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150 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 2: June 22, 1864

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The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 2: June 22, 1864:

Mahone’s Devastating Attack Routs the Second Corps

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 maneuvering of June 21 by the Union Second and Sixth Corps, the actions of June 22 would become decidedly more deadly.  Wright’s Sixth Corps was assigned the task of advancing on the Weldon Railroad near Globe Tavern.  The Second Corps would act as the connector between the Fifth Corps lines and the Sixth Corps advance.  This proved to be not only troublesome, but resulted in a disaster.

As Wright moved west to the Weldon Railroad, the Second Corps was supposed to swing like a gate, keeping contact with the stationary Fifth Corps on its right and the advancing Sixth Corps on its left.  However, the Union commanders had poor maps and were advancing through heavily wooded terrain.  To make matters even worse, there were no really good roads other than the one which led west to Globe Tavern.  The Second Corps would be advancing cross country.  As the Sixth Corps advanced and the distance between the Sixth and Fifth Corps grew steadily wider, the Second Corps couldn’t stay connected to both.  Meade directed Francis Barlow, in charge of the leftmost Second Corps division, to keep connected to the rest of the Second Corps and refuse his left flank.  Wright’s Sixth Corps would be unsupported.

Battle Of Jerusalem Plank Road June 22, 1864 by John E. Horn

Interestingly, it wasn’t Wright who ran into trouble on June 22.  Barlow and the rest of the Second Corps would pay the price for the hole which had opened.  Confederate Third Corps division commander William “Little Billy” Mahone was about to have the first of many good days at the Siege of Petersburg, in no small part due to the fact that he knew the terrain extremely well.  He had been chief civil engineer of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad.   Mahone put his knowledge of the terrain to good use, utilizing a ravine which ran due south of the Confederate fortifications to get into a position to attack Barlow’s left flank undetected (see both maps connected to this story to visualize Mahone’s initial attacking position).

Mahone’s men hit Barlow’s Division like a sledgehammer that afternoon, getting in behind the Second Corps men in wooded terrain and bagging thousands of prisoners.  Before the attack was complete, the Second Corps had been driven all the way back to their entrenchments along Jerusalem Plank Road, and four cannon had been captured.  This was a noteworthy event, because it was the first time ANY artillery piece belonging to the Second Corps had been taken forcefully from that organization in combat in the entire Civil War to that point.  The Second Corps held at Jerusalem Plank Road and even half-heartedly counterattacked locally, but the damage was done.  As the Second Corps strengthened their works that night, Mahone went back the way he had come, with many prisoners in tow.

Battle Of Jerusalem Plank Road: June 22, 1864

Wilcox’s Third Corps division supported Mahone’s initial attack, but was not heavily engaged.  They were expected to keep an eye on the Sixth Corps and prevent any interference with Mahone’s advance.  They were successful in this and also prevented Wright from reaching the Weldon Railroad.  The Union forces had tried to reach one of Lee’s vital supply lines, and he had hit back hard.

The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road was not finished, however.  The next day, Wright would again try to reach the Weldon Railroad…

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