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Battle of Petersburg I

June 9, 1864

Also known as the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, some historians consider the Battle of Petersburg I, fought on June 9, 1864, to be the first engagement 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.

The Union envelopment of Petersburg began on June 9, 1864, when Major General Benjamin Butler dispatched approximately 4,500 soldiers from the Army of the James against Petersburg from the east. At that time, Petersburg was only lightly defended by 2,500 local militiamen, most of whom were old men and young boys, commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard. While Butler's infantry assaulted the city's outer entrenchments, known as the Dimmock Line, Butler sent 1,300 cavalrymen commanded by Brigadier-General August Kautz, to ride around the Rebels to attack from the rear. Despite his superior numbers, the Union infantry commander, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, was reluctant to launch an assault until Kautz’s command arrived behind the Rebel lines. Kautz,, meanwhile, was delayed by Confederate pickets and did not get into position until noon. By the time that he launched his tardy assault up the Jerusalem Road, Beauregard was able to muster enough reinforcements to repulse the attack. Hearing no action from Gillmore's infantry, Kautz decided not to press the matter and withdrew.

No Ohio units participated in the Battle of Petersburg I.

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