11 June 2006 by Published in: General News 3 comments

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Trevilian Station, named for an obscure stop on the Virginia Central Railroad located in Louisa County, Virginia.

There, in a brutal two-day slugging match that was the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War (there were 3,000 Union infantry engaged at Brandy Station), Wade Hampton thrashed Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry and utterly prevented Sheridan from achieving any of his strategic objectives for his second protracted cavalry raid. I have argued that Hampton’s victory at Trevilian Station was the only decisive cavalry battle of the war. I define decisive as making an impact on the ultimate outcome of the war.

Grant had ordered Sheridan to take two divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, march along the north bank of the North Anna River, and then to fall upon and destroy the critical railroad junctions at Gordonsville (the Virginia Central and the Orange & Alexandria Railroads) and at Charlottesville. Sheridan would find David Hunter’s army at Charlottesville and then, joining with Hunter, escort his army to Petersburg, where the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James would be moving on this critical railroad junction town and logistics center. In the meantime, the Army of the Potomac would steal a march on Robert E. Lee by crossing the James River and would move on Petersburg. It was a brilliant plan, based on Grant’s mastrey of the strategic cavalry raid. The question was: would the execution be as brilliant as the plan. Thanks to a magnificent performance by Wade Hampton, the answer was no.

Had Sheridan accomplished his objectives, he would have torn up the Virginia Central Railroad and then brought Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s Shenandoah Valley army to Petersburg, where the Army of Northern Virginia would have been invested on three sides, and Robert E. Lee either would have had to come out to fight Grant on ground of Grant’s choosing, or the siege would have led to the inevitable strangulation of Lee’s army.

There also would not have been a Shenandoah Valley Campaign that fall, either. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s army never would have gotten the Valley, and the Valley’s lush granary would have been forever lost to the Confederacy. Instead, when Hunter went to Lynchburg instead of Charlottesville, the defeat of Sheridan’s cavalry enabled Lee to send Early’s troops to meet the threat posed by Hunter. By the time they marched through Trevilian Station on June 14, whatever damage had been done to the Virginia Central had already been repaired, and Early’s infantry was able to board trains at Charlottesville and ride to Lynchburg, arriving just in time to meet the advance of Hunter’s army as it approached Lynchburg. After defeating Hunter, Early marched north, crossed the Potomac River, threatened Washington, D.C., and then withdrew into the Shenandoah Valley, daring Grant to come and get him. Thus, Wade Hampton’s superb battlefield victory at Trevilian Station may have bought the Confederacy another six months’ lease on life.

Here’s to the men of both sides who slugged it out at Trevilian Station that hot, dry June 142 years ago today.

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Comments

  1. John D. Mackintosh
    Sun 11th Jun 2006 at 11:20 am

    Eric,

    Enjoying your blog and your observations on Trevilian Station. June is a month that seems to be replete with anniversaries of significant cavaly engagements. Interesting that this annviersary which had “Custer’s First Last Stand” as a component, is exactly two weeks away from the 130th anniversary of “Custer’s Last Stand.” With everything I have going on here, I won’t be “Montana bound” this year but definitely looking forward to seeing Trevilian Station next month as part of the LBHA conference. Keep up the great blogging!

    John

  2. Sun 11th Jun 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks, John, and I think you will enjoy the battlefield. About half of it remains pristine, and that which is not, you can still very much get the lay of the land.

    I’m looking forward to showing the group the field.

    Eric

  3. Richard Wahl
    Sat 10th May 2014 at 9:25 pm

    I have copys of most of your books and e joyed everyone. As a civil war history buff with a major intrest in cavalry I’m sure I will enjoy your book on the Battle of Travillion Station.

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