The Rappahannock Crossings

We got an unexpected jolt this afternoon in Virginia, but things seem to have quieted down a little as we now await the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend. 

149 years ago this week there was a different kind of excitement in “northern” Virginia as the Confederates advanced from the Gordonsville area towards the Rapidan, Rappahannock and on towards a repeat visit to the plains of Manassas.

This morning on my way in to work I was thinking of how the engagements and skirmishes at the Rappahannock crossings, including the Fauquier Sulpher Springs one I’ve written of previously, have become lost in the larger campaign of Second Bull Run and might even be called unknown.  I thought about the commuters on US 29 between Culpeper and Warrenton who drive by Remington on a daily basis and may not know how significant that town was during the Civil War and  that more than one fight occurred there. 

We likely remember the “looting” of the Manassas supply depot (I know that is a controversial choice of words to describe what happened but how else can one describe it without being considered biased one way or the other?), the multiple attacks on the unfinished railroad (yes, there was another one besides at Gettysburg), the stand of the 5th New York, and Pope’s failure of leadership at critical moments.  We don’t remember the lesser events that preceded the battle.

Occurring at sites from Waterloo Bridge downstream to Fauquier Sulphur Springs, Rappahannock Station (present-day Remington), and Kelly’s Ford, these events were significant in their effect on the timing and direction of the Confederate advance.  On a more personal note they were significant to the boys in blue (and butternut or gray) who were wounded or killed at these places. 

These weren’t grand battles of large numbers of men in divisions, corps and armies that remain in text and can be toured on well-manicured battlefield avenues as tourists whizz by granite monuments.  At most, there were brigades involved in these actions and, if you care to visit the sites, you need a good road map that shows the county roads that still exist from that time period.  There are no monuments, no brown highway signs pointing you in their direction, sometimes not even a state historic marker at the side of the road where history happened.

If Hurricane Irene were not on her way this weekend, I would take a driving tour to visit each of these spots… maybe with some printouts of on-location photographs from the Library of Congress to help bring the 19th century back in my mind.  It was there men fought and bled, sometimes more than once over the course of the week.  Some were brave, some only followed orders exactly and showed no initiative, and some, whether we like to admit it or not, were probably cowards.  Some were famous (or were on their way to being famous), most are lost to history except on muster rolls, many survived to be killed or wounded days later at Groveton and 2nd Bull Run.  But they were at the Rappahannock crossings 149 years ago and we ought to remember.

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