Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
THE WAR DAY BY DAY FIFTY YEARS AGO.
Feb 7, 1865—Three Days’ Operations Against the Right of Gen Lee’s Line at Petersburg Were Concluded Without Material Gain for Either Side—The Battle of Hatchers Run.
FIFTY YEARS ago today a series of operations against the right of Gen Lee’s line at Petersburg, known as the Battle of Hatchers Run, was concluded after three days of hard work by Grant’s Army without material gains for either side.1
The operations were undertaken when Grant was informed that the Confederates in Petersburg were receiving large quantities of supplies from the Carolinas by a wagon-train route from Hicksford on the Weldon Railroad, about 40 miles south of Petersburg. It was reported that wagon-trains passed from Hicksford up the Meherrin River to the Boydton plank road and thence along that road, through Dinwiddie Courthouse, to Petersburg.
Grant at once ordered part of his army into action. The cavalry, under Gen D[avid]. McM. Gregg, marched from the rear of the Federal lines at 8 o’clock on the morning of Feb 5 , and, passing through Ream’s Station, struck the Boydton road at Dinwiddie, and managed to capture a few wagons and some prisoners. Gregg learned that Lee was making little use of the road. He then fell back upon his supports, the 5th Corps, under Gen G[ouverneur]. K. Warren, which had moved half way from Petersburg to Dinwiddie Courthouse by Grant’s order.
Gen Warren’s movement was supported in turn by part of the 2d Corps, under Gen A[ndrew]. A. Humphreys, who had succeeded Gen [Winfield Scott] Hancock, which had crossed Hatchers Run at the Vaughan road, near the left of the Union line. This detachment had crossed early in the day and had taken position to check the Confederates should they attack.
Gen Humphreys was convinced that he did not have men enough to hold his lines and believed that Lee would certainly attack him. So he sent for reinforcements, and by 5 o’clock in the afternoon, was in sufficient strength to meet any emergency. Shortly after 5 he was sharply attacked by detachments of Gen A[mbrose]. P. Hill’s and J[ohn]. B. Gordons Confederate Corps, which had been sent by Lee to check the threatening Federal movement.
The first attack was repulsed and the Confederates withdrew to reinforce.
WARREN’S LINE PUSHED BACK.
Early the next morning, Feb 6 , Warren’s Corps and Gregg’s cavalry, who had early moved in from their advanced position of the night before, joined Gen Humphreys and took up new positions along Hatchers Run and the Vaughn road. Gen Warren personally supervised the placing of the troops and the erection of rude breastworks.
About 1 o’clock in the afternoon Gen Warren began a reconnoissance which ended in Gregg’s becoming heavily engaged with a part of Pegram’s division of Gordon’s Corps on the Vaughan road. Aided by his infantry supports, Gregg forced the Confederates to give ground.
Subsequently the balance of Pegram’s division under Gen John Pegram himself attacked Gen S[amuel]. W. Crawford’s division of Warren’s Corps near Dabneys Mill, south of Hatchers Run. In the first fighting at this point Gen [John] Pegram was killed and his division pushed to the rear; but the Confederates received supports and for a while the tide of battle rose and fell.
Finally the Confederates began a general attack and in spite of almost a universally good conduct of the Federal officers, some of the men gave way and Warren’s line was pushed back rapidly, but without sustaining a very heavy loss.
At this critical moment the leading brigade of Maj Gen Frank Wheaton’s division of the 6th Corps came up to the battle front and, rallying other units, checked the Confederate advance.
Night ended the struggle with the Union troops reformed and ready for service the next day.
A TERRIBLE NIGHT.
Feb 5 and 6  had been bitterly cold, and by far the severest days in which Grant’s Army had ever undertaken extensive operations. On the night of the second day the thermometer was close to zero, yet the tired soldiers on both sides threw themselves on the ground and slept on their arms.
“During the night it rained,” says one account, “and as the water fell it froze on the men’s overcoats and on the blankets in which some of them had wrapped themselves. A few small chip and twig fires were all that the men had to warm them. Huddled together upon the ground they shivered with the cold through the long night. The heavy log fires which the Confederates had built within 200 yards of the line did not increase their comfort.”
During the greater part of the next day, Feb 7 , there was little action. Finally Gen Warren ordered a general reconnaissance. Though some Confederates were met, no strong force was developed, and the Federals at once set to work on formidable intrenchments.
When these were completed the Union line in front of Petersburg extended to the Vaughan road crossing of Hatchers Run. Warren’s losses in the operations were about 1165 killed and wounded and 154 missing. These figures include the losses of Gregg’s Cavalry. The 2d Corps losses were 138 killed and wounded; those of Wheaton’s division 17 killed and wounded, making a Federal total of approximately 1320 killed and wounded and 154 missing. The Confederate losses are believed to have been nearly as large.2