Battle of Yellow Tavern (May 11, 1864)

Updated: September 30, 2016

The Battle of Yellow Tavern (May 11, 1864) was a cavalry engagement during Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign.

On March 10, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant brought with him, from his successes in the western theater of the war, a reputation for the doggedness Lincoln was seeking. Unlike previous Union generals, whose leadership was marked their own timidity, Grant was tenacious. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia. Unlike previous campaigns into that area, Grant's focused on defeating Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, rather than capturing or occupying geographic locations. Grant instructed General George Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac, "Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also." Grant realized that with the superior resources he had at his disposal, Lee was destined to lose a war of attrition, as long he was persistently engaged.

On May 4, 1864, Grant launched the Overland Campaign, when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Although Meade nominally commanded the Army of the Potomac, as General-in-Chief of the Armies, Grant chose to accompany the army in the field so that he could personally supervise overall campaign operations. 

Throughout the month of May, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out in a series of battles including the Wilderness (May 5-7), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21), North Anna (May 23-26), and Totopotomoy Creek (May 29-30). Although the Rebels inflicted high casualties on the Federals during those battles, Grant continued his strategy of moving south and east to Lee's right, and then re-engaging. Grant's moves forced Lee to reposition his lines continually to defend Richmond.

At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21), the second major engagement of Grant's Overland Campaign occurred. Following the Battle of the Wilderness, a victory for the Confederates, who suffered just 7,800 casualties to the Northerners 18,000 men killed, wounded, captured, or missing, unlike earlier Union commanders, Grant did not retreat. Rather, on May 7, he ordered Meade to move his army deeper into Confederate territory, southeast towards Spotsylvania Court House.

Lee recognized the critical consequences of allowing Grant to position Meade's army between Lee's army and Richmond. Thus, on May 8, the race was on to Spotsylvania. Unfortunately for the Federals, the Rebels reached the community first, enabling them to establish superior defensive positions. From May 8 through May 21, the two armies built networks of complex trenches and engaged in a series of give-and-take battles around Spotsylvania that again resulted in high casualties.

Hoping to cause confusion among the Southerners during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Grant dispatched Major General Philip Sheridan's cavalry corps on a raid of Southern communication and supply lines near Richmond. Lee immediately sent General James Ewell Brown Stuart's cavalry in pursuit. On May 11, the Confederates intercepted the Federals at Yellow Tavern, Virginia. Union soldiers outnumbered the Confederates and forced them to retreat. In the battle, Stuart was mortally wounded. Combined casualties amounted to 800 men.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Yellow Tavern included:

Cavalry units:

2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

The Battle of Yellow Tavern was a victory for the Northerners. They drove the Southerners from the battlefield and killed Stuart. Following the battle, Sheridan continued to threaten Richmond's defenses, before withdrawing to Bermuda Hundred, Virginia for resupply. Sheridan's men rejoined the Army of the Potomac on May 25.

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"Battle of Yellow Tavern," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 17 Jun 2019 <>

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"Battle of Yellow Tavern." (2019) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved June 17, 2019, from Ohio Civil War Central:

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