February 6, 1865 (Monday)
For the most part, the morning and early afternoon were whiled away with scouting. Across the previous day’s battlefield south of Petersburg, the Second and then the Fifth Corps halfheartedly probed for the enemy. The David Gregg’s cavalry did as well, but nothing could be found of the enemy.
Partially, this was because General Lee had pulled back most of his troops to the main lines, sending in their stead John Pegram’s division to probe the area east of the Boydton Plank Road, around the area of Dabny’s Mill.
Here, a brigade came into contact with elements of the Fifth Corps, while the other brigades discovered Gregg’s Cavalry. Around 2pm, the battle commenced. Both sides, now convinced that the enemy had not simply wandered away, quickly threw reinforcements into the fray. The brigades sent back to the Petersburg defenses by Lee were halted and turned around. General Gouverneur Warren, commanding the Fifth, and Gregg, fed more of their own men into the vortex.
The first Confederate troops to appear, fell in on Pegram’s left. This was Clement Evan’s Division, and they charged the Yankees, driving them back with losses sustained on both sides. But then the Federals received their reinforcements – two brigades – which drove the Rebels back, retaking the lost ground as they went.
The battle then became steady and both sides leveled volley upon volley into the other. More Union reinforcements were on their way from both the Second and the Sixth Corps. But Confederate troops arrived first. Mahone’s Division, commanded now by Joseph Finegan, plowed into the wavering Union troops in two waves.
It was during this push that a Union sharpshooter espied John Pegram and put a bullet in his chest. He died in the arms of Henry Kyd Douglas.
But even this did not throw the Rebels into confusion. That was still held by the Fifth Corps, which was folding and crumbling before the Confederate strike. The crumbling soon became a full on rout, which engulfed the Sixth Corps’ reinforcements just now arriving. “Go back, go back!” was the watchword, and with the sea of blue and bloodied running toward them, they had little choice but to retreat before a shot was fired.
The dark of evening ended the battle. The rains had come and then the freezing, and the soaked wool coats and pants of Federal and Confederate alike froze stiff in the night. To keep warm, many of the Rebels robbed the bodies of the fallen, taking what they could to survive and what they wanted otherwise.
In Meade’s letter to General Grant, telling of the battle, the retreat was told, but no ground was lost. “Warren’s troops were,” wrote Meade, “compelled to retire in considerable confusion. They enemy was, however, checked before reaching the position occupied this morning, Vaughan road was recalled when the others were forced back. The troops are now formed in the lines occupied this morning. The fighting has been determined, principally in dense woods, and the losses considerable, particularly in the column compelled to retire. I am not able at present to give an estimate of them.”
And yet, this affair was not over – tomorrow there would be more blood.
Also on this date, in Richmond, President Jefferson Davis delivered a surprisingly brief message to Congress concerning the Hampton Roads Peace Conference.
I herewith submit for the information of Congress the report of the eminent citizens above named, showing that the enemy refused to enter into negotiations with the Confederate States, or any one of them separately, or to give to our people any other terms or guarantee than those which the conqueror may grant, or to permit as to have peace on any other basis than our unconditional submission to their rule, coupled with the acceptance of their recent legislation, including an amendment to the Constitution for the emancipation of all the negro slaves, and with the right on the part of the Federal Congress to legislate on the subject of the relations between the white and black population of each State. Such is, as I understand, the effect of the amendment to the Constitution which has been adopted by the Congress of the United States.
And so Davis complained that the North wouldn’t allow the South to remain its own country (thus winning the war), and also was perturbed that part of the surrender would necessitate the emancipation of their slaves, which would lead to the possibilities of the races moving a little closer to equal.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 46, Part 2, p416-418, 446; The Last Citadel by Noah Andre Trudeau; The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 2 by Edwin Bearss. [↩]