Charge of the 2nd WV Cavalry April 6th,1865
During the last hectic days of the Civil War, as Robert E. Lee's tattered Army of Northern Virginia was driven from its defensive position at Petersburg, a Federal juggernaut of cavalry and infantry pressed him closely, trying to deliver the fatal blow.
April 6, 1865 has been called the "black day" for the Army of Northern Virginia. On this date, at Sailor's Creek and at Marshall's Crossroads, a nearby road junction, Federal infantry and cavalry brought the rear of Lee's army to bay. The Confederates hastily formed a defensive position along the creek and in the nearby fields and farms and tried to secure their supply trains which had been continuously menaced by Union cavalry throughout the day.
In the late afternoon, in conjunction with the infantry assaults at Sailor's Creek, Union Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt's cavalry corps formed for an assault on the Confederate lines across 800 yards of open field to their front at Marshall's Crossroads. Three divisions of Federal Cavalry participated in what was perhaps the last spectacular cavalry charge of the war; Maj. Gen. George A. Custer (3rd Division) on the right, Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Devin (1st Division) in the center and Maj. Gen. George Crook (2nd Division) on the left. The tidal wave of blue horsemen made the ground shake as they charged over the open ground toward the Confederate works. The 2nd West Virginia Cavalry, of Col. Henry Capehart's brigade led the final attack, "one regiment in line, supported in center by two regiments in column of squadrons and one regiment supporting the right...5,000 iron hoofs were in motion." Col. Capehart, accompanied by his bugler and Lt. Tom Custer led the wild charge, "the speed increasing from a trot to a mad run...the troopers with sabers flashing, the firing of pistols and carbines, shouts and yells - with all the noise and uproar possible - surged over the works and rode smashing through the battle-lines, sabering and shooting all who offered resistance..." In the melee of battle, Tom Custer, despite being wounded, seized a Confederate flag, his second, earning him a medal of honor.
All pretense of resistance melted amid the frenzy of the Union horsemen. Confederates were cut off and surrendered en masse as their line disintegrated under the fury of the spectacular attack. Hundreds of supply wagons were taken along with numerous caissons and 15 guns. Among the 6,000 Confederates captured were eight generals and many of the beloved Confederate battle flags.
General Robert E. Lee, witnessing the stream of refugees from this disaster was heard to lament, "My God! Has the army been dissolved?" As Lee continued his retreat to Appomattox, the Federals regrouped for the final push.