On May 4, 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant led Major General George G. Meade's US Army of the Potomac across the Rapidan River into the tangles of the Wilderness. Robert E. Lee attacked him there, and in two days of heavy fighting Grant had both flanks turned and took more than 17,000 casualties. Rather than retreat, Grant issued orders on May 7 for a night march to Spotsylvania Court House, the next stop on the road to Richmond. To get there, his cavalry would first have to clear Confederate cavalry from the Brock Road. This would lead to some of the most intense and important cavalry fighting of war around a country crossroads called Todd's Tavern.
Tour Todd's Tavern Battlefield
Follow the directions carefully for a tour of the Todd's Tavern Battlefield. Each of the tour stops, except the last one, border areas that are privately owned. Please respect private property.
Stop 1 - Todd's Tavern
Fitz Lee occupied his intersection on May 7 when attacks by Merritt's division on the Brock Road, one mile ahead of you, and by Gregg's division on the Catharpin Road, one mile to your right, compelled him to abandon the position. Merritt pursued Fitz Lee south down the Brock Road, to your rear, while Gregg attacked Rosser's brigade on the Catharpin Road, to your left-rear, and drove it back to Corbin's Bridge. Gregg established his headquarters inside the tavern, which stood just across the Brock Road to your left. Grant and Meade stopped at the tavern early on May 8 before moving their headquarters to Piney Branch Church, approximately two miles to your right, later in the day.
Stop 2 - Anderson's Route to Spotsylvania
There was no road that led directly from General Robert E. Lee's position in the Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House. Consequently, Lee had to cut a four-mile-long road through the woods. This short section of dirt road may be a remnant of that construction. Anderson's corps used this road to reach Spotsylvania on May 8. When his men reached the Catharpin Road at this point, they turned west, the direction you are facing, and headed toward Shady Grove Church.
Stop 3 - Corbin's Bridge
Gregg's troops drove Rosser's brigade across this bridge on May 7 but withdrew to Todd's Tavern when Wade Hampton brought up reinforcements, thus enabling Anderson's corps to parallel the US march to Spotsylvania. Note the steep wooded banks along the river. Crossing the river at a point other than the bridge would have been slow and difficult.
Stop 4 - Piney Branch Road Intersection
After evacuating Todd's Tavern, Fitz Lee fell back to this point. His troops cut down trees from the adjacent woods and constructed a hasty but effective barricade of logs just north of the intersection, the direction you now face. Merritt's division eventually captured the works, but in the evening it withdrew towards Todd's Tavern. Lee reoccupied the trenches and on May 8 the fighting resumed. Once again Lee had to retreat, but his stubborn stand here gained his army valuable time.
Stop 5 - Alsop Farm
At this point, the Brock Road divided. The dirt road in front of you (Atwood Lane) was then the main road to Spotsylvania, while Rt. 613 (modern Brock Road) was a narrow, sunken farm lane. US infantry troops reached this vicinity after sunrise, May 8. Brigadier General John C. Robinson's infantry division took the left fork of the road toward Spotsylvania while Major General Charles Griffin's division took the right. Robinson's exhausted troops rested on the distant knoll beyond the modern farm buildings before resuming their advance towards Spotsylvania.
Stop 6 - Laurel Hill
Robinson formed his division here on the morning of May 8, and confidently advanced across the field to your front, expecting to easily brush aside Fitz Lee's troopers. Instead, he found two brigades of Anderson's corps posted behind breastworks in the woods at the far edge of the field. Repeated, but uncoordinated attacks failed to dislodge the Confederates. Sheridan's inability to drive the Confederate cavalry from the Brock Road earlier in the day and his failure to delay the Confederate infantry allowed the Confederates to win the race to Spotsylvania. What followed was two weeks of violent, bloody fighting.
Last updated: September 11, 2021