150 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Hatcher’s Run: February 7, 1865

   

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The Battle of Hatcher’s Run Series:

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February 7, 1865: The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Day 3:

Skirmishing and Sleet End the Offensive

February 7, 1865, 150 years ago today, was a miserable day.  A cold freezing rain fell all day, making it difficult to have a battle in days when keeping your powder dry was a must.  This was day 3 of Grant’s Eighth Offensive and the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.  Confederate attacks had failed to dislodge the Second Corps from a foothold along Hatcher’s Run on the evening of February 5, and a massive meeting engagement featuring three or more divisions on each side see-sawed back and forth around Dabney’s Mill on February 6.  Cold and wet, soldiers huddled around fires overnight and prepared for a resumption of hostilities around Dabney’s Mill after the previous days’ battle.

Early that morning, Meade and Grant exchanged a series of dispatches discussing what they should do next.  Meade suggested, and Grant agreed, that the temporary lines now held to Hatcher’s Run should be made permanent.  Meade also asked for Grant to give specific orders in the event Warren found the Confederates behind entrenchments.  Grant, as he usually did by this point, forbade the Army of the Potomac from running headlong into Confederate fortifications.  He asked Meade to fall back to whatever line he intended to permanently hold when the offensive came to an end.  Before Meade could issue the orders to Warren, however, one last combat would take place during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, again near Dabney’s Mill.

HatchersRun7thFebNPSMap

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Day 3:

February 7, 1865

Warren waited for the Confederates to attack in the morning, but quiet reigned.  At 10 am, he sent Crawford forward to probe their lines.  In the driving cold rain, the Federals pushed the Confederate skirmishers of Mahone’s Division, back to their main line of works.  Moxley Sorrel, commanding Wright’s Georgia Brigade, was badly wounded in the lung during this fight, but he would slowly recover.  Sorrel’s men retreated after their commander’s wounding, leaving the flank of the skirmishers from Harris’ Mississippi Brigade exposed.  Warren sent in two brigades of Wheaton’s Division, Sixth Corps, to reinforce Crawford, and the Federals eventually pushed all the way back to Dabney’s Mill, still out in front of the permanent Confederate earthworks Lee had Gordon’s Second Corps working on.

Edward Crapsey, a correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer embedded with the Army of the Potomac, described the fighting on the 7th:

This rain doubtless interfered somewhat with operations, as the lines continued quiet until the middle of the afternoon. It was discovered, however, that Mahone was impudently near our lines, and it was determined to drive him off. General Crawford was selected to do the work, and gallantly he did it, having as a support a brigade of the Sixth Corps, which, however, was not called on, so thoroughly did the Third Division enter into the work.  The brigades of General Baxter, Bragg, and the Third, commanded to-day by Colonel McCoy, of the One-hundred-and-seventh Pennsylvania, by reason of the wounding of General Morrow, entered simultaneously and vied with each other as to who should do most. The Rebel skirmish line was driven back pell mell, and Malone’s main line was slowly forced back, by dint of hard fighting, for some distance and beyond his line of rifle-pits, when the object being attained, Crawford was halted by the orders of General Warren, but still maintained his position. How severe this fight was can be seen from the fact that Crawford’s loss was forty-three killed and over one hundred and fifty wounded. It should be remembered, too, that in all our fighting very little artillery has been used on either side, the densely wooded nature of the country rendering it unavailable.

As the skirmishing ended, Lee decided to call off any further attacks on the morrow.  His men had been without meat rations for three days, exposed to winter weather.  He feared they would give out entirely if he asked any more of them in their present condition.  More importantly, he feared a disaster.  In a letter to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, Lee explained the present state of affairs:

All the disposable force of the right wing of the army has been operating against the enemy beyond Hatcher’s Run since Sunday. Yesterday, the most inclement day of the winter, they had to be retained in line of battle, having been in the same condition the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet. I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. If some-change is not made and the commissary department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment. Our cavalry has to be dispersed for want of forage. Fitz Lee’s and Lomax’s divisions are scattered because supplies cannot be transported where their services are required. I had to bring William H. F. Lee’s division forty miles Sunday night [February 5, 1865] to get him in position.

Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers, yon must not be surprised if calamity befalls us. According to reports of prisoners we were opposed on Hatcher’s Run by the Second and Fifth Corps, part of the Ninth, one division of the Sixth, and Gregg’s division (three brigades) of cavalry.1 It was also reported that the Twenty-third Corps (Schofield’s) reached City Point the 5th, and that it was present; but this is not confirmed by other reports. At last accounts it was stated to be on the Potomac, delayed by ice. A scout near Alexandria reports it is to march on Gordonsville, General Baker on Kinston. I think it more probable it will join Grant here.2

After the day’s successful skirmishing, Meade’s orders to pull back reached Warren.  The Fifth Corps commander then moved his men back to the permanent Union positions after dark, ending the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.

General Meade, writing to his wife after the battle, was not displeased with the end result:

Headquarters Army Of The Potomac, February 7, 1865.

I have not written you for several days, owing to being very much occupied with military operations. Day before yesterday to prove war existed, whatever might be the discussions about peace, I moved a portion of my army out to the left. The first day the enemy attacked Humphreys, who handsomely repulsed him. The next day (yesterday) Warren attacked the enemy, and after being successful all day, he was towards evening checked and finally compelled to retrace his steps in great disorder. This morning, notwithstanding it was storming violently, Warren went at them again, and succeeded in recovering most of the ground occupied and lost yesterday. The result on the whole has been favorable to our side, and we have extended our lines some three miles to the left. The losses have not been so great as in many previous engagements, and I hear of but few officers killed or severely wounded.

Over the coming days, Warren’ men would build permanent earthworks from Fort Cummings, the most southwest point on the permanent line of Union fortifications facing Petersburg, to Armstrong’s Mill on Hatcher’s Run.  Vaughan Road, running just behind this new line, was corduroyed and put into condition to handle large numbers of men moving southwest.  This was an important development.  It gave Grant an even more advanced jumping off point for the spring offensive  just under two months later.  We’re nearing the end of the line at the Siege of Petersburg.  Follow along as we count down the final weeks of this massive operation.

Further Reading:

Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Lee was spot on with the forces arrayed against him in the battle.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: As many Civil War buffs know, Schofield was being sent to the coast of North Carolina to work his way inland with Terry’s men, meeting Sherman at some point in the interior once he got there.

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