August 18-21, 1864
Fought from August 18-21, 1864, the Battle of Globe Tavern was the first Union victory of the Petersburg Campaign.
On March 10, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant brought with him, from his successes in the Western Theater of the war, a reputation for the doggedness that Lincoln was seeking in his generals. Unlike previous Union generals, whose leadership was marked by their own timidity, Grant was tenacious. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act in concert. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia. Unlike previous campaigns into that area, Grant's plan focused upon defeating General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, rather than capturing or occupying geographic locations. Grant instructed General George Meade, who commanded the Army of the Potomac, "Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also." Grant realized that, with the superior resources he had at his disposal, Lee was destined to lose a war of attrition, as long as Northern troops persistently engaged the Confederates.
On May 4, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, occupying an area locally known as the Wilderness. For the next eight weeks, the two sides engaged in a series of horrific battles that produced unprecedented numbers of casualties. Following a bloody frontal assault at Cold Harbor that cost the Federals an estimated thirteen thousand casualties, Grant abandoned his hope to defeat Lee's army head-on. Instead, Grant decided to isolate the Army of Northern Virginia at Richmond and, then, slowly to starve it into submission by cutting off its supply lines. The key to the plan was capturing Petersburg, Virginia.
Petersburg, Virginia, is located on the south bank of the Appomattox River, roughly twenty miles below Richmond. During the Civil War, the two cities were connected by the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, which served as an important conduit for supplies to the Confederate capital. In addition to the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, two other rail lines converged at Petersburg. The Weldon Railroad (also called the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad) connected Petersburg to the Confederacy's last linkage to overseas markets at Wilmington, North Carolina. Farther to the west, the South Side Railroad joined Petersburg to Lynchburg, Virginia and points westward. If Grant could cut these rail lines, Lee would be forced to abandon Richmond.
In mid-August, following two months of mostly fruitless engagements in the Richmond-Petersburg area, Grant ordered Major General Winfield Scott Hancock to lead the Union 2nd Corps, 10th Corps, and Brigadier-General David M. Gregg's cavalry division north across the James River. Hancock's assignment was to threaten Richmond, forcing Robert E. Lee to send troops away from his defenses at Petersburg, while Grant attempted to cut the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg.
While Hancock was demonstrating in front of Richmond, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren left the Union lines southeast of Petersburg and advanced his 5th Corps west through the rain toward the Weldon Railroad on August 18. Encountering only mild resistance, the Federals reached their destination near Globe Tavern by 9 a.m. Warren ordered Brigadier-General Charles Griffin's division to destroy the railroad tracks, while Brigadier-General Romeyn Ayres' division deployed to the north to block any Confederate resistance from the Petersburg lines.
When alerted of Warren's advance, General P. G. T. Beauregard, who was in charge of the Petersburg defenses, ordered Major General A.P. Hill to dispatch two brigades commanded by Major General Henry Heth, and one brigade commanded by Brigadier-General Robert F. Hoke, south to stop the Yankees’ destructive acts.
When Hill's troops encountered Ayers' division at approximately 1 p.m., Warren deployed Brigadier-General Samuel Crawford's division to the right of Ayers’ position, hoping to get around the Confederate left flank. At 2:00 p.m., Hill's soldiers attacked Ayres and Crawford, driving them back close to Globe Tavern. Warren counterattacked, halting the Rebel advance and, then, entrenched for the night.
During the night, the Union 9th Corps, commanded by Major General John G. Parke, reinforced Warren's Corps. On the Confederate side, Major General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's cavalry division, plus three infantry brigades, commanded by Major General William Mahone, reinforced Hill's troops.
Fighting was limited the next morning (August 19) by heavy rains, but when the weather improved after noon, Mahone attacked the Union right, while Heth struck the center of Warren's lines. Heth was unable to budge his Yankee adversaries, but Mahone exploited a gap in Crawford's lines, capturing nearly two brigades of Yankee soldiers. Warren ordered a desperate counterattack that plugged the gap by dusk, when the fighting ended.
Heavy rains returned to the area on August 20, limiting the fighting and buying time for Warren to establish new lines south of Globe Tavern that connected east to the main Union lines at Jerusalem Plank Road. When the weather cleared again on August 21, Hill ordered an assault on the new Union defenses. The Rebel advance proved futile, and Hill withdrew leaving the Federals in control of the stretch of the Weldon Railroad around Globe Tavern.
The Union lost more than four thousand soldiers (251 killed, 1,148 wounded, and 2,897 missing/captured) during the Battle of Globe Tavern, compared to approximately 1,600 casualties for the Confederacy (211 killed, 990 wounded, and 419 missing/captured). Still the engagement was a Union victory, because the Yankees captured and maintained control of the area in the vicinity of Globe Tavern. For the remainder of the campaign, Confederate supplies coming into Petersburg over the Weldon Railroad had to be offloaded south of Globe Tavern and then shipped north in wagons along the Boydton Plank Road.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Globe Tavern included:
6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (fought dismounted with infantry forces)
60th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry