June 9, 1864
(The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys)
On that date approximately 125 men of the Petersburg militia under the command of Major Fletcher Archer held off an attack of 1300 Union Cavalry under the command of General Augustus Kautz for more than two hours. A large number of the defenders were armed with vintage War of 1812 muskets. Three hundred of the Union attackers were armed with 15 shot repeating rifles.
Their heroic sacrifice gave Captain Edward Graham, along with some veteran infantry and the 4th North Carolina Cavalry commanded by Colonel Dennis D. Ferebee who were hastily summoned from across the Appomattox river, time to position his battery of artillery on Reservoir Hill and stop the Union advance up the new road off Jerusalem Plank Road. Riding with them was Brigadier General James Dearing. These horsemen, and and Graham's cannoneers, represented all the help that General Beauregard was able to send in response to the urgent requests for reinforcements.
Fifteen of the civilians who had been rushed to arms were killed, eighteen were wounded, and another forty-five captured. Petersburg had been saved, but, in the words of one survivor, its defense had demanded "an extraordinary sacrifice of life and blood."
It is often referred to as "The Battle of Old Men and young Boys" as most every man fit for military service was gone from the City of Petersburg leaving only the old, the too young and the sick to defend the city.
Because they had borne the brunt of the assault and had suffered nearly sixty percent casualties, Archer's battalion was singled out for a special commendation. Amidst all the pain and bereavement in the Cockade City, it soon became apparent that all segments of Petersburg's population had taken part in the great victory. Not only had old men and young boys, patients, and penitents, regulars and novices helped to defend the city, but slaves and free blacks had contributed as well.
Philip Slaughter, a black musician, had formed his small band on the heights and throughout the latter stages of the action had vigorously played "Dixie" and "The Girl I Left Behind" to boost the spirits of the defenders and to impress the enemy and also to simulate several regimental bands. Other blacks had, knowingly or not, aided in the defense by assuring the federals that 60,000 Confederate troops were near Petersburg. There is the story of a Black man who, when asked by Kautz what the fort was, replied, "Fort Water." (Reservoir Hill)
Still other slaves had furnished timely information to the defenders, keeping at least one out of the hands of the Federals. Although their role was not large, Petersburg's black residents had contributed to the success of the defense. June 9, 1864 was indeed a community victory.
Each year on the ninth of June a ceremony is held at Old Blandford Church to honor these "gray haired sires and beardless youths."
The battle ended in the early afternoon. In the still, warm June evening ambulances and wagons delivered the dead to the doors of their homes. Two days later there were funerals all day, with processions moving at intervals from different homes and churches. It was General Butler himself who wrote that Petersburg was defended by "old men and boys, the grave and the cradle being robbed in about equal proportions."
"Thunder In The Streets"
Henry E. Kidd
The battery had come into Petersburg at a gallop and had turned down the present East Bank Street toward Blandford. Learning that it was needed elsewhere, it reversed it's course and headed toward Sycamore Street by Bollingbrook Street. In the excitement ladies had gathered on the sidewalks and even in the streets. One member of the battery wrote that the ladies were assured that they would be protected. But another said that Captain Graham, courtliest of men, shouted: "Get out of the way! Damn the women! Run over them if they won't get out of the way."
The first Union attack on Petersburg was made on June 9, 1864.