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150 Years Ago Today: The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 3: June 23, 1864

The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, Day 3: June 23, 1864:

A Melancholy Affair for the Vermont Brigade

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 beating the Second Corps took on June 22, the Union mobile striking force consisting of the Second and Sixth Corps was clustered along the Jerusalem Plank Road.  They would try again on June 23 to reach the Weldon Railroad, the first of several vital supply lines stretching south and west of Petersburg.  As had happened the day before, Lee dispatched a mobile strike force of his own to deal with the Union advance.  Another fight would erupt, but would the outcome be any different than it had the day before?

The Second Corps again advanced out to the position they held on June 22 when Mahone had attacked.  This time, however, the left of the Second Corps successfully linked up with the right of the Sixth Corps.  With two potential flanks now protected and turned into a solid line, Wright’s Sixth Corps was free to slowly advance in a westward direction and attempt to get onto the Weldon Railroad, interrupting its operations.  Wright succeeded in getting small number of men I an advanced force onto the Weldon Railroad before noon on June 23, but his main force was still several miles away.  It was then that Wright noticed a strong Confederate column approaching on the Halifax Road, moving south to protect the Weldon Railroad .  It was Mahone’s Division reinforced, back for more action after the previous day’s fight.

Wright was essentially paralyzed by the enemy sighting and did nothing.  Mahone held the initiative, and as he did so often during the Siege of Petersburg, Mahone launched an attack.  In this case, faulty Federal positions caused another disaster, though of lesser magnitude than the previous day’s affair.  A good portion of the Vermont Brigade, mostly from the 4th Vermont and 11th Vermont regiments, was gobbled up by several of Mahone’s brigades.  The Vermonters had been left out front of the main Union position, and that forward position was separated from the main Union lines visually by a ridge.  Tragically, the Vermonters who were captured that day were almost all sent to Andersonville, and half of the 380 or so POWs captured at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road died there.  Author David F. Cross’s (see his book listed below) hypothesis is that the death rate at the notorious POW camp was due to a hookworm outbreak.

Needless to say, a second attempt to reach and hold the Weldon Railroad had failed.  One more attempt would occur on June 24…

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