Historical Marker Text
Start of Sheridan’s Raid
Here Sheridan, moving from camp, came into the Telegraph Road on his raid to Richmond, May 9, 1864, while Lee and Grant were fighting at Spotsylvania. The 10,000 Union cavalry filled the road for several miles. Turning from the road ten miles south, Sheridan came into it again at Yellow Tavern near Richmond May 11, 1864. 
Turn in Sheridan’s Raid
At this point in his Richmond raid, Gen. Sheridan, after a fight with Confederate cavalry commanded by General Willians [sic] C. Wickham, turned off the Telegraph Road to Beaver Dam, May 9, 1864. This change of route caused Sheridan to approach Richmond from the northwest instead of the north. 
After the inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness on May 7, 1864, as both armies prepared for what would become the Battle for Spotsylvania Courthouse, and with his reputation on the line, Union Major General Philip H. Sheridan needed to take action. Resulting from an argument with General George Meade, on May 8 he obtained permission from General Ulysses S. Grant to lead a cavalry expedition to attack Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, by first luring them to Richmond, the valuable capital of the Confederacy (Gallagher 128). In Sheridan’s words, the raid was to be “A challenge to Stuart for a cavalry duel behind Lee’s lines, in his own country” (Rhea 97). Another good reason was that Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps was running low on supplies, and this could provide opportunities for them to forage on their way. Ideally, Sheridan would also destroy the two railroad lines that lay in his path, the Virginia Central Railroad and the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, both vital supply routes for the Army of Northern Virginia (Gallagher 128).
That night the Union cavalry prepared to leave, and at 6:00 on the morning of May 9, Sheridan’s three divisions, commanded by Wesley Meritt, David M. Gregg, and James H. Wilson, left their camp near the Spotsylvania Courthouse and set off for Richmond (Gallagher 128). The raid had begun, and the Cavalry Corps was a stunning sight: a single column of ten thousand horsemen four abreast, along with six batteries of horse artillery, and nearly thirteen miles long (Rhea 100). Telegraph Road would take them south to cross North Anna River near the junction of the two railroad lines, but the bridge there was known to be well-defended. Therefore Sheridan decided to alter his route and approach the river from the northeast. The Federals would head toward Beaver Dam Station, by way of Anderson’s Ford, which would not be difficult to cross (Rhea 114). After ten miles on Telegraph Road, they turned off at Jerrel’s Mill, onto a road leading to the ford.
Although Stuart knew of Sheridan’s movement by 8:00 a.m., he could not send his cavalry after his enemy until Jubal Early’s cavalry entrenched near the Spotsylvania Courthouse in the early afternoon, leaving Stuart’s men free to go. Confederate Brigadier General Williams C. Wickham’s cavalry brigade galloped down Telegraph Road and was the first to reach Sheridan’s column, between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. Brigadier General Henry Davies commanded the rear ranks of Sheridan’s column, and three of his units were able to successfully fight off Wickham’s cavalry. Davies was deterred for only half an hour, although for the next several hours Wickham harassed the column’s rear and flank. At 5:00 at Mitchell’s Shop, confrontation escalated. The Federals, with the advantage, assaulted the Confederate column, which returned the assault. During the conflict, confusion ensued, and by the end of Wickham’s actions against the Federal rear Davies had lost seventy-six men, including some as prisoners . But the rest of the column had been able to move on, safe from fire (Rhea 115-17).
Later in the day, Sheridan’s troops reached Anderson’s Ford. Most camped on the north side of the river, while General Armstrong Custer’s brigade crossed the river to end at Beaver Dam Station. Around 8:00 they sighted 278 Union infantry prisoners from the Battle of the Wilderness being escorted to the station, which was a terminal for the Virginia Central Railroad, to be transported to Richmond. After easily liberating the captives and taking Confederate prisoners, the Federals captured two trains’ worth of supplies, including bacon, rations, and medical stores. That night they burned the station, derailed trains, and ripped up eight to ten miles of railway and telegraph lines (Rhea 118).
Over the next day and a half, Stuart’s cavalry raced Sheridan to Richmond, riding hard until they reached Yellow Tavern, a strategic crossroads just north of the capital, around 10:00 a.m. on May 11. Sheridan’s column began to arrive within an hour. A full-scale battle ensued, and by the end of the day the Federals were victorious and Stuart had been mortally wounded. Sheridan regained confidence in his abilities, and he and his triumphant cavalry departed for the James River the following day (NPS).
“Portrait of General Philip H. Sheridan,” Civilwarphotos.net (accessed April 7, 2008).
For Further Reference
Coffey, David. Sheridan’s Lieutenants: Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War. Wilmington, DE: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Spotsylvania Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998
National Park Service. “Battle of Yellow Tavern.” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/frsp/yellow.htm (accessed February 28, 2008).
Rhea, Gordon C. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864. Baton Rouge, LA: Lousiana State University Press, 1997.
Wittenberg, Eric J. Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.