Counting the Cost

In the aftermath of the defeat at Reams Station of the Second Corps, which was widely regarded as the Union Army of the Potomac’s finest corps, Gen. Winfield S. Hancock was humiliated. “Hancock the Superb,” so dubbed by Gen. George B. McClellan, was proved mortal after all. Gen. John Gibbon, commander of the Second Division of the Second Corps, to which the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was attached, was so upset with Hancock for not sending for reinforcements sooner, that he almost resigned his commission.

The Confederate infantry and cavalry units that had gone into battle that 25th of August returned to the Petersburg defenses elated. They had tasted sweet victory once again. They believed even more fervently in the rightness of his cause and in final victory, and they were confident that they could assault and take any position from the Yankees, fortified or not.

Within the ranks of the Fourteenth Connecticut, fewer men answered the call of the roll. The death of Captain William Hawley (Company K) grieved every member of the once again small regiment. Since the previous October, when there had been about 660 men present for duty, their numbers had been reduced through combat and disease, so that there were but 167 men in the fight at Reams Station. Fifty-one of these men were lost as casualties (killed-5, wounded-18, missing-28). This loss was comparable to Gettysburg the year before. The Fourteenth went into that battle with about 160 men, 66 of whom were listed as casualties (killed-10, wounded-52, missing-4).

Curiously, the men were not despondent. In fact, there was a growing understanding within the ranks that they were now engaged in the final stages of the war, the beginning of the end, we might say. The Union perimeter around Petersburg had been extended westward and encompassed the Weldon Railroad. Confederate supply trains could come only as far north as Stony Creek. Wagon trains had to carry the supplies the remainder of the way to Petersburg, a distance of thirty miles, much of it along the Boydton Plank Road.

A few days later the men would learn that Atlanta had fallen to Union forces. The same slow, encircling, strangling strategy Sherman had used was being employed at Petersburg. Over the coming weeks Federal fortifications would be extended even farther to the west and the Boydton Plank Road would become the next target for the Army of the Potomac, and for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut.

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