In the summer of 1864, Confederate forces under Lieutenant Generaloccupied 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 , Grant ordered his Second Corps and elements of the across the in mid-August to attack Lee’s defenses east of .
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.
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, 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, 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 andimmediately 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.
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.