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4. raids of the Federal cavalry in the East.

Charles D. Rhodes, Captain, General Staff, United States Army

Well-conditioned mounts, equipped for a long raid 1862


Federal cavalry leaving camp: the arm that dealt a final blow to the Confederacy. The well-filled bags before and behind each trooper indicate a long and hard trip in store. Both the Confederate and Federal cavalry distinguished themselves by their endurance on their arduous and brilliant raids. The amount of destruction accomplished by this arm of the service was well-nigh incalculable. Stuart, Mosby, Forrest on one side — Sheridan, Grierson, Kilpatrick on the other — each in turn upset the opponents' calculations and forced them to change their plans. It was Van Dorn's capture at Holly Springs that caused Grant's first failure against Vicksburg. It was not until after the surrender at Appomattox that Lee learned the final crushing blow — that the rations destined for his men had been captured by Sheridan. Up and down the Rappahannock the cavalry rode and scouted and fought by day and by night, sometimes saddled for sixty hours, often sleeping by regiments on the slowly moving columns of horses. It was Grierson who reported, after his ride from Vicksburg to Baton Rouge, that the Confederacy was but a hollow shell — all of its men were on the battle-line. It was Stuart who twice circled McClellan's army, on the Peninsula and in Maryland, and who caused Lincoln to recall the schoolboy game: “Three times round and out.”

[117] [118]

Repairing Confederate damage: Federal engineers at work October 14, 1863. The busy Federal engineers are rebuilding the railroad bridge across Cedar Run, near Catlett's Station, destroyed by the Confederates on the previous day, October 13th, when they fell back before the Army of the Potomac under General Meade. The fall of 1863 was a period of small cavalry battles. On September 16th the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and took position near Culpeper Court House. During the next few weeks the cavalry was actively engaged in reconnoitering duty. On October 10th General John Buford was sent across the Rappahannock with the First Cavalry Division (consisting of the Eighth Illinois, Twelfth Illinois, four companies Third Indiana, six companies Eighth New York, Sixth New York, Ninth New York, Seventeenth Pennsylvania, and Third West Virginia, two companies) to uncover, if possible, the upper fords of the river. Buford forced a passage over the Germanna Ford, and bivouacked that night at Morton's Ford, where he recrossed the Rapidan and engaged a body of the enemy. At daylight on October 14th, the Confederates attacked Gregg's Second Cavalry Division, but he held his position tenaciously while General Warren got the Second Corps across Cedar Run. It seldom took over a few hours to rebuild one of these bridges. Sometimes the troops tore down the nearest wooden houses to get boards and timber. This wrecking of houses was very arduous work. The trees in the foreground have been sacrificed for construction purposes.



Federal raids and expeditions in the East

Charles D. Rhodes, Captain, General Staff, United States Army
Cavalry operations known as raids, were a distinct product of the Civil War, and although many other tactical and strategical lessons have since been deduced by European experts from this great war, it was the raid which first excited comment abroad and created interest, as something new in the handling of mounted men.

As early as June, 1862, General “JebStuart had demonstrated to both armies the possibilities of independent operations by well-mounted cavalry boldly handled by a resourceful leader, when, with twelve hundred Confederate troopers, he rode entirely around the Federal army on the Peninsula of Virginia. And again, in October of the same year, his raid into Pennsylvania proved that good cavalry can move with impunity through a well-supplied hostile country. This raid had the effect of causing consternation in the National capital, and of drawing off many Federal troops for the protection of Washington.

Stuart's successful raids caused some modification of the previous short-sighted policy of always attaching Union cavalry to infantry commands, and although until Sheridan's time, the raids made by the Federal cavalry in the East were not remarkably successful and the time for their initiation not well chosen, the Federal cavalry constantly increased in powers of mobility and independence of action.

Early in 1863, General Hooker detached Stoneman with the Cavalry Corps from the main operations of the Army of [121]


As Stuart threatened Washington, so Kilpatrick in turn threatened the Capital of the South. He was accompanied by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren who was to leave him near Spotsylvania with five hundred picked men, to cross the James, enter Richmond on the south side, after liberating the prisoners at Belle Isle, and unite with Kilpatrick's main force March 1, 1864. The latter left Stevensburg with four thousand cavalry and a battery of horse artillery on the night of Sunday, the 28th of February, crossed the Rapidan at Ely's Ford, surprised and captured the picket there, and marched rapidly toward Richmond. On March 1st the column was within five miles of the city. Failing to connect with Dahlgren, Kilpatrick finally withdrew, but not until he had driven in the force sent to oppose him to the inner lines of the Richmond defenses. This was the nearest that any body of Union troops got to Richmond before its fall. Colonel Dahlgren met his death upon this raid, and part of his command was captured, the rest escaping to Kilpatrick, March 2d, at Tunstall's Station, near White House.

Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who met his death in the raid upon Richmond

Union cavalrymen in Richmond — not until 1865

[122] the Potomac, with orders to cross the Rappahannock for a raid on the communications with Richmond — turning Lee's left flank and inflicting on him every possible injury.

During Stoneman's absence the sanguinary battle of Chancellorsville was fought by the Army of the Potomac, and as the success of the raid depended in great measure upon a Federal victory at Chancellorsville, it was not, strategically at least, a success. The detachment of the Union troopers deprived General Hooker of cavalry at a time when he particularly needed a screening force to conceal his movements by the right flank; and it is probable that if Stoneman's cavalry had been present with the Army of the Potomac, it would have given ample warning of “StonewallJackson's secret concentration opposite the Union right, which well nigh caused a decisive defeat for the Union army.

But Stoneman's raid destroyed millions of dollars' worth of Confederate property, and although it cut Lee's communications for a short time only, its moral effect was considerable, as shown by the Confederate correspondence since published.

The Stoneman raid was followed in February, 1864, by the famous raid of General Judson Kilpatrick, having as its objective the taking of the city of Richmond and the liberation of the Union prisoners confined therein. General Meade assisted the raid by demonstrations against Lee's left and by sending Custer on a minor raid into Albemarle County. It was supposed, at the time, that Richmond was comparatively defenseless, and that Kilpatrick's force might take the city before reenforcements from either Petersburg or Lee's army on the Rapidan could reach it.

Kilpatrick's force consisted of nearly four thousand men. Near Spotsylvania, about five hundred men under Colonel Ulric Dahlgren were detached for the purpose of crossing the James River, and, after liberating the Union prisoners at Belle Isle, attacking Richmond from the south.

Dahlgren's little command destroyed considerable [123]

Fist Massachusetts cavalry.

The officers and men of the First Massachusetts Cavalry formed part of General Judson Kilpatrick's force in his Richmond raid. The men look gaunt and hungry because they are down to “fighting weight.” Starvation, fatigue, exposure, and nights in the saddle soon disposed of any superfluous flesh a trooper might carry. These men heard the laugh of the Confederate sentries inside the fortifications of the Southern Capital, and turned back only when success seemed impossible. Kilpatrick's object had been to move past the Confederate right flank, enter Richmond, and release the Union captives in its military prisons. This bold project had grown out of President Lincoln's desire to have his proclamation of amnesty circulated within the Confederate lines. The plan included also a raid upon communications and supplies. A joint expedition, under Dahlgren, met defeat, and Kilpatrick, not hearing from it, turned back.

Troopers of the first Massachusetts just after their attempt to raid Richmond in 1864

A group of officers, first Massachusetts cavalry

[124] Confederate property, but through the alleged treachery of a guide, the raiders were led out of their course. A portion of the command became separated; Dahlgren, with about one hundred and fifty troopers, was ambushed near Walkerton, and the leader killed and most of his force captured. The remainder of Dahlgren's command, under Captain Mitchell, managed to rejoin Kilpatrick, who had meanwhile threatened Richmond from the north, and who, finding the city prepared for his attack, finally withdrew across the Chickahominy and joined General Butler on the Peninsula, March 3, 1864.

The Kilpatrick raid failed in its main object, but that it might easily have succeeded seems evident from Confederate correspondence, which shows that the interception of a despatch from Dahlgren to Kilpatrick, asking what hour the latter had fixed for a simultaneous attack upon Richmond, alone made it possible for the Confederates successfully to defend the city.

When, early in 1864, General Grant gave Sheridan the long hoped for opportunity to “whip Stuart,” and until the final end at Appomattox, this peerless cavalry leader never missed an opportunity to cut loose from the main army, drawing off from Grant's flanks and rear the enterprising and oftentimes dangerous Confederate cavalry, cutting Lee's communications with the South and Southwest time and again, and destroying immense quantities of the precious and carefully husbanded supplies of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sheridan's Richmond raid, probably the most daring and sensational of these more or less independent operations, had for its object, not so much the destruction of Confederate property, as to draw Stuart and his cavalry away from the Union army's long lines of supply-trains, and then to defeat the great Confederate trooper.

In May, 1864, Sheridan's splendid body of horsemen, ten thousand in number and forming a column thirteen miles in length, moved out from the vicinity of Spotsylvania, through Chilesburg and Glen Allen Station. At Yellow Tavern the [125]

A still smoking wreck on the path of the Federal raiders This photograph shows the ruins of the bridge over the North Anna, which were still smoking when the photographer arrived with the Union troops at the end of Sheridan's raid. He had ridden nearer to Richmond than any other Union leader before its fall. On the night of May 11, 1864, his column of cavalry could see the lights of the city and hear the dogs barking, and the following day an enterprising newsboy slipped through the lines and sold copies of the Richmond Inquirer. Sheridan declared that he could have taken Richmond, but that he couldn't hold it. The prisoners told him that every house was loopholed and the streets barricaded, and he did not think it worth the sacrifice in men. But in the death of Stuart at Yellow Tavern, Sheridan had dealt a blow severer than a raid into the Capital would have been.

[126] decisive conflict which Sheridan had sought with the Confederate cavalry took place. The latter were driven back upon Richmond; the gallant and knightly Stuart received his mortal wound, and the Union cavalry gained complete control of the highway leading to the Confederate capital. The casualties on both sides were severe.

Pushing on rapidly by way of the Meadow Bridge, Sheridan actually found himself and his force within the outer fortifications of the city of Richmond, and in imminent peril of annihilation. In fact, a portion of the command was in such close proximity to the city proper, that officers could plainly discern its lights and hear the dogs barking a warning to the city's defenders of the presence of an army of invaders.

But with his usual genius for overcoming difficulties, Sheridan quickly extricated his command from its hazardous and uncomfortable position, and pressing on over Bottom's Bridge and past Malvern Hill successfully reached Haxall's Landing on the James River, where the command was furnished much needed supplies. On May 17th, the raiding force began its retrograde movement to rejoin Grant, which was successfully accomplished on the 24th near Chesterfield Station, Virginia. Sheridan's casualties suffered on the raid were six hundred and twenty-five men killed, wounded, and captured, and three hundred horses.

General Grant describes the results attained in this famous raid as follows:

Sheridan, in this memorable raid, passed entirely around Lee's army, encountered his cavalry in four engagements, and defeated them in all; recaptured four hundred Union prisoners, and killed and captured many of the enemy; destroyed miles of railroad and telegraph, and freed us from annoyance by the cavalry for more than two weeks.

This brilliant success by the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, was followed in June by one scarcely less important in its moral and material effect upon the ConfederacySheridan's [127]

The return of Sheridan's troopers--May 25, 1864 After their ride of sixteen days to the very gates of Richmond, Sheridan and his men rejoined Grant near Chesterfield Station. The photographer caught the returning column just as they were riding over the Chesterfield bridge. On the 21st they had crossed the Pamunkey near White House on the ruins of the railroad bridge, which they took only six hours to repair. Two regiments at a time, working as pioneers, wrecked a neighboring house, and with its timbers soon had the bridge ready to bear the weight of horses and artillery. The only mishap was the fall of a pack-mule from the bridge into the water thirty feet below. It takes much, however, to disturb the equanimity of an army mule. It turned a somersault in the air, struck an abutment, disappeared under water, came up, and swam tranquilly ashore without disturbing its pack. This speaks well for the ability as saddle-packers of Sheridan's men. The total results of this important raid were the destruction of an immense quantity of supplies, damage to Confederate communications, the death of Stuart, and the saving to the Union Government of the subsistence of ten thousand horses and men for three weeks. It perfected the morale of the cavalry corps, with incalculable benefit to the Union cause. The casualties on the raid were six hundred and twenty-five men killed and wounded.


Trevilian raid, in which, at Trevilian Station, the Confederate cavalry was again seriously defeated.

The purpose of the raid was to injure Lee's lines of supply, and to draw off the Southern cavalry during Grant's movement forward by the left flank, following his unsuccessful attempt to take the strong Confederate position at Cold Harbor by direct assault.

Sheridan started on June 7, 1864, with about eight thousand cavalrymen, the trains and supplies being cut down to the absolute minimum. Wilson's division remained with the Army of the Potomac. By June 11th, the command was in the vicinity of Trevilian Station, where the enemy was encountered. Here, Torbert's division, pressing back the Confederate's pickets, found the foe in force about three miles from Trevilian, posted behind heavy timber. At about the same time, Custer was sent by a wood road to destroy Trevilian Station, where he captured the Confederate wagons, caissons, and led horses.

Assured of Custer's position, Sheridan dismounted Torbert's two remaining brigades, and aided by one of Gregg's, carried the Confederate works, driving Hampton's division back on Custer, and even through his lines. Gregg's other brigade had meanwhile attacked Fitzhugh Lee, causing the entire opposing cavalry to retire on Gordonsville.

Following this victory, Sheridan continued his raid and finally reached White House on the Pamunkey, on June 20th, where he found orders directing him to break up the supply depot there and conduct the nine hundred wagons to Petersburg. This was successfully accomplished.

It is interesting to note that in this period of great activity for the Cavalry Corps (May 5th to August 1, 1864) the casualties in the corps were nearly forty-nine hundred men, and the loss in horses from all causes about fifteen hundred. The captures by the cavalry exceeded two thousand men and five hundred horses, besides many guns and colors.

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