150 Years Ago Today: Second Battle of Deep Bottom: August 16, 1864

   

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The Second Battle of Deep Bottom: August 16, 1864:

The Battle of Fussell’s Mill

Note: Click to see maps of the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: August 16, 1864, day three of the Second Deep Bottom Campaign, is often referred to as “The Battle of Fussell’s Mill,” especially on the Confederate side.   This makes sense since most of the fighting on August 16, 1864 took place in the vicinity of that location. As you may recall, Birney’s Tenth Corps, Army of the James had spent the previous day marching from the Union extreme left to the Union extreme right in the vicinity of Fussell’s Mill, but had not made it in time to launch an attack.  They were in position and waiting as morning came on August 16.

The game plan for the Confederate defense under Charles Field for August 16 was to respond to Union thrusts and rush troops to those locations, leaving other areas lightly defended or not defended at all. Hancock was hoping for this strategy.  In fact, his plan for the day took this strategy into account.  He wished to attack north of Fussell’s Mill with X Corps and along Charles City Road with a combined cavalry/infantry attack at dawn, and when the Confederates rushed troops to defend against these, he would order Mott and his Second Corps division to assault the (hopefully undefended or weakly defended) Confederate works to the west at New Market Heights. Thomas Smyth’s Second corps division stretched thin to connect Mott on the far left at Tilghman’s Gate with Birney’s Tenth Corps on the far right at Fussell’s Mill.  Barlow’s division was held in reserve in the center.

To guard against these attacks, Field had his own division plus brigades from several other divisions and Gary’s cavalry.  He had shifted his man line of defense from New Market Heights, facing south, to Fussell’s Mill and the Charles City Road, facing east, to counter the Union movements of August 15.

The Union attack up Charles City Road kicked off first at 6 a.m., consisting of one cavalry brigade and one infantry brigade.  This attack pushed back the 9th Virginia Cavalry, then picketing the road against just such a push.  The fighting continued to the afternoon, by which point the Confederates had been driven well down the Charles City Road, and into Field’s left rear.  However, the timely arrival of Rooney Lee’s cavalry division, previously pegged for a trip to the Shenandoah Valley to join Early, stabilized the situation.

Meanwhile, the main infantry fight of the day took place to the west at Fussell’s Mill.

This Union division sized infantry assault was led by Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry.  He had his own 1st Division, X Corps as well as Col. Calvin Craig’s 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, II Corps.  The initial intent was to attack at Fussell’s Mill, but the area behind the mill was well defended and protected on its left (the Union right) b the large mill pond.  Terry took quite a bit of time moving north of the mill pond to launch his attack due west, into trenches defended in a single line by Wright’s Georgia Brigade, recently placed under the command of brand new Brigadier General Victor Girardey.

There were several false starts in the morning in which the Union 3rd Brigade/1st Division/X Corps under John Foster captured several north-south ravines in front of the main Confederate line, but failed to capture the main line itself.  This had all happened by a little after 11 am.  Terry, upon reconnoitering, wanted to try to move further north to flank this line, but X Corps commander David Birney ordered an assault.  Terry obliged, sending in all four brigades under his command at noon.  They achieved a breakthrough as Girardey’s Georgians melted away after only one volley.  Part of Lane’s Brigade to te north, temporarily under the command of Colonel Barbour, also gave way.

2nd Battle of Deep Bottom Aug. 16, 1864 (Julie Krick)

 

Map Created By Julie Krick for Richmond Battlefields Association’s Fussell’s Mill Page1

Confederate commander Charles Field was lounging on the ground behind the line when his aide suddenly told him their lines had broken.  Field sprung into action and ordered up reinforcements from the left (north) and right (west) to hasten to Girardey’s aid.  His article in Volume 14 of the Southern Historical Society Papers contained the famous phrase “only a miracle could save us,” a thought Field considered immediately upon learning of the breakthrough and his current troops dispositions.  By 12:30, three Union brigades (Pond, Hawley, and Craig) had formed a semi-circular defense west of the captured Confederate line.  Foster’s Brigade to their left had been stopped by Sanders’ Alabama Brigade, posted on a bluff and with its left flank partially protected by a steep ravine.  That ravine would prove troublesome for the Federals, and they ultimately never advanced further.  Division commander Terry left the field of battle at this time in person to request reinforcements from his Corps commander David Birney.

By the time Field’s ordered up reinforcements arrived, Girardey was dead.  He had been shot in the head by Ohio sharpshooters while trying to hold his line together.  John Gregg, commanding Field’s division, managed to send along portions of Law’s Alabama Brigade, Bratton’s South Carolina Brigade, Benning’s Georgia Brigade.  From the north came Lane’s North Carolinians and Conner’s South Carolinians.  In addition, Anderson’s Georgia Brigade had regiments on both sides of the rupture.  Together, they slowly but surely pushed Terry’s leaderless division back east to the Confederate works.  Terry came back trailed by two brigades of infantry (Coan’s and Osborn’s), but they were unable to do much to stem the tide of the battle.  By 2 pm, the Confederates had driven the six Union brigades back to where they had started in the morning.  Only a line of X Corps cannon which supported the advance discouraged further Confederate pursuit.

Hancock, who had planned to have Mott take advantage if the Confederates wekened the New Market Heights line west of Fussell’s Mill, only first telegraphed Mott at 1:50 pm.  Mott’s Second Corps Division, over 4,000 men, made a feeble attempt against three of Bratton’s SC Brigade regiments numbering less than 1,000, but soon gave up.  Hancock, upon learning of Birney’s repulse, ordered another attack at 5 pm, but later postponed and then cancelled it at 5:50 pm.

The major fight of the Second Deep Bottom Campaign was over.  The Union forces lost 1583 men at Fussell’s Mill and elsewhere in the area to the Confederates’ loss of 917.     One more round of fighting would occur in the area on August 18, but the main fighting would shift south of Petersburg on the Weldon Railroad at Globe Tavern, where Grant’s left hook fell after this right jab at Deep Bottom.  Lee’s reinforcements sent north of the James to combat Hancock were sorely missed on the Weldon Railroad.  But that fighting is set to be discussed in a few days right here at the Siege of Petersburg Online.  Stay tuned.

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If you have other resources you’ve found useful, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Sources:

  • Suderow, Bryce. “Nothing But a Miracle Could Save Us: Second Battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia, August 14-20, 1864.” North & South, Volume 4, Number 2, 2001: 12-32. Print.
  • Manarin, Louis H. Henrico County Field of Honor, Volume II. Richmond: Carter Printing Company, 2004: 443-565. Print.
  1. This map was created and is owned by Julie Krick and was made for the private use of the Richmond Battlefields Association.  It is used here with the written permission of Ms. Krick and the Richmond Battlefields Association and may not be reproduced in any form without her express written consent. All rights reserved.

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