Many of the wounded brought off the field came to one of the field
hospitals that had been established at City Point. A once thriving river
port that was well in decline when it was occupied by Federal troops in
early May, City Point had become
the logistical hub for all operations against Petersburg and
Richmond. A Federal officer who viewed the busy scene described it:
"Steamboats and sailing vessels, transports and lighters of all kinds,
encumbered the river near the improvised wharves on which they were
still working. . . . The river bank, rising up high, had been cleared
and levelled, so as to make room for storehouses for supplies, and for a
station for the railroad. All this had sprung out of the earth as if by
magic, in less than a month." City Point itself soon became crowded
with barracks, stables, repair shops, a huge bakery, numerous sutler's
stores, and even a prison for Union troops known as the Bull Pen.
This activity made City Point a tempting target. A sortie by
warships of the C.S. James River fleet was attempted on January 23,
1865, but the Rebel boats were unable to pass sunken obstructions and
never made it within cannon shot of the place. A far more successful
blow was delivered on August 9, 1864, when a Confederate operative named
John Maxwell planted a time bomb (which he called a "horological
torpedo") aboard a munitions barge docked near the shore. The resulting
explosion destroyed several large buildings, 180 feet of wharf, two
million dollars of munitions and supplies, and killed more than forty
workers. The blast rained potentially lethal debris all across City
Point, including U. S. Grant's headquarters. Grant was uninjured, but
one staff officer was struck and an orderly killed.
Grant had just returned to City Point from a trip north, where he
had organized the Union forces confronting the corps Lee had sent into
the Shenandoah Valley in June. General Sheridan, a Grant favorite, had
been placed in command there and was getting organized. To buy him some
time, and to prevent Lee from sending more men against Sheridan, Grant
ordered another expedition to Deep Bottom on August 14. Four days of
fighting proved no more conclusive than the First Deep Bottom operation.
But Lee had once again reacted by transferring troops from Petersburg to
Richmond, so Grant believed that an opportunity now existed to wreck
the Weldon Railroad. Early on the morning of August 18, he sent the
Fifth Corps, commanded by Major General Gouveneur K. Warren, out to do
COAL AND ORDNANCE WHARVES AT CITY POINT. (LC)|
"The men give out fearfully in the sun," Warren reported, but his
four divisionsnearly 20,000 menreached the railroad near the Globe
Tavern around 11:00 A.M. The Federal general detailed two divisions to
move a short distance toward Petersburg along the Halifax Road for
security, while other troops began to tear up the tracks.
With Lee gone to the north side, responsibility for defending
Petersburg lay with General Beauregard. Confederate scouts delivered the
faulty intelligence that only a small enemy force was involved, so
Beauregard told Lieutenant General A. P. Hill to send two infantry
brigades to evict the interlopers.
The two brigades, moving south along the Halifax Road, struck
Warren's two security divisions at 3:00 P.M. A couple of Yankee brigades
that had advanced ahead of the rest were caught off guard and routed,
but the remaining units came up in good order, forcing the Rebels to
pull back. Beauregard had scored a tactical success but had failed in
his strategic objective to drive the enemy away. That he would make
another attempt to do so was a foregone conclusion. In the prophetic
words of a Massachusetts officer, "It is touching a tiger's cubs to get
on that road!"
A distinct difference of attitude separated General Warren from
General Grant. Warren thought only of defending his position. "I think
... it will be safe to trust me to hold on to the railroad," he assured
army headquarters on the morning of
August 19. Twelve hours earlier, Grant gave expression to his
aggressive intent when he informed Meade, "Tell Warren if the enemy
comes out and attacks him in the morning, not to hesitate... but to
follow him up to the last."
WAUD'S ILLUSTRATION OF THE EXPLOSION AT CITY POINT ON AUGUST 9. (LC)|
The fact was that on the morning of August 19 a gap of nearly a mile
lay between Warren's men and the nearest friendly units of the Ninth
Corps. Efforts were made throughout the morning to close the distance
even as reinforcements marched toward Globe Tavern. Also by this time
Warren's mission objective had been changed. No longer was he to wreck
the tracks and return; instead, he was to maintain his position so that
the siege lines might be extended to him.
The Confederates under Beauregard were not idle this morning either.
Another sortie was necessary, so a five-brigade attack force was
organized. Two of the brigades would again move down the Halifax Road,
while the remaining three would hit the right flank of Warren's line. It
took all morning and most of the afternoon to get these troops into
position, but when the flanking force, commanded by Brigadier General
William Mahone, struck at Warren's right flank at about 5:00 P.M., it
overran a portion of the Federal line in a sharp little fight. Private
Bernard remembered it as "the warmest place [we] were ever in, being
subjected to fire from the front, right flank, & rear all at the
same time." It was far worse for the Yankees. Two veteran Pennsylvania
regiments were scooped up early in the fight, and when the two Southern
brigades coming along the Halifax Road joined in, Warren's entire
position seemed in jeopardy.
THE GLOBE TAVERN ON THE WELDON RAILROAD, WITH THE MILITARY RAILROAD IN
THE FOREGROUND. (LC)|
GENERAL WARREN'S MEN FORTIFY THE LINES ON THE WELDON RAILROAD. (NA)|
Once more, however, the Confederates attacked too late in the day
with too little. And as the Rebel operation began to lose momentum,
Union reinforcements appeared on the scene. Beauregard's men again
retired into Petersburg after dark. They had whipped the enemy, but the
Union flag still flew over Globe Tavern.
Both sides scrambled to secure the advantage on August 20. Warren
now had two Ninth Corps divisions to augment his battered corps. He was
a genius at defensive fighting and kept his men busy throughout the day
improving their position and tightening his defensive perimeter. He was
able to accomplish these tasks because no attack came from Petersburg.
It took longer than Beauregard had imagined possible to put together a
corps-sized battle group, and it was dark before everything was
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM MAHONE (NPS)|
Beauregard's attack on August 21 was a reverse image of the August
19 action. Another force pushed down along the Halifax Road, while this
time the second group wheeled around seeking Warren's left flank.
Unlike August 19, however, the Federal general and his men were
prepared for the Rebel battle lines. "Fire low!" Warren urged his
troops. "Low! Low!" The Confederates attacked fiercely but were
repulsed at every point. Robert E. Lee appeared on the field as the last
attacking wave ebbed back, too late to affect the outcome.
The Federal lodgment on the Weldon Railroad was quickly made part of
the larger trench system. Union casualties were about 4,300 to 2,300
Confederates. Lee had lost one of his few remaining supply lines and now
had only a single rail route and a roundabout road system to keep his
men fed. It was a serious strategic setback. Petersburg was becoming far
more difficult to defend, but its fate was linked to Richmond's, and the
Confederate capital had to be held.
SOLDIERS DIGGING EARTHWORKS NEAR
WARREN STATION ON THE U.S. MILITARY ROAD. (NA)|
Now that he controlled the Weldon Railroad near Petersburg, Grant
was determined, as he said, "to thoroughly destroy it as far south as
possible. With both the Fifth and Ninth Corps busy fortifying
around Globe Tavern, Grant looked for troops to do the wrecking job.
He settled on Hancock's Second Corps, just returned from the second Deep
Bottom expedition. It was an opportunistic selection that would have
tragic consequences. The Second Corps was seriously worn out by its
recent fighting north of the James. Nevertheless, by midday, August 22,
the first of Hancock's units were moving southward along the tracks,
tearing them up as they went.
At first Robert E. Lee thought it was possible only to harass this
force with his cavalry, but a report from the able Major General Wade
Hampton suggested that the Federal raiders were isolated and vulnerable
to attack. Lee pondered the risks and finally agreed. Late in the
afternoon of August 24, eight infantry brigades moved out of town on a
southwest course. Once clear of the Globe Tavern lines, these soldiers
pressed east to link up with Hampton's two cavalry divisions. The
combined force was commanded by A. P. Hill.
(click on image for a PDF version)
SUPPLY LINE FIGHT|
On August 18, Union Maj. Gen. Gouveneur K. Warren and his Fifth Corps
move out from entrenched lines east of Petersburg to strike at one of
the two still operating rail systems bringing supplies into the city.
Warren holds his position in the face of sharp counterattacks on August
18 and 19. Reinforced by elements of the Ninth Corps, he turns back the
major Confederate effort to dislodge him on August 21. The Federal
entrenched line is now extended to this point.
On August 25 this battle group caught Hancock's two divisions curled
up in a kidney-shaped earthwork near Reams Station, about five miles
below Globe Tavern. The Unionists beat back the first Confederate
assaults, but then a panic took hold of several of Hancock's regiments
due to the Confederate's attack, and the position began to collapse.
Private Bernard never forgot the sight as he approached the enemy
earthworks of seeing "hundreds of Yankees, most of whom were coming in
as prisoners, whilst the remainder were moving up the ditch &
getting away." For a while everything was chaos, until finally the
battered Federals regrouped long enough to retreat. The day ended in a
complete Southern victory, with Union losses of about 2,600 to Hill's
720. Hancock, who felt that his men had received inadequate support from
the rest of the army, was bitter. "We ought to have whipped them," he
said. Confederate morale received a big boost. "I never saw men so much
elated by any fight," declared a North Carolina man.
WAUD'S SKETCH OF THE FIFTH CORPS IN RIFLE PITS. (LC)|
WINSLOW HOMER PAINTING TITLED DEFIANCE: INVITING A SHOT BEFORE
PETERSBURG, VA, 1864. A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER DARES THE FEDERAL
SHARPSHOOTERS. (COURTESY OF THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS)|
The dull but deadly rhythm of trench warfare picked up again as both
sides adjusted to the Federal gains. Beyond the flanks of these
entrenchments, scouting parties prowled and clashed in a small but
sometimes brutal series of mostly unrecorded engagements. One by-product
of this activity was military intelligence regarding the enemy's
dispositions. On September 5, a Confederate scout named
George D. Shadburne reported that the Federals had gathered a herd of
3,000 cattle at Coggins' Point, a few miles east of City Point. Just
two days earlier, Robert E. Lee had suggested to Wade Hampton that the
enemy's rear was "open to attack." Prodded by Lee's hint, and armed
with Shadburne's report, Hampton now suggested a deep penetration
cavalry raid to rustle the Yankee beef.
Lee approved and on the morning of September 14, the cavalryman led
four brigades plus detachments from two more (about 4,000 men) out from
Petersburg on a looping course that brought them in behind the Federal
trenches. Hampton's move caught the Union security forces too dispersed
to meet such a concentrated strike. So, when the Rebels burst out of the
morning gloom on September 16, they were able to corral the cattle and
hustle them back the way they had come. The return trip wasn't without
some excitement as elements of the poorly organized Federal pursuit did
make contact, but on September 17 Hampton proudly reported his
achievement to Lee. A total of 2,486 cattle and 300 prisoners had been
taken at a cost of 10 men killed, 47 wounded, and 4 missing. The animals
soon disappeared into the maw of the Confederate commissary, and for the
next few weeks Federal pickets had to endure a new taunt: "Hello! Yanks!
Want any fresh beef?"
None of these setbacks long deterred Grant from pursuing his larger
strategic goals. In the Deep South, Sherman occupied Atlanta on
September 2, while in the Shenandoah Valley, Sheridan won victories at
Opequon Creek (September 19) and Fisher's Hill (September 22).
Determined to keep pressing Lee, Grant planned a new Federal movement at
Petersburg to cut the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad.
General Butler argued for a cooperative strike north of the James
against Richmond's defenses along New Market Heights and near Chaffin's
Bluff. Grant approved this amplification of his Petersburg operation
and, on September 29, Butler's soldiers began crossing near Deep Bottom
and at Aiken's Landing.
HAMPTON'S CATTLE RAID, SEPTEMBER 16, 1864. DRAWING BY A. R. WAUD. (LC)|
SKETCH BY C. H. CHAPIN OF COLONEL WELCH LEAPING INTO THE REBEL WORKS,
SEPTEMBER 30, 1864. (LC)|
Moving along a more westerly axis than that taken by the two Deep
Bottom expeditions, Butler's men stormed and captured the Confederate
bastion of Fort Harrison. Unfortunately, some key officers fell in that
assault, and Butler's men were not able to exploit their partial break
through. A Confederate counterattack, personally organized by Robert E.
Lee the following day, failed to dislodge the invaders, who had now
established a direct threat to the C.S. capital.
On the very day that Lee attempted to retake Fort Harrison, a Federal
force consisting of the Fifth Corps and two divisions from the Ninth
(all under General Warren) was moving south of Petersburg. Its goal was
to push west from around Globe Tavern to reach the Boydton Plank Road.
Just one serviceable trail led in that direction, and the long Federal
column was slow in its passage. When the leading elements emerged into
the open near Poplar Spring Church, only a small detachment of Rebel
cavalry faced them in slight earthworks thrown up at Peebles farm. It
took cautious General Warren some time to set up his attack which, when
it went forward at about 1:00 P.M., swept everything before it. Warren
then halted to regroup his units and consolidate his newly won