Culpeper County Seat

Culpeper County During the Civil War

With a population of 12,063, Culpeper was the forty-seventh largest of Virginia's 148 counties in 1860. More than half of that population was African American, including 6,675 slaves. The majority of citizens in this prosperous community—its principal commercial crop being wheat—had wished to avoid war. The county voted by a margin of one vote for John Bell and the Constitutional Union party over John C. Breckinridge and the Southern Democrats in the U.S. presidential election of 1860. Like most of Virginia, however, Culpeper endorsed secession on May 23, 1861, a month after U.S. president Abraham Lincoln called on the state for volunteers to put down the rebellion. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the men of Culpeper served most prominently in five Confederate regiments: the 7th, 11th, and 13th Virginia Infantry, and the 4th and 6th Virginia Cavalry. MORE...

 

Yet, even as the county's men joined the war, geography and circumstance insured that Culpeper itself would be a focal point for military action. Geographically, it sat midway between and slightly to the west of Richmond and Washington, D.C., and railroads linked it to both national capitals. The Orange and Alexandria ran northward from the county seat of Culpeper Court House to Alexandria; the Virginia Central connected the county to Richmond via Gordonsville. In addition, the Rappahannock River formed the county's northern boundary, and Culpeper marked the first point on the river where an invading Union force could ford the Rappahannock during most of the year. Outside of the Shenandoah Valley, it was one of the best invasion routes in the state.

Consequently, armies from one side or the other occupied the county for most of the war. The Confederates had a training camp and army hospital at Culpeper Court House, and they established a supply base there early in 1862. The county suffered its first Union occupation when Union general John Pope's Army of Virginia arrived in July 1862. This led to the first major battle in Culpeper, at Cedar (or Slaughter's) Mountain, in which Confederate troops under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson successfully blocked a Union advance into central Virginia. Confederate general Robert E. Lee then drove out Pope during the Second Manassas Campaign (1862), and the county remained Lee's favored staging area for the remainder of the war. He selected Culpeper for his winter quarters after the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, and a portion of his army occupied the county following the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

Lee launched the Gettysburg Campaign from Culpeper, though not before his cavalry, under J. E. B. Stuart, faced off against Union troopers at Brandy Station in the largest cavalry battle of the war, in June 1863. Lee returned to Culpeper following Gettysburg, and would have wintered there had not the Union Army of the Potomac pushed him out in September. Lee returned the favor a month later by ousting the Union troops, only to be expelled himself in the Battle of Rappahannock Station (1863).

Culpeper remained mostly in Union hands thereafter. The Army of the Potomac wintered there from November 1863 until May 1864, when, under the new Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, it embarked on the Overland Campaign. The momentum of war then gravitated toward Richmond and Petersburg, and Culpeper saw only occasional Union raiding parties, the largest one sweeping through the community in December 1864.

Time Line

  • May 1861 - Camp Henry, a Confederate military training camp and recruit depot, is established at Culpeper Court House.
  • October 1862 - Confederate general Robert E. Lee occupies Culpeper County following his failed invasion of the North and the bloody stalemate at the Battle of Antietam on September 17.
  • November 1863–May 1864 - Culpeper County is occupied by the Union Army of the Potomac.
  • December 22–25, 1864 - The largest of occasional Union raiding parties sweeps through Culpeper County.
Further Reading
Crick, Robert K. Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1990.
Gallagher, Gary W. "Brandy Station: The Civil War's Bloodiest Arena of Mounted Combat." Blue & Gray Magazine, 8 (October 1990), 8–22, 44–53.
Hall, Clark B. "The Battle of Brandy Station." Civil War Times Illustrated, 29 (May–June 1990), 32–42, 45.
Hall, Clark B. "Season of Change: The Winter Encampment of the Army of the Potomac, December 1, 1863–May 4, 1864." Blue & Gray Magazine, 8 (April 1991), 8–22, 48–62.
Morton, Virginia Beard. Marching Through Culpeper: A Novel of Culpeper, Virginia, Crossroads of the Civil War. Orange, Virginia: Edgehill Books, 2001
Sutherland, Daniel E. Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–65. New York, New York: Free Press, 1995.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Sutherland, D. E. Culpeper County During the Civil War. (2012, May 17). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Culpeper_County_During_the_Civil_War.

  • MLA Citation:

    Sutherland, Daniel E. "Culpeper County During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 17 May. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 28, 2009 | Last modified: May 17, 2012


Contributed by Daniel E. Sutherland, professor of history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.