Battle of Hawe's Shop

The Battle of Hawe's Shop (Haw's Shop and Enon Church are also used) took place on May 28, 1864, in Hanover County, Virginia during the US Civil War. The second significant cavalry engagement of the 1864, and one of the bloodiest , it was part of the Union’s Overland Campaign against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

On May 27, the Union Cavalry staged on the south side of the Pamunkey River, near Hanovertown Ford. General George Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade chased off the Confederates guarding the ford, allowing Union engineers to construct a pontoon bridge. The Union troops then crossed the river. Afraid the Union Army could outflank him and head to Richmond, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered General Wade Hampton to take his Southern Cavalry and make a reconnaissance in force. If General Hampton encountered the Union Cavalry, he was to break through and find the Union infantry.

On May 28, General Hampton headed out with three cavalry brigades, a battery of horse artillery, and three regiments of mounted infantry who were green troops from South Carolina. As Confederate General Hampton was looking for the Union Infantry, Union Cavalry divisions headed west searching for General Lee‘s troops. Three miles west of Hanovertown, VA and a mile from a blacksmith shop called Hawe's Shop, Union Troopers came upon General Hampton at Enon Church. The Confederate Cavalrymen were in a wooden area erecting breastworks made of logs and rails. Confederate artillery covered the dismounted Confederate Cavalry as they toiled. Union General Henry E. Davies, Jr., deployed pickets from the 10th New York Cavalry at the front. The Union Cavalry was outnumbered but continued forward in a frontal assault. General Hampton is said to have exclaimed, "We've got the Yankees where we want them now.".

The Confederate Cavalry breastworks were in the treeline to the left of Enon Church. This photo is a copyrighted image used by permission of the owner John Hamill. See many more of his oustanding images of military battlesites at johnsmilitaryhistory.com .

The Union charge was met with a wall of lead. The green South Carolina mounted infantry carried Enfield rifles, far outranging the Union carbines carried by the cavalry. The Union return fire was extremely heavy because the troopers were armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating carbines. The Union attack ground to a halt and a second advance failed to move the Confederates from behind their cover.

Sensing victory, Confederate General Hampton sent his men out from their breastworks and began a series of counterattacks. Union General Phil Sheridan sent two additional Cavalry brigades, but his request for two nearby Infantry brigades was denied by General George Meade. One of the Union brigades was sent to stop a Confederate flanking maneuver. General Sheridan also ordered General George Custer's brigade into the fight. General Sheridan is said to have pointed at the Confederates and ordered, "Custer, I want you to go in and give those fellows Hell!". General Sheridan knew this would be heavy fighting with lots of casualties, probably influencing his decision to use General Custer for this assignment. General Custer’s Civil War record is often called into question by doubters due to his high casualty rates. I can only deduce that the argument of when you are often sent headlong into the fiercest fighting, your casualties are going to be higher doesn’t apply when lambasting General Custer.

The heavily wooded terrain was not very well suited to fighting on horseback so General Custer had his Troopers dismount. The Cavalry Troopers deployed in a long double-ranked line as if they were Infantry. General Custer stayed mounted as he led them forward, out front waving his hat as usual, in full view of the enemy. The inexperienced South Carolina Infantry thought a nearby Union shift in position was for a retreat and charged out after them. General Custer led his men directly into the advancing Confederates, capturing eighty of them and losing forty one Troopers in the process. General Custer once again had his horse shot out from under him, but his enthusiastic charge forced Confederate General Hampton's men to retreat. General Hampton’s decision was also influenced by feeling his reconnaissance mission had been completed.

Custer's Cavalry advanced from the left. The inexperienced South Carolina Infantry was in the treeline to the right of the road. This photo is a copyrighted image used by permission of the owner John Hamill. See many more of his oustanding images of military battlesites at johnsmilitaryhistory.com .

The Battle of Haw's Shop had lasted for over seven hours and was the heaviest casualty Cavalry battle since Brandy Station in 1863. The Union sustained 297 casualties. The Confederate losses are estimated to be 187 killed, 50 wounded, and 80 POW’s. The Union won the fight, as the Confederates withdrew, but was delayed for seven hours on their march to Richmond, VA and intelligence gained by General Robert E. Lee caused him to move his Army of Northern Virginia into a new blocking position at Cold Harbor.

 

General

Henry E. Davies, Jr.

General

George Meade

General

Wade Hampton

 

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