Deep Bottom – Take Two

After Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s serious threat to Washington in July, Gen. U. S. Grant dispatched Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan to organize Union forces in northern Virginia and West Virginia into a fighting force that would not only keep Early at bay, but also seize and control the entire Shenandoah Valley.

About August 10th, Gen. Lee allowed word to leak out that he had sent an entire infantry corps northward to reinforce Early. Lee hoped that Grant would send more troops to reinforce Sheridan, thus moving the bulk of the fighting north and lifting the siege of Petersburg. In reality, Lee sent only one division, but Gen. Grant believed the false report, and instead of reacting the way Lee hoped he would, Grant employed the same strategy he had used at the end of July—threaten Richmond directly.

On August 9th, Col. Theodore Ellis reported the strength of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as 14 officers and 160 enlisted men. A few days later, Ellis was away from the regiment, and his second in command, Lt. Col. Samuel Moore, not only commanded the regiment, but was also in temporary command of the Third Brigade (Smyth), Second Division (Gibbon), of the Second Corps (Hancock). On Saturday, August 13th, under orders directly from Gen. Hancock, Moore marched the brigade to the wharves at City Point where they boarded five steamboats.

That evening the steamers cast off and turned downriver toward Newport News. Speculation was rampant as the men tried to guess where they were headed—Washington, Baltimore, or other points along the east coast were spoken of with wild expectation. But not even Lt. Col. Moore knew their destination. At midnight, Moore took an envelope from his pocket and opened it. It held orders, sealed by Gen. Hancock himself. Moore went immediately to find the captain of the vessel. He told the captain to reverse course and put in at Deep Bottom.

At dawn on Sunday, as they approached the landing at Deep Bottom, the transports came under fire from Confederate artillery nearby, but no harm was done and soon the steamers tied up. The men disembarked and set up a defensive perimeter around the landing. At about 10 a.m. Gen. Hancock arrived with the rest of the Second Corps and Lt. Col. Moore was relieved by Col. Pierce of the 108th New York. (Click here for a map – Second Battle of Deep Bottom.)

The following day the regiment was ordered to relieve a skirmish line of the Third Division. Their route lay over open ground in plain sight of the enemy, and to advance in any type of regular formation would have been suicidal. Moore divided the regiment into small squads of six to eight men each. He then sent one squad at a time running zigzag across the field to the advanced position, which they held for the remainder of the day.

The Fourteenth was also called upon for a special assignment. Federal gunboats, including the USS Agawam, which carried two one-hundred pound Parrot rifled cannon, were shelling the Confederate fortifications along New Market Heights. Confederate guns fired back and at times made it quite uncomfortable for the Union sailors. A detail of the Fourteenth, probably including the men of Company D, who carried the Sharps rifles with the Berdan alterations, was sent forward to maintain fire on one of the Rebel guns. The men did their job so well that the gun did not fire from 9:30 in the morning for the remainder of the day (probably the 16th or 17th). Years after the war a Confederate officer who had been in the fort that day met a member of the Fourteenth Connecticut. The fire of the Fourteenth’s sharpshooters had been so accurate that it prevented all efforts to load and fire the weapon.

Although the Second Battle of Deep Bottom lasted until August 20th, the Fourteenth returned to Petersburg on the 18th. They had lost one man killed, a second mortally wounded, and six others wounded. Although the fighting yielded no victory for Grant, it did force Lee to once again rob the defenses around Petersburg to stop the Union threat to Richmond north of the James, and this reduced the force that Lee was able to muster against Gen. Warren’s Fifth Corps along the Weldon Railroad southwest of Petersburg.

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