The Weldon Railroad (August 18, 1864)

An Alfred Waud drawing depicts Gouverneur Warren at the Weldon Railroad, supervising the construction of entrenchments by moonlight Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing depicts Gouverneur Warren at the Weldon Railroad, supervising the construction of entrenchments by moonlight. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In his letter of August 18, Meade mentions Winfield Scott Hancock’s battles north of the James as well as the start of a movement by Gouverneur K. Warren, commander of the V Corps. This is the beginning of the attack during which Warren will finally get a toe hold on the Weldon Railroad, one of the lines vital to supplying Petersburg. Here’s what I wrote in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

“Warren and the V Corps attacked here near a local landmark called Globe Tavern early on the morning of August 18, fighting off a Confederate counterattack to keep their grip on the railroad. The rebels counterattacked through a driving rain the next day. It was a close fight for a time, with the rebels overrunning Samuel Crawford’s division of the V Corps, but the Union soldiers, reinforced by a division of the IX Corps, thrust the enemy back. The rebels attacked again on Sunday, August 21, but by then Warren had his men positioned behind entrenchments, and once again they repulsed the Confederate attack. This portion of the Weldon Railroad was now in Union hands, and the construction of Fort Wadsworth–named after the New York politician-turned-general who had fallen in the Wilderness–was built here to make sure the Confederates couldn’t take it back. Now Confederate supplies coming to Petersburg could travel only as far as Stony Creek station, where they had to be unloaded, placed on wagons, and transported to Dinwiddie Court House and then up the Boydton Plank Road to the city.”

Here’s what Meade wrote on August 18:

Hancock’s movement across the James has resulted in bringing on an action with a part of Lee’s army, which at first was in our favor, but from their reinforcing him I judge Hancock has come to a stand still, and will not probably be able to effect more. Warren has gone to-day on a similar mission on our left, to see if he can find a weak spot in the enemy’s line. His guns are now plainly heard. These movements are made by Grant, with a view to keep the enemy on the alert, prevent his detaching any troops to Early, and, if possible, compel his bringing back some of the troops in the Valley, and thus give Sheridan more chance.

Now it’s Theodore Lyman’s turn:

Last night I had got well into the first sound sleep, when images of war began to intrude on my dreams, and these, taking on a more corporeal form, gradually waked me enough to prove to my mind that there was a big racket going on. The noise of a few shells and many muskets I don’t mind, as I am used to it, but, when it comes to firing heavy mortar shells in salvos, one is authorized to sit up in bed, even if it is one in the morning. Once awake, I recognized the fact that the largest kind of a cannonade was going on. The still, damp air was filled with the detonations of all sorts of big guns and projectiles. It was quite as extensive as the firing on the morning of the mine and sounded very much louder, in the night. Our side replied rather moderately, but the enemy kept up one roar of batteries for some two hours, and the air was full of the humming and bursting of the shells. At the end of that time they stopped, rather suddenly. We expended some 1500 rounds of ammunition and they must have fired much more, and all to kill and wound thirty men. . . . The great joke of the matter was, that General Meade (who is a sound sleeper, and was a little deaf from a cold in the head) remained calmly in the arms of Morpheus, till a telegraph from Grant at City Point, came in, asking what all that firing was about! It so happened that the General woke just at a lull in the cannonade; so he didn’t understand the despatch, but called the officer of the night to know if he had heard any more firing than usual! You should have seen the deshabille parade of officers in the camp: such a flitting of figures in a variety of not much clothing! General Humphreys said: “Yes, perhaps it would be well to have the horses saddled; for,” he added with a hopeful smile, “we may have a scrimmage, you know.” But he was disappointed, and we all went to bed again.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 222. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 216-17. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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