February 7, 1865 – The fighting in the southwestern sector of the Petersburg lines ended inconclusively, which by this time meant Federal victory because the dwindling Confederate Army of Northern Virginia could no longer afford to just hold off the enemy.
By the 7th, heavy fighting in the woods around the Boydton Plank Road had driven Federal forces back. Most of the Federals belonged to Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps, with some under Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps and Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s cavalry division. The Federals held the road, but they were south of Hatcher’s Run.
Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, wrote to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander: “The ignorance I am under of the exact moral condition of Warren’s corps, and his losses from stragglers has restrained me from giving him positive orders to attack; but I have directed him to push out strong reconnaissances,” and Warren would decide “whether to attack or not.”
Meade then directed Warren to send one of his divisions out to renew the attack on the Confederates. In bitterly cold, wet weather, the Federals probed but found no substantial opposition. The ensuing skirmish resulted in the wounding of Confederate Brigadier General Moxley Sorrel. The Federals abandoned their vulnerable position on the Boydton Plank Road and moved southwest to occupy the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run.
Warren reported at 5:30 p.m. that “we have regained most of the ground we held yesterday, and drawn the artillery fire from the enemy’s works, and we can hold the south side of Hatcher’s Run toward Dabney’s Mill so long as may be required.” In this three-day fight, the Federals sustained 1,512 casualties (170 killed, 1,160 wounded, and 182 missing) out of some 35,000 engaged; the Confederates had about 14,000 engaged with casualties unknown.
Like all Federal offensives during the Petersburg campaign thus far, this ended with a Confederate repulse. However, the Federals were now three miles closer to the South Side Railroad, the last railway supplying the Confederates in Petersburg. This meant that the Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee, now had to defend 37 miles of trench lines with only 46,398 men “present for duty.” And this number included many who were too sick for active service. Lee wrote to Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge on the 8th:
“All the disposable force of the right wing of the army has been operating against the enemy beyond Hatcher’s Run since Sunday. Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, they had to be retained in line of battle, having been in the same condition the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet.
“I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. If some change is not made and the commissary department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment. Our cavalry has to be dispersed for want of forage… Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers, you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.”
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Civil War Trust: Battle of Hatcher’s Run; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 529; 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 16422-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 551; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8098; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20, 24-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 635-36; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350, 577-79; Wikipedia: Battle of Hatcher’s Run