Wade Hampton’s Cattle Raid

One of the strangest actions of the siege took place in mid-September. On September 5th Sergeant George D. Shadburne who was a scout for the Jeff Davis Legion informed his superiors that he had discovered thousands of cattle at Edmund Ruffin’s Plantation on Coggins Point. It is a widely held belief that the secessionist firebrand Ruffin fired the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. His plantation had come under the control of the Federal Army and was used as a supply base.

The Confederates were short of food due to the tightening Federal siege and any opportunity to acquire beef was welcome. On August 22, 1864 General Lee had reported that the corn that was used to feed his soldiers was exhausted. Supply had become a serious problem for the Confederates with the Federal destruction of a significant part of the Weldon Railroad. The Confederates had to off-load the trains and bring their supplies into Petersburg by wagon.

Sgt. Shadburne reported that they were lightly guarded by 250 men of the D.C. Cavalry and 150 soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania. Wade Hampton sensed and opportunity and ordered 4,500 cavalry to join him in an attempt to capture the cattle herd.

Hampton led his men south behind Union lines on September 14th. He took a round-about route through Dinwiddie Court House and Stony Creek Station in order to circumvent the Federal lines. He crossed the Blackwater River at what was once Cook’s Bridge. He had his engineers reconstructCattle Raid Map the bridge and at 5:00 AM on the 16th his force attacked in a three-prong formation with the center group targeting the cattle.

The opposition was extremely light. The Confederates captured 2,468 cattle, 11 wagons and 304 prisoners against a loss of 10 killed, 47 wounded and 4 missing.

They returned the same way they came. The Federal response was weak because most of their cavalry was with Sheridan in the Shenandoah. The only force that was available was August Kautz’s small division and the 2nd Cavalry Division under Brig. Gen. Henry Davies. They only had 2,800 men to Hampton’s 4,500. After some inconsequential skirmishing the Confederates were able to move the cattle behind their lines and the Federals retired.

Abraham Lincoln called the raid “the slickest piece of cattle-stealing” he ever heard of.General Lee’s adjutant Walter H. Taylor said it made up for the loss of the Weldon Railroad, a claim historians consider to be overstated. Asked by a reporter when he would take Petersburg, Grant said, “Never if our armies continue to supply him with beef cattle.”

A fictionalized account of the raid is in the 1966 movie Alvarez Kelly.


Operations against the Weldon Railroad

The Battle of Globe Tavern

Petersburg August 18-19The Weldon Railroad was the only rail connection that the Confederate capital Richmond had to the last remaining port, Wilmington, North Carolina. If the Federals cut or captured this lifeline it would do irreparable harm to the Confederate cause.

On August 18, 1864 a force of 20,000 Federals under Maj. Gen Gouverneur Warren headed south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate’s lifeline. Warren’s V Corps was supplemented by units from the IX Corps, the II Corps and August Kautz’s small cavalry division.

General A.P. Hill commanded a force of 14-15,000 Confederates under General P.G.T/ Beauregard who was the commander in Petersburg. Lee was off observing the Deep Bottom battle.

Warren’s force advanced south through the rain and over muddy roads. He pushed aside the Confederate pickets and a cavalry brigade. The reached Globe Tavern on the railroad line by about 9:00 AM and started to destroy the track. Warren detailed a brigade from Romeyn B. Ayres’ Division to protect his force from any attack from the north.

Ayers met the Confederates about 1:00 PM and Warren sent Samuel Crawford’s Division to strengthen his right. They tried to outflank the Confederate attackers. About 2:00 PM three Confederate brigades attacked the combined Federal force and began to push it back to within a mile of the Weldon Railroad and Globe Tavern. Warren counterattacked, regained the lost ground and entrenched for the night.

During the night both armies were reinforced. The Federal IX Corps arrived on the field and Rooney Lee’s cavalry division and three infantry brigades from William Mahone’s Division reinforced the Confederates.

Globe Tavern and the Weldon RailroadThe next day saw limited action due to the heavy rain. However in the late afternoon, Mahone found a hole in the Federal line and his men poured through it to the enemy’s rear area. General Crawford attempted to rally his panicked men and was nearly captured. However, almost two full brigades of his men were captured.

At the same Henry Heth launched a frontal assault against the Federal left and center that was easily repulsed by Ayers. The IX Corps counterattacked and the fighting was hand-to-hand until darkness ended it.

On August 20th heavy rains curtailed any activity. On the night of August 20-21 Warren pulled his units back about 2 miles to a new line of fortifications that were tied in to the main Federal line along Jerusalem Plank Road.

On the 21st the fair weather returned and the Confederates attacked at about 9:00 AM. Mahone struck the Federal left and Heth the Federal right. Both assaults were unsuccessful with heavy Confederate casualties. By 10:30 AM the Confederates withdraw leaving several miles of the Weldon Railroad in Federal hands.

Federal casualties were heavy with 251 killed, 1148 wounded and 2,897 missing/captured. The Confederates suffered 211 killed, 990 wounded and 419 missing/captured, including Brig. Gen. John C.C. Sanders of Mahone’s Division.

More importantly, the Confederates were forced to move their supplies 30 miles by wagon because of the break in the Weldon Railroad. The Federals extended their siege lines to Globe Tavern and achieved their first clear victory of the siege.

The Second Battle of Ream’s Station

Grant wasn’t completely satisfied with Warren’s victory and he delegated Winfield Hancock and the II Corps to extend his control further south. Hancock’s objective was to destroy an additional 14 miles of track from Globe Tavern as far south as Rowanty Creek.

Hancock had a force of 9,000 men which included David Gregg’s cavalry division. He faced A.P. Hill and Henry Heth with their force of between 8-10,000 men.

On August 22nd Gregg’s Cavalry and Barlow’s Division, under the command of Brig. General Nelson A. Miles while Barlow was on leave, drove off the Confederate pickets and destroyed the tracks to within 3 miles of Ream’s Station.

Hancock’s other infantry division under the command of John Gibbon moved forward the next day and occupied fortifications left from the Wilson-Kautz Raid in June. The positions were somewhat degraded but Gibbon’s men didn’t bother to improve them.

Meanwhile, Lee realized that if the Federal captured Dinwiddie Court House his possible retreat route out of the Richmond and Petersburg would be cut. He ordered A.P. Hill to drive the Federals from their positions. Hill, who was ill, delegated tactical command to Henry Heth with an order to carry the position. The Confederate force included Heth’s own division, Cadmus Wilcox’s Division, Wade Hampton’s Cavalry and part of Mahone’s Division.

By the 24th Hancock had arrived at Ream’s Station. The Federals had destroyed 3 miles of track south of Ream’s Station (images) but the following day Hancock recalled them when he received word that the Confederate cavalry was approaching.

Battle of Ream's StationGregg’s cavalry was pushed back by Hampton’s cavalry with the Confederate column advancing down the Dinwiddie Stage Road. On the north side of the battle Wilcox’s three brigades assaulted Miles’ fortified position about 2:00 PM but were repulsed. Gibbon’s Division blocked Hampton’s cavalry in the south.

Confederate reinforcements arrived in the afternoon and Heth ordered an all-out assault against Miles’ position at about 5:30 PM. The six Confederate brigades were personally led by Heth. His men broke through the Federal fortifications and Miles’ men disintegrated under the assault. Neither Miles nor Hancock was able to rally the men.

In the south Gibbon’s Division began to give way under the pressure of a surprise dismounted attack from Hampton’s Cavalry. Many of Gibbon’s men either fled or surrendered. This allowed Hampton to flank Miles and complete the rout. However, Hancock ordered a counterattack which allowed the Federal force to beat an orderly retreat to the Petersburg lines.

Hancock lost 117 killed, 439 wounded and 2,046 missing/captured with the cavalry suffering an additional 145 casualties. Confederate casualties were 814 (Hampton’s cavalry lost 16 killed, 75 wounded, 3 missing; Hill’s infantry 720 total).

However, it was only a partial Confederate victory. They may have saved Dinwiddie Court House but they lost the use of the Weldon Railroad and continued to bring in their supplies by wagon. The noose around Petersburg was tightening.


Deep Bottom and the Battle of the Crater

The First Battle of Deep Bottom and the Battle of the Crater are inextricably linked. General Grant used the demonstration against Deep Bottom as a diversion from the tunneling that preceded the attack at the Crater.

The First Battle of Deep Bottom

First Battle of Deep BottomIn late June Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, the commander of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry made a proposal through the chain of command for a tunnel from the Federal lines to the Confederate. Once there, Pleasants proposed to fill the end of the mine with gunpowder, blow a hole in the Confederate defensive line and rush the gap. His plan was approved and his men, many of whom were coal miners, began to dig.

As the time came to pack the mine with the explosives, the Federal high command determined that a diversion was needed in order to draw enemy troops away from the location of the proposed detonation. Grant ordered Hancock’s II Corps and two divisions of Sheridan’s cavalry to stage the diversion. They were to cross the river to Deep Bottom by pontoon bridge and advance against the Confederate capital of Richmond.

The plan called for Hancock to pin the Confederates at Chaffin’s Bluff while Sheridan’s cavalry was to advance into the city. If, however, that was not possible the cavalry was ordered to ride north and west of Richmond in order to cut the Virginia Central Railroad.

Somehow Lee deduced Hancock’s moves and reinforced his defenses to a point where 16,500 men manned the defensive lines. Both Hancock’s and Sheridan’s advances on July 27th were stymied by the formidable defenses.

Meanwhile, Lee reacted as Grant had hoped, bringing reinforcements to the front from Petersburg. On the morning of the 28th Grant committed one brigade from the XIX Corps to the attack. By the afternoon the attacks were recalled. Grant having felt that Lee was sufficiently distracted scheduled the explosion for July 30th. Federal casualties were 488, Confederates 689.

The Battle of the Crater

Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, the commander of the 48th Pennsylvania of Burnside’s Corps, had suggested a plan to dig a tunnel underneath theBattle of the Crater Confederate defensive line in late June. Pleasants who was a mining engineer in civilian life was the perfect man for the job. Many of his soldiers were coal miners from western Pennsylvania.

The tunnel that they dug was 511 feet long with a “T” at the end. Each leg of the “T” was 75 feet long. The tunnel was about 4 feet wide at the bottom and 2 ½ feet wide at the top. It was 5 feet high. The miners packed the two laterals with 8,000 lbs. of gunpowder just 20 feet under the Confederate lines.

In the meantime, Burnside was training a division of United States Colored Troops who were commanded by Brig. Gen. Edward Ferraro. Burnside’s plan was well thought out. Two regiments would lead the attack and spread out across the enemy line. The rest of the division would follow and head for the city of Petersburg. Burnside’s other two divisions would through the gap and protect the center columns flanks.

Fate struck in the form of interference from George Meade. Fearful of a tremendous outcry if the United States Colored Troops took unacceptable casualties, he ordered Burnside to use a white division. The three division commanders drew lots and Brig. Gen. James Ledlie’s 1st Division was selected. Ledlie, however failed to brief his men about how to perform the operation. He was drunk and in a bombproof during the operation. He was later dismissed from the army for his actions during the assault.

On July 30th at 4:44 AM the charges exploded creating a massive crater 170 feet long, 60 to 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep. In an instant it annihilated Richard Pegram’s Battery, the 18th South Carolina and half of the 17th South Carolina.

The Battle of the Crater PaintingIt took a full 5 minutes for Ledlie’s troops to recover their composure and begin to advance. It took them another 5 minutes for them to clear away the abatis and other obstacles. Rather than circling the massive hole in the ground Ledlie’s soldiers climbed into it. They stopped to gawk and dig out enemy soldiers. Their formations were broken up by the rough terrain.

As the emerged from the area and prepared to move forward to the Jerusalem Pike Road, the Federal troops received scattered rifle fire from rifle pits and trenches on either side of the Crater. They were forced to take cover. Close-quarters fighting ensued.

Units from other divisions moved forward on either flank and cleared the Confederate trenches on either side of the Crater for several hundred yards. The crossfire of Confederate artillery forced the Federal troops into the Crater where they degenerated into a mob. Meade kept pushing troops into the gap in the defensive lines. Then Burnside ordered in Ferraro’s black division.

Lee ordered Brig. Gen. William Mahone to dispatch two of his brigades to plug the gap. By this point the artillery and rifle crossfire was murderous. Realizing that he was outnumbered Mahone called up yet another of his brigades.

At the sight of black troops Mahone’s Virginia Brigade became incensed. They combined Southern force annihilated one black brigade where theyThe Crater-1865 stood. Their intensity forced the Federal troops into a rout back to their own lines. In the Crater the fighting was hand-to-hand with a great slaughter on the Federal side. By 1:00 Pm it was all over. The Federal casualties were horrendous: 3,798 (504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured). A third of the casualties were from Ferraro’s black division. The Confederate casualties were also high: 1,500 (200 killed, 900 wounded, 400 missing or captured). Ambrose Burnside was relieved of his command and ordered to Washington. He was replaced by Maj. Gen John Parke who commanded the corps through the end of the war.

Second Battle of Deep Bottom

On the same day as the Federal fiasco at the Crater, General Lee detached a division each of infantry and cavalry. He sent them to Culpeper, Virginia in order to either support Jubal Early who on that day was burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania or be recalled to the Richmond-Petersburg area if needed.

Grant, thinking that Lee had sent Anderson’s entire corps decided to attack Richmond again through Deep Bottom. He thought that the Confederates north of the James River numbered only 8,500. He assigned Hancock’s Corps to lead the attack again.

Second Battle of Deep BottomOn August 13th and 14th David Birney’s X Corps accompanied by David Gregg’s Cavalry Division crossed the James on pontoon bridges and brushed away the enemy pickets. On the night of August 13-14 Hancock’s II Corps were ferried across by steamship.

The middle of August 14th the Federals made contact with the Confederates on the Darbytown Road. The Confederate force was much stronger than they anticipated. By a series of flanking attacks the Federals were able to move forward and occupy some of the Confederate trenches.

Lee poured more troops into the fight convinced of the danger to Richmond. He dispatched two infantry brigades and two cavalry divisions to counter the enemy assaults. Gregg’s cavalry swept to the right and headed for Richmond on the Charles City Road. They found Rooney Lee’s cavalry blocking the road and an all-day battle ensued.

The Federals were unable to take advantage of their superior position and by August 20th they withdrew across the James River again. The Federals suffered 2,900 casualties, the Confederates 1,500.


The First and Second Battles of Petersburg

The First Battle of Petersburg took place on June 9, 1864. It was followed shortly thereafter by the Second Battle of Petersburg.

Richmond & Petersburg Defenses, Fall 1864As Confederate forces moved north to reinforce Lee’s forces around Cold Harbor, Ben Butler sensed an opportunity to rush the city. He had suffered a blow to his military reputation because of the Bermuda Hundred stalemate and he was looking for a chance for vindication.

At this point Petersburg was fortified with multiple lines of fortifications that stretched for 10 mile east of the city. The defense had 55 redoubts but only about 2,500 defenders which averaged only 250 men per mile. The defense was commanded by former governor, Brig. Gen. Henry Wise. The terrain was a series of hills and valleys where cavalry could easily infiltrate to the inner defenses of the city.

Butler organized a force of 4,500 with a mix of infantry and cavalry. The infantry were to attack the outer defensive line, known as the Dimmock Line after the engineer who supervised its construction. The cavalry under Brig. Gen. August Kautz was to swing around the city and attack from the southeast. Their objectives were to dash inside the city and burn the Appomattox River bridges and the public buildings.

The infantry, which was under the command of Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, made slow progress and upon meeting the enemy on the morning of June 9th stopped advancing.

Meanwhile the cavalry attempted to attack at a point where the Dimmock Line intersected the Jerusalem Pike Road. Kautz sent forward probing attacks against Battery 27, which was manned by 150 men of the Home Guard commanded by Maj. Fletcher H. Archer, a Petersburg native. After a series of attacks the Home Guards retreated into the city with heavy casualties. By then General Beauregard, realizing the danger, reinforced the position and forced the Federal cavalry to withdraw.

Butler was so incensed at the timidity of the infantry commander, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, he had him arrested. Gillmore demanded a court of inquiry. Grant reassigned him to Washington and the incident was dropped.

Petersburg had been saved by a force of old men, boys and invalids. The initial attempt to capture Petersburg had been a humiliating failure.

The Second Battle of Petersburg

Grant designated Butler to carry out another assault on June 14th. He ordered Butler to reinforce William “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps so that it numbered 16,000 men, including Kautz’s Cavalry Division. They were use the same route as before using basically the same plan.

The Confederate forces were still outnumbered by a wide margin. General Beauregard had Brig. General Henry Wise concentrate his force of 2,200Petersburg, June 15-16, 1864 in the area that was threatened. Beauregard placed his remaining 3,200 men opposite Butler on the Bermuda Hundred defensive line.

Shortly after dawn on June 15th Smith’s troops commenced the attack. The cavalry force was in the front but almost immediately they ran into opposition. The infantry finally cleared the way but the Federal force was delayed until early afternoon. Smith commenced the main attack until 7:00 PM. Sweeping forward in a strong skirmish line the Federals captured the first defensive line. The Confederates retreated to the next, weaker position.

At this point Smith, rather than pressing the attack, halted for the day. Beauregard, realizing the seriousness of the situation, stripped defenders from Richmond in order to reinforce his line. Butler, meanwhile, rather than pushing forward, hesitated.

By the following morning, the situation was totally different. Beauregard had 14,000 on the line but he was totally outnumbered by the 50,000 Federal soldiers now on the scene. Grant had ordered Burnside’s Corps to the area. Winfield Hancock who was in temporary command of the Army of the Potomac in Meade’s absence planned a broad attack. He placed Smith’s Corps on the right, his own corps in the center and Burnside’s Corps on the left.

Hancock ordered the attack to commence at 5:30 PM. The Confederates put up a fierce resistance, building new defensive fortifications behind the original line as the Federals broke through. When Meade arrived on the scene, he ordered a second attack which was carried out by Francis Barlow’s Division. Although they reached their objectives, a Confederate counterattack drove them back at the cost of many prisoners.

The 17th saw a number of uncoordinated Federal attacks that were initially successful. Eventually, the Federal forces were pushed back. Meanwhile Lee had moved two additional divisions to Petersburg, bringing Beauregard’s overall strength to 20,000. The Federal force had also been augmented with the arrival of Warren’s Corps, bringing the total Federal army to 67,000.

On the 18th Meade ordered an all-out assault on the Confederate defensive lines. The first attack began at dawn and made good progress until they reached the main Confederate line where the attack ground to a halt. At noon a second series of attacks were tried but at this point Robert E. Lee had taken overall command.

A third series of assaults was equally as unsuccessful and finally Meade called off further attacks. During these four days of intense combat the Federal army suffered over 11,000 casualties and the Confederacy about 4,000.


The Petersburg Campaign: The War against the Railroads

To all my friends and readers:

Over the last several weeks I have not published any posts. The main reason was that I had an almost three-week stay at the University of Virginia Medical Center. On New Year’s Eve I had a Left Ventricular Assist Device that helps my heart function more efficiently.

Here is the continuation of the all-important Siege of Petersburg campaign.

After the unsuccessful assaults of early and mid June at the start of the Petersburg Campaign Grant decided that it was necessary to cut off the railroads from Petersburg. He planned a series of attacks to destroy the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, the South Side Railroad and the Weldon Railroad. Without the services of these three railroads the Confederate Capital of Richmond would be isolated from the rest of the Confederacy.

The Richmond & Petersburg Railroad was a short line of less than 23 miles but it supplied a vital link between the two cities. It was most important for moving supplies from the Petersburg rail yards to Richmond and troops back and forth.

The South Side Railroad connected Petersburg ultimately to Lynchburg in the west. Through its connection with the Richmond and Danville Railroad it also connected Richmond and Petersburg to Danville and points south.

The Weldon Railroad, also known as the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad connected the Confederate capital with Weldon, North Carolina and the lone remaining Confederate port of Wilmington, North Carolina. 

The First Battle of the Weldon Railroad

Petersburg, railroad attacks, June 21-22This initial attack (also called the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road) against the Weldon Railroad began on June 21st when units from the II Corps skirmished with Confederate cavalry as they moved toward the rail line. The two Federal corps assigned to the attack began to diverge from each other creating a gap. Confederate Brig. Gen. William Mahone who was very familiar with the area (he had been a civil engineer before the war) realized that he could surprise the II Corps by hiding his men in a deep ravine. At 3:00 PM his force emerged in the rear of Francis Barlow’s Division and surprised them. Barlow’s unit was routed. So, too, was John Gibbon’s Division. They were all able to rally around some earthworks that had been built the night before. The fighting ended with the coming of darkness.

In the morning the II Corps resumed their advance and retook the earthworks that they had lost the day before. One brigade of Vermont men reached the rail line and started tearing up the tracks. They were caught in a Confederate counterattack and many of them were captured. The general attack collapsed and Meade called off further operations.

The Federals lost almost 3,000 men to the Confederates 572. It wasn’t a total loss for the Federal side. Although the Confederates retained control of the Weldon Railroad, at least a half mile of track was destroyed and the siege lines continued to be pushed to the west straining the Confederate manpower resources.

The Wilson-Kautz Raid

This was an all-cavalry raid whose main goal was to destroy as much of the track to the south and southwest of Petersburg. The commander wasWilson-Kautz Raid, June 22-July 1 Maj. Gen. James Wilson who was accompanied by Br. Gen. August Kautz. Interestingly, Wilson’s contribution was only 1,300 men while Kautz’s entire division numbered 2,000. The force also included two batteries of six guns each.

Their first objective was Reams Station, about 7 miles south of the city where they destroyed rail cars and track of the Weldon Railroad. Kautz’s force moved west to Ford’s Station where they destroyed rail cars and track of the South Side Railroad.

Wilson’s force moved toward Burkeville where the South Side Railroad intersected with the Richmond & Danville Railroad. At this point they encountered units of Rooney Lee’s Cavalry.  While his rear guard fended off the Confederates, Wilson’s main force destroyed about 30 miles of track. One June 24th he moved his force south to Meherrin Station on the Richmond & Danville RR where his force continued to tear up the track.

Staunton River BridgeThe combined force continued to move southwest on the Richmond & Danville RR tearing up track all of the way until they reached the Staunton River Bridge. The bridge was defended by about 1,000 men and boys of the Home Guard commanded by Captain Benjamin L. Farinholt. The Federal force was unable to dislodge the Home Guards and being pressed from the rear by Confederate cavalry, retreated east to Reams Station.

Wilson had been assured that this station would be under Federal control. With Confederate units closing in on all sides, they continued to move to the east. The Federal force fought a minor engagement at Sappony Station and was able to continue moving toward Reams Station. They continued to fight a running battle with enemy cavalry units from June 28th until the following day.

On the 29th they arrived back at Ream’s Station only to find it occupied by Confederate infantry. They managed to get a messenger through to Meade who dispatched infantry reinforcements south. Wilson couldn’t wait for them to arrive. He burned his wagons, destroyed his artillery and fled north to the safety of the Federal lines where they arrived on July 1, 1864.

The Wilson Kautz Raid was seen by some as successful but Grant described it as a “disaster”. The combined force had 1,445 casualties (killed, wounded, missing/captured). About 60 miles of track were destroyed, which took the Confederates several weeks to repair.


The Petersburg Campaign: The Opposing Armies

At the start of the Petersburg Campaign the opposing armies consisted of the following formations.

General George Gordon MeadeThe Federal force included the Army of the Potomac commanded by Maj. Gen. George Meade and the Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-chief of the Federal armies was in overall command of all Federal forces.

The Army of the Potomac was composed of 5 corps:

  • II, commanded by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, with three infantry divisions;
  • V, commanded by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, with four infantry divisions;
  • VI, commanded by Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, with three infantry divisions. This corps was detached for service in the Shenandoah Valley from mid-July 1864 until mid-March 1865;
  • IX, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, with four infantry divisions. Following the Battle of the Crater Burnside was replaced by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke;
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, with three divisions. This corps was detached for service in the Shenandoah Valley from mid-July 1864 until mid-March 1865.

The Army of the James was also composed of 5 corps:

  • X, commanded by Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore who was replaced  by Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, with two infantry divisions;
  • XVIII, commanded by Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith, with three infantry divisions;
  • XXIV, commanded by Maj. Gen. Edward O.C. Ord, with three infantry divisions;
  • XXV, commanded by Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, with three divisions;
  • Cavalry Corp, commanded by Brig. Gen. August Kautz. Kautz’s unit actually started the campaign as a division with two brigades.

On December 3, 1864, the racially integrated X Corps and XVIII Corps were reorganized to become the all-white XXIV Corps and the all-black (officers excepted) XXV Corps.

The Confederate forces during the Petersburg Campaign were under the overall command of General Robert E. Lee. Lee was the preeminent commander on the Confederate side. During the Petersburg Campaign he initially commanded the Army of Northern Virginia with four corps andGeneral Robert E. Lee scattered forces around Richmond that numbered about 10,000 men. The Army of Northern Virginia consisted of:

  • First, commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, with three infantry divisions. In October Lt. Gen. James Longstreet resumed command of this unit with Anderson taking command of the newly-created Fourth Corps;
  • Second, commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early. This corps was detached for operations in the Shenandoah Valley and took no part in the siege.
  • Third Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, with three infantry divisions;
  • Fourth, formed in October 1864 and commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard H. Anderson. It consisted of 2-3 divisions of between 9-13 brigades.
  • Cavalry Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, with two divisions.

General P.G.T. Beauregard commanded the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia which had four depleted divisions which were later reorganized into two stronger divisions.

Artillery Information

Both armies had large numbers of artillery which were organized into batteries that were attached to the various divisions. On the Federal side each corps had varied headquarters troops of signal corps troops, provost guards (military police), engineers and artillery.

The number of guns per battery varied during the war. On the Federal side there were six guns per battery at the beginning of the conflict by 1864 that had been reduced to four guns due to a shortage of horses. The Confederate artillery was organized along similar lines.

The Dictator MortarAs the battle settled into a siege, artillery became a major factor for both sides with constant bombardment from bigger artillery pieces. Both sides used a wide range of types of artillery.

Civil War artillery guns fell into four general categories:

  • Guns were long-barreled, heavy weapons which fired solid shot at long range with a low degree of elevation using a large powder charge. Both sides used a wide variety of guns that were smoothbore or rifled. As the war went on many of the smoothbores were re-rifled for greater range.
  • Howitzers had a shorter barrel and could throw shots or shells at a shorter range but at higher elevation with smaller powder charges.
  • Mortars were high arc artillery that could throw a heavy shell for greater distances with a smaller charge. At Petersburg the Federals had a 13-inch mortar called “The Dictator” that could fire a 200 lb. projective 2 ½ miles. To accommodate its 17,000 lb. weight it was mounted on a flat bed rail car.
  • Columbiards were classified as seacoast defense artillery and were mounted in fixed positions. They were heavy iron artillery pieces which could fire shot and shell at a high angle of elevation using a heavy powder charge.

Artillery ammunition fell into four categories:

  • Solid shot was used against soldiers and enemy artillery.
  • Shell ammunition was filled with black powder and fused.
  • Case shot was similar to shells but with the addition of small iron balls. This type of ammunition was used against soldiers.
  • Canister ammunition was simply a tin can filled with iron balls and other pieces of scrap metal. When it was fired it acted like a shotgun shell and caused incredible damage at close range.

Despite all of this it is believed that 90% of the casualties in the Civil War were caused by rifle fire.


The City Point Supply Base

City Point

The American Civil War saw the use of many of the modern technologies that we associate with modern warfare: railroads, repeating rifles, mortars, ironclad naval vessels and the telegraph. Some or all of these devices were in use prior to the Civil War but war accelerates the development of these technologies. The modern use of logistics was one of the major advances of the Civil War. The ultimate supply base was the one that the Federal army created at City Point, Virginia.

City Point is a small Virginia town that is at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. It was founded by Sir Thomas Dale in 1613. Prior to the war it had been connected to Petersburg by railroad. In June 1864 Ulysses Grant decided to use this strategic location as his headquarters during the siege of Petersburg. It was about 8 miles behind the lines.

Over the 10 month siege City Point grew into a permanent port city and a gigantic supply base. All of the needs of the 100,000 man Federal army were moved through City Point. In addition, the army’s 60,000 animals needed to be provided with feed and equipment. The Federal engineers built wharves, warehouses, offices and barracks. They even built and maintained a railroad to move supplies to the front. At one point Grant had a giant mortar named The Dictator mounted on a rail car hat was used to bombard Petersburg.

On some occasions there were as many as 125 ships tied up at the wharves. The natural harbor had enough room to have 200 ships at anchor. On an average day the Federal army had over 9 million meals and 12,000 tons of hay and oats stored in and around City Point. The army built its own bakery at City Point where some 100,000 rations of bread were baked on a daily basis.

The City Point rail line was not a back-and-forth short line. At the height of the siege it had 25 locomotives and 275 rail cars. The engineers not only rebuilt the line to the west toward Petersburg but they extended it to the south west behind the Federal front lines.

General Grant choose not to requisition the vacant home of Dr. Richard Eppes. Instead he allowed his quartermaster, Rufus Ingalls,  to use it for hisAppomattox Manor headquarters while Grant lived in a rough cabin that was built by his men. Dr. Eppes had joined a local Confederate cavalry unit as a surgeon and later became a contract surgeon in Petersburg. His wife and children moved to her family’s home of Philadelphia. After the war the Eppes family returned to their home and plantation. Both were near ruins and it took some years to restore it.

The Eppes House (also known as Appomattox Manor) and plantation which had been in the same family since 1635 remained in the Eppes family until 1979 when it was deeded to the National Park Service.

The Federal army also built a number of hospital facilities in and around the City Point Supply Base. The Depot Field Hospital was one of seven hospitals built at City Point during the siege. It could care for up to 10,000 patients. The hospital at Point of Rocks was not as big but it had a very special nurse. It never had more than 100 patients. The special nurse was a woman named Clara Barton. She was never officially the superintendent Clara Bartonof nursing but she functioned as one with the approval of General Benjamin Butler. When this hospital moved closer to the front, she moved with it. Clara Baron who founded the American Red Cross in 1881 earned her title “The Angel of the Battlefield.”

The siege of Petersburg was to last for nearly 10 months. It was to include 6 major battles, 11 engagements, 44 skirmishes, 6 assaults, 9 actions and 3 expeditions. The Federal army suffered a total of 42,000 casualties, the Con federates 28,000. The total forces on any given day were about 168,000 men for both armies combined. The front line stretched for some 35 miles. The Federal army would have been incapable of such a prolonged siege without their superior logistics that emanated from the City Point Supply Base.


The Petersburg Campaign

The campaign against Petersburg, Virginia evolved from Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s original plan of attack in the spring of 1864. Grant had been named the commanding general of all Federal troops in March 1864 and at the beginning of May he ordered a coordinated attack in all theaters of operation. In

General Ulysses S. Grant Virginia he had the Army of the Potomac, the Army of the James and Franz Sigel’s 10,000 man force in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George Meade.

Grant’s plan called for the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rapidan west of Fredericksburg and move south. This army had two goals: destroy Lee’s army and capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. The Army of the James was to move from the east. This threat to Richmond would drain troops from Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia that was opposing the Army of the Potomac. Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s force was to head south down the Valley destroying Lee’s supply lines.

The Prussian General Helmuth von Molkte coined the phrase ”No plan survives contact with the enemy” about the same time as the American Civil War took place and this plan was a perfect example of that. Sigel’s force was defeated at New Market. He was replaced by David Hunter who met with mixed success. Meanwhile, the Confederate force in the Shenandoah Valley led by Gen. John C. Breckinridge was able to move east by train and join Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Bermuda Hundred earthworksThe Overland Campaign (covered elsewhere) was a bloody six-week campaign that cost the Army of the Potomac 55,000 casualties and the Confederates 32,000.

Meanwhile, the operations of the Army of the James east of Richmond and Petersburg were a story of lost opportunities and hesitant command decisions. General Benjamin Butler, a Massachusetts politician, commanded this 53,000 man force. His command consisted of four corps and a cavalry division.

Butler’s Army of the James fought a series of battles that have been called the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, named after the peninsula east of Richmond with this unusual name. (This campaign will be covered in a separate section.) The Army of the James achieved complete surprise and rapidly captured a number of port cities on the James. But after five battles in a two week period, Butler was stopped by forces under Maj. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and “bottled up” on the peninsula by a small Confederate force. This allowed Beauregard to shift some much-needed troops to Lee’s army.

By the end of June Grant had decided that the capture of Petersburg would be more beneficial to his goals. He would pin down Lee by forcing him to defend the city and he would whittle down the enemy forces.

Petersburg: The Rail Hub of Virginia

The city of Petersburg is located 23 miles due south of the Confederate capital of Richmond. The city began the war with a population of about 18,000 which had swelled to about 22,000 by mid-1864.

Petersburg was the rail hub of central Virginia. Five railroad lines terminated at Petersburg:Civil War Railroads in Virginia

  • The Richmond & Petersburg Railroad connected the city with Richmond.
  • The Petersburg Railroad, also known as the Weldon Railroad, ran from the city to Weldon, North Carolina.
  • The Southside Railroad linked the city with eastern Tennessee. With the connection at Burk’s Station it connected to the Deep South via the Richmond & Danville Railroad.
  • The City Point branch line of the South Side Railroad linked Petersburg to the ocean port of City Point on the James River.
  • The Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad ran east to eventually enter the Federal-occupied area near Suffolk.

The first two lines gave Richmond and Petersburg its only access to the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia.

Losing Petersburg to the Federal army would isolate Richmond and be a major blow to logistics and movement for the Confederate armies in central Virginia.

By the summer of 1862 the Confederate authorities realized the importance of holding Petersburg. They appointed Captain Charles H. Dimmock to plan and build a series of fortifications in a 10 mile arc starting east of the city and ending west of the city.

Emplacements at PetersburgThe so-called Dimmock line had low infantry parapets and large artillery emplacements. The emplacements were fronted by ditches 6 to 8 feet deep and 15 feet wide. The woods were cleared for a half mile in the front and the trees were sharpened and used as abatis. Fifty-five artillery pieces were emplaced and Dimmock proposed a force of 20,000 men to man the defenses.

In his initial planning Grant envisioned moving against Richmond and joining up with Ben Butler’s Army of the James. Grant’s plan called for this to happen 10 days into the campaign.

Meanwhile, the Confederate War Department had place General P.G.T. Beauregard in overall command in the area from the James River to Cape Fear. Beauregard’s planning called for the movement of Confederate troops from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and around the Federal enclaves on North Carolina’s coast north to meet the Federal advance on Petersburg. Most of the troops were moved to Richmond instead.

The Confederate government was just as concerned as the Federal government with any enemy movements near their capital. There was a constant stream of orders, queries and sheer panic going from each capital to their respective armies.

By early May the Federal forces were closing in and Petersburg was to begin the longest siege ever experienced by an American city, nearly 10 months.


Christmas During the American Civil War

Christmas 1862 husband and wife separated by warChristmas celebrations were by their very nature subdued in many parts of the North and the South. The year of 1862 had seen a series of grim and bloody battles, with Shiloh, the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days battles, Second Manassas and the bloodiest day of all at Antietam.

The New York Times reported that Christmas 1862 was “the dampest, warmest, muggiest and most burdened with mingled feelings of joy and grief.” The unseasonably warm weather had made the Central Park Pond unsafe for skating, but had brought out crowds of Christmas shoppers.

“The money expended this year in Christmas gifts exceeds by far, by very far, that which has gone that way in many years,” the Times noted. Furs were a popular gift that year, and the streets echoed with the blare of tin horns, the latest craze among young boys.

In Washington, the Lincolns visited wounded soldiers in the area’s military hospitals. The recently concluded Battle of Fredericksburg had produced thousands of casualties, many of whom were transported to the 46 hospitals in the Washington area.

President Lincoln was visibly shaken by the outcome of the battle, and looked more sad First images of Santa Clausand careworn than usual. He remarked to his friend Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, “If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it.”

It was reported that 6,000 pounds of poultry and “large quantities of other delicacies” were distributed to the hospitals for the Christmas dinners of the wounded. “Fish, flesh and fowl, puddings and pies, and these of all sorts,” one report said, “with plenty of cider.”

Meanwhile, Confederate President celebrated Christmas in his home in Mississippi. “After an absence of nearly two years,” he said, “I again find myself among those who…have ever been the trusted object of my affection.” But Confederate Christmas celebrations in the area were cut short by reports of Union troop movements on the Mississippi threatening Vicksburg.

In the fall of 1862, Confederate refugees from the fighting in the areas surrounding the capital began to flood into the city. They included those who fled farms and towns now in Union-held territory, wives of Confederate soldiers looking for employment, and the destitute.

This influx of refugees drove rent prices much higher than they’d been previously, and wartime inflation sent prices on everyday goods skyrocketing. In the city, ten pounds of bacon, which cost $1.25 in 1860, now cost $10. Four pounds of coffee jumped from $0.50 to $20.

Richmond diarist and author Sallie Brock Putnam wrote about the sadness of Christmas for families who had lost soldiers in the war:

The Christmas dinner passed off gloomily. The vacant chairs were multiplied in Southern homes, and even the children who had curiously questioned the cause of the absence of the young soldier brother from the festive board, had heard too much, had seen too much, and knew too well why sad-colored garments were worn by the mother, and why the fold of rusty crape placed around the worn hat of the father, and why the joyous mirth of the sister was restrained, and her beautiful figure draped in mourning. Congratulations were forced, and tears had taken the place of smiles on countenances where cheerfulness was wont to reign.

Christmas of 1862 saw an important cultural development with the emergence of the modern image of Santa Claus. Famed illustrator FOC Darley published an edition of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) featuring drawings of Santa as a plump man with a pipe, furry coat and pointed hat.

Thomas Nast, who in the late 19th century produced what came to be regarded as the definitive representations of St. Nick, published his first Santa drawing in Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863. “Santa Claus in Camp“ showed a star-spangled Santa in his reindeer-drawn sleigh handing out presents to jubilant soldiers.

General Robert E. Lee in GordonsvilleA reported 40,000 soldiers watched a baseball game at Hilton Head, S.C., between the 165th New York Zouave regiment and a picked team from other units. One of the players was Abraham Gilbert Mills, later president of the National League.

Across the South there were movements of troops. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan engaged in his famous Christmas Raid in Kentucky; on that single day, Morgan’s men destroyed everything they possibly could of the improvements that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had made along 35 miles of track from Bacon Creek to Lebanon Junction.

Robert E. Lee wrote his wife, “What a cruel thing is war. To separate & destroy families & friends & mar the purest joy and happiness God has granted us in this world…. I pray that on this day when ‘peace & good will’ are preached to all mankind that better thoughts will fill the hearts of our enemies & turn them to peace.”

Meanwhile, along the Rappahannock River, the two armies faced each other, probing their opponent’s lines looking for weak spots and capturing prisoners and supplies. Soldiers in both armies did what soldiers normally do during the winter. They rested and refitted. They entertained themselves with games and tournaments. They exchanged supplies with their fellow Americans across the river.

“And so the day passed,” 18-year old Private John R. Paxton, 140th Pennsylvania wrote. “And we forgot the biting wind, the chilling cold; we forgot those men over there were our enemies, whom it might be our duty to shoot before evening. We had bridged the river, spanned the bloody chasm. We were brothers, not foes, waving salutations of good-will in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, on Christmas Day in ‘62.” By the end of the war Paxton had risen through the ranks to the rank of Captain.




The Second Battle of Fort Fisher

After the disastrous assault on Fort Fisher in late December 1864, Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry replaced Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler as the commander of the Union Army Provisional Corps. Terry was assigned by General Grant to lead the assault and capture of Fort Fisher.

Fort Fisher was a massive earthworks defensive fortification at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. It was the primary fortification that defended the approach to the final Confederate port, Wilmington, North Carolina. The approaches to Wilmington were among the moist heavily defended in the Fort Fisher Mapentire Confederacy with a number of forts and batteries guarding the two inlets from the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape Fear River.

Fort Fisher was the key to the overall Confederate defensive plan. The fort had been constructed by Colonel William Lamb who commanded it from July 4, 1862 until its capture on January 15, 1865. Although he had not been trained as an engineer, Lamb supervised the construction of Fort Fisher into the Confederacy’s largest bastion.

General Terry’s force of 9,000 included two divisions of infantry, a brigade of infantry and a brigade of siege artillery. The two divisions were commanded by Brig. Gen Adelbert Ames and Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine. The brigade was commanded by Col. Joseph C. Abbott. The siege artillery was under the command of Brevet Brig. Gen. Henry L. Abbot.

Admiral David Dixon Porter commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron which included some 60 warships plus transports for the Army troops. Porter’s squadron included four of the newer monitors and ironclads such as the USS New Ironsides. Porter had a bombardment plan that was designed to smother the Confederate defenses.

The overall Confederate commander of the District of Cape Fear was Major General W.H.C. Whiting who was an experienced military engineer. His superior was General Braxton Bragg who was in command of the Department of North Carolina. Whiting had two commands reporting to him. One was the Defense, Mouth of Cape Fear led by Brigadier General Louis Hébert. The primary force was the Fort Fisher garrison of 1,900 men commanded by Colonel Lamb. The other force that was present was  Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division of 6,400 in four brigades.

Terry was a perfect choice for the joint operation. He understood the importance of cooperation in this type of operation, having commanded General Alfred Terrytroops during the siege operations around Charleston, South Carolina.

The joint plan was to land Paine’s division of United States Colored Troops on the peninsula north of Fort Fisher. Their assignment was to hold off Hoke’s division from relieving Fort Fisher. Ames’ division and Abbott’s brigade would land in the same area and attack south down the peninsula. They would attack the fort on the land face side facing the river. Porter had organized a force of 2,000 marines and sailors to assault the sea face side of the fort.

On January 13th, the Union forces landed and established their positions. Hoke remained unengaged while Paine’s division set up their defensive line across the peninsula. Terry ordered scouts to reconnoiter the Confederate positions to the south. From these reports he determined that an assault would succeed.

By January 15th, all was in readiness. Porter ordered the naval bombardment on the sea face to commence at dawn. By noon all but four guns were silenced. Hoke had attempted to send reinforcements to the fort but only 400 of the 1,000 men were able to land. The rest were forced to turn back.

Colonel William LambAt about the same time the naval landing force of 1,000 led by Lt. Commander Kidder Breese attempted to storm the Northeast Bastion. Their original plan was to advance in three waves but in the heat of combat they attacked as one unorganized mass. General Whiting personally led the Confederate defense that turned back the naval force causing heavy casualties.

The attack distracted the Confederate defenders at the river gate. At about 2:00 PM Ames ordered his first brigade, commanded by Brevet Brig. Gen. Newton Martin Curtis, forward. Using axes, Curtis’ men chopped their way through the abatis and the palisade fence, suffering heavy casualties in the attack. They overran the outer works and stormed the first traverse. Ames then ordered Colonel Galusha Pennypacker’s brigade forward, accompanying them on the attack.

Union troops fought their way inside the fort. Terry ordered his men to fortify a position within the interior of the fort. The young Pennypacker, 20 at the time, led his brigade until he was severely wounded. His citation for the Medal of Honor, reads, “Gallantly led the charge over a traverse and planted the colors of one of his regiments thereon, was severely wounded.”

The Confederates at Battery Buchanan on the northern end of the fort attempted to repulse the Union troops by turning their artillery on them. Battle of Fort FisherAmes then ordered the Colonel Louis Bell’s brigade into action but Bell was killed by a sharpshooter before he even entered the fort. General Whiting personally led a counterattack against Curtis’ men but was shot and severely wounded in the attempt.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships provided superb close fire support for the attacking troops. They were able to clear out Confederate troops who were defending the traverses. Curtis’ men were able to capture the important fourth traverse. At this point, Colonel Lamb led a desperate counterattack but was severely wounded and evacuated to the hospital. About an hour into the battle Curtis was also wounded.

The battle lasted for hours as Ames’ division became increasingly more disorganized. By now all three of brigade commanders were out of the battle with one killed and two wounded. Both Confederate commanders were also out of action and the garrison was now commanded by Major James Reilly. As darkness fell, Terry order Abbott’s independent brigade into action.

Meanwhile, Bragg had become tired of Whiting’s pleas for additional troops and believing everything was under control at Fort Fisher, he sent General Alfred H. Colquitt to relieve Whiting and assume command. Colquitt landed at 9:30 PM as the Confederate wounded were being evacuated to Battery Buchanan.

Capture of Fort FisherTerry was determined to capture the fort before the end of the day. He ordered a force to advance down to land side of the fort, outside of the wall and flank the Confederate position at the Southern tip of the fort. Colquitt and his staff rushed back to their boats before the Union troops could capture the wharf. Major Reilly, holding a white flag, offered to surrender the fort. Just before 10:00 PM General Terry accepted Fort Fisher’s surrender from General Whiting.

Once Fort Fisher surrendered, the Confederate defense of Wilmington fell apart. Within a month, the city fell to a Union army under General John M. Schofield. With the loss of Wilmington, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was cut off from the vital supplies that were necessary for them to continue the fight.

Colonel William Lamb survived his wound but spent 7 years on crutches. General Whiting died from dysentery that had entered his wounds on March 10, 1865. Colonel Newton Curtis survived his wound, was promoted to brigadier general and was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Colonel Galusha Pennypacker survived what General Terry had thought was a mortal wound. On February 18, 1865, he received a full promotion to brigadier general of volunteers at age 20. He remains the youngest person to have held the rank of general in the U.S. Army.