As part of his efforts to energize the Army of the Potomac, in the spring of 1864 General Grant appointed General Philip Sheridan to command the army's cavalry. Small in stature and abrasive in personality, Sheridan aggressively sought a larger role for the Federal Cavalry. After repeated clashes between Sheridan and the army commander, General Meade, Grant authorized Sheridan to operate independently to defeat J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry
On May 9, Sheridan began the raid with 10,000 troops, while Stuart followed with only 4,500 men. Splitting his command, Sheridan held off Stuart's pursuit with some units while sending others to strike the Virginia Central Railroad at Beaver Dam Station. After damaging the Railroad, Sheridan's reunited force continued southward toward Richmond. Leaving subordinates to follow Sheridan's trail, Stuart led the bulk of his command on a forced march to get between the Federals and the Confederate capital. On May 11, Stuart confronted Sheridan at Yellow Tavern: the outnumbered Confederates were routed, and Stuart himself mortally wounded. Too weak to force his way into Richmond, Sheridan then skirted the city's defenses and reached Federal lines at Haxall's Landing on May 14. Unwilling to assist the Army of the James in its advance, Sheridan soon departed for the Army of the Potomac, reaching it on May 24. Except for the death of Stuart, the raid had accomplished little.
Two weeks later, Grant again sent Sheridan's cavalry to raid the Virginia Central Railroad. This time the raid's primary purpose was to distract Confederate attention from Grant's pending crossing of the James River. Departing with 6,000 horsemen on June 7, Sheridan looped northward around Richmond and four days later struck the railroad far to the west in the vicinity of Trevilian Station. Before the Federals could damage the track significantly, they were attacked by Major General Wade Hampton and 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen. In a confused action around the station that lasted for two days, the Federals inflicted nearly 1,000 casualties upon Hampton's command, but lost an equivalent number of their own. Unable to accomplish more destruction or force Hampton from the field, Sheridan then withdrew, eventually rejoining the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg on June 28.
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