The battle lines during the June 1864-March 1865 Siege of Petersburg were not entirely static. There were troop movements and fighting on a significant scale in some instances; generally, these were Union attempts to disrupt Confederate supply lines and lengthen the siege line, thereby stretching already limited Southern resources even more.
One such action was the Battle of Hatcher’s Run on February 5th-7th, 1865. Union Cavalry, along with the 2nd and 5th Corps, attacked the Confederates along Hatcher’s Run southwest of Petersburg. The Union objective was to interrupt the flow of supplies along the Boydton Plank Road, a wagon train route of increasing importance, and if possible, take the South Side Railroad, the last open rail line into Petersburg. The fighting was substantial, with the Federals suffering over 1500 total casualties, including 171 killed, while Confederate casualties were approximately 1000. Union forces were unable to take the railroad or cut off the Boydton Plank Road supply line, but they did extend the siege line further west.
When the Civil War began in 1861, the state of Kentucky was officially neutral. Though this border state had slavery and a large number of Confederate sympathizers, Kentucky leaned slightly
more toward the Union, and unionists secured large majorities in both houses of the state legislature in August 1861 elections. Though both sides initially respected the state’s neutrality and kept their armies out, they also had large numbers of troops near Kentucky’s borders and it was only a matter of time before the state would be drawn into the conflict.
On September 3rd, a Confederate force under General Leonidas Polk made the first move, occupying Columbus, Kentucky, a town located across the Mississippi River from Missouri. Though it made sense from a military standpoint to take Columbus– a railroad town located on a high bluff above the river–it did push the state politically toward the Union.
With Kentucky’s neutrality violated, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant made a counter movement. Grant, who was headquartered at Cairo, Illinois, on the extreme southern tip of that state where the Ohio River entered the Mississippi, put his troops on transports and steamed up the Ohio about 45 miles to Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah is located on the Ohio River at the mouth of the Tennessee River, a waterway that would be an important transportation route into Tennessee during future campaigns. Grant put his troops ashore and occupied Paducah without firing a shot. Grant filed this brief report with his commanding officer, Major General John C. Fremont:
By late 1864, the Confederacy’s last remaining open seaport was at Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington is roughly 30 miles up the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic Ocean, and the mouth of the Cape Fear was guarded by Fort Fisher, an enormous earthwork with 47 cannon and 1900 troops. The capture of Fort Fisher by the Union would sever the Confederacy’s last supply line with the outside world. A combined army and navy expedition in December of 1864 ended in failure, but Federal forces returned in January of 1865.
On January 13th, a 58 vessel fleet of warships under the command of Admiral David Porter began bombarding Fort Fisher. Porter ordered the warships to fire at specific targets rather than as a general bombardment of the fort. It paid off. The naval gunfire, which continued the next day, was accurate and destroyed or disabled many of the heavy guns in the fort. The ground forces under the overall command of Major General Alfred Terry made an amphibious landing on the 13th and constructed defensive works.
On January 15th, a force of approximately 2300 sailors and marines attacked the northeast corner of the fort but were driven off, suffering heavy casualties. While the fort’s defenders were preoccupied with the sailors, the infantrymen moved into position on the far western end of the earthworks and attacked. The fighting was intense and often hand to hand, but the 4000 man Union force slowly gained the upper hand, driving the Confederates back. By 9:30 p.m., Fort Fisher was in Federal hands. Although Wilmington itself would not be taken until February, the capture of Fort Fisher closed the port to Confederate blockade runners.
Afterwards, Admiral Porter submitted this report to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on the Navy’s actions at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher: Continue reading “Admiral David Porter’s Report on the Second Battle of Fort Fisher” »