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.

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