In the mid 1850’s, Fitzhugh Lee of Virginia and William Averell of New York were friends and fellow cadets at West Point Military Academy. When the United States erupted into a Civil War in 1861, Lee and Averell would find themselves fighting on opposite sides. Fitzhugh Lee would become a cavalry officer in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, while Averell would join the Union cavalry. When General Joseph Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac in February, 1863 after the Union’s defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, he gathered the scattered Union cavalry units into one strong cavalry. Averell was put in command of one of three divisions of that newly consolidated cavalry.
After the Fredericksburg clash ended in January, these two great armies had settled into encampments fairly close together in the Virginia countryside along the Rappahannock River. There was, of course, some curiosity and concern on each side as to what the other side was planning to do next.
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