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The Battle of Weldon Railroad (First)

June 21-24, 1864 in City/County, Virginia
Petersburg Campaign

Union Forces Commanded by:
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
- 604 2,494 2,217*

Confederate Forces Commanded by:
Gen. Robert E. Lee
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
- - 300 200*

**Missing and Captured
Conclusion: Union Victory


This little known battle took place on a sultry Thursday afternoon 6 miles south of Petersburg, Virginia along the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad. It involved troops of the Vermont Brigade (the Second Brigade, Second Division) of the VI Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and is known as the First Battle of the Weldon Railroad, representing one of the early battles of the Jerusalem Plank Road. The Confederates referred to it as the Battle of the Gurley Farm. The Petersburg and Weldon Railroad brought supplies for Lee’s army from Weldon, North Carolina and the Deep South. Grant’s plan was to move two corps of his army south and west around the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia defending Petersburg.
On June 21, the Union II Corps, supported by the VI Corps, attempted to cut the Weldon Railroad, one of the major supply lines into Petersburg. The movement was preceded by Wilson's cavalry division which began destroying tracks. This movement got underway with Winfield Scott Hancock’s II and Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright's VI Corps moving south down the Jerusalem Plank Road to the Williams House. The next day these two corps attempted to move west across the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad. The advance was bungled and Gen. William Mahone struck with his division of the Army of Northern Virginia in a well-time blow attacking between the 2 Union corps striking the left flank of the II Corps. The attack rolled-up 2 Union brigades and sent the II Corps reeling back to the Jerusalem Plank Road. The Confederates captured 1800 prisoners.
On the 22nd, troops from Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill's corps led by Brig. Gen. William Mahone counterattacked, forcing the II Corps away from the railroad to positions on the Jerusalem Plank Road. Although the Federals were driven from their advanced positions, they were able to extend their siege lines farther to the west.
On the morning of the 23rd, the VI Corps again attempted to advances west toward the Weldon Railroad. When less than 2 miles from the railroad the Corps halted and entrenched with the Vermont Brigade manning the western edge of a great bulge facing the railroad. Sharpshooters from the Vermont Brigade were sent forward to secure the railroad. With a working party of Brigade Pioneers busy tearing up the rails, Division Commander Brig. Gen. Frank Wheaton, attempted to provide them with protection from any Confederate interference.
Gen. Robert E. Lee, upon learning that the Federals were again pushing west to cut the Weldon Railroad, requested his III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill, place a strong force down the Halifax Road which ran parallel to the railroad and attempt to dislodge the Union troops that had straddled the railroad at the Globe Tavern. Hill again sent pugnacious Brig. Gen. William "Little Willie" Mahone with his division. However, he might have started from Petersburg with 4,000 present for duty and he was able to fielded fewer. He reported 500 men in his Florida Brigade but we know that of 200 Floridians who began the 3 mile march from Petersburg in 100 degree heat only 150 arrived to engage the Vermonters.
Facing these Confederates were 2,660 officers and men of the Vermont Brigade plus some help from non-Vermonters to the left and right and the arrival late in the afternoon of Wheaton’s Brigade. Out in front of the Vermont Brigade main line were about 1,000 Vermonters in isolate and scattered positions. What happen next was disastrous for these exposed Vermonters.
The Confederates swept in and over several hours during the late afternoon gobbled up the forward Vermonters of the 4th Regiment and Fleming’s battalion of the 11th Vermont. The 3rd Georgia Regiment chased the Vermonters off the railroad and then Mahone arrayed his division in line of battle along the railroad facing east. Methodically, he had his Georgians push the Vermonters of Fleming’s Battalion back to an entrenched position in the woods and pin them there. He then sent his Mississippi Brigade around the north flank of these Vermonters while he took the rest of his division south attempting to get around the Federal's left flank. His Virginians struck the 4th Vermont picket line splitting the regiment in half and fanned out in its rear.
Capt. William C. Tracy assembled the left wing of the 4th Vermont and rallied his men for a brief stand. He soon fell dead, shot through the neck, and after several more men had been shot down, the rest surrendered to the surrounding Confederates. Maj. Pratt and the right wing of the regiment fled north to join Major Fleming’s battalion at his breastwork in the woods. The Florida Brigade advanced north and met the Mississippi Brigade moving south behind Fleming’s breastwork. Escape was impossible and at dusk when their ammunition ran out, Majs. Pratt and Fleming surrendered their commands totaling 344 officers and enlisted men.

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