The Battle of Hatcher’s Run (or Dabney’s Mill): February 5-7, 1865

   

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in Eighth Offensive

Name: The Battle of Hatcher’s Run

Other Names: Dabney’s Mill, Rowanty Creek, Armstrong’s Mill, Vaughan Road, Second Hatcher’s Run

Location: Dinwiddie County

Campaign: Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (June 1864-March 1865)

Date: February 5-7, 1865

Principal Commanders: Commanders: Maj. Gen. A.A. Humphreys and Maj. Gen. G.K. Warren [US]; Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon [CS]

Forces Engaged: 48,352 total (US 34,517; CS 13,835)

Estimated Casualties: 2,700 total

Description:On February 5, Bvt. Brig. Gen. David Gregg’s cavalry division rode out to the Boydton Plank Road via Ream’s Station and Dinwiddie Court House in an attempt to intercept Confederate supply trains. Maj. Gen. G.K. Warren with the V Corps crossed Hatcher’s Run and took up a blocking position on the Vaughan Road to prevent interference with Gregg’s operations. Two divisions of the II Corps under Maj. Gen. A.A. Humphreys shifted west to near Armstrong’s Mill to cover Warren’s right flank. Late in the day, Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon attempted to turn Humphreys right flank near the mill but was repulsed. During the night, the Federals were reinforced by two divisions. On February 6, Gregg returned to Gravelly Run on the Vaughan Road from his unsuccessful raid and was attacked by elements of Brig. Gen. John Pegram’s Confederate division. Warren pushed forward a reconnaissance in the vicinity of Dabney’s Mill and was attacked by Pegram’s and Maj. Gen. William Mahone’s divisions. Pegram was killed in the action. Although the Union advance was stopped, the Federals extended their siegeworks to the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run.

Result: Union gained ground1

Full Summary:

February 4, 1865: The Eighth Offensive Takes Shape

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

In early February, 1865, 150 years ago this week, the Civil War was rapidly coming to a close.  William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea had culminated in the capture of Savannah, Georgia in late December 1864.  Fort Fisher had fallen in January 1865, closing the port of Wilmington to blockade runners.  The troops from that expedition under Terry were to join another force under Schofield, brought east after the victories over john Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee the previous December.  As Sherman moved north into the Carolinas and Schofield moved inland into North Carolina, Grant was determined to keep the pressure on Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia defending Petersburg and Richmond.  And in early February 1865, three Confederate peace commissioners met with Abraham Lincoln on the River Queen in the James River.  After peace talks failed, Grant hoped to move quickly in the relatively good weather to take advantage of any demoralization word of the failed peace talks at the Hampton Roads conference might cause.

After recalling Army of the Potomac commander George Meade on the last day of January 1865 from leave and alerting the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James to be ready at a moment’s notice, Ulysses S. Grant looked for an opportunity to strike.  He found what he thought was a good one on February 4, 1865. Belfield, now the northernmost point of the Weldon Railroad after Warren’s Stony Creek Raid in December 1864, was where the Confederates were unloading supplies into wagons.  Those wagons made the trip to Dinwiddie Court House, and then northeast up the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg.  Grant had heard Butler’s Division of Rebel cavalry had left with Cavalry Corps commander Wade Hampton bound for North Carolina to help combat Sherman’s inexorable advance. This left only the cavalry division of W. H. F. Rooney Lee on the Army of Northern Virginia’s right flank, and they were known to be at Belfield because of a lack of forage nearer Petersburg.

With the brief improvement in the winter weather, Grant thought he might send David McM. Gregg’s Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac down the former line of the Weldon Railroad south to Belfield, capturing a bountiful haul of Confederate wagons and further exacerbating Robert E. Lee’s by now dire logistical situation.  The Second Corps under Andrew A. Humphreys would move part of the way to Stony Creek Station, holding the crossing of Stony Creek and the Nottoway River there as a sort of safe haven for Gregg’s cavalry on their way back from the raid.  The whole operation was planned for four days or so.

 

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George Gordon Meade

Army of the Potomac Commander George Gordon Meade

With that general idea in mind, Grant sent the following orders to George Meade, explaining what he wanted of his trusted subordinate in the coming days:

“I would like to take advantage of the present good weather to destroy or capture as much as possible of the enemy’s wagon train, which it is understood is being used in connection with the Weldon railroad to partially supply the troops about Petersburg. You may get the cavalry [Gregg’s Second Division] ready to do this as soon as possible. I think the cavalry should start at 3 a. m. either to-morrow [February 5, 1865] or the day following, carrying one and a half days’ forage and three days’ rations with them. They should take no wagons and but few ambulances. Let the Second Corps move at the same time, but independent of the cavalry, as far south as Stony Creek Station, to remain there until the cavalry has done the enemy all the harm it can and returns to that point. The infantry may take four days’ rations in haversacks and one and a half days’ forage for the cavalry in wagons. The artillery taken along may be reduced to one battery to each division or one section from each battery, at your option. The Fifth Corps should also be held in readiness to go to the support of the Second Corps if the enemy should move out to attack. Probably it will be well to move the Fifth Corps at the same time with the Second Corps, sending it by a road west of the one taken by the latter, and to go but about half way to Stony Creek, unless required to do so to meet movements of the enemy. They will go out prepared to remain four days.”

As soon as he read Grant’s dispatch on the afternoon of February 4, Meade had several suggested changes.  First, he didn’t want to send the Second Corps, and he had a really good reason.  The division of Nelson A. Miles was on the front lines holding forts facing Petersburg.  Removing this division from the line would almost certainly attract the attention of the Confederates and alert them prematurely to the coming operation.   Meade suggested instead that Warren’s Fifth Corps move instead to Stony Creek, and the two divisions of the Second Corps not on the front lines would go to Ream’s Station.  This would allow Warren to support Gregg’s raid on Belfield, and Humphreys to support Warren.  Meade had learned the hard way that the Confederates favorite maneuver was to slip into between Federal Corps’ as they moved out on these sorts of offensive thrusts, delivering devastating flanking attacks and capturing ridiculous numbers of Federal prisoners.  He wanted a bridge from the Union left to Humphreys, a bridge from Humphreys to Warren, and bridge from Warren to Gregg.

 

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Grant had no objection to Meade’s tweak, only commenting that he chose the Second Corps because Warren’s Fifth Corps had made the last movement in December.  From the time Meade composed his first tweak to the plan at 1:45 p.m. to the time Grant replied at 3:30 p.m. on the afternoon of February 4, he must have been mulling the matter over in his mind.  Shortly after Grants 3:30 message, Meade proposed another tweak to the plan.  Rather than send Gregg’s cavalry due south down the Weldon Railroad to Belfield, he wanted them to move south only a short distance before heading west to Dinwiddie Court House.  Warren’s Fifth Corps would still head south to Stony Creek as a blocking force, but Humphreys and his men, rather than moving to Ream’s Station on the Weldon Railroad, would instead move southwest down the Vaughan Road and take up blocking positions at Armstrong’s Mill and the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run.  They could prevent the Confederate infantry defending Boydton Plank Road from moving on Warren or Gregg’s cavalry by the direct route.  The way Meade figured it, Gregg could hit the Confederate supply trains at Dinwiddie Court House just as easily as at Belfield.  An added bonus was that the Confederate cavalry around Belfield would have a greater distance to move in order to intercept Gregg, and the Union infantry would be in even closer supporting distance.  Meade was worried about what the public would think if this movement failed, and asked Grant “Are the objects to be attained commensurate with the disappointment which the public are sure to entertain if you make any movement and return without some striking result?”

Grant replied to this second change of the plan in the affirmative as well, and assured Meade he would protect him and his army from any public dissent over the operation, writing:

“I will telegraph to Secretary Stanton in advance, showing the object of the movement, the publication of which, with the reports of operations, will satisfy the public.”

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Grant’s approval set in motion a flurry of orders from Army of the Potomac headquarters to Gregg, Warren, and Humphreys, and then down to their subordinates, and so on until all those who needed to know the plan had the necessary information.  Meade’s Chief of Staff and Assistant Adjutant General George D. Ruggles penned the following circular to Meade’s subordinates on the afternoon of February 4:

“The following movements have been ordered for to-morrow, February 5:

  1. Brevet Major General Gregg, commanding Second Cavalry Division, has been ordered to start with his division from his present camp at 3 a. m. to-morrow, to proceed via Reams’ Station to the Boydton plank road, for the purpose of intercepting and capturing any of the enemy’s wagon trains carrying supplies from Belfield, and should an opportunity occur to inflict any injury on the enemy, to avail himself of it.
  2. To support the cavalry, Major-General Warren has been ordered to move his corps at 7 a. m. to a point designated as J. Hargrave’s house, on the road leading from Rowanty Post-Office to Dinwiddie Court-House.
  3. Major-General Humphreys has been directed to hold with two divisions of his corps the crossing of the Vaughan road over Hatcher’s Run and Armstrong’s Mills, keeping up communication with General Warren on his front and our lines in his rear.

Since the remainder of this army may be called upon to move to-morrow, Major-General Parke, commanding Ninth Corps, and Brevet Major-General Getty, commanding Sixth Corps, and commanding officer of the division of the Second Corps left in the line of works by Major-General Humphreys, will hold their commands in readiness to move at short notice, anticipating that the movement to be ordered will consist of the withdrawal of all the troops except the minimum number necessary to maintain the picket-line and the garrisons of the works. The chiefs of staff departments will designate officers to take charge of such trains and property as may be directed to be withdrawn to the intrenchments covering City Point in the event of a movement of the whole army. The officers of the general staff will be prepared to accompany the major-general commanding to-morrow morning at 8 o’clock. The senior officer in command of the Provisional Brigade at these headquarters will hold his command in readiness for orders to move. By command of Major-General Meade.”

Gregg would get a head start on the infantry due to the extra distance he had to go, but the foot soldiers would have plenty of time to get to their supporting positions before Lee could react.  After this circular, Meade issued more specific orders to each of the three principle subordinates involved in the operation, keeping each informed of the movements of the other two.  Note that Gouverneur Warren suggested a slight tweak of his own to the Fifth Corps’ marching orders, asking to move down Halifax Road to Rowanty Post-Office, then to take the direct road to the crossing of Rowanty Creek at W. Perkins’.  He reasoned that this route was shorter than going to Reams’ Station.  Meade assented, leading to a third change to Grant’s original plan.

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DavidMcMGregg

Union 2nd Cavalry Division Commander David Gregg

Gregg, traveling the longest distance, would start at 3 a.m., his target being Dinwiddie Court House and hopefully many Confederate supply trains:

“The major-general commanding directs that you move with your division to-morrow morning at 3 o’clock, and, passing through Reams’ Station, strike the Boydton plank road at Dinwiddie Court-House. On reaching the Boydton plank road you will move up and down it, to endeavor to intercept and capture any wagon train carrying supplies from Belfield. Should you hear of any trains not on this road, or of any opportunity of inflicting injury on the enemy, other than here directed, you will avail yourself of it without further instructions. Major-General Warren is ordered to support you, taking post at or near J. Hargrave’s, on the Dinwiddie Court-House road, and leaving his camp at 7 a. m., passing through Reams’ Station and taking the road crossing Hatcher’s Run at W. Perkins’. You will leave with General Warren a regiment of cavalry and a supply train, with one and a half day’s forage and your reserve ammunition. This train will accompany General Warren, taking post at J. Hargrave’s. You will notify General Warren of all that occurs, and in the event of an engagement you will take your orders from him. The troops detailed for this expedition will be rationed for four days from to-morrow morning. You will take with you such of your pickets as you may deem it advisable to relieve. Two contrabands have come in to-night and have reported Butler’s brigade, of Lee’s cavalry, has been sent to North Carolina.”

GouverneurKWarren

Union 5th Corps Commander Gouverneur K. Warren

Warren, the link between Gregg and Humphreys, would start at 7 a.m., making sure Gregg had a friendly infantry force to retire to if he found himself in trouble:

“The general commanding directs that you move your corps to-morrow morning at 7 o’clock down the Halifax road to Rowanty Post-Office, then by the road direct to the crossing of Rowanty Creek at W. Perkins’, thence across Hatcher’s Run to J. Hargrave’s on the road leading to Dinwiddie Court-House, taking position at or near that point to support General Gregg’s cavalry. General Gregg, commanding Second Cavalry Division, has been ordered to move at 3 a. m. to-morrow, and, passing through Reams’ Station, to strike the Boydton plank road at Dinwiddie Court-House. He is to endeavor to intercept and capture any wagon trains carrying supplies from Belfield, and to take advantage of any opportunity of inflicting injury on the enemy. Major-General Humphreys has been ordered to move with two divisions of his corps to the crossing of the Vaughan road over Hatcher’s Run and Armstrong’s Mills, to hold these points and the communications with you and with our lines in his rear. General Gregg has been ordered to detach one regiment of cavalry to report to you, and to leave with you a supply train and reserve ammunition, which will accompany you to J. Hargrave’s. He is ordered to notify you of all that occurs, and in the event of an engagement to take his orders from you. You will take with you two batteries, one rifled and one smooth-bore, and the usual amount of ammunition in limbers and caissons. You will be rationed for four days from to-morrow a. m. (three on hoof), with fifty rounds of ammunition on the person and forty rounds in reserve. One-half the usual allowance of ambulances, with one hospital and one medicine wagon to each brigade, together with one-half the intrenching tools, besides the pioneer tools, will be taken with you. Such of your pickers on the rear line as are necessary for the protection of your camps from guerrillas may be left. General Humphreys has been directed to furnish you re-enforcements, should you call for them. A telegraph line will be run to General Humphreys’ headquarters on Hatcher’s Run, and general headquarters will either be here or on the road from here to you.”

AndrewAHumphreys

Union 2nd Corps Commander Andrew A. Humphreys

Finally, Humphreys’ Second Corps, the link between Warren and the permanent Union fortifications southwest of Petersburg, would also move at 7 a.m. and take up blocking positions north of Hatcher’s Run.  Humphreys’ goal was to hold the Vaughan Road crossing over Hatcher’s Run as a link to Warren, and to effectively block the Confederate forces on the line in front of Boydton Plank Road from moving against the flank of Warren and Gregg on the most direct route:

“The general commanding directs that you move to-morrow morning at 7 o’clock with the two divisions of your corps not on the line to the crossing of the Vaughan road over Hatcher’s Run and to Armstrong’s Mills. You will hold these two points and the communications with General Warren in your front and our lines in your rear. Major-General Gregg, commanding Second Cavalry Division, has been ordered to move at 3 a. m. to-morrow and, passing through Reams’ Station, to strike the Boydton plank road at Dinwiddie Court-House. He is to endeavor to intercept and capture any wagon trains carrying supplies from Belfield, and to take advantage of any opportunity of inflicting injury on the enemy. General Warren, with a regiment of cavalry from General Gregg, has been ordered to move his corps in support of General Gregg at 7 a. m., passing through Reams’ Station and taking the road crossing Hatcher’s Run at W. Perkins’, and taking position on the Dinwiddie Court-House road at or near J. Hargrave’s. You will take with you four days’ rations (three on hoof) and fifty rounds of ammunition on the person and forty rounds in reserve. One-half of the usual allowance of ambulances, with one hospital and one medicine wagon to each brigade, together with one-half the intrenching tools, besides the pioneer tools, will be taken with you. Such of your pickets on the rear line as are necessary for the protection of your camps from guerrillas may be left; the remainder of the pickets belonging to the two divisions you take with you may be withdrawn. You will take with you two batteries of artillery. General Miles, remaining under your command, will still report directly to these headquarters anything of importance that may occur, independent of his report to you. You are taking position to support General Warren, and should anything occur to render it necessary for him to call upon you for re-enforcements you will furnish them. General Warren is notified of this.”

By 7:45 on the evening of February 4, the plan seemed to be final, but Grant wasn’t quite ready to let go of his hope that Gregg would attempt a move on Belfield.  At 8:30, Grant asked Meade if Gregg might be able to go all the way to Belfield and destroy any supplies accumulated there.  Meade sensibly replied that any supplies accumulated at this terminus of the Weldon Railroad would be stored south of the Meherrin River at Hicksford rather than Belfield to keep them protected.  In addition, Rooney Lee’s cavalry division was reported to be at Belfield.  He nonetheless ordered Gregg to move on Belfield “provided he finds on reaching Dinwiddie Court-House any confirmation of the contrabands report, or obtains any reliable intelligence leading him to believe he can effect anything there.”

The only thing left to do before the troops departed their camps was to inform the government, as Grant had promised Meade he would.  In a dispatch to Secretary of War Stanton late on the evening of February 4, Grant explained what was about to happen so the cabinet wouldn’t be caught off guard when they began to hear word of the operation:

“I have ordered the cavalry to move down the Weldon road to-morrow for the purpose of breaking up the enemy’s wagon train as far as they can, which is being used to draw supplies from Belfield to Petersburg. A corps of infantry goes as far as Stony Creek in support. I telegraph this so that you may know the object of the movement when you hear of it.”

Grant’s original plan had been tweaked multiple times, but soon enough the final orders were given.  How would the Eighth Offensive against Petersburg and Richmond play out?

February 5, 1865: The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Day 1:

Heth and Humphreys Tangle Along Hatcher’s Run

Early on the morning of February 5th, 1865, 150 years ago today, David McM. Gregg’s Union cavalry division started moving out from its camps, headed for Dinwiddie Court House looking for a chance to bag Confederate wagon trains hauling supplies from the Weldon Railroad terminus at Belfield and the Confederate lines near Petersburg.  On February 4, 1865, a day earlier, Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade had finalized a plan to send Gregg’s cavalry on this raid while also keeping two Union corps within supporting distance of the Yankee troopers.  Essentially, drawing a straight line to the southwest from Fort cummings, the II Corps would block the Confederates at Armstrong’s Mill and the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run, while V Corps would extend further south and west to provide a safety net for Gregg’s Cavalry during its raid.  The plan would be tested on February 5, resulting in a first day of fighting in what would become known as The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, or Dabney’s Mill.

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Movement of Union Troops: February 5, 1865

Gregg’s Cavalry, after detaching portions of two regiments to act as screens for the II Corps and V Corps, respectively, moved out of their camps at 3 a.m. down the Jerusalem Plank Road to Gary’s Church, and then on to Ream’s Station.  The 2nd Brigade led the way, followed by 3rd Brigade, the ambulances, and the 1st Brigade bringing up the rear.  Forage for the division’s horses would travel in wagons accompanying Warren’s V Corps for protection.  The Union troopers moved south down Jerusalem Plank Road, then on to Gary’s Church, and finally to Ream’s Station.  From that point, they moved west on Dinwiddie Court House by the “military” and Vaughan Roads, staying south of Great Cat-tail Creek.

Once Gregg’s division reached Dinwiddie Court House, they fanned out in multiple directions.  The 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry and 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry moved north and south on the Boydton Plank Road as far as Gravelly Run and just beyond Butterwood Creek, capturing 18 wagons and 50 prisoners, including a colonel and three other commissioned officers.  Thirteen of these wagons were from Bushrod Johnson’s Division.  The 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry scouted out the Stony Creek Station Road as well.  Gregg heard from prisoners that a Confederate infantry division located four miles north of Dinwiddie Court House had retreated into the main Confederate lines near Burgess Mill.

After finding nothing more in the way of Confederate supply wagons ripe for the picking, Gregg headed east again the way he came, headed for Malone’s Crossing of Rowanty Creek.  The expected haul Grant was hoping to find had not panned out.  Now the cavalry needed to get safely back to Warren’s V Corps, which had moved like an outstretched hand to provide protection for the cavalry.

Warren’s V Corps got started at 7 am, as ordered, Ayres’ Division leading the way, followed by Griffin, three batteries of artillery twelve guns in all, and Crawford’s Division, with the ambulances and reserve ammunition wagons bringing up the rear.  Three squadrons of the 6th Ohio Cavalry under Captain Saxon provided a screen for the infantry on the march.  By 10 am, the leading elements of V Corps had reached Monk’s Neck Bridge near the W. Perkins House on Rowanty Creek, just south of where Hatcher’s Run and Gravelly Run converge to form that larger stream.

Map of Hatcher’s Run and Vicinity, Showing Operations of the Fifth Corps, From February 5 to 8, 1865: Official Records

 

Movements of Fifth Corps, Feb. 5-8, 1865.  

The first day’s movements are on the southern portion of the map.

However, Warren had several issues.  First, the bridge had been destroyed.  Second, Confederate cavalrymen were picketing the west side of Rowanty Creek, intent on making it tough for Warren’s men to cross.  Around 11 am, Warren sent across two regiments of Gwyn’s Brigade, as well as the three squadrons of the 6th Ohio Cavalry.  This operation was quickly successful, bagging 25 Confederate prisoners at the cost of 8 wounded.  Bvt. Brigadier General James Gwyn’s report contains the following detail:

The cavalry being unable to overcome the opposition made by the enemy at Rowanty Creek, the One hundred and ninetieth and One hundred and ninety-first Pennsylvania Volunteers were advanced as skirmishers, supported by Fourth Delaware Volunteers, and ordered to take the works beyond the creek. The other regiments of brigade were also brought up. But few men could get across, as the bridge was destroyed. These few, however, succeeded in dislodging the enemy and capturing a few prisoners. After a short delay, to cover the crossing of remainder of division, the brigade again advanced some three or four miles and took up position before dark on the left of Second Brigade.

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Once the way was clear, Warren started sending his infantry across immediately, while also building bridges for the cavalry horses and the artillery and wagons.  The bridge for the cavalry horses was done first, around 12:45 pm, and they began to cross.  Shortly after most of Warren’s infantry had crossed the creek.  The bridge for the wagons and artillery wasn’t done until 3:45 in the afternoon, at which point those elements of the column began crossing as well.  As Warren’s infantry moved to its assigned positions, Warren finally learned of Gregg’s movement to Dinwiddie Court House and his retreat in the direction of Malone’s Crossing on the Rowanty sometime after 4. Gregg was soon ordered to report to Warren, which he did that night.  By 7:30 on the evening of February 5, Warren’s troops were positioned as follows:

  • Crawford’s division and a battery “at the place where my route struck the Vaughan Road.”
  • Ayres’ division is “where the Quaker road comes in”
  • Griffin is at J. Hargrave’s.

However, by this point in the day, Humphreys’ II Corps had fought off an attack north of Hatcher’s Run, and Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade wanted the disparate elements of his command in closer supporting distance, fearing a disaster.  Accordingly, he ordered Warren to move northeast up the Vaughan Road to the point where it crossed Hatcher’s Run with V Corps and Gregg’s Cavalry, taking over the defense of the south side of the run from Mott’s Division of the II Corps.  In addition, he was to send one of his three divisions north of the run to give Humphreys support.  By midnight, V Corps was finally on the march, trying to move closer to II Corps, still holding the crossings of Hatcher’s Run at Armstrong’s Mill and at the Vaughan Road.

It had been a busy day for II Corps.  Like Warren, Humphreys and his men started at 7 am, moving southwest down the Vaughan Road in the direction of Hatcher’s Run.  Humphreys had been ordered by Meade to take control of the crossings of the run at Armstrong’s Mill and at Vaughan Road using two divisions of his II Corps under Smyth and Mott.  Essentially, he was to act as a blocking force, preventing the Confederates from using the Vaughan Road to go after Gregg’s cavalry raiders and Warren’s supporting infantry.  Before the day was over, he would indeed do some blocking.

Humphreys had been sent 220 men of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry under Major Hess to act as his screening force.  They were to prevent the enemy videttes from discovering the large infantry force following just behind.  Behind the cavalry screen, Humphreys took Smyth’s Second Division (4,607 officers men),  Mott’s Third Division (5,961 officers and men), Battery K, 4th U.S. Artillery under Bvt. Captain Roder, and the 10th Massachusetts Artillery under Lieutenant J. W. Adams.

Major Hess’ cavalry reached the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run around 9 am, finding Confederates on the southwest bank and the stream “damned and obstructed by fallen trees.”  De Trobriand’s Brigade of Mott’s Division soon arrived, driving the Confederates across the run and securing the key position for the Union army.  De Trobriand was soon across the stream, probably by 9:45, and covered Vaughan Road while extending his skirmishers to the right (west) to link up with Smyth’s skirmishers at Armstrong’s Mill on the north side of Hatcher’s Run.  A bridge of 100 feet in length was soon built on the Vaughan Road.  At that point, West’s Brigade of Mott’s Division and Roder’s Battery K, 4th U.S. were also sent across.

While Mott was busy crossing to the south of Hatcher’s Run, Smyth’s Division was tasked with taking Armstrong’s Mill as his extreme left on the north side of the stream.  He was to extend to the right and anchor his force on a swamp.  Smyth managed this task without incident by 10 am.  Adams’ 10th Massachusetts Battery was sent with Smyth to provide some support.  McAllister’s Brigade of Mott’s Division was to take up the line from the swamp westward, but he didn’t have enough men to extend all the way to the swamp, so a gap of several hundred yards existed between Smyth’s right and McAllister’s left.  Once Humphreys realized what was going on, around 2 in the afternoon, he asked First Division commander Nelson Miles to send a strong brigade to take over McAllister’s current position.  This would allow McAllister to sidle left and fill the gap between his men and Smyth’s Division.  Around the same time, Meade ordered IX Corps commander John Parke to send Hartranft’s Division (3,200 officers and men) down the Vaughan Road to act as a reserve for Humphreys.  Would these reinforcements arrive in time?

At 4 pm, the Confederates on the Boydton Plank road line to Humphreys’ north and northwest opened an artillery bombardment of Smyth’s position.  It was clear they were getting ready to attack.  At 4:30, Ramsey’s 4th Brigade, First Division, II Corps (1,100 strong) finally reached McAllister’s position, allowing him to begin the move left to the swamp.  He was almost in position when the Confederate infantry attack began around 5:15.  The brigades of Cooke, McRae, and McComb, all of Heth’s Division, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, moved forward towards the gap which had existed between Smyth and McAllister.    McAllister’s Brigade bore the brunt of this assault.  Evans’ Confederate division attacked Smyth’s right.  West’s Brigade was ordered north over Hatcher’s Run to provide support for McAllister’s left during the engagement.  The fighting raged on until shortly after 7 pm, when the Confederates called it a day and retired.  Humphreys estimated that the II Corps lost 125 men killed and wounded in this short, sharp affair.  The 8th New Jersey was particularly unlucky.  Caught in the open during the attack, the regiment lost 48 of the 54 casualties in McAllister’s Brigade during this fighting.

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Major Henry Hartford of the 8th New Jersey described the Confederate attack on McAllister’s Brigade:

In the afternoon were relieved by a portion of Brevet Brigadier-General Ramsey’s brigade, and were passed in his rear. A few minutes past 4 p.m. we moved to the left of our former position, and went into line of battle behind the extreme left of the works, with the exception of the left wing, which was without any protection and formed the left of the brigade. Before the battalion had got into position the skirmishers were driven in, and the enemy, keeping up a desultory fire, soon made their appearance. They were greeted with a terrific volley of musketry from our men, and thrown into confusion. Again they advanced in strong force, and, notwithstanding the destructive fire poured into them, succeeded in gaining the shelter of stumps and fallen timber on our left front and for a time kept up a fatal fire on the exposed wing of the battalion, but they were forced to retired. They again made their appearance, seemingly determined upon carrying the line, but the well-directed fire checked them when within eighty yards of our works; they fought for some time quite determinedly, but eventually gave way in confusion, suffering severely for their temerity. The last repulse was after dark, and was the end of the engagement. Our loss was 11 killed and 38 wounded. Pickets were established, and the night passed in quiet, the enemy making no further demonstration.

General McAllister praised Hartford and his men in his report of the affair on the afternoon of Feb. 5:

4 p.m. received orders to form on the left of General Ramsey. I at once commenced the movement; my right regiments were just filling in, when the attack was made on the picket-line. I then ordered “double-quick,” and we were moving in rapidly. Lieutenant-Colonel William of Major-General Humphreys’ staff, then informed me that there was a gap in the line between myself and Ramsey, caused by General Ramsey closing to the right; my rear regiment (the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers, Colonel Schoonover), intended for the left of the line, was taken off and hurried into this gap. They received a fire from the enemy and returned it, causing the left of the enemy’s advancing line of battle to falter and lie down. The fire was taken up all along the line as fast as my troops were formed. The pickets in my new front having come running in without firing a shot, left the enemy right on us before I had my line completed. Regiment after regiment opened on the rebels as fast as they wheeled into position, causing their line to halt and lie down. The left regiment, the Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, under command of Major Hartford, or the left wing of it, had no works, and were exposed to a terrible fire in this unprotected position, but they stood nobly and fought splendidly, not a man of this regiment, or indeed of the whole brigade, left for the rear.

Major Hartford and his regiment deserve particular credit for the gallantry displayed in getting into position under the severe fire and holding it without works, while two regiments from the Second Division that had been lying for hours a little to my left, on the approach of the enemy gave way without firing a gun, leaving much larger space without troops between my left and the right of the Second Division.

After the fighting on Humphreys’ front ended, George Meade was painfully aware that the Confederates would do everything they could the next day to find a seam in the newly extended Union lines.  He did everything he could on the night of February 5 to prevent that from happening.  The divisions of Hartranft (IX Corps) and Wheaton (VI Corps) were called to fill the gap between Fort Cummings on the permanent Union line of fortifications and Humphreys’ right, digging in as best they could.  Warren would take his V Corps and Gregg’s Cavalry northeast up the Vaughan Road to take over for Mott’s men south of Hatcher’s Run.  Gregg would cover the far left flank and make sure no Confederates made it into the Union rear.  The gaps closed, Meade could now focus on taking advantage of any Confederate movements made outside of their works.  He was determined to catch them without the protection of their trenches and punish them if possible.

On February 6, 1865, Meade would order Humphreys and Warren to probe the Confederate defenses, Humphreys north of Hatcher’s Run and Warren south of that stream.  What they found would lead to the fiercest fighting of the Eighth Offensive.

February 6, 1865: The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Day 2:

Showdown at Dabney’s Saw Mill

On February 6, 1865, 150 years ago today, the second day of the Battle of Hatcher’s Run and Grant’s Eighth Offensive against Petersburg and Richmond was playing out.  Before the day was through, a major fight would occur around Dabney’s Saw Mill south of Hatcher’s Run between Warren’s V Corps and elements of three Confederate divisions (Pegram, Evans, Mahone), newlywed Confederate division commander John Pegram would be killed, and the 11th Pennsylvania would lose its beloved mascot Sallie.

The previous day, February 5, 1865, had seen three distinct Union forces move out from their permanent fortifications.  Gregg’s cavalry division had launched a raid on Dinwiddie Court House which only managed to capture 18 wagons.  To support this raid, Warren’s V Corps had been sent south of Gravelly Run to provide protection to the cavalry.  Humphreys’ II Corps, closest to the Confederates, had moved southwest to dig in around the crossings of Hatcher’s Run at Armstrong’s Mill and the Vaughan Road.  Lee launched a Confederate attack against Humphreys’ position late in the afternoon, using portions of Heth’s Division and Evans’ Division in order to exploit a gap in the Union lines.  This attack failed as the Union managed to plug the gap just in time.

Though it did not provide the striking victory he had hoped for, Lee’s aggressive posture caused Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade to immediately go into a shell.  On the night of Feb. 5-6, he ordered Warren and Gregg to move northeast up the Vaughan Road and gather just opposite Humphreys on Hatcher’s Run.  Once his entire force was in a compact formation, he felt he could better deal with the Confederates without the risk of a disaster similar to those at Jerusalem Plank Road, Globe Tavern and Ream’s Station.

For his part, Lee reacted to reports of the Union withdrawal from Dinwiddie Court House by sending elements of Gordon’s Second Corps (Evans and Pegram) as well as Mahone’s Division of Hill’s Third Corps back to their camps that night, where they could more comfortably pass the night in what by now had turned back to freezing winter weather.  Mahone’s Division had the farthest distance to go, and events of February 6 would see them swiftly recalled back to the area around Hatcher’s Run.

By sunrise on February 6, Meade’s troops were consolidated to his liking north and south of Hatcher’s Run, defending the area from Armstrong’s Mill to the Vaughan Road crossing.  Now that his men were concentrated, Meade needed to find out exactly what the Confederates were doing in front of Humphreys, Warren, and Gregg.  He ordered the two corps commanders to probe cautiously in the Confederates’ direction that morning.

At 9 a.m. Humphreys sent De Trobriand’s Brigade of Mott’s Division, which had been south across Hatcher’s Run the day before, north to take a look at the Boydton Road entrenchments held by Henry Heth’s Confederates.  He saw no activity outside of these works, though he stayed in the general area until noon before retiring

Warren, known for his arrogance and tendency to argue with superiors, managed to completely misconstrue Meade’s direct orders to probe to the west and southwest, thinking these orders applied only to Humphreys.  Meade, a prickly personality, visited Warren’s headquarters in person at noon to set him straight.  Suitably chastened, Warren sent troops west down the road to Dabney’s Mill, as well as southwest down the Vaughan Road.  Crawford’s V Corps division was sent to Dabney’s Mill, while Gregg’s cavalry division, backed by Winthrop’s Brigade of Ayres’ Division, moved down the Vaughan Road.  They would both soon find trouble. Warren’s report provides some detail of this operation:

[A]t 1.15 p.m., I issued instructions to General Crawford to move out on the Vaughan road to where it turns off to Dabney’s Mill, and then follow up that road toward the mill, drive back the enemy, and ascertain the position of his entrenched lines said to be there; also, to General Ayres to follow General Crawford with his division, taking with him General Winthrop’s brigade, then with the cavalry down the Vaughan road. General Gregg was directed to send a force of cavalry and drive the enemy down the Vaughan road across Gravelly Run, and also to watch the left flank of the infantry column (composed of General Crawford and General Ayres) as it advanced. This I thought the cavalry could easily do, as no considerable force of the enemy had been reported to me to be in that direction. General Griffin’s division was left in reserve to support either the column toward Dabney’s Mill or the cavalry on the Vaughan road, and posted where the road diverged. General Humphreys informed me also that Wheaton’s division, 4,500 strong, at the Cummings house, was available as support, as well as General De Trobriand’s brigade, 2,500 strong.

Robert E. Lee had been busy on the morning of February 6 as well.  He tasked newlywed John Pegram and his Second Corps division with moving east on the same roads Warren was now taking west.  Pegram sent a portion of his brigade east in the direction of Dabney’s sawmill.  Further to the southeast, the North Carolina brigades of Johnston and Lewis, together with Rooney Lee’s cavalry division, finally up from Belfield to the south, were to move northeast up Vaughan Road.  The stage was set for two separate battles of differing intensity.

HatchersRun6thFebNPSMap

Feb. 6, 1865: Day 2, Battle of Hatcher’s Run

The mixed cavalry/infantry fight along the Vaughan Road was a lesser fight.  Early in the afternoon, the two side ran into each other between Hatcher’s Run and Gravelly Run.  Gregg was able to keep the Confederates at bay on this extreme left flank of the Union lines, allowing Warren to focus on the fight which was rapidly developing around Dabney’s Saw Mill.

J. Irvin Gregg, writing a report for the division in lieu of his brother, who had resigned, remembered this affair:

The enemy seeming to be disposed to press his attack, the First and Third Brigades were dismounted and took position across the Vaughan road, near the Keys house, and held him in check. The Second Brigade was held in reserve, mounted, and at 2 p.m. an order was received from Major-General Warren directing that a force of cavalry should be sent to push the enemy across Gravelly Run. The Second Brigade was ordered to perform this duty, and in endeavoring to accomplish it brought on the general [engagement], which closed the day; the enemy, however, were too strongly and advantageously posted in the woods and behind rifle-pits to be dislodged by the cavalry. Subsequently, with the First and Second Brigades, dismounted he was driven from his position and a mounted force sent to Gravelly Run bridge.

A portion of Pegram’s Division, backed by Evans’ Division, was heading east down the road past Dabney’s Saw Mill, passing that place shortly after 1 in the afternoon.  Warren was heading in the opposite direction with Crawford’s Division, V Corps, and the two sides collided east of the mill around 2 in the afternoon, starting what would become a rolling back and forth fight in a cold rain as reinforcements on both sides arrived in turn.

Crawford’s Division had the best of the fighting initially, pushing the Confederates east to Dabney’s Mill.  The Union soldiers mistook a large pile of sawdust for a Confederate fort, and jockeyed to reach that position first.  They finally took the “fort,” realizing their mistake only after reaching the destination.  At that point, Evans’ Confederates launched a counterattack, caving in the left flank of the Iron Brigade, which eventually broke.  At this point, two brigades of Ayres’ Division came up as reinforcements to save Crawford’s embattled left, driving Evans back in turn.  The last counterattack of the day was delivered by four brigades of Mahone’s crack division, led this day by Joseph Finegan in Mahone’s absence.  Finegan sent his men directly into the center of Warren’s men in two waves, the first consisting of Weisiger’s Virginians and Sanders’ Alabamians, and the second of Sorrel’s Georgians and Harris’ Mississippians.  Mahone’s men, as they had done so often in this siege before, drove the divisions of Crawford and Ayres back inflicting casualties and causing a panic in some commands.  A brigade from Wheaton’s VI Corps division, sent up to help, was caught in the panic and forced to retire a good distance before being able to reform.  This brigade along with Griffin’s Division, the last organized command Warren had, stabilized the situation east of Dabney’s Mill as night fell.  In the darkness, the fighting sputtered and finally ended.

Warren’s report cast an overly positive light on what had been a confusing and at times embarrassing day for the V Corps:

I went along with the movement toward Dabney’s Mill, to which place General Crawford soon drove the enemy. Rallying there, the enemy forced back General Crawford’s left somewhat, when General Ayres was sent in to his support on that flank with his two brigades. The enemy was again driven and to some distance beyond Dabney’s Mill. The firing continuing now to be constant and severe I brought up the Third Brigade of General Griffin’s division in close support, and was obliged to put it all with General Ayres to hold our left. I sent then also, at once, for at least a brigade of General Wheaton’s division, intending to order the whole division up if affairs on the Vaughan road would permit. Unfortunately, however, the enemy got up re-enforcements faster than I could, and when a brigade of General Wheaton’s division was nearing the scene of action a charge was made by the enemy in a force (according to the Petersburg Express consisting of three divisions) against which I had but six brigades opposed.

Our line, despite all the exertions of the prominent officers and much good conduct among those in the ranks, gave way and fell back rapidly, but with little loss after the movement began; portions of the line continued to fire as it retired, and General Wheaton got his brigade in line, and with it a portion of the others reformed, so that the enemy was checked before our old lines were reached by us. The resistance the enemy’s attack met on the Vaughan road, together with the vigor of our attack at Dabney’s Mill, drew off all his troops to the latter place, which was the natural place for both his retiring columns to meet, as was our lines at the run for our two columns in time, so as to have transferred our troops on the Vaughan road to the enemy’s right flank at Dabney’s Mill, we should have driven him beyond the plank road with ease. As it was, a reconnaissance in force (see General Lee’s report) began nearly simultaneously by both parties, resulted in the enemy being repulsed on one road and ourselves upon the other, with probably nearly equal losses. I must say if our troops had all stood as firm at Dabney’s Mill as the best of them did, that I had enough there to have held the enemy till any amount of re-enforcements could have arrived. On the whole, it was not a bad fight and in no way discouraged me in my willingness to try the same thing again with the same men. Nearly all the operations of the column toward Dabney’s Mill I was an eye-witness to, and can speak of the good conduct of all those officers on whom I have heretofore relied.

JohnPegram

Brigadier General John Pegram, Killed at Hatcher’s Run, Feb. 6, 1865

Though the Confederates had had the best of the fighting that day, it came at a high cost.  Division commander John Pegram, recently wed to Richmond belle Hettie Cary, was killed in the see-saw fighting around Dabney’s Saw Mill during Evans’ counterattack, and Pegram’s brigade commander Colonel John S. Hoffmann was severely wounded .  His aide Henry Kyd Douglas reported that Pegram was dead almost as soon as he was taken off of his horse and laid on the ground.  Second Corps commander John Gordon asked Douglas to break the news to Pegram’s bride, now a widow, but he asked to be spared of the horrible duty.  Gordon sent another officer, and the distasteful task was performed.  Pegram’s funeral was held in the same church where he had been married just three weeks earlier.

Sallie11thPennsylvania

Sallie, Mascot of the 11th PA, Killed at Hatcher’s Run, Feb. 6, 1865

On the Union side, the 11th Pennsylvania, 2nd Brigade, Crawford’s Third Division, suffered a loss of its own.  Their beloved mascot, bull terrier Sallie, had been killed in the fighting.  Civil War buffs will often read of men having premonitions of their own death, but rarely do you read of a dog doing the same.  On the night before the February 6 fight at Dabney’s Mill, Sallie kept up her four human tent mates with mournful howling, and they repeatedly put her outside in order to get some sleep.  The next day, Sallie was killed along with two of the men she had slept with the night before, the other two men suffering wounds.  It was doubly heartbreaking considering Sallie had been with the regiment since the early days of the war, taken in as a puppy and raised communally by the men.  She grew accustomed to taking her place near the colors, the most dangerous spot to be in a Civil War regiment, and the nevertheless made it through battle after battle.  The law of averages caught up with her on February 6, 1865 near Hatcher’s Run, only two months before Lee’s army surrendered at Appomattox.

The soldiers of both sides collapsed in the freezing darkness as the rain turned to snow, causing untold misery among those men caught in the open, many without proper clothing.  The two sides essentially lay where they had ended the fighting at dark.  Lee had his men dig in rapidly to help retard the expected Federal advance the next morning.  Warren and his men dug in on their side as well.  As day two of the Battle of Hatcher’s Run turned to day three, what would the morning hold?

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.2 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.3

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.  The Battle of Hatcher’s Run had come to an end.

Further Reading:

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run Series:

Bibliography:

First Person Accounts:

    Siege of Petersburg Documents Which Mention This Battle:

    Source:

    1. CWSAC Battle Summary
    2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Lee was spot on with the forces arrayed against him in the battle.
    3. 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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