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150 Years Ago Today: The Second Battle of Petersburg, Day 2: June 16, 1864

The Second Battle of Petersburg, Day 2: June 16, 1864

Brief Summary: The first day of the Second Battle of Petersburg had seen the Confederate defenders driven back from the Dimmock Line to the western bank of Harrison Creek.  Beauregard had received reinforcements through the night, with Hoke’s division arriving first, and then Johnson’s division after Beauregard made the decision to strip the Bermuda Hundred lines to the north of all but skirmishers.  Lee would have to plug that hole with his Army of Northern Virginia.  Over on the Union side, Hancock’s Second Corps had joined Baldy Smith’s Eighteenth Corps late on the evening of June 15, and the Ninth Corps joined them late on the morning of the 16th. The Union corps kept expanding the line to the left from the anchor of the Appomattox River, the Eighteenth Corps on the right, the Second in the center, and the Ninth on the far leftt.  Three Union corps, around 50,000 men, confronted two Confederate divisions, around 14,000 or so.

Hancock had instructed Second Corps division commanders Gibbon and Birney to scout the positions in front of them for a dawn attack, but delays prevented this from occurring until 6 am, well after dawn.  Gibbon was on the right, Birney in the center, and as Barlow’s division of the Second Corps showed up after a frustrating march in which they lost their way, they formed the left of the corps.  Grant conferred with Meade, asked him to take charge of the assaults, and asked for an attack by 6 pm on the evening of the 16th.

Despite three full corps being present, Hancock’s Second Corps was the only one which made any attacks greater than a demonstration.  Batteries 3, 13, and 14 fell after the 6 pm attacks commenced.  However, Beauregard’s lines had held, and he even made a few local counterattacks that evening to try to regain some ground.  These failed, but kept the tired Union soldiers from getting much needed sleep. The odds were not going to get better than this for the Union forces.  Again, more men would arrive on each side on the night of the 16th into the 17th.  The third day of the Second Battle of Petersburg would see more attacks…

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