The Battle of Sutherland’s Station: April 2, 1865

   

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in Ninth Offensive

Name: The Battle of Sutherland’s Station

Other Names: None

Location: Dinwiddie

Campaign: Appomattox Campaign (March-April 1865)1

Date: April 2, 1865

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles [US]; Maj. Gen. Henry Heth and Maj. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox [CS]

Forces Engaged: Divisions

Estimated Casualties: 970 total (US 370; CS 600)

Description: Union columns converged on Petersburg on April 2. part Mile’s force struck north from White Oak Road meeting elements of four Confederate brigades (Cooke, Scales, MacRae, McGowan) attempting to defend the South Side Railroad. The Confederates placed their left flank on Ocran Methodist Church, where it was overrun by three Union brigades commanded by Miles. The Confederate defenders were scattered and driven northwestward. With this victory, the Federals possessed the South Side Railroad, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s last supply line into Petersburg.

Result: Union victory2

Full Summary:

The Battle of Sutherland’s Station

One other action on April 2 occurred far west of the other three combats, at Sutherland’s Station on the Southside Railroad.  Henry Heth had ordered the remnants of his command to organize there to escape being flanked by the Union Sixth Corps after it had broken through the Boydton Plank Road line.  Confusion between Sheridan and Humphreys over who had control of Miles’ Division of the Second Corps led to neither supporting him.  Miles was undeterred by this lack of support and aggressively pursued Heth’s Confederates, moving north on Claiborne Road and eventually confronting the Confederates at Sutherland’s Station in late morning.  Heth had left, moving east to take over Third Corps near Petesburg proper after the death of A. P. Hill.  This left Brigadier General John Cooke in command of the four Confederate brigades facing Miles.

FiveForksBurgessMillSutherlandStationAreaMap

Vicinity of Sutherland Station, including Location of Five Forks and White Oak Road Line, April 2, 1865. Click on the map for a larger image.

 

Miles hit Cooke three times during the morning and afternoon, choosing not to wait for Humphreys’ remaining two divisions to come up from the east in support.  Humphreys had essentially been sent on a wild goose chase by Meade and Grant on April 2, not helping Miles at Sutherland’s Station or Ord at Forts Gregg and Whitworth.  Despite this, Miles was ultimately successful, his persistence paying off handsomely.

In his official report, Miles recalled what had happened in his chance at independent command:

“At 9 a. m. the enemy abandoned his works, and they were immediately occupied by my men. The pursuit of the enemy was at once commenced, and he was followed closely to a point near Sutherland’s Station, where he was found in position behind breast-works with artillery. The Second and Third Brigades were immediately ordered to charge the position, and they advanced promptly to the attack, by owing to the natural strength of the position and the difficult nature of the ground intervening the assault was unsuccessful. It was in this attack that Brevet Brigadier-General Madill, commanding Third Brigade, was wounded severely, while gallantly urging his men forward to the enemy’s works. At 12.30 p. m. a second assault was made by the Third Brigade, Brevet Brigadier-General MacDougall having been placed in command. The artillery of the division had at this time come up, and being placed in position assisted in the attack by a vigorous shelling of the enemy’s line. This attack was also repulsed, the enemy being able to concentrate his force opposite any threatened point. The brigade was withdrawn to its former position-a crest about 800 yards from that occupied by the enemy. I now determined to carry the position by an attack on the enemy’s flank. A strong skirmish line was pushed forward upon the extreme right flank of the enemy, overlapping it and threatening the railroad. Indeed, a portion of this skirmish line was on the railroad at 1.10 o’clock. The attention of the enemy being thus diverted from his left flank, the Fourth Brigade (Brevet Brigadier-General Ramsey) was moved rapidly around it through a ravine and wood, and massed in the woods without being discovered by the enemy. At 2.45 p. m. the brigade advanced at double quick, with a hearty cheer and in magnificent order, striking the enemy in flank, and sweeping rapidly down inside the breast-works, capturing a large number of prisoners and putting to precipitous flight the remainder. That portion of the enemy who escaped were driven to the woods near the river, where they were picked up the next morning. Captain Clark’s battery (B), First New Jersey Artillery, rendered great assistance in this attack by keeping up a vigorous and well-directed fire upon the enemy. The division captured 600 prisoners, 1 battle-flag, and 2 pieces of artillery. As I was directed by General Sheridan to drive the enemy toward Petersburg, I advanced in that direction by the River and the South Side roads about two miles, when I was met by the Second Division, who were moving on the latter road in the opposite direction. I therefore returned to the vicinity of Sutherland’s Station toward evening, disposed my troops so as to hold the railroad, and bivouacked for the night.”

BattleOfSutherlandStationApril21865

Battle of Sutherland’s Station, April 2, 1865. Click on the Map for a Zoomed in View.

 

In the October 22, 1873 edition of Our Living and Our Dead, a New Berne, North Carolina newspaper, Captain James A. Graham of the 27th North Carolina, Cooke’s Brigade, remembered Sutherland’s Station from the Confederate perspective:

“Just before midnight we were relieved by Davis’ Mississippi brigade and crossing the creek, took position in fort Euliss[?]. Here the enemy were on three sides of us—our only protected side being that from which we had just moved—and as soon as day opened [April 2, 1865] they began to fire upon us with both infantry and artillery. Our breastworks were prepared in such a way as, to some extent, to meet these flank fires; but they did not always suit as some of our men were killed that morning by shots which, striking a limb above them, glanced directly downward inflicting death wounds. We could distinctly hear the shouts of the troops, fighting between us and Petersburg, and our feelings would rise or fall in proportion, as we could hear the Confederate “yell” or the yankee “huzza” in the ascendancy. After a while the “huzza” seemed to prevail and soon a courier came dashing into our fort. Very shortly afterwards we were ordered out of our works and in a few minutes were on the retreat from Petersburg.

After moving some four or five miles we threw out first one regiment and then another as skirmishers to retard the enemy, who were pressing us hard, and on arriving at Sutherland Tavern, a station on the Southside [Rail] Road about 10 miles from Petersburg, we formed line of battle and threw up breastworks of the rails and other stuff which we could find near at hand, adding such dirt as we could dig up with our bayonets, tin cups, plates, &c. Soon the enemy charged us, but were repulsed with heavy loss and, as they started back, our sharpshooters rushing forward captured many prisoners. These prisoners told us that the next charge would be made by the negro corps, supported by the second and they would show no quarter. We told them that having whipped the whites we could whip the negroes. The fighting was heavy till about 4 o’clock, p. m., when the enemy largely outnumbering us, turned our left flank and we were compelled to retreat.  Falling back about four or five miles the 13th [North Carolina], 22[n]d [North Carolina], 27th [North Carolina], and 49th N[orth]. C[arolina]. regiments were thrown out to keep the enemy in check, while the balance of our troops—Cooke’s, Scales’ and McRae’s N[orth]. C[arolina]. brigades, and McGowan’s S[outh]. C[arolina]. brigade, the troops on the right of the break in our lines, forming the corps—endeavored to cross the river so as to join the main army from which we had been cut off by the break. Finding that we could not cross, these regiments were recalled and we pursued our way up the river, until 2 o’clock that night [early morning of April 3, 1865] when we halted for rest.”

Had Miles been supported and had Sheridan done his job, this entire force might have been captured by Union forces that afternoon.  As it was, Miles still achieved a victory, contributing positively to the Union cause on April 2, 1865.

Bibliography:

    First Person Accounts:

      Siege of Petersburg Documents Which Mention This Battle:

      Source:

      1. The CWSAC site classifies the final battles around Petersburg after Fort Stedman as belonging to the Appomattox Campaign.  The Siege of Petersburg Online: Beyond the Crater classifies the six battles around Petersburg from March 29-April 2, 1865 as belonging to Grant’s Ninth Offensive against Petersburg, a part of the Petersburg Campaign.
      2. CWSAC Battle Summary

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      { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

      Glenn Land May 21, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      I’m assuming my 2 x great-grandfather, Corporal David Land of Co.I 13th NC Infantry, was probably in the fight at Sutherland Station. His P.O.W. record says “captured on the S.S. railroad.” Would that be a safe assumption ?

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