Tag Archives: David M. Gregg

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run

February 5, 1865 – Fighting erupted over Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s effort to extend his Federal siege line around Petersburg, Virginia.

After the Federal Army of the Potomac had seized the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg last year, Grant believed that the Boydton Plank Road had become the Confederates’ main supply line. The Federals had tried moving beyond the Confederate left flank to seize this road in October but failed. But Grant was wrong: the Confederates had abandoned the road because it became too dangerous to defend. Nevertheless, Grant renewed his plan to retake the road, hoping not only to cut a key enemy supply line but to block the enemy’s westward escape route.

Peace talks were taking place at Hampton Roads, but President Abraham Lincoln told Grant not to let them “cause any change, hindrance or delay, of your military plans or operations.” Grant therefore moved forward with his planned assault. He wrote to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac on the southwestern sector of the siege line, on the 4th:

“I would like to take advantage of the present good weather to destroy or capture as much as possible of the enemy’s wagon train, which it is understood is being used in connection with the Weldon railroad to partially supply the troops about Petersburg. You may get the cavalry ready to do this as soon as possible. I think the cavalry should start at 3 a.m. either tomorrow or the following day, carrying one and a half days’ forage and three days’ rations with them. They should take no wagons and but few ambulances. Let the Second Corps move at the same time, but independent of the cavalry, as far south as Stony Creek Station, to remain there until the cavalry has done the enemy all the harm it can and returns to that point.”

Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s cavalry division would ride west to the Boydton Plank Road, supported by Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps and two divisions of Major General Andrew A. Humphreys’s II Corps. The infantry would move west along parallel roads, but Meade modified Grant’s plan by placing Warren’s corps to the south instead of Humphreys’s. The expedition would involve 35,000 Federals.

At 3 a.m. on the 5th, Gregg’s cavalry headed out in bitter cold and rain. They rode west to Ream’s Station on the Weldon Railroad, turned south, and then turned west again, sporadically skirmishing with Confederate patrols before arriving at Dinwiddie Court House around noon. Warren’s V Corps crossed Rowanty Creek and stopped on the Vaughan Road to cover Gregg’s right flank. Humphreys’s Federals moved down the Vaughan Road to Hatcher’s Run and covered Warren’s right flank.

Humphreys deployed his troops about 1,000 yards in front of the Confederate defenses. The defenses were manned by Major General Henry Heth’s division and part of Major General John B. Gordon’s Second Corps recently returned from the Shenandoah Valley. The Confederates were caught off guard and offered little resistance at first. The Confederates finally came out of their trenches around 5 p.m. and advanced to drive the Federals off.

Both sides stood their ground and exchanged fire for about a half-hour, but then the Federal line started wavering. Some men joined to sing “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” which rallied the troops. They formed a new line and withstood three Confederate charges before both sides disengaged for the night.

When Grant received word of this engagement, he saw an opportunity to seize not only the Boydton Plank Road but the vital South Side Railroad beyond. He wrote Meade, “If we can follow the enemy up, although it was not contemplated before, it may lead to getting the South Side road, or a position from which it can be reached.” Meanwhile, Federals from Gregg’s and Warren’s commands reinforced Humphreys during the night, and the Federal line now extended south of Hatcher’s Run.

Confederate Brig Gen John Pegram | Image Credit: civilwardailygazette.com

Warren’s Federals scouted the Confederate positions near Gravelly Run and Dabney’s Mill on the 6th. The Confederates fell back to their main defenses, and Gordon dispatched Brigadier General John Pegram’s division to probe the Dabney’s Mill area, east of the Boydton Plank Road. Federals and Confederates met during their respective probing actions, and a fierce Confederate attack in a small area of about 500 yards drove the Federals back to their main force.

Gordon sent in Brigadier General Clement A. Evans’s division on Pegram’s left. Evans’s Confederates drove the Federals back until two brigades came forward to stabilize the line and push the Confederates back. Major General Joseph Finegan’s Confederate division arrived next and attacked, causing the Federal line to buckle. During this assault, Pegram was killed by a Federal sharpshooter. Pegram had been a promising young officer who was just married last month in Richmond’s society event of the year.

Nevertheless, the Confederate assault began overwhelming the Federals, and many fled the field. Only nightfall and freezing rain prevented a Federal rout. The Confederates halted and took coats from dead soldiers for warmth, and the Federals fell back to the line beside Humphreys’s divisions. The Federals still held the south bank of Hatcher’s Run. Meade reported to Grant:

“Warren’s troops were compelled to retire in considerable confusion. They enemy was, however, checked before reaching the position occupied this morning, Vaughan road was recalled when the others were forced back. The troops are now formed in the lines occupied this morning. The fighting has been determined, principally in dense woods, and the losses considerable, particularly in the column compelled to retire. I am not able at present to give an estimate of them.”

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References

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. 527-29; 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 16416-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 550-51; 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. 27-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634-35; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 483-84; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350; Wikipedia: Battle of Hatcher’s Run

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 Battle of Deep Bottom Run

August 14, 1864 – Federal forces moved north of the James River to attack the supposedly weakened Confederate defenses outside Richmond.

Federal siege operations resumed after the Battle of the Crater. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wanted to court-martial Major General Ambrose E. Burnside for his role in the Crater fiasco. But Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, instead placed Burnside on “extended leave,” never to return to active duty. Major General John G. Parke took over Burnside’s IX Corps.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Grant continued the slow extension of his siege line southwest of Petersburg while avoiding any direct confrontations. President Jefferson Davis told General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under siege, “It is thought idle to attack your entrenchments but feasible to starve you out.”

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal Army of the James pinned down at Bermuda Hundred, devised a plan to break his men out by building a canal across Dutch Gap, a 174-yard-wide neck of land in a bend in the James River. This would allow ships to bypass five miles of Confederate batteries and water impediments at Trent’s Reach and Drewry’s Bluff, thereby giving the Federals a clear shot at Richmond.

Federal troops, including many black soldiers, began digging under enemy artillery and sniper fire. Grant had little faith that the canal would work, but he let Butler go on with it because he was a troublesome political general, and this would keep him busy. The brutal project lasted until the end of the year, and the canal was not officially completed until the war ended. After the war, the Dutch Gap Canal became a useful shipping channel on the James.

As Butler’s men worked, Grant received word that Lee had weakened his army by sending reinforcements to Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant was told “that it was understood that three divisions of infantry went to Early in the first part of the week. Great secrecy was observed in the movement, and the troops were taken through the city mostly in the night.”

Learning that the troops were from Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps stationed north of the James, Grant reported, “The enemy has sent north two if not three divisions of infantry, twenty-three pieces of artillery, and one division of cavalry.” Believing that Lee had sent Anderson’s entire corps, Grant estimated that no more than 8,500 Confederates remained in front of Richmond. But Lee had really sent just one infantry and one cavalry division, leaving the Richmond defenses more heavily guarded than Grant anticipated.

Grant assigned three units to confront the Confederates north of the James:

  • Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Major General James B. Birney’s X Corps from the Army of the James
  • Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s cavalry division

Their target was Deep Bottom Run, 10 miles southeast of Richmond. Birney and Gregg crossed the James at Bermuda Hundred on the night of the 13th. Hancock’s men were loaded on transports to trick the Confederates into thinking they were going to Washington. They would then be brought back to reinforce Birney and Gregg. Grant explained to Meade:

“If the enemy are reduced as much in numbers as we have reason to believe they are, Hancock’s movements tomorrow may lead to almost the entire abandonment of Petersburg. Have this watched as closely as you can, and if you find this view realized, take such advantage of it as you deem best.”

The Federals landed at Deep Bottom at 9 a.m. on the 14th. Birney’s corps was to demonstrate against the Confederate right (south) flank, while Hancock tried turning the enemy left. Gregg’s cavalry would be to Hancock’s right, ready to ride into Richmond if an opening appeared.

The Federals advanced slowly in the summer heat, giving the Confederates time to bring up more men and guns to the earthworks. The attackers approached the Confederate defenses around midday and immediately realized they were stronger than expected. The Federals were forced to fall back.

Although the Federals north of the James were unsuccessful, Lee had done exactly what Grant wanted him to do–pull troops from south of the James to reinforce the northern sector. Grant therefore directed Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps to try extending the Federal line to Globe Tavern, south and west of the weakened Petersburg defenses. North of the James, Hancock ordered Birney to link with his left. Many of Birney’s men fell out of line during the exhausting night march.

On the 15th, Hancock’s Federals struggled through the Tidewater woods, and Birney’s men took until 6 p.m. to adjust to the rough terrain, making it too late to attack that day. The next morning, the Federals attacked and pushed their way to within seven miles of Richmond. Birney’s troops penetrated the Confederate line at Fussell’s Mill, but neither Birney nor Hancock realized the line was broken due to the heavy foliage. Confederates under Major General Charles W. Field soon surged forward to plug the gap and hold the Federals off.

Both sides observed a ceasefire to collect their dead and wounded on the 17th, during which time Confederate gunboats on the James River prevented the Federals from renewing their assaults. The Confederates counterattacked Hancock’s lines on the 18th but were repelled. The opposing forces spent the next two days entrenching and skirmishing. Grant withdrew the Federals from above the James on the 20th, ending the fighting at Deep Bottom Run.

The Federals sustained 2,901 casualties, while the Confederates lost about 1,000. Grant did not achieve the breakthrough he hoped, but he prevented Lee from sending any more reinforcements to the Shenandoah Valley. Hancock’s corps was worn out, and he reported that his men did not conduct themselves well in this operation. The troops would be shifted southwest to join in the second of Grant’s two-pronged assault, involving Warren’s Federals below Petersburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95, 98-99, 104, 112; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 447-48; 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 11279-89, 11434-55, 11500-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 485-87; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7869, 7881, 7918; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-56; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617-18; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 231-32; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 812-13

The Battle of Haw’s Shop

May 26, 1864 – Cavalry from the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia clashed as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant once again looked to turn General Robert E. Lee’s right flank.

By this time, the Federal and Confederate armies were deadlocked on the North Anna River, with neither force able to break the other’s defenses. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had responded to two prior stalemates by moving southeast, around the Confederate right, to get closer to Richmond. But this time he considered something different.

At a council of war on the night of the 25th, Major General George G. Meade, the Federal army commander, argued for another movement around Lee’s right. Grant, however, called for a movement around Lee’s left. This would cut the Confederate army off from being supplied by the Shenandoah Valley, and it could also confuse Lee in such a way that he might put his army in a vulnerable position.

Grant issued orders the next day, but before the army even began mobilizing, he received word that Lee was strengthening his left flank in anticipation of just such a move. Lee wrote of Grant, “From present indication, he seems to contemplate a movement on our left flank.” Grant quickly changed the plan, as he reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:

“To make a direct attack from either wing would cause a slaughter of our men that even success would not justify. To turn the enemy by his right, between the two Annas (North and South Anna rivers) is impossible on account of the swamp upon which his right rests. To turn him by the left leaves Little River, New Found River and South Anna River, all of them streams presenting considerable obstacles to the movement of our army, to be crossed. I have determined therefore to turn the enemy’s right by crossing at or near Hanover Town. This crosses all three streams at once, and leaves us still where we can draw supplies.”

Federal cavalry demonstrated on the Confederate left to mask the movement to the right. Lee, still bedridden from acute diarrhea, tried discerning whether the activity on his left indicated a general advance or a feint. Conflicting reports came to headquarters stating that Grant intended to attack both. The Confederates were not aware that Grant intended to move east of the Pamunkey River to Hanovertown. Reaching this abandoned port would place the Federals just 15 miles northeast of Richmond.

The Federals began pulling out of their entrenchments that night, ending the stalemate on the North Anna. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps and Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s IX Corps stayed in place while Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps and Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps swung around them. Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry troopers, back from their raid earlier in the month, led the way to Hanovertown, about 34 miles southeast.

Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Sheridan reached the town on the 27th, with the infantry on its way. A Federal cavalry brigade of Michiganders under Brigadier General George A. Custer secured a crossing on the Pamunkey just north of Hanovertown after a sharp skirmish with Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate horsemen.

When Lee learned that the Federals had left their defenses on the North Anna, he directed the Confederates to fall back to Atlee’s Station, just nine miles north of Richmond on the Virginia Central Railroad. Lee reached his objective before Grant reached his, having to cover just 18 miles. The Confederates quickly sealed all approaches to Richmond on the railroad from the Pamunkey.

Lee sought to secure the high ground on the south bank of the Totopotomoy Creek, which ran west into the Pamunkey just south of Hanovertown. Lee dispatched cavalry forces under Major General Wade Hampton to conduct a reconnaissance in force to determine whether the Federals intended to stop at Hanovertown or continue south around Lee’s right flank.

General Wade Hampton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hampton’s Confederates moved out from Atlee’s Station on the 28th, probing eastward while one of Sheridan’s brigades under Brigadier General David M. Gregg probed westward from Hanovertown. Gregg met Hampton about three miles west of Hanovertown and a mile west of a blacksmith shop called Haw’s Shop. Hampton’s dismounted troopers awaited Gregg behind breastworks, supported by artillery.

A vicious fight ensued that grew into the largest cavalry battle since Brandy Station last June. Both sides tried flanking the other, with Brigadier General Alfred T.A. Torbert’s Federal division arriving to extend Gregg’s right and repelling a Confederate flanking maneuver. Finally, Custer’s Michiganders arrived on the scene, and their repeating Spencer carbines turned the tide for the Federals, and Hampton’s troopers withdrew.

The fight at Haw’s Shop lasted about seven hours, and although it was a battle between cavalries, the men fought dismounted behind defenses like infantry. Sheridan claimed victory because Hampton withdrew, but Sheridan committed only one of his two divisions to the fight. He might have destroyed Hampton had he deployed more men.

Hampton claimed victory because he learned during the fight that the Federals had crossed the Pamunkey in force, and he prevented Sheridan from learning where Lee’s army was. Hampton had also delayed the Federal advance for seven hours before finally pulling back.

Lee set up headquarters in the Clarke house, where the owner allowed him to conduct all his business indoors due to his continuing illness. Grant transferred the Federal supply base from Port Royal on the Rappahannock to White House on the Pamunkey. Confident that he was wearing the Confederates down, Grant wrote to Halleck:

“Lee’s army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the actions of his army show it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of intrenchments cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the morale over the enemy, and attack him with confidence. I may be mistaken but I feel that our success over Lee’s army is already assured. The promptness and rapidity with which you have forwarded reinforcements has contributed largely to the feeling of confidence inspired in our men, and to break down that of the enemy.”

But the Army of Northern Virginia still had some fight left.

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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 20321; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 414-15; 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 5814-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 445-46; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7235-58; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 434; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 137, 148-49; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 535; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 71-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 509-10; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 149-50, 551