On February 4 Grant ordered an expedition to the Boydton Plank Road with instructions to interdict the enemy's wagons that were still bringing up supplies from Stony Creek Depot. General Meade futilely protested the operation, certain that there would be no dramatic victory to satisfy the press, which would then lambaste him for ordering such a purposeless undertaking.
This time two infantry corps moved west on parallel routes from the Globe Tavern area, with the cavalry riding to the south. The Second Corps (now under the command of Major General Andrew A. Humpheys) marched along the north side of Hatcher's Run until it reached the Rebel earthworks that protected the Boydton Plank Road above Burgess' Mill.
Anticipating that there would be a quick and aggressive response to this movement, Humphreys had his troops prepare defenses around a place known as Armstrong's Mill. As expected, a strong Confederate battle line emerged from the entrenchments shortly after 4:00 p.m., February 5, and struck at Humphrey's position.
The main Rebel thrust came against a gap in the Union line that had only been partially filled by New Jersey troops under Brevet Brigadier General Robert McAllister. "They stood nobly and fought splendidly," McAllister later reported. Three times the gray lines pressed through the thick underbrush, only to be hurled back at each try.
Such was the confusion on the Confederate side that when General Lee himself tried to rally the panicked group, one of them yelled at him, "Great God, old man, get out of the way, you don't know nothing!"
Humphrey's role in this operation was akin to a lightning rod designed to absorb the strikes meant for the other units involved. The other infantry ....General Warren's Fifth Corps....moved south of Humphreys to provide security for the cavalry, which was to ride to the Boydton Plank Road and burn every wagon in sight. The cavalry did reach the road but there discovered that Federal intelligence estimates had greatly overestimated the size of the prize. When the troopers finally pulled back after dark, their total haul was eighteen wagons and fifty prisoners.
Fearing another attack on Humphrey's both Warren's men and the cavalry closed up on the Second Corps. But dawn, February 6, found each side waiting for the other to move first. When nothing happened by midday, units were sent out to investigate. The largest collision of these probing forces took place along the south side of Hatcher's Run, near the sawdust pile that marked Daney's Mill, once a steam-powered sawmill. There Confederate troops under Brigadier General John Pegram met Union infantry from Warren's corp's.
The combat surged back and forth as each side fed more men into the fighting. In the midst of it, young Pegram, who had been married just three weeks earlier, was killed. By nightfall the Federals had been shoved back to the defensive position they had occupied at the start of the day. Tragically, many of the untended wounded on both sides suffered horribly during this encounter because of a freezing rain that began to fall during the latter stages of the battle.
There were some slight engagements on February 7 as the Confederates determined there would be no further enemy advances. The Federals extended their trench lines out to this point, further stretching Lee's lines, which now ran for 35 miles. The cost to achieve this was about 1,500 Union casualties and 1,000 Confederates.