June 21–23, 1864
Fought from June 21-23, 1864, the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road was Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's first attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad during 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.
On June 21, Meade ordered the 2nd and 6th Corps west across the Jerusalem Plank Road, which ran north and south between the Union lines and the Weldon Railroad. Their plan was to cross the road, swing north, and cut the railroad, which connected Petersburg with the coastline of North Carolina. During its advance, the 2nd Corps encountered stiff resistance and began entrenching. As a result of the 2nd Corps’ action, a gap opened between the two corps.
On June 22, Brigadier-General William Mahone's Confederate troops exploited the cleft in the Union line. Mahone's men moved through the divide undetected and attacked elements of the 2nd Corps from the rear. Panicked at first, the Yankees rallied around their entrenchments and stabilized their position by nightfall.
On the next day, the Confederates withdrew, and the 2nd Corps regained the ground that it had lost. At approximately 10 a.m., Meade dispatched the 6th Corps to make a second attempt on the Weldon Railroad. When a brigade of Federals began destroying the tracks, a larger Confederate force attacked. When Major General Horatio Wright repeatedly ignored Meade's orders to advance and to engage the enemy, Meade called off the offensive at approximately 7:30 p.m.
The results of the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road were inconclusive. Grant and Meade failed in their attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad, but they did force Lee to extend his defensive lines. The federals suffered nearly three thousand casualties, compared with only six hundred for the Rebels.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Jerusalem Park Road included:
4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
110thRegiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
122ndRegiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
126th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Battery H, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery