signed by Henry A. Wiley, 104th New York Vols, 4pp. quarto, Cedar Mountain, Virginia, February 6, 1864, and reads in part: “…It is understood that a part of this army are moving today on a reconnaissance in force. All of our corps but our brigade are said to have started this morning for Raccoon Ford and are to be joined by the whole of the 2d Corps and part of the 3d Corps. Some little cannonading has been heard in the direction of Germaina Ford beyond Raccoon Ford and we think that our men have most likely crossed and will make a reconnaissance to ascertain the position and number of the Rebel troops near us. You most likely will get full particulars in the daily papers…” More. Very good condition.

HCA auctions 9/22/11 http://www.hcaauctions.com/LotDetail.aspx?inventoryid=27418

Sunday, February 7, 1864

-20thIndiana Infantry

Diary of Private Edwin B. Weist

Bivouac on Signal mountain. Got here about half past eight last night after a very hard march of about five miles. It was after dark when we passed through Culpepper and rained the whole time we were marching and all night last night. I and the Capt. slept together under my rubber blanket. We have marched this morning about two miles and to within three miles of Raccoon ford where tis said the 1stand 2ndCorps crossed yesterday. About 12 o’clock we marched back about a half mile and stopped as we supposed for the night. It cleared off during the afternoon and was quite warm for a spell. We made every preparation for staying overnight but about sundown had to fall in and march to camp.

Saturday, February 27, 1864

-5thMaine Infantry

Diary of Corporal William Holmes Morse

It is warm and pleasant. We received orders to march at 8 a.m. …heavy marching orders, but we leave our tents behind. Only our corps (6th) and the 3rdmoved and not all of that. We passed through Culpeper and near Raccoon Ford and then around to the right. We halted for the night at 4:30 p.m. having come about eighteen miles, a hard march. We are near where the Michigan regiments were engaged last fall at the time we left Raccoon Ford. (Without a Scratch: Diary of Corporal William Holmes Morse, Color Bearer of the 5thMaine Infantry, Edited by William L Carynor Sr., P195)

Monday, March 21, 1864

-105thPennsylvania Infantry

Letter from Tilton C. Reynolds to Juliana Reynolds

Camp of 105thP.V.

Near Culpeper, Virginia

March 21, 1864

My Dear Mother,

     Once more I seat myself to write a few lines to you although I must confess I have not much news to communicate though perhaps I can find enough to fill half of this Sheet.

     A few nights ago we was ordered to fall in line of Battle that the Rebels were crossing the Rapidan River at Raccoon Ford. Our Regt. had just went on picket  (ie) the principle part of it so they was not many to fall in but we did not have to go out so it was well enough.

     The cause of the alarm it is Said was this – a party of upwards of 100 Rebels had deserted and crossed the Rapidan and a Body of Rebel Cavalry was in pursuit and our Folks thought it was an attempt of the Army to cross. Our Cavalry was Soon out and drove the few “Gray Backs” across to where they belong. The Deserters themselves turned around and helped our Cavalry to drive them. They deserted with their guns and Equipments. This is the report. It may be true but we intend to believe it until we know better. 

     I got a letter from Gould last night. I am expecting one from you to night I may be disappointed however. 

     I sent the Cols Photograph. It is not a very good one but you can see what he looks like by it. When we get paid I will Some taken (ie) if we don’t move before that time and then will Send you all you want. I sent you my Certificate the other day so you could get the Local Bounty if they are paying any and I heard they were. If they aint do not give up the Certificate but let them draft a man in my place.

     I am enjoying good health. I Still hear encouraging news from home which revives my spirits amazingly. But I will close. Write as soon as possible. Your Loving Son.


[P.S.} I helped bury a man yesterday that died in our Regiment hospital. He belonged to Co. K. He died of Remettent Fever. I helped  carry him to his grave and put him in. We carried hom over on the bed hed died in and put him in without a coffin. Rest Soldier Rest.


(Library of Congress)

May 15, 1865

-Fourteenth Corps 

Cross the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford.

Post on Raccoon Ford – Mysteries & Conundrums Blog

In 2013, one of the editors of the Mysteries & Conundrums blog visited Somerville Ford and Raccoon Ford. This blog was created by the NPS staff at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The visitor, John Hennessy, was guided by two area residents. The resulting blog entry is interesting, and incorporates photos from the 2013 visit, modern maps with wartime roads marked, and quotes from Civil War soldiers who passed through the area.

Read Exploring Culpeper and Orange – Somerville and Raccoon Fords

Somerville Ford and Raccoon Ford in the center of the map.
(Also of interest: the road below the fords marked as Marquises Road – Lafayette’s 1781 route south through Orange County to Yorktown.)
Sketch of Rapidan River valley, 1864; source: Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/2005625079

A Western Visitor to Raccoon Ford

In late March of 2019, Donald Brown of Colorado stopped at St. Paul’s Church, located roughly one mile from Raccoon Ford on Algonquin Trail. He had driven across the country to visit Raccoon Ford. His great grandfather was a Private in Company C of the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment who fought and was captured by Ewell’s Confederate troops at Raccoon Ford on September 16, 1863.

After being unhorsed and captured, Mr. Brown’s great grandfather, Private John W. Brown, was marched under guard to Orange Courthouse, and there put on an Orange and Alexandria Railroad train to Gordonsville.  At Gordonsville he was then transferred to a Central Virginia Railroad train that took him to Richmond.  He remained a POW there until January 6, 1864 when he was paroled under the Dix-Hill Cartel exchange agreement.  At City Point, Virginia he was handed over to Federal authorities and boarded a side wheeler steamboat and sailed down the James River, eventually ending up in a Union Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland.

Private Brown rejoined his cavalry unit in time to participate in the Gettysburg Campaign, until reaching Hanover Junction June 30, 1864.  The 4th New York along with the 2nd Brigade was detached and sent to Manchester, Maryland where it picketed the surrounding countryside until July 3 when it was sent to Westminster, Maryland.  On July 4th, the New York Volunteers joined Kilpatrick’s Division in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army and participated at Monterey Pass and many other engagements until Lee had re-crossed the Potomac River. 

Ron Vecchioni, who owns and is refurbishing St. Paul’s Church, showed Mr. Brown the original, now sunken, Raccoon Ford road trace on the church property and told him that his great grandfather had ridden his horse down that very path 150 years ago and likely stopped and rested inside the very church he was standing in front of.  It was an emotional moment for Mr. Brown. He then eagerly went inside to take numerous photos and look at the few exhibits in the church.

Raccoon Ford and the surrounding landscape have remained largely unchanged over the years. Because of this, visitors delving into area history have a unique opportunity to take in the same topography that was settled and cultivated, as well as marched on and fought over, during years past. This experience can be powerful for those, like Mr. Brown, who are researching family and find themselves able to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps, taking in the unchanged views of rolling hills and river bluffs.

Remembering Raccoon Ford

In January 2017, Donnie Johnston, a writer for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, wrote a summary history of the Raccoon Ford area. I think the heyday was defined as prior to Hurricane Agnes flood of June 1972. In some respects that may be true, but for those of us who live along this section of the Rapidan River, the Raccoon Ford area is alive and well – and still brimming with the history of Culpeper and Orange counties and with the history of our country.

While many current residents of Culpeper and Oranges counties might not be familiar with the name or its location, Raccoon Ford has been at the crossroads of our country’s history.

As Donnie Johnston wrote, during the last 150 years, “the Rapidan, which flows into the Rappahannock River about 15 miles downstream, was both Raccoon Ford’s best friend and worst enemy. The river afforded power for a large carding and gristmill that sat on the Orange County side and a sawmill that prospered on the Culpeper bank. But the Rapidan, whose headwaters are in the mountains of Madison County, has always been prone to flooding and several mills have been washed away, the last one in 1937.”

Whether apocryphal or not, tradition has it that Raccoon Ford got its name in 1781 when the Marquis de (General) Lafayette, while waiting to combine his forces with Col. Anthony Wayne’s command from Pennsylvania to launch an assault on Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War, sought to construct a crossing on the Rapidan River.

While felling trees for the crossing, his troops cut one that housed family of raccoons … hence, the ford, used long before settlers arrived by Native Americans, became known as Raccoon Ford.

Tradition also has it that Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood crossed Raccoon Ford (yet not officially named) in 1716 during his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe expedition. Whether or not he crossed at Raccoon Ford, he and his Knights certainly passed by the ford and through the Rapidan River valley.

Donnie Johnston records some of Raccoon Ford highlights in his 2017 article. He states that “[t]he first known mill was built at Raccoon Ford in 1780 and history records that both the carding mill and sawmill were in operation in 1816. The U.S. government established a post office at Raccoon Ford in March of 1825 and by 1834 the community had eight homes, a shoe and boot factory, a tailor’s shop (where the carded wool was made into clothing), a small saloon, a blacksmith shop and a carriage maker’s shop. The total population was about 80.”

Union and Confederate troops camped on both sides of the river at Raccoon Ford. This can be seen in the several maps posted on this website. Johnston writes that “In 1863 about 10 skirmishes were fought in and around the [Raccoon Ford] village. Upon leaving, the Yankees burned the town, with the exception of the mill and a brick plantation kitchen, which still stands today.”

Johnston writes that after the new bridge along Route 522 was built, the bridge at Raccoon Ford was not rebuilt. Instead, Virginia constructed a footbridge over the Rapidan River using the old bridge abutments. This served as a visitor attraction until the footbridge was destroyed by the Hurricane Agnes flood of June 1972.

While no longer a commercial center or major thoroughfare, Raccoon Ford and the surrounding area is still steeped in history and is a place many of us call home. And each time the Rapidan floods, we feel a certain kinship with those who were here before. If you’d like to read Donnie Johnson’s full article, you will find it on fredericksburg.com