- 21 Aug 2022 13:45
August 21, Sunday
Along the Weldon Railroad in Virginia, the Federal soldiers that have carried out General Warren’s order to work through the night have erected formidable earthworks by dawn. The wisdom of Warren’s withdrawal to his new positions is confirmed when both Mahone and A.P. Hill assault his line. The Confederates charge three ranks deep, screaming as they come. Warren gallops along the line, shouting for his soldiers to fire low. The 26 guns of Colonel Charles Wainright’s artillery brigade open up, cutting great swaths in the approaching ranks. Hill decides to call off the attack; but through a mistake in orders, Brigadier General Johnson Hagood’s South Carolina brigade continues the charge against the Federal left. Hagood, a combative prewar Secessionist, manages to drive some troops of Lysander Cutler’s 4th Division from their breastworks. But as the disorganized attackers press on, they are caught in a deadly crossfire. Those South Carolinians who aren’t killed or wounded begin to throw down their weapons and surrender to the Federals, who come swarming out of their entrenchments. Hagood himself is approached by one of Cutler’s staff officers, who carries a captured Confederate flag. Rather than surrender, however, Hagood shoots the officer, seizes the flag, and rides off on the wounded Federal’s horse. Before the startled Union troops can react, many of Hagood’s men also bolt to the rear. Even so, 448 of Hagood’s 681 men are dead, wounded, or captured, and six flags remain in Federal hands. Overall, from the 18th through the 21st Union losses for the Battle of the Weldon Railroad or Globe Tavern total 198 killed, 1,105 wounded, and 3,152 missing for 4,455 out of something over 20,000 engaged. Southern losses are estimated at 1,600 out of about 14,000 engaged.
The Federal hold on the Weldon Railroad is secure, and now begins the work of extending the fortifications and the entrenchments. Soon Globe Tavern is knitted firmly into the Federal works, and Petersburg is half encircled. The noose around the neck of Lee’s army has been drawn a little tighter, yet not tight enough by far. Although the Federals have cut the railroad, the Confederates will continue to use it. They simply stop their trains a day’s ride south of the enemy, transfer their goods to wagons, and haul them around the Federal left into Petersburg. “Whilst we are inconvenienced,” a member of Lee’s staff will say, “no material harm is done to us.” Grant is determined that more harm be done. The railroad has to be destroyed farther to the south, and he gives the job to Hancock, who today has just completed an exhausting march back to the main Federal lines from Deep Bottom. The men of the II Corps are becoming known as “Hancock’s Cavalry”; they stop marching, it is said, only while the staff officers get fresh horses. Without pausing to rest, Hancock sets two of his divisions to their new task. With Gregg’s cavalry screening them, they begin tearing up mile after mile of the Weldon tracks, working south from Warren’s lines.
In the Shenandoah, Sheridan’s withdrawal to better (and more easily supplied) ground five days ago—reminiscent of previous retreats by skittish Federal generals—has drawn a torrent of public criticism down upon him. The North suffers fresh agonies of fear that Early is about to start marauding in Maryland again but as Sheridan has explained to Grant, the movement is a deliberate invitation to lure the Confederates northward once more, whereupon he will be south of them and in a position to spring a giant trap. Amid the cries of panic and calls for his relief, Sheridan calmly asserts to Grant, “There is no occasion for alarm.”
But Early refuses Sheridan’s bait. Today he attacks, throwing his own corps against Sheridan’s right below Charles Town, while Anderson orders Kershaw’s infantry to assault Sheridan’s left at Berryville. Anderson’s movement is stopped cold by the Federal cavalry of Merritt and Wilson. At first the Confederates push back VI Corps in heavy fighting, but the Federal line is soon restored. Late at night Sheridan pulls back from Charles Town to Halltown near Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River, into a virtually impregnable position. Once more the Valley is largely free of Federals, but the area has been too much fought over to be of great value.
Confederates occupy Memphis. In a daring early morning raid, some two thousand men of Nathan Bedford Forrest enters the Tennessee city, hold it for part of the day, nearly capture Federal Major Generals S.A. Hurlburt and C.C. Washburn, and leave with few losses. The raid frustrates, demoralizes, and embarrasses the North. As a result, A.J. Smith’s Federal column pulls back, leaving Forrest free to operate against Sherman’s supply lines. Many lives, months of time, and large amounts of matériel have been spent in Federal efforts to bring Forrest to bay and still they are unsuccessful.
Otherwise there is action in Loudoun County, Virginia; at Grubb’s Crossroads, Kentucky; and Diamond Grove, Missouri.
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.