Battle of Ware Bottom Church

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Battle of Ware Bottom Church
Ware Bottom, Virginia, Civil War History

Battle of Ware Bottom Church

Other Names: None

Location: Chesterfield County, Virginia

Campaign: Bermuda Hundred Campaign (May-June 1864)

Date(s): May 20, 1864

Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler [US]; Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard [CS]

Forces Engaged: Divisions (10,000 total)

Estimated Casualties: 1,500 total

Bermuda Hundred Battlefield Picture
Bermuda Hundred Earthworks.jpg
Federal earthworks at Bermuda Hundred

Summary: On May 20, Confederate forces under Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard attacked Butler’s Bermuda Hundred line near Ware Bottom Church. About 10,000 troops were involved in this action. After driving back Butler’s advanced pickets, the Confederates constructed the Howlett Line, effectively bottling up the Federals at Bermuda Hundred. Confederate victories at Proctor’s Creek and Ware Bottom Church enabled Beauregard to detach strong reinforcements for Lee’s army in time for the fighting at Cold Harbor. The series of battles in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign was the Union's attempt to destroy the Richmond-Petersburg Railroad and force Lee to rush reinforcements to the scene--which would weaken Lee against Grant and Meade--and to capture Richmond, the "Capitol of the Confederacy." (See Siege of Petersburg.)

Butler's expedition was an overall failure, and he was "bottled up" at Bermuda Hundred, unable to move. Although he was able to distract Confederate forces for a brief time, their victories at Proctor's Creek and Ware Bottom Church enabled Beauregard to detach strong reinforcements for Lee's army in time for the fighting at Cold Harbor.

 

General Grant described a conversation with his Chief Engineer regarding Butler's predicament:

 

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. – Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

Battle of Ware Bottom Church
Battle of Ware Bottom Church.gif
Civil War War Bottom Church Battlefield

Result(s): Confederate victory

Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs; Library of Congress Photo.

Recommended Reading: Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War. Description: Drawing on an array of archival sources, Ashes of Glory portrays Richmond's passion through the voices of soldiers and statesmen, preachers and prostitutes, slaves and slavers. Masterfully orchestrated and finely rendered, the result is a passionate and compelling work of social history. The siege of Richmond, Virginia, is unlike anything in the history of America. For four years the Union soldiers tied an ever-tightening noose around the defiant city. That story--and the way Ernest B. Furgurson tells it--is reason enough to tackle this work. But even more fascinating is Furgurson's exploration of the minds of the residents who so passionately supported the Confederate cause. Continued below…

What twist of logic must have inspired a citizenry--many of whom never owned slaves--to plunge into one of history's bloodiest conflicts? Visit Richmond in its proudest moments, when it envisioned victory; visit Richmond in its darkest times, when it felt flames.

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Recommended Reading: Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864, by Noah Andre Trudeau. Description: "Nobody has brought together in one volume so many eyewitness accounts from both sides."-Civil War History Winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award. In this authoritative chronicle of the great 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia, Noah Andre Trudeau vividly re-creates the brutal forty days that marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War. In riveting detail Trudeau traces the carnage from the initial battles in Virginia's Wilderness to the gruesome hand-to-hand combat at Spotsylvania's "Bloody Angle," to the ingenious trap laid by Lee at the North Anna River, to the killing ground of Cold Harbor. Through fascinating eyewitness accounts, he relates the human stories behind this epic saga. Continued below…

Common soldiers struggle to find the words to describe the agony of their comrades, incredible tales of individual valor, their own mortality. Also recounting their experiences are the women who nursed these soldiers and black troops who were getting their first taste of battle. The raw vitality of battle sketches by Edwin Forbes and Alfred R. Waud complement the words of the participants. PRAISE FOR THE BOOK: "Bloody Roads South is a powerful and eloquent narrative of the costliest, most violent campaign of the Civil War. Grant vs. Lee in the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, and at Cold Harbor has never been told better."-Stephen W. Sears, author of The Landscape Turned Red. About the Author: Noah Andre Trudeau is an executive producer for cultural programs at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865 and The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865.

 

Recommended Reading: Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: The eastern campaigns of the Civil War involved the widespread use of field fortifications, from Big Bethel and the Peninsula to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Charleston, and Mine Run. While many of these fortifications were meant to last only as long as the battle, Earl J. Hess argues that their history is deeply significant. The Civil War saw more use of fieldworks than did any previous conflict in Western history. Continued below...

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• Politics: Contrasts the respective presidents and constitutions of the Union and Confederacy, the most prominent politicians, and the most volatile issues of the times.

• Military Life: Offers insights into the world of the common soldiers, how they fought, what they ate, how they were organized, what they saw, how they lived, and how they died.

• The Home Front: Looks at the fastest growing field in Civil War research, including immigration, societal changes, hardships and shortages, dissent, and violence far from the firing lines.

• In Retrospect: Ranks the heroes and heroines, greatest victories and failures, firsts and worsts.

• Pursuing the War: Summarizes Civil War study today, including films, battlefield sites, books, genealogy, re-enactments, restoration, preservation, and other ventures.

From the antebellum years to Appomattox and beyond, The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War is a quick and compelling guide to one of the most complex and critical eras in American history.

 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War Battlefield Guide: The Definitive Guide, Completely Revised, with New Maps and More Than 300 Additional Battles (Second Edition) (Hardcover). Description: This new edition of the definitive guide to Civil War battlefields is really a completely new book. While the first edition covered 60 major battlefields, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the second covers all of the 384 designated as the "principal battlefields" in the American Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report. As in the first edition, the essays are authoritative and concise, written by such leading Civil War historians as James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Edwin C. Bearss, James I. Robinson, Jr., and Gary W. Gallager. Continued below...

The second edition also features 83 new four-color maps covering the most important battles. The Civil War Battlefield Guide is an essential reference for anyone interested in the Civil War. "Each battlefield map also serves as a definitive and authoritative guide to the battle, and reading this book is like being at the bloodiest battles of the war..."

 

Recommended Reading: Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History. Description: The Battle of Monocacy, which took place on the blisteringly hot day of July 9, 1864, is one of the Civil War’s most significant yet little-known battles. What played out that day in the corn and wheat fields four miles south of Frederick, Maryland, was a full-field engagement between 12,000 battle-hardened Confederate troops led by the controversial Jubal Anderson Early, and 5,800 Union troops, many of them untested in battle, under the mercurial Lew Wallace, the future author of Ben-Hur. When the fighting ended, 1,300 Union troops were dead, wounded or missing or had been taken prisoner, and Early---who suffered 800 casualties---had routed Wallace in the northernmost Confederate victory of the war. Two days later, on another brutally hot afternoon, Monday, July 11, 1864, Early sat astride his horse outside the gates of Fort Stevens in the upper northwestern fringe of Washington, D.C. He was about to make one of the war’s most fateful, portentous decisions: whether or not to order his men to invade the nation’s capitol.  Early had been on the march since June 13, when Robert E. Lee ordered him to take an entire corps of men from their Richmond-area encampment and wreak havoc on Yankee troops in the Shenandoah Valley, then to move north and invade Maryland. If Early found the conditions right, Lee said, he was to take the war for the first time into President Lincoln’s front yard. Also on Lee’s agenda: forcing the Yankees to release a good number of troops from the stranglehold that Gen. U.S. Grant had built around Richmond. Continued below...

Once manned by tens of thousands of experienced troops, Washington’s ring of forts and fortifications that day were in the hands of a ragtag collection of walking wounded Union soldiers, the Veteran Reserve Corps, along with what were known as hundred days’ men---raw recruits who had joined the Union Army to serve as temporary, rear-echelon troops. It was with great shock, then, that the city received news of the impending rebel attack. With near panic filling the streets, Union leaders scrambled to coordinate a force of volunteers. But Early did not pull the trigger. Because his men were exhausted from the fight at Monocacy and the ensuing march, Early paused before attacking the feebly manned Fort Stevens, giving Grant just enough time to bring thousands of veteran troops up from Richmond. The men arrived at the eleventh hour, just as Early was contemplating whether or not to move into Washington. No invasion was launched, but Early did engage Union forces outside Fort Stevens. During the fighting, President Lincoln paid a visit to the fort, becoming the only sitting president in American history to come under fire in a military engagement. Historian Marc Leepson shows that had Early arrived in Washington one day earlier, the ensuing havoc easily could have brought about a different conclusion to the war. Leepson uses a vast amount of primary material, including memoirs, official records, newspaper accounts, diary entries and eyewitness reports in a reader-friendly and engaging description of the events surrounding what became known as “the Battle That Saved Washington.”

 

Recommended Reading: Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital. Description: Nelson Lankford draws upon Civil War-era diaries, letters, memoirs, and newspaper reports to vividly recapture the experiences of the men and women, both black and white, who witnessed the tumultuous fall of Richmond. In April 1865, General Robert E. Lee realized that his army must retreat from the Confederate capital and that Jefferson Davis's government must flee... As the Southern soldiers withdrew, they set the city on fire, leaving a blazing ruin to greet the entering Union troops. Continued below... 

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Recommended Reading: Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (Civil War America) (Hardcover) (The University of North Carolina Press) (September 5, 2007). Description: In the study of field fortifications in the Civil War that began with Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War, Hess turns to the 1864 Overland campaign to cover battles from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor.

Drawing on meticulous research in primary sources and careful examination of trench remnants at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Bermuda Hundred, Hess describes Union and Confederate earthworks and how Grant and Lee used them in this new era of field entrenchments.

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