The failure of his August operation against the Weldon Railroad meant that Lee continued to use it. The portion of line coming up from North Carolina was intact as far as Stony Creek Depot, about 16 miles below Petersburg. This made it possible for Lee to ship supplies to that point by rail, then transfer them to wagons for transport via the Boydton Plank Road into Petersburg. It was a slow cumbersome route, but it worked, and Grant was determined to disrupt it. On December 5, he instructed Meade to organize a large scale expedition to rip up the tracks between the depot and Weldon North Carolina.
The force Meade put together and placed under the command of General Warren consisted of three divisions from the Fifth Corps, one from the second, and the Army of the Potomac's sole cavalry division. In all about 22,000 infantry with 4,200 cavalry would take part.
With the mounted units leading, the long column began its march southeast early on the morning of December 7, Warren chose not to follow the rail line but moved along the Jerusalem Plank Road, which diverged slightly to the east. Once his men reached Hawkinsville, Warren turned south, crossed the Nottoway River, and passed through Sussex Court House. From there he could strike west to the railroad and spread along it to the north and south to carry out his mission objective.
Warren's cavalry reached the tracks around 9:00 a.m. on December 8. The first units on the scene veered north, quickly reaching and destroying the Nottoway River Bridge. By noon Federal infantry had come up to the railroad line and the pace of the destruction accelerated. A Pennsylvania soldier who was there recalled, "As far as the eye could reach were seen innumerable glowing fires, and thousands of busy blue-coats tearing up the rails and piling the ties. It was at once a wild, animated scene."
Back in Petersburg, Robert E. Lee could not let this go unchallenged. Wade Hampton, whose cavalry had been skirmishing with Warren's column since it set out, was busy organizing his troopers and local defense forces to protect Weldon. To assist Hampton, Lee ordered A. P. Hill to take a hastily organized force down to confront the Yankees.
Hampton's command took up a blocking position along the south bank of the Meherrin River at Hicksford (modern Emporia), Virginia. The Yankee cavalry that was still screening Warren's advance tested Hampton's line on December 9. The vigorous response that met these probes, and the threat of an impending winter storm, convinced Warren not to attack.
That night, a deluge of sleet and rain spread over the men of both sides, leaving the landscape coated with a glaze of ice and making road movement difficult.
Warren withdrew his long column the way it had come in, while squadrons of Hampton's men pressed the rear guard hoping to delay the Yankees long enough for Hill's men to arrive.
The Federal withdrawal now became ugly. At some places, the Union soldiers discovered caches of local brew of apple jack, and drunken men threatened military discipline. Elsewhere, stragglers from the union column were waylaid and brutally murdered. Angry Yankee boys turned on the local populace, setting fires to houses, barns, and even slave quarters. "Is this what you call subjugating the South?" one anguished woman screamed at her tormentors.
By December 11 Warren's men had safely retired. Despite forcing the pace of his march in the teeth of the bone-chilling storm, A.P. Hill was unable to close the distance in time to intercept. In his report, General Warren boasted " the complete destruction of sixteen miles of the railroad" at a cost of about 314 casualties. Yet, while the six-day operation severely shook Lee's fragile supply line, it did not break it.