Operations against the Weldon Railroad

This entry is part 7 of 21 in the series Petersburg Campaign
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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.

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