NP: February 5, 1965 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 36: Another Battle, Another Warning

   

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in Postwar Newspapers

Another Battle, Another Warning

(The following is the thirty-sixth in a series of articles published in observance of the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg. A hundred years ago, Grant was attempting to extend his line and reach the South Side Railroad which connected Petersburg with Lynchburg. Although the effort did not accomplish its stated purposes, it placed the Union forces in somewhat better position to complete the kill when weather and circumstances would be more favorable.)

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Early in February, 1865, a battle of a type which already had become monotonous occurred before Petersburg.

It was another of Grant’s extensions on the left, with encirclement as its purpose. One aspect of the engagement which always would be remembered by participants was that it occurred during one of the worst spells of a memorably bitter winter.

First reports which were received by the Confederates indicated that a cavalry raid was beginning, but soon it was evident that a more massive movement was under way. In a sense, it would be a re-run of the Burgess Mill-Boydton Plank Road battle of the end of the previous October [of 1864].

The effort was made by the Union V and II Corps and Gregg’s cavalry. It sought to seize the South Side Railroad. If it could not achieve that decisive result, perhaps it could interfere with the use which the Confederate[s] still were making of the Boydton Plank Road. The major fighting occurred in the Hatcher’s Run area. Dabney’s Mill became a landmark of battle, but fringe action occurred as far away as Dinwiddie Courthouse.

Confederate opposition was swift and effective. The attacker was assailed in flank and rear and driven back in disorder. He lost about 2,000 men, the defender about 1,000. At the end of the three days Grant had accomplished none of the specific objectives but had gained a few miles for the cause of circumvallation. Confederate stringency had been demonstrated anew by the fact some men fought for three days with little food and no meat of any kind.

Lee sent another warning to Richmond. He said that all were suffering from reduced rations, scant clothing, and exposure to battle, cold, hail, and sleet. Without softening his words, he predicted that the strength of the men would fail under such conditions even if their courage survived.

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Lee was at worship at St. Paul’s Church, in  Petersburg, when he received the first word of the February [1865] offensive. He did not leave immediately, but, contrary to his custom, he received communion with the first group and then left.

His unwonted course meant that everyone in the city soon knew that trouble was afoot. As a result of the deep impression made upon the worshippers, the circumstance of Lee’s leaving worship sooner than usual sometimes had been erroneously assigned to the morning of April 2, 1865, when the defenses of the city were broken so critically as to make immediate evacuation a necessity.

The battle claimed the life of Confederate Major General John Pegram, who recently had been married to Hettie Cary, one of the belles of the Confederate capital. Some Paris of the Confederacy had been audacious enough to pronounce her “the most beautiful woman” in wartime Richmond. The thought of sudden death always hung over a wedding of the period. Two weeks after the glittering marriage of an acknowledged belle and a handsome general, many of the guests would be returning to the same Richmond church for the latter’s funeral.

There is an account which states that Mrs. Pegram was on her way to congratulate the bridegroom upon an expected victory when she met his body being borne into Petersburg. A more plausible and seemingly better documented version says that she had had a premonition of tragedy.

It is an indication of the important roles of persons of that name and family, of Dinwiddie County background, that some writers have confused General John Pegram, killed on Hatcher’s Run, with Colonel William Johnson [Willie] Pegram, who would be mortally wounded at Five Forks.1

Article Image

19650205PetersburgProgressIndexP4C1to2PetersburgNo36

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:

Source:

  1. “Another Battle, Another Warning.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  February 5, 1965, p. 4, col. 1-2

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