Battle of Catlett's Station

The Battle of Catlett's Station

August 22, 1862 in Catlett's Station, Virginia

On August 22, It was "the darkest night I ever knew," admitted Major General J.E.B. Stuart. Followed by 1,500 horse soldiers, Stuart rode through the darkness in pelting rain. His mission was to disrupt the Federal supply line servicing Major General John Pope's army in northern Virginia as part of General Robert E. Lee's Second Manassas Campaign. Stuart planned to destroy the Orange & Alexandria Railroad bridge crossing Cedar Run near Catlett's Station, while simultaneously striking Pope's headquarters.

Revenge was another objective. Days earlier, the flamboyant Stuart and his staff officers were surprised by a force of Federal cavalry. Stuart, who commanded Lee's cavalry corps, managed to escape capture - but his cape and a favorite plumed hat became Yankee souvenirs. Now Stuart hoped to return the favor. "I'm going after my hat," he declared. At 10:00 A.M., they set off on the mission. As they neared their target, the gray-clad horsemen were pummeled by a violent thunderstorm that illuminated their route with frequent bolts of lightning. Late that night, the Confederates reached the pickets for the Union camp, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope. They splashed through unguarded fords, captured the Federal pickets and surprised Pope's encampment. The main attack was readied.

Stuart ordered the charge along with a bugle call. The attack began with the lead Confederate regiment dashing for the railroad station, then turning to the main Union camp. The lead regiment charged through one volley of rifle fire from a waiting line of Pennsylvania soldiers. The Confederate broke through the Union line by using a saber attack.

The Confederates began to set fire to the wagons and tents. They also gathered up the horses, mules, and Union prisoners. They also cut telegraph lines at the station. Most of the Federals managed to escape. The Confederates in the main camp piled wagons full of spoils, chests and papers, food, and clothing. Next, the Confederates attempted to burn the railroad bridge.

The day's rainfall had made the wood too wet to burn so they tried to use axes to cut the timbers. There were some Federals across the river that fired on the axemen, forcing them to retreat. Stuart gave up his attempt to destroy the bridge, but Stuart captured more than 300 Federal prisoners, Pope's orders and dispatches, a huge store of Federal supplies, and an army money box stuffed with more than $350,000. Equally satisfying to Stuart, his men captured General Pope's hat, cloak and frock coat - which were sent back to Richmond for public display as Stuart's war trophy. Ahead lay one of Lee's greatest victories -the Battle of Second Manassas - but for Stuart and his hard-fighting cavalry, victory had already occurred. Their reputation was intact -and their beloved commander was again in fine spirits.