Hatcher’s Run

As January 1865 drew to a close, rumors of possible peace flew up and down the lines of both armies outside of Petersburg. On the 29th, a three-man delegation from Richmond, led by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, passed through the lines under a flag of truce. It was their hope to travel to Washington to open serious discussions on how the war might be ended and peace restored between “our two countries.”

President Lincoln had the Confederate delegation delayed at City Point and wired Gen. Grant that he was not to alter any plans he had for prosecuting the war, no matter what he heard about peace talks. President Lincoln then ordered the delegation sent to Fort Monroe at Hampton Roads, where on February 3rd, Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward met with the Confederate delegates on board the steamer River Queen. When asked if there was any way to put an end to the war, Lincoln’s reply was short and crystal clear. “There is but one way. Those who are resisting the laws of the Union must cease their resistance.” This was simply a reworded repetition of what Lincoln had already communicated to Jefferson Davis directly, that the war would end only when the South ceased hostilities and submitted to the laws of “our one common country.” The peace conference ended with both sides as far apart as ever.

Meanwhile, Grant had heeded President Lincoln’s advice. Early on Sunday morning, February 5th, a force of about 35,000 men, consisting of Gen. Warren’s Fifth Corps, the second and third divisions of Gen. Humphreys’ Second Corps, Gen. Gregg’s cavalry division, and artillery, left their camps in another attempt to disrupt the western supply route. The men of the Second Corps slogged westward along the north side of Hatcher’s Run and established a defensive line just east of Burgess Mill where they had fought in October. (See posts of 10/24/2014 and 10/31/2014.) At the same time the Fifth Corps advanced westward south of Hatcher’s Run.

Late in the afternoon the Confederates attacked the newly entrenched men of the Second Corps. (Click to view a Civil War Trust map.) The two divisions fought off several determined assaults and held their position. The 14th CT was in Pierce’s Brigade and was held in reserve to be used as needed to protect the left flank. Sgt. Charles Blatchley (14th CT, Co. I) told of this battle in Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry:

Our line had been formed and rifle pits (breastworks) thrown up and the picks and shovels carried away by the Pioneer Corps when it was discovered by the fire of the advancing enemy that a mistake had been made and the line was at exactly right angles to the proper direction. The change in the line was quickly made and a new line of works erected under fire by the men without tools and the celerity with which this was accomplished showed what could be done under a certain amount and kind of pressure. We occupied this line for several days and one night here I had the experience of being frozen in bed. It rained and freezing as it fell, our blankets were firmly frozen to the earth and we under them in the morning.

During the change of position described above, one man was killed, Lt. Franklin Bartlett (Co. F), the youngest officer in the regiment. Several others were wounded. South of Hatcher’s Run, parts of the Fifth Corps fought a back and forth battle around Dabney’s Mill on February 6th, during which Confederate Brig. Gen. John Pegram was killed.

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run was considered a Union victory. True, a smaller Confederate force had once again stopped the advance of a Federal force twice their size and the vital western supply route remained unmolested. But the ground taken and held by the Second Corps allowed the Federal line of entrenchments to stretch to Armstrong’s Mill, three miles closer to the South Side Railroad that continued to shuttle Confederate supplies and men into Petersburg.

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