Sheridan’s Expedition to Petersburg, Virginia

General Philip H. Sheridan

General Philip H. Sheridan

After the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia ended large-scale combat in the Shenandoah Valley in October 1864. Both Union Major General Philip Sheridan and Confederate General Jubal Early remained in the valley. However, their commands were reduced as their remaining troops were called east to Petersburg, Virginia.

There was only one battle during this expedition.

Battle of Waynesboro

With orders to take his cavalry south to join Major General William T. Sherman’s army in the Carolinas Campaign, General Philip Sheridan led two cavalry divisions rode from Winchester up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton, Virginia, on February 27, 1865.

Turning east, the Federals encountered the last remnant of General Jubal Early’s Valley army at Waynesboro, Virginia, on March 2. These Confederate troops had been skirmishing with Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s division for several days. Custer had since joined Sheridan’s force, which turned east instead of proceeding to Sherman to eliminate Early’s small force as a threat to his rear.

Jubal A. Early

General Jubal A. Early

On March 2, Custer’s men set out towards Early’s force at Waynesboro with orders to “proceed to Waynesborough, ascertain something definite regarding the position, movements, and strength of the enemy, and, if possible, to destroy the railroad bridge over the South River at that point.” Impeded by heavy rain and mud, the march was slow, but the troops continued a Custer’s men drove off Confederate sentinels at Fishersville, just six miles from Waynesboro, before continuing. When they arrived outside of Waynesboro, Custer found Early’s army dug in behind a “formidable line of earth-works.”

After a brief stand-off, a Federal attack rolled up Early’s right flank and scattered his small force. More than 1,500 Confederates surrendered, but General Early and about 15 of his staff escaped through Rockfish Gap and evaded capture. It would be the final battle for General Early. The Union victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 1,800.

Though Major General Philip H. Sheridan was the overall Federal commander in the Valley, he did not arrive on the field until after the battle was concluded. Afterward, Sheridan and his troops crossed the Blue Ridge to Charlottesville and then raided south, destroying the James River Canal locks near Goochland Court House. He joined forces with the Army of the Potomac near Petersburg on March 26th to open the Appomattox Campaign.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2021.

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