Volume XXIII Issue #5 An Excerpt From:
Action in the Petersburg Campaign
The Battle of Weldon Railroad
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It was on the afternoon of August 17 that Warren had been instructed by Meade to take his corps at four oclock in the morning to endeavor to make a lodgment upon the Weldon railroad, in the vicinity of the Gurley house, or as much nearer to the enemys line of intrenchments as practicable. If he found the Confederates dug in along the railroad, he was to hold them in position. Leaving with four days rations for his men, Warren moved out of his camps near the Jerusalem Plank Road and headed in a westward direction. Griffins division led from the Chieves house followed by Ayres, Crawfords, and Cutlers divisions. In addition to their rations, the men carried picks, bars, shovels and other implements designed for railroad destruction.2
From Confederate prisoners it was learned that General Mahones division and one brigade of Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnsons division had crossed to the north of the James River to take part in the counter-thrust movement known as Second Deep Bottom. General Grant, upon hearing this news of Confederate movements, remarked, This leaves the [enemy] force at Petersburg reduced to what it was when the mine [Crater] was sprung. Warren may find an opportunity to do more than I had expected.
The V Corps column followed what was known as the Vaughan wagon road that crossed the Weldon Railroad near Globe Tavern. Struggling along the sandy by-way, one Union soldier recalled, The day was one of exceedingly close, sultry, August dog-days, well known to every one who has served in Virginia, extremely debilitating and exhausting to both men and beast. Many soldiers would suffer from sunstroke in the days to come. Near Dr. Gurleys house, described as being a large, square, white house with very red brick chimneys at each gable (see Pg. 16), Griffin called a halt. Here were found some of Kautzs pickets of the 3rd New York Cavalry. Warren questioned them about the situation in his front, then ordered Griffin to complete the dispositions of his troops and await Ayres division to close up.
A little after 8 a.m. Griffin resumed his advance with two brigades, those of Cols. William S. Tilton and Edgar M. Gregory. In a mile they reached the Weldon Railroad near Globe Tavern after brief skirmishing with some Confederate pickets. By nine oclock Griffins men crossed the railroad and began cutting the telegraph wire and tearing up rails.3
Globe Tavern was situated near a large and beautiful area of cleared ground of several hundred acres, extending east and west of the railroad and north along the Halifax Road for about a half-mile. Pines that bounded the clearing to the north were spread out about 500 yards in depth. Soon Warren established his headquarters in the tavern and used it as his command post.
Following Griffins deployment along the railroad, Ayres moved his division north near the Blick house. Brig. Gen. Joseph Hayes formed his brigades battle line across the railroad while Col. Nathan T. Dushanes Maryland Brigade was posted to the left and rear of Hayes line.
Moving in a northward direction toward Petersburg and its defenses, it was near the W. P. Davis house and the head of Vaughan Road that they encountered Confederate sharpshooters and their supporting artillery of two guns. Cannoneers of Battery C, 1st Massachusetts, soon brought their Napoleons into action and began dueling with the Confederate artillerists as Hayes infantrymen engaged the enemy.
By 11 a.m., the final division in Warrens corps reached the railroad. Cutler reported to his commander that the oppressive heat had taken a toll on his men. Warren noted to Meade, The men give out fearfully in the sun and compel us to move slowly to keep them in the ranks. Several officers have been sunstruck. . . .4
To establish a link with Maj. Gen. John G. Parkes IX Corps to the east, and to outflank those Confederates contesting Ayres movement up the railroad, General Crawfords division, 3,000 strong, was brought up. Crawford was ordered to take a position on Ayres right. Soon the searing heat was cooled by a quick thundershower with a hard rain for about 15 minutes.
Crawfords battle line was comprised of Col. Peter Lyles brigade on the left, Col. Richard Coulters (under Col. Charles Wheelock) in the center, and Col. William R. Hartshornes brigade on the right and rear of Wheelock. Soon the two Confederate guns at Davis farm turned their attention on Crawfords men who quickly took cover. As they moved through a thick and tangled wood and underbrush, Crawfords men attempted to establish contact with Ayres right flank. It was none too soon, for at that moment the Confed-erates launched their counterattack.
General G. T. Beauregard who preferred not to use his first initial P. first heard of the situation facing him on the 18th from Brig. Gen. James Dearing who commanded a brigade of cavalry.