On this day in 1864, at the First Battle of Hatcher's Run (also known as the Battle of Boydton Plank Road), Virginia, Union troops are turned back when they try to cut the last railroad supplying the Confederate force in Petersburg, Virginia.
Since June of that year, Union General Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to Petersburg, just 25 miles south of the Confederate capital at Richmond. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's dwindling forces were stretched thin along miles of trenches, but the fortifications magnified the actual strength of his troops. Hatcher's Run was one of several attempts made by Grant in the summer and fall of 1864 to pry the Rebels from their positions.
With winter approaching, Grant decided to make one last attempt to capture the Southside Railroad that supplied Petersburg from the west. He instructed the Army of the Potomac's commander, General George Meade, to direct the operation. Parts of three army corps, commanded by generals Winfield Hancock, Gouverneur K. Warren, and John Parke, were ordered to advance in the early morning rain of October 27. The target was the Confederate trenches along Hatcher's Run, around seven miles southwest of Petersburg. The plan called for Parke's and Warren's forces to make an assault, if possible, while Hancock's troops moved west around the end of the Confederate lines. They were to turn north and cut the railroad. The effort would involve 40,000 Yankee troops and 3,000 cavalry troopers.
Parke's and Warren's men found the trenches much more heavily defended than expected. They continued to maneuver to draw attention away from Hancock's advance, but an uneven advance created a gap in the Union lines. Meade slowed the advance to close the gap. By late afternoon, Confederate counterattacks threw Hancock's Second Corps into disarray. The fighting continued after dark, but when it ended no territory had changed hands, and the siege continued.
About 1,700 Yankee men were killed, wounded, or captured. Confederate losses were not reported but were thought to be less than 1,000, most of them captured soldiers. The battle was a disaster for the Union and caused embarrassment to President Abraham Lincoln's administration just a week before the presidential election. However, recent Yankee military successes around Atlanta and in Mobile, Alabama, were enough to secure Lincoln's re-election.