Battle of Dranesville

Coordinates: 38°59′43.7″N 77°20′13.9″W / 38.995472°N 77.337194°W / 38.995472; -77.337194
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38°59′43.7″N 77°20′13.9″W / 38.995472°N 77.337194°W / 38.995472; -77.337194
Battle of Dranesville
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Dranesville.png
Battle of Dranesville
DateDecember 20, 1861 (1861-12-20)
Result Union victory
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Edward O. C. Ord J. E. B. Stuart
5,000 [1] 4,000 [1]
Casualties and losses
71 230

The Battle of Dranesville was a small battle during the American Civil War that took place between Confederate forces under Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart and Union forces under Brigadier General Edward O. C. Ord on December 20, 1861, in Fairfax County, Virginia, as part of Major General George B. McClellan's operations in northern Virginia. The two forces on similar winter time patrols encountered and engaged one another in the crossroads village of Dranesville. The battle resulted in a Union victory.


Approximate site of the battle, seen in 2017

Following the Battle of Ball's Bluff on October 21, major offensive action was halted in the eastern theater, as both armies went into winter quarters. Small detachments were still occasionally sent out to probe the enemy's position and to obtain forage. Such was the case early on the morning of December 20 when General Stuart, with a mixed brigade of infantry comprising the regiments of the 6th South Carolina, 1st Kentucky, 10th Alabama, and 11th Virginia, 150 of his cavalry troopers and Allen S. Cutts's four-gun Georgia battery, set out north from their position near Centreville to escort the army's wagons trains on a foraging expedition into Loudoun County. Meanwhile, General Ord, leading the 10,000 strong 3rd Brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves set out west from Langley to clear the south bank of the Potomac River of Confederate pickets and partisans in Fairfax and Loudoun. At Colvin Run Mill, Ord left half his force to protect his rear and prevent his force from being cut off from their base at Langley.

Opposing forces[edit]


Brigadier General Edward O. C. Ord

Commander: Brigadier General Edward O. C. Ord
Regiments[nb 1]


Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart

Commander: Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart


Sketch of the Affair at Dranesville, Va.
Matz, Otto H., 1895

At about noon, Ord arrived at the intersection of the Georgetown Pike and Leesburg Pike in the village of Dranesville, where he encountered Stuart's advance cavalry pickets, which were quickly driven off by the Union force. Ord then began to lead his command west, down the Leesburg Pike. At around 1 p.m. Stuart, with the main body of his force approached Dranesville from the south, whereupon he encountered the rear of the Union detachment.

Ord halted his infantry and wheeled it around to meet the Confederate threat, forming a line on the north side of the Leesburg Pike. He then deployed his artillery on an eminence near the intersection. Stuart deployed his infantry on the south side of the pike and his artillery 300 yards south of the federal position. While the Confederate infantry was deploying, the 1st Kentucky mistook the 6th South Carolina for Union troops and opened fire, which was quickly returned by the Carolinians.[4] The 11th Virginia advanced, supported by the 10th Alabama but were stopped by heavy fire. The colonel of the 10th Alabama, John Forney, was wounded, and the lieutenant colonel, James B. Martin, was killed.[3]

Hearing the sound of gunfire, the 9th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment charged across the turnpike but were quickly driven back. The artillery then began to duel, but owing to the strength of the Union position, the Confederate guns were quickly knocked out. Ord deployed his infantry in a skirmish line and sent it across the Pike at Stuart and the two sides squared off for nearly 2 hours. At 3 p.m., with his wagons safely away and secure from capture, Stuart ordered a withdrawal. Ord pursued for a half mile, ensuring his line of retreat was safe, before breaking off the attack and returning to Langley.

The following day Stuart returned with reinforcements, but the battle was already over.


Though the battle was small, of no strategic importance and resulted in only light casualties, it marked the first time in the east that a Union force had bested their Confederate enemy, inflicting 230 casualties while suffering only 71, and was able to drive them from the field.[5]


  1. ^ The 'dual names' of Pennsylvania Reserve Regiments are employed by Samuel P. Bates.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Updated Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields" (PDF). National Park Service. Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. p. 116. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2021.
  2. ^ Bates, Samuel P. (1869). History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, Volume I. Harrisburg, PA: B. Singerly, State Printer. pp. 539–544, 692–719, 784–875, 907–1056. ASIN B002FK988S.
  3. ^ a b Stuart, J.E.B. "Official Report". Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  4. ^ Woodward, Thomas (1883). Address of Maj. Thomas W. Woodward, delivered before the Survivors Association of the Sixth Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers, at Chester S.C., on 9th August, 1883. Fort Sumter to Dranesville. Columbia, S.C.: The Presbyterian Publishing House. p. 25.
  5. ^ "Dranesville".
  • Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide.Stackpole Books; Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2001.
  • Evans, Thomas J and James M. Moyer. Mosby's Confederacy:A Guide to the Roads and Sites of Colonel John Singleton Mosby. White Mane Publishing Company, Inc. Shippensburg, Pa. 1991. p. 46.

External links[edit]