Tag Archives: A.P. Hill

The Fall of Petersburg

April 2, 1865 – Federal troops finally broke the Confederate defenses and conquered Petersburg, Virginia, after nine grueling months of siege warfare.

After the Federal victory at Five Forks, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, ordered a general offensive all along the Petersburg line, starting northeast of town at the Appomattox River and stretching south before curving west, ending southwest of Petersburg. From north to southwest, the Federal forces consisted of:

  • Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Major General John Gibbon’s XXIV Corps from the Army of the James
  • Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s independent command, which consisted of Federal cavalry and V Corps from the Army of the Potomac, held the lines to the far west, threatening the South Side Railroad

Grant ordered Parke, Wright, Gibbon, and Humphreys to come out of their siege lines and capture the Confederate works in their front. Many troops were doubtful of success because every previous assault on these works over the past nine months had ended in failure. But the Federals did not know how fragile the Confederate line truly was.

General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, hurried to prepare a makeshift defense after learning of the rout at Five Forks. From north to southwest:

  • Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps held the lines in front of Richmond
  • Major General John B. Gordon’s corps held the line from east to south of Petersburg
  • Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps held the line west of Gordon
  • Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps held the line southwest of Longstreet
  • Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps held the line west of Hill
  • An isolated force under Major Generals George Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee was beyond Anderson’s western flank

At 10 p.m. on the 1st, the Federals opened a massive, 150-gun artillery barrage to weaken the enemy defenses. This continued through the night. Then, at 4:40 a.m., the Federal troops came out of their works and advanced through heavy fog. This was the largest offensive launched since the Federals started laying siege to Petersburg.

The Fall of Petersburg | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The fog partially concealed them from the thin line of Confederate defenders until they were within striking distance. Longstreet, leaving Lee’s headquarters after a meeting, later wrote that “as far as the eye could cover in the field, a line of skirmishers in quiet marched towards us. It was hardly light enough to distinguish the blue from the gray.”

Parke’s corps broke through the Confederate defenses on the Jerusalem Plank Road. Wright’s corps shattered the garrison at Fort Fisher and then wheeled left to push the Confederates toward Hatcher’s Run. The Federals sustained heavy losses in the initial assaults, but, unlike previous battles, the Confederates quickly gave way. They no longer had the manpower to hold the mighty Federal army off.

When A.P. Hill rode between the lines to rally his men near the Boydton Plank Road, nearby Federals shot him dead. Hill and his corps had been instrumental in protecting Petersburg throughout the campaign. Hill’s orderly escaped and notified Lee, who said, “He is at rest now, and we who are left are the ones to suffer.” Longstreet took temporary command of Hill’s corps.

The Confederates fell back, with parts of their line disintegrating completely in the face of such an overwhelming onslaught. Gibbon’s corps came up on Wright’s left and hit the Confederates in flank, causing mass confusion. Gibbon’s men then turned right, moved up the Boydton Plank Road across Wright’s front, and attacked Fort Gregg. Just 500 Confederates repelled three assaults by two Federal divisions until finally surrendering. This gave Lee enough time to form an interior line that could protect his inevitable retreat.

Lee confided to a subordinate: “This is a sad business, Colonel. It has happened as I told them in Richmond it would happen. The line has been stretched until it is broken.” Humphreys’s corps began pushing the Confederates up the Claiborne Road to Sutherland’s Station on the South Side Railroad. The Confederate line soon crumbled there as well. Lee sent a message to Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, received at 10:40 a.m.:

“I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River… Our only chance, then, of concentrating our forces, is to do so near Danville railroad, which I shall endeavor to do at once. I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond to-night. I will advise you later, according to circumstances.”

Breckinridge forwarded this message to President Jefferson Davis, who was on his way to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for Sunday services. While in church, Davis received a second note from Lee:

“I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight. I have given all the necessary orders on the subject to the troops; and the operation; though difficult, I hope will be performed successfully. I have directed General Stevens to send an officer to your Excellency to explain the routes to you by which the troops will be moved to Amelia Court-House, and furnish you with a guide and any assistance that you may require for yourself.”

Around 3 p.m., Brigadier General Nelson Miles’s division of Humphreys’s corps charged Major General Henry Heth’s Confederates defending Sutherland’s Station. The Federals quickly drove the enemy off in disarray, and the vital South Side Railroad was finally cut. By early evening, Gibbon’s corps controlled Fort Gregg, and Wright’s corps had cut the Boydton Plank Road. This virtually assured the fall of both Petersburg and Richmond. A correspondent wrote, “With that Sunday’s sun the hope of the Rebels set, never to rise again.”

Lee issued orders for his army to start its retreat from the makeshift interior line at 8 p.m. The Confederates crossed the Appomattox that night, with artillery ahead of infantry and wagon trains moving on different roads. The men moved toward a rallying point at Amelia Court House, 40 miles southwest. Only Lee’s orderly withdrawal allowed the army to escape destruction and the Confederate government to avoid capture.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln stayed at Grant’s former headquarters at City Point reading the dispatches from the front. Grant wrote to Lincoln at 2 p.m., “All looks remarkably well.” Two and a half hours later, Grant informed him that Fort Gregg had been taken, and “captures since the army started out will not amount to less than 12,000 men and probably 50 pieces of artillery.” Certain that Petersburg would fall, Grant then invited the president to “come out and pay us a visit” in the city the next day.

At 4:40 p.m., Grant telegraphed Colonel T.S. Bowers at City Point: “We are now up and have a continuous line of troops, and in a few hours will be intrenched from the Appomattox below Petersburg to the river above… I think the President might come out and pay us a visit to-morrow.”

Federals entered Petersburg from the west that night, as Brigadier General Oliver Edwards of VI Corps accepted the city’s formal surrender from the mayor. Lincoln saw some fighting around Petersburg and wired Grant at 8:15 p.m.: “Allow me to tender you, and all with you, the nation’s grateful thanks for the additional and magnificent victory. At your kind suggestion I think I will meet you tomorrow.”

The Federals sustained 3,936 casualties, while the Confederates lost over 5,000, most of whom were taken prisoner. Grant wrote his wife that night:

“I am now writing from far inside of what was the rebel fortifications this morning but what are ours now. They are exceedingly strong and I wonder at the sucsess (sic) of our troops carrying them by storm. But they did it and without any great loss. Altogether this has been one of the greatest victories of the war. Greatest because it is over what the rebels have always regarded as their most invincable (sic) Army and the one used for the defence of their capital. We may have some more hard work but I hope not.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 523-24; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 566, 574; Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953), p. 362-63; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 446-47; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 87-91; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22419-35; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; 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 18470-80, 18570-80, 18746-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-75; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-16; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 538; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (Christopher M. Calkins, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 276; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 138; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 663-64; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169, 175-77, 181; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 365-68; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 236-37, 274, 577-79, 737-38; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 99-100

Battles at Fair Oaks and Hatcher’s Run

October 27, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal forces moved to assault both ends of the Confederate siege line stretching from Richmond to Petersburg.

After failing to dislodge the Federals from north of the James River, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, warned his top officers, “We must drive them back at all costs.” The Federal forces, under Grant’s overall command, continued trying to extend the ends of their line both east of Richmond and southwest of Petersburg. Lee notified Adjutant General Samuel Cooper that if Grant stretched the Confederate defenders any further, “I fear it will be impossible to keep him out of Richmond.”

Panicked Confederate officials hurriedly conscripted all able-bodied men in Richmond and forced them into the fortifications outside the city. Citizens loudly protested this as an act of tyranny, and the press reported that most of the “involuntary soldiers” deserted as soon as they could.

Meanwhile, Lee’s Confederates gave up trying to take back Fort Harrison and built fortifications closer to Richmond that minimized the fort’s usefulness to the Federals. On the 13th, the Federal X Corps under Major General Alfred H. Terry (Major General David B. Birney had relinquished corps command due to illness and died later this month) advanced and discovered these new defenses. Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s Confederates inflicted heavy losses on the Federals north of the Darbytown Road and drove them off.

Both sides settled back into the tedium of the siege outside Richmond and Petersburg. Lieutenant General James Longstreet returned to active duty as Lee’s top corps commander. Longstreet had been severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, which partially paralyzed his right arm and forced him to learn to write with his left hand.

Longstreet resumed command of the First Corps, which had since been commanded by Anderson. These troops defended the siege lines north of the James River. Lee gave Anderson command of a new Fourth Corps, which consisted of two divisions. Its duty was to guard Petersburg against a direct assault should the siege lines be broken.

The siege lines now stretched from north of the James (southeast of Richmond), southward around the east and south of Petersburg, and then curled to the southwest below the city. The Federals had not been able to cut either the Boydton Plank Road or the South Side Railroad, which entered Petersburg from the southwest and west to supply the Confederates.

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac besieging Petersburg, suggested to Grant that the Confederate right on the Boydton Plank Road was vulnerable to attack. And if the road was captured, the Federals could continue moving and seize the South Side Railroad. Grant approved Meade’s request to attack and developed a plan:

  • II Corps under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock on the Federal left would cross Hatcher’s Run on the Vaughn Road and then move north to seize the Boydton Plank Road.
  • IX Corps under Major General John G. Parke on the Federal right would attack the Confederates defending the road north of Hatcher’s Run.
  • V Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren and a cavalry division under Brigadier General David M. Gregg would support Parke.

The attack force consisted of 43,000 Federals, while the Confederate defenders numbered no more than 12,000. To gain an even greater advantage, Grant planned to strike the other end of Lee’s defense line at the same time. He directed Major General Benjamin F. Butler to lead elements of X and XVIII corps to the Darbytown Road and Fair Oaks, east of Richmond.

The Federals moved out against Lee’s left (southeast of Richmond) and right (southwest of Petersburg) on the 27th. When news of these movements reached Richmond, Confederate officials put their last reserves on the defense lines. Longstreet’s troops held Lee’s left as Butler’s Federals moved along the Darbytown Road and north toward Fair Oaks.

Confederates under Major Generals Charles W. Field and Robert F. Hoke repelled the Federal attackers and neutralized Fort Harrison in just a few hours. This was the easiest Confederate victory in this sector of the siege line to date. Butler lost 1,103 men, including about 600 taken prisoner, and 11 battle flags. Longstreet lost just 451.

Meanwhile, the Federal force southwest of Petersburg moved out at 7:30 a.m. in heavy rain. Hancock advanced as planned and seized the road near Burgess’ Mill by noon. Per his orders, Hancock waited there until Parke and Warren joined him. But Parke met strong resistance from Major General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s Confederates, and Warren’s men struggled over the rough terrain before being repulsed by Wilcox south of Hatcher’s Run.

Federals attack works at Hatcher’s Run | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. VIII, No. 412 (19 Nov 1864)

The failure of Parke and Warren to achieve a breakthrough left Hancock isolated. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill directed a counterattack led by Major General Henry Heth’s infantry and Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry. They came upon Hancock’s flank, which Warren had not come up to protect. Hancock managed to fend off the assaults, and Meade let him decide to either fall back or hold firm until Warren and Parke reinforced him. Having no faith in either Warren or Parke, Hancock withdrew that night, relinquishing the road.

The Federals sustained 1,758 casualties (166 killed, 1,028 wounded and 564 missing). The Confederates lost about 1,000 men, a much greater proportion of those engaged (8 percent versus the Federals’ 4 percent). Confederate losses included two of Hampton’s sons, Lieutenants Wade (wounded) and Preston (killed).

On the morning of the 28th, the Confederates discovered that Hancock was gone and took back the Boydton Plank Road. This ended combat operations on the Richmond-Petersburg lines for the year. The works now stretched nearly 35 miles, with both sides spending the fall and winter patrolling, picketing, sharpshooting, and continually strengthening defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22242; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-57; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 475-76, 479; 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 13231-41, 12023-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509-10, 514-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7975-88, 8000-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 589-90; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169, 179-80, 393; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 95-96, 204-05

The Battle of Peebles’s Farm: Day Two

October 1, 1864 – Elements of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia prepared to renew their attack on Federals pushing to seize the final supply lines southwest of Petersburg, Virginia.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federals from Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac entrenched themselves at Peebles’ Farm. They consisted of V and IX corps under Major Generals Gouverneur Warren and John G. Parke, along with cavalry under Brigadier General David M. Gregg. The Federals had tried seizing the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad on September 30, but Confederates from General Robert E. Lee’s army had pushed them back.

The Confederates consisted of two divisions from Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps, led by Major Generals Henry Heth and Cadmus M. Wilcox, along with Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry division. After driving the Federals back, they planned to renew the offensive on the 1st. Wilcox would attack IX Corps on the Federal left to the west, but the main Confederate attack would come from Heth against V Corps on the seemingly weak Federal right to the east.

Fighting opened with a Confederate artillery barrage designed to weaken the Federal lines. Heth’s troops drove off the Federal pickets but were sharply repelled by the Federals on the main line. Wilcox’s men captured several Federal skirmishers but did not go any further toward attacking IX Corps. Hampton tried getting into the Federal rear with his cavalry, but Federal troopers drove the Confederates off near the Vaughn Road.

Meade ordered Warren and Parke not to take the offensive until Brigadier General Gershom Mott’s division from II Corps arrived to reinforce them. Mott’s men were being transferred by a new railroad built exclusively to serve the Federals at Petersburg from their main supply base at City Point. But the trains were delayed, and the troops did not arrive until that night. Meade explained the delay to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, adding, “Generals Parke and Warren are ordered to attack early tomorrow morning,” and would “endeavor to effect a lodgment on the Boydton plank road.”

Parke reported to Meade on the morning of the 2nd, “Mott is now moving to take position on my left. As soon as he is in position I will advance the whole line.” The Federal V and IX corps, now augmented by Mott’s division, advanced west toward the Confederates guarding the Boydton Plank Road. The Federals easily pushed back pickets and skirmishers, but they stopped when they saw that the main defenses were stronger than expected.

Meade wrote Grant, “Without your orders, I shall not attack their intrenchments, but on being satisfied they are not outside of them I will take up the best position I can, connecting with the Weldon railroad and extending as far to the left as practicable, having in view the protection of my left flank, and then intrench.”

Grant approved, but later he warned Meade that he might have to abandon this extension of the siege line “whenever the forces holding it are necessary to defend any other part of the line.” After holding a council of war on Peebles’s farm, Meade wrote Grant:

“We now hold securely to the Pegram house, with our left refused and the cavalry to the rear on the Vaughn and Duncan Roads. The left is a little over a mile from the Boydton plank road, and believed to be not over two miles from the South Side Railroad. Generals Parke and Warren are busily occupied intrenching in his position, and rendering it such that should the enemy turn the left they will have an available force to meet the movement.”

The fighting on and near Peebles’s Farm resulted in about 2,950 Federal casualties and 1,239 Confederate. This ended Grant’s fifth offensive against Petersburg, and it proved just as fruitless as the first four. The Confederates retained their hold on both the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, which they used to feed and supply themselves. However, the Federals did extend their siege line farther south and west of Petersburg, which forced the Confederates to stretch their opposing line even thinner in defense. And the manpower on that line was rapidly shrinking due to casualties, illnesses, and desertions.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 466-67; 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 11766-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 567-68; PetersburgSiege.org

The Battle of Peebles’s Farm

September 30, 1864 – While Federal forces attacked the Confederate siege lines north of the James River, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant directed the Army of the Potomac to attack the Confederate line southwest of Petersburg.

As Major General Benjamin F. Butler prepared his assault outside Richmond, Grant, the overall Federal commander, informed Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, that “a movement will take place intended to surprise and capture the works of the enemy north of the James River between Malvern Hill and Richmond.”

Grant envisioned a two-pronged assault that would extend the lines of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until they broke. In conjunction with Butler’s move to the north, Grant instructed Meade, “As a co-operative movement with this you will please have the Army of the Potomac under arms at 4 a.m. on the 29th ready to move in any direction.”

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant wanted Meade’s Federals to continue pushing southwest of Petersburg and seize the South Side Railroad, Lee’s last supply line via rail. Grant instructed Meade, “I will leave the details to you, stating merely that I want every effort used to convince the enemy that the South Side road and Petersburg are the objects of our efforts.”

The day after Butler’s Federals seized Fort Harrison and New Market Heights north of the James, Grant ordered Meade to attack Lee’s southernmost lines below Petersburg: “You may move out now and see if an advantage can be gained. It seems to me the enemy must be weak enough at one or the other place to let us in.”

Meade dispatched 16,000 Federals from V and IX corps under Major Generals Gouverneur Warren and John G. Parke for the assault. Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s Federal cavalry would guard the Federals’ left (south) flank. The Federals moved west in two columns toward the Confederate defenses along the Boydton Plank Road, which Lee was using in place of the Weldon Railroad (lost to the Federals in August) as a supply line.

Warren’s men led the advance before halting along the Squirrel Level Road and deploying for battle. The Federals then attacked and drove the Confederates back from Poplar Springs Church. Warren’s division under Brigadier General Charles Griffin captured the important Fort Archer on Peebles’s Farm.

Federals attacking a fort | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates regrouped on a line closer to the Boydton Plank Road. Warren informed Meade at 2:20 p.m., “I will push up as fast as I can get my troops in order toward Petersburg on the Squirrel Level road.” However, Warren would not advance until Parke’s corps came up on his left and the Federals secured a connection to Globe Tavern.

During that time, Confederates from Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps under Major Generals Henry Heth and Cadmus M. Wilcox arrived and counterattacked. Warren’s Federals were knocked back into Parke’s, and the Confederates pushed them for over a mile until they entrenched at Peebles’s Farm. The Federals held firm until the Confederates disengaged for the night. Meade reported to Grant:

“About 4 p.m. General Parke was advancing to the Boydton plank road when he was vigorously attacked by the enemy, said by prisoners to have been two divisions of Hill’s corps. The fighting for some time till after dark was very severe, and after the Ninth Corps rallied and Griffin attacked it is believed the enemy suffered heavily.”

Grant told Meade that he “need not advance tomorrow unless in your judgment an advantage can be gained, but hold on to what you have, and be ready to advance. We must be greatly superior to the enemy in numbers on one flank or the other, and by working around at each end, we will find where the enemy’s weak point is.”

The fighting north of the James, along with this fighting on the 30th southwest of Petersburg, stretched Lee’s army to the limit and forced a desperate shift of troops from one threatened front to the other. Lee informed Secretary of War James A. Seddon that while Grant extended his lines and increased his numbers, the Army of Northern Virginia could “only meet his corps, increased by recent recruits, with a division, reduced by long and arduous service.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150, 155; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 464-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 502-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 576-77; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 567-68; http://www.petersburgsiege.org/peebles.htm

The Second Battle of Ream’s Station

August 25, 1864 – Confederates scored a decisive victory that decimated the Federal II Corps, but it did little to affect the Federal siege of Petersburg.

After the Battle of Globe Tavern, Federal forces extended their siege line to the south of Petersburg, Virginia. Troops of V Corps and other elements of the Army of the Potomac under Major General Gouverneur Warren held the Weldon Railroad, which connected Petersburg to the North Carolina coast. The Federals destroyed track on the Weldon so it could no longer be used to supply the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in Petersburg.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, looked to make the Federal hold on the railroad permanent. He wrote Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, “If we can retain hold of the railroad it will be a great advantage.”

To do this, Grant looked to seize Ream’s Station, which was five miles south of Warren’s Federals at Globe Tavern and seven miles south of Petersburg. Grant selected Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps for this mission. The men of II Corps had just finished their grueling operation at Deep Bottom Run, north of the James River.

Hancock’s force consisted of two infantry divisions under Major General John Gibbon and Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles, as well as Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s cavalry division. The troops arrived at Ream’s on the 23rd, exhausted from constant marching and fighting. They occupied the fortifications that had been built during the Wilson-Kautz raid in June, and Gregg’s cavalry guarded the infantrymen as they began wrecking the track.

Major General Wade Hampton’s Confederate horsemen clashed with Gregg’s troopers, indicating to Hampton that the Federals were at Ream’s. He quickly passed this news to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army. This would not disrupt Lee’s supply line because he had already arranged to move supplies by wagon train from Stony Creek, farther south on the Weldon Railroad, to Petersburg via the Boydton Plank Road. But the Federal presence at Ream’s threatened Dinwiddie Court House, a possible point of retreat for Lee if he had to abandon Petersburg. Lee therefore resolved to drive the Federals off.

Meanwhile, the Federals continued destroying the railroad between Globe Tavern and Ream’s, and by the end of the 24th, Hancock reported that “the road is destroyed for about three miles and a half beyond Reams’.” That night, Hancock received word that Confederates were approaching from the northwest, “probably destined to operate against General Warren or yourself–most probably against your operations. The commanding general cautions you to look out for them.”

The approaching Confederates consisted of about 8,000 men under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. As they advanced, Hampton’s cavalry forced Gregg’s Federals back. This prompted Hancock to suspend railroad operations and deploy his two infantry divisions to meet the threat. The Federals formed a U-shaped line, with Miles’s division on the right facing west and north, and Gibbon’s on the left facing west and south. Hancock reported to Meade:

“The enemy have been feeling all around me and are now cheering in my front, advancing and driving my skirmishers. I think they will next move across the road between Warren and myself as they press my lines. Two prisoners taken at different times say that all of Hampton’s cavalry and a part of Hill’s corps, or all of it, are in my front…”

The Confederate infantry crossed Rowanty Creek and moved along the road running northeast to Hancock’s positions. The initial Confederate attack came from Major General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division against Miles’s troops around 2 p.m., but the Federals held their positions. Similar Confederate assaults along the line were also repulsed. Hancock reported:

“There is no great necessity of my remaining here, but it is more important that I should join Warren; but I do not think, closely engaged as I am at present, I can withdraw safely at this time. I think it will be well to withdraw tonight, if I am not forced to do so before.”

Meade told Hancock that he would send him reinforcements and added, “I hope you will be able to give the enemy a good thrashing.” When Meade received word that Hancock had stopped the Confederate advance, he authorized him to “withdraw tonight if you deem it best for the security of your command.”

“Frank Leslie’s – 2nd Reams Station” by Frank Leslie (publisher) – From Frank Leslie’s Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War. From a digital scan available at available at the Internet Archive. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

However, a Confederate artillery barrage around 5 p.m. preceded a massive attack, which threatened Gibbon’s left. The Federals stood their ground until two regiments in Gibbon’s center suddenly fled in panic. The Confederates, surprised by the ease at which they broke the enemy line, exploited the gap while another force attacked the Federal left.

Hancock desperately tried reforming his fleeing men, shouting, “We can beat them yet. Don’t leave me, for God’s sake!” The Federals fell back nonetheless, with many of Gibbon’s green New Yorkers surrendering. One of Miles’s reserve brigades sent in to close the gap in the center “could neither be made to go forward nor fire.” Two Federal divisions were sent to reinforce Hancock, but he withdrew in disgust that night to the Jerusalem Plank Road.

Of the 2,750 Federal casualties, over 2,000 surrendered. The Federals also lost nine cannon, 12 battle flags, and over 3,000 small arms. This fight shattered the famed II Corps, as Hancock’s chief of staff, Colonel Charles H. Morgan, later said, “The agony of that day never died from that proud soldier (Hancock), who, for the first time, saw his lines broken and his guns taken.” Gibbon explained that his men fled because they had lost nine brigade and 40 regimental commanders in four months, but Hancock would have none of it. Gibbon, the former commander of the feared Iron Brigade, ultimately resigned.

In contrast, the Confederates lost just 720 men. This second engagement at Ream’s Station ended in Confederate victory just like the first, but it did little to stop the gradual westward extension of the Federal siege lines around Petersburg. Hill’s Confederates returned to the Petersburg trenches, and Warren’s Federals continued destroying the Weldon Railroad.

Military success was beginning to prove more costly than it was worth for Lee. On the 29th, he reported to President Jefferson Davis that the Confederate army had sustained some sort of combat loss in 100 consecutive days. Lee also informed Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “Without some increase of strength, I cannot see how we can escape the natural military consequences of the enemy’s numerical superiority.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22242; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104-10; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 449-50; 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 11458-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 489-90; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7905, 7918, 7941; 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. 560; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617-18

 

The Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad

August 18, 1864 – Fighting broke out southwest of the Petersburg siege lines when Federals tried moving beyond the Confederates’ flank to sever the Weldon Railroad.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, knew that General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had sent part of his force to the Shenandoah Valley. Grant also knew that Lee had reinforced the Confederate defenses in front of Richmond, north of the James River. Based on this, Grant guessed that Lee’s defense line outside Petersburg was weak and vulnerable to attack.

Maj Gen Gouverneur Warren | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant dispatched Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps from the Army of the Potomac to cut the Confederates’ Weldon supply line running from Petersburg to Wilmington, and to divert attention from the Federal expedition north of the James. This was the first major Federal attempt since the Battle of the Crater to disrupt the Confederate siege lines at Petersburg.

When President Abraham Lincoln learned of Grant’s plan, he sent him an encouraging message: “I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.” Grant laughed upon reading this dispatch and told his staff, “The president has more nerve than any of his advisers.”

Warren’s Federals set out at 4 a.m. on the 18th, marching through rain and mud before arriving at Globe Tavern five hours later. They were about four miles south of Petersburg, and three miles south of the Confederate defenses. A division began wrecking the railroad while Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres’s division turned north to face any Confederate attempt to stop the operation. Ayres’s men struggled to maneuver in the dense woods and oppressive heat. Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford’s division came up to support Ayres’s right.

Operations of Aug 18-19 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Petersburg defenses while Lee was north of the James, called upon Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps to confront the Federals. Hill dispatched two brigades under Major General Henry Heth and another brigade under Major General Robert F. Hoke. Fighting began under heavy rain.

The Confederates initially drove Ayres and Crawford back toward Globe Tavern, but the Federals were reinforced by Brigadier General Lysander Cutler’s division on Ayres’s left. They regrouped and advanced, and by nightfall they regained their original positions. Warren notified Crawford, “You have done very well indeed in getting forward through that difficult country. Make yourself as strong as you can and hold on. I will try and re-enforce you…”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, dispatched reinforcements from IX and II corps and ordered Warren to hold the railroad “at all hazards.” The Federals lost 836 men (544 killed or wounded, and 292 missing) in the action on the 18th.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederates were reinforced by Major General Rooney Lee’s cavalry division and Major General William Mahone’s infantry division. Beauregard wrote Lee at 8 a.m. on the 19th, “I will endeavor to-day to dislodge him with four brigades of our infantry and the division of cavalry you have promised. Result would be more certain with a stronger force of infantry.”

Skirmishing took place throughout the 19th as the heavy rain continued. Mahone’s Confederates approached Crawford’s division on the Federal right, concealed by the woods, and launched a fierce attack at 4:15 p.m. The Federals wavered to the point that two brigades nearly surrendered, and Crawford was almost captured trying to rally his men. Meanwhile, Heth attacked the Federal center and left, but Ayres’s men repelled him.

The arrival of Federal reinforcements enabled Warren to stabilize his position in vicious hand-to-hand combat. He lost another 2,900 men (382 killed or wounded and 2,518 missing or captured), but he ordered an “advance at daylight in every direction.”

The Confederates pulled back for the night, and Warren fell back a mile down the Weldon line. The Federals maintained control of the railroad; now only two other lines could feed Richmond and Petersburg: the South Side and the Richmond & Danville railroads.

Beauregard wrote on the 20th, “General Hill reports enemy still occupying part of railroad where he is fortifying. Am endeavoring to make necessary arrangements to dislodge him to-day, if practicable… Every available man who can be spared from (the Petersburg) trenches has been withdrawn. Shall try attack in the morning with all the force I can spare.”

Warren, who initially planned to advance, now reconsidered after seeing the carnage from the previous day’s fight. He wrote Meade, “I do not think with our present force we can hold a line across where I established the picket-line yesterday.” Skirmishing erupted throughout the 20th, as the Federals continued wrecking the railroad while pulling out of the underbrush and forming a new line two miles to the rear that connected to the Jerusalem Plank Road.

President Jefferson Davis expressed concern about the Federal presence on the railroad. Beauregard wrote that night, “Expect to attack early in the morning. No available force shall be left behind.” He hoped to follow up his success on the 19th with a complete victory, but the only force he could muster was Hill’s two divisions and a few more brigades under Heth and Mahone.

The Confederates launched an intense artillery barrage before renewing their assaults at 9 a.m. With ranks three-deep, Mahone struck the Federal left while Heth hit the center, but they could not dislodge the entrenched Federals from the railroad. Hill finally called off the attack, and the Confederates returned to their original siege lines, thus acknowledging they had permanently lost the Weldon Railroad as a supply line.

The Federals did not pursue, which frustrated Grant: “It seems to me that when the enemy comes out of his works and attacks and is repulsed he ought to be followed vigorously to the last minute with every man. Holding the line is of no importance whilst troops are operating in front of it.” In the four-day engagement, the Federals sustained 4,455 total casualties (198 killed, 1,105 wounded, and 3,152 missing) out of about 20,000 effectives, while the Confederates lost some 1,600 from about 14,000.

Without the railroad, the Confederates had to get supplies from Wilmington by unloading them from the railroad at Stony Creek and taking them by wagon train up the Boydton Plank Road running northeast into Petersburg. Even so, a Confederate staff officer optimistically noted, “Whilst we are inconvenienced, no material harm is done us.” After receiving reports of the fight at Globe Tavern, Grant quickly ordered Federal infantry and cavalry to strike the important Confederate supply line at Reams’s Station between Globe Tavern and Stony Creek.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22242; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 99-104; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 448-49; 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 11445-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 487-88; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7881-94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 556-59; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 776; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 577-79, 812-13

The Battle of the Weldon Railroad

June 23, 1864 – Fighting broke out clashed as the Federals sought to extend their left flank and cut the railroad south of Petersburg, Virginia.

As the Federal Armies of the Potomac and the James settled in to besiege Petersburg, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, called for infantry and cavalry detachments to attack two railroads supplying the Confederate troops defending the city:

  • The Weldon Railroad, which ran south to Weldon, North Carolina, and then to one of the Confederacy’s few remaining seaports, Wilmington, North Carolina;
  • The South Side Railroad, which ran west to Lynchburg in the Shenandoah Valley.

At this time, the Federal siege line stretched from northeast of Petersburg to the Jerusalem Plank Road, southeast of town. Grant assigned two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals James H. Wilson and August V. Kautz to ride beyond the Jerusalem Plank Road and raid both the Weldon to the west and the South Side farther northwest.

Grant also ordered a large Federal infantry force to extend the left flank beyond the Jerusalem Plank Road and support the cavalry attack on the Weldon. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, selected II and VI corps under Major Generals David B. Birney and Horatio G. Wright for this assignment. President Abraham Lincoln, who had come from Washington to meet with Grant, visited with some troops of VI Corps as they prepared.

Troops from Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula northeast of Petersburg would be brought down via water to replace Birney and Wright on the siege line. The plan called for II and VI corps to cross the Jerusalem Plank Road and turn northwest toward the Weldon Railroad, while the cavalry troopers attacked the railroad farther south. The Federals moved out on the 21st.

Lt Gen A.P. Hill | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate scouts quickly reported that the Federals were trying to extend their lines toward the Weldon. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia defending Petersburg, directed cavalry under Major General W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee to confront the Federal horsemen and Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps to confront the infantry.

By noon on the 22nd, Federal cavalry had cut the Weldon Railroad at Reams’s Station, about seven miles south of Petersburg. However, the difficult terrain had slowed the infantry’s advance, and the two corps then became separated in the swamps and thickets south of Petersburg.

Hill deployed Major General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division to keep VI Corps occupied on the right (south) while the divisions under Major Generals William Mahone and Bushrod R. Johnson attacked II Corps on the left. The Confederates furiously assaulted the exposed left flank and rear of II Corps. 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.”

Action of 22 June | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Confederates pushed the Federals back to the Jerusalem Plank Road, where they stabilized their lines as darkness ended the fighting. The next day, Meade 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.”

The Confederates suffered 572 casualties in this battle, while the humiliated Federals lost 2,962, including some 1,700 captured. The Weldon Railroad remained firmly in Confederate hands. However, the Federals did wreck some of the track, and their left was slightly extended across the Jerusalem Plank Road. Grant would make many more attempts to extend his left in the coming months.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22175; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-63; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 429; 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), Loc 9231-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 459-60; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7763; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 526-28; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 577-79, 812-13