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NP: October 28, 1964 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 32: “The Inequality Is Too Great”

“The Inequality Is Too Great”

(The following is the thirty-second in a series of articles published in observance of the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg. A century ago today one of Grant’s leftward thrusts was being blunted. Also in progress was a presidential campaign, and the leftward thrust was not unrelated to the campaign.)

The end of October, 1864, like the end of September, witnessed another of Grant’s extensions on the left.

The difference was that this time he purposed to reach the South Side Railroad and to end the campaign then and there. In earlier moves he had designated less ambitious goals or had suggested a number of possible advantages, depending upon the opportunities. The practice sometimes led his subordinates to remark that such an effort could be called a reconnaissance if it yielded nothing of great importance. On the Confederate side there was a feeling that the October 27-28 move was designed to enhance President Lincoln’s election prospects.

The result yielded none of the desired results, but it is regarded as the last major battle for Petersburg in 1864.

More than 30,000 troops of the II and V Corps and some 3,000 cavalry started out on the morning of October 27 [1864], a dark and cloudy day. If the September extension had been a battle of farms, here was a battle of creeks and roads, with much road-to-road fighting.

To aid the cause, some of Butler’s forces made the usual feint against Richmond, while before Petersburg, near the Baxter Road, the IX Corps made a diversionary demonstration. If the battle could not accomplish its stated purpose, at least there was Union hope of reaching and holding the Boydton Plank Road. This was the route over which supplies were being brought into Petersburg by wagon trains after the loss of the upper end of the Petersburg Railroad.

The fighting along woods roads in the Hatcher’s Run area in Dinwiddie was intense and some Union participants were reminded by the countryside of the Wilderness. About noon they reached the Boydton Plank Road (now U. S. Route One) south of the point where Hatcher’s Run crosses it. The II Corps went north on the road, to be repulsed by Heth’s Division, after which it fell back and dug in. A second Union advance up the road brought a second repulse.

The climax of the engagement occurred when a gap developed between the II Corps and the V Corps coming to its assistance. Thereupon the Confederates, who made a specialty of finding and exploiting gaps between enemy forces, did it again. The Confederates took many prisoners and drove Hancock back to his entrenched position. On the 28th [of October 1864] the Union force withdrew, leaving some of its wounded, with surgeons and supplies, in houses in the vicinity. The South Side Railroad was several miles away, and the Boydton Plank Road was still safe for Confederate traffic.

This Battle of Burgess Mill or Battle of Hatcher’s Run [or Battle of the Boydton Plank Road] derives added interest from the fact that both Grant and Meade took leave of their headquarters to accompany the troops.

It was an event which Hampton, the Confederate cavalry chief who had done much to resist the advance, would never forget. He saw one of his sons, Frank Wade Hampton, dying after being shot from his horse and another son, Wade, shot in the spine as he ministered to his brother. Hampton kissed his dying son, told the men to look after the other, and rode on.

But for the effective work of Hampton, Heth, and Mahone, the extension might have forced the evacuation of Petersburg.

More significant than words of commendation was the message which Lee would send to President Davis in Richmond on November 2 [1864]: “On last Thursday at Burgess’ Mill we had three brigades to oppose six divisions. On our left two divisions to oppose two corps. The inequality is too great.”1

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


  1. “’The Inequality Is Too Great’.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  October 28, 1964, p. 4, col. 1-2
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