August 18, 1864: Capture of the Weldon Railroad

 Petersburg_Aug18-19

 

On August 17, 1864 Grant was heartened when he received a telegram of support from President Lincoln.  Go here to read about it.  Grant remarked to his staff after reading the telegram:   “The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.”

Lincoln had advised Grant:  Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible.  Unbeknownst to the President, Grant already had underway an operation to do just that.  Major General Gouverneur K. Warren was ordered by Grant to take his V corps, supported by units of the IX and II corps and a small cavalry division, and move to the left to capture a section of the Weldon railroad, the main supply line for the Confederate forces at Richmond and Petersburg, which led south to Wilmington, the last major port of the Confederacy.

By 9:00 AM on August 18, 1864, Warren had brushed aside Confederate pickets and reached the Weldon railroad at Globe Tavern.  He deployed a division of his corps to destroy track, held another division in reserve and set another brigade, deployed in line of battle, north to guard against Confederate attempts to retake the railroad.  A.P. Hill, launching his attack at 2:00 PM used two divisions from his corps to retake Globe Tavern, but Warren counterattacked and recovered the ground he lost, his troops entrenching as night fell.

On the 19th, the IX corps reinforced Warrens V corps while the Confederates received three brigades of Major General William Mahones’ division along with “Rooney” Lee’s cavalry division.  Mahone, cementing his reputation, after the part he played in retaking the Crater, as one of the best generals for the Confederacy in 1864, launched a slashing flank attack that captured two Union brigades.  A Confederate frontal assault by Major General Henry Heth was easily repulsed, and the fighting ended with a IX corps counterattack leading to hand to hand fighting as nightfall brought a  close to the day’s fighting.

Torrential rains on the 20th prevented large scale combat.  Warren withdrew on the night of the 20-21 to a new fortified line.  Confederate attacks failed to dislodge him, and the battle of Globe Tavern ended with the Union in permanent possession of several miles of the Weldon railroad which necessitated the Confederates to bring in supplies to Petersburg and Richmond thirty miles from the nearest section of the Weldon railroad not under Union control.  Union casuaties were 4, 296 to 1,620 Confederates but the noose had been tightened around Petersburg and the Confederacy.

Here are the comments of General Grant on this operation in his Personal Memoirs:

 

 

 

Right in the midst of all these embarrassments Halleck informed me that there was an organized scheme on foot in the North to resist the draft, and suggested that it might become necessary to draw troops from the field to put it down. He also advised taking in sail, and not going too fast.  

 

 

 
  The troops were withdrawn from the north side of the James River on the night of the 20th. Before they were withdrawn, however, and while most of Lee’s force was on that side of the river, Warren had been sent with most of the 5th corps to capture the Weldon Railroad. He took up his line of march well back to the rear, south of the enemy, while the troops remaining in the trenches extended so as to cover that part of the line which he had vacated by moving out. From our left, near the old line, it was about three miles to the Weldon Railroad. A division was ordered from the right of the Petersburg line to reinforce Warren, while a division was brought back from the north side of the James River to take its place.  

 

 

 
  This road was very important to the enemy. The limits from which his supplies had been drawn were already very much contracted, and I knew that he must fight desperately to protect it. Warren carried the road, though with heavy loss on both sides. He fortified his new position, and our trenches were then extended from the left of our main line to connect with his new one. Lee made repeated attempts to dislodge Warren’s corps, but without success, and with heavy loss.   

 
  As soon as Warren was fortified and reinforcements reached him, troops were sent south to destroy the bridges on the Weldon Railroad; and with such success that the enemy had to draw in wagons, for a distance of about thirty miles, all the supplies they got thereafter from that source. It was on the 21st that Lee seemed to have given up the Weldon Railroad as having been lost to him; but along about the 24th or 25th he made renewed attempts to recapture it; again he failed and with very heavy losses to him as compared with ours.

 

 

     
  On the night of the 20th our troops on the north side of the James were withdrawn, and Hancock and Gregg were sent south to destroy the Weldon Railroad. They were attacked on the 25th at Reams’s Station, and after desperate fighting a part of our line gave way, losing five pieces of artillery. But the Weldon Railroad never went out of our possession from the 18th of August to the close of the war.

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Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 18, 1864: Capture of the Weldon Railroad  
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