Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road

Warbox
conflict=Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road
colour_scheme=background:#ffcccc


caption=
partof=American Civil War
date=June 21–24, 1864
place=Petersburg, Virginia
result=Inconclusive (Union extended siege lines; Confederates defended railroad)
combatant1= flagicon|USA|1863 United States (Union)
combatant2= flagicon|CSA|1863 CSA (Confederacy)
commander1=Ulysses S. Grant
George G. Meade
commander2=Robert E. Lee
A.P. Hill
strength1=II Corps
VI Corps
strength2=III Corps
casualties1=3,000
casualties2=572

The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, also known as the First Battle of the Weldon R.R., was fought June 21 – 24, 1864, near Petersburg, Virginia. It was the first of a series of battles during the Siege of Petersburg aimed at extending the Union siege lines to the west and cutting the rail lines supplying Petersburg.

After the failure to capture Petersburg the previous week, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant decided on a siege. His Union army entrenched east of the city, running from near the Jerusalem Plank Road in the south to Bermuda Hundred in the north. Grant's first objective was the Weldon R.R., an important line supplying the Petersburg defenses.

George G. Meade sent the II Corps, temporarily commanded by David B. Birney as Hancock was suffering from wounds incurred at Gettysburg, towards the Weldon R.R., an attack which was to be supported by the VI Corps. On June 21 a division of cavalry under James H. Wilson preceded the infantry and began tearing up track on the railroad as Birney moved the II Corps past the Jerusalem Plank Road. The VI Corps was supposed to be relieved in the trenches by units from the XVIII Corps. Confederate forces began firing on the XVIII Corps, pinning it down. Therefore, the VI Corps was unable to move to the aid of the II Corps with sufficient amounts of reinforcements.

Robert E. Lee wanted to push the Federals completely away from the Jerusalem Plank Road area. Ambrose Powell Hill's corps moved to the vicinity of Globe Tavern on June 22. Confederate General William Mahone had been a railroad engineer prior to the war, and had in fact worked on the railroad along this exact stretch of track. Using his knowledge of the terrain, Mahone's division was chosen to lead the attack. At 3 p.m. on June 22, Mahone's division counterattacked through a ravine running through the II Corps lines and routed the Union division of John Gibbon. The remaining II Corps divisions were unaware of the fighting due to the heavily wooded area until Gibbon's men began streaming through. By that time, however, it was too late as Mahone's troops were right behind Gibbon. The entire II Corps front lines fell back and formed a new line along the Jerusalem Plank Road, where they repulsed Mahone. An attempt was made by the Union forces to retake their lost ground, but it was pushed back. Hill's troops withdrew to the Weldon R.R. and the Union troops began constructing new trenches along the Jerusalem Plank Road.

The battle was a strategically a draw. The Confederates were able to retain control of the Weldon R.R. The Federals were able to destroy some of the Weldon before being driven off, but more importantly, the siege lines were stretched further to the west, a strategy Grant would continue throughout the siege. The Weldon R.R. would eventually fall to the Union Army during the Battle of Globe Tavern.


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