Friday, April 30, 2010

Confronting thier past, passing thier future

Today at Brandy Station, April 30, 1863

The Chancellorsville Campaign has begun. Yesterday three Federal Corps of infantry crossed at Kelly's Ford. Also crossing was the Yankee cavalry under George Stoneman. They did not use the pontoons. "As [they] were monopolized by others, we cavaliers, as often we had done before, defied the flood and rose to the opposite bank. "

One of the regiments of horse soldiers was the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, which crossed under very different circumstances six weeks earlier. That day, March 17, 1863, was the battle at Kelly's Ford.

Yesterday there was some fighting, call it sparring rather then a fight. Each side retired to the same portions of the field they held that March day. The Rebel cavalry withdrew during the night. We pick up the narrative from Fredric Denison's book, Sabres and Spurs: The First Rhode Island Cavalry in the Civil War:

"The enemy showed no pickets. Finding the grave of Lieutenant Nicolai near the center of the battle field, a stone marked N was placed at the head of it. Cautiously we moved forward to Brandy Station to Culpepper [sic] Court House. As our skirmishers entered the town, we saw the rear of the retreating foe dashing over the hill beyond. "

They found a grave of one of their own, Lieutenant Henry L. Nicolai. Nicolai was killed by solid shot from Breathed's Battery. His body was not recovered and he buried on the field, his stone marked by an N. What memories were going through the troopers mind.

What would they have thought if it were known that in a little over a month, June 9, they would be returning to these killings fields once again.

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