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.

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