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First Union Attempt on the Weldon Railroad

The Union Army, having failed in its initial attack on Petersburg, was now committed to doing something further to effect its capture.

The period from June 19 to July 9 was spent in three types of activity. First, elements of the army were set to work consolidating the positions captured in the 4-day battle and constructing the devices needed for siege operations. A second type of effort consisted of jabbing thrusts at the important supply routes into Petersburg. The last was a reconnoitering of the Confederate defenses to determine a plan which would result in the fall of the city.

A threatening movement toward the Weldon Railroad was soon made by the Northern troops. Three days after the failure to capture the city a small force began to push to the southwest of Grant's flank on the Jerusalem Plank Road. The following day, June 22, Confederate divisions led by Generals Cadmus M. Wilcox and William Mahone advanced from the defense line south of Petersburg and forced the Union troops to a temporary halt.

The next morning saw the resumption of the advance toward the Weldon Railroad. A small cavalry force was successful in reaching the tracks on the 23d, and it promptly started the work of destruction which was its mission. Alarmed by the threat to this important supply line, the Confederates launched a sharp attack which forced the withdrawal of the Union forces from the vicinity of the railroad. However, the Union lines confronting Petersburg had been extended across the Jerusalem Plank Road, thus cutting off its use to the city.

In itself the battle of June 22—23 was not important. The North could quickly replace the loss of 2,300 men. The railroad, although its days were numbered, was still able to deliver a few supplies to Petersburg. But as an indication of Grant's tactics, it pointed the course of the campaign ahead. It marked the first of several attempts to encircle Petersburg. The others to follow would not all be as disappointing to Northern hopes. In these repeated drives to the west lay the essence of the basic tactics to capture Petersburg.

On July 9, 1864, the plan of operations decided upon by the Union high command was revealed in an order issued from Meade's headquarters. This order gave detailed instructions on the building of fortifications and the development of siege tactics. Thus it became apparent that the Union plan was to reduce Petersburg by a lengthy process of attrition.

There were still those in the attacking forces, however, who felt that, with a little imagination, the city could be taken by direct assault. While most of the troops were digging siege lines, another, and smaller, group had already begun work on a unique plan which would, if successful, make further encirclement unnecessary.


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