146 years ago today, the Union cavalry, supported by Col. Strong Vincent’s infantry brigade of the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps, defeated Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at the Battle of Upperville. Upperville is significant for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it represents the first time that the Union cavalry defeated Stuart’s men on the field of battle and held the battlefield at the end of the day. As they had at Brandy Station 12 days earlier, John Buford’s Federal division and William E. “Grumble” Jones’ Confederate brigade bore the brunt of the day’s fighting. Late in the day, a combined assault by Buford and David Gregg, supported by Vincent’s infantry, shattered Stuart’s lines at Upperville and sent his troopers flying from the field for the first time.
They fell back to the mouth of Chester Gap, the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, and the support of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps infantry beyond. Fortunately for Stuart and the Confederates, the Federals did not press their advantage and did not discover the presence of the main body of Longstreet’s corps beyond (although Alfred Pleasonton later lied and claimed that he had). The Confederate infantry would have driven the Yankee horsemen off, of course, but they would have gained useful intelligence about the whereabouts of the main body of Lee’s army.
In addition, Stuart lost his favorite aide, the giant Prussian mercenary Maj. Augustus Heros von Borcke, badly wounded in the neck during the final assault by Gregg’s troopers. von Borcke’s wound was thought mortal–although he recovered from it–and it ended his active participation in the American Civil War. It was a serious loss for Stuart, who was very fond of the outgoing, fun-loving German. Stuart himself barely escaped; he reported to his wife Flora that some of Buford’s Regulars of the 1st U.S. Cavalry had been gunning for him but had missed.
However, as he had since Brandy Station, and particularly at Aldie and Middleburg on June 17 and 19, respectively, Stuart managed to keep the active and diligent Union cavalry from locating the body of the Army of Northern Virginia as it advanced down the Shenandoah Valley toward the Potomac River and Maryland. Thus, even though Upperville was a tactical defeat for Stuart’s horsemen–their first at the hands of the Federal cavalry–it remained a strategic victory.
The next day, June 22, Stuart received the orders that led to his eight-day raid during the Gettysburg Campaign, triggering a controversy which still rages to this day. Thus, the Battle of Upperville is worthy of commemoration for a variety of reasons. Here’s to the cavalrymen of both sides who fought there 146 years ago today.Scridb filter