Union Forces Commanded by: Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
Confederate Forces Commanded by: ?
**Missing and Captured
Conclusion: Confederate Victory
The Battle of the Boydton Plank Road (or the Battle of First Hatcher's Run) was an attempt by the Union army to sieze the Boydton Plank Road and cut the Southside Railroad.
The fighting of trench warfare had been the daily, deadly tedium along the miles of front encircling Petersburg since the beginning of October. During the last week of October, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered a movement to the left against the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad, and to sever these vital Confederate arteries, Grant assigned 43,000 men of the 57,000 available.
Great secrecy was essential to success. The march was to be conducted with silence and rapidity. Obscure roads were to be selected, as far as possible from observation. No drum beats or bugle calls were to be allowed. No large fires were to be used.
On October 27,
parts or all of 3 infantry corps and a cavalry division abandoned their positions at 7:30 A.M. in the morning rain. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, with 2 divisions of his II Corps, moved on the left, directed to cross Hatcher's Run on the Vaughan Road and move north to the Boydton Road. Maj. Gen. John G. Parke's IX Corps, supported by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren's V Corps, was ordered to attack Confederate lines north of Hatcher's Run. If Parke succeeded, Warren would extend the penetration.
Hancock marched across Hatcher's Run, brushed aside Confederate pickets and moved around the Confederate flank towards Burgess Mill. The division under Brig. Gen. Gershon Mott crossed the Boydton Plank Road and attacked Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton's Confederate cavalry threatening to cut it off from the main Confederate lines. Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill, who commanded the Confederate defenses in the area, reacted quickly to Hancock's threat. However, once his units moved to confront the Federals, Hill, in poor health, proved too sick to continue field command and turned over direction of his corps to Maj. Gen. Henry Heth. Heth put 2 divisions in Hancock's path, but the Federal commander drove up the Boydton Plank Road and pushed aside the opposing Confederates.
By noon, Hancock and Maj. Gen. David M. Gregg's cavalry had reached the Boydton Road near Burgess' Mill, 12 miles southwest of Petersburg. Hancock waited while Parke and Warren advanced on the right, but the 2 corps floundered, unable to coordinate their commands. Maj. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox's Confederate division repulsed Parke's sorties north of Hatcher's Run. Warren then sent Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford's Pennsylvania Reserves in an attack along the south bank, but the charge lost cohesion in the dense foilage and failed to crack Wilcox's line.
Hill meanwhile abandoned his trenches to counterattack Hancock and Gregg. Maj. Gens. William Mahone's and Henry Heth's infantry divisions and Hampton's cavalry division momentarily rolled back the Union flanks, but a Union charge finally stabilized the line. Hampton's cavalry fought particularly well, but for Hampton it was a tragic day. In the midst of the fighting, he found his 2 sons, one dying and the other badly wounded.
The tables had thus turned and the Confederates, now threatened with encirclement, retreated up the Boydton Plank Road. Hancock retained his hold on the Boydton Plank Road and Grant left to him the decision whether to remain or withdraw to the initial Union lines. Although Hancock had repulsed the Confederate attack, his position was still very unstable.
Since Hancock could not be resupplied or reinforced, the Federals withdrew, returning to the trenches the next day. The Confederates retained control of the Boydton Plank Road for the rest of the winter. Lee's thinning ranks held once more, and another month of relative quiet followed.
With October nearly over, both armies settled into winter quarters. The Confederates maintained their hold on the Boydton Plank Road throughout the winter. Hancock had won a tactical victory over Heth's Confederates, partially erasing the stain of the rout at Reams' Station. No further significant action occurred on any front around Petersburg for the rest of the year.