Following his unsuccessful attacks against Petersburg on June 15-18th, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sought to cut the city's supply lines. From Petersburg, 2 railroads ran southward and westward, hauling rations and material to Gen. Robert E. Lee's army from the Confedearte interior. To strike them, Grant called on young Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson, who had led the 3rd Cavalry Division/Army of the Potomac for only 2 months. For the raid, Wilson was also given Brig. Gen. August V. Kautz's cavalry division of the Army of the James, a total of 3,300 troopers, plus horse artillery and a supply train.
Heading south from Lee's Mill on the 22nd, Wilson and Kautz ripped up miles of track on the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad, then marched west, striking the Southside line near Ford's Station, 14 miles southwest of Petersburg. Since most of Lee's horsemen had followed the cavalry of Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan toward Lynchburg a few days before, the raiders met light opposition, damaging trackage, rolling stock, nad depot facilities as far west as Burkeville Junction.
From Burkeville, the Federals moved down a 3rd railroad, the Richmond & Danville, before being halted on the 25th at the Staunton River Bridge near Roanoke Station by 900 Confederate Regulars and home guards. As pursuers gathered in the rear, the Federals fled east, returning to the Weldon line near Stony Creek Station on the 28th. There, and farther north at Ream's Station, they were battered by cavalry under the command of Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, recently returned from chasing Sheridan, and by 3 infantry brigades under Brig. Gen. William Mahone.
Outnumbered and virtually surrounded, Wilson and Kautz abandone their artillery, wagons, and wounded, and raced north and east toward Grant's headquarters, where their troops arrived in small detachments until July 1st. Their mission proved a failure: the 60 miles of track they had destroyed were repaired rapidly by Confederate labor gangs.