Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

. (page 84 of 113)
Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 84 of 113)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Petersburg by the turnpike on the
north, while G^n. Kautz, with 1,500
cavalry, should charge into it fi^m
the south or south-west. Two gun-
boats and a battery were simultane-
ously to bombard Fort Clinton, de-
fending the approach up the river.

The combination failed, though it
should have succeeded. Gillmore
advanced" unresisted to within two
miles of the city, where he drove in
the enemy's skirmishers and halted —
or rather, recoiled — deeming his force
altogether too weak for the task be-
fore him, and understanding that he
was free to exercise his discretion
in the premises. £autz, on the other
hand, made his way not only up to
but into the city — the Confederates'
attention having been concentrated
on Gillmore — ^bnt, now that they



'Uaj2^



•• June 8.



•• Juno 10,



Digitized by



Google



W. p. SMITH PAILS AT PETEBSBURG.



5S6



-were released from apprehension on
this side, they turned upon £autz ;
driving him ont with ease.
/ Grant, having harried from the
Army of the Potomac, when it had
begun to cross the James, to Bermu-
da Hundreds, directed Butler to push
"W. F. Smith's corps, just arrived
from the Chiekahominy by steam-
boat via White House, against Pe-
tersburg as quickly as possible ; it be-
ing known tiat A. P. Hill, with the
van of Lee's army, was already on the
south front of Bichmond. Smith
moved out accordingly, crossing the
Appomattox by a pontoon-bridge at
Point of Eocks, and following Gill-
more's route southward to Peters-
burg ; confronting, before noon," the
north-east defenses, 2i miles from the
river. Hincks's black brigade was
sent up directly, taking a line of rifle-
pits and two guns. But there —
though moments were inestimable —
Smith paused ^^ — not assaulting till
near sundown, when part of his force
. was sent forward, forming a very
strong skirmish line, and daared the
enemy's rifle-trenches in their front,
capturing 300 prisoners and 16 guns,
with a loss on our part of about GOO.**
And now — though the night was
dear and the moon nearly ftdl —
Smith rested till morning, after the
old but not good fashion of 1861-2.



Fatalities multiplied. Hancock,with
two divisions, forming the van of the
Army of the Potomac, came up just
after nightfall, and waiving his senior-
ity, tendered his force to Smith, who
putpartof itinto the captured works,
relieving his own troops, but made no
further use of it. And Hancock, it
seems, in the hurry of the moment,
when there were a thousand things
to be attended to at once, had not, up
to 6 p. H. of that day, even been ap-
prised that Petersburg was to be
assaulted, and had lost some hours of
the morning waiting for rations,
which would not have stopped him
if he had known " how urgent was
the necessity for haste: and some
further time by marching by an inac-
curate map, which carried him too
far to the left.

Smith's hesitation to follow up his
success proved the turning-point of
the campaign. Before morning, there
was a very different sort of enemy in
his front from that he had beaten yes-
terday — ^the van of Lee's iron-sided
veterans, who did not comprehend
how formidable intrenchments and
batteries could be lost when assailed
only by strong skirmish-lines. By
their arrival, the fall of Petersburg, a
few hours since so imminent, was in-
definitely postponed.

During the 16th, "Warren and



••June 16.

•* Grant) In his final, oomprehenmye report,

'* Smith, for some reason that I have never
been able to satisiaotorily understand, did not get
readjT to assault the enemj^s main lines until
near sundown.''

As more than a year had intenrened when
this report was written, it is not probable that
Gen. Grant's satisfaction on this point will ever
be perfected.

•• CoL Simon H. Mix, 3d N. T. caralry, was
Iglled in front of Petersburg, fighting at the



head of his regiment He had served with
credit dnoe early in 1861.

•• So says Swinton (* Army of the Potomac 'X
who quotes Hancock's repeat as his authority ;
and adds:

" There is on file in the archives of the Army
a paper bearing this indorsement by Gen. Meade :
* Bad Cfm. Eaneock or mytelf known thatPtlers-
hftrg was io he attacked^ PeUrAwrg would hewt
fcOenV

Swinton seems to have been eagerly aapplied,
by those officers who are not admirers of Gen.
Grants with all the wei4;K>n8 of assault in tbeir
annoiy*



Digitized by



Google



686



THE AKEBICAN CONFLICT.



Bomfiide came up, with the greater
part of the Army of the Potomac ;
but 60 did Lee, with most of the Ar-
my of Yirginia. Smithheld our right,
touching the App<unattox ; Hancock,
Bomaide and Warren reaching far-
ther and farther to the left, which
was covered by Eautz's cavaby.
Meade, after posting his army,
hastened to City Pomt for a con-
saltation with Grant; and, return-
ing at 2 p. M., gave orders for a gen-
eral assault, which was deliyered
at 6 p. K. Hancock's, Bumside's, and
part of Warren's corps, went forward
in the face of a terrible fire from a
sheltered and formidable foe, and a
night of combat and carnage resulted
in a general advance of our lines,
though at a heavy cost Bimey, of
Hancock's corps, had stormed and
carried the ridge in his front ; while
Bumside, repelled during the night
by the deadly fire he encountered,
carried at daylight the outwork defy-
ing him, capturing 4 guns and 400
prisoners. Potter's divifflon, which
had made this desperate charge, was
now relieved by Ledlie's, which
pushed our advance still fiurther, or
to within a mile and a half of the
dty, which was hence reached by our
shells. On other points, however, we
had either been repulsed, or had
made no progress ; while the prepon-
derance of losses, and even of prison-
ers, was heavily against u& And, as
the advanced position gained in Bum-
side's front was projected, as it were,
into the enemy's still unshaken lines,
a tremendous assault upon it was
made the next night, and our men
driven out with heavy loss.

The desperate struggle for Peters-
burg having drawn the Rebel forces



mainly to that city, (Jen. Butler, by
order, struck out,** under Terry, from
his front at Bermuda Hundreds to-
ward Port Walthall junction, with
intent to take, and if possible hold,
the railroad. Terry, finding the rail-
road slightly held, seized, and was
proceeding to destroy it, when the
approach of Pickett's division of
Longstreet's corps, marching from
Kichmond on Petersburg, compelled,
him to cfraw back. Grant had fore-
seen and provided against this con-
tingency, by relieving (with part of
the 6th) Smith's (18th) corps, and
sending it to the aid of Butler; but,
by some mistake, Smith's men were
halted too soon ; so that Terry was
overpowered and hurled back ; and,
when he again advanced, reenforced,
the enemy had so strengthened their
former works that they were deemed
impr^nable.

Grant, believing that a good part
of the Bebel army had not yet ar-
rived, ordered another general as-
sault for the 18th ; but, when our
skirmishors that morning advanced,
the enemy had abandoned their
works in our inmaediate fix>nt, with-
drawing to a new, stronger, and
more symmetrical line nearer reAxsn-
burg. Hours were now spent in
making new dispositions to assault
this with effect ; and, at 8 p. n., an
attack was made, first by Martindale,
conmianding the division left here of
Smith's corps ; then by Birney, in
temporary command of the 2d ; and
later by the 6th and 9th ; but with
very heavy loss, and no success, save
that Martindale carried the enemy's
skirmish-line in his front, and made
a few prisoners. The losses of the
enemy, sheltered behind their works,



** JUBO 16.



Digitized by



Google



KEADE FAILS TO HOLD THE l^ELDON ROAD.



58T



bore, of course, no eompariBOii to
ours.

It had now been eBtablished, at a
oofit of folly 10,000 men," that Po-
tersbnrg coold not be carried by di-
rect assault, no matter in what force :
and our troops were directed to in-
trench strongly in its front, while
the 2d and 6th corps were moved"
to the left, with intent to find and
turn the enemy's right ; cutting or
holding the Weldon railroad.

The 2d moved around to the Jeru-
salem plank road, where it was met
by the enemy in force, and driven
back a short distance ; the 6th not
being at hand. Kext morning, the
advance was resumed by both corps,
but too tardily and disconnectedly —
the country being, for the most part,
thickly wooded and difficult. A. P.
TTill was watching the movement,
and, at the proper moment, threw a
division of his corps in between our
two, striking rapidly in flank succes-
sively Barlow's, Mott's, and Gibbon's
divisions, rolling them up and forcing
them back, with a loss of 4 guns and
many prisoners. At the same time,
anotiier of Hill's divisions struck the
flank of the 6th corps likewise, in-
flicting on it also considerable loss.
But Meade now arrived on the field
— ^the Bebel advance having been
checked — and, getting both corps
well in hand, he ordered, at nightfall,
an advance, which was made, and
most of the lost groimd recovered —
Hill not being in force to resist him
in the open field.

Our advance southward was re-
sumed next morning,*' and the Wel-



don railroad reached ; but hardly had
operations upon it begun, when Hill
again struck the flank of our three
regiments in advance, and routed
them, taking many prisoners, and
driving the fogitives back on the
main body ; when he again desisted,
carrying off his captives. Our losses
in this baffled effort were scarcely
less than 4,000 men, mainly prison-
ers; with no resulting advantage,
save a moderate extension of our left
toward the Weldon railroad.

The mishap of this first attempt to
clutch the Weldon railroad involved
or drew after it another. Gen. Wil-
son, with his own and Kautz^s di*-
visions of cavalry, together 8,000
strong, had on that day been im-
pelled still farther to our left, on a
raid against the enemy's railroads.
Moving southward for some distance,
he turned abruptly to his right, and
struck the Weldon road at Beams's
station, where he burned the depot
and tore up a long stretch of track.
Passing thence nq)idly westward, he
struck the Lynchburg road at a point
15 miles fi^om Petersburg, and fol-
lowed it westward to Nottoway sta-
tion, destroying the track for 22
miles ; here encountering and defeat-
ing a Rebel cavalry force under W.
F. Lee. Hence, he dispatched Eautz
to Smkesville, the jimction of this
with the Danville road, where both
roads were torn up, as was the Dan-
ville so far S. W. as Meherrin sta-
tion ; where Kautz was rejoined** by
Wilson, and the work prosecuted so
far as Eoanoke bridge (over the
Staunton); where they were con-



' Between June 10 and 20, Meadows losses
killed, 1,198; wounded, 6,853 ; missing,
1,614 : total, 9,665. And this does not probablj



include the losses of Sheridan^s cavaliy, who
were fighting north of the James.
•■ June 21. ~ June 23. •• June 24,



Digitized by



Google



588



THE AMERICAN CONFLICT.



fronted by a Btroi^r force than
they could dislodge, and commenoed
their return to our camps.

But, by this time, the enemy were
all around them, and intent on their
destruction. Striking the Weldon
road at Stony creek,** they were
again confronted by more Bebels
than they could drive ; and, after a
hard fight, were obliged to give up
the attempt, and make for Eeams's
station, which Wilson undoubtedly
supposed to be now held by Hancock
or Warren. He was badly mistaken,
however ; for here was a far stronger
Rebel force (including Mahone's and
Finn^an's infantry brigades, beside
Hampton's cavalry) than that which
had baffled him at Stony creek ; and
his attempt to force a passage re-
sulted in his signal defeat, involving
the loss of his gims, his train, with
many prisoners and their horses.
About 1,000 negroes, who had fallen
into the wake of our cavalry — ^many
of them mounted on horses^borrowed
for the occasion — here fell into the
hands of the Rebels, and were re-
turned to a servitude which their
effort to escape was not calculated
to lighten. Wilson and Elautz fled
separately across the Nottoway, and,
by a long circuit southward, made
their way back to t)ur lines before
Petersburg — men and horses coming
in pretty nearly used up. Grant, in
his report, says, indeed, with his ha-
bitual optimism, that
" tho damage to the enemy in this expedi-
tion more than compensated for the losses
we sustained. It severed all connection by
railroad with Richmond for several weeks ;^'

but such was not the general opin-
ion ; and Grant sent no more cavalry
to the Rebel rear for months. Lee
daims to have taken firom Wilson



and Kautz on this raid 1,000 prison-
ers (beside the wounded), 13 guna,
and 30 wagons.

On our right, G^en. Butler had been
directed to throw a pontoon-bridge
over the James to Deep Bottom,
north of his stronghold at Bermuda
Hundreds; which he did skillfully
and without loss ; Brig.-Gen. Foster,
with a brigade of the 10th corps, tak-
ing post at Deep Bottom, only 10
miles from Richmond, and very near
its southward defenses at Howlett's.

Gen. Sheridan, who, with his cav-
alry, had rested some days at White
House, after their return from their
harassing raid toward Grordonsville,
now moved across the Peninsula to
the Jam^, being resolutely attacked **
by the way ; but he beat off his aa-
sailantSy with a loss of some 600 on
either side, and made his way safely
to our right, bringing in his guns and
train.

The r^due of the 18th corps was
now returned to Butler; and thus,
in spite of reverses, our lines were
extended on both flanks, so as to
threaten Biehmond above the James,
while we attempted to flank and cany
Petersburg on the south. Why it
was not then, or thereafter, found
advisable to mass suddenly against
the center of the enemy's long, thin
line, and burst through it, wherever,
between Biehmond and Petersbuig,
it should seem weakest, G^n. Orant
in his report does not inform us.
Possibly, ihe sore experience of Cold
Harbor had made Mm diary of in-
fantry assaults on lines fortified and
held by marksmen of such nerve bb
now composed the bulk of Lee's de-
cimated but still formidable army.

There were several collisions along



' June 28.



' June 25.



Digitized by



Google



HANCOCK NOBTH OF THE JAMES.



589



our lines in front of Peterebrirg, gen-
erally provoked by the now elated
enemy, who assailed" Gen. Stan-
nard's divisio^i of the 10th corps ; first
opening with artillery and then char-
ging with infantry; only to be re-
pulsed with a loss of 150 prisoners.
A demonstration was made next day
against Surnside's front ; but it was
not resolute, and was easily repulsed.

Thence ensued some days of com-
parative quiet— our men having
marched and fought almost inces-
santly for eight weeks, having lost
meantime fully 70,000 of their num-
ber by desperate fighting — ^mainly
against great advantages of position
or shelter, which screened the enemy
firom losses, at all proportionate to
ours — and they were by no means in
such heart for daily conflict as when
they last crossed the Kapidan. True,
their numbers had been nearly or
quite kept up by reenforcementa from
various quarters ; but many of these
were such men as high bounties at-
tract to military service, and who
were not * bounty-jumpers ' only be-
cause they had, as yet, found no
chance to jump. " In fact, the Army
of the Potomac in 1864, though still
including many thousands of excel-
lent and now veteran soldiers, was in
good part formed of material very
different from and inferior to that
which McClellan led to the Penin-
sula in 1862. And this army, when
concentrated south of the James,
was by no means equal in morale
and efficiency to that same army at
the opening of the campaign.

Grant, however, remained at its
head — undismayed, unshaken, inflex-



ible. Having given his soldiers Bome
much needed rest — the Summer be-
ing intensely hot and dry, and the
earth parched and baked so that any
movement raised a cloud of dust
which nearly suffocated men and
horses, and revealed its existence, its
strength, and its destination, to thd
ever-watchful foe— another effort on
our right was resolved on. A rail-
road along the rear of our position
was, during the Summer, completed,
facilitating not only the distribution
of munitions and provisions fi^m our
chief landing and d6p6t at City Point,
where the lieutenant-General had his
headquarters, but serving to accele-
rate also the movement of troops.

Foster's fortified post at Deep Bot-
tom, tlireatening an attack on Bich-
mond, while easily strengthened from
Bermuda Hundreds, disquieted Lee;
and one or two attempts had been
made upon it, but easily repulsed.
Grant resolved to reciprocate the en-
emy^s attentions ; so, having quietly
transferred the 2d corps from his ex-
treme left to his extreme right, across
the James, at Deep Bottom,** he di-
rected Hancock to turn the enemy's
advance position, while Foster should
amuse him by a feint in fix>nt ; and
this order was so admirably obeyed
that the Bebel outpost was success-
fully flanked and carried by Miles's
brigade'* of Barlow's division, captur-
ing 4 guns. The enemy fell back be-
hind Bailey's creek; still holding
firmly his strong defensive work at
Chapin's bluff, opposite Fort Darling.

Sheridan, with his cavalry, attempt-
ed to flank this work, and gained
some high ground -from which he



•"Jane 24.

** It was ofiBciallj stated that, of 600,000 men
drafted in 1864, the requisitionB being filled bj
the pajnn^t of $500 to $1,000 each as bounty,



only 168,000 ever made their i^ppeannoe at the
front. •July 26-1

^* ConaSstmg of the 183d P&, 28th Mass., and
26th Kich^ under C6L J. 0. Lynch.



Digitized by



Google



690



THE AMERICAN CONFLICT.



hoped to get into its rear ; but night
came on before he was ready ; and, so
imminent seemed the danger on this
flank, that Lee drew'* five of his eight
remaining divisions across the James
to avert it, aflEbrding the opportunity
which Grant was awaiting.

Bnmside's corps held a position di-
rectly in front of Petersburg, inclu-
ding a point where our lines, owing
to the nature of the ground, had been
pushed up to within 150 yards of the
enemy's, where a fort projected be-
yond their average front. Under this
fort, a mine had been run fix)m a con-
venient ravine or hollow within our
lines, which was entirely screened
from the enemy's observation; and
this mine would seem to have been
completed not only without counter-
mining by the Rebels, but without
being even suspected by them ;
though a report of its existence (pro-
bably founded on the story of some
deserter or prisoner) was printed in
one of the Richmond journals.

All being ready, the morning of
July 80th was fixed for springing the
mine ; which was to be instantly fol-
lowed, of course, by the opening of
our guns all along the front, and by
an assault at the chasm opened in the
enemy's defenses by the explosion.
It was calculated that, if a crest
barely 400 yards behind the doomed
fort could be gained 6nd held, Peters-
burg must fall, with heavy loss to its
defenders.

The mine was to be fired at 3^
A. M. ; when the match was duly ap-
plied, but no explosion followed.
After a considerable pause, Lt. Jacob
Douty and Sergt Henry Rees, of the
48th Pa., ventured into the gallery,
detecting and removing the cause of



failure. And now, at 4f a. il — the
fuse having been relighted — ^the ex-
plosion took place ; hoisting the fort
into the air, annihilating its garrison
of 800 men, and leaving in its stead
a gigantic hollow or crater of loose
earth, 150 feet long by some 60 wide
and 25 to 30 deep. Instantly, our
guns opened all along the front ; and
the astounded enemy may well have
supposed them the thunders of doom.
But it was indispensable to success
that a column of assault should rush
forward instantly and resolutely, so
as to clear the chasm and gain the
crest before the foe should recover
from his surprise ; and, on this vital
point, fidlure had already been se-
cured. The 9th corps, as then con-
stituted, was not that from which
any commanding general would have
selected a storming party ; yet, be-
cause it was Bumside's mine, his
corps was, without discussion, allow-
ed to famish the column of assault
His inspecting officer had reported
that, of its four divisions, that com-
posed of Blacks was fittest for this
perilous service ; but Grant, discred-
iting this, had directed that one of
the three White divisions should be
chosen. Thereupon, the leaders of
these divisions were allowed to cast
lots to see which of them should go
in-^r rather, which two of them
should stay out — and the lot fell on
the Ist, Brig.-Gen. Ledlie — and no
man in the army believed this other
than the worst dioice of the three.
It need hardly be added that no pre-
paration had been made during the
night preceding the explosion, by
quietly removing (or opening paths
through) the abatis, &c., which pro-
tected our front from sudden dashes



I Juljr 2l-a».^



Digitized by



Google



BURNSIDE'S MINE BXPLOSIOlSr — BARLO W»S ASSAULT. 691



of the enemj^for the instant advance
in force of oar column of assault.

The explosion had occurred ; the
Bebel fort had been hoisted 200 feet,
and had fallen in fragments; our
guns had opened all along the front,
eliciting a far feebler and ineflFective
response ; but several minutes pass-
ed — ^precious, fatal minutes ! — ^before
Ledlie's division, clearing with diffi-
culty the obstacles in its path — went
forward into the chasm, and there
stopped, though the enemy at that
point were still paralyzed and the
deciding crest completely at our
mercy. Then parts of Bumside's
two remaining White divisions (Pot-
ter's and Wilcox's) followed; but,
once in the crater, Ledlie's men bar-
red the way to a fitrther advance,
and all huddled together, losing their
formation and becoming mixed up;
Gen. Pott«r finally extricating him-
self, and charging toward the crest ;
but with so slender a following that
he was soon obliged to fall back.
Two hours were thus shamefully
squandered, while the Bebels, recov-
ering their self-possession, were plant-
ing batteries on either side, and
mustering their infantry in an adja-
cent ravine; and now — ^when more
men in the crater could only render
the confusion more hopeless and mag^
nify the disaster — ^Bumside tiirew in
his Black division ; which, passing
beyond and rather to the right of the
crater, charged toward the crest, but
were met by a fire of artillery and
musketry which speedily hurled them
back into the crater, where all order
was lost, all idea of aught beyond
personal safety abandoned, while the
enemy's shells and balls poured into
it like hail, rendering it an arena



of unresisted slaughter. The Black
charge, feeble as it was, had given
us a few prisoners; but now our
men could no more retreat than ad-
vance; the enemy's guns sweeping
the ^-ound between the chasm and
our front. A first Bebel assault on
our unfortunates was repulsed in
sheer desperation ; and thousands, of
course, took the risk of darting out
of the death-trap and racing at top
speed to our lines ; but our loss in
killed, wounded, and prisoners was
4,400 ; while that of tie enemy, in-
cluding 800 blown up in the fort,
was barely 1,000.

Undismayed by the disastrous re-
sult of ^Hhis [needlessly] miserable
aflGur," as he fitly characterizes it,
Grant paused scarcely a fortnight
before he resumed the offensive ; re-
turning to successive operations on
both flanks. Once more, Hancock
was impelled^ against the front of
the Eebel left, facing Deep Bottom ;
his depleted corps being strengthened
by the 10th, now led by Bimey, and
by Gregg's division of cavalry. Again
pushing out to the right, Hancock
attempted to flank the Bebel defenses
across Bailey's creek : Barlow, with
two divisions, being sent around to
assault in flank and rear; while
Mott's division menaced their eastern
front, and Bimey's corps assailed
them next the river. Bimey gained
some advantage, taking 4 guns ; but
Barlow's assault was delivered by a
single brigade, and came to nothing.
In fact, Hancock had been delayed
in landing his men, so that Lee, fore-
warned, had b^un to roenforce this
flank ; as he did more fully next day :
so that, when our troops again ad-



Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 84 of 113)