The Union Raiders: George Stoneman

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

General George StonemanGeneral George Stoneman was an unusual cavalryman. At 6 feet 4 inches he towered over most of his subordinates.By comparison he was a full foot taller than his fellow cavalry commander, General Philip Sheridan. He also suffered from chronic hemorrhoids, a condition that relegated him to a desk job after the Battle of Chancellorsville.

George Stoneman graduated from West Point in 1946 where his roommate was the future Confederate general Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. He served the years before the war in a variety of positions across the West in the Cavalry. By 1861 he held the rank of captain.

Returning east, he served as a major of the 1st U.S. Cavalry and then adjutant to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in western Virginia. As the cavalry was being organized in the Army of the Potomac, he commanded the Cavalry Reserve and then the Cavalry Division, with the title Chief of Cavalry. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 13, 1861. He did not relate well to McClellan, who did not understand the proper use of cavalry in warfare, relegating it to assignment in small units to infantry brigades. This organization fared poorly in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles of 1862, where the centralized Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart seriously outperformed their Union counterparts.

From the end of the Peninsula Campaign to the aftermath of the disaster at Fredericksburg, Stoneman served as an infantry corps commander. He was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862. Following Fredericksburg, a new commanding general took over the Army of the Potomac: Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a better understanding of the strategic value of a centralized Cavalry Corps and he named Stoneman to lead it. The centralized corps could undertake long raids into enemy territory, destroying supplies, and gathering intelligence about the enemy forces. They were not subject to the commanders of small infantry units.

Hooker’s plan for the cavalry at Chancellorsville was daring. Hooker assigned Stoneman a key role in which his Cavalry Corps would raid deeply into Robert E. Lee’s rear areas and destroy vital railroad lines and supplies, distracting Lee from Hooker’s main assaults. However, Stoneman was a disappointment in this strategic role. The Cavalry Corps got off to a good start in May 1863, but quickly bogged down after crossing the Rapidan River.

During the entire battle, Stoneman accomplished little and Hooker considered him one of the principal reasons for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville. Hooker needed a scapegoat to blame for the defeat and Stoneman was relieved of command to deflect criticism from him. He was moved into a desk job in Washington as Chief of the U.S. Cavalry Bureau.

By 1864 Stoneman had grown tired of the desk job and asked for an active duty assignment. Stoneman was given the command of the Cavalry Corps of what would be known as the Army of the Ohio. Stoneman and his aide Major Myles Keogh were captured outside of Macon, Georgia but were exchanged after almost three months in captivity.

In December 1864, he led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. Stoneman, soon after arriving at Knoxville, made up his mind to capture the Salt Works, and on the 11th inst. had concentrated three brigades. Both sides were not at all evenly matched with Stoneman having 4,500 troopers and his Confederate adversaries 2,800. The expedition resulted in the Battle of Marion and the Second Battle of Saltville against a Confederate force under the command of John C. Breckinridge and accomplished the destruction of the saltworks at Saltville, Virginia

His revised orders from Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, were to ‘dismantle the country to obstruct Lee’s retreat’ by destroying parts of the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad, and the Danville-Greensboro line. Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Union commander, believed that Stoneman’s raid, in conjunction with a simultaneous raid by Northern cavalry in Alabama, would ‘leave nothing for the rebellion to stand upon.’

With a force of 6,000 cavalrymen Stoneman was opposed by Confederate home guardsmen scattered about in various places such as Watauga County, where Major Harvey Bingham had two companies, or Ashe County where a Captain Price commanded a small company. The area had been placed under the direction of General P.G.T. Beauregard, but the regular troops in his command were described as ‘insufficient to stop [Stoneman].’ Stoneman took advantage of this by dividing his force several times to cover more ground.

Stoneman’s men took Salem, Martinsville, and other towns, destroyed Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry), struck at Boone on March 28, then divided his force again and sent part into Virginia on April 2. It returned to North Carolina a week later. On April 12, the Federals occupied Salisbury and burned the already abandoned prison, as well as public buildings, industrial structures, and supply depots. Stoneman moved west the next day, dividing his command again in the face of limited resistance.

Other than a fight at Swannanoa Gap, Stoneman and his cavalrymen encountered only bushwhackers and isolated groups of Confederate soldiers. Stoneman’s forces approached Asheville on April 23, negotiated a truce, and rode through the streets on April 26, while Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnson surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham. In recognition of his service, he was brevetted major general in the regular army.



Civil War Tactics: Cavalry

This entry is part 5 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Cavalry chargeAs infantry tactics evolved over the long four years of the American Civil War, so too did cavalry tactics. The use of cavalry by both sides began with them being employed mostly in a reconnaissance role. In addition, they were used to guard supply lines and be advance elements of the army. General Robert E. Lee told J.E.B. Stuart that his cavalry were the “eyes and ears of the army”.

During the Civil War there were four types of cavalry units:

  • Pure cavalry forces carried carbines, pistols and sabers. Only a small number of cavalry met this definition, primarily Union cavalry in the Eastern Theater. Confederate forces in the Eastern Theater carried only pistols but in the Western Theater some were armed with shotguns, especially early in the conflict.
  • The most common use of cavalry forces was as Mounted Infantry. They rode to battle on horseback but fought dismounted. The armed principally with rifles. In the second half of the war Union cavalry were armed with repeating rifles, weapons that multiplied their firepower exponentially.
  • Dragoons were a hybrid force that were armed and mounted as cavalrymen but were expected to fight on foot. The fighting tactics of the forces deployed by Union General Philip Sheridan in 1864, and by Confederate General Wade Hampton after the Battle of Yellow Tavern, fit the dragoon model, although those units did not adopt the term.
  • Irregular forces, also known as partisan rangers and guerrillas, were usually mounted. Their weapons were as varied as their uniforms, anything available would do. The Confederacy produced the most famous irregular leaders, including William Clarke QuantrillJohn S. MosbyNathan Bedford Forrest, and John Hunt Morgan.

At the time of the Civil War, the cavalry had five major missions, in rough priority:

  1. Reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance screening
  2. Defensive, delaying actions
  3. Pursuit and harassment of defeated enemy forces
  4. Offensive actions
  5. Long-distance raiding against enemy lines of communications, supply depots, railroads, etc.

Cavalry was used extensively in a reconnaissance role. In an era when armies were essentially blindly groping for the enemy, cavalry was the paramount tool that military commanders used to find and identify the enemy. They were also used to screen their own forces from enemy reconnaissance.

Cavalry used in an offensive role was a rare occurrence but most cavalry battles were at key points in the war. They include the massive cavalry Battle of Brandy Station where over 20,000 cavalrymen were engaged, the Gettysburg cavalry battles and the Battle of Yellow Tavern where J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded.

Cavalrymen most desired the long-distance raid for two reasons: the fame that a successful raid would bring and the practical value of disrupting the enemy’s rear areas.

J.E.B. Stuart became the darling of the Confederacy for twice circling around the Army of the Potomac in 1864 but his extended raid before Gettysburg left Robert E. Lee blind to the Union Army’s whereabouts.

Union General George Stoneman led a number of long-distance raids behind enemy lines. His first long-distance raid was a key component of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Chancellorsville plan. It accomplished very little and its lack of success was one of the main reasons for the Union defeat in the eyes of Hooker.

In December 1864, Stoneman led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. He led raids into Virginia and North Carolina in 1865, took Salem and other towns, destroyed Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry) and at Salisbury attempted to free about 1,400 prisoners, but the prisoners had been dispersed by the time he arrived in Salisbury.  His command nearly captured Confederate president Jefferson Davis during his flight from Richmond, Virginia.

The raid led by Union Colonel Benjamin Grierson from LaGrange, Tennessee to Baton Gauge during the Vicksburg campaign was considered a strategic masterpiece that diverted critical Confederate forces away from Ulysses S. Grant’s army. During this 800-mile foray through the heart of the South destroyed railroad lines, supply depots and generally disrupted the Confederate Army at a time when they were trying to defeat the Union forces around Vicksburg.

During the early part of the Vicksburg Campaign, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn led 3,500 cavalry on a daring raid to Holly Springs, Mississippi where they destroyed Grant’s key supply depot forcing him to restart his campaign from Memphis.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan was one of the most gifted Union cavalry commanders. Promoted by Grant to overall cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac, he led his forces through a number of battles large and small during the Overland campaign and the subsequent Petersburg campaign. At the Battle of Trevilian Station(June 11–12), the largest all-cavalry battle of the war, he achieved tactical success on the first day, but suffered heavy casualties during multiple assaults on the second.

Given command of the Army of the Shenandoah in August 1864, Sheridan led his combined arms army in a successful clearing of Confederate forces from this strategic area. After defeating Jubal Early in a number of engagements, he unleashed his cavalry forces  to seize or destroy livestock and provisions, and to burn barns, mills, factories, and railroads. Sheridan’s men did their work relentlessly and thoroughly, rendering the Valley a wasteland.

Cavalry were organized into companies of 100 men with ten companies in a regiment. Two or more companies might be organized into ad hoc battalions. Civil War regiments were rarely near authorized strength so that they were commonly brigaded with two to four other regiments. Two to four brigades were combined into divisions. By the end of the war, 272 cavalry regiments were formed in the Union army and 137 in the Confederate army. In both armies, the cavalry was accompanied by batteries or battalions of horse artillery, as well as its own train of ammunition and supply wagons.

Both sides had a number of notable cavalry commanders who are too numerous to mention. Some began their service in the infantry and later transitioned to the cavalry arm. Others began in the cavalry but ended up leading combined arms units.




Across the Rappahannock River and Into the Wilderness

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series The Chancellorsville Campaign

The Wilderness of VirginiaIn order to fully understand the Battle of Chancellorsville, one must understand the terrain that the armies encountered. The Wilderness of Virginia was then and still is today an area of dense woods along the Rappahannock River.

The Wilderness was crisscrossed with narrow roads and hidden pathways that were used by local iron furnaces for bringing in wood to make charcoal and transporting out the product of their furnaces.

Hooker’s plan called for his forces to move swiftly through the dense forest and engage the Confederates on open ground to the east. The dense undergrowth would nullify his advantage in manpower and artillery.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s Cavalry Corps had set out from their camps around Falmouth on April 13, 1863. Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Reserve Brigade headed west in order to cross the river and circle south around the Confederates.

However, heavy rains had turned the roads into quagmires and it was not until April 29th that the entire brigade was was able to completely cross at Kelly’s Ford.

Meanwhile, other elements of Stoneman’s force were able engage Confederate cavalry units at Beverly Ford. Displaying a great deal of caution, Stoneman delayed crossing the river and by the next day it had risen 7 feet, making a crossing impassable.

From that point on, Stoneman’s force devolved into a mere raiding unit and the entire point of his advance, dislocating the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, lost its objective.

On April 27th, the first three infantry corps began to cross the Rappahannock under the Artist's Depiction of the Chancellor Houseoverall command of Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum. Making their way south on the narrow country roads they concentrated around the small hamlet of Chancellorsville, which was little more than a single large, brick mansion at the junction of the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road.

The mansion was the home of the Frances Chancellor family. The family had owned the property until 1854 when they sold it to Samuel Pettus who had sold it to Dr. Samuel L. Guy. When Dr. Guy experienced financial difficulties, Pettus repossessed the house and rented it to the Frances Chancellor family.

Shortly before the battle, Pettus sold the property to George Guest who continued to rent it to the Chancellors. They used it as an inn and a number of prominent Confederate officers had stayed at the establishment, including Generals J.E.B. Stuart, William Mahone, Richard Anderson and Carnot Posey.

The inn was now to a visitor in a different color uniform. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker arrived late on the afternoon of April 30th and made the inn his primary headquarters.

The two II Corps divisions crossed at U.S. Ford on April 30 without opposition. By dawn on April 29, pontoon bridges spanned the Rappahannock south of Fredericksburg and Sedgwick’s force began to cross.

Pleased with the success of the operation so far, and realizing that the Confederates were not vigorously opposing the river crossings, Hooker ordered Sickles to begin the movement of the III Corps from Falmouth the night of April 30–May 1. By May 1, Hooker had approximately 70,000 men concentrated in and around Chancellorsville.

General Robert E. Lee in his Fredericksburg headquarters had no intelligence about the direction of the Union advance. His first thought was that Slocum’s goal was the important rail junction at Gordonsville. But J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry was able to scout around the enemy’s flanks as Stoneman’s force moved further south and east.

One of the generally accepted principles of tactical warfare is the concentration of force. However, at this juncture General Lee violated that principle and divided his force. By not not reacting as Hooker had anticipated, Lee began to foil Hooker’s plan.

Lee anticipated that Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s crossing blow Fredericksburg was merely a demonstration to freeze Jackson in position. With that in mind, Lee planned to concentrate 80% of his force against the Union Army at Chancellorsville.

He left behind a brigade under Brig. Gen. William Barksdale on heavily fortified Marye’s Heights behind Fredericksburg and one division under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, on Prospect Hill south of the town. These roughly 11,000 men and 56 guns would attempt to resist any advance by Sedgwick’s 40,000.

He ordered Stonewall Jackson to march west and link up with Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson‘s division, which had pulled back from the river crossings they were guarding and began digging earthworks on a north-south line between the Zoan and Tabernacle churches.

McLaws’s division was ordered from Fredericksburg to join Anderson. This would amass 40,000 men to confront Hooker’s movement east from Chancellorsville. Fortunately for the Confederates, heavy fog along the Rappahannock masked some of these westward movements and Sedgwick chose to wait until he could determine the enemy’s intentions.


Hooker’s Corps Commanders (Part II)

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Chancellorsville Campaign

When Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac he changed some of his corps commanders to reflect his personal bias. Several either resigned or were reassigned. In their place, he promoted a number of division commanders to the corps command level.

General John SedgwickMaj. Gen. John Sedgwick was a division commander who had commanded first the II Corps, then the IX Corps and finally, the VI Corps of the army. His troops affectionately called him “Uncle John”.

Sedgwick was yet another West Pointer, having graduated in 1837. During the years leading up to the outbreak of the war, he fought in the Seminole Wars, the Mexican War  the Utah War against the Mormons and various Indian Wars. At the start of the Civil War, Sedgwick was serving as a colonel and Assistant Inspector General of the Military Department of Washington.

He missed the early fighting due to the outbreak of a cholera epidemic. Promoted to brigadier general on August 31, 1861, he commanded a brigade in the Army of the Potomac, then his own division, which was designated the 2nd division of the II Corps for the Peninsula Campaign. In Virginia, he fought at Yorktown and Seven Pines and was wounded in the arm and leg at the Battle of Glendale. He was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862.

At the Battle of AntietamII Corps commander Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner impulsively sent Sedgwick’s division in a mass assault without proper reconnaissance. His division was engaged by Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson from three sides, resulting in 2,200 casualties. Sedgwick himself was hit by three bullets, in the wrist, leg, and shoulder, and was out of action until after the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard was the young 32-year old commander of the XI Corps. General Oliver O. HowardHoward had graduated from West Point in 1854 after first graduating from Bowdoin College at the age of 19. His only antebellum service was in Florida during the Seminole Wars.

At the outbreak of the war, he commanded the 3rd Maine Infantry regiment and at First Manassas he was in temporary command of a brigade. After the Union defeat, he was promoted to brigadier general and given permanent command of a brigade.

On June 1, 1862, while commanding a Union brigade in the Fair Oaks, Howard was wounded twice in his right arm, which was subsequently amputated. He received the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his heroism at Fair Oaks. Returning to duty for the Battle of Antietam, he led a division.

In November 1862, Howard was promoted to major general and in April 1863 he was given command of the XI Corps, replacing Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel. The corps was composed largely of German immigrants, many of whom spoke no English, the soldiers were resentful of their new leader and openly called for Sigel’s reinstatement.

General Henry W. SlocumThe Union XII Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. The 35-year old New Yorker was a 1848 graduate of West Point. Slocum only active fighting, like Howard’s, was during the Seminole Wars. In fact, by 1856 he was out of the army and was admitted to the New York State bar in 1858.

At the start of the war, Slocum was appointed colonel of the 27th New York Infantry which he led at First Manassas where he was wounded. In August 1861, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded a brigade during the Peninsula Campaign and a division at the Seven Days Battles, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill.

On July 25, 1862, Slocum was appointed major general of volunteer, the second youngest man in the Army to achieve that rank. He led his division  covering the retreat of Maj. Gen. John Pope after the Second Battle of Bull Run.

At Crampton’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, he and his subordinate officers overrode their indecisive corps commander, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, assaulting the enemy line behind a stone wall and routing it.

On October 20, 1862, he assumed command of the XII Corps after its commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield, was killed at the Battle of Antietam, a battle where Slocum’s division was kept in reserve. He led the corps in the Battle of Fredericksburg, where he fortunately arrived too late on the scene to see any real action in that Union catastrophe.

We have already met Maj. Gen. George Stoneman who commanded the Union Cavalry General George StonemanCorps. Stoneman was an 1846 graduate of West Point who was initially a dragoon. Mostly, he saw service in the West before the outbreak of the war.

At the start of the war, Stoneman was stationed in Texas where he refused to surrender to Confederate authorities there. He escaped to the North with most of his command. Stoneman served in cavalry from the beginning of the war but Maj. Gen. George McClellan had little appreciation for the use of cavalry in large formations, relegating it to assignment in small units to infantry brigades.

After the Peninsula, Stoneman was an infantry commander, commanding a division in the II Corps and the III Corps. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Stoneman commanded the III Corps. He was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862.

Following Fredericksburg, a new commanding general took over the Army of the Potomac: Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a better understanding of the strategic value of a centralized Cavalry Corps and he named Stoneman to lead it. The centralized corps could undertake long raids into enemy territory, destroying supplies, and gathering intelligence about the enemy forces. They were no longer subject to the commanders of small infantry units.





Prelude to Chancellorsville: Stoneman’s 1863 Raid

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series The Chancellorsville Campaign

General George StonemanThe prelude to the Battle of Chancellorsville is a planned cavalry action known as Stoneman’s 1863 Raid. It is named after Major General George Stoneman who commanded the 1o,000-man strong Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

The Army commander, Maj. General Joseph Hooker was preparing a plan to meet Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in central Virginia. His goal was to force the Confederates out of their fortified positions around Fredericksburg. Hooker conceived of a sweeping cavalry action that would sever Lee’s railroad supply lines and pin the Confederates in place for the oncoming Union assault.

The frontal assaults carried out by Union troops in December 1862 had been the undoing of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and precipitated his removal as commander of the Army of the Potomac. The Union army suffered 12,653 casualties and the South had received a great boost in morale. The Richmond Examiner described it as a “stunning defeat to the invader, a splendid victory to the defender of the sacred soil.” Burnside was relieved of command a month later, following an unsuccessful attempt to purge some of his subordinates from the Army and the humiliating failure of his “Mud March” in January.

With Burnside’s failure in the forefront of his thinking “Fighting Joe” Hooker conceived a new plan of attack across the dividing line of the Rappahannock River. His initial weapon of choice was Stoneman’s Cavalry Corps. The plan was for the Union cavalry to cross the Rappahannock.

His plan called for the dispersal Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry around Culpeper and then a dash south to Gordonsville. There, they would sever Lee’s line of supply by destroying the strategically vital north-south Orange and Alexandria Railroad where it joined with the east-west Virginia Central Railroad.

Without a reliable line of supply, Lee would be forced to withdraw from his fortifications at Fredericksburg and fall back towards Richmond. Hooker knew that the Confederate authorities were as sensitive about the security of their capital as the Union authorities were about Washington. On April 12, the bombastic Hooker wrote to Stoneman of the impending operation: “Let your watchword be fight, and let all your orders be fight, fight, fight.”

Hooker made sure that Brig. Gen. John Buford was given an active field command and rode to battle in April 1863 with the Reserve Brigade, an organisation that contained the majority of the Regular Army cavalry units serving in the east. Up to this point Buford had served on the staff of the Army commander.

At 8 a.m. on April 13, 1863, Buford’s Brigade, composed of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth U.S. Cavalry, left camp at Falmouth, Virginia, to embark on the ambitious and daring raid. Falmouth was a town opposite Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. After camping that night at Morrisville, on the following day Buford’s force engaged the enemy at Kelly’s Ford, upriver from their starting point, a key crossing point.

After a brief artillery duel, 25 shots in all, the Union cavalry continued their advance to the west and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. By the 15th, they were at Rappahannock Bridge, ready to cross but were ordered to await further instructions. Heavy rains had turned the roads to quagmires and the streams into raging torrents. It was not until April 29 that the Reserve Brigade was able to completely cross at Kelly’s Ford.

Meanwhile, Col. Benjamin F. “Grimes” Davis’ Brigade was ordered to continue their advance through the night of April 13-14 with the goal of crossing the river at Sulphur Springs. Once across, Davis was to proceed back downriver to drive the Confederates from Beverly Ford and Rappahannock Bridge in order for the rest of the cavalry to cross.

At Beverly Ford, Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg‘s Division skirmished with elements of the 9th and 13 Virginia Cavalry under Brig. Gen. Rooney Lee. Rather than press forward, the Union cavalry opted not to attack until the following morning. Stoneman began to show signs of caution. That night the river rose an incredible 7 feet from a torrential rainstorm. At this Stoneman cancelled the advance and ordered Davis back across the river.

The rain continued for days and Stoneman’s force marked time while waiting for it to abate. He kept the bulk of his force near Warrenton Junction where he was able to supply them from the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. At this point Hooker changed his original plan. Rather than seizing Hanover Junction or blocking Lee’s retreat, the orders were less specific.

On April 22nd, Hooker directed Stoneman to “subdivide your command, and let them take different routes, and have some point of meeting on your line of general operations. These detachments can dash off to the right and left, and inflict a vast deal of mischief, and at the same time General Joseph Hookerbewilder the enemy as to the course and intentions of the main body.” 

By April 28th, Hooker had issued yet another set of orders that closely resembled the original orders of April 12th in part. Stoneman was instructed to cut of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad in Lee’s rear. The cavalry was ordered to “cut off the retreat of enemy” and reunite somewhere south of the Pamunkey River after having divided his force in accordance with the April 22nd orders.

Stoneman collected his scattered units and after several hours of scouting, the Union cavalry crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford. Hooker’s engineers had built a pontoon bridge at this spot and some of Stoneman’s forces used that to cross. Some of the troopers swam their horses through the overflowing stream while the other’s used the ford itself. By 5:00 PM, Stoneman force was across the river.

He then split his forces for the next stage of the advance. Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, accompanied by Davis’ Brigade, was ordered to move his division toward Culpeper and disperse Fitzhugh Lee’s smaller cavalry force in that area. Gregg’s Division, along with Buford’s Reserve Brigade, would move to the southwest toward Stevensburg. Each column had a battery of artillery for support.

Averell’s wing collided with a small force of Confederate cavalry and after a brief engagement dispersed them. However, Stoneman’s cautious approach once more slowed both columns. He ordered them both to halt until after dark. Both wings bivouacked for the night, well short of their objectives.

During the night, Stoneman determined to press on. He ordered all of the supply wagons, pack mules and led horses to be sent toward Hooker’s right wing at Germanna Ford. Gregg’s and Buford’s men each loaded three days of rations, three days of forage, 40 rounds of carbine and 20 rounds of pistol ammunition on their horses. This wing was ordered to push east toward Richmond. Averell’s wing was to continue to engage the Confederate cavalry to his front.

By May 1st, Gregg’s wing split in two with Buford heading to Orange Court House and Gregg moving toward Orange Springs, 10 miles to the southwest. Upon reaching the Fredericksburg-Orange Turnpike, Stoneman directed his columns to make for Louisa Court House. The majority of the troops rested at Orange Springs for the rest of the day. At 6:00 PM, Gregg ordered them to saddle up and 9 hours later they arrived about a mile north of Louisa.

In the morning, Gregg’s troops encountered token resistance and easily took the town. They tore up the tracks, burned the sleepers and twisted theKelly's Ford rails for about 5 miles. The also captured the depot and the storehouses in the area. Stoneman ordered a small force to head west toward Gordonsville. After some 3 miles, they encountered Confederate pickets which they scattered. Rooney Lee‘s 9th Virginia counterattacked and drove off the Union scouts, capturing almost half of them.

After an afternoon of skirmishing, both sides withdrew to their main lines. Meanwhile, Stoneman had sent out the 1st U.S. Cavalry to pillage Confederate supply depots at Tolersville and Fredericks Hall. They carried out their orders and in their travels managed to burn the 200-foot long Carr’s Bridge which spanned the North Anna River.

Meanwhile, Averell had continued to push south. On May 1st, Averell met the Confederates at Rapidan Station where the railroad crossed the Rapidan River. After an all-day stand-off, Averell slipped some troops to his right and across the river about 5 miles above the crossing. Rooney Lee countered with a blocking force but soon after received orders to withdraw to Gordonsville to confront Stoneman’s wing. The retreating Confederates burned the bridge to discourage Union pursuit.

Averell received a message from Hooker at 6:30 AM on May 2nd. In the dispatch, Hooker ordered him to return immediately to United State Ford.  Averell attempted to reply with an explanation of Stoneman’s orders but he also immediately set out for United States Ford as ordered. By the following afternoon, he had been relieved of command and he was replaced by Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton on May 4, 1863. Hooker claimed that Averell had disobeyed his orders by obeying Stoneman’s, his immediate superior.

Meanwhile, Stoneman made the classic mistake of dividing his 10 regiments into seven separate groupings, thereby rendering them vulnerable to a superior concentration of Confederate cavalry. Divided his force stood little chance of delaying the Army of Northern Virginia if Hooker were to force it south.

Nevertheless, Stoneman, who remained at Thompson’s Crossroads with a painful case of hemorrhoids, sent his troopers off in all directions to wreak havoc on the countryside. They burned dozens of bridges, canal boats, canal locks and enemy supplies. They also tore down telegraph lines and tore up railroad tracks. One column led by the colorful Col H. Judson Kilpatrick rode until they were in sight of Richmond’s outer defenses. Kilpatrick and a second column led by Col. Hasbrouck Davis were forced to head east towards Williamsburg on the Peninsula.

Stoneman had not received word from Hooker and the lack of retreating Confederates meant that Hooker’s plan had met with a reverse. He now had to navigate with his remaining troopers through a sea of Confederates. Using Buford and a picked force of 646 men and horses, Stoneman and the remainder retraced their route to the Rapidan River.

Buford followed through violent rainstorm, fording the North Anna River about 2:00 AM on May 6th and arriving at Orange Springs near dawn. Stoneman and his force arrived at Orange Springs several hours after Buford having traveled through the same miserable weather. Rooney Lee followed the Union columns but when he arrived at the North Anna River, it was too swollen to ford.

On the 6th, Stoneman cautiously moved north. Local slaves reported that Hooker had withdrawn across the Rappahannock in defeat. After resting for some hours, Stoneman’s columns spent another miserable night in torrential rainstorms and roads that had turned into muddy quagmires. At 2:00 AM on May 7th, they reached Raccoon Ford which was fordable. By dawn, the last regiment had crossed into Culpeper County. After a difficult crossing at Kelly’s Ford, Stoneman’s weary troopers reached Bealton on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad where they were resupplied.

Stoneman’s Raid gave the Union cavalry a newfound sense of self respect. They had proved that the cavalry could operate as an independent force against the enemy. No less a Confederate commander than Robert E. Lee urged Jefferson Davis that the Confederate cavalry formations would be increased in order to fend off “aggressive expeditions of the enemy…”

Stoneman had accomplished this with an estimate loss of 189 men from all causes out of a total force of 10,000, less than 2%. Hooker thought otherwise, testifying before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War that Stoneman had misconstrued his orders. However, the sentiment of the time favored Stoneman. By late June Hooker had been relieved of command and replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade.

Despite not accomplishing his stated goal of cutting off Lee from Richmond, Stoneman’s Raid established the Union cavalry as a force to be reckoned with and their star continued to ascend.