The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road: June 21-24, 1864

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Steven Simonson July 28, 2021 at 11:33 am

I have lived in Petersburg since 2014. I’m researching the June 22 engagement that is called either “The First Battle of the Weldon Railroad” or “The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road”. I’m using the “Official Records” as my primary source.

Almost all of the maps that I have found on the battle place the Union line that was attacked in flank by General Mahone’s Division much further south than I think it would have been. The very simple map on page 59 of “The Last Citadel” shows it where I think it actually was, much closer to the Confederate Dimmock Line south of the City.

I went to the Petersburg Visitors Center and asked the Rangers there if they had anything specifically about this particular battle, and they said no. The just referred me to “The Last Citadel”.

Do you know of anything that has been written specifically about this battle?

Brett Schulte July 28, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Steven,

Thanks for the comment.

The Siege of Petersburg is not nearly well studied as places like Gettysburg. There are still a lot of private conversations about a lot of maps for certain battles, including Second Petersburg, June 15-18, and this battle. A lot of the maps of June 22, are, quite frankly, incorrect.

Unfortunately there is no book on the entire Second Offensive at Petersburg, encompassing June 21-24, approximately. There is a book about the Sixth Corps fighting on June 23, 1864, the day after the Second corps disaster, written by David F. Cross, entitled A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad. Its focus is on the Vermont Brigade, which had a significant number of men taken prisoner and sent to Andersonville. Greg Eanes wrote a book about the Wilson-Kautz Raid, a cavalry raid going on at the same time, called “Destroy the Junction”: The Wilson-Kautz Raid and the Battle for Staunton River Bridge, June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864. Both of these books are available on my “Books” page, which splits books out by Offensive and other topics:

https://www.beyondthecrater.com/bibliography/

John Horn, who has written and/or edited multiple books either directly about the Petersburg Siege or tangentially connected, is in the process of writing a book about the entire Second Offensive, including the Second Corps fighting on June 22. He just recently mentioned he is still a few years out from publishing said book, however.

For now, I’d suggest browsing through the various posts I’ve done on the battle located at the bottom of this page. Every time I post about the battle I use a tag, and every post tagged in this way shows up as a link on this page.

If you have any other questions I’ll do my best to answer them.

Brett Schulte

Brett Schulte July 28, 2021 at 3:16 pm

PS There is a map which John allowed me to publish here from his private collection which I believe he has said in the past is fairly accurate.

Here is my Jersualem Plank Road map page:
https://www.beyondthecrater.com/maps/petersburg-siege-maps/second-offensive-maps/the-battle-of-jerusalem-plank-road-maps/

On that page is the following map produced by a Second Corps staff officer in Mott’s Division:
Second Corps Staff Officer Map

John writes about the map: “This is a map that really depicts the entire Union Second Corps June 22, 1864. It is by Major John Willian, one of Mott’s staff officers. I bought it August 5, 2018, after it did not sell at auction. You are welcome to post it in regard to Grant’s Second Offensive at Petersburg. Keep in mind that it is an impressionistic map which does not show the second Union line accurately. That line diverged from Jerusalem Plank road at 25 degrees and because the forward Federal line diverged from the plank road at 90 degrees, it diverged from the forward Federal line at 65 degrees.”

Steven Simonson August 4, 2021 at 10:22 am

Thanks for the response, Brett. I didn’t know if you were still active, since the first blog posts of yours that I found were pretty old.

In 2014 I moved into the neighborhood that is, I think, the scene of the battle of June 22nd. We’re 0.3 to 0.4 miles south of the Confederate trenches. The accounts of the Union Regimental commanders that I’ve found in the OR mention that they were ordered to advance until they were “in close proximity to the enemy lines”, and that they advanced anywhere from three quarters of a mile to a mile and a half to reach the position they occupied when Mahone attacked. And the “2nd Corps Staff Officer Map” that you linked to shows the opposing lines pretty close together and parallel to each other (I think correctly).

Most of the maps that I’ve seen (including those by Ed Bearss), show the 2nd Corps much further south, a mile to a mile and a half south of the Confederate lines, and at an angle to the Confederate lines. I don’t think that’s right. If they were way down there, they certainly wouldn’t have been in “close proximity” to the enemy, the 6th Corps would have been within supporting distance of their left, and Mahone’s march up the ravine would not have put him on the Union flank.

I’ve always been a Civil War “buff”, so I find this research fascinating. I appreciate all of the source material that you’ve provided.

Steven
Petersburg, VA

Brett Schulte August 4, 2021 at 2:15 pm

Steven,

You’re welcome! I started closely looking at Petersburg in 2003, started this site in 2009, and I’ve been slowly learning more and more as I go. I’m 42, and I don’t plan on stopping any of this any time soon.

Based on your comments and what John Horn has mentioned to me, I think you are going to LOVE his book on the battle, hopefully coming out within a few years. I agree with you based on what I’ve read of the primary sources. None of the published maps really line up with Mahone being able to correctly use the ravine to get behind 2nd Corps. That ravine is the key. We know Mahone used it to flank the 2nd Corps. Any map showing 2nd Corps further south is either showing where the 2nd Corps was earlier in the day prior to their advance, or is incorrect. There isn’t any realistic way to argue otherwise.

Interestingly, and I mentioned this before, but the level of accuracy for many of the Petersburg battles is lacking when compared to the earlier campaigns in the East. Second Petersburg and Hatcher’s Run both need a lot of work, as examples.

Thanks for the compliment and plug. I started this for myself because I found the entire campaign fascinating. I’ve since found ways to make it useful for others too, and I try to be mindful of that when choosing what to post next. I have HUNDREDS of transcribed newspaper articles I need to publish, so I have content available that will last years if not decades.

And I will be for sure reviewing John Horn’s book as well as probably doing sneak peeks and an author interview if John has the time.

Brett

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