Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War
Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War

Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War

Larry Holzwarth - November 24, 2021

Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War
Major General Philip Sheridan commanded the Union cavalry during the Overland Campaign of 1864. Wikimedia

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 storge 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.

Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War
The Battle of Yellow Tavern led to the death of Jeb Stuart, and to the end of the effectiveness of the Confederate Cavalry. Wikimedia

19. The Battle of Yellow Tavern

Around noon on May 11, Stuart and Sheridan’s commands clashed near an abandoned inn six miles from Richmond. The Confederates were outnumbered by 3 to 1 and hopelessly outgunned. The rate of fire from the repeating rifles carried by the Union cavalrymen could simply not be matched by the Confederates. Still they fought fiercely, often dismounted, repelling Union attacks and countercharging when the opportunity appeared. After about three hours of fighting around Yellow Tavern Stuart was wounded by a retreating Union soldier. His men carried him to the rear, where he was transferred by ambulance to Richmond, where he died the following day. Sheridan defeated Stuart’s cavalry and killed its leader, but it failed to further threaten Richmond. He continued to the south and east following the battle, joining General Benjamin Butler’s command along the Chickahominy River.

After resupplying from Butler’s stocks, Sheridan led his massive cavalry formation back to Grant’s position, rejoining the Army of the Potomac on May 24. Another massive cavalry raid took place to Trevilian Station in June. Sheridan’s goals were to destroy portions of the Virginia Railroad and establish a linkup with Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley. Following a two day battle with Confederate cavalry under Wade Hampton, Sheridan withdrew, his goals unrealized. Throughout the Overland Campaign, despite numerous raids and actions against the enemy, only the Battle of Yellow Tavern is considered a clear-cut Union victory. Despite shortages of men, horses, fodder, weapons, and food, the Confederate cavalry continued to be a threat to Union operations until the withdrawal from Richmond-Petersburg in April, 1865.

Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War
The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah effected most of its captures long after the Confederacy had collapsed. US Navy

20. The CSS Shenandoah fired the last shot of the Civil War

When the Confederacy collapsed in the spring, 1865, CSS Shenandoah was several months into a commerce raiding voyage. It proved to be one of the most successful of the war. Although its commander, Lieutenant James Waddell became aware of the end of the Confederacy in May, he opted to continue his raiding throughout the summer, capturing and burning primarily American whaling ships near the Aleutian Islands. As it became evident Shenandoah needed a refit, Waddell considered his options. Return to an American port was likely to lead to charges of piracy, since his logs clearly indicated he knew the war was over when he made several of his captures. In August, 1865, Waddell steered his ship around Cape Horn and returned to Liverpool, England, requesting parole for himself and his crew from British authorities. The British complied, despite vigorous American protests.

In November, 1865, the British turned the ship over to the American government, which sold it to a Liverpool merchant. Eventually it became the property of the Sultan of Zanzibar. As animosity towards former Confederates waned in America, most of its officers and crew returned to the United States. Captain Waddell, who presided over the last surrender of a Confederate force during the Civil War, returned to America in 1870. After serving in a merchant service for some time, he retired from the sea and became an official in the state of Maryland, charged with enforcing oystering regulations in the waters of the state. During its career, Shenandoah captured, sank, or burned 38 American ships, none of them warships of the Union Navy. Most of them were destroyed after Waddell learned of the surrender of the Confederate Armies and the capture of Jefferson Davis.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Cameron County, TX | May 12-13, 1865”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“The Battle of Tebbs Bend, July 4, 1863”. Joe Brent, Tebbs Bend – Green River Bridge Battlefield Association. Online

“Chancellorsville”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Aldie – June 17, 1863”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“The Battle of Middleburg and the fight at Goose Creek Bridge”. Dan Welsh, National Park Service. July 20, 2020. Online

“Battle of Upperville | Goose Creek Historic Park. Article, NOVA Parks. Online

“Gosport Navy Yard is Captured”. John V. Quarstein, Mariner’s Blog. The Mariner’s Museum and Park. May 7, 2020. Online

“Battle of Milliken’s Bend, June 7, 1863”. Article, National Park Service. Online

“Battle of Island Mound”. Terry Beckenbaugh, Civil War on the Western Border. The Kansas City Public Library. Online

“Chantilly | Ox Hill”. Article, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Elkhorn Tavern”. Article, Pea Ridge National Military Park. National Park Service. Online

“CSS Alabama wreck site – A Confederate Shipwreck in France”. Article, Naval History and Heritage Command. Online

“CSS Alabama vs. USS Kearsarge: The Greatest High Seas Duel of the Civil War”. Don Hollway, Warfare History Network. Online

“George B. McClellan”. Biography, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Sheridan’s Richmond Raid”. Article, The American Civil War. Online

“Lost Battlefield: The Battlefield of Yellow Tavern, Virginia”. Daniel T. Davis, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Shenandoah 1864 – 1865”. Article, Naval History and Heritage Command. Online

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