Today marks the 153rd Anniversary of the beginning of Stoneman’s Raid. After weeks of delay due to poor weather, Stoneman’s troopers began crossing the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker intended for Stoneman’s cavalry corps to wreak havoc on the Confederate rear and upset enemy logistics. Hooker hoped this manuever would force Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to abandon his position at Fredericksburg and withdraw south to protect his lines of communication. This would open the way for Hooker to pursue the retreating Confederates and trap them between his infantry and cavalry somewhere between Fredericksburg and Richmond. Unfortunately for Stoneman, the plan did not shake out as his chief envisioned.
Lee did not bite at the worm on the line. While Stoneman’s troopers fanned out across central Virginia in individual raiding columns, Lee engaged and defeated Hooker west of Fredericksburg in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Without official word from Hooker of his movements, Stoneman, with part of his command returned to the Army of the Potomac. He reached the safety of Union lines on May 8.
It was not long before Hooker started to shift responsibility of the defeat to his subordinates rather than account for his own failure. Despite his assignment, Stoneman was not on hand to assist Hooker at the moment of crisis. This was enough to draw blame from Hooker. On May 15, Stoneman took a leave of absence. He never returned to the Army of the Potomac. His contributions, however, remained.
Combined with the Battle of Kelly’s Ford in March, the expedition was a major morale boost to the men of the cavalry corps. This new found confidence in their fighting abilities continued to grow in June at the Battle of Brandy Station and served the corps well in the months and years to come.
Stoneman’s Raid was also a step in the transition of the corps. The cavalry was beginning to shift from their traditional role of screening and reconnaissance to one of a mounted strike force with the primary objective of locating and engaging the enemy. Further, it showed the Union high command that the corps was capable of operating independently in enemy territory without infantry support and away from its base of supplies. The expedition provided a foundation for future operations such as the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, the Wilson-Kautz Raid, Phil Sheridan’s raids in the spring and summer of 1864.
Stoneman later transferred to the Western Theater where he continued to ply the trade he learned on his first raid in Virginia. After the war, he served as Colonel of the 21st U.S. Infantry. He retired in 1871 and was elected for a term as California’s governor. He passed way in Buffalo, New York in 1894.