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150 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 1: June 21, 1864

The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 1: June 21, 1864

Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: After the disappointing outcome for the Union Army at the Second Battle of Petersburg, Grant decided a siege was in order, and the Union army dug trenches to consolidate the ground they had gained from June 15-18, 1864.  On June 21, 1864, Grant’s Second Offensive against Petersburg got underway.  The Second Corps and Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac were quietly pulled out of the lines facing Petersburg from the east, and sent south and west.  Army of the Potomac commander George Meade ultimately hoped to completely circle the Confederates defending Petersburg by placing Union troops on the Appomattox River west of the city, a result which would prove elusive not only over the following few days, but over nine long months.


The Second Corps was to extend the former Union far left, manned by the Fifth Corps, and the Sixth would then latch on to the Second Corps and extend even further left.  The Second Corps, temporarily under division commander Birney because Winfield Scott Hancock had experienced a flair-up of his Gettysburg wound, slowly but surely moved into a position on the left of the Fifth Corps, but the going was difficult due to the (lack of a) road network.  Birney left the divisions of Mott and Gibbon along the Jerusalem Plank Road south of the Fifth Corps’ lines, and sent Barlow out with his division to reconnoiter the ground he wished to eventually place the entire Second Corps on.  Barlow skirmished with Confederate cavalry and infantry during the advance.  Birney eventually got cold feet when a Confederate force was reported to be moving across the front of the Second Corps and ordered Barlow back to the Jerusalem Plank Road.  The divisions of Gibbon, Mott, and Barlow, in that order from left to right, extended the Union line down the Jerusalem Plank Road from the Fifth Corps lines.  Barlow’s left rested near the road which led west from the Jerusalem Plank Road to Globe Tavern on the all-important Weldon Railroad, one of Lee’s supply lines.

Meanwhile, the Sixth Corps struggled to extricate itself from the Union fortifications east of Petersburg, coping with a Confederate artillery bombardment when the Rebels discovered the movement of so many men.  As a result, two of the Sixth Corps divisions under Wheaton and Russell never made it into position on the left of the Second Corps until the following day.  Only Ricketts and his division were able to entrench to the left of Barlow’s Second Corps division and extend the line even more down the Jerusalem Plank Road.

The stage was set for June 22, 1864, where the Federals hoped to move west and strike the Weldon Railroad.  Would they succeed?  Only time would tell…

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