Battle of the Weldon Railroad

The Battle of the Weldon Railroad (or Globe Tavern) was fought August 18–21, 1864, and provided the key element of Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant's fourth offensive during the Petersburg Campaign of the American Civil War (1861–1865). This Union victory resulted in the permanent capture of one of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's most important supply lines. On August 18, the Union Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac seized a portion of the vital railroad that connected Petersburg with Wilmington, North Carolina, at a point three miles south of Petersburg. A determined Confederate counterattack the following day battered but did not break the Union troops' hold on the tracks, and a second Confederate assault on August 21 failed miserably. MORE...

 

Background

In the summer of 1864, Confederate forces under Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early occupied the Shenandoah Valley and threatened Washington, D.C. Grant, the Union's new general in chief, detached one corps of the Army of the Potomac to join other Union troops opposing Early, all under the command of Major General Philip H. Sheridan. In order to prevent Lee from sending Early more troops from the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant ordered his Second Corps and elements of the Army of the James across the James River in mid-August to attack Lee's defenses east of Richmond.

Grant scarcely believed that this offensive would reduce the Confederate capital, but it might draw enough of Lee's army north of the James to allow a simultaneous push toward the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad to succeed. Events unfolded as Grant predicted. The attacks north of the James August 14–16, styled the Second Deep Bottom operations, foundered, but they did prompt Lee to recall reinforcements sent to the Valley and transfer a portion of his forces north of the James from the Petersburg trenches. This set the stage for Grant's thrust toward the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad.

The Battle

Major General Gouverneur K. Warren led his Fifth Corps west from the Union lines located south of Petersburg on a steamy August 18. His lead division reached the railroad around Globe Tavern about nine o'clock in the morning and began to destroy the tracks, opposed only by a weak body of cavalry. General P. G. T. Beauregard, the ranking Confederate officer at Petersburg while Lee directed affairs north of the James, sent three infantry brigades early in the afternoon to dislodge Warren. The Confederate attacks halted Warren's advance up the railroad but did not drive him away.

Warren deployed his entire corps to cover the railroad, leaving a gap between his right flank and the established Union lines to the east. Into that gap on August 19 plunged three Confederate brigades led by Major General William Mahone, while more Confederates pressed Warren's front. Mahone smashed one Fifth Corps division and pressed the next one in line until reinforcements from the Union Ninth Corps halted Mahone's progress. The Confederates captured more than 2,500 enemy soldiers on August 19 and killed or wounded nearly four hundred more, but their victory fell short of recovering the critical railroad.

Confederate generals Beauregard and A. P. Hill immediately laid plans to accomplish that goal. They spent August 20 preparing their offensive, providing Warren the opportunity to adopt a strong defensive posture. The Confederate assaults on the morning of August 21 met with disaster. A South Carolina brigade, led by Brigadier General Johnson Hagood, unwittingly stumbled into a cul-de-sac of fire, losing more than half of its men. The fighting ended by noon with a Confederate withdrawal to the Petersburg defenses.

The Aftermath

Grant hoped Warren would exploit his victory, but the Fifth Corps commander seemed content to hold his ground. Warren had inflicted between 1,600 and 2,300 casualties during the three days of fighting while absorbing 4,279 of his own, two-thirds of them prisoners.

Union troops quickly fortified the gap between the railroad and their old lines. Grant's efforts to expand destruction of the tracks to the south ended with defeat at the Battle of Reams Station on August 25, but Union troops would control the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad for the remainder of the campaign. Lee now had no choice but to offload his supplies from North Carolina at the Stony Creek station, eighteen miles south of Petersburg, and transfer them by wagon to Dinwiddie Court House and then up the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg. This new, less-efficient supply line became the target of Grant's fifth offensive at Petersburg in September.

Time Line

  • August 2, 1864 - Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant places his cavalry commander, Philip H. Sheridan, in command of Union forces facing Confederate troops under Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley.
  • August 7, 1864 - Confederate general Robert E. Lee sends reinforcements from the Army of Northern Virginia toward the Shenandoah Valley, prompting Union general Ulysses S. Grant to plan an offensive to halt further detachments.
  • August 12, 1864 - The Union Second Corps marches from Petersburg to City Point. Their movement is part of a campaign designed to prevent Confederate forces from reinforcing Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley, while also opening an attack on Robert E. Lee's supply line in front of Petersburg.
  • August 13, 1864 - The Union Second Corps boards boats and steams down the James River to deceive Confederates of its intentions; the Union Tenth Corps prepares to cross the river at Deep Bottom. Their movements are part of a campaign designed to prevent Confederate forces from reinforcing Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah Valley.
  • August 14–16, 1864 - Union forces are defeated at the Second Battle of Deep Bottom on the James River. They are successful, however, in drawing most of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's infantry north of the river and away from entrenchments in front of Petersburg.
  • August 18, 1864, 5:00–9:00 a.m. - Union troops successfully distract Robert E. Lee from reinforcing Jubal A. Early in the Shenandoah by luring him away from entrenchments at Petersburg. This leaves Lee's supply line at Petersburg vulnerable. On this morning, the Union Fifth Corps moves west and wrests the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad from a small body of Confederate cavalry.
  • August 18, 1864, 9:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. - Having lured Confederates under Robert E. Lee north of the James River and away from their supply line at Petersburg, the Union Fifth Corps moves north along the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad, destroying tracks and burning ties.
  • August 18, 1864, 3:00–5:00 p.m. - Confederates launch a counterattack against the Union Fifth Corps, which had lured Robert E. Lee's troops north of the James River and away from their Petersburg supply line, the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad. They manage to stop the Union troops' advance but fail to drive them from the railroad.
  • August 19, 1864 - In previous days, Confederate forces have been lured north of the James River and away from their Petersburg supply line, the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad. This afternoon, they launch a second counterattack against the Union Fifth Corps' right flank, routing a division and capturing 2,500 soldiers. Union reinforcements halt the Confederate advance.
  • August 20, 1864 - In an attempt to recover the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad, a critical line of supply to Confederate troops at Petersburg, Confederate generals Pierre G. T. Beauregard and A. P. Hill plan a major assault on Union lines. Union general Gouverneur K. Warren uses the day to strengthen his defenses.
  • August 21, 1864 - Beginning at 9:00 a.m., Confederate forces under the generals Pierre G. T. Beauregard and A. P. Hill attack the Union troops that have taken the critical Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad. By noon the Confederates are repulsed everywhere and fall back to their main line of defense, ending the Battle of the Weldon Railroad.
Further Reading
Horn, John. The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad: Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern, and Reams Station, August 14–15, 1864. Lynchburg, Va.: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1991.
Krick, Robert E. L. "Weldon Railroad August 18–21, 1864." Civil War Magazine 67 (April 1998): 22–27.
Porter, Captain Charles H. "Operations Against the Weldon Railroad, August 18, 19, 21, 1864." Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, 4: 243–66. Boston, The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, 1906.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Greene, A. W. Battle of the Weldon Railroad. (2012, September 18). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Weldon_Railroad_Battle_of_the.

MLA Citation:
Greene, A. W. "Battle of the Weldon Railroad." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 18 Sep. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: March 18, 2009 | Last modified: September 18, 2012


Contributed by A. Wilson Greene, who is the president of Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier near Petersburg. He is the author of Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (2006) and The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion (2008).