Billy Mahone Strikes
A. Wilson Greene
Once General Ulysses S. Grant failed to bull his way into Petersburg between June 15 and 18, 1864, he settled on the strategy that would ultimately succeed: cut Petersburg off from the outside world. His first target was the Weldon Railroad, the line that connected Richmond with Wilmington, North Carolina, the last functioning Confederate port on the Atlantic coast. Grant assigned his Second and Sixth Corps to do the job. The blue-clad troops commenced their march on June 22 in what historians call Grant's "Second Petersburg Offensive."
The ground in this area was, in June 1864, heavily wooded with just a few scattered clearings. Visibility proved limited, and soon the Sixth Corps to the west lost contact with the Second Corps, deployed between the Jerusalem Plank Road (modern Crater Road) and at Johnson Road, then a mere farm lane.
Confederate General William Mahone saw an opportunity. Plucking three brigades from the defense lines south of Petersburg, Mahone utilized the ravine formed by Lieutenant Run to quietly gain the Second Corps' left flank, exploiting the gap between it and the Sixth Corps.
Shortly after 3:00 p.m., Mahone struck. The unsuspecting Federals had failed to prepare for such a contingency. Mahone's men easily gained the rear of General Francis Barlow's division, rolling up Barlow's brigades one after the other. General Gershom Mott's division next felt Mahone lead and steel, and it too melted away. General John Gibbon's division anchored the Second Corps' right and, after putting up a fight, it also retreated.
After pushing back three Union divisions, Mahone's assault finally ran out of steam and the Confederates returned to their lines, having killed or wounded 650 Federals and captured an entire artillery battery along with 1,742 men.