Wednesday, February 18, 2015

150-years-ago -- BATTLE OF HATCHER'S RUN, Virginia

Hatcher's Run fortifications. (Library of Congress)

Battle of Hatcher’s Run
            When the men of the 10th Louisiana Infantry got to Hatcher’s Run, one mile in rear of Burgess’ Mill, they began building winter quarters. The regiment, what was left of it, took part in the agonizing drama that unfolded that winter. They shed more blood in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Feb. 5-7, 1865, the Battle of Fort Stedman, March 25, 1865 and the Battle of Appomattox, April 9, 1865. The Battle of Hatcher’s  Run took place when a division of Federal cavalry, under Brigadier General David Gregg  was ordered to intercept a Confederate wagon train helping the railroad to supply the Southern army. The cavalry was supported by Warren’s 5th  Corps and two divisions of the Federal 2nd Corps under the command of Major General A.A. Humphreys. Confederate forces were made up of Gordon’s 2nd  Corps and Major General William Mahone’s division of A.P. Hill’s 3rd  Corps. Mahone was absent sick, and Brigadier General Joseph Finegan of Florida was the temporary division commander. The Federals fielded 34,517 men and the Confederates, 13,835. The bluecoat cavalry pounded up and down the pike leading to Dinwiddie Court House February 5,  but managed to nab only 18 wagons and 50 prisoners. They found no heavily laden Confederate wagon train. The battle began in the afternoon when Humpreys’ division was attacked by Brigadier General Joseph R. Cooke’s North Carolina Brigade of Heth’s division, Third Corps. Evans’ division, including Peck’s Louisianians, came up in support of the North Carolinians. The fighting began at 4 o’clock that afternoon and lasted only about 90 minutes. The Confederates pushed to within about 100 yards before darkness ended the fighting that day. Evans’ men were brought up on Cooke’s left late in the battle. General Lee was watching the battle from the rear.
            On the next day, February 6, the most prolonged fighting took place in the three day battle. General Lee, seeing that the Federals were just trying to disrupt the Confederate supply line,  ordered Mahone’s and Evans’ divisions back to their original places. Pegram’s division was ordered to begin probing from Dabney’s Mill in an eastward direction to find the enemy. Although the Federals outnumbered the Confederates by more than 2-1, the heavily forested area essentially nullified that advantage, the way it had on The Wilderness battlefield. The confusing command and control situation, and poor management by Grant and Meade, also plagued the Federals as it had at The Wilderness. Warren’s and Humphreys’ commands were ordered to reconnoiter to determine if any Confederates were outside their fortifications. Warren, however, interpreted the order to mean that Humphreys was to do the probing and his 5th  Corps was to standby to support him if he ran into trouble. Humphreys pushed out in a northern

Map by M.D. Jones

direction that morning, and then found nothing threatening and returned to his works at noon. When Meade personally straightened out Warren about  the order, Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford’s division was ordered at 1:15 o’clock that afternoon, to move out to the west to see if there were any Confederates out that way. Neither side was particularly looking for battle at that time and place, but they soon found one.
            When the two opposing forces met at about 2 o’clock the fighting started and the Federals began slowly pushing Pegram’s division back. Mahone’s (Finegan’s) and Evans’ divisions were called back to the scene of action as Pegram continued fighting the Federal infantry and cavalry alone. Evans’ division came up and fell in on Pegram’s left, with a considerable gap between the two, and counterattacked. They began slowly pushing the Federals back, but the Yankees brought up ample reinforcements and counterattacked and drove the gray jackets back. Evans’ men then were then readily reformed near the enemy lines and “advanced with spirit” into the swirling cauldron of battle again, with Pegram on the right, and the enemy was again driven back. Tragically, however, General Pegram was mortally wounded by a bullet wound to the side while cheering his men forward. Major Henry Kyd Douglas was riding near Pegram when he was hit. The major jumped off his horse and caught the general slumping from his mount, and helped the general to the ground. The 33-year-old general was dead by the time they got him off his horse. Pegram had been married to Miss Hetty Carey of Richmond just three weeks before his death. His funeral was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where he had also been married. He was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. 
            Mahone’s division came up and filled in the gap between Evans and Pegram. The reinforced Confederates then went forward for another push. This time the Federals fell back in confusion to their defenses on Hatcher’s Run. Crawford’s and Ayres’ infantrymen were beginning to panic, some of whom threw down their weapons and ran to the rear. Warren complained of the poor quality of the new soldiers that were filling up the ranks of his corps. He said they had to be kept under constant supervision. It was also bitterly cold and that night the rain turned to snow. It was a miserable night in which the Confederates were given only a small pone of cornbread to eat, and had to try to sleep on frozen ground under wet blankets.  General Lee, who had been present for the battle, said in his report of February 8 that the men  had been without any meat at all for three days. He also noted they had been exposed to “cold, hail and sleet.” Lee said that his chief commissary officer told him he had no meat at all, so he ordered the officer back to Richmond to find some. “The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment,” Lee wrote. He warned Richmond of dire consequences if the condition of his soldiers was not improved.
            The third day of the battle, February 7, was confined to skirmishing with pickets. Both sides were apparently satisfied with their current positions, but Warren sent Crawford’s division back out into the tangled, frozen woods and they encountered only Confederate pickets who they pressed slowly back until 6 o’clock that evening. They also buried some of their men who had been killed on the previous days. Warren then pulled them back to their new fortifications on Hatcher’s Run. The Confederates also stretched their entrenchments a little further, which  made the thin gray line manning those trenches, even thinner. The Federals reported a total of 1,539 casualties, including 171 killed, 1,181 wounded and 187 missing or captured. Confederate losses are estimated at around 1,000. The 10th Louisiana casualties are also unknown.

Gen. Clement Evans
(Library of Congress)

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