The Beefsteak Raid was a Confederate cavalry raid that took place in September 1864 as part of the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War.
Confederate Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton led a force of 3,000 troopers on what was to become a 100-mile (160 km) ride to acquire cattle that were intended for the consumption of the Union Army (which was laying siege to Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia).
Always lacking in war needs, the Confederate forces that were defending the capital of Richmond were beginning to run out of food. A report by General Robert E. Lee on August 22, 1864, stated that corn to feed the Southern soldiers was exhausted. A scout, Sergeant George D. Shadburne, informed General Hampton on September 5, 1864, that there were 3,000 cattle behind Union lines, located on the James River at Coggin's Point, five miles (8 km) away from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters, which were lightly defended by only 120 Union soldiers and thirty civilians. Sensing an opportunity to increase the army's food stores, Hampton arranged for 3,000 troops to follow him. Some of these men included "several certified Texas cattle thieves".
Hampton led his men to the south of the cities, behind Union lines, on September 14. He chose to cross where the Cook's Bridge over the Blackwater River once stood, knowing that an attack from there would be unexpected. He had some engineers reconstruct the bridge. At 5 a.m. on September 16, Hampton's force attacked with a three-prong strike, with the center directed toward the cattle. Hampton's force captured more than 2,000 cattle, along with 11 wagons and 304 prisoners, leading them back to the Confederate lines at 9 a.m. on September 17.
The total losses for the Confederates, who saw some opposition, were 10 killed, 47 wounded, and 4 missing. The official count of cattle successfully reaching the Confederates for food was 2,468.
There was so much beef available that Confederate sentries would sometimes offer it in trade to Union sentries in exchange for certain luxury items of which the Federal soldiers had a plentiful supply, but the Confederates lacked.
Abraham Lincoln called the raid "the slickest piece of cattle-stealing" he ever heard of. General Lee's adjutant Walter H. Taylor said it made up for the loss of the Weldon Railroad, a claim historians consider to be overstated.
A fictionalized depiction of the raid is featured in the 1966 film Alvarez Kelly.