Battles And Campaigns - 1864

    Battle of Yellow Tavern  "The Death of Jeb Stuart"  May 11, 1864

On May 8, 1864, Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan boasted that if headquarters would stay out of his hair, he and his cavalry could whip Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart out of his boots. General Grant, appreciating Sheridan's bravery and fighting spirit, said, "Let him start right out and do it."

The next morning, Sheridan set out with the most powerful cavalry force the Army of the Potomac had ever mounted- more than 10,000 troopers with 32 guns. They moved at a walk, four abreast in a column that stretched for 13 miles. Their mission was to move behind Lee's army (which was locked in combat with Grant at Spotsylvania Court House), disrupt his supply line, threaten Richmond, and strike Stuart. Sheridan was so confident of success that he made no effort to hide his movements.

The column reached Lee's forward supply base at Beaver dam Station by nightfall. The Confederate depot guards had set fire to their supplies before the Union troops arrived, but the Union force found something else to destroy: 100 railroad cars and six locomotives- one fourth of Virginia Central Railroad's rolling stock. The next morning they ripped up 10 miles of track, pulled down telegraph wires, and freed 378 of their men who had been taken prisoner during the Battle of the Wilderness.

Stuart, told of Sheridan's force and direction, moved with 4,500 troopers to get between the Union column and Richmond. Union and Confederate forces met at noon on May 11 at Yellow Tavern, an abandoned inn six miles north of Richmond. For three hours the two cavalry forces fought, with the outnumbered Confederate troops stubbornly defending their position until at last the Union force withdrew. Before they departed, however, an unhorsed Union private fired a single shot at a large, red-bearded Confederate officer on a horse 30 feet away. Gen. Jeb Stuart was mortally wounded and would die the next day. Lee had lost his greatest cavalry officer.

Fascinating Fact:  On his way to Yellow Tavern, Stuart stopped to see his wife and two children, who were visiting a plantation nearby. Without dismounting, he leaned down from the saddle to kiss his wife hello- and goodbye.


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