The First Battle of Petersburg: June 9, 1864
Brief Summary: Less than a week prior to the arrival of the Army of the Potomac east of Petersburg, Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James made an abortive strike against the city in an attempt to capture it by surprise on June 9, 1864. Butler sent two infantry columns to make a diversion east of the city, while August Kautz’s cavalry division attacked from the southeast. The infantry under Tenth Corps commander Quincy Gillmore was composed of Hawley’s brigade (2/1/X/AotJ), and the 2nd Brigade, Third Division, Eighteenth Corps, AotJ (a brigade of USCTs) led in person by division commander Edward Hinks. The infantry ran up against the Dimmock Line, under construction for quite some time in anticipation of just such an attack. Gillmore refused to push the action, and consequently the Union infantry did almost nothing against a skeleton force of Confederate defenders. So much for the diversion. It was up to August Kautz and his cavalry. Archer’s Battalion of militia, composed of men from the area surrounding Petersburg, bravely stood up to the Union cavalry. Though they were driven away, their stand allowed the 4th North Carolina Cavalry and Graham’s Petersburg Battery to put up a second line of resistance. The battle was sometimes called “the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys” in reference to Archer’s militia unit and their brave stand defending their homes. Kautz was surprised by this second line of defenses, decided caution was the better part of valor, and retreated. The attempt to capture Petersburg by surprise had failed, and even worse from a Union perspective, alerted the Confederates to Petersburg’s vulnerability. The consequences of this action would be apparent less than a week later, as Grants large army approached and a suitably alarmed Beauregard provided his greatest performance of the entire war.
Note: This battle is often referred to as “The First Battle of Petersburg” at the Siege of Petersburg Online.
RESERVOIR HILL, WHERE KAUTZ’S ADVANCE WAS STOPPED, JUNE 9, 1864. FROM A PHOTOGRAPH MADE IN 1886.
To Learn More, Read the Following:
- The Petersburg Campaign Volume 1: The Eastern Front Battles June-August 1864: This is volume 1 of a two part collection of monographs Ed Bearss wrote in the 1960s on various battles of the Siege of Petersburg. Missing battles were filled in ably by longtime Siege of Petersburg student Bryce Suderow. Detailed maps by George Skoch round out the book. This book and a second upcoming volume are predominantly made up of essays Ed Bearss did for the National Park Service in the (I think?) 1960′s. Copies of these essays have been in the files of Petersburg National Battlefield for decades, laying unpublished. In 2003 I was able to obtain copies of all of the essays with the help of Petersburg Campaign author and researcher Bryce Suderow (and a hat tip to Park Ranger Jimmy Blankenship).
- The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys June 9, 1864 by William G. Robertson: This book is from the H. E. Howard series on Virginia battles and leaders. Robertson also has a book out on the operations of the preceding Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
Best Posts Freely Available on this site:
- The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys: June 9, 1864
- An “Old Man” at the First Battle of Petersburg: Anthony M. Keiley
- B&L: Operations South of the James River: I. First Attempts to Capture Petersburg by August V. Kautz
- B&L: Operations South of the James River: II. Repelling the First Assault on Petersburg by R. E. Colston
- NP: June 13, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer: The Recent Demonstration on Petersburg, June 9
- NP: June 18, 1864 Raleigh Confederate: From the Petersburg Express, June 16
If you have other resources you’ve found useful, feel free to post them in the comments section.