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150 Years Ago Today: The Second Battle of Petersburg, Day 4: June 18, 1864

The Second Battle of Petersburg, Day 4: June 18, 1864

Brief Summary: The previous two days of battle had seen uncoordinated Union attacks made by the Second Corps (June 16) and the Ninth Corps (June 17), and Beauregard’s Confederates from the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia had just been able to fend them off.  Meade attempted to stage a more coordinated assault on June 18, 1864, the fourth day of the Second Battle of Petersburg.    Between dawn and 2 pm, all four Federal corps along the lines facing Petersburg cautiously moved forward to establish Beauregard’s new line.  During that time, the First Corps divisions of Kershaw and Field had arrived, the first veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia to make their appearance in front of Petersburg.  Beauregard stationed them to the right, extending his line in a similar manner to the Union commanders when they had received reinforcements.

Union attack on Petersburg on June 18, 1864

Ground Over Which Union Forces Attacked at Petersburg on June 18, 1864 (Edwin Forbes, LOC)

Once the new Confederate line had been found and scouted, Meade ordered an attack around 3 pm.  Three disjointed attacks occurred over the next three hours or so.  Warren’s Fifth Corps started things off, and Gettysburg hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was severely wounded, thought at the time to be mortally so. See the book focusing on this charge below for further reading.  The next attack, by the Second Corps, featured the doomed famous charge by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery.  This massive regiment, now serving as infantry, charged unsupported, and lost over 600 out of over 900 men, the largest single day’s loss by one regiment in the entire Civil War.  See the two newspaper articles below from the Charleston News and Courier for further details.  Ninth Corps attacks by Willcox ended the day’s fighting, and the battle.

Grant would make the decision to initiate the Siege of Petersburg on June 19, 1864.  The First Offensive against Petersburg had ended.  More violence would break out again in a few days during Grant’s Second Offensive.  A hitherto average Confederate division commander, William “Little Billy” Mahone, would make the first of many devastating attacks during the Siege of Petersburg at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road on June 22, 1864…

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