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The Battle of Ream's Station

August 25, 1864 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia
Petersburg Campaign

Union Forces Commanded by:
Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
- 127 546 1,760*

Confederate Forces Commanded by:
Maj. Gen. Henry Heth
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
- 1,500 k&w - -

**Missing and Captured
Conclusion: Confederate Victory


On August 24, Union II Corps moved south along the Weldon Railroad, tearing up track, preceded by Gregg's cavalry division.
On the 25th, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth attacked and overran the faulty Union position at Ream's Station, capturing 9 guns, 12 colors, and many prisoners. The old II Corps was shattered. 
Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock withdrew to the main Union line near the Jerusalem Plank Road, bemoaning the declining combat effectiveness of his troops.


But I must pass over many fields that I may mention Reams' Station, which I am asked to notice somewhat fully. This engagement was fought on the 25th of August, 1864. Upon the investment of Petersburg, the possession of the Weldon road became of manifest importance, as it was Lee's main line of communication with the South, whence he drew his men and supplies. On the 18th of August, 1864, General G. K. Warren, with the Fifth corps of Grant's Army and Kautz's division of cavalry, occupied the line of the Weldon road at a point six miles from Petersburg. An attempt was made to dislodge them from this position on the 21st, but the effort failed. Emboldened by Warren's success, Hancock was ordered from Deep Bottom to Reams' Station, ten miles from Petersburg. He arrived there on the 22d, and promptly commenced the destruction of the railroad track. His infantry force consisted of Gibbons' and Miles' divisions, and in the afternoon of the 25th, he was reinforced by the division of Orlando B. Wilcox, which however, arrived too late to be of any substantial service to him. Gregg's division of calvary, with an additional brigade, commanded by Spear, was with him. He had abundant artillery, consisting in part of the Tenth Massachusetts battery, Battery B First Rhode Island, McNight's Twelfth New York battery, and Woerner's Third New Jersey battery.

On the 22d Gregg was assailed by Wade Hampton with one of his cavalry divisions, and a sharp contest ensued. General Hampton, from the battlefield of the 22d, sent a note to General R. E. Lee, suggesting an immediate attack with infantry; that great commander, realizing that a favorable opportunity was offered to strike Hancock a heavy blow, directed Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill to advance against him as promptly as possible. General Hill left his camp near Petersburg on the night of the 24th, and marching south, halted near Armstrong's Mill, about eight miles from Petersburg.

On the morning of the 25th he advanced to Monk's Neck bridge, three miles from Reams' Station, and awaited advices from Hampton. The Confederate force actually present at Ream's Station consisted of Cook's and McRae's brigades, of Heth's division; Lane's, Scales and McGowan's brigades, of Wilcox's division; Anderson's brigade, of Longstreet's corps; two brigades of Mahone's division; Butler's and W. H. F. Lee's divisions of cavalry, and a portion of Pegram's battery of artillery. General Hampton, commanding cavalry, marched at daylight on the morning of the 25th, and drove the Federal cavalry before him at all points. Both of his divisions united at Malone's crossing, about two and one-half miles from Reams' Station, having moved against the enemy by different routes. Here Hampton was attacked by a portion of Hancock's infantry, when he dismounted his entire force and a spirited fight was in progress when the columns of A. P. Hill appeared in sight, with the purpose of attacking Hancock's force from the front. Hancock's infantry, who were expecting an attack from Hill, had entrenched themselves strongly on the west side of the railroad and a short distance from it. Hill ordered the first assault about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The assaulting column consisted of Anderson's Georgia brigade and Scales' North Carolina brigade. These two brigades, after a severe conflict in which both fought well, were repulsed. The second assault was made about 5 o'clock in the afternoon by the three North Carolina <shv19_115>brigades of Lane, Cooke and McRae, from left to right, in the order named. These troops had become famous throughout the entire army for their fighting qualities. How could it be otherwise with such brigade commanders? On this day General Conner, of South Carolina, was commanding Lane's brigade, as General Lane had been severely wounded at Cold Harbor.

Where is the North Carolinian who does not rejoice in the unfading laurels of John R. Cooke and James H. Lane, who, though natives of another State, are as dear to us as our own sons? Both have equally an unstained, chivalrous, glorious record. Go where you will in this State, and it would be difficult to find an assemblage of men, who might happen to meet together, in the midst of whom it would be safe to utter an unkind word of either Cooke or Lane. Long commanding troops from North Carolina, their names and fame have become the common heritage of us all. The character of General William McRae has already been sketched to-day.

In front of Lane and Cooke the enemy had felled trees, sharpening the limbs and making it very difficult to get through them. McRae had an open field between him and the enemy's breastworks, and for this reason, as the other two brigades would be necessarily retarded by the abattis, which was exceedingly formidable where Lane's men had to pass, they were ordered to advance somewhat sooner than McRae's men. McRae's line of battle was in the edge of a pine thicket, about three hundred yards from the breastworks to be assaulted. Walking along the line McRae told the men that he knew they would go over the works, and that he wished them to do so without firing a gun. "All right, General, we will go there," was the answer which came from all. The men were in high spirits, jesting and laughing, and ready to move on an instant's notice. In the meanwhile Lane's and Cooke's brigades advancing were received by a heavy fire of both musketry and artillery. As the fire became more violent, especially in front of Lane, McRae, prompted by that great and magnanimous spirit which ever characterized him, and realizing that the crisis of the conflict was at hand, said to Captain Louis G. Young, his adjutant-general, "I shall wait no longer for orders. Lane is drawing the entire fire of the enemy; give the order to advance at once." Hitherto his brigade had received but slight attention from the enemy, the greater portion of their fire having been directed against Lane's and Cooke's brigades. But warned of the danger which threatened them, by the loud cheers from McRea's brigade, as it emerged from its covering of pines and advanced to the assault, <shv19_116>they opened a tremendous fire of small arms, with a converging fire of artillery along McRae's whole front. It was all in vain. McRae's men, in a line almost as straight and unbroken as they presented when on parade, without firing a gun, threw themselves forward at a double-quick, and mounting the entrenchments, precipitated themselves among the enemy's infantry on either side, who seemed to be dazed by the vehemence of the attack, and made a very feeble resistance after their works were reached. Lane's and Cooke's men, stimulated by the shouts of McRae's brigade on the right, redoubled their exertions and advancing with great rapidity through the fallen timber, were close under the works when McRae struck them. In fact, portions of the three brigades crossed the embankment together, and the glory of the victory belongs equally to them all. Nor were our cavalry idle spectators of the fight. As soon as it was evident to General Hampton that Hill's infantry had commenced the second assault with the three North Carolina brigades, he ordered his entire force, which had been dismounted, to attack the enemy in flank and rear. This was done most gallantly and successfully. General Rufus Barringer, of North Carolina, commanded W. H. F. Lee's division with marked skill and gallantry, whilst Colonel W. H. Cheek, of Warren county, led Barringer's brigade with his accustomed dash. The cavalry vied with the infantry in their headlong assault upon the enemy's lines. The Second North Carolina, under General W. P. Roberts, of Gates county, carried the first line of rifle-pits on the right, and the cavalry all swept over the main line. Their works stormed in front, their lines carried in flank and rear, the enemy's infantry gave way at all points and abandoned the field in confusion and without any appearance of order. In truth, the Federal infantry did not show the determination which had generally marked the conduct of Hancock's corps. Not so with the Federal artillery. It was fought to the last with unflinching courage. Some minutes before the second assault was made, General McRea had ordered Lieutenant W. E. Kyle, with the sharpshooters, to concentrate his fire upon the Federal batteries. Many men and horses rapidly fell under the deadly fire of these intrepid marksmen. Yet still the artillerists who were left, stood by their guns. When McRae's brigade crossed the embankment, a battery which was on his right-front as he advanced, wheeled to a right angle with its original position, and opened a fire of grape and canister at close quarters, enfilading the Confederate line; General McRae immediately ordered this battery to be taken Although entirely abandoned by its infantry <shv19_117>support, it continued a rapid fire upon the attacking column until the guns were reached. Some of the gunners even refused to surrender and were taken by sheer physical force. They were animated in their gallant conduct by the example of their commanding officer. On horseback, he was a conspicuous target, and his voice could be distinctly heard encouraging his men. Struck with admiration by his bravery, every effort was made by General McRae, Captain W. P. Oldham, of this city, Captain Robert Bingham, and one or two others who were among the first to reach the guns, to save the life of this manly opponent. Unfortunately he was struck by a ball which came from the extreme flank, as all firing had ceased in front of him and he fell from his horse mortally wounded, not more lamented by his own men than by those who combatted him. This battery, when captured, was at once turned upon the retreating columns of the enemy. It was manned by a few of McRae's sharp-shooters, all of whom were trained in artillery practice. They were aided by Captain Oldham, Lieutenant Kyle and others, not now remembered. Captain Oldham sighted one of the guns repeatedly, and when he saw the effect of his accurate aim upon the disordered masses in front, was so jubilant, that General McRae, with his usual quiet humor remarked, "Oldham thinks he is at a ball in Petersburg."

No description of the battle of Reams' Station would be fair or just which failed to notice the Confederate artillery commanded by Colonel Pegram. Some of his guns were toward the left of the Confederate line, whilst others had been firing from a position slightly to the right and rear of McRae's brigade previous to the final assault. As soon as notified that the advance was about to be made, he did what he, Haskell and Pelham had often done on other fields, but which hitherto in war had been seldom done, and never except by artillerists of rare courage and self-reliance. He ordered all his guns to the right and rear of McRae to advance to the front line of battle held by the infantry, and to unlimber and commence firing at close musketry range. That charge of Pegram's artillery--for so it might well be called--was a sight worthy of the painter's highest art. Through an open field, covered here and there by a growth of small pines, came his artillery, the horses at a full gallop. As they approached nearer to McRae's brigade, the infantry recognized them in advance of the guns, and riding side by side, those two unequalled and fearless artillery officers, Colonel Pegram, of Virginia, and Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Haskell, of South Carolina--always excepting <shv19_118>Pelham, who deserved to rank fully with them. McRae's brigade greeted them with loud cheers, for they knew that their presence meant that they would have the aid of the artillery to the end of the conflict. Haskell had volunteered for this conflict, and Pegram commanded. The kind feeling of McRae's troops was reciprocated by Pegram's battalion, who felt that their guns could never be captured with McRae to support them. In response to the cheers from his brigade, they cheered for North Carolina as they swept to the front, many of them throwing their hats in the air and leaving them as they passed. Straight on rode Pegram and Haskell, the guns close up to them, and the infantry cheering itself hoarse as it saw the artillery halted within about two hundred and fifty yards of the enemy's line, from which distance an exceedingly rapid and well-directed fire was opened upon the breastworks. Whilst the loss sustained by the Federal troops from the artillery fire was not great, as they were protected to a large extent, yet they were badly demoralized, and hence when McRae advanced Hancock's men fired wildly and above the mark.

When Ney's corps, assailed in front and flank by the Russian Imperial Guard, at Friedland, was driven back and almost annihilated, Senarmount advanced his artillery to within half pistol shot of the Russian lines, swept the whole field-of-battle with his fire, and connected his name inseparably with the glory of that memorable field.

At Wagram, when McDonald with sixteen thousand men pierced the Austrian center and his column, reduced to fifteen hundred, had halted, the ladies of Vienna, who had climbed the roofs of the houses and watched with breathless emotion and throbbing hearts, the contest for the possession of their beautiful city, thought the day was won, and thousands of them upon their bended knees, blessed God for their deliverance.

But the hour had not yet come, the dial clock of fate had not yet struck. Drouet, with one hundred pieces of artillery, rode at full gallop to the front, over dead and dying, and unlimbering his guns in advance of the French infantry, spread death far and wide amidst the Austrian ranks. McDonald again advanced, and added another to the long list of victories won by Napoleon, which startled the world by its splendor.

With eager joy the historian gilds his pages with these great achievements by artillery, and lingers long over their recital. Can no son of the South be found to tell the deeds of Pegram, and of Haskell, <shv19_119>who reversed the ancient method of fighting with artillery at a long, and safe distance, and brought it to its highest perfection, always advancing to the front line-of-battle when the occasion demanded?

After the capture of the breastworks, General McGowan's brigade was sent in on the right. That generous-hearted old hero, declined to make any official report of the conduct of his brigade, giving as a reason therefor, that he "supposed he was only sent in to keep the North Carolinians in the pursuit, and gather up the spoils of war which had been captured by them." His unselfish example was well worthy of imitation.

Mahone's old brigade subsequently advanced over the same field, but the hard fighting was over.

The Federal loss in this battle was between six hundred and seven hundred killed and wounded, two thousand one hundred and fifty prisoners, three thousand one hundred stand of small arms, twelve stands of colors, nine guns and caissons. Among the prisoners captured was General Walker, of Hancock's staff, who surrendered to Lieutenant Kyle. Kyle here, as elsewhere, was in the very front of the assaulting column.

The Confederate loss was small, and fell principally upon Lane's brigade. In the second and final assault it was about five hundred in killed and wounded. The result of this brilliant engagement was hailed with great rejoicing throughout the South, and shed a declining lustre upon the Confederate battle flag, upon which the sun of victory was about to go down forever. General R. E. Lee publicly and repeatedly stated that not only North Carolina, but the whole Confederacy, owed a debt of gratitude to Lane's, Cooke's, and McRae's brigades which could never be repaid. He also wrote to Governor Vance expressing his high appreciation of their services. From his letter I make this extract:


August 29, 1864.

His Excellency Z. B. VANCE,

Governor of North Carolina, Raleigh:

I have frequently been called upon to mention the services of North Carolina soldiers in this army, but their gallantry and conduct were never more deserving of admiration than in the engagement at Reams' Station on the 25th ultimo. <shv19_120>

The brigades of Generals Cooke, McRae and Lane, the last under the temporary command of General Conner, advanced through a thick abattis of felled trees, under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, and carried the enemy's works with a steady courage that elicited the warm commendation of their corps and division commanders and the admiration of the army.

On the same occasion the brigade of General Barringer bore a conspicuous part in the operations of the cavalry, which were no less distinguished for boldness and efficiency than those of the infantry.

If the men who remain in North Carolina share the spirit of those they have sent to the field, as I doubt not they do, her defence may securely be trusted to their hands.

I am, with great respect,

Your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE, General

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