Siege of Petersburg Sampler: A Brief Look Back at June 24, 1864

   

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in SOPO Samplers

This is a bit of a departure from my normal Siege of Petersburg sampler in that I’m choosing to highlight just one item today.  But first I want to give a little background.

After the Union attacks of June 22-23, 1864 during the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee was looking for a way to relieve the pressure.  Lee reasoned that with the Federal Second and Sixth Corps attacking his right and the Weldon Railroad, the Union lines on the Confederate left along the Appomattox had probably been weakened.  Lee also knew that the Federal supply line to City Point ran behind those weakened lines.  He called for an attack by two Confederate divisions, those of Hoke and Field, against that line northeast of Petersburg on June 24, 1864.  In what was referred to as the Skirmish at Hare”s Hill (the Hare house stood near the Appomattox River just in front of the Union lines), Hagood’s Brigade of Hoke’s Division attacked unsupported.  The result was a disaster.  Anderson’s Georgia Brigade of Field’s Division was to have supported Hagood’s attack, but Anderson failed to move.  By the time support arrived in the form of DuBose’s Brigade, three of Hagood’s regiments had been shot to pieces.  Field wanted to attack when more of his division moved forward, but Hoke advised against it.  Lee concurred, and the abortive attack ended with Hagood’s misfortune alone.  A similar incident between the two men occurred on September 30, 1864, as Lee attempted to retake Fort Harrison.1

Skirmish At Hares Hill: June 24, 1864

Now that you have a little background, I want to point out a lengthy article which appeared in the November 26, 1881 edition of the National Tribune, a Union veterans’ paper based out of Washington, D. C., and filled with first hand accounts of the Civil War.  The article’s title is a bit misleading:

Over half of this article, penned by Union Brevet Brigadier-General Cecil Clay, discusses the Skirmish at Hare’s Hill in some detail from the Union perspective.  CLay compared the June 24, 1864 attack by Hagood with Lee’s last offensive of the Siege at Fort Stedman in March 1865:

Some time ago there was published in The Weekly Times an account of the attempt which General Lee made at the suggestion of General Gordon, who was entrusted with its execution, to break through the lines of our army before Petersburg at a point not far from Appomattox river, so as to effect a lodgment between the bulk of General Grant’s forces and City Point, and roll the army up from its right flank….The idea of this movement, however, was not a new one. It had suggested itself to some one as early as June, 1864, and came within an ace of being put to severe practical test. On the 24th day of that month the right of General Grant’s lines before Petersburg resting on the Appomattox river, was held by the First division of the Eighteenth Corps.2

Clay was a captain in the 58th Pennsylvania, Henry’s Brigade, Stannard’s Division, Eighteenth Corps, Army of the James, which was located precisely where the arrow on the map above indicates Hagood’s Brigade attacked.  Clay continues:

The night of the 23rd passed in quietness, but on the morning of the 24th, just as we we beginning to think about breakfast, we were suddenly roused from our meditations by a great roar of artillery and the horrid shrieking and whistling of missiles of all sorts, which flew just over our heads, plunged into the bank behind us, smashed the top of our parapet, knocked down our shelter tents and scattered dirt and dust by the tubfull all over us, but, very fortunately, little death and not much destruction. When we recovered from our momentary astonishment we found the enemy had concentrated the fire of forty guns upon the small front held by our brigade. Any one who has “been there” knows what that means. Forty guns concentrated on the front of one brigade! Why the air was perfectly blue. There was a continuous roar, shriek, and whiz; fragments of shell flew in every direction. Crash, bang! and a big feller knocks down as much earth as an Irishman would throw out of a cellar in a day.3

Lee’s artillery tried to soften up the Federals of Stannard’s Division before the attack proceeded in earnest.  Soon enough, the expected infantry assault began:

After continuing half an hour or so the fire stopped as suddenly as it began. We were expecting a charge and the men at once sprang to their feet and began peering over the parapet, while all along the line was heard the click, click, click!–click!–click! of musket locks. The rebel skirmish line came tumbling out over their works and disappearing in the oats, advanced rapidly to our skirmish pits. The men who occupied these offered little resistance and allowed the enemy to enter them, but once in they turned on them and said: “Come in, Johnny!” The call was reiterated by the men on the works and in a few minutes we had disposed of the whole of the skirmish line, some four hundred or five hundred men of Hagood’s South Carolina brigade; we could count but thirty-six who got back over the enemy’s works. This was the end of that affair–no other troops followed the skirmishers and in a little while things had settled down to their normal condition.4

In reality, Hagood had lost 25 men killed, 72 wounded, and 209 missing and presumed captured, not too many less than Clay’s estimate.  So ended what was a pretty traumatic affair for Hagood’s South Carolinians, matched during the Siege of Petersburg only by their equally futile unsupported attack on the Iron Brigade at the Weldon Railroad, August 21, 1864.  But that’s another story for another day, 150 years to the day (give or take a day!) ago.

Sources:

  1. Bearss, Ed & Suderow, Bryce. The Petersburg Campaign Volume 1: The Eastern Front Battles June-August 1864 (Savas Beatie: 2012), pp. 191-198
  2. Brevet Brigadier-General Cecil Clay. “Capture of Fort Harrison–How the Rebels Failed to Retake It.” National Tribune 26 November 1881. 3:1-3.
  3. Brevet Brigadier-General Cecil Clay. “Capture of Fort Harrison–How the Rebels Failed to Retake It.” National Tribune 26 November 1881. 3:1-3.
  4. Brevet Brigadier-General Cecil Clay. “Capture of Fort Harrison–How the Rebels Failed to Retake It.” National Tribune 26 November 1881. 3:1-3.

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