1st VA Cavalry
The continued successful Confederate cavalry raids behind Union lines brought a vengeful response. General William W. Averell led a 3,000-man force of Federal cavalry against Fitz Lee’s small brigade. Averell sent his troopers swarming across Kelly’s Ford on the morning of March 17. Dismounted Confederate cavalrymen in the rifle pits put up a gallant defense, but they were overwhelmed and captured or driven off. When word of the Federal advance reached Culpeper Court House, Fitz Lee ordered out every available man from the four regiments, about 800 men. The reserve in support of the pickets at the ford contested the Union advance for an hour and a half before help arrived. Major William A. Morgan, with the sharpshooters from the 1st, led the advance of the brigade.
Fitz Lee committed his regiments as they arrived, each making a mounted charge across an open field, toward the Union position behind a high stone and rail fence. The Federal dismounted men with their carbines and the artillery took a heavy toll of the Confederates, who charged up to the fence, emptying their carbines and revolvers before retiring. Each time the enemy attempted to advance, Lee sent a regiment to drive them back. In one of the mounted charges, Major John Pelham of the Stuart Horse Artillery was killed. When the Confederate artillery arrived and opened on the Federals, Lee led the mounted portion of his brigade in a charge. Averell was forced to retreat across the river.
Lee singled out Colonel Drake for praise, sating that he was “always ready at the right time and place.” Major Morgan was cited for his handling of the 1st‘s sharpshooters in the battle. Lee wrote that Captain Charles F. Jordan of the Rockbridge Dragoons and Lieutenant Rudolphus W. Cecil of the Howard Dragoons deserved to be “especially commanded for reckless daring without parallel.” He went on to laud Captain Connally T. Litchfield of the Washington Mounted Rifles and Lieutenant Gustavus W. Dorsey of the Maryland troop. All of the couriers praised for their good conduct were from the 1st: Privates John H. Owings and Otho Scott Lee of Company K, John A.K. Nightingale of Company A, and Henry Shackleford of Company G. The 1st was fortunate, losing only one man killed and seven wounded, the smallest loss in the brigade. Twebty-one horses were killed or wounded.
The Federal cavalry had served notice that they were a force to be reckoned with. Confederate valor could not always overcomethe enemy superiority in men, horses, arms, and equipment.
Rockbridge Dragoons = Company C
Washington Mounted Rifles = Company D
Howard Dragoons or Maryland Troop = Company K (Howard County, MD)
Driver, Robert J. 1st Virginia Cavalry, 2nd Edition. Lynchburg: H.E Howard, Inc., 1991. Pages 55-56.