October 27, 1864: Battle of Boydton Plank Road



The last significant military operation at Petersburg in 1864, the battle of Boydton Plank Road, was  part of the efforts of the Army of the Potomac to cut the Confederate South Side Railroad that supplied Petersburg and Richmond from the west. This was no small operation, consisting of Winfield Scott’s corps, reinforced by infantry divisions from other corps and a cavalry division.

On October 27, 1864 Hancock crossed Hatcher’s Run creek and moved around the Confederate right flank heading for Burgess Mill.  General Henry Heth, commanding A.P. Hill’s corps due to the illness of Hill, interposed two divisions to stop Hancock.  Hancock made good progress when Meade ordered a hault to the offensive, concerned about a five mile gap developing between the Union left and Hancock.

Hancock retreated to Hatcher’s Run, only to find the ford now being held by Confederate cavalry.  Heth now went on the offensive, hoping to bag Hancock’s corps, isolated as it now was from the rest of the Union army.

Hancock kept calm, beat off the Confederate attacks and retreated across Hatcher’s Run during the night.  Union casualties were 1700 to 1300 Confederate.  Grant in his memoirs summed up this action and the closing down of operations around Petersburg for the remainder of the year:



On the 24th I ordered General Meade to attempt to get possession of the South Side Railroad, and for that purpose to advance on the 27th. The attempt proved a failure, however, the most advanced of our troops not getting nearer than within six miles of the point aimed for. Seeing the impossibility of its accomplishment I ordered the troops to withdraw, and they were all back in their former positions the next day. 

Butler, by my directions, also made a demonstration on the north side of the James River in order to support this move, by detaining there the Confederate troops who were on that side. He succeeded in this, but failed of further results by not marching past the enemy’s left before turning in on the Darby road and by reason of simply coming up against their lines in place.   

This closed active operations around Richmond for the winter. Of course there was frequent skirmishing between pickets, but no serious battle was fought near either Petersburg or Richmond. It would prolong this work to give a detailed account of all that took place from day to day around Petersburg and at other parts of my command, and it would not interest the general reader if given. All these details can be found by the military student in a series of books published by the Scribners, Badeau’s history of my campaigns, and also in the publications of the War Department, including both the National and Confederate reports.

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  1. Don, I have to say that I find your Civil War posts both fascinating and informative. In what was a titanic conflict (John Terraine described it as ‘the first of the three Great Wars of the Industrial Revolution’) we tend to focus too much on the ‘main events’. Your filling in the details of the lesser-known, but often important actions is illuminating.

    Contrary to popular myth, the war was extensively studied in European military academies (Sandhurst in particular) and was of course observed at first hand by European officers, some of whom took an active part in it. Moltke’s derogatory comment is well known, yet the Germans were anxious to learn lessons from it.

  2. Thank you John, that is high praise indeed from someone as well versed in military history as you are. I have been reading about the War for a half century and I still encounter facts monthly that I was unaware of.

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