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Richmond Must Fall

The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864

Hampton Newsome

Publication Year: 2012

A study of Grant and Lee’s battles in the weeks before the 1864 election

In the fall of 1864, the Civil War’s outcome largely rested on Abraham Lincoln’s success in the upcoming presidential election. As the contest approached, cautious optimism buoyed the President’s supporters in the wake of Union victories at Atlanta and in the Shenandoah Valley. With all eyes on the upcoming election, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant conducted a series of large-scale military operations outside Richmond and Petersburg, which have, until now, received little attention.

In Richmond Must Fall, Hampton Newsome examines these October battles in unprecedented scope and detail. The narrative begins with one of Lee’s last offensive operations of the war at the Darbytown Road on October 7, 1864, and ends with Grant’s major offensive on October 27 to seize the South Side Railroad, the last open rail line into the Confederate stronghold at Petersburg. The offensive would spark sharp fighting at Burgess Mill south of Petersburg and on the Williamsburg Road east of Richmond.

The October 1864 operations offer important insights into the personalities and command styles of Lee and Grant, including Lee’s penchant for audacity and overwhelming thirst to strike a blow against his opponent even against bitter odds and Grant’s willingness to shoulder heavy responsibility in the face of great risk. The narrative explores the relationships within the high command of both armies, including Grant’s sometimes strained partnership with the cautious George Meade. It also illustrates Grant’s efforts to guide the strong-willed political general Benjamin F. Butler, whose steadfast support for African American troops would spark a prisoner controversy that would bring the war’s underlying issues of slavery and race into bold relief. For the Confederates, the month’s operations illustrate Lee’s necessary reliance on his key combat commanders at Petersburg, including the formidable William Mahone.

Drawing on an array of original sources, Newsome focuses on the October battles themselves, examining the plans for the operations, the decisions made by commanders on the battlefield, and the soldiers’ view from the ground. At the same time, he places these military actions in the larger political context that draped the fall of 1864. With the election looming, neither side could afford a military disaster at Richmond or Petersburg. Nevertheless, Grant and Lee were willing to take significant risks to seek great advantage. These military events set the groundwork for operations that would close the war in Virginia several months later.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

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pp. vii-viii

From June 1864 to April 1865, Union and Confederate forces endured a grueling campaign outside Richmond and Petersburg. during these eleven months, Ulysses S. Grant sought repeatedly to overwhelm Robert E. Lee’s defenses and end the Civil War. But Union success on ...

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p. ix-ix

This project began over a decade ago as a vague notion and would not have progressed beyond mere aspiration without the generous help of many people. Bryce Suderow, a veteran researcher and writer, helped initiate this effort by sharing sources from his vast collection of ...

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Introduction: Confederate Autumn

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pp. 1-16

On August 25, 1864, Confederate forces attacked the Union Second Corps at Reams Station, a remote rail stop in southern Virginia. The federal troops, led by General Winfield Hancock, had been engaged in destroying a section of the ...

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Part I. The Darbytown Road Battles

In early October, the countryside east of Richmond became a focal point for military activities in Virginia. On the 7th, along the Darbytown Road, Robert E. Lee would seek to reverse the Union gains of September by launching one of his last ...

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Chapter 1. Johnson's Farm

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pp. 19-48

Two federal armies loomed outside Richmond. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac manned the lines to the south at Petersburg, and Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James stood poised east of Richmond in Henrico County. Both forces ......

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Chapter 2. The New Market Road

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pp. 49-73

For Benjamin Butler’s infantry, the rumors and reports of Lee’s movement the previous night warned of more combat Friday morning. At daylight, federal units prepared for a fight. But when the dawn passed and nothing happened, relief filtered through ...

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Chapter 3. Union Reconnaissance on the Darbytown Road (October 13)

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pp. 74-96

In the wake of Lee’s failure at the New Market Road on October 7 and the sporadic fighting outside Petersburg the next day, the appetite for combat diminished on all sides. Though Butler still hoped for further operations, Grant showed little ...

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Part 2

In the wake of the battles along the Darbytown Road in Henrico County, attention drifted back south to Petersburg. Over the following weeks, Grant would plan and execute his sixth major offensive of the campaign. In doing so, he sought ...

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Chapter 4. The Petersburg Front

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pp. 99-112

Over the summer and fall, the Union and Confederate armies had transformed the landscape around Petersburg into a dizzying array of trenches, rifle pits, fortifications, and military roads. George F. Williams, a New York Times reporter who...

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Chapter 5. Petersburg Becomes the Key

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pp. 113-128

“Politics absorb more and more of the time and thoughts of officers and men,” wrote one federal artillery commander on October 16.1 In the Union trenches and regimental camps, the upcoming election was on everyone’s mind. While opinions...

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Chapter 6. Plans for the Sixth Offensive

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pp. 129-140

On Sunday evening, October 23, Grant met with Meade and Butler separately to discuss the upcoming operation.1 The next day, he issued official orders for Meade to launch an offensive to seize, hold, and fortify the South Side Railroad ...

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Chapter 7. The Union Army Prepares for Battle

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pp. 141-147

In the camps of Meade’s army, the rumor mill turned. on Monday, the 24th, a member of the 12th new York wrote that from “all indications something of importance is going to happen soon.”1 As preparations commenced, some soldiers correctly predicted the object of ...

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Chapter 8. The Williamsburg Road

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pp. 148-167

The army of the James rose on Thursday, the 27th, for its move against Richmond. at dawn, the tenth Corps commander, Alfred Terry, ill from a recurrent malarial fever, climbed into a buggy and headed north.1 After reaching the Darbytown Road, he established headquarters at ...

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Chapter 9. Nine Mile Road

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pp. 168-177

The severe repulse at the Williamsburg Road did not exhaust Godfrey Weitzel’s opportunities east of Richmond. As his initial efforts faltered, he received a message from Butler directing a probe of the York River Railroad, which was farther to the north.one.superior Such a ...

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Chapter 10. The Fifth and Ninth Corps Advance

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pp. 178-196

South of Petersburg, soldiers of the Union ninth Corps broke camp at 3 a.m. Thursday, quickly washed down hard tack with coffee, and marched out into the darkness.1 The badges on their caps bore a cannon tube crossed over an anchor, in recognition of their ...

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Chapter 11. Second Corps Moves Out

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pp. 197-203

Earlier that Thursday morning, the soldiers of the Second Corps rose for the day’s work. John Haley of the 17th Maine took note of the “dark and drizzly” conditions and recorded that the men “were in a sour mood for marching.”1 The schedule afforded little time for breakfast. ...

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Chapter 12. Dabney’s Mill and the Quaker Meeting House

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pp. 204-214

With Gregg covering the left flank to the south, Hancock’s Second Corps resumed its westward march from Cummings Ford. Thomas Egan’s division crossed first, with Thomas Smyth’s brigade in the lead.one.superior Smyth, in turn, deployed a Pennsylvania regiment to pursue ...

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Chapter 13. Reaching the Boydton Plank Road

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pp. 215-227

At 10:40 a.m. on October 27, Hancock received a message from Meade reporting the dim prospects for success on Parke’s ninth Corps front. The dispatch urged Hancock to open communications with Warren’s Fifth Corps and noted that one of Warren’s divisions was headed ...

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Chapter 14. Crawford at Hatcher’s Run

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pp. 228-237

Several miles east of the Burgess Farm, the afternoon near the Clements house had settled into a wet, uncomfortable calm. Parke and Warren arranged their two corps in a continuous line to guard against Confederate counterattacks. in the ninth Corps sector to the north, Potter’s ...

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Chapter 15. The Bull Pen

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pp. 238-258

Mary Burgess, safely removed from her battle-wrecked farm, resolved to reach Petersburg, nearly seven miles away. With the children in tow, she and her mother-in-law carried nothing save the bread and gold pieces salvaged from their home. The bewildered party found the ...

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Chapter 16. The Second Corps Redeemed

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pp. 259-271

Only three months after the Reams Station debacle, Winfield Hancock’s command faced another crisis at the Boydton Plank Road. in the wake of Mahone’s attack, conditions had turned grim. The assault had nearly stranded Egan’s division at the Burgess Farm. ...

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Part III. The Beginning of the End

on the evening of the 27th, grant and his commanders withdrew their men from the field, ending the sixth offensive. in the wake of the operation’s failure, ample discussion appeared in the press, and plenty of finger pointing occurred within the army. While many wondered whether the ...

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pp. 275-284

Colonel Charles Weygant, of the 124th new York, struggled to the rear with his third wound of the war. leaving his command near the Plank Road, he staggered to a small house beyond the park of wagons and ambulances.one.superior after having his wound examined by a surgeon, ...

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Chapter 18. Aftermath

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pp. 285-292

Question by the Judge Advocate: What did you do at 9:30 o’clock in the morning of the 28th of October 1864 with your command?
Answer: I called in what men I had posted in my front during the night and also the 19th Regt Mass Vol. which I knew were posted in the edge of the timber. ...

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Chapter 19. Grant’s Sixth Offensive Considered

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pp. 293-310

Grant’s sixth offensive at Petersburg ended a failure in many respects. Union troops did not reach the South Side Railroad, seize the Boydton Plank Road, or break rebel trench lines in Henrico County. in fact, compared to the successes of the fifth offensive in September, the sixth ...

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Appendix A. The Battlefields Today

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pp. 311-312

Today, the sites of the October 1864 battles go largely unnoticed by people in their daily lives around Richmond and Petersburg. North of the James, Johnson’s Farm, the focal point of the initial Confederate attack on October 7, 1864, at the Darbytown Road, is now the site of Henrico ...

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Appendix B. Orders of Battle

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pp. 313-337

For the most part, this table reflects unit organization as of October 31, 1864, for the principal combat units featured in this book, as reflected in the Official Records. However, some changes have been made to identify commanders or units ...


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pp. 338-410


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pp. 411-427


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pp. 428-447


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pp. 448-459

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776330
E-ISBN-10: 1612776337
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351321

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Petersburg (Va.) -- History -- Siege, 1864-1865.
  • Richmond (Va.) -- History -- Siege, 1864-1865.
  • Boydton Plank Road, Battle of, Va., 1864.
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