Petersburg/Richmond This is a continuation of part two of a study on the siege of Petersburg


Jun 2, 2011
Washington, D.C.
Grant’s fourth offensive, August 14-25, 1864: I have pointed out that in his third offensive grant unwittingly lured most of Lee’s army North of the James to defend Richmond, tbus weakening the confederate Garrison at Petersburg.

The fourth offensive was partly aimed at tearing up the Virginia central railroad north of Richmond, but it’s main purpose was to lure Lee’s army away from Petersburg. once again General Hancock commanded the union forces. Since Sheridan was in the Shenandoah valley with most of the army of the Potomac‘s cavalry corps, there was only one division of cavalry under Gregg employed in this operation. On the other hand, The entire second army corps and a portion of the 10th army corps participated in what became known as the second battle of deep bottom. The union casualties were severe because there was a pitched infantry battle on August 16 at Fussell’s Mill and a serious cavalry battle at Wbite’s Tavern that same day. Two days later on August 18, 1864 Lee launched a set piece battle against the union defenses on the Derbytown and on the Charles city roads. The attack failed. The federals remained North of the James for seven days, completely fooling Lee into believing this was a serious attack on Richmond. Only three confederate divisions remained behind in the Petersburg defenses.

while lee fought his set piece battle outside Richmond on August 18th, Grant sent the fifth army corps under GK Warren to seize the Weldon railroad. Warren reached the railroad and began tearing it up. Unfortunately, Grant and Meade try to micromanage the battle from their headquarters. They ordered Warren to deploy his infantry in dense woods as close to the confederate entrenchments as possible. This is precisely the same mistake that they had made on June 22 when the second army corps was routed In the battle of the Jerusalem plank Road. The corps had been deployed in thick woods and was surprised by a flank attack by Confederate troops under William Mahone.

in Lee’s absence, PGT Beauregard command of the Petersburg Garrison. He attacked down the Petersburg railroad on August 18 with two confederate brigades. The next day, August 19, he repeated this maneuver, but also attacked the right flank of the fifth army corps with three additional brigades under Mahone. the union right flank division under Crawford collapsed and the confederates captured 3000 prisoners. The timely arrival of part of the ninth army corps stopped Mahone’s attack.

Lee returned to Petersburg with several of his divisions and resumed command of the Petersburg Garrison. He planned another of his seat piece battles For August 21. The plan called for Heth to attack down the railroad with three brigades, while Mahone attacked the union flank from the west with an additional four brigades.

if Warren had remained in the woods near the fortifications of Petersburg, this attack would have annihilated him. Fortunately, he disobeyed grants and Meade’s orders and fell back to A hilltop to the south, fortified it, and chopped down the Woods in every direction to create a clear field of fire.

The Confederates did not reconnoiter the forthcoming battlefield and mistakenly assumed that Warren was still deployed in the woods. Thus, when they launched their attack on August 21 they came up against strong entrenchments and were repulsed with severe losses.

not content with gaining the Weldon railroad , Grant sent the second army corps under Hancock down the railroad to tear up the tracks at Ream‘s station. The commander of the confederate cavalry Corps, Wade Hampton, persuaded Lee to attack the isolated federals , a risky enterprise since the station was quite a distance south of the Petersburg entrenchments.

The attack paid off and the second army corps was handed its worst defeat of the war. A large number of Canon and prisoners were captured by the Confederates. This put an end to Grant’s fourth offensive.

I have written two articles on the first and second battles of the bottom. If any of you are interested in obtaining copies, please email me at [email protected].

The fourth offensI’ve marked a turning point in the siege of Petersburg. The fifth army corps was now west of the DImmock line which meant that there was nothing standing between these union forces and the southside railroad, The last railroad supplying Petersburg. Lee was forced to fortify a New line That began at battery 45 of the DI’mock line and jutted out to the Southwest. This line stretched southwestward to hatchers run. Because it was south of the Boydton plank Road and protected that road, it became known as the Boydton plank Road line.

as soon as the fighting died down August 25, the union army got to work creating a line of earthworks 3 miles long that connected the Weldon railroad to their previous position at the Jerusalem plank Road. In fact, not content with a line protecting them from an attack from the north, the federal built a second line of earthworks to protect their rear from attacks from the south. In contrast, Lees army did not begin work on the Boydton Plank Road line Until mid September. They also erected a second line called the squirrel level Road Line. This line was intended To prevent the union army from moving west from the Weldon railroad.

I would love to receive feedback from all of you on this material.
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Jul 28, 2015
New York City
Excellent summary! My main takeaway is that Grant's movements north of Petersburg at Deep Bottom were primarily a diversion for Warren's V Corps main assault on the Weldon RR. Grant's diversion plan for Warren's assault on the Weldon RR seems like a good plan, but Grant's meddling almost lost the day, while Warren's foresight saved it. Not so with Grant's subsequent order to Hancock's II Corps assault at Reams Station. It's curious as to why Grant does not get more historical blowback for his error in positioning V Corps, while Warren should get more credit.