The Battle of Yellow Tavern

Below is the text from a park brochure on the Battle of Yellow Tavern (May 11, 1864) including a summary of the battle, directions to the battlefield from the Fredericksburg area and a suggested tour route. The visitor centers at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville have free copies of the brochure which also includes a map of the tour route.

On May 8, 1864, 10,000 Union horsemen slipped away from Spotsylvania Court House and rode south toward Richmond looking for a fight. Their belligerent commander, General Phillip Sheridan, had boldly asserted that he could whip Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart if given the chance, and General Ulysses S. Grant decided to let him try. Stuart promptly detected Sheridan's move and detached General Fitzhugh Lee's division to harass Sheridan's rear Stuart rode south with Generals Lunsford L. Lomax and William C. Wickham's brigades to get ahead of the Northerners.
Stuart's cavalry won the race to the northern outskirts of Richmond traveling night and day on exhausted horses. The jaded troopers reached the strategic crossroads at Yellow Tavern around 10:00 a.m. on May 11 and assumed a blocking position. Stuart formed his line in two wings. His right, under Wickham, took position west of the Telegraph Road, facing south. the left, under Lomax, formed at a right angle to Wickham's brigade and ran along the Telegraph Road, facing west.
The van of Sheridan's column reached Yellow Tavern within an hour of the Confederates' arrival. Sheridan's lead division under General Wesley Merritt, immediately attacked Stuart's left, which paralleled the Telegraph Road. Both sides took heavy casualties particularly the troopers on the Union left who engaged Lomax's brigade in front and caught a terrible flank fire from Wickham's brigade to the north. When federal troopers edged around the southern flank, Lomax relinquished his position along the Telegraph Road and fell back on Wickham's line. Stuart put Lomax's men back into position, directing them to extend Wickham's left on a straight line facing south. The two Southern brigades formed on either side of the Telegraph Road by 2:00 p.m.
A two-hour lull fell over the fields around Yellow Tavern. In the interim, Phillip Sheridan repelled a sharp assault on his rear by General James B. Gordon's Confederate cavalry. Meanwhile, Sheridan brought up the remainder of his force and reconnoitered Stuart's new line. The Southerners availed themselves of the quiet to catch some more needed rest.
General George A. Custer deployed his Union brigade on Sheridan's right. Custer spied several Confederate cannons placed on Stuart's line and planned to capture them by flanking their position. He dismounted half of his brigade in preparation for an attack while Sheridan readied the rest of his command to assist. A bugle sounded the charge, and the dismounted soldiers closed in on the Confederate front. At the same time, Custer's mounted troopers moved in a wide sweep to their right. The Southerners immediately divined Custer's intention and turned their guns on the Federal horsemen. Custer's men thundered toward the resounding guns, crossing five different fences before they encountered a bridge over the narrow span and up the hill, while Confederates poured a severe fight on them from the heights above the creek.
The Federal horsemen punctured Lomax's brigade and pushed the Confederate let flank backwards. General Stuart rushed among his men and tried to rally them. Some of Custer's men swirled past Stuart, but a timely counterattack by a portion of the 1st Virginia Cavalry stopped their progress and drove them back. As the Federals withdrew, Private John A. Huff of the 5th Michigan Cavalry hurriedly fired his pistol into a group of mounted Confederates by the Telegraph Road. J.E.B. Stuart clutched his side. His head dipped and the general's plumed hat fell in the dust. he calmly whispered, "I am shot." A trooper supported Stuart while another led his horse to the rear.
General Fitzhugh Lee assumed command upon Stuart's wounding. he tried to maintain his lines under increasing Federal pressure, but parts of his division crumbled and fled the field. Stuart chided some of those, who raced past his ambulance. "Go back! Go back!" he cried, "Do your duty as I've done mine." He ended with bloody emphasis, 'I would rather die than be whipped." Fitzhugh Lee simply lacked the strength to stop Sheridan. The two Confederate brigades held briefly against two Union divisions and then retreated across the north fork of the Chickahominy River and into the evening darkness.
Sheridan had wrestled the Yellow Tavern battlefield from the Confederates and mortally wounded their leader. He had instilled a sense of victory among his troopers and dispelled some of the doubts about his abilities. J.E.B. Stuart had been badly outnumbered and outgunned, and the results were predictable. The Confederates, however, held their positions for a considerable time under lengthening odds. their efforts bought the Richmond defenders an opportunity to man the fortifications and discourage any Union attacks on the capital.
On May 12, Sheridan maneuvered his forces around Richmond and headed for Haxall's Landing on the James River. That same day, J.E.B. Stuart died of his wounds at the home of his brother-in-law, Doctor Charles Brewer. Crowds had thronged outside the house on Grace Street and Confederate President Jefferson Davis had visited briefly before Stuart slipped into delirium and death. general Robert E. Lee received notice of Stuart's end and remarked, "I can scarcely think of him without weeping."

Directions to the Battlefield

Follow the directions and the map carefully to tour the Yellow Tavern battlefield. Modern development sprawls across most of the battlefield (and is now much worse than when this brochure was written in the early 19990's), and traffic requires the visitor to stay alert. The entire battlefield is privately owned; please respect the rights of the landholders.
To reach the battlefield from Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville, take I-95 South to Exit 82 (Rt. 301/Chamberlayne Ave.). Turn right onto Azalia Ave., and proceed to the next traffic light (0.2 mile). Turn right onto Rt. 1 (Brook Road) and drive to the second light. Turn left into the Brook Run Shopping Center. As you enter the parking area you will see Confederate earthworks to your left front. Step out of your car and look at the earthworks.

Stop 1 - The Richmond Outer Defenses. This small cluster of fortifications tied into a vast network of earthworks that surrounded wartime Richmond. Stuart's cavalry deliberately avoided manning these defenses because Braxton Bragg had placed a sufficient number of troops in the inner defenses, some distances south of you. During the Yellow Tavern battle, part of Devins' Union brigade overran these works and could plainly hear the the Richmond church bells calling Bragg's defenders together. The tablets by the fortifications show that these ramparts were no strangers to the Federal cavalry, which passed through here in McClellan's 1862 Peninsular Campaign and again during Stoneman's 1863 Raid.
Turn left on Rt. 1 (Brook Road) and travel 2.0 miles to Telegraph Road. Turn tight onto Telegraph Road. Carefully pull off the side of the road and stop.

Stop 2 - Yellow Tavern. Yellow Tavern no longer exists, but at the time of the battle it stood somewhere to your right. Soldiers described it as a dilapidated and abandoned structure. Telegraph Road was the principle thoroughfare running north from Richmond. After the war, Rt. 1 replaced Telegraph Road as the preferred highway north.
Continue up Telegraph Road 1.2 miles until you reach a dead end.

Stop 3 - J.E.B. Stuart's Line. In 1864, Telegraph Road continued northward uninterrupted. Today I-295 breaks Telegraph Road and divides the Confederate line in half. Stuart placed Lomax's brigade along the portion of Telegraph Road that you just drove. He positioned Wickham's brigade on the wooded ridge across I-295. Lomax's troopers faced the approaching Federal columns on the Mountain Road, while Wickham's cavalrymen held a position on Sheridan's left flank.
Turn around and drive 0.5 mile south on Telegraph Road to Maryland Ave.

Stop 4 - Lomax attacked (1st Phase). Lomax anchored the Confederate left flank on this slight depression, where a meandering tributary of Turner's Run cut across the road. Portions of three Union brigades assailed him from your front and from the area of Yellow Tavern, to your left. Taken in front and flank, Lomax's troopers struggled through a severe action in which the colonel of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, Henry Clay Pate, was killed. Turned out his position, Lomax withdrew to the northeast (your right), across Turner's Run and extended Wickham's left on a straight line. After this action, Sheridan paused for several hours before he struck Stuart's Confederates again.
Proceed south on Telegraph Road for one block (0.1 mile) to Virginia Ave. Turn right onto Virginia Ave. and drive 0.6 mile to Mountain Road. Be careful when crossing over Rt. 1 (Brook Road). Turn right onto Mountain Road and proceed 0.3 mile to the intersection of Mountain Road and Greenwood Ave. There is a convenience store on the right; pull into their parking lot and stop.

Stop 5 - Sheridan's Advance. Step out of your car and stand with your back to the store, facing the road. Sheridan's troopers approached the battlefield along the Mountain Road to your right front. As they arrived, they formed their battleline along the road that runs past you from left to right. Custer's lunge at Lomax's first position started from this vicinity.
Turn right onto Greenwood Ave. and drive 0.9 mile to Francis Road. Turn right onto Francis Road and proceed 0.3 mile to New Francis Road. Bear left on New Francis Road and go 0.5 mile to Rt. 1 (Brook Road). Continue straight through the intersection onto the Virginia Center Parkway. Drive 0.3 mile to Battlefield Road. Turn right onto Battlefield Road and proceed 0.2 mile to Francis Road. Turn right there, then immediately left, back onto Battlefield Road. Proceed 0.2 mile to a dead end.

Stop 6 - Wickham's Line. You are now on the Confederate ridge top line that you viewed from Tour Stop 3. Wickham's troopers, posted here, fired into Custer's flank when he charged Lomax's line in the first phase of the battle. Many of Custer's men became pinned down in the area south of I-295 as they attempted to advance from your right to left. In the second phase of the battle, Sheridan sent Chapman's brigade to attack Wickham's line, while Custer shifted right and charged up the Telegraph Road.
Retrace your steps on Battlefield Road for 0.3 miles to Francis Road. Turn right onto Francis Road and drive 0.2 mile to Telegraph Road. Turn right onto Telegraph Road and proceed 0.1 mile to the Stuart Monument on the right.

Stop 7 - The J.E.B. Stuart Monument. Confederate artillery near this location goaded Custer into a second attack at 4 p.m. The Federal charge broke through Lomax's line (behind you, as you face the monument), but was turned back by Company K of the First Virginia Cavalry. The action drew J.E.B. Stuart into the fighting, where he received his fatal wound. The monument marks the approximate spot where Stuart was shot. It is now under the care and protection of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
To return to I-95, turn around and follow Telegraph Road 0.1 mile to the Virginia Center Parkway. Turn left onto the Virginia Center Parkway and proceed 0.5 miles to the traffic light on Rt. 1 (Brook Road). Turn left on Rt. 1 and the entrance ramps to I-295 will appear on your right. I-295 East will take you to I-95.

Last updated: August 17, 2021

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