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150 Years Ago Today: Battle of Darbytown Road: October 13, 1864

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

Note 2: For a VERY DETAILED look at the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road, see this original article penned by Bryce Suderow.

Brief Summary: On October 13, 1864, the second of three October battles along the Darbytown Road occurred, 150 years ago today.  On October 7, 1864, at the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads, Robert E. Lee’s Confederate strike force failed to drive back the Union Army of the James.  As a result, Lee instructed the divisions of Charles Field and Robert Hoke to build a new intermediate defense line between his old outer line, still held by the Federals, and Richmond’s inner defense line.

The work on this new line attracted the attention of Union pickets and Kautz’s Federal cavalry patrols, and Grant determined to interfere.  He sent the First and Third Divisions of the Tenth Corps, Army of the James, now under Alfred Terry, to reconnoiter and attempt to break up the Confederate work on their new line of entrenchments.

October 13 1864 Darbytown Road map

Modern Day Map of the Darbytown Road Battlefield with Unit Positions Drawn Over Top. Used with Permission of Bryce Suderow. This map may not be reproduced without this written permission.

As the Federals slowly tried to feel for Field’s left, the Confederate general kept moving his own forces further north, with Hoke’s Division to the south moving into the rifle pits vacated by Field’s men.  Grant and Butler warned Terry about making any frontal assaults against intrenchments.  Although the fighting was mainly heavy skirmishing, an attack was launched north the Darbytown Road against Field’s Division by Ames’ First Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James.  Pond’s First Brigade, First Division, Tenth Corps got the assignment.  These men of Ames’ Division forced to make the attack knew it was doomed before it began.   They assaulted Perry’s Alabama Brigade, and the result was a disaster. Pond lost over half of his small 550 man brigade in the attack.

Shortly after the failure of this unsupported, one brigade attack, Terry retreated back the way he had come.  The Confederates only lost 50 men in the fighting on this day.  Bryce Suderow, in his detailed account of the fighting linked to above, criticizes Grant, Butler and Terry for the planning, and he was equally underwhelmed by Terry’s tactical decision to spread out his two divisions along a wide front and then attack with a single unsupported brigade. Hampton Newsome, in Richmond Must Fall, is less critical of Grant and Butler, choosing to criticize Terry alone for not listening to his commander and the overall commander.

The end result was that the Confederates had successfully built and defended a new intermediate defense line to help keep the Army of the James out of Richmond.  The Fifth Offensive was finally over after more than two weeks of grappling on both flanks of the defenses guarding Richmond and Petersburg.  Grant had gained ground in both areas, and his sixth Offensive late in October would try to grab even more.  Lee’s ability to hold Grant away from the last supply lines keeping his army fed was gradually weakening, and Grant was not about to let up.

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