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150 Years Ago Today: The First Battle of Deep Bottom, Day 1: July 27, 1864

The First Battle of Deep Bottom: July 27, 1864:

The Federals Take Four Twenty Pound Parrotts

Note: Click to see maps of the First Battle of Deep Bottom, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: In late June 1864, the brigade of Brigadier General Robert Foster established a bridgehead over the James at Deep Bottom, just north of the Bermuda Hundred lines of the Union Army of the James.  Grant’s purpose was to get Lee to extend his lines to cover the approaches to Richmond from the southeast, weakening his defenses elsewhere.  This drew Lee’s attention, but his instructions to Department of Richmond commander Richard S. Ewell went mostly unheeded, other than to send artillery to fire into the bridgehead and Union shipping on the James River.

On July 23, a second brigade was thrown into this bridgehead and it was expanded to occupy the positions the Confederate artillery had established.  And Grant had even bigger plans.  A few days later, he told Army of the Potomac commander George G. Meade that he wanted “a demonstration on the north side of the James River, having for its real object the destruction of the railroad on that side.”  The railroad Grant referred to was the Virginia Central, and he planned to use a force consisting of two divisions of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps as well as two of Phil Sheridan’s Cavalry divisions, Torbert’s and Gregg’s, all from the Army of the Potomac.  The railroad would be destroyed where possible, and the bridges over the Chickahominy River would be destroyed.

The mine Henry Pleasants and his 48th Pennsylvania had been digging since late June was nearly complete, and this operation might also draw Confederate strength north of the James, reducing he Confederate forces east of Petersburg near where the mine explosion was soon to take place.

Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS3 by Hal Jespersen. Graphic source file is available at http://www.posix.com/CWmaps/

Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS3 by Hal Jespersen. Graphic source file is available at http://www.posix.com/CWmaps/


In the days leading up to the demonstration, Lee had ordered Kershaw’s First Corps division to assault and attempt to dislodge the Union bridgehead at Deep Bottom.  Some small scale fighting occurred, but no results were gained by the Confederates.  The bridgehead still existed.

On the early morning of Jul 27, Hancock utilized that bridgehead to launch his “demonstration,” though not without some odd tactical decisions. (See Dan O’Connell’s article on First Deep Bottom for details.)  Hancock crossed on the “lower” pontoon bridge, further east and away from the main line of advance.  From there, he advanced across Strawberry Plains against a Confederate position on the Long Bridge Road.  A reinforced Federal skirmish line (1st Brigade, 1st Division, Second Corps) captured the 1st Rockbridge VA Artillery, a battery of four 20-lb Parrott rifles.  After this Confederate force had been routed, the division of John Gibbon pursued down the Long Bridge Road to Bailey’s Creek.  At this point they managed to scatter another Confederate Battery and cross the creek.  However, a strong Confederate battle line was drawn up about half a mile from the creek, and Hancock decided against even attempting it.  Instead, he detailed some units to explore how far north the Confederate left flank ran.  The 26th Michigan, tabbed for this duty, was unsuccessful in the effort.  Hancock dug in at nightfall and contemplated what to do next…


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