Thursday, October 27, 2016

From the National Archives: Burgess Mill Map

Map of the Battle of Burgess Mill, Oct. 27, 1864
Horace P. Rugg Court-Martial Transcript, 95–100, Record Group 153 (LL-649), NARA.

When I filled out the "pull slip" for Horace P. Rugg's court-martial file at the National Archives several years ago, I had low expectations. Too often, these folders end up being stuffed with disappointment. This one, however, proved to be a gold mine. The container bulged with a stack of folio-sized paper bound with a knotted pink ribbon. There was little sign it had been examined before, save for one reader sometime in the late 19th century.

Map Accompanying Hancock Report (O.R.)
October 27, 1864 was a bad day for Horace Rugg, a Brigadier General from New York who commanded a brigade in Winfield Hancock's Second Corps. Hancock's force represented the business end of a large-scale offensive to capture the South Side Railroad and bring Confederate Petersburg to its knees. By the afternoon, however, Hancock and and his men found themselves isolated on a remote Dinwiddie County farm miles from the Union lines and pressed on three sides by Confederate troops.  The offensive had stalled and Hancock prepared to march his men back to the safety of the Union lines. Before any such movement began, however, a slashing Confederate attack, a three-brigade column led by William Mahone, hit Hancock's unprotected right flank.

As the Confederate assault split the Second Corps in half, Horace Rugg froze in his tracks and failed to carry out orders relayed to him by one of Hancock's aides. The Second Corps survived the afternoon. However, in a few days, Rugg found himself immersed in a court-martial proceeding at the Globe Tavern south of Petersburg. The results of the tribunal put Rugg out of a job and out of the army. During the hearing, a clerk penned a lengthy transcript, which eventually made its way into that ribbon-bound folder in the National Archives. At the end of these sheets, I found this map (at the top of this post). It shows the movements of various units under Hancock's command and pinpoints the positions of Union forces, as well as some Confederate units, during the battle.  It bears some resemblance to the map attached to Hancock's report in the Official Records (right). O.R. 42(1):233.

In Richmond Must Fall (Kent State Univ. Press, 2013), I wrote a detailed account of this battle using this map and other sources to guide the narrative. It was a complicated fight, ending in that audacious Confederate attack. On the anniversary of the battle, I'm happy to share this interesting sketch, which, to my knowledge, has never been published before. Here are some of the map's details.

 Map Detail:  Burgess Mill and Hatcher's Run

Burgess Mill on the Boydton Plank Road
This section of the map shows the Burgess Mill pond to the left of the Hatcher's Run bridge. The mill itself can be seen on the north bank of the Run, next to the bridge and the dam. The top left corner depicts some of the rebel batteries that peppered Hancock's position throughout the day. South of Hatcher's Run, the map displays the location of "rebel entrenchments." Several accounts mention these works, which had been dug by Confederate forces stationed at this location. This trench line was oddly sighted. It sat several yards south of Hatcher's Run and faced away from the stream. The map also notes that Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth's brigade captured the position at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.  

Map Detail:  Burgess Tavern

Intersection of the Boydton Plank & White Oak Roads
The Burgess Tavern appears here at the northwest side of the Boydton Plank Road and White Oak Road intersection. The Burgess homestead can be seen to the south and just west of the Plank Road. The two structures on the east side of the road (one large and one small) depict barns belonging to the Burgess family. The hatched band stretching across the Boydton Plank Road represents a tollgate, which had been converted by Confederate soldiers into a barricade.

Map Detail:  Hancock's Field Headquarters

Intersection of Boydton Plank & Dabney Mill Roads
Winfield Hancock's field headquarters, marked at the intersection with the trefoil (the Second Corps' symbol), was located beside a massive oak tree (not shown here). During the afternoon, Generals Grant and Meade, as well as their staffs, arrived on the field and gathered at the spot to consult with Hancock.  Over the course of the afternoon, the group came under fire from Confederate batteries in the distance. During one moment of crisis, General Grant sat on a rock near the oak, calmly enjoying a cigar. A shell screamed through the sky, exploding in the tree top overhead. The General seemed unperturbed and continued to puff leisurely.  

Map Detail:  William Mahone's Attack



Mahone launched his assault late in the afternoon - at 3:45 p.m. according to this map. Approaching along a wood road, he formed a two-brigade front with the fourteen hundred men of William MacRae’s North Carolinians on the right and the Virginia brigade, about a thousand men, on the left. Deployed two rows deep, this battle line probably stretched for more than 2,000 feet. Mahone also massed the Alabama brigade, an additional thousand rifles, in column of regiments behind the front line. He spread a skirmish line on his left flank, using sharpshooters who positioned themselves at twenty-foot intervals. As the Virginians and Tarheels dressed to the colors, Mahone rode along the ranks encouraging his men, urging them to hold their fire and rely on the bayonet. “In a minute or two we were ordered forward,” recalled George Bernard in the 12th Virginia, “and came immediately upon the enemy’s line of skirmishers, who were in the woods not a hundred feet in front of us.”