Searching for Lee
— Gettysburg Campaign —
After Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's stunning victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863, he led the Army of Northern Virginia west to the Shenandoah Valley,then north through central Maryland and across the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. Union Gen. George G. Meade, who replaced Gen. Joseph Hooker on June 28, led the Army of the Potomac in pursuit. The armies collided at Gettysburg on July 1, starting a battle that neither general planned to fight there. Three days later, the defeated Confederates retreated crossing the Potomac River into Virginia on July 14.
You are standing where part of the Battle of Middleburg took place in June 1863, as Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry division screened the march of Gen. Robert E. Lee's infantry to the Shenandoah Valley from prying Federal eyes. Campfires burned brightly at Union Gen. Joseph Hooker's headquarters near Fredericksburg on the night of June 16, as he pondered the best means of determining exactly where Lee was headed with the Army of Northern Virginia. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Union Cavalry Corps, urged Hooker to probe in force toward the Shenandoah Valley. But Hooker, still haunted by his recent failure at Chancellorsville, decided on a limited reconnaissance instead and elected to send forward only one regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.
On June 17, Col. Alfred N.A. Duffi? led the Rhode Islanders through Thoroughfare Gap toward Middleburg. Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart had made his headquarters in Middleburg, and Duffi?'s sudden arrival forced him to beat an undignified retreat. That evening, Stuart ordered Gen. Beverly H. Robertson to retake the town with his 4th and 5th North Carolina Cavalry regiments. Following a terrific fight here along The Plains Road just south of Middleburg, the Rhode Islanders retired south in peremptory haste to Burnt Mill Run. On the morning of June 18, Southern cavalry overwhelmed the regiment there, capturing more than 200 men. Duffi? escaped with part of his command.
"We trusted our leaders, but it seemed that someone had blundered in sending so small a body of cavalry so far from the main column."
- Pvt. Albert P. Tasker, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry