The Battle of Kelly’s Ford

Welcome to our site. The purpose of this site is to provide a repository of resources pertaining to the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863. The site is a work in progress, so please check back from time to time for updates.

In context of the strategic operations, Kelly’s Ford was a small scale raid, prompted in part as reaction to a Confederate raid in February which surprised the Federals near Hartwood Church, northwest of Fredericksburg. Union General Joseph Hooker, newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, wanted his reorganized cavalry corps to suppress any future forays by the Confederate cavalry.

The Second Division of the Cavalry Corps, commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, made a foray across the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford with the aim to clear out Confederates under Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee. Crossing in the early morning hours of St. Patrick’s Day, Averell’s men confronted at first only an outpost guard of the ford. But the Federals advanced cautiously, and by mid-day had only advanced a few miles. This allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive, including Major John Pelham, artillery chief of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry Division.

The fighting increased in intensity and evolved into one of the war’s most significant cavalry engagements. At one point, attempting to lead a Confederate mounted force forward, Pelham was mortally wounded by a Federal artillery shell. Although Lee’s Confederate horsemen gave ground, Averell did not press his advantage. In the afternoon the Federals withdrew back to Kelly’s Ford, closing the engagement.

While small in terms of forces engaged, the battle is an landmark in the growth in effectiveness of the Federal cavalry forces in the Eastern Theater. As such the battle is an excellent example to study the evolution in cavalry tactics and employment during the Civil War. The battlefield itself remains in an excellent state of preservation, with a few exceptions.