Fought on June 29, 1864, the Battle of Ream's Station I was the last engagement of the Wilson-Kautz Raid 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 22, Grant and Major General George G. Meade (commanding the Army of the Potomac) dispatched the cavalry divisions of Brigadier-General James Wilson and Brigadier-General August Kautz on a raid against Confederate railroads south of Petersburg. With a combined force of over five thousand troopers and sixteen pieces of artillery under Wilson's overall command, the Yankees destroyed two trains, several stations and approximately sixty miles of track along the South Side Railroad.
After failing to destroy the Staunton River Bridge (June 25, 1864), the raiders were forced to begin making their way back to the Petersburg lines after encountering the Confederate cavalry divisions of Major General Wade Hampton and Major General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee at Sappony Church (June 28, 1864).
Kautz approached Ream's Station, approximately eight miles south of Petersburg on the Weldon Railroad, early on the morning of June 29, only to discover that Brigadier-General William Mahone's Confederate infantry division blocked his path. Wilson's division joined Kautz later that morning. By the time that the Federals reunited, two Rebel cavalry brigades commanded by General Fitzhugh Lee (not to be confused with Rooney Lee) joined Mahone and had the Bluecoats nearly surrounded.
Around midday, Mahone's infantry attacked from the front, while Lee's cavalry threatened the Union left flank. During the ensuing chaos, the Yankees were forced to burn their supply wagons and abandon their artillery. The Federal commands dissolved and approximately one thousand of Kautz's troopers joined Wilson's men as they retreated south along the Weldon Railroad, before turning east on June 30 and reaching the safety of Meade's Petersburg lines on July1. Meanwhile, nearly five hundred of Wilson's men joined Kautz's command as they fled through an opening on the Confederate right and escaped to Meade's lines by June 30, on a more direct line than Wilson’s command took.
The Battle of Ream's Station I marked the conclusion of the Wilson-Kautz Raid. By the time that the raiders returned to Union lines on July 1, they had inflicted considerable damage to Confederate infrastructure in the area. However, the spoilage came at considerable cost. Wilson and Kautz lost nearly 1,400 troopers, all of their artillery, and many horses during the raid.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Ream’s Station I included:
2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
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"Battle of Ream's Station I," Ohio Civil War Central, 2021, Ohio Civil War Central. 20 Sep 2021 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1091>
"Battle of Ream's Station I." (2021) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 20, 2021, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1091