The Rebels Attack at Dawn!

October 1, 1864 (Sunday)

Warren oversees the fortifying of his lines.
Warren oversees the fortifying of his lines.

There had been gains the previous day. The Confederates under Henry Heth had thrown back the attacking Federals, and though works were lost, their progress was cut and on the morning of this date, Heth only wished to do more.

Through the gray and muddy predawn hours, Heth formed his men into two columns. By the orders of corps commander A.P. Hill, Cadmus Wilox’s Division would form on the right to attack the Union Ninth Corps, while two brigades from Heth’s own division attacked the Fifth Corps. By 7am, they were in position, facing south and away from Petersburg.

The artillery spoke first, and when Heth believed it had done all it could do, he ordered his division forward. The line of blue skirmishers, two regiments strong, melted away before them, but when Heth’s men tried to take the works themselves, they were met with a bloody defeat, and turned back.

On the Confederate right, Wilcox advanced close enough only to capture nearly the entire Union picket line in his front. For him, there would be no attack, though the bounty in prisoners and captured arms was great.

The Rebel attack barely registered in General Meade’s mind. It was hardly even mentioned by Gouverneur K. Warren, whose Corps received the main thrust of the assault. By 11:30am, Warren found himself complaining that his men were too slow in building breastworks. He did, however, understand that the silence now falling before him was probably a lull. The Rebels were either digging in or preparing for another attack.

As for General Meade, he was certain that his two corps could make no attack, and was awaiting the arrival of Gershom Mott’s Division from Winfield Scott Hancock’s adjacent Second Corps. These men, however, had to be pulled from the main lines around Petersburg, ushered to the Union left by train along a new railroad built for such an occasion. When Mott’s men arrived, bade Meade, they were to join Warren and make an attack.

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Though hardly an attack, the morning fighting handed the Federals some Rebel deserters and prisoners who seemed more than willing to wag their chins. Through these men, Meade learned just what was in his front – Heth and Wilcox’s Divisions with a smattering of cavalry. He also learned that the Rebels were to be reinforced by William Mahone’s Division in the afternoon. This made it all the more important for Meade to attack once Mott’s reinforcements arrived.

But the troops were late in coming. The process of transporting them by rail, even over a relatively short distance, was ardurous and comsuming. Though Mott’s men were ready by 9:30am, the trains were not ready under 1pm. The first of Mott’s men arrived at Globe Tavern, from where they would march north to the Union lines, around 3:30pm, and the rest would not arrive until over an hour later.

And it wasn’t until 5pm when Mott arrived at Ninth Corps headquarters. It would take at least two more hours to march his entire brigade forward, and by then, it would be far too late for an assault.

General Meade had, of course, kept in touch with General Grant throughout the day, keeping him abreast of the Union left. He explained Mott’s delay and that no attack could be made before nightfall.

“Generals Parke and Warren are ordered to attack early tomorrow morning,” he wrote. They were to “endeavor to effect a lodgment on the Boydton plank road,” which served as a main line of supplies for General Lee’s Confederates.

And so all would wait for dawn.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 42, Part 1, p859, 942, 949; Part 2, p1309; Part 3, p4-7, 9, 22; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Meade’s Army by Theodore Lyman; The Last Citadel by Noah Andre Trudeau; The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 2 by Edwin Bearss. []
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The Rebels Attack at Dawn! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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