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150 Years Ago Today: Warren’s Stony Creek Raid, Day 6: December 12, 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 12, 1864, 150 years ago today, the Stony Creek Raid to Hicksford wound down to a conclusion.  Wade Hampton, stymied by the Nottoway River, gave up his pursuit of the Union raiding column.  Warren and Potter’s “relief column” spent the day marching back to their camps near Petersburg.  A. P. Hill did the same with his infantry on a parallel course miles to the west.

When the raid was all said and done, Warren’s force had destroyed 16-17 miles of the Weldon Railroad from the Nottoway River to the Meherrin River.  The Confederates got to work on repairs immediately, but it would be months until the railroad was back in operation to Stony Creek in March 1865.  For all of this damage, Warren lost only 300 or so men. Confederate casualties are unknown, but were almost certainly less.  In his book The Last Citadel, Noah Andre Trudeau called the damage to the Weldon Ralroad “serious though not fatal blow.  It exacerbated a difficult food situation and contributed greatly to the hardships that Lee’s army would face in the coming months.” [Trudeau, 284-285]

In the end, Grant had used the arrival of the Union Sixth Corps before Early’s Confederates could return to his advantage.  These troops were used to man the lines near Petersburg, freeing up a mobile striking force of four infantry divisions and a cavalry division.  The always cautious Warren actually did a pretty solid job in this chance at independent command.  Grant’s original expectations were to destroy the Weldon Railroad to Hicksford, and Warren had done just that with trifling losses.  For Lee, this was, as Trudeau writes, a serious blow.  The distance Confederate wagon trains had to move in order to reach the Boydton Plank Road had just effectively doubled.  This put a further strain on the horses and mules expected to haul these supplies over such a distance in winter time.  Grant’s noose tightened one notch further.  He was slowly squeezing the life out of Lee’s veterans defending Richmond and Petersburg.

At this point, operations in the area settled down for a lengthy period of time, the first such break the armies had seen since the 1864 Overland Campaign began in May.  Christmas was coming, and men on both sides welcomed the break.

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