Cavalry clash at Todd's Tavern

Union tries to clear the way to Spotsylvania


May 20, 1999|By Paul Ruppel | Paul Ruppel,Special to the Sun

Hoping to disengage from the Wilderness without giving the appearance of retreat, Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began moving south around the Confederate right flank toward Spotsylvania.

Lee anticipated Grant's movement and had already started his army on the march toward Spotsylvania.

Lee intended to use his cavalry, commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, to slow the Union advance, and the Union cavalry, which had been used to protect Grant's enormous wagon train, was ordered to clear a path to Spotsylvania. The two forces met at Todd's Tavern at 4 p.m. May 7 when four brigades from the Union's 1st and 2nd Cavalry divisions repulsed Confederate attacks commanded by Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee's division.

Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt's Union cavalrymen pursued Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry south on Brock Road until they had pushed the enemy beyond the woods surrounding Todd's Tavern. Two miles south, at the intersection of Piney Branch Road, the Confederates erected logworks and dug rifle pits. The most deadly engagement of the battle took place here. At one point the logworks even caught fire, but the Union and Confederate cavalries continued firing through the flames at one another. Merritt withdrew at nightfall to Todd's Tavern.

As fighting resumed in the morning, the Union cavalry experienced difficulty. Fitzhugh Lee's man had cut down trees and dismantled fences to slow the Union army, and they shot at Merritt's men as they attempted to clear the obstructions. Maj. Gen. John C. Robinson's infantry were ordered forward to attack.

But as Robinson approached the Confederate line, reinforcements from Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson's 1st Corps division arrived over one of the crossings that the Union cavalry had been ordered to take the night before. Robinson's infantry and the Union cavalry were driven back in confusion; the Confederates had won the race to Spotsylvania Courthouse.

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