The Battle of the Weldon Railroad

June 22, 1864 – Confederates ambushed Federals raiding a vital Confederate railroad outside Petersburg, Virginia and took some 1,700 prisoners.

As Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant began his siege of Petersburg, he targeted two railroads supplying the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the city: the South Side Railroad, which delivered supplies from Lynchburg in the Shenandoah Valley; and the Weldon Railroad, which delivered supplies from Weldon, North Carolina and one of the Confederacy’s few remaining seaports, Wilmington, North Carolina.[1]

Grant directed cavalry raids against the railroads, but he also ordered a large Federal force to extend the left flank of the Federal siege line to the Weldon. This force consisted of the II Corps under Major General David B. Birney and the VI Corps under Major General Horatio G. Wright. President Abraham Lincoln paid a surprise visit to elements of the VI Corps as they left the Petersburg siege area on June 21. That evening, advance units of both the II and VI Corps separated while struggling through the swamps and thickets on the way to the railroad.[2]

Confederate Brig Gen William Mahone | Image Credit: Wikipedia

Confederate Brig Gen William Mahone | Image Credit: Wikipedia

By the next morning, a large gap had opened between Birney and Wright. Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone, a division commander in Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, exploited the breech by attacking the rear of II Corps and wedging his troops in the gap. Brigadier General Francis C. Barlow’s Federal division quickly collapsed, and Brigadier General John Gibbon’s division fled for safety. A soldier wrote, “The attack was to the Union troops more than a surprise. It was an astonishment.”[3]

The Confederates pushed the Federals back to the Jerusalem Plank Road, where they stabilized their lines as darkness ended the fighting. The next day, Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, ordered Wright to advance. But when Wright’s advance line suffered heavy losses, he refused to move the rest of his corps. At 7:35 p.m., Meade notified Wright, “Your delay has been fatal.”[4]

The Confederates suffered 572 casualties in this battle, while the humiliated Federals lost 2,962, including some 1,700 captured. Grant failed to extend the Federal left to the Weldon Railroad, which remained firmly in Confederate hands. However, the Federals did destroy some of the railroad track, and their left was slightly extended. Grant would make many more attempts to extend the left in the coming months.[5]

—–

[1] Wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jerusalem_Plank_Road

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 9263-9294; Wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jerusalem_Plank_Road

[3] Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-57; Wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jerusalem_Plank_Road

[4] Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-57; Wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jerusalem_Plank_Road

[5] Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-57; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 9263-9294; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 527-28; Wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jerusalem_Plank_Road

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