Early last month, my wife and I visited my sister and brother-in-law and our new niece in Richmond. On the drive south, we decided to visit Beaver Dam Station, a wartime stop on the Virginia Central Railroad. During the Overland Campaign, the station was destroyed by Brig. Gen. George Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade.
On May 8, after the Battle of the Wilderness, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan received permission to cut loose from the Army of the Potomac and engage Maj. Gen. J.E.B Stuart and the Confederate cavalry. That night, Sheridan bivouacked southeast of Chancellorsville and set out early the next morning. Custer’s brigade led the advance as the Union column snaked south along the Telegraph Road. “There is nothing particularly exciting or delightful in thumping along at a trot in a cavalry column” wrote a member of the 7th Michigan. “The clouds of dust, sent up by thousands of hoof-beats, fill eyes, nose, and air passages, give external services a uniform, dirty gray color, and form such an impenetrable veil, that for many minutes together, you cannot see your hand before you.”
We followed the Union cavalry’s route south along modern State Route 1. Below Mudd Tavern, we diverted to the southeast and traced the route through Chilesburg. When Custer reached this hamlet, he gave his men a brief rest before pressing on to Anderson’s Ford on the North Anna River. I noticed as we approached the river that the terrain on both banks is not as steep as it is downstream at Jericho Mills and Ox Ford.
When Custer reached the North Anna River, he received word from his scouts of an enemy presence just ahead at Beaver Dam Station and he dispatched a battalion from the 1st Michigan under Maj. Melvin Brewer to investigate. At the station Brewer found “three trains and two first class locomotives” along with Union soldiers who had been recently captured at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania awaiting transport to Southern prisoners.
Custer’s troopers quickly overwhelmed the Confederate guards and took control of the rail stop. There he found “an immense amount of army supplies.” “We destroyed the station, with the train of cars, as well as a large amount of…supplies, and tore up several miles of railroad, and smashed things generally,” wrote Robert Wallace, an officer in the 5th Michigan. Custer camped that night in the vicinity of the station before pressing on the next day. On May 11, he played an instrumental role in the Battle of Yellow Tavern where Stuart was mortally wounded. The modern structure at Beaver Dam was reconstructed in 1866.