Building the Dimmock Line
Early in the spring of 1862, Petersburg's Common Council created a committee to investigate the need for defenses to be constructed around the city. Little came of this measure, however. Work on a defense line began that summer when Major General Daniel H. Hill used troops from North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia to construct the initial defenses. General Robert E. Lee dispatched engineers to Petersburg to design a line of defense for the city by early August. Much of the responsibility was passed off to Captain Charles Dimmock. Under Hill's orders, Dimmock used soldiers and enslaved laborers to perform the work. The men worked early in the morning and late in the day to build the fortifications. Some 264 slaves from Virginia's Eastern Shore and more than 1,000 from North Carolina turned over the soil. Confederate troops dispersed late in August, however, as did many of the enslaved laborers. Major General Samuel French requested 150 additional slaves to work on digging the Dimmock Line early in September.
Though Dimmock kept several hundred enslaved laborers at work, shortages of manpower delayed the construction of the fortifications. The General Assembly passed a measure that stated that slaves could be impressed to construct earthworks, though members bowed to planter unrest by creating county quotas and limiting the number of slaves to be conscripted from any individual owner. In addition to this, no slave was to work longer than sixty days in this capacity. By December 1862, Dimmock told the Petersburg Common Council that the defenses were still not finished and he requested "200 negroes" to perform the labor. The slaves were "to report each morning upon the work … at eight o'clock [and] to be dismissed and permitted to return home at 4 p.m.," which he saw as a means to preserve the slaves' health from "nefarious discomfort and exposure of camp life."
Labor on the Dimmock Line continued through the rest of 1863. Captain Dimmock wrote that by late in July 1863, the Dimmock Line was "not entirely completed, but sufficiently so for all defensive purposes." Due to movements by Union troops late in the spring of 1864, the work stopped on the Dimmock Line in time to impede Northern troops.
The Opening Assaults on Petersburg
On June 16, the Confederates lost Batteries Twelve through Fourteen. Ultimately, the Union assaults on June 16 were poorly executed and thus the Confederates held on to their new line for the most part. The following day, at about daybreak, Union troops captured Battery Fifteen. The fighting lasted throughout the day on June 17, but was poorly coordinated by Union forces. That night, Confederates fell back closer to Petersburg and dug a new line that met up with the Dimmock Line at Battery Twenty-Five. Union troops attacked a part of the Dimmock Line on April 2, 1865, but Confederates held on until Petersburg was evacuated that night.
March 1862 - The Petersburg Common Council first considers the possibility of a defense line around Petersburg, but no further action is taken.
July 26, 1862 - Work begins on a ring of permanent fortifications around Petersburg, soon to be called the Dimmock Line.
July 28, 1862 - Virginia and Georgia soldiers alongside enslaved laborers join North Carolinia soldiers in constructing earthworks east of Petersburg.
August 1862 - Late in the month, Confederate troops begin leaving Petersburg and enslaved laborers also begin to scatter from the construction sites of the Dimmock Line, a line of defensive earthworks around the city.
August 4, 1862 - Confederate engineers Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Stevens and Colonel Jeremy F. Gilmer arrive to lay out a defense line around Petersburg, but much of the responsibility falls on Captain Charles H. Dimmock's shoulders.
September 8, 1862 - Confederate Major General Samuel French requests 150 additional slaves to work on the Dimmock Line, a line of defensive earthworks around Petersburg.
December 12, 1862 - Captain Charles H. Dimmock requests 200 more slaves to work between eight and four o'clock daily, with rations provided by the Confederate government and two dollars provided daily to their owners for their services. They are constructing a line of defensive earthworks around Petersburg.
July 26, 1863 - Captain Charles H. Dimmock records that the earthworks under construction around Petersburg, while incomplete, are sufficiently complete for the purpose of defense.
April–May 1864 - Work appears to stop on the defensive earthworks around Petersburg—the so-called Dimmock Line—due to Union threats near Richmond and Fredericksburg.
June 9, 1864 - Union infantry approaches Petersburg but halts in front of Batteries Four, Five, Six, and Seven of the Dimmock Line. Union cavalry attacks Battery Twenty-six but is repulsed by local townspeople, Confederate infantry, and Confederate artillery in what is known locally as the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.
June 15–18, 1864 - Confederate troops on the Dimmock Line around Petersburg lose Batteries One through Twenty in the first four days of fighting, which begins the Petersburg Campaign. Confederate troops consolidate their defense line by building new earthworks and linking them with Battery Twenty-five.
April 2–3, 1865 - Confederates evacuate those portions of the Dimmock Line around Petersburg still under their control and join Robert E. Lee's last retreat.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Dabney, E. The Dimmock Line. (2012, July 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Dimmock_Line_The.
- MLA Citation:
Dabney, Emmanuel. "The Dimmock Line." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 11 Jul. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 8, 2012 | Last modified: July 11, 2012
Contributed by Emmanuel Dabney, a park ranger at the Petersburg National Battlefield.