The Battle of Todd's Tavern

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.

Major General Phillip H. Sheridan commanded the US Army's cavalry. Sheridan had held Todd's Tavern during the Battle of the Wilderness, but withdrew his horsemen toward Chancellorsville on the night of May 6th, allowing Major General Fitzhugh Lee's Confederates to reoccupy the intersection. Lee's men occupied and strengthened trenches abandoned by Sheridan near the tavern.

Grant's plans to march the army to Spotsylvania required Sheridan to retake Todd's Tavern from Fitzhugh Lee. Sheridan assigned Major Generals Wesley Merritt's and David M. Gregg's divisions to the task. While Merritt advanced south from Catharine Furnace to clear the Brock Road, Gregg left his camp at the Aldrich Farm and push west up the Catharpin Road. The two met at Todd's Tavern. Once the crossroads was in their hands, Gregg continued west on the Catharpin Road and seized Corbin's Bridge over the Po River.

Sheridan's plan worked to perfection. Fitz Lee met Merritt's advance about 0.75 mile a mile north of Todd's Tavern, but when Gregg appeared on his flank, at Piney Branch Church, he abandoned the crossroads and retreat down the Brock Road toward Spotsylvania. Gregg occupied Todd's Tavern about noon then pushed on to Corbin's Bridge. A mile west of the tavern he ran into Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser, who commanded a Confederate cavalry brigade in Major General Wade Hampton's division. With Federal repeating rifles blazing away and supported by the fire of two cannon, Gregg forced Rosser's brigade back to Corbin's Bridge. He later withdrew to the tavern when two other brigades of Hampton's division came to Rosser's support.

Merritt meanwhile pursued Fitz Lee down the Brock Road toward Spotsylvania. Two miles south of Todd's Tavern, at the junction of the Piney Branch Road, Lee halted and threw up logworks. Merritt attacked Lee's forces there in the late afternoon on the Brock Road, while Brigadier General Henry E. Davies brigade of Gregg's division advanced against Lee's right via the Piney Branch Road. This fight between Lee and Merritt developed into the deadliest phase of the battle. The 1st New York Dragoons alone lost 91 men in the action, the highest loss of any cavalry regiment in a single engagement during the war. At one point in the battle, the Confederate logworks caught fire, but the soldiers simply shot at one another through the flames. Merritt finally captured the logworks late in the day, but as night drew on he withdrew his division towards Todd's Tavern enabling Lee to reoccupy them.

On the evening of May 7, 1864, Meade pulled his army out of its trenches in the Wilderness and began marching down the Brock Road toward Spotsylvania Court House. Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's Fifth Corps led the march. Meade ordered Sheridan to clear the road all the way to Spotsylvania, but the orders miscarried. When Meade reached Todd's Tavern about midnight, he found Gregg's troops sleeping there. He angrily ordered Merritt to finish clearing the road to Spotsylvania while Gregg pushed out the Catharpin Road to to Corbin's Bridge to protect the army's right flank. Merritt again found Fitzhugh Lee's division still blocking the road. Lee had felled trees across the road to hinder the US army's advance, and his troops shot at the Federals as they tried to pull them out of the way. Impatient with Merritt's slow progress, Warren at dawn ordered Major General John C. Robinson's infantry division to the front. Robinson's foot soldiers pushed Fitz Lee's troopers back across the Alsop Farm clearing to a slight ridge later called Laurel Hill, less than two miles from the Court House. Lee's men threw down fence rails along the low, wooded crest and again prepared to contest the US advance. Robinson confidently advanced to attack them. As he did so, two Confederate infantry brigades of Major General Richard H. Anderson's First Corps, the vanguard of Lee's army, came running up from the rear and joined Lee's men along the ridge, and together they hurled the Federals back in confusion. Repeated attacks by Warren failed to crack the Confederate line.

This fighting delayed the Federal march. Thanks to Fitzhugh Lee, the Confederate troops would arrive at Spotslvania Gourt House just hours in advance of the US Army, enough time to block the road and guarantee another battle soon to come.


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.

To reach the battlefield from Chancellorsville, proceed west on Rt. 3 for 0.9 mile. Turn left on Rt. 621 and continue 3.0 miles to Rt. 613 (Brock Road). Turn left and drive approximately six miles until you reach the intersection with Route 612. Pull into the parking lot on the right.

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.

Continue south 0.2 mile and turn right onto the Catharpin Road (Rt. 612). Drive 1.5 miles to the intersection of Round Hill Road.

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.

Continue on the Catharpin Road for a distance of 1.0 mile. Carefully pull over at a wide place on the left of the road a few yards beyond the bridge.

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.

Turn around and retrace your steps to Todd's Tavern. When you reach the Brock Road (Rt. 613), turn right and proceed 2.1 miles to Rt. 624. Safely park your car and stand at the junction of the two roads facing north, the direction from which you just came.

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.

Continue south on the Brock Road 0.7 mile to Rt. 627. Turn left on Rt. 627 and park your car at Goshen Church. Carefully walk across Rt. 627 and stand facing southwest on a dirt road called Atwood Lane. The church and Rt. 627 should now be behind you, while the Brock Road (Rt. 613) is on your right.

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.

Continue on the Brock Road 1.0 mile to Spotsylvania Battlefield. Turn left into the battlefield and park next to the first large painting you see. Step out of your vehicle and walk back to the Brock Road, being mindful of the traffic. Face south along the road, so that the open field is to your right-front.

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.

You are now at the entrance to Spotsylvania Battlefield. An exhibit shelter less than one hundred yards down the road provides information about the battle that you may find useful before starting your tour.

Last updated: September 11, 2021

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