The Battle of Ream’s Station

June 29, 1864 – A Federal cavalry force was nearly destroyed while trying to raid two railroads supplying the Confederates in Petersburg, Virginia.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant assigned two Federal cavalry divisions to destroy track on the South Side Railroad running west to the Shenandoah Valley, and the Weldon Railroad running south to North Carolina. The divisions were led by Brigadier Generals James H. Wilson and August V. Kautz. The force consisted of 3,300 troopers, 12 guns, and a supply train.

The Federals set out on the 22nd, riding west from their lines to the Weldon and then moving southward along the line to Ream’s Station. They destroyed large amounts of track before turning northwest to Dinwiddie Court House and then to Ford’s Station on the South Side Railroad, 14 miles southwest of Petersburg.

Gen W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals skirmished with Major General W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee’s pursuing Confederate horsemen along the way. But they did not meet significant resistance because most of the Confederate cavalry had been sent to stop Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal cavalry raid in the Shenandoah Valley.

Over the next two days, Wilson and Kautz rode west to the Burkeville junction on the Richmond & Danville Railroad, and then southwest along that line. The troopers wrecked 60 miles of track and several supply depots. They also attracted a growing number of fugitive slaves as they continued fending off Rooney Lee’s pursuit.

The Federals tried to destroy the bridge spanning the Staunton River on the 25th, but a force of just 900 infantrymen stopped them near Roanoke Station. The Confederates ran trains up and down the tracks to trick the Federals into thinking reinforcements were arriving. This delayed them long enough for Lee’s troopers to attack from behind and drive the Federals off before they could destroy the bridge.

Wilson and Kautz rode east, back toward the main Federal army. Three days later, their exhausted men and horses reached Stony Creek Depot on the Weldon Railroad. By this time, Major General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry had returned from fighting with Sheridan and now blocked any further progress while Lee again attacked the Federal rear. This forced Wilson and Kautz to take a roundabout path north toward Ream’s Station, leaving the fugitive slaves that had been following them behind.

The cavalrymen expected the Federal II and VI corps to be holding Ream’s Station, but those troops had been driven back to the Jerusalem Plank Road a week before. Confederate infantry under Major General William Mahone blocked the Federal front while Lee’s cavalry hit the Federal left around noon. Nearly surrounded, the Federals managed to break out, but they spiked their guns and burned their wagon train in the process.

Kautz’s forces rode southeast and reached the Federal lines later that night. Wilson rode farther south before turning east, crossing the Blackwater River and then turning north. His men returned to the Federal lines in early July. The Federals had successfully destroyed railroad track as ordered, which seriously disrupted Confederate communications. But they sustained about 1,500 casualties and lost all their guns and supplies. The Confederates quickly repaired the damage, and Grant looked for other ways to harass the Confederate army at Petersburg.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22184; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-63; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9231-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 460-61, 463; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 214; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 526-28; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833

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