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NP: August 25, 1964 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 26: The Second Battle Of Reams Station

The Second Battle Of Reams Station

(The following is the twenty-sixth in a series of articles pertaining to the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg).

[Union Fifth Corps commander] General [Gouverneur K.] Warren having established himself on the Petersburg [and Weldon] Railroad a few miles south of Petersburg, General [Winfield Scott] Hancock with two divisions of his II Corps and [David McM.] Gregg’s cavalry [division] on August 22 [1864] went south to destroy the same line as far away as Rowanty Creek. Union lodgment on the line had been almost an afterthought resulting from a reconnaissance, but Grant purposed to exploit the opportunity. In a manner reminiscent of the May and June [1864] raids, Hancock was vigorously tearing up and burning tracks in the vicinity of Reams Station without interference.

Confederate cavalry under General Wade Hampton, the South Carolina planter, who had succeeded Stuart and had proved to be an effective military leader, had a brush with the visitors. Hampton, observing that Hancock’s force was not well placed, recommended that an attack should be made against it with infantry aid. Lee was attracted by the idea and was determined that the possible error of using too few troops should not be repeated. Accordingly he dispatched eight brigades of infantry from Heath’s [sic, Heth’s], Mahone’s, and Wilcox’s divisions to cooperate with Hampton’s cavalry. Pegram’s battery was another participant.

The force traveled by way of the Halifax and Vaughan Roads. On August 25 [1864] Hancock was found occupying earthworks at Reams station intersected by the railroad. The first Confederate attack, made about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, was repulsed. About 5 o’clock the Confederates attacked again, with larger force and with great spirit. Yelling North Carolina participants were credited with making one of the most brilliant dashes of the entire war. A determination to punish the enemy for his railroad victory closer to Petersburg was in evidence.

Hancock’s line was taken in reverse, and the result was acknowledged panic for the Union defenders. Hancock himself was described as distressed and humiliated over the proceedings. Later he attributed the poor showing to the fact some of his men were new and all of them were fatigued and to the loss of some of the best officers of the II Corps. In any case, Hancock, Miles, and Gregg saved what they could and withdrew after dark. The Confederates captured more than 2,000 prisoners, 12 stands of colors, and nine pieces of artillery.

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The August battle at Reams Station stimulated Confederate morale and anti-war sentiment in the Union. A nurse at City Point recorded that the army had been badly beaten, no matter what the news might say.

To date Grant had paid a price of about 9,500 men for the upper end of the Petersburg [and Weldon] Railroad, around three or four times the Confederate cost of defending it. The difference, however, was that Grant could better afford what seemed to be catastrophic losses than Lee could afford more moderate losses. And in interfering with traffic between Petersburg and Wilmington, N. C., the last Confederate port which blockade runners were still able to use, Grant had made an important gain for his strategy of strangulation. This was a point at which it should not have been difficult to predict the outcome of the campaign.

Use of the line was abandoned, however, for the Confederates began unloading their trains at Stony Creek and hauling supplies by wagons on an indirect westerly route into Petersburg. Until December [1864] this procedure would continue without serious interference.

As for the activities nearer Petersburg the campaign had moved into new territory. Grant would mark his acquisition of Dinwiddie County real estate by throwing up more entrenchments and indeed a great cordon of forts. From them in due course he would make other moves to the left, against the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad. The front east and directly south of Petersburg became relatively quiet.1

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:


  1. “The Second Battle Of Reams Station.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  August 25, 1964, p. 4, col. 1-2
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