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June 19, 1863: Hand-to-hand combat erupts near Middleburg

Jun. 19, 2013 - 04:04PM   |  
Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker
Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Union and Confederate forces are clashing today in fierce hand-to-hand combat around the village of Middleburg, Va., just 40 miles from the Union capital.

The fighting is “more of an Indian warfare than anything seen of late,” said Union Capt. Isaac Ressler with the 16th Pennsylvania Regiment.

“The hand-to-hand encounter that ensued between us and these men of Maine and Pennsylvania was sharp and bloody,” said Lt. George Beale, of the Confederate 9th Virginia Regiment. “One of them, I observed, who had been unhorsed, and had backed up against an oak and having fired his last cartridge, was defending himself with rocks until he fell from their pistol shots.”

Is Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia pushing north into Pennsylvania, perhaps only to flank down unto Washington itself, or turning west to reinforce the besieged rebel stronghold of Vicksburg, still clinging to the control the strategic Mississippi river?

That’s what Union Army of the Potomac commander Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker was trying to find out when he ordered his cavalry commander to probe the rebel lines that have been moving up under the cover the Blue Ridge Mountains in recent days.

“The commanding general relies upon you,” Hooker told Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton just three days ago, “to give him information of where the enemy is, his force, and his movements. It is better that we should lose men than to be without knowledge of the enemy, as we now seem to be.”

Pleasonton’s counterpart, Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, was having lunch with his staff in Middleburg and was nearly captured when Federal troops first seized the village three days ago as the probe kicked off.

Fighting has raged there ever since with Stuart’s men commanding the high ground above Middleburg along the appropriately named Mount Defiance.

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