The Battle of Peebles’ Farm: September 30-October 2, 1864

   

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Name: The Battle of Peebles’ Farm

Other Names: Poplar Springs Church, Wyatt’s Farm, Chappell’s House, Pegram’s Farm, Vaughan Road, Harmon Road

Location: Dinwiddie County

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

Date: September 30-October 2, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, and Maj. Gen. G.K. Warren [US]; Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill and Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton [CS]

Forces Engaged: Corps

Estimated Casualties: 3,800 total

Description: In combination with Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s offensive north of the James River, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant extended his left flank to cut Confederate lines of communication southwest of Petersburg. Two divisions of the IX corps under Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, two divisions of the V Corps under Maj. Gen. G.K. Warren, and Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s cavalry division were assigned to the operation. On September 30, the Federals marched via Poplar Spring Church to reach Squirrel Level and Vaughan Roads. The initial Federal attack overran Fort Archer, flanking the Confederates out of their Squirrel Level Road line. Late afternoon, Confederate reinforcements arrived, slowing the Federal advance. On October 1, the Federals repulsed a Confederate counterattack directed by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill. Reinforced by Maj. Gen. Gershom Mott’s division, the Federals resumed their advance on the 2nd, captured Fort MacRae which was lightly defended, and extended their left flank to the vicinity of Peebles’ and Pegram’s Farms. With these limited successes, Meade suspended the offensive. A new line was entrenched from the Federal works on Weldon Railroad to Pegram’s Farm.

Result: Union victory1

Summary:

The Battle of Peebles Farm:

September 30, 1864

Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Peebles Farm, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: As Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James hammered away at the scant Confederate forces from the Department of Richmond and First Corps defending Richmond on September 29, Ulysses S. Grant held George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in readiness near Petersburg, ready to launch an attack at the far opposite end of the line if the Confederates were shown to have weakened their defenses there to save Richmond.  Although Meade closely observed on the 29th, he really didn’t see anything notable which would guarantee an attack would succeed.

Grant proceeded anyway.  On September 30, 1864, 150 years ago today, Meade launched a strike force of almost 25,000 men against the Confederate right near the Boydton Plank Road.  His force was composed of portions of the Fifth and Ninth Corps, along with Gregg’s cavalry division.  Facing Warren (Fifth Corps commander) and Parke (Ninth Corps commander) were two Confederate lines of entrenchements.  The first, along the Squirrel Level Road, was lightly defended by three regiments of Confederate cavalry, although Meade didn’t know this at the time.  The Confederate infantry which had been guarding this line had been pulled out as the Confederates reshuffled forces in an attempt to save Richmond from capture. The main Confederate line nearer Boydton Plank Road was better defended.

PeeblesFarmPreludeNPSMap

 

Grant’s Plan

 

Despite the weakness of the Confederate force, Warren’s advance from Globe Tavern, capture during the Fourth offensive back in mid-August 1864, was tepid.  When Griffin’s Division launched an assault on Fort Archer on the Squirrel Level line, though, it fell quickly.  Now two divisions of the Ninth Corps under Parke took the lead and advanced to the Peebles and Pegram farms.  Parke seems to have handled his troops rather poorly at this point, leaving some back at Pegram’s Farm and sending others north in a search for more Confederates to fight.

PeeblesFarm30Sept1pmNPSMap

 

September 30, 1864: 1 PM

The fall of Fort Archer on the Squirrel Level line caused a portion of Wilcox’s Division, earmarked for the Richmond rescue operation, to reverse course and head back to the Boydton Plank Road lines.  Heth’s Division was also mobilized for a fierce counterattack.  Hampton’s Confederate cavalry had also reformed on the Confederate right.  As they had in offensives past, the Confederates swooped down on the disorganized and scattered Ninth Corps, capturing more than 1,000 prisoners at minimal cost to their own men.  Only a determined stand by a Ninth Corps brigade at Pegram’s Farm saved the day from becoming a complete disaster for the Ninth Corps.

PeeblesFarm30Sept5pmNPSMap

September 30, 1864: 5 PM

That night, Meade pulled back to a less advanced line near Peebles Farm, left one brigade near Pegram’s Farm as a sort of early warning system, and connected his right via skirmish line to the more permanent Union defenses near Globe Tavern.  The fighting was done for September 30, but it would spill into October before the Battle of Peebles Farm was finished.  More on that tomorrow…

PeeblesFarm30SeptPegramsFarmNPSMap

September 30, 1864: End of Day

 

The Battle of Peebles Farm:

October 1, 1864

Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Peebles Farm, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: The second day of the Battle of Peebles Farm, fought on October 1, 1864, occurred 150 years ago today.  Infantry and cavalry fighting on this rainy day was fiercely contested, but didn’t settle the score, with one finaal day of major combat in store for the two sides.

Infantry Action at Peebles Farm: Heth’s “Flank” Attack

The Union advance past the Peebles and Pegram farms of the day before had caught the Confederates off guard, but fierce counterattacks had made for a rough day for the Union Ninth Corps.  Once the fighting had stabilized around Pegram’s Farm, the Union force pulled back to a more defensible position on the Peebles Farm to the southeast, leaving a brigade in advance at Pegram’s.

This new Yankee line and how to get at it consumed Confederate planning on the night of September 30 and the morning of a rainy October 1.  The idea arrived at was to have Henry Heth make a flank attack on the Union right, presumably in the air, with four brigades, wreaking havoc akin to Mahone’s devastating assault on August 19, 1864 at the Battle of Globe Tavern.  Wilcox and two brigades of his Light Division would wait and attack the Union center once Heth’s attack was well underway.  Hampton’s cavalry would also wait on the Union left and join in during the anticipated confusion.

There were several problems with this plan.  First, Henry Heth was no William Mahone, at least not at the Siege of Petersburg.  Second, the Union right was well anchored on the captured Fort Bratton along Squirrel Level Road, and Heth’s probes told him by mid-morning that he wasn’t facing a Yankee flank at all, but rather a well dug in Union battle line with artillery support.

PeeblesFarm1OctNPSMap

The Battle of Peebles Farm, Heth’s Attack: October 1, 1864

Despite this knowledge, Heth sent forward the men of MacRae’s North Carolina Brigade, who were supposed to perform a reconnaissance in force.  Like the previous day at Fort Harrison with Tige Anderson’s Georgians, MacRae’s men attacked outright in a miscommunication.  The results were similar too.  Only after MacRae’s repulse did Heth send in Archer and Davis in a repeat of the piecemeal attacks at Fort Harrison.  They too failed to make any headway, so much so that Heth never sent in his fourth brigade under Cooke. He retreated back to the entrenchments near the W. W. Davis house.

In terms of results, Fifth Offensive chronicler Richard Sommers calls this “the most decisive phase” of the Battle of Peebles Farm.  The results guaranteed, just like the August 21, 1864 fighting at Globe Tavern, that the Yankees had permanently advanced their siege lines again, never to recede.

The Opposing Cavalry Forces Duke It Out: The Battle of Vaughan Road

Shortly after Heth’s infantry attack that morning, Confederate and Union Cavalry squared off to the south of Peebles Farm along the Vaughan Road where it intersects with the Wyatt Road.  Gregg’s Union Second Division was protecting the Union strike force’s left flank and rear, while Hampton’s Cavalry Corps, minus Fitz Lee’s division, was guarding the Confederate far right.

Gregg’s Division had been pulled in away from the Vaughan-Wyatt intersection overnight, leaving only the 1st Maine Cavalry as a guard.  Butler’s Confederate Division took this vital intersection as the Maine troopers retreated without much of a struggle.  Butler settled in to create some temporary earthworks in the area rather than pursue.  These events set the stage for the battle to come.

Once the Union infantry had comfortably repulsed the Confederate attacks on their right near Peebles Farm in the morning, Gregg set out to reclaim the important road intersection and secure the Union left.  He managed to drive off Butler’s men near 11 am on October 1.  In seesaw fighting throughout the day near the McDowell house, the Yankee cavalry eventually emerged as the winners, and Confederate brigade commander John Dunovant was killed leading a charge.

The results of this fight were that the far left flank of the Union army was secure.  Casualties were around 90 Federals and 130 Confederates. Overall, the fighting on October 1 at Peebles Farm and the Vaughan Road was a Yankee success.  They had gained new ground on September 30, and secured that ground on which to build permanent entrenchment on October 1.

That said, the Battle of Peebles Farm would see one more day’s infantry fighting, when the Second Corps division of Gershom Mott made another Union offensive effort in the direction of the Boydton Plank Road.  Tune in tomorrow for the results of that fighting…

 

The Battle of Peebles Farm:

October 2, 1864

Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Peebles Farm, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: The third and final day of fighting at the Battle of Peebles Farm occurred on October 2, 1864, 150 years ago today.  Prior to this little known third day at Peebles Farm, the Siege of Petersburg saw a “first” in military history on the late afternoon of October 1: the grand tactical movement of troops by rail.  Those troops belonged to Gershom Mott’s Third Division, Second Corps, almost all former members of the Third Corps, disbanded earlier in 1864 prior to the start of the Overland Campaign.

Mott’s men were moved to the front as reinforcements for the Fifth and Ninth Corps divisions which had led the original attack two days earlier.  Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade’s intention was to use these reinforcements to resume the offensive, an offensive which had ground down due in part to the cautious nature of corps commanders Warren and Parke.  However, manmade delays prevented Mott’s men from getting into position for an attack until it was nearly dark.  The offensive movement Meade had planned for October 1 was thus pushed to October 2.

After Mott’s Division and other reinforcements reached the front near Peebles Farm, half of the entire Army of the Potomac was now a part of the strike force probing in the direction of the Boydton Plank Road and Southside Railroad.  Meade was determined to make even more headway southwest of Petersburg, and he hoped to catch the Confederates outside of their breastworks.  He ordered Mott’s division of the Second Corps to flank the Confederate forces at Pegram’s Farm while Parke’s Nonth Corps hit them head on, with Warren to the right also attacking straight ahead.   Diversions were scheduled for other parts of the extended lines, and Gregg’s cavalry was expected to hold of Hampton’s probing Confederate troopers on the Union far left.

PeeblesFarmOct2RichRedeemedPage382

Map of the October 2 Fighting at Peebles Farm from Richmond Redeemed, 2nd Edition, page 382

Used with Permission and May Not Be Reproduced without Savas Beatie’s Express Written Consent.

Pre-order your copy of Richmond Redeemed today at Savas Beatie or Amazon.com!

The Union troops reached and took Pegram’s Farm with little opposition, confusing the Union commanders.  Where were the Confederates?  After advancing cautiously to find an answer for this question all along the line, it was discovered that the Confederates had retreated to their main line of works along the Boydton Plank Road.  By late morning, it had become apparent that Meade would find no Confederates to fight in the open field.  If he wanted to assault, it would be against breastworks, and he wanted no part of that.  Richard Sommers suggests that Meade probably did not attempt to get onto the Confederate right flank on the Boydton Plank Road because he feared the Confederate counterattack which was bound to happen in the aftermath of such an action.

In mid-afternoon, Parke ordered out some reconnaissance forces to ascertain Confederate strength and positions in their main fortifications, provoking the heaviest infantry fighting on October 2. A probe by one brigade, Zinn’s, accomplished little, and the battle degenerated into widespread skirmishing.  Ultimately, the Union forces pulled back slightly, creating permanent works on Pegram’s Farm as well as Peebles’ Farm. The Fifth Offensive on the Army of the Potomac’s front was over, though two battles would flare on the Darbytown Road in Benjamin Butler’s sector before the Fifth Offensive ended entirely in mid-October 1864.

Bibliography:

First Person Accounts:

    Siege of Petersburg Documents Which Mention This Battle:

    Source:


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