Monday, August 25, 2014

Disaster and Capture at Reams Station

Thursday, August 25, 1864

Union General Ulysses S. Grant planned his next move by attempting to break the Weldon Railroad at Reams Station, twelve miles south of Petersburg. On the evening of August 20 the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment began their march from Deep Bottom to Reams Station. Arriving on Wednesday General Winfield Hancock's Second Corps destroyed a portion of the railroad at Malone's Crossing. Evening fell on Wednesday with a few minor skirmishes. The Twentieth Massachusetts remained on picket duty and reported no casualties by day's end.

This morning the Second Corps resumed their work near Reams Station but were soon met by a large Confederate force led by General A.P. Hill and Cavalry commander Major General Wade Hampton. Destruction of other railroad lines around Petersburg made the fight for the Weldon Railroad a desperate one for the Confederates, as they needed to keep the railroad line open for food. As Confederate attacks began late in the morning the Twentieth Massachusetts was positioned in a reserve line to bolster attacks on the Second Corps. At 5:00 P.M. the Confederates unleashed enfilade artillery fire into General Hancock's Second Corps. A panic ensued among the newer Second Corps recruits as they fled toward the rear, breaking the Union line. As men from the rear tried to bolster the line gaps began to form on both sides. Some men from the Twentieth Massachusetts broke from their position, but the majority of the Twentieth remained to fight. The Confederates took advantage of the crumbling Union position and the Twentieth Massachusetts found themselves surrounded by the enemy. As further resistance would have proved futile Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Curtis of the Twentieth Massachusetts surrendered with his men. Only fourteen men of the Twentieth Massachusetts escaped death or capture at Reams Station. 1

1Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 411-17.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oliver's Story - In Memoriam - Oliver Stanton Bates

Friday, August 19, 1864

Oliver Stanton Bates of Company A of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment died today at Slough Barracks Military Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. He was severely wounded while serving on picket duty along the Jerusalem Plank Road in Petersburg on June 24 and his leg required immediate amputation on the battlefield. After a two-month struggle at Slough Hospital he succumbed to his wounds. 1

His body was embalmed for transport to his home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He is buried in the Bates Family Plot at Pittsfield Cemetery.

Before the Civil War Oliver was a harness maker in Pittsfield. He was a man of modest means. At the time of Oliver's death embalming was an expensive procedure, and his family did not have the money to pay for preparing his body for the journey home. I have read about the kindness extended by officers of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment to their fallen enlisted men, and I am certain that one or more of the officers extended this kindness to Oliver and his family by paying for the burial ritual so his body could be sent home. Oliver was one of the few veteran volunteers still alive in his regiment at the time of his death. I am deeply grateful to the officers and enlisted men of the 20th Massachusetts for their generosity to Oliver and his family. 2

1Compiled service record, Oliver S. Bates, Pvt., Co. A, 20th Massachusetts Infantry; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 280-81, 315-17.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First and Second Battles of Deep Bottom

Wednesday, August 17, 1864

Since the engagement at Jerusalem Plank Road in June the Twentieth Massachusetts had become well-versed in the mechanics of trench warfare at Petersburg. On July 26 General Winfield S. Hancock's Second Corps was deployed along the north side of the James River at Deep Bottom to draw Confederate General Robert E. Lee away from Petersburg with the dual intent of destroying the Virginia Central Railroad and to weaken the Confederate line. Night marches and skirmishes over the ensuing three days resulted in the capture of an officer and twenty-four enlisted men of the Twentieth Massachusetts. On July 29 Union General Ulysses S. Grant recalled the Second Corps to Petersburg, where they witnessed the mine explosion and the resulting conflict known as the Battle of the Crater on the morning of July 30.

On August 12 General Grant ordered the Second and Tenth Corps toward Deep Bottom once again after receiving information that Confederate General Robert E. Lee detached General Jubal Early's three infantry divisions towards the Shenandoah Valley, leaving only five divisions at Petersburg. Grant hoped that the movement of the Second and Tenth Corps away from Petersburg would provide a diversion that would further weaken Lee's Petersburg lines, providing an opportunity to break Lee's defenses. To further the deception Grant ordered the Second Corps to march to City Point to board northbound steamers that would reverse course after several miles and debark at Deep Bottom.

The subsequent deployments of the Second Corps were poorly organized, and many of the men were confused about the change of plans and their new destination. The intense heat along the Peninsula took its toll, and many men were felled by heat stroke. The conflict ensued for several days with inconclusive results. For most of the engagement the Twentieth Massachusetts was deployed for picket duty, which once again proved fateful for the dwindling regiment. On this day Major Henry Patten was tragically felled by a bullet in his left leg, which required immediate amputation to save his life. Major Patten was subsequently transported for care to Turner's Lane Hospital in Philadelphia.1

1Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 397-409.