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Battle of Hatcher’s Run

February 5-7, 1865

Fought from February 5 to 7, 1865, during the Petersburg Campaign, the Battle of Hatcher's Run was a failed Union attempt to sever the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad.

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. By early June 1864, Grant's forces were digging in around the east side of Petersburg.

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 west. If Grant could cut these rail lines, Lee would be forced to abandon Richmond.

Although Grant's focus during the summer and fall of 1864 was on cutting off supply routes into Petersburg, he also launched several assaults north of the James River against Richmond. Grant recognized that forcing Lee to defend two fronts would thin the Confederate defenses around Petersburg, thereby enhancing the Northerner’s expectations for success. Most of the action south of Petersburg centered on the Weldon Railroad and on the Boydton Plank Road.

After the Battle of Globe Tavern (August 18-21, 1864) and the Battle of Ream's Station II (August 25, 1864), the Confederacy lost control of stretches of the Weldon Railroad approximately ten miles south of Petersburg. The Southerners had to offload supplies traveling up the railroad from the Carolinas and other parts of the Confederacy at Stony Creek Station and then ship the items north in wagons along the Boydton Plank Road. At the Battle of Peeble's Farm (September 30–October 2, 1864) Grant succeeded in tightening his stranglehold on Petersburg by extending his lines south of the city and also farther to the west, but he was unable to shut off supplies traveling up the Boydton Plank Road or on the South Side Railroad. From October 27-28, Grant made another attempt to capture the two prizes, at the Battle of Boydton Plank Road, but he was again unsuccessful. The Confederate supply routes into Petersburg remained open as the two sides hunkered down in their entrenchments for the winter.

A mild stretch of mild weather at the beginning of February 1865 prompted Grant and Meade to launch an early offensive against the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad. On the morning of February 5, three Federal forces left the Union works near Globe Tavern headed toward the Confederate lines guarding the Boydton Plank Road.

  • Major General David M. Gregg's cavalry division rode southwest toward Dinwiddie Court House with orders to intercept a large Confederate supply train moving up the Boydton Plank Road to Petersburg.
  • Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's 5th Corps marched west to support Gregg’s right flank by blocking Vaughn Road.
  • Major General Andrew A. Humphreys's 2nd Corps moved along the north side of Hatcher's Run to a position above Burgess's Mill near the Confederate lines.

By 9:30 a.m., the 2nd Corps reached their destination opposite the Confederate defenses The unit dug in near Armstrong's Mill. Humphreys deployed Brigadier-General Thomas A. Smyth's brigade on his left and Brigadier-General Gershom Mott's division on his right.

Opposing Humphreys on the Confederate side were Major General John Gordon's Second Corps and Major General Henry Heth's division. By 4 p.m., Gordon concluded that Humphreys did not intend to attack and ordered Heth to assault the freshly constructed Union works. The focus of Heth's advance was a gap in the Federal lines defended by Brevet Brigadier-General Robert McAllister's 3rd Brigade. McAllister's Yankees repulsed three Rebel assaults during a one and one-half hour period. At dusk, the Greycoats gave up and retreated.

To the south, Gregg reached the Boydton Plank Road only to discover that estimates regarding the size of the Rebel supply train he was to attack were greatly exaggerated. Although his raid was successful, he captured only eighteen wagons and fifty prisoners.

Anticipating another Confederate attack against Humphreys the next day, Meade ordered Gregg and Warren to move northeast during the night of February 5-6 to support the 2nd Corps. Grant also sent Union reinforcements from the 6th and 9th Corps.

The morning of February 6 passed with little activity beyond reconnaissance. That afternoon, Gordon, ordered Brigadier-General John Pegram’s division and Major General William Mahone’s division, supported by Major General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee's cavalry, to attack Warren's 5th Corps near Dabney's Mill, southwest of Humphreys's line. The Yankees repulsed the Rebel onslaught and drove the Greycoats back, but a Confederate counterattack halted the Federal momentum. A second Rebel attack sent the Bluecoats back to a position along Hatcher's Run. Pegram was killed during the fighting. During the latter stages of the conflict, freezing rain began to fall, adding to the suffering of the wounded left on the battlefield.

Light skirmishing on February 7 enabled the Federals to regain the ground that they lost the previous day in the vicinity of Dabney's Mill. Those gains allowed Grant and Meade to extend the Union entrenchments to the Vaughan Road Crossing of Hatcher's Run.

Results of the Battle of Hatcher's Run were inconclusive. The Union suffered over 1,600 casualties, compared to more than 1,100 for the Confederacy. Despite utilizing more than two and one-half times as many combatants as the Rebels (34,517 to 13,835), the Federals failed once more to sever Petersburg's last remaining supply routes. Still, the operation did enable Grant and Meade to extend the Union entrenchments three miles closer to the Boydton Plank Road and to the South Side Railroad.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run included:

Infantry units:

4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

60th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:

6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (fought dismounted as infantry)

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