Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River is about four miles southeast of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad Bridge. The river crossing was about 300 yards downstream from today’s modern bridge.
Both Union and Confederate armies used Kelly’s Ford extensively during the Civil War.
The Battle of Kelly’s Ford, also known as the Battle of Kellysville, took place on March 17, 1863. Over 2,000 men of Brigadier Gen. William W. Averell’s Union cavalry division crossed the Rappahannock and attacked Confederate cavalry that had been harassing them all winter. Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee counterattacked with a brigade of about 800 men. Averell won a tactical victory but pulled back across the river at the end of the day. One of the casualties was Stuart’s artillery chief, Major John Pelham, who was mortally wounded when he joined in a cavalry charge. The battle foreshadowed the emergence of the Union cavalry, which until that time had been considered very inferior to Confederate troopers.
Kelly’s Ford played a role in the next cavalry battle, the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. In an enlarged version of the first battle, Union cavalry crossed the river, fought Stuart’s men on an equal basis, and retired across the river at the end of the day.
The ford also played a role in the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station on November 7, 1863.