Rappahannock River

Rappahannock River

The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia in the United States, approximately 184 mi (294 km) in length. It traverses the entire northern part of the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west across the Piedmont to Chesapeake Bay south of the Potomac. Due to its continued significance as an obstacle to north-south movements, it effectively functioned as the Eastern Theater boundary between the "North" (the Union) and the "South" (the Confederate States of America) during the Civil War. An important river in U.S. history, it was the site of early settlements in the Virginia Colony and was later at the center of major theater of battle in the American Civil War. It drains an area of 2,848 sq mi (7405 km²), approximately 6% of the state of Virginia. Much of the watershed is rural and forested but has seen growing development in recent decades with the southward expansion of the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.


The Rappahannock rises in the mountains at Chester Gap in Fauquier County. It flows southeast past Remington and through Fredericksburg. Southeast of Fredericksburg it widens into a brackish tidal estuary approximately 50 mi (80 km) long, flowing past Tappahannock on the southern shore. It enters Chesapeake Bay approximately 15 mi (24 km) south of the mouth of the Potomac between Windmill Point and Stingray Point, approximately 50 mi (80 km) east of Richmond. The estuary of the river south of the Northern Neck peninsula provides for oyster and crab fishing.

It is joined by the Rapidan River from the west approximately 10 mi (16 km) northwest of Fredericksburg.

Above the fall line in Fredericksburg the Rappahannock provides fine opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. Most of the rapids are class I and II, but near Remington there are some rapids that are considered class III.


The name of the river comes from an Algonquian language word "lappihanne" (also noted as "toppehannock"), meaning "river of quick, rising water" or "where the tide ebbs and flows." This name was taken from the name given to it by the local native population the Rappahannock Tribe.

The settlement of the river valley began in the 1710s with the urging of Governor Alexander Spotswood. The James River had been surveyed up to its fall line, and Spotswood encouraged settlement in a separate river valley. In 1714 he encouraged settlement by immigrants from the Palatinate and Switzerland on lands he controlled near Germanna in order to extract the iron ore deposits of the region.

During the American Civil War the river provided a recurring barrier and defensive line for the movement of troops. It was an especially difficult barrier for Union troops in attempts to advance into southern Virginia. Control of the river changed hands multiple times during the course of the war. Significant battles fought along the river include the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Rappahannock Station, fought in 1862. The defensive line of the river was finally circumvented by Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign of 1864, resulting in the final Union victory in the war. In some 18th and 19th century documents, including some Civil War records, the Rappahannock River was also referred to as "Hedgeman's River" [ [http://www.talkingproud.us/VirginiaRappaR.html Rappanhannock River ] ] ; a 1736-1737 survey showed the Rappahannock above the mouth of the Rapidan as "Cannon", and further upstream as "Hedgeman's River." [ [http://www.newrivernotes.com/va/oran1.htm A History of Orange County, Virginia by W. W. Scott ] ]

ee also

*List of Virginia rivers


External links

* [http://www.riverfriends.org Friends of the Rappahannock]
* [http://www.rcc.va.nacdnet.org/rappwatershed.htm Rappahannock River watershed]
* [http://refuges.fws.gov/profiles/index.cfm?id=51622 Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge]
* [http://www.dcr.state.va.us/sw/rrtrib.htm Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation: Rappahannock Tributary Strategy]
* [http://www.virginiaplaces.org/settleland/settlerappa.html Early Settlement on the Rappahannock]
* [http://www.state.va.us/dcr/parks/bellisle.htm Belle Isle State Park]

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