National Press Club

NPC group gets close-up look at two fierce Civil War battles near Culpeper, VA

July 18, 2017 | By Jim Noone | jnoone@mercuryllc.com

NPC members and guests on the battlefield at Brandy Station, near Culpeper, VA.  Kneeling are Trip Leader Jim Noone, left, and guide Greg Mertz.

NPC members and guests on the battlefield at Brandy Station, near Culpeper, VA. Kneeling are Trip Leader Jim Noone, left, and guide Greg Mertz.

Photo/Image: Darlene Shields

Forty National Press Club members and guests got a close-up look at the historic site of two short but fierce battles near Culpeper, VA, during the Club’s 14th annual Civil War Trip.

The trip, on on Saturday, July 15, was hosted by the Civil War Trust as part of a longstanding payment-in-kind agreement with the Club.

With maps in hand, the NPC group spent the morning touring battlefields of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, which occurred on Aug. 9, 1862. It was a “hot, nasty day,” with mid-afternoon temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, according National Park Service guide Greg Mertz. Mertz, supervisory historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, provided expert commentary and insightful comments throughout the day.

The Cedar Mountain conflict pitted 24,000 Confederate troops under then-Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson against an outnumbered Union force of 9,000 soldiers – with some 3,000 reinforcements joining the battle – led by Maj. Gen. John Pope. The Confederates were almost routed in a vicious attack by Pope’s forces, but Jackson rallied his troops and saved the day.

“He was everywhere,” said Mertz, “turning what was almost a rout into a victory.”

Jackson’s performance eventually led to his promotion to lieutenant general, joining Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet as the three top Confederate leaders.

In the afternoon NPCers got a crash course in the June 9, 1863, Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle in American history. The sprawling all-day battle involved 17,000 troops and saw fortunes change repeatedly. Eventually the Confederate cavalry led by famed Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart prevailed, despite being surprised by the early morning Union attack that started the battle.

Although tactically a victory for the Confederates, Mertz said, it was a confidence builder for the Union army. “It boosted the morale of the Union cavalry because it showed they could hold their own against the Confederate cavalry and J.E.B. Stuart,” he said.

“The theme for these two battles,” Mertz said, “was that the Confederate generals – Jackson and Stuart – emerged with victories, but awkward ones.”

Assisting with battlefield logistics was the non-profit Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield. The Trust and Friends, along with other preservation organizations, are campaigning vigorously to transform the two battlefields into a Virginia state park.