We’ve all seen cattle drives in the movies and on television. We understand that the cattlemen herding the animals needed a lot of grit and guts to move hard headed animals to and from their destinations. So, I find it interesting that one of the greatest feats of cowboying occurred here in Virginia. What’s that you say? Virginia? Wait, that’s not out west. When did this happen?
Believe it or not, this little know bit of herd stealing, happened in Petersburg, Virginia in the year of 1864. Many can relate that things for the south were not going well. Petersburg was ringed by a series of trenches stretching thirty miles from Richmond that didn’t allow a mosquito to fly over without being bombarded by Union fire. The people and the Confederate army were a hungry lot. But, just beyond the trenches, they could hear them. 3,000 head of cattle whose sole purpose was to feed the Union Army.
A general by the name of Wade Hamilton hatched an incredible idea. If the beef was there, he would just go get them. Known for his behind the scene raids, Hamilton and 3,000 of his ‘Legions’ or cavalry riders planned a bold move to skirt past Grant and the 120 men who guarded the legendary Union commander. Armed with Sheppard herding dogs and some reputable Texas cattle thieves, they began their move on September 14th.
From the Library of Congress
They moved along Boydton Plank Road swinging east to Stony Creek Station and finally over Blackwater Creek were they rebuilt the burned bridge and moved their forces across. At 5 a.m. they attacked. Union forces were in complete surprise and even armed with new Henry repeaters they were unprepared for the attack.
They drove the cattle across the bridge stopping to dismantle it and kept them moving. When reaching Petersburg, 2,487 cattle were counted for. Only ten of Hamilton’s Legions had lost their lives and 47 were wounded. Months afterward, the confederates taunted the Union troops by offering them beefsteaks or simply mooing.
Today, you can visit near where the drive took place at Pamplin Historic Park. Or if you are lucky enough to catch the old 1966 movie Alvaraz Kelly based loosely on this story.
Visit Pamplin Historic Park using this link. http://pamplinpark.org/