The Battle of Boydton Plank Road

This entry is part 16 of 21 in the series Petersburg Campaign

The Battle of Boydton Plank Road was the last significant ground action around Petersburg and Richmond in 1864. General Grant planned another assault against the Boydton Plank Road defenses to take place simultaneously with Butler’s attacks in the north. Again, the Federal goal was to seize this important supply line and cut the South Side Railroad. This double victory would cut off vital supplies for Petersburg and Richmond from the south and west.

Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps had been pulled out of the trenches and shifted to a position opposite the Confederate Boydton line. His corps had been reinforced with divisions from V Corps, IX Corps, and Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg’s cavalry division, all of whom were in the area. This gave Hancock an overall strength of 30,000 men against an estimated Confederate strength of less than 12,000.

Boydton Plank Road 27Oct NPS MapOn October 27th Hancock’s forces marched across Hatcher’s Run, brushed past the Confederate pickets and attacked the Confederate flank in the direction of Burgess Mill. Gershom Mott’s Division quickly crossed Boydton Plank Road and threatened to cut off Wade Hampton’s cavalry from the rest of the Confederate forces.

Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, who was in overall command in this critical area, ordered his units to respond to the attack. However, Hill was too ill to continue and turned over tactical command to Maj. Gen. Henry Heth.

Heth placed two divisions in the path of the onrushing Federals but Hancock’s force pushed them aside and continued to advance. However, when Meade and Grant surveyed the field, Meade realized that Hancock’s force and the V Corps were diverging and a gap was opening between them. He ordered Hancock to halt his advance.

Samuel Crawford’s Division from the V Corps was ordered to link up with Hancock but they became entangled in the dense woods and were unable to accomplish their mission.Winfield Scott Hancock

Meanwhile, General Grant made a personal reconnaissance of the Confederate positions. Coming under fire, he determined that they were too strong to take and called off the offensive.

Never having linked up with Crawford, Hancock’s II Corps returned to Hatcher’s Run crossing but found that it was blocked by Confederate cavalry. The entire II Corps was on the north side of the run, isolated and without support. The Confederates saw this as an opportunity to destroy the entire II Corps.

Hancock’s only line of retreat was along Dabney Mill Road. Confederate General William Mahone attacked through the same woods to stopped Crawford and captured the road. Meanwhile, Rooney Lee’s Cavalry Division had come up behind the Federal force.

Mahone had moved his division far around the II Corps and Hancock found himself surrounded on three sides. Hancock didn’t panic and seized the initiative. Mahone found himself isolated in turn and Hancock ordered attacks on both of Mahone’s flanks. Hampton’s cavalry was unable to hold off the Union cavalry of David Gregg and he was able to aid in the routing of Mahone’s Division. The tables being turned the Confederates were forced to retreat up Boydton Plank Road.

David McMurtrie GreggHancock realized that his position was unstable and left with the decision to stay or withdraw by Grant; he chose to return to his initial positions. The Federals sustained 1,758 total casualties and the Confederates had 1,300.

The Battle of Boydton Plank Road ended all offensive operations for both armies around Petersburg and Richmond for the year. Both armies went into winter quarters until the ground fighting resumed in February 1865.

The Battle of Boydton Plank Road also marked the final battle in the careers of two fine Union officers. In November, Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock resigned from field command due to complications with the wound he had received on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg. In January 1865, David McM. Gregg unexpectedly resigned his command. His letter of resignation alluded to an anxiety of being away from his home. Meade’s chief-of-staff, Maj. Gen. Andrew Humphreys would take over command of the II Corps and lead it through the final months of the war.

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