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The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys: June 9, 1864

Name: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys

Other Names: The First Battle of Petersburg

Location: City of Petersburg

Campaign: Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (June 1864-March 1865)

Date(s): June 9, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Quincy Gillmore [US]; Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

Forces Engaged: 7,000 (US 4,500; CS 2,500)

Estimated Casualties: 120 total

Description: On June 9, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler dispatched about 4,500 cavalry and infantry against the 2,500 Confederate defenders of Petersburg. While Butler’s infantry demonstrated against the outer line of entrenchments east of Petersburg, Kautz’s cavalry division attempted to enter the city from the south via the Jerusalem Plank Road but was repulsed by Home Guards.  Afterwards, Butler withdrew. This was called the “battle of old men and young boys” by local residents. On June 14-17, the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River and began moving towards Petersburg to support and renew Butler’s assaults.

Result(s): Confederate victory

Summary: Less than a week prior to the arrival of the Army of the Potomac east of Petersburg, Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James made an abortive strike against the city in an attempt to capture it by surprise on June 9, 1864.  Butler sent two infantry columns to make a diversion east of the city, while August Kautz’s cavalry division attacked from the southeast.  The infantry under Tenth Corps commander Quincy Gillmore was composed of Hawley’s brigade (2/1/X/AotJ), and the 2nd Brigade, Third Division, Eighteenth Corps, AotJ (a brigade of USCTs) led in person by division commander Edward Hinks.  The infantry ran up against the Dimmock Line, under construction for quite some time in anticipation of just such an attack.  Gillmore refused to push the action, and consequently the Union infantry did almost nothing against a skeleton force of Confederate defenders.  So much for the diversion.  It was up to August Kautz and his cavalry.  Archer’s Battalion of militia, composed of men from the area surrounding Petersburg, bravely stood up to the Union cavalry.  Though they were driven away, their stand allowed the 4th North Carolina Cavalry and Graham’s Petersburg Battery to put up a second line of resistance.  The battle was sometimes called “the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys” in reference to Archer’s militia unit and their brave stand defending their homes.  Kautz was surprised by this second line of defenses, decided caution was the better part of valor, and retreated.  The attempt to capture Petersburg by surprise had failed, and even worse from a Union perspective, alerted the Confederates to Petersburg’s vulnerability.  The consequences of this action would be apparent less than a week later, as Grants large army approached and a suitably alarmed Beauregard provided his greatest performance of the entire war.

Note: This battle is often referred to as “The First Battle of Petersburg” at the Siege of Petersburg Online.

Note: Please see the sites listed below for more information.


First Person Accounts:

    Siege of Petersburg Documents Which Mention This Battle:

    Source: CWSAC Battle Summary

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