Rappahannock River

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For the river in New Zealand, see Rappahannock River, New Zealand

The Rappahannock River is a river in eastern Virginia in the United States, approximately 184 mi (294 km). 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. An important river in U.S. history, it was the site of early settlements in the Virginia Colony and was later a 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.



It rises in the mountains at Chester Gap in western Fauquier County. It flows southeast past Remington and through Fredericksburg. Southeast of Fredricksburg 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, approximately 50 mi (80 km) east of Richmond. The estuary of the river provides for oyster and crab fishing.

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


The name of the river comes from an Algonquin language word lappihanne, also noted as toppehannock, meaning "river of quick, rising water."

The settlement of the river valley began in the 1710s with the urging of Governor Spottswood. The James River had been surveyed up to its fall line, and the Spottswood 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 at Rappahannock Station, fought in 1862. The defensive line of the river was finally circumvented by Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign of 1865, resulting in the final Union victory in the war.

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