Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, in his plans for the Chancellorsville Campaign, april-May, ordered some 10,000 Union troopers on a mounted raid against the communications and supply lines of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. This raid was to take place before the main body of the army attempted a turning movement on the Confederate flank, and comprised nearly all of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. Leading the newly established Cavalry Corps was Maj. Gen. George Stoneman.
Stoneman was originally scheduled to start from Falmouth, Virginia on the 13th, and cross the Rappahannock River the next day, but a heavy storm flooded the river and made a crossing impossible for 2 weeks. As a result of this delay, on the 29th, the cavalry crossed the river with the rest of the army. The command was split into 2 columns, 1 commanded by Brig. Gen. William A. Averell and the other by Brig. Gen. John Buford. Stoneman rode with Buford's command, which was the main force of the cavalry. Averell was intended to ride toward Gordonsville and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad and to mask the movements of the larger column, which was to strike the Richmond, Fredericksburg, & Potomac railroad.
The raid was an unrelieved failure. Averell spent most of his time at Rapidan Station worrying about phantom Confederate cavalrymen and was recalled by Hooker on May 2nd. He was also subsequently relieved and replaced by Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Stoneman, with Buford and Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, destroyrd some railroad track and other property around the Virginia countryside, but their efforts had no lasting effects. Stoneman's raid was one of Hooker's worst mistakes in the campaign.