In an attempt to cut the last rail line into Petersburg, Virginia, Union troops attack the Confederate defense around the besieged city on this day in 1864. Although initially successful, the attack ground to a halt when Confederate reinforcements were rushed into place from other sections of the Petersburg line.
The Battle of Poplar Springs Church came after more than three months of trench warfare. Union commander General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee had fought a costly and fast-moving campaign in the spring, but by June they had settled into trenches around Petersburg. The lines extended a full 25 miles north to Richmond. Grant had made sporadic attacks to break the stalemate, and this battle was yet another attempt to drive Lee’s men from the trenches.
The attack coincided with a Federal assault at New Market Heights, near Richmond. The day before, Union forces had captured two strongholds in the Richmond defense system, but were unable to penetrate any further. A Confederate counterattack on September 30 failed to recapture the positions.
Grant hoped that launching a strike around the same time at the other end of the line would keep Lee from sending reinforcements to both locations. On September 30, four divisions from Generals Gouvernor K. Warren’s and John G. Parke’s corps struck a Rebel redoubt (an earthen fortress) at Poplar Springs Church that was easily captured along with a section of trenches. But Confederate General Ambrose P. Hill, in charge of the Petersburg defenses, was able to bring two divisions from other parts of his line to stop the Yankees, and a counterattack prevented the loss of any more territory. The Yankees would try again on October 1, but would be unsuccessful.
The Union lost 2,800 troops, including nearly 1,300 captured during the Confederate counterattack. Lee’s army suffered only 1,300 casualties, but they were much more difficult for him to replace. The Southside Railroad, the object of the attack, was still in Confederate hands, and the armies settled back into their trenches.