MG Newton’s I Corps troops were assigned to execute the demonstration at Raccoon Ford. The lead elements marched early on February 6th and arrived at the river later that day. A 300 man detail was sent to the ford and to raise attention to their presence burned several buildings. There was no response so three batteries of artillery (Battery B, 4th US: Battery L, 1st New York, and Battery A, 1st Maryland) were brought up. The New York and Maryland batteries were detached to take positions between the Raccoon Ford and Morton’s Ford. They spent the day lobbing 60 rounds of ammunition into the opposite shore. The fire prompted no response from the enemy and all the guns and troops were recalled to camp before the end of the day.
Cavalry Operations at Barrett’s Ford and Culpeper Ford
After travelling on “heavy roads” and through obstructions left behind by retreating Confederate pickets BG Wesley Merritt’s 1st Division troopers reached the Rapidan River early on the morning of the 7th. At Barrett’s Ford they presented themselves as a force attempting to cross the river and elicited “brisk skirmishing with small arms and a lively duel” between artillery batteries until around noon. According to Merritt’s report the supposed attempt to cross was opposed by a “brigade of five regiments of infantry” that moved in to support the skirmishers at the ford. The fight was taken up by the artillerymen, who exchanged shots until 1300 when the demonstration was pulled back. The show of force here cost the Union cavalrymen, 3 Killed and 12 wounded.
BG Judson Kilpatrick, commanding Third Division, sent a force of 1360 troopers and 1 battery of artillery to Culpepers Ford. Detached units were also sent to perform reconnaissance to Germanna and Ely’s Ford. None of Kilpatrick’s men faced any considerable opposition as they reconned as far as Chancellorsville and Jacob’s Ford. Kilpatrick would report that the Confederates had “no considerable force this side of Mine Run.” The scouting parties were called back at 0900 without loss. Intelligence gained from this action included information that Hampton’s cavalry was suffering a lack of mounts and other basic necessities. BG Kilpatrick estimated that only 240 Confederate cavalry picketed the river from Germanna Ford to United States Ford. It was this type of information, although not a primary mission imperative, that would pay great dividends later.
The II Corps mission to demonstrate at Morton’s Ford became the responsibility of BG John C. Caldwell when MG Gouverneur Warren became ill and retired to quarters. Caldwell advanced the BG Alexander Hays’ 3rd Division beginning at 0700 on the 6th of February. At 0935 the column arrived within a half mile of the ford and Caldwell conducted a reconnaissance of the crossing. The reconnaissance revealed “no evidence of opposition” and BG J. T. Owen was ordered to test the strength of the enemy position on the southern shore with his 3rd Brigade troops.
At 1030 BG Owen mounted a crossing with “300 of my best troops” by tasking 100 men each from the 39th New York, 126th New York, and 125th New York under command of CPT Seabury, the assistant adjutant general of the brigade. The detail experienced “considerable difficulty” as it forded the waist deep, icy, rapidly flowing water and scaled the “steep and slippery banks”. Fortunately for the assault party the enemy pickets were awaiting a tardy relief and had hunkered down in their holes searching for shelter from the cold rain. Surprised at the appearance of the Federal skirmishers they managed only a “rapid but ill directed fire.” The rifle pits were attacked and overwhelmed by Seabury’s force capturing 28 enlisted men and two officers.
The remainder of Owens’s brigade followed the skirmishers across the river as soon as the far shore was secured. The brigade was pushed forward toward the Morton House in the point of land formed by a bend in the river (see sketch on pg 117 Volume XXXIII OR’s). Artillery was placed in advantageous firing positions on the near shore. The Union troops moved into positions about 800 yards from the main Confederate line of entrenchments that were located on a low ridge that overlooked the entire area. The firing at the crossing alerted the remainder of the Confederate force who were encamped at two locations about a mile from the river. COL Henry Cabell rushed two regiments from Ramseur’s brigade and two from Doles’ brigade to the works. While these troops were hustling into position the sole responsibility of challenging any further Federal advance fell to LT Anderson and a battery of artillery. Anderson at first targeted the enemy batteries across the river but when he realized the close proximity of the Union troops he shifted his fire there. BG Owen saw the Confederate infantry arriving and adjusted his line to the new circumstances. Although he planned no further advance he also called for reinforcements to extend his line and increase the effectiveness of the demonstration. At 1315 1st Brigade troops under COL Carroll moved into the position. Owen was not satisfied and after judging the enemy force arrayed against him at 4,000 troops and artillery he asked for and received COL Powers’ 2nd Brigade. The Union line of battle was barely set when a advance was made on the buildings at the Morton residence and a maneuver made “with the intention of cutting off our communications with Morton’s Ford” with support of additional artillery assets called up by Cabell.
MG Hays had arrived and assumed command of the effort to protect the line of communications while Owen “repelled the attack” on the left of the Union line. By 1950 the situation had evolved into a stalemate, neither side wanting to move forward. The Union troops were ordered back across the river after enduring a battering of 163 rounds from the assembled Confederate artillery. With the demonstration complete the last Federal soldiers backed away from the river around midnight. Some of the last troops to cross the river were members of the 19th Maine. A detail from Company C, commanded by Captain Nash, was very nearly captured as they made their way back from forward picket positions. The final members of the unit made it back to the northern shore at 0300. The 19th Maine suffered two wounded for their part in the operation. One, SGT James Hinckley, died on February 15th.
The overall casualty report for the demonstration revealed that 11 Union soldiers were dead, 204 had been wounded, and 40 were unaccounted for. They had accomplished their mission at a high price for such a short operation.Morton’s Ford (Campaign Series)