The Battle of Trevilian Station


Trevilian Station in 2001.

Railroad tracks at Trevilian Station in 2001.

Monument honoring the fallen of both sides at the Battle of Trevilians.

The monument text.

The above images are the copyrighted material of Bob Koch, who was gracious enough to allow me to use them. Please do not copy his images without written permission. I recommend visiting his website, , as it is a virtual US Civil War encyclopedia.

The Largest Cavalry Battle Of The War

In June 1864 Union General Ulysses S. Grant needed a victory to boost the Union Army’s morale after a devastating defeat at Cold Harbor and continued hard fighting at Spotsylvania. General Grant was under considerable political pressure from sources in Washington, D.C., due to coming presidential elections.

General Grant felt all he needed to effectively destroy CSA General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, was to capture the Confederate capital, Richmond and destroy all the railroads around it. He was hampered by believing that he could not divide his forces, or make any top level changes to his command structure, because of the political effects.

General Grant decided to march his 100,000 strong infantry south across the James River to capture the Petersburg rail hub, while General Philip Sheridan took his two cavalry divisions to the Virginia Central Railroad in Louisa County, Virginia. The plan was to draw the Confederate Cavalry away from the Union Infantry so they could move secretly into position and to destroy the Virginia Central railroad at Richmond, sealing off General Lee's Confederate Army from the food and supplies carried from the Shenandoah Valley.

On June 7, General Sheridan’s two cavalry divisions headed north along the North Anna River, to cross it and strike the railroad. On June 10, General Sheridan had camped, three miles north of Trevilian, after a grueling hot summer march. General Sheridan had encountered only minor resistance during the march, but it grew heavier on June 10. General Robert E. Lee had been informed of General Sheridan's movements on June 8 and sent two divisions of Confederate Cavalry to intercept it.

On June 11, the Confederates began their advance, and after General Sheridan was alerted, he began his. Two Union Cavalry Brigades advanced toward Trevilian Station while a third, led by General George Armstrong Custer, advanced to the Louisa Court House. The first fighting occurred on the Trevilian Road.The Union Troopers dismounted and managed to drive the enemy back, however they were severely outnumbered and soon forced back after getting within sight of Trevilian Station.

Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee had just left Louisa Court House, and ran directly into two Union Infantry Brigades. Vastly outnumbered, he headed straight to the Trevilian Station. In the interim, General Custer arrived at Trevilian Station. General Custer had positioned himself behind, but unfortunately between the two Confederate divisions. General Custer found Trevilian Station unguarded, except for Confederate supply wagons containing ammunition, food, and horses. During a short chase, to capture the supply wagons, General Custer allowed his command to be cut off from General Sheridan.

Confederate Generals Lee and Wade Hampton were both now approaching the Trevilian Station. The famous "Custer’s Luck" appeared to have ran dry, as General Custer was receiving Confederate pressure from both his left and right flanks. General Custer immediately pulled out along the Gordonsville Road, taking the captured supplies with him. When he came into range, a Confederate horse artillery battery, opened fire and decimated the front of General Custer’s Troopers. Simultaneously Confederate General Wade Hampton’s Cavalry Brigade smashed into his right flank, nearly overwhelming the Union Cavalrymen.

General Custer was now surrounded, compressed into an ever shrinking fighting field , being pressured on all sides. An event that would be repeated by Indian Warriors at the Little Big Horn. Even General Custer began to suspect that he would soon be over-run by the surrounding hordes. When his flag-bearer was shot, General Custer tore the flag from the pole, and crammed it inside his coat to prevent it‘s capture. General Sheridan had heard the heavy gunfire from General Custer’s position and sent his two brigades onto Trevilian Road where they pushed Confederate General Hampton’s forces all the way to the station. The remaining Union forces swung into General Fitzhugh Lee's flank, pushing him back also. Both Confederate Generals were forced away from the station, leaving it firmly in Union hands for the evening.

The next day Union forces began destroying the railroad. General Custer found General Hampton's forces behind log breastworks two miles to the west of Trevilian Station. General Fitzhugh Lee had reunited with General Hampton by marching around the Federals the previous night. General Custer was pushed back with heavy losses. With General Custer’s ranks diminished, low on ammunition, and an entire Confederate Infantry Corps heading their way, General Sheridan withdrew.

Even though casualties and losses for both sides were fairly even, around one thousand each, the battle must be considered an Union loss. The Union Soldiers had been forced to withdraw and the railroad tracks of the Virginia Central Railroad, destroyed by the Union forces, were repaired in less than two weeks. It was also the only major fight General Custer would not win until his death at the Little Big Horn. Thus is the history of the largest all-cavalry battle of the American Civil War.

Trevilian Station battle map.

Map of General Custer's rescue.

Some of General Custer's uniform that was captured at Trevilian Station. It is now on display at the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan. The collection is for sale.

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