Things aren’t looking great for…well, anyone, really, but especially the Confederates.
TO MAJ. GEN. G. G. MEADE FROM U. S. GRANT:
I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE PRESENT GOOD WEATHER TO DESTROY OR CAPTURE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE OF THE ENEMY’S WAGON TRAIN, WHICH IT IS UNDERSTOOD IS BEING USED IN CONNECTION WITH THE WELDON RAILROAD, TO PARTIALLY SUPPLY THE TROOPS ABOUT PETERSBURG. YOU MAY GET THE CAVALRY READY TO DO THIS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. . . .Trudeau, Noah Andre. The Last Citadel
In February 1865, Union General Ulysses S. Grant was anxious to finally bring the siege of Petersburg to an abrupt close. After months of cold winter weather that forced a cessation of hostilities, Grant was eager to resume fighting. So when a brief window of warmth opened up in early February, Grant took action.
His target was the Boydton Plank Road and the Weldon Railroad. Together, they were the last two supply lines into Petersburg. Ever since the beginning of the siege, Grant had targeted Confederate supply lines with moderate success, but these last two had evaded him, allowing the Confederates to survive the winter of ’64-’65 with access (albeit limited) to food, supplies, and reinforcements from the southwest.
Grant’s order was met with some initial pushback from Gen. George Meade, who felt that the effort wouldn’t gain a significant enough result. Stinging a bit from a recent report issued about the Battle of the Crater the previous summer and subsequent scrutiny in Northern newspapers, Meade was reluctant to make any moves that didn’t result in decisive success for the Union. However, Grant urged him to press on regardless. Meade sent out a cavalry division under Gen. David Gregg and infantry from the V and II Corps on February 5th.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee caught wind of the Union movement and sent divisions under Gen. Henry Heth and Gen. John Gordon to meet the Federal advance. The two forces met at Hatcher’s Run, which consisted largely of wooded terrain, and battled back and forth with little progress made by either side. The Confederate force, roughly half the size of the Union force, had an easier job–they simply had to block the Union progress toward Grant’s objectives, and they were largely successful. After two days of fighting, harsh winter weather quickly returned in the form of overnight snow and hail, which eventually caused the Union to withdraw.
The attack, Grant’s seventh offensive during the siege of Petersburg, came to an uneventful close on February 7th. And yet, despite not achieving their ultimate objective, they were still able to extend their siege lines by several more miles. This meant the Confederates were forced to defend more territory and thin their weakened lines even further. In small but effective increments, the Union chokehold at Petersburg was growing stronger.
Meanwhile, as Grant tried to end the conflict with military strength outside Petersburg, there were others in both Richmond and Washington who were trying to find a possible diplomatic end to the Civil War. Stay tuned to learn more about those efforts later this month.