but had only three brigades available for that purpose, one of which, a small North Carolina brigade, was directed to follow Sheridan
's rear, while the other two, riding over the chord of the arc traveled by Sheridan
, reached Yellow Tavern
, six miles from Richmond
, on the 11th, before Sheridan
, and were thrown directly across his route.
Here a fierce though most unequal cavalry combat ensued, the numbers of the contestants being as ten thousand to three thousand.
Nearly all day these two cavalry brigades held their ground in Sheridan
's front, while General James B. Gordon
's small force attacked his rear, losing their gallant commander, giving General Bragg
, commanding the Richmond
defenses, ample time to get some troops from below Richmond
, so that when Sheridan
finally broke through them and arrived in front of the defenses his valor was replaced by prudence, and he marched around them, making a long circuit, and rejoined his army after an absence of over two weeks. It would have been the usual record of nothing accomplished and a brokendown command, except that at Yellow Tavern
the Confederate cavalry chieftain was mortally wounded, and died the following day in Richmond
This sad occurrence was more valuable to the Union
cause than anything that could have happened, and his loss to Lee
was the “best cavalry officer,” said General Sedgwick
, the late Sixth Corps commander, who had been an officer in that arm of service, “ever foaled in America
He was the army's eyes and earsvigilant always, bold to a fault; of great vigor and ceaseless activity, he was the best type of a beau sabreur
. He had a heart ever loyal to his superiors, and “duty” was “the sublimest word in the language” to him.
In a letter from Spottsylvania Court House, May 16, 1864, General Lee
said to his wife: “As I write I am expecting the sound of the guns every moment.
I grieve the loss of our gallant officers and men, and miss their aid and sympathy.
A more zealous, ardent, brave, and devoted soldier than Stuart
can not have.
Praise be to God for having sustained us so far. I have thought of you very often in these eventful days.
God bless and preserve you.”
And in his order, May