Poplar Springs Church, Peebles Farm, and Pegram's Farm
On September 30, 1864, about noon, two divisions of the V Army Corps under Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren, and two divisions of the IX Army Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Parke, moved out of the defenses along the Weldon Railroad to test the strength of a newly built Confederate line that ran along the Squirrel Level Road. Thus began the Southside thrust of Grant's Fifth Offensive, intended, eventually, to cut the last supply lines into the city of Petersburg. A major objective was to cut the Boydton Plank Road. Deep ravines and heavily wooded terrain mostly funneled the advancing column along a single corridor -- the Poplar Spring Church Road.
Poplar Spring Church was one of the first landmarks noted by Federal soldiers as they marched past the nondescript building. Special artist Joseph Becker accompanied the Ninth Corps as it passed through the woods around the church; his sketch--perhaps, the only depiction of the church--was afterwards turned into a woodcut for publication. Within a week, the church was described as "ruins" on a IX Corps map. No trace of the church remains today.
The advancing Federals readily pushed aside Confederate skirmishers, and after emerging from the woods around the Poplar Grove Church, discovered the cleared area of the Peebles farm dominated by a Confederate redoubt, called Fort Archer. Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin brought up his Fifth Corps division and organized it for an assault on the earthwork. It was a formidable looking obstacle but only lightly manned by dismounted Confederate cavalrymen and four pieces of artillery.
The attack on Fort Archer went forward as a swarm, as individual regiments of Gwyn's and Gregory's brigades followed their own instincts. Blue coats pressed over and through the incomplete abatis and converged on the redoubt, jumped into the ditch, and clambered up the parapet. Col. Norval Welch at the forefront of the 16th Michigan was thrown back from the breastworks with two bullets in his head. (Fort Archer would be renamed Fort Welch in his honor.) Three of the Confederate guns and most of the defenders escaped through the sally port and chased up Church Road. One three-inch rifle, taken from the Federals at Reams Station the previous month, again fell into Federal hands.
"Fight of Oct. 2d, 1864," artist unknown, in collection of art sent to Frank Leslie's Illustrated newspaper at the New York Historical Society. The sketch was not published. Inscribed at lower left: "Fight of October 2d./troops occupying the rebel lines about mid." That is likely the Pegram house in the mid-ground. The house and outbuildings were afterwards burnt to the ground.