Saturday, August 25, 2012

Trevilian Station

Here is what Roy Morris, whom Wittengberg quotes with approval if not always accuracy, has to say about the Trevilian Station raid (pp 175-178:

". . . Sheridan followed the north bank of the North Anna River, intending to strike the railroad first at Trevilian Station, twenty-eight miles due east of Charlottesville. The ever-vigilant Lee, hearing that Sheridan was moving in his rear, dispatched Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee in close pursuit. Taking a more direct route, the two southerners reached the vicinity of Trevilian Station ahead of Sheridan and bedded down for the night. The next morning, June 11, Sheridan sent Torbert and Merritt clattering down the road toward the station, supported by Devin's brigade. At the same time, Hampton had his gray-clad force in motion, planning to strike the Yankees at Clayton's Store, a strategic crossroads three miles northeast of Trevilian.

"While the two sides were closing with each other, tawny-haired Custer was marching his Michigan brigade around the Rebel right, screened from the enemy by thick-growing trees. Hampton had dismounted one of his brigades for the frontal attack . . . Without hesitating, Custer sent Colonel Russel Alger and the Fifth Michigan Cavalry charging into the Rebel camp. Alter quickly snatched up all the horses, prisoners, and supplies he could find, and with 'pardonable zeal' followed the remaining fugitives north toward Gordonsville. Meanwhile, Fitzhugh Lee's division, riding toward the sound of the guns, crashed into Custer from the east, separating him from Alger's men. Hampton rapidly disengaged a part of his attacking force and sent it hurrying back to Trevilian to help.

"Nearly surrounded, Custer pulled his men into a circle, frontier-fashion, and grimly held his ground. Lee's troops grabbed back everything Alger had seized, along with their would-be Union captors. Alger and a handful of men escaped, rejoining the command later that day. The battle swirled on in the staggering summer heat, Sheridan reinforcing his flanks and eventually breaking through the enemy front. Custer, who earlier had grabbed his regimental standard from a fallen color-bearer and concealed it inside his jacket, led his Wolverines forward to meet Sheridan, capturing some four hundred Rebels who had found themselves trapped between the two blue lines. Custer's longtime cook and servant, 'Aunt Eliza' Brown, seized during the kaleidoscopic melee, stole home that night through enemy lines, proudly lugging the general's personal suitcase.

"Hampton broke off the engagement late that afternoon, going into camp west of Trevilian. Although he later claimed a victory in the fight, the fact that Sheridan now held the station, along with hundreds of Rebel dead and wounded left behind on the battlefield, effectively contradicted Hampton's boast. . . ."

Comment: Obviously, Hampton would have disagreed with the assertion that Sheridan won all his battles, but Roy Morris holds a persuasively contrary view. The fog of war seemed to have been especially dense at Trevilian. No one was perched high on a roof observing everything that happened, but even if there had been such an one, when it was all over and the observer climbed down, he would have found Sheridan in possession of the station and Hampton no where to be found. He might be excused for thinking Sheridan the victor.

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