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150 Years Ago Today: Warren’s Stony Creek Raid, Day 4: December 10, 1864

Warren’s Stony Creek Raid: December 7-12, 1864:

Applejack, Ice, and Wrecking a Railroad

Note: Click to see maps of the Stony Creek Raid, which should help you follow along with the action.

Brief Summary:

On December 10, 1864, 150 years ago today, Gouverneur Warren was in a tight spot.  He was 40+ miles south of Grant’s headquarters at City Point, with Hampton’s Confederate cavalry on his front and A. P. Hill’s column of Confederate infantry lurking dangerously close to his right flank.  If Hill could beat Warren to Jarratt’s Station on the Weldon Railroad, he might also beat him to Sussex Court House, blocking his escape route across the Nottoway River.

Warren started around 7 a. m. on the morning of the 10th, a somewhat surprising late start given the circumstances.  He put one cavalry brigade in the lead as he headed norh up the now destroyed Weldon Railroad.  His infantry followed, Griffin first, then the supply train, and then Mott, Ayres, and Crawford.  The remaining two brigades of Gregg’s cavalry division brought up the rear.  This was not going to be an easy march for either side.  Sleet had fallen all night as the temperatures plunged.  Blue and Gray alike woke up to an ice covered landscape and a tough road to travel.  After moving north a few miles, Warren split his forces into two columns, most of the cavalry moving north to Jarratt’s Station, and then east to Sussex Court House, and the infantry taking a more direct route northeast to the Sussex County seat.


Hampton and Hill followed their agreed-upon plan from the night before, with Hill moving northeast to Jarratt’s Station and Hampton harrying the retreating bluecoats from the south.  Neither was fast enough, despite Warren’s late start.  Rear guard actions occurred all day long, with two of the biggest occurring at Three Creek and Jarratt’s Station.  The Federals prepared multiple local ambushes to further retard the Confederate pursuit.

Slaves swarmed to the retreating Federal columns, and some told the Union soldiers about their comrades who had been murdered along the route by guerrillas.  Once the Union soldiers found this to be true, they began burning every building along the retreat route.  The applejack they had pilfered from Southern homes wouldn’t have helped to calm their mood either.  The pursuing Confederates were appalled at the destruction applied to personal property in the middle of a bitterly cold winter day.  Ultimately, Warren’s two wings reunited a few miles south of Sussex Court House and bedded down for the night.  Hill and Hampton were still on their heels.

While the raid was reaching its apex and receding, Robert E. Lee performed a reconnaissance of his own on the north side of the James River.  James Longstreet took Field’s Division and Gary’s Cavalry Brigade to probe the Union lines on New Market Heights to see if they had been weakened to beef up Warren’s Raid or Butler’s troops earmarked for the first Fort Fisher expedition.  Longstreet found the Federal lines north of the James thinly manned by cavalry but declined to attack in the nasty weather and against strong fortifications.  His reconnaissance in force retired back to the Confederate lines guarding Richmond.

Grant and Meade had every right to be worried about Warren’s predicament on the morning of December 10.  Grant had the Army of the James probe the Confederate defenses near Richmond in front of Fort Holly, a work on the Federal lines near Fussell’s Mill north of the James River.  Miles’ probe down the Vaughan Road had failed to cross Hatcher’s Run, and his nearly division sized force withdrew back the way they had come back into the Union fortifications southwest of Petersburg.  In addition, Grant and Meade sent Robert Potter’s Ninth Corps division south down the Jerusalem Plank Road with orders to march all night to reach Warren.  Would this relief column be needed the next day?  Only time would tell, and that story will indeed be told tomorrow, 150 years to the day after the fact…


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