Sunday, August 25, 2013

We Can Beat Them Yet

Confederate General Henry Heth
The Second Battle of Ream’s Station was fought August 25th 1864 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, a part of the Petersburg Campaign.

As the siege of Petersburg began to take hold, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant began to look for ways to break the railroad lines, and prevent supplies from reaching Confederate General Robert E Lee’s Confederates.  Grant wanted the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, which ran into Wilmington, North Carolina, stopped and had sent Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps in June and Major General Gouverneur K Warren’s V Corps against the railroad in early August.

On August 22nd 1864 Grant again sent out the II Corps along with a cavalry division under Brigadier General David M Gregg.  Gregg’s men drove off some Confederate pickets, and one of the II Corps division commanders, Brigadier General Nelson A Miles’ men destroyed the track to within 2 miles of Reams Station.  Early the next morning August 23rd 1864 another II Corps commanded Brigadier General John Gibbon took up position in some old earthworks located at Reams Station.  Lee couldn’t afford to lose the railroad supply line, and also Ream’s Station was the county seat and should they need it, a potential retreat route.  He sent in Confederate Lieutenant General A P Hill’s Corps which was being led at the time by General Henry Heth, along with two divisions of Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry to drive them out.

On August 25th 1864 Union troops left their earthworks to destroy the last 5 miles of tracks.  Hancock had them recalled when Confederate cavalry approached.   Hill’s column had advanced down the Dinwiddie Stage Road, and at about 2 pm three infantry brigades led by Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox launched an attack, but were driven back.  At about the same time some of Hampton’s cavalry had swept around the Union line, but were blocked by Gibbon’s division.  More of Hill’s Corps were brought up, and Confederate Colonel William Pregram’s artillery began firing on the Union position.  The final attack began around 5:30 pm, with the Confederates breaking through the northwest part of the Union fortifications.  Two Union regiments panicked and ran and the Confederates charged the earthworks.  Hancock galloped along the front of his men trying to rally his men; he said “We can beat them yet. Don't leave me, for God's sake!"  The Confederate cavalry at this point made a dismounted charge against Gibbon’s troops causing them to panic, and giving Hampton room to flank the Union line.  Hancock pulled together a counterattack that allowed the Union side to make a withdrawal back to Petersburg.

Union casualties were high, numbering about 2,750 along with 9 cannon and 12 stands of colors, while the Confederates lost only about 800.

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