The Battle of Meadow Bridge (also known as the Battle of Richmond Heights) was an engagement on May 12, 1864, in Henrico County, Virginia, during the Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Retreating Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan forced a crossing of a railroad bridge over the rain-swollen Chickahominy River and enabled pioneers and engineers to quickly rebuild the bridge, enabling the troopers to escape to safety.

Background[edit | edit source]

On May 11, 1864, Sheridan and his Union cavalry force, on the second day of a daring raid against the Confederacy's capital of Richmond, Virginia, defeated Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, mortally wounding the storied Confederate cavalier. Flushed with victory, Sheridan led his troops southward towards Richmond, carefully feeling his way through the abandoned outer defensive works under threatening overcast skies. As darkness fell, a severe thunderstorm drenched the column, but Sheridan kept up his movement down the Brook Pike, not realizing that he was boxing himself into a potential trap. Confederates had left torpedoes (mines) in the road—many exploded during the passage, killing several horses but not delaying the column further.[1] As dawn broke and the storm subsided, Sheridan found himself only two and half miles from his objective. However, to his dismay, the intermediate defenses in his front swarmed with enemy troops. His left flank was against the swollen Chickahominy, and Confederate cavalry threatened his rear, hoping to capture the Union force.

Battle[edit | edit source]

Sheridan quickly evaluated the situation and decided to force a crossing of the river at Meadow Bridge, where the Virginia Central Railroad crossed the river. Confederates had earlier dismantled the flooring on the road part of the bridge, rendering it temporarily useless, although the rest of the bridge was intact. Sheridan assigned the First Division under Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt to seize the span and the high bluffs beyond. The Third Division, under Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson, would follow as soon as the bridgehead was secure, while Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg's Second Division formed between Richmond and the river to protect the planned crossing.

The rearguard of the Second Division was assailed on three sides as soon as it was light enough for a brigade of Confederate infantry to sally forth from the fortifications and attack. Soon, other Confederates, including Richmond citizens hastily pressed into military service, joined in the efforts to break through the rear lines. According to the regimental historian of the veteran 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry,

Every effort was made by the enemy to break the lines of our division and push us back into the river and swamp. But as often as he came up, he was driven back with heavy loss. The fighting continued thus, the enemy charging, time after time, only to be hurled back, until about eleven A.M., when, apparently completely disheartened by his repeated repulses, he withdrew… [2]

Wilson's men were initially pushed back in some confusion, but Gregg had concealed a heavy line of skirmishers armed with repeating carbines in a brushy ravine. His men poured forth a destructive fire, halting the final Confederate advances, assisted by some of Wilson's men who turned the flank of the attacking column. Federal horse artillery made sure that the Confederate infantry no longer was a threat, and three mounted cavalry regiments skirmished with approaching enemy cavalry, turning them aside and protecting the rear. James B. Gordon, a Confederate brigadier general commanding a North Carolina cavalry brigade, was mortally wounded in the fighting and died on May 18.

In the meantime, the 6th New York Cavalry, under Colonel Alfred Gibbs, carefully had crossed the railroad bridge and charged down a narrow causeway beyond, scattering the resistance and opening the way despite persistent enemy artillery fire. Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s dismounted troopers of Merritt's Division then succeeded in the early afternoon in clearing the north bank of the Chickahominy and gaining a foothold on the Confederate side of the river. Custer’s men pinned down remaining threatening enemy units and captured two artillery pieces, while pioneers energetically planked the bridge to provide safe passage for large numbers of men and horses. By mid-afternoon, Merritt's entire division had crossed and engaged the Confederate hasty works on Richmond Heights, driving the defenders back to Gaines' Mill. By 4:00 p.m., the rest of Sheridan's cavalry had crossed the river. Sheridan destroyed the Virginia Central Bridge in his wake to prevent further pursuit. For the balance of the day, Sheridan's men collected their wounded, buried their dead, grazed their horses in the pastures, and eagerly read Richmond newspapers, which two enterprising small boys had brought across the lines and sold to the Union soldiers.[3]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

After his men had rested, Sheridan brushed aside the remaining Confederate resistance in the area and marched his column to Mechanicsville, out of harm’s way. On May 14, he led his men to the safety of the James River, ending his raid.

Sheridan reported 425 casualties in the march from Yellow Tavern.[4] Confederate losses are not recorded.

References[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Official Records, Vol. 36, Part 1, page 791.
  2. History of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, pp. 93-94.
  3. Official Records, Vol. 36, Part 1, page 791.
  4. Official Records. Vol. 36, Part 1, page 792.

da:Slaget ved Meadow Bridge

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