American Civil War: Battle of Peebles Farm

Battle of Peebles Farm
Union troops move past Poplar Springs Church, September 30, 1864. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Peebles Farm - Conflict & Dates: 

The Battle of Peebles' Farm was fought September 30 to October 2, 1864, during the American Civil War and was part of the large Siege of Petersburg.

Battle of Peebles Farm - Armies & Commanders:

Union

Confederate

  • approx. 10,000

Battle of Peebles Farm - Background:

Advancing against General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in May 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac first engaged the Confederates at the Battle of the Wilderness.  Continuing the fighting through May, Grant and Lee clashed at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna, and Cold Harbor.  Blocked at Cold Harbor, Grant elected to disengage and marched south to cross the James River with the goal of securing the key railroad center of Petersburg and isolating Richmond.  Beginning their march on June 12, Grant and Meade crossed the river and began pushing towards Petersburg.  They were aided in this effort by elements of Major General Benjamin F. Butler's Army of the James.

While Butler's initial assaults against Petersburg commenced on June 9, they failed to break through the Confederate lines.

 Joined by Grant and Meade, subsequent attacks on June 15-18 drove the Confederates back but did not carry the city.  Entrenching opposite the enemy, Union forces began the Siege of Petersburg.  Securing his line on the Appomattox River in the north, Grant's trenches extended south towards Jerusalem Plank Road.

  Analyzing the situation, the Union leader concluded that the best approach would be to move against the Richmond & Petersburg, Weldon, and Southside Railroads which supplied Lee's army in Petersburg.  As Union troops attempted to move south and west around Petersburg, they fought several engagements including Jerusalem Plank Road (June 21-23) and Globe Tavern (August 18-21).  Additionally, a frontal assault was made against the Confederate works on July 30 at the Battle of the Crater.

Battle of Peebles Farm - The Union Plan:

Following the fighting in August, Grant and Meade achieved the goal of severing the Weldon Railroad.  This compelled Confederate reinforcements and supplies to disembark to the south at Stony Creek Station and move up Boydton Plank Road to Petersburg.  In late September, Grant directed Butler to mount an attack against Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights on the north side of the James.  As this offensive moved forward, he intended to push Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's V Corps west towards Boydton Plank Road with assistance on the left from Major General John G. Parke's IX Corps.  Additional support would be provided by a division from Major General Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps and a cavalry division led by Brigadier General David Gregg.

  It was hoped that Butler's attack would force Lee to weaken his lines south of Petersburg to reinforce the Richmond defenses.

Battle of Peebles Farm - Confederate Preparations:

Following the loss of the Weldon Railroad, Lee directed that a new line of fortifications be constructed to the south to protect Boydton Plank Road.  While work on these progressed, a temporary line was built along Squirrel Level Road near Peebles Farm.  On September 29, elements of Butler's army succeeded in penetrating the Confederate line and captured Fort Harrison.  Gravely concerned about its loss, Lee began weakening his right below Petersburg to send forces north to re-take the fort.  As result, dismounted cavalry was posted to the Boydton Plank and Squirrel Level lines while those parts of Lieutenant General A.P.

Hill's Third Corps that remained south of the river were held back as a mobile reserve to deal with any Union incursions. 

Battle of Peebles Farm - Warren Advances:

On the morning of September 30, Warren and Parke moved forward.  Reaching the Squirrel Level line near Poplar Spring Church around 1:00 PM, Warren paused before directing Brigadier General Charles Griffin's division to attack.  Capturing Fort Archer at the southern end of the Confederate line, Griffin's men caused the defenders to break and retreat in a rapid fashion.  Having nearly had his corps badly defeated at Globe Tavern the previous month by Confederate counterattacks, Warren paused and directed his men to connect the newly-won position to the Union lines at Globe Tavern.  As a result, V Corps did not resume their advance until after 3:00 PM.

Battle of Peebles Farm - The Tide Turns:

Responding to crisis along the Squirrel Level Line, Lee recalled Major General Cadmus Wilcox's division which had been en route to aid in the fighting at Fort Harrison.  The pause in the Union advance led to a gap emerging between V Corps and Parke on the left.  Increasingly isolated, XI Corps worsened their situation when its right division got ahead of the rest of its line.  While in this exposed position, Parke's men came under heavy attack by Major General Henry Heth's division and that of the returning Wilcox.  In the fighting, Colonel John I. Curtin's brigade was driven west towards the Boydton Plank Line where a large part of it was captured by Confederate cavalry.

  The rest of Parke's men fell back before rallying at the Pegram Farm just north of the Squirrel Level Line.

Reinforced by some of Griffin's men, IX Corps was able to stabilize its lines and turned back the pursuing enemy.  The next day, Heth resumed attacks against the Union lines but was repulsed with relative ease.  These efforts were supported by Major General Wade Hampton's cavalry division which attempted to get in the Union rear.  Covering Parke's flank, Gregg was able to block Hampton.  On October 2, Brigadier General Gershom Mott's II Corps came forward and mounted an assault towards the Boydton Plank Line.  Thought it failed to carry the enemy's works, it allowed Union forces to construct fortifications close to the Confederate defenses.

Battle of Peebles Farm - Aftermath:

Union losses in the fighting at the Battle of Peebles Farm numbered 2,889 killed and wounded while Confederate losses totaled 1,239.  Though not decisive, the fighting saw Grant and Meade continue to push their lines south and west towards the Boydton Plank Road.  Additionally, Butler's efforts north of the James succeeded in capturing part of the Confederate defenses.  Fighting would resume above the river on October 7, while Grant waited until later in the month to attempt another effort south of Petersburg.  This would result in the Battle of Boydton Plank Road which opened on October 27. 

Selected Sources