Cavalry Clash amid the Haystacks
—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. Confederate cavalry commander Gen. J.E.B. Stuart cut Federal communications and rail lines and captured supplies. 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.
In June 1863, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry screened Gen. Robert E. Lee's infantry from prying Federal eyes as the Army of Northern Virginia marched into the Shenandoah Valley. On the afternoon of June 17, opposing cavalry clashed here for control of the intersection to your right. From that junction, the Snickersville Turnpike led northwest to Snickers' Gap and this road — the Ashby's Gap Turnpike — led to Ashby's Gap.
Confederate Col. Thomas T. Munford's brigade deployed here to block a Union advance along either turnpike. Capt. Reuben Boston, Co. I, 5th Virginia Cavalry,
dismounted 50 sharpshooters on the ridge in front of you. Sheltering their horses in the low ground in back of the ridge, they took cover behind haystacks. The Adam farmhouse to your left was behind them. On your left front, the 1st Virginia Cavalry and three guns of Breathed's horse artillery battery supported Boston.
Union Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick arrayed his cavalry regiments in a north-south line to attack Munford's positions astride both turnpikes. He ordered the 2nd New York and 6th Ohio to drive Boston's men from the knoll and to secure the Ashby's Gap Turnpike. Several attacks forced the Virginians to retreat on foot toward the farmhouse for cover behind a low wooden fence. Outnumbered and endangered by defective rounds from their own artillery, the Virginians here surrendered. Munford held the Ashby's Gap Turnpike nonetheless, as bloody fighting erupted in fields to the north and along the Snickersville Gap Turnpike. The Confederates continued to block the routes to the Blue Ridge gaps.
(lower left photo 1): Col. Thomas T. Munford
(lower left photo 2): Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick
Courtesy Library of Congress
(lower middle illustration): Union cavalry charging past haystacks near Aldie Courtesy Library of Congress
(upper right illustration): "Surrender!" Near Aldie, June 17, 1863 - Courtesy Library of Congress