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Brandy Station as a Turning Point
Brandy Station would become a turning point solely due to pride. Sometimes it takes a defeat to get the fires roaring and the ambition to push harder to achieve more. That was the case here. Jeb Stuart found military and personal embarrassment at Brandy Station due to the increased experience of the Union cavalry. That failure changed the course of the cavalry in the Civil War. It became a whole new ballgame.
With a bruised ego, Stuart pushed his cavalry by intercepting the “Federal army and Washington, capturing as many supplies as he could, and raising northward into Maryland…[and] pushing into Pennsylvania.” (1) This was an amazing feat as the cavalry had not played such a major and important role. It was also the act that became a sore spot for the Union cavalry and the call for more offensive action by the Union army. The cavalry now began to play a more important role.
At the start of the war, the Confederate cavalry “enjoyed a reputation for better horsemanship and more fighting spirit” and were see as able to “travel far more quickly than their colleagues in the infantry.” (2) This was mainly due the background of the cavalry riders as the South was more rural areas which came with more experienced horseback riding. The North was more urban in nature with most soldiers being immigrants or from the city lending less riding ability.
It would take half of the war to pass by before the Union cavalry developed the experience to compete with the Confederacy. That was about the time of Brandy Station. By that time, the Union cavalry was seen as “matching [the Confederate cavalry] in horsemanship and firepower” mainly due to the new “repeating carbines [introduced] to the cavalry arsenal.” (3) The defeat at Brandy Station showed how much the Union cavalry had changed. The war had taken on a whole new perspective. No more could the South claim such superiority in that area.
From Brandy Station, the Union cavalry had a huge morale upsurge. They could fight the best, Stuart, and come out winners. That gave them the courage and fire to push the offensive which would become important as Stuart sought to reestablish his reputation as the best of the cavalry. Stuart would hit the Union army hard, but he did not do it without resistance. The Union cavalry could be depended on to take the offensive and give the South back what it had given for over two years.
(1) David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, (Touchstone: New York, 2001), 506.
(2) Christopher Hamner, “Union Cavalry,” Teaching History, http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24420.
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