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Hampton and Rosser's Cattle Raid

  • Time Period: September 16, 1864
  • Area: Virginia
  • Explanation: A raid to steal Union cattle was sent out because of the Petersburg situation. The Confederates were starving because of a lack of food supplies that were cut off by the Union army.

The Union's army grip on Petersburg, marked by lengthening trenches, tightened throughout the summer of 1864. By September, the food supply of the Army of Northern Virginia had become critical. On September 5th, a resourceful Confederate cavalry scout, Sgt. George D. Shadburne, reported that 2,500-3,000 weakly guarded cattle were corraled at Coggin's Point on the south bank of the James River, 6 miles below Union headquarters at City point. Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, commander of the Confederate cavalry corps, immediately submitted and obtained approval of an audacious plan to capture the herd.

At 1:00 A.M. on the 14th, with Shadburne and Hampton in the lead, nearly 4,000 Confederate horsemen cantered into the darkness. While Confederate infantry and other cavalry diverted the Federals, Hampton's raiders rode southwestward, away from Union lines. At Dinwiddie Court House, the Confederate cavalry turned to the southeast, rode another 11 miles, and veered northeastward. By nightfall, they had reached Wilkinson's Bridge on the Rowanty Creek.

Again, on the 15th, they rode before dawn. 18 circuitous miles led them to Blackwater Creek, where Hampton had a bridge repaired. After midnight, they crossed, deploying for a dawn attack against the Union pickets at Sycamore Church, 4 miles from Coggins' Point.

At 5:00 A.M. on the 16th, Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser's Laurel Brigade charged into the camp of the 1st D.C. Cavalry. In 30 minutes, they killed, wounded, or captured 219 startled federals. Rosser hurriedly regrouped and within an hour attacked 150 members of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who were guarding the herd. Rosser's charge destroyed the Union detail. The Confederates soon calmed the frightened cattle, seized many supplies, cut telegraph lines, and started southward with their prize.
The Union command initially reacted incredulously to the news of the Confederate attack and capture. Not until after Hampton had abandoned Coggins' Point did Union gunboats arrive to shell the area. The Confederate cowboys herded their 2,486 heads of cattle back along their route of advance. The column stretched for nearly 7 miles through choking clouds of dust. At Ebenezer Church, around 4:00 P.M., Rosser began a 4-hour duel with Union cavalry while Hampton pushed the herd. The Confederates rode throughout the night, reaching their lines about 9:00 A.M. on the 17th. At a cost of 61 casualties, Hampton and Rosser had completed one of the largest cattle-rustling operations in American history.

Campaign Battles

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  • Sycamore Church
  • Ebenezer Church
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