Archive for May, 2016

Diversion at Trevilian Station

By Andy Mateja


During Lt Gen Ulysses S Grants 1864 Spring Offensive to confront and defeat Gen Robt E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Petersburg Virginia was put at the top of the list of desirable Union “objectives”.

After suffering a stinging defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant swung the Army of the Potomac to the south of the Chickahominy and James Rivers to capture Petersburg while Lee’s army was still concentrated around Richmond. Grant however needed a diversion. By dispatching his cavalry westward toward the Shenandoah Valley, Grant surmised that he would draw Confederate cavalry after it, and perhaps do further damage to the Confederate supply lines being sent to Lee’s Army from the valley which was widely considered the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy”.

The man Grant put in charge of this venture was none other than Maj Gen Phillip H Sheridan, who was always spoiling for a fight with the Confederate Cavalry. Since JEB Stuart was a casualty of the previous time he battled the Rebels (at Yellow Tavern in May), Sheridan was confident of success against the newly appointed Confederate Cavalry Leader: Wade Hampton.

Dividing the cavalry into two parts,  Sheridan left the smaller amount for cover Maj Gen George Meade’s Army of the Potomac while he proceeded with 2/3rd of it about 70 miles west of Cold Harbor to destroy as much of the Virginia Central Railroad in the area, including at Trevilian Station.

Sheridan began his move on June 7 with Confederates in mild pursuit and continued every day thereafter to inflict damage on the railroad, reaching the area around Trevilian Station around June 10th, only to be halted by the Confederate quick response and determination.

Confederate Cavalry Commander Wade Hampton was just like Phil Sheridan – eager for a fight with the opposing enemy. He was planning to box Sheridan in between Rebel cavalry forces but Sheridan struck first. When the fighting erupted the coordination between the Confederate forces was slow in occurring, which caused Hampton to slowly withdraw, thereby opening elements of the Virginia Central Railroad to further Union destruction.

The Michigan Brigade under Brig Gen George A. Custer led the attack only to be caught in a trap when the “absent” Confederate forces arrived on the field.  It appeared that Custer’s four regiments were about to be captured in total. Despite being personally wounded, Custer fought his men tenaciously out of the trap.

Unfortunately, Sheridan could not unite with Union forces in the valley that he intended to and his cavalry just continued to tear up lots of Virginia Central track. For the next few days Sheridan continued to demolish the train tracks while he attempted to move forward…… which regrettably for him, Hampton’s Confederate troopers were not willing to allow. Sheridan’s cavalry ultimately returned to their original starting point by backtracking across the North Anna River while leaving 113 wounded Union troopers and many Confederate prisoners behind.

Phillip Sheridan fulfilled his objective of providing a diversion for Grant for his move on Petersburg. However it wasn’t until June 20th (6 days later) when his cavalry finally reached the Union army’s partially abandoned supply line at White House Landing on the Pamunkey River.

The Union forces suffered about 600 casualties, which were quickly replaced….. whereas the Confederate cavalry losses were not. Sheridan DID however prevent Lee with a sufficient amount of rebel troops from blocking Grant’s advance from Cold Harbor to Petersburg in time.

The New York Draft Riots Of 1863

by Andy Mateja

This is a disgraceful chapter in the annals of the American Civil War

About one week after the Union victory fought at Gettysburg, a riot of major proportions broke out in New York City in an attempt to quell the recently enacted National Conscription Act of July 1863.

Nearly one thousand protestors (many drunk) gathered in front of NY City Hall….cursing and attacking with bats, crowbars  its’ affluent and well to do citizens, along with black free men and former slaves in addition to the Lincoln Administration as a result of this unpopular law.  The rioting lasted 4 days and resulted in almost 1200 dead and injured along with $$ millions of wanton destruction in a Northern city whose population at the time was nearly 814,000 men, women and children !!!

Many New Yorkers supported the Lincoln Administration and many were also “Copperheads” who were opposed to what they called “Mr Lincoln’s War”.  A provision of the new law allowed for a $300 FEE to be paid in order to “hire” a substitute a replacement for someone who was “drafted”.

Many of New York City’s “poor” Irish immigrants did not have $300 and also who feared recently freed Blacks slaves would come and take their jobs away. Buildings were set on fire and firemen prevented from dousing flames while telegraph wires cut downtown. The NY City police force (about 800) were assigned to protect downtown businesses from destruction along with the initial 300 Union troops assigned there (including a few invalid soldiers of which two were beaten to death)

New York Governor Seymour tried to break up the riot with the 11th NY Volunteers opening fire on NY civilian protestors (men AND women) and have Washington put an end to the new Draft…

Thousands of additional Federal troops that had just fought at Gettysburg finally arrived in NYC (13 regiments in all) to disband the rioting protestors which were now estimated at between 20, 000 to 50,000 participants. Ten thousand troops remained in NYC in order for the draft to proceed…..

There were some who believed that there was “fingerprints” of Richmond’s involvement in the New York City Draft Riots but that fact was never proven.

By late summer in 1863 a semblance of order returned to New York City. While most would prefer to reflect on the epic Union Victory at Gettysburg, some will NEVER forget the unspeakable tragedy of a “crowd gone wild” in America’s largest city at the ZENITH of the Civil War……..!!!!!