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  • Kendrick Gibbs

The 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hanover Court House, VA

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

In the summer of 1863, all eyes were upon the dramatic events happening in Pennsylvania as approximately 160,000 men converged on the small town of Gettysburg.

But not all in-theater units were north of the Potomac River. The 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was attached to the VII Corps of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, was tasked with destroying railroad bridges and supply depots along major supply routes as the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania took place hundreds of miles further north.

The 11th Pennsylvania was sent from Suffolk to White House Landing in New Kent County, VA. They were sent to raid storehouses and train depots on the stratgically important Pamunkey River where General James Longstreet's quartermaster train was located. This Confederate logistics unit was guarded by small forces of Confederate troops.

Colonel Samuel P. Spear, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Hanover Tavern Foundation)

On the morning of June 26th, Colonel Samuel Spear and the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry arrived in Hanover Court House around the vicinity of the Chisholm Tavern (today's Hanover Tavern).[1] Margaret Wight, a war refugee at the tavern from Charles City County, VA, wrote in her diary that day:

We were all sitting quietly at our work when about two thousand Yankee Cavalry came upon us like a perfect hurricane. The whole household were in commotion hiding all the silver and valuables. They had orders not to disturb private property so we began to breathe rather more freely but they spread themselves all around us and in every direction taking all the Government Stores at the Depot & destroying them - every mule and horse they could find- tearing up a portion of the Railroad.[2]

Spear's men discovered the quartermaster train around the Hanover Court House Depot and began take control of the military property and send it across the river to be destroyed.

A Pennsylvania cavalry regiment during the Civil War (Hanover Tavern Foundation)

Subsequently, Colonel Spear led his men to the Virginia Central Railroad across the South Anna River. The crossing was defended by approximately 64 men from Company A of the 44th North Carolina who were dug-in behind earthworks and a block house on the north side of the river. The 11th Pennsylvania made quick work of them with a flanking maneuver around their left to engage them from the rear. After the fighting concluded, Spear took his prisoners to the south side of the river, paroled the severely wounded, and burned the bridge and block house.[3]

During the fighting, Spear learned that General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee, the son of General Robert E. Lee, was known to be convalescing at a home in the vicinity of Hanover Court House.

Rooney Lee had been wounded at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 and was recovering alongside his family at his father-in-law's Hickory Hill Estate in Hanover County. Spear sent a detachment of Pennsylvanians to the house. They placed the wounded Lee on a mattress and carried him from the home. They put him in a carriage and sent him downriver to White House Landing.

Lee was later used a bargaining chip to aid in the release of Union prisoners at Libby Prison in Richmond before he was paroled.[4]

Hickory Hill Estate, Home of Brigadier General Williams Carter Wickham. (Hanover Tavern Foundation)

While battles raged in Maryland and Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863, Colonel Spear's 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry carried out raids that caused major disrupt to Confederate communication and supply routes in central Virginia.


[1] History of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Together with a Complete Roster of the Regiment and Regimental Officers. Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1902. pg. 76

[2] Haas, Shirley A. and Talley, Dale Page. A Refugee at Hanover Tavern The Civil War Diary of Margaret Wight. Charleston: The History Press, 2013. pg. 143.

[3] History of the Eleventh, 76.

[4] Ibid, 77.



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