Author: Peter C. Luebke

a doctoral student in the department of history at the University of Virginia

John A. McCausland (1836–1927)

John A. McCausland was a Confederate general during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Known as “Tiger John,” the former mathematics professor was hailed as a hero by the citizens of Lynchburg, Virginia, for repulsing an attack by the Union general David Hunter in June 1864. A month later, however, McCausland was condemned as a villain by the citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, for acting on the orders of Jubal A. Early and burning their Cumberland Valley town in retaliation for Union actions in the Shenandoah Valley. The incident followed the famously unreconstructed McCausland through the rest of his long life, forcing him to leave the country for a time after the surrender at Appomattox, and becoming the headline of his many obituaries in 1927.


William Mahone (1826–1895)

William Mahone was a Confederate general, Virginia senator (1863–1865), railroad tycoon, U.S. senator (1881–1887), and leader of the short-lived Readjuster Party. Known by his nickname, “Little Billy,” Mahone was, in the words of a contemporary, “short in stature, spare almost to emaciation, with [a] long beard, and keen, restless eyes.” He attended the Virginia Military Institute on scholarship, worked as a railroad engineer, and eventually became president of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), he distinguished himself at the Battle of the Crater (1864), leading a successful counterattack that also involved the massacre of surrendered black troops. After the war, Mahone founded the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad, which, before it failed, served his business interests in Norfolk and Southside Virginia. In 1881, he was elected to the United States Senate as a member of the Readjuster Party, an unlikely coalition of poor whites and African Americans interested in repudiating a portion of the massive state debt and, in so doing, restoring social services such as free public education. One of the most successful biracial political coalitions in the New South, the Readjusters held power until 1886, when Mahone lost his Senate seat. A gubernatorial bid in 1889 failed, and Mahone died in Washington, D.C., in 1895.


Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid (February 28–March 3, 1864) was an ambitious attempt by Union cavalrymen to assault the lightly defended Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, and free prisoners of war during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The brainchild of the flamboyant Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, the raid turned into a fiasco when Kilpatrick’s men were stopped northwest of the city and a supporting column, under the command of twenty-one-year-old Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, was routed to the east. Dahlgren was killed, and papers found on his body, which were subsequently published by the Richmond press, detailed plans to burn the city and assassinate Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. Public opinion in both the North and the South was inflamed, and historians continue to debate the authority behind these so-called Dahlgren Papers. When she read of Dahlgren’s corpse being mistreated, Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union spy in Richmond, used her contacts secretly to exhume the body and rebury it elsewhere.


John B. Floyd (1806–1863)

John B. Floyd was governor of Virginia (1849–1852), secretary of war in the administration of United States president James Buchanan (1857–1860), and a Confederate general during the American Civil War (1861–1865). As governor, he helped usher in the apportionment and suffrage reforms proposed by the constitutional convention of 1850–1851, but at Buchanan’s War Department his reputation plunged because of various corruption scandals. His good name would never recover. At Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862, he held off the forces of Union brigadier general Ulysses S. Grant for two days. Rather than personally surrender, however, he and his Virginia soldiers fled by steamboat in the middle of the night, leaving the duty to his third in command. Floyd was relieved of his command a month later.


Trevilian Station, Battle of

The Battle of Trevilian Station, fought June 11–12, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861–1865), was a victory for Confederate cavalry under Wade Hampton when they turned back Union raiders under the command of General Philip H. Sheridan. Fought solely by cavalry, this was the largest such battle during the war (the larger Battle of Brandy Station, fought a year earlier during the Gettysburg Campaign, involved some infantry). Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant had hoped that Sheridan’s troopers might destroy the Virginia Central Railroad west to Charlottesville while distracting Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia enough that Grant might sneak across the James River and around to Petersburg. Instead, Hampton’s cavalry blocked the way, and although Sheridan claimed to have decommissioned the railroad, he was unable to fulfill the last part of Grant’s plan: to reinforce Union general David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley.


Seven Pines, Battle of

The Battle of Seven Pines–Fair Oaks (May 31–June 1, 1862) was an attempt by forces under Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston to repulse the Union Army of the Potomac under George B. McClellan from the outskirts of Richmond during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Due to poor coordination, communications failure, and a confused command structure, the battle ended in a stalemate, with heavy casualties for both sides that far outstripped the last major confrontation in the East, the First Battle of Manassas (July 21, 1861), but paled in comparison to the recent carnage at Shiloh, Tennessee (April 6–7, 1862). The most momentous event of the battle occurred as night fell on May 31, when an exploding Union shell gravely wounded Johnston. Confederate president Jefferson Davis took the opportunity to place his military advisor, General Robert E. Lee, in command of the Confederate army.


Second Manassas Campaign

The Second Manassas Campaign, fought August 13–September 3, 1862, during the American Civil War (1861–1865), was one in a long line of Confederate victories that year. Following George B. McClellan‘s attack on the Confederate capital at Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles, Confederate general Robert E. Lee regained the strategic initiative through a bold campaign of maneuver. He split his Army of Northern Virginia into two—one half led by Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the other by James Longstreet. In a risky move, Lee sent Jackson around Union general John Pope’s flank and cut his supply lines with Washington, D.C. Longstreet’s wing of the army later followed. Jackson succeeded splendidly, bringing Pope to battle near Manassas Junction, the site of the First Battle of Manassas, which had been fought the summer before. With the defeat of Pope’s Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas on August 28–30, a route north lay open for the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee decided to take it, bringing the war into Maryland at the Battle of Antietam on September 17.


North Anna, Battle of

The Battle of North Anna was fought May 23–26, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861–1865). It came three days after the bloody Battle of Spotsylvania Court House during the Overland Campaign of 1864, the spring offensive in which the Union army’s new general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant, stubbornly pursued Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia all the way to the Confederate capital of Richmond. A number of small engagements along the North Anna River in central Virginia rather than a single pitched fight, the battle marked one of many instances when Lee managed to outmaneuver his more powerful foe. Still, the Battle of North Anna highlighted the exhaustion of both armies and led Grant to believe that the Confederates were nearing defeat.


Five Forks, Battle of

The Battle of Five Forks, on April 1, 1865, was the last major battle of the Petersburg Campaign during the American Civil War (1861–1865). By defeating Confederate infantry under George E. Pickett and cavalry under William H. F. “Rooney” Lee, Fitzhugh Lee, and Thomas L. Rosser, Union general Philip H. Sheridan was able to flank the Confederate lines at Petersburg. The action allowed the Union Army of the Potomac, after nearly ten months of siege, to break through Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s lines and, by April 2, claim Petersburg and the Confederate capital at Richmond. When it was through, Union troops were positioned along the major transportations routes south, forcing evacuating Confederate troops to travel west during the Appomattox Campaign. Their attempt to unite with the Confederate army of Joseph E. Johnston was foiled, however, and Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9. Besides hastening the end of the war, the battle had major implications on two careers: When the fighting started, Pickett was famously absent behind the lines at a shad bake and failed to coordinate the action properly, staining his reputation. Union general Gouverneur K. Warren, meanwhile, was actually relieved of command during the battle, a move by Sheridan that was ruled improper in 1879.

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