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150 Years Ago Today: Battle of Peebles Farm: October 1, 1864

Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Peebles Farm, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary: The second day of the Battle of Peebles Farm, fought on October 1, 1864, occurred 150 years ago today.  Infantry and cavalry fighting on this rainy day was fiercely contested, but didn’t settle the score, with one finaal day of major combat in store for the two sides.

Infantry Action at Peebles Farm: Heth’s “Flank” Attack

The Union advance past the Peebles and Pegram farms of the day before had caught the Confederates off guard, but fierce counterattacks had made for a rough day for the Union Ninth Corps.  Once the fighting had stabilized around Pegram’s Farm, the Union force pulled back to a more defensible position on the Peebles Farm to the southeast, leaving a brigade in advance at Pegram’s.

This new Yankee line and how to get at it consumed Confederate planning on the night of September 30 and the morning of a rainy October 1.  The idea arrived at was to have Henry Heth make a flank attack on the Union right, presumably in the air, with four brigades, wreaking havoc akin to Mahone’s devastating assault on August 19, 1864 at the Battle of Globe Tavern.  Wilcox and two brigades of his Light Division would wait and attack the Union center once Heth’s attack was well underway.  Hampton’s cavalry would also wait on the Union left and join in during the anticipated confusion.

There were several problems with this plan.  First, Henry Heth was no William Mahone, at least not at the Siege of Petersburg.  Second, the Union right was well anchored on the captured Fort Bratton along Squirrel Level Road, and Heth’s probes told him by mid-morning that he wasn’t facing a Yankee flank at all, but rather a well dug in Union battle line with artillery support.


The Battle of Peebles Farm, Heth’s Attack: October 1, 1864

Despite this knowledge, Heth sent forward the men of MacRae’s North Carolina Brigade, who were supposed to perform a reconnaissance in force.  Like the previous day at Fort Harrison with Tige Anderson’s Georgians, MacRae’s men attacked outright in a miscommunication.  The results were similar too.  Only after MacRae’s repulse did Heth send in Archer and Davis in a repeat of the piecemeal attacks at Fort Harrison.  They too failed to make any headway, so much so that Heth never sent in his fourth brigade under Cooke. He retreated back to the entrenchments near the W. W. Davis house.

In terms of results, Fifth Offensive chronicler Richard Sommers calls this “the most decisive phase” of the Battle of Peebles Farm.  The results guaranteed, just like the August 21, 1864 fighting at Globe Tavern, that the Yankees had permanently advanced their siege lines again, never to recede.

The Opposing Cavalry Forces Duke It Out: The Battle of Vaughan Road

Shortly after Heth’s infantry attack that morning, Confederate and Union Cavalry squared off to the south of Peebles Farm along the Vaughan Road where it intersects with the Wyatt Road.  Gregg’s Union Second Division was protecting the Union strike force’s left flank and rear, while Hampton’s Cavalry Corps, minus Fitz Lee’s division, was guarding the Confederate far right.

Gregg’s Division had been pulled in away from the Vaughan-Wyatt intersection overnight, leaving only the 1st Maine Cavalry as a guard.  Butler’s Confederate Division took this vital intersection as the Maine troopers retreated without much of a struggle.  Butler settled in to create some temporary earthworks in the area rather than pursue.  These events set the stage for the battle to come.

Once the Union infantry had comfortably repulsed the Confederate attacks on their right near Peebles Farm in the morning, Gregg set out to reclaim the important road intersection and secure the Union left.  He managed to drive off Butler’s men near 11 am on October 1.  In seesaw fighting throughout the day near the McDowell house, the Yankee cavalry eventually emerged as the winners, and Confederate brigade commander John Dunovant was killed leading a charge.

The results of this fight were that the far left flank of the Union army was secure.  Casualties were around 90 Federals and 130 Confederates. Overall, the fighting on October 1 at Peebles Farm and the Vaughan Road was a Yankee success.  They had gained new ground on September 30, and secured that ground on which to build permanent entrenchment on October 1.

That said, the Battle of Peebles Farm would see one more day’s infantry fighting, when the Second Corps division of Gershom Mott made another Union offensive effort in the direction of the Boydton Plank Road.  Tune in tomorrow for the results of that fighting…

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