|Detail of central Orange County, 1863|
The home of Catlett Rhoades (1804-1878) was the scene of a number of dramatic incidents over the years, both during and after the Civil War. Catlett married Nancy Rhoades (1801-1899) in June 1831. They had three children together, two daughters--Eliza and Lucy--and a son named Achilles (sometimes spelled Archilles). The Rhoades family lived between the Grasty gold mine and Verdiersville, where Catlett served as postmaster in the 1850's Their home was located on modern Route 20 at its intersection with today's Mine Run Road. In the map detail shown above, this homestead is shown as "C. Rhodes" in the middle of the image.
After the Seven Days Battle during the early summer of 1862, General Robert E. Lee's next priority was to "suppress" Union General John Pope's Army of Virginia, which occupied Culpeper County. General Stonewall Jackson's corps was dispatched from the Richmond area to Orange County with the intention of delivering a blow to the Federal forces in Culpeper. That blow was struck on August 9, 1862, during the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Although chastened by this defeat, Pope's army still lurked in northern Culpeper County between the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers. Meanwhile, Union General George McClellan was successfully withdrawing his forces from southeastern Virginia and transporting them to the Washington, DC area. Lee realized that if the armies of Pope and McClellan united, their combined strength might be too difficult to defeat.
|General James Ewell Brown Stuart|
General Lee decided on a plan to even the odds in his favor. He would send a force of cavalry under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart to get in the rear of Pope's army. Stuart would then burn the bridge of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad that spanned the Rapphannock River at Rappanhannock Station, and block the fords across the river. This would make Pope's withdrawal north over the river a much more difficult undertaking. While stranded on the south side of the Rappahannock, far from the safety of the defensive perimeter around Washington, the forces of General James Longstreet and General Jackson would move in and crush Pope's army.
Orders were written to put this plan into motion. General Stuart and his staff rode to Verdiersville in Orange County on August 17, where they were to meet General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry brigade. General Stuart, Majors Norman Fitzhugh and Heros von Borcke, Lieutenants Chiswell Dabney and Samuel Gibson, and an unknown courier arrived at the home of Catlett Rhoades, where they awaited Fitzhugh Lee's arrival.
|Heros von Borcke|
|John Singleton Mosby|
General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry was hours late in arriving for this rendevous. Stuart and his staff settled in for the night at the Rhoades house. Shortly before daylight on the morning of August 18, Stuart sent Major Fitzhugh and his courier up the Plank Road towards New Verdiersville to meet with the expected brigade of cavalry. As it so happened, two regiments of Union Cavalry--the 1st Michigan and the 5th New York--had crossed Raccoon Ford and were now approaching Verdiersville. On their way there, the Federals encountered two Confederates--Major Fitzhugh and his courier. They were duly captured and placed in the rear of the column. The capture of Fitzhugh would have significant consequences for the Confederacy's near-term military fortunes.
It was still not yet daylight when a column of cavalry could be dimly seen down the road approaching the Rhoades property. Assuming them to be General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, Captain Mosby and Lieutenant Gibson rode out to meet them. Instead of a cheery hello, however, Mosby and
Gibson were greeted by gunfire. Having left their sidearms in the house, they had no choice but to wheel their horses about and flee for their lives. The Yankees gave chase, firing as they came. The commotion awakened Stuart, who had been sleeping on the porch, and Dabney, who was sleeping in the house. Major von Borcke was standing in the front yard. He leaped on his horse and dashed through the front gate, which was being held open by Nancy Rhoades. He immediately found himself confronted by Union horsemen. A Union major aimed his pistol at von Borcke, who slapped his horse's head to get him to change direction (he had not had time to get his bridle on his horse) and sped away.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Dabney had troubles of his own. The previous night he had securely tied his horse to the Rhoades's fence. A little too securely, as it turned out. Dabney frenzedly worked at the knots he had used to secure his mount, while Federal troopers began pouring into the yard. at last he got his horse free and followed Stuart in a mad dash for the woods.
|Stuart's Escape (Patricia Hurst)|
Having just missed capturing a group of Confederate officers, the Union cavalrymen spent a busy ten minutes looting the Rhoades's home. Their booty included Mosby's plumed hat, red-lined cape and haversack. The theft of his hat was particularly humiliating to Stuart. "I intend to make the Yankees pay for that hat," he vowed. The following week, Stuart had his revenge. He led 1,500 troopers into the rear of Pope's army and pillaged their supply depot at Catlett's Station. Among the items seized by the Confederates was the dress uniform of General John Pope.
The loss of his hat was important to Stuart, but it was the loss of what had been in Major Fitzhugh's possession when he was captured that had serious implications for Lee's plan to suppress Pope. A copy of Lee's plan to cut off Pope's army while it was still south of the Rappahannock was taken from Fitzhugh and passed up the chain of command. Armed with this information, Pope managed to get men and equipment north of the Rappahannock River before he could be encircled. Although he suffered a serious defeat during the Battle of Second Manassas at the end of August, the bulk of his forces were able to retreat within the defenses of Washington. They would live to fight another day.
A week after that, another set of orders written by General Lee fell into Union hands. This was the famous Order No. 191, which had been wrapped in paper with three cigars, and then lost by the Confederate officer who carried it. The information contained therein enabled General McClellan to make a better showing at the Battle of Antietam than he otherwise could have done by relying on his own initiative.
And what became of General Stuart's plumed hat? It was taken by Lieutenant Ford Rogers, adjutant of the 1st Michigan Cavalry. He also grabbed Stuart's "crimson-lined cape, sash, gauntlets and a knapsack filled with official papers." After the war, Rogers took the hat with him when he moved to California. It had been crushed flat while in transit across the country, so Rogers took the hat to a haberdasher in San Francisco to be reconditioned. Amazingly, he forgot to pick up his prized historical artifact. The haberdasher, not knowing the significance of the unclaimed item, sold it as "an old second-hand hat."
Catlett Rhoades's son, Achilles, fought with Company I (the "Orange Rangers") of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, my great grandfather's outfit. At the conclusion of the war, Achilles returned to his parents' home at Verdiersville. In July 1865 Patrick Warren, a 21-year-old private with the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, stormed into the Rhoades's house and assaulted Achilles's parents. When he came at Achilles with his sword drawn, Achilles shot him and inflicted a mortal wound. Warren was said to be drunk at the time, and Achilles appears not to have been punished for defending his family.
|Fredericksburg Ledger 20 July 1865|
|Roster entry for Patrick Warren (New York State Military Museum)|
Achilles worked as both a brick mason and farmer after the war. He married Bettie Kube in 1880, and I believe they continued to live in the Rhoades home. In his later years, both his physical and mental health declined. In 1904 he attempted suicide by jumping from a second story window. After a long convalescence, he succeeded in taking his own life in 1905.
|The Daily Star 18 May 1905|
My thanks to Ron Veen, who shared the images of "Stuart's Escape" from Patricia J. Hurst's "Soldiers, Stories, Sites and Fights," written in 1998.
Other sources I consulted were:
"Riding in Circles: J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederate Cavalry 1861-1862" by Arnold Pavlovsky, Southampton, New Jersey, 2010.
"150 Years Ago: Lee's First Lost Order"
"J.E.B. Stuart's Revenge"