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150 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys: June 9, 1864

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.


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