18. Sheridan’s raid on Richmond in 1864 led to the death of Jeb Stuart
During the Overland Campaign of 1864, the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out on a bloody trail through Virginia. By then the cavalry attachment to the Army of the Potomac (which was commanded by George Meade but accompanied by overall Union commander Ulysses S. Grant) included more than 12,000 men. The plodding pace of the Overland Campaign inspired cavalry commander General Philip Sheridan to detach the entire Union Cavalry, about 12,000 men, and send it behind Lee’s lines at Spotsylvania, to threaten Richmond and to destroy supply depots. Meade, to whom Sheridan reported, declined. Sheridan then approached Grant directly, in contravention of military protocol. Though Meade protested that such a mission would deny him cavalry screening and support, Grant overrode him.
Sheridan detached, taking 12,000 men and over thirty guns around Lee’s flank and southward towards Richmond. Sheridan had persuaded Grant by pointing out Lee would have to respond by committing his own cavalry, still under J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart. Stuart could muster less than 5,000 men to respond, and their weapons were inferior to the repeating rifles carried by the Union. On May 9, 1864, Sheridan’s advanced units reach the Confederate storage depots at Beaver Dam. There they destroyed railroad cars, warehouses, and locomotives, as well as telegraph lines, but most of the military supplies had been evacuated by the Confederates. They also freed hundreds of Union prisoners of war, though the Southerners had simply left them behind, rather than continue to bear the burden of feeding and guarding them. Meanwhile, Stuart interposed his command between Sheridan’s and Richmond.