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Battles and leaders of the civil war online

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enemy. I hope he will try it again." Well did that
army need cheering up, for it had been under a
black cloud ever since the fatal mine affair, and
felt the long strain of the trenches on its nerves.
On the 20th Warren drew back his line about
a mile to more open ground, where his artillery
might play its part; and on the 21st Hill reap-
peared before him to "try it again ** with his own
corps and W. H. F. Lee's cavalry, reinforced by
part of Hoke's division of Ewell's corps. Hill was
a dashing general, and he made a gallant effort
on Warren's lines, now pretty well intrenched.

assaulting under cover of a cannonade of thirty
guns. But Griffin and Ayres were both old artiller-
ists, and Hill's long, serried lines were smashed by
our guns before they got within reach of our mus-
ketry. Later in the day Mahone selected a point,
and "hurled" his division with his well-known
fiery energy fairly up to our works on the left, but
in vain. Hagood's brigade alone got inside, and
were there made prisoners in a body, though part
of them, in the confusion and delay to take them
in, re-opened fire and made their escape. Besides
all the wounded, over two hundred Confederates
lay dead upon the field in front of our defenses — a
sad sight, for, enemies as they were, they were bone
of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Thus ended the
last and most reckless attempt to dislodge Warren, f


EvEB since the first investment of Petersburg
both sides had appreciated the importance of the
Weldon Railroad, and every attempt on our part
was fiercely contested by the rebels. Wilson's
cavalry raid was started off against that and the
Lynchburg Railroad on June 2 2d by General
Meade. [See p. 535.] Late in August, in view
of the success of the Fifth and Ninth corps at
Globe Tavern, it was determined to continue the
work of destruction down on this rauch-fought-for
railway. For this purpose Hancock was ordered
over from Deep Bottom with two divisions to
Reams's Station. He arrived there on the 2 2d,
after a most fatiguing march, and set to work at
once with his accustomed promptitude and energy,
and without rest. He found the station house
burnt, and some sorry intrenchments in a flat,
woody country, where two roads crossed, which
had been hastily thrown up during the June opera-

tions, but which he did not stop to improve : one
from the Jerusalem plank-road, by which he had
marched ; the other from the Vaughn road, run-
ning from Petersburg to Dinwiddle Court House.
He found the roads picketed by Spear's brigade
of cavalry, and to this he added D. McM. Gregg's
cavalry, which he had brought along.

Hancock had torn up and burned some miles of
the track, when, on the evening of August 24th,
Meade notified him that bodies of troops, esti-
mated at ten thousand, were seen by the signal
men moving within the Confederate lines to our
left, and advancing down the Halifax-Vaughn
road. It might be intended to attack either War-
ren's left, or Reams's Station. Meade thought the
latter the more likely.

For some time next morning nothing appeared
before Hancock but the usual parties of W. H. F.
Lee's cavalry, that had sought to interrupt the

i The total Union loss was 251 killed, 1148 wounded, and 2879 captured or missing =4278. Tbe Confederate

loss is not ofilcially stated.— EorroRS.

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work of our men, but were easily kept off by
Gregg, who held the roads toward Dinwiddle Court
House and Petersburg. Gibbon's division was
about to proceed down the track to resume its
labors when Spear, farther down to the left, re-
ported the enemy advancing in force. Gregg de-
ployed and advanced to meet them, and developed
the fact that their cavalry was supported by in-
fantry. During the skiiTnish a party broke through
Gregg's pickets to the left and rear. This party
was driven back by a regiment of our cavalry with
its infantry supports, and the whole demonstra-


tion — probably a reconnoissance — was over.
Prisoners taken in the skirmish proved to be
from C. M. Wilcox's, Heth's, and Field's divisions,
of A. P. Hill's command. In fact, there were nine
brigades, including two of Mahone's, and Pegram's
artillery, present or coming up. Developments
so far were reported to army headquarters and
preparations were made for a vigorous defense.
Gibbon's division was drawn into the left breast-
works, which were strengthened and extended
somewhat to the rear, and Miles, with Barlow's
division, occupied the right. Both flanks were
exposed to reverse fire from the front, as may be
easily seen from Hancock's map. Until 12 o'clock
all communications with Meade were by couriers
through Warren's headquarters. At noon the field
telegraph line was brought down to within half a
mile. It was not until 2 o'clock that the enemy
made another move, when they attacked Miles,

were repulsed, and again attacked more vigor-
ously, and were again repulsed, this time leaving
their killed and wounded within a few yards of
Miles's front.

Meantime Meade had ordered all the available
troops from Mott's division that were on Warren's
right to move down the plank-road to its intersec-
tion with the Reams's Station cross-road, four miles
back from the station, and report from there to
Hancock. And now, since this last attack at 2 : 45
p. M., Willcox's division of the Ninth Corps, held
in reserve on Warren's center, was ordered to the
same point. Hancock had been advised by tele-
graph from Warren's headquarters, where Meade
had come to be in closer communication : '^ Call him
[Willcox] up if necessary " ; and the dispatch adds :
"I hope you'll give the enemy a good thrashing.
All I apprehend is his being able to interpose
between you and Warren."

I proposed to the officer who brought me my
orders — I forget whether it was General Parke,
commanding the Ninth Corps, \ or a staff-officer —
to march straight down the railroad, four or five
miles at most, and join Hancock at once, instead
of marching round twelve miles by the plank-road,
but was told that there was some apprehension of
the enemy's getting round Hancock's left and rear,
and that I must look out for that side. We passed
the Gurley House at 3:55, marched across lots to
the plank-road, and down to the cross-roads at
Shay's Tavern, where we arrived before 6, and re-
ceived a message from Hancock calling me up rap-
idly. My troops were in good spirits. They heard
the cannon-firing and felt that, having assisted
Warren of late materially and in the nick of an
extremity, they were rather honored by this call
from the grand old Second Corps, and we pushed
ahead at a swinging gait. Very soon we began to
meet stragglers from the front, and some wagons
and ambulances. Farther on an orderly handed
me an order -^ from Hancock to arrest the strag-
glers and **form them according to their regi-
ments," for which I had to deploy and leave the
20th Michigan Infantry, and that delayed us a
little of course. With the rest of the division I
pushed on, without halting, until 7 o'clock, when
I received word that If one or two brigades could
be got up in time the day might yet be saved.
This was communicated to the troops, who threw
off their blanket rolls and stai*ted at a double-quick,
which they kept up, with few breathing intervals,
the rest of the way until I reported to Hancock.

Meantime a bitter fight had been going on.
After the 2 o'clock affair everything looked promis-
ing to Hancock for an hour or two. However, the
rest of Hill's troops were coming up, and the chop-
ping of trees and the rumble of artillery were
heard in the forest. Hancock only felt solicitous
to keep the road open leading to the plank-road,
up which he looked for aid, "if necessary," and
by which he must retreat if worsted. At 4:15
he became more anxious, and telegraphed Meade

\ On August 13th General Bumaide was granted a leave of absence and General John G. Parke was asaigned to
the command of the Ninth Corps. General Bumside resigned April 15th, 1866.— Editors.

'{^ This order was intended for the officer commanding Mott's troops, still at Shay's Tavern.— O. B. W.

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that heavy skirmishing was going on, and an at-
tack pending, probably, on the left. He desired,
as he said to Meade, ^^ to know as soon as possible
whether you wish me to retire from this station
in ease we can get through safe — think it too late
for Willeox ; had he come down the railroad he
would have been in time. Have ordered up Mott*s
division by way of precaution." Evidently he ex-
pected Mott first at the junction.

At 5 o'clock Hill had opened with his artillery,
both shot and shell, some of which took the works,
so-called, in reverse, but did little actual damage
other than demoralizing the men, of whom there
were many, even in the old regiments, who never
had come to fight, but to run on the first chance,
or get into the hospital, and, ho! for a pension
afterward! **Some of their officers could not
speak a word of English/' says Hancock in his re-
port, and were therefore without that mutual in-
telligence and support which battle demands, and
with nothing in common with their men but panic.

The first assault came on Miles, opposite his
Fourth Brigade, and at a part of the line held by
the consolidation of material of different regi-
ments. For a time the severity of Miles's fire, the
slashing and other obstacles on the ground, stag-
gered the assaulting column, and they must have
baffled it completely if the fire had continued only
a few minutes longer. As it was, the assailants were
thrown into considerable confusion when, sud-
denly, our recruits gave way, and a break occurred
of two regiments on the right, and though Miles
ordered up what little reserve he had these men
would neither move forward nor fire. Still Lieu-
tenant George K. Dauchy, of McKnight's 12th
New York Battery, turned his guns on the breach
with effect, until the enemy crept along the silent
rifie-pits, captured the battery, and turned a gun
inside our lines. Murphy's brigade of the Second
Division being likewise driven off, the enemy cap-
tured the 10th Massachusetts Battery, and Bat-
tery B, 1st Bhode Island Artillery, on his front,
though it was served with " marked gallantry ** to
the last.

Gibbon's division was ordered to retake the works
that were thus lost, but the men responded feebly,
and fell back to their other works. Here, however,
they were exposed to such an interior fire that they
were compelled to throw themselves over to the out-
side of their parapet. Affairs looked desperate.
But the gallant and indefatigable Miles, rallying

i Captain Clirlfttian Woemer's 3d New Jersey Battery
rendered important service at this time.— Editors.

\ €Ieneral Humphreys in a letter to me of October 9th,
1883, says :

" I considered your not liavlng taken part In the fight to be
due entirely to the route you were ordered to take, as indeed
It was. Meade was at Warren's headquarters. I was at
headquarters Army of the Potomac. The telegrams were all
taken off for me and I was sorely tempted to telegraph Meade
to send you down the railroad to hit the enemy in fiank, but
refrained from dellcaoy, to my great regret ever since."

some brave men of the 61st New York, formed line
at right angles, swept down, recaptured consider-
able of the ground lost, including McEnight's bat-
tery, and threw two hundred men across the rail-
road, threatening the enemy^s rear. This force was
insufficient to hold their advantage, and Gibbon's
fellows were ordered to reenforce it. But in vain.
** They could not be got to go up," said the veteran,
who, with his staff, tried his best, with sword
and expostulations. His own side was soon at-
tacked ** by dismounted cavalry, and driven from
their breastworks with little or no resistance,''
until some dismounted regiments of Gregg's and
Spear's cavalry, fighting with bravery that shamed
our infantry, rescued the prize from the enemy,
who finally fell back. Gibbon partially rallied his
men behind the right wing, and formed a new line
of pits a short distance to his rear, on the left of
which Gregg withdrew his troopers.

Every attempt subsequently made by the enemy
was successfully repelled, j In one assault Miles
made a counter-charge and recaptured part of his
lost line and a g^un, and so matters stood at my
arrival near the scene of action some time before
dark. With the assistance of my division it did
not seem too late to recover everything that had
been lost. But, considering the utter demorali-
zation of one of his divisions, and the fatigue of all
the brave men that had stood, Hancock did not
think it wise to renew the fight that evening,
though both Miles and Gregg offered to retake their
portions of the works. Nor did he think it worth
while* to sacrifice any more men for an object that
was so far accomplished that, previous to the
action, he had telegraphed Meade his own inten-
tion to withdraw that night anyhow. Nothing
more could be done to destroy the railroad now, and
consequently there was nothing to keep Hancock
at the station. **Had our troops behaved as they
used to I could have beaten Hill," he said to me.
" But gome were new, and all were worn out with
labor. Or had your force been sent down the
railroad to attack the enemy's fiank we would have
whipped him ; or a small reserve about 6 o'clock
woiQd have accomplished the same object." These
points were also mentioned in his report. { He
requested me to draw up my division as a rear-
guard and let his troops pass by after dark. I
never had seen him in better form. It was more
like abdication than defeat.

The enemy did not attempt to follow us. 4>

The general also fumished me with copies of notes
intended to correct mistakes and fill omissions which
occurred in his history, "The Vlrj?inla Campaign of 1864
and 1865," and which are corrected and supplied in these
articles, so far n» the Weldon Railroad fights and my
division are concerned.— O. B. W.

4* The Union loss was 140 killed, 529 wounded, and 2073
captured or missing =2742.

The loss of the Confederates reached a total of 720,
mostly in killed and wounded.~£DrroR8.

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[SEE ALSO PP. 145-151.]

ON the 16th [of June, 1864], the enemy, tore- soon as I was apprised of the advantage thus

enforce Petersburg, withdrew from a part of gained, to retain it I ordered two divisions of the

his intrenchment in front of Bermuda Hundred, ex- Sixth Corps, General Wright commanding, that were

pecting, no doubt, to get troops from north of the embarking at Wilcox's Landing, under orders for

James to take the place of those withdrawn before City Point, to report to General Butler at Ber-

we could discover it. General Butler, taking muda Hundred, of which General Butler was noti-

advantage of this, at once moved a force on the fied, and the importance of holding a position

railroad between Petersburg and Richmond. As in advance of his present line urged upon him.


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At the request of the editors, tlie following account
of the Dutch Gap Canal has been prepared by General
F. S. Michle, engineer in charge of the work :

''The strong defensive lines of Bermuda Hundred,
behind which the Army of the James retreated after
its repulse at Drewry's Bluff, May 16th, 1864, were
badly chosen, as their location permitted the Con-
federates to occupy an equally strong line, and thus
to prevent any active operations on the part of this
army against the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad.
The i>owerful Confederate battery Dansler completely
commanded Trent Reach ~ a wide, shallow part of the
James River on the north flank of the contending lines.
This barred all approach toward Richmond on the part
of the United States war vessels. General Butler, con-
ceiving the idea of cutting a canal through the narrow
neck of land, known as Dutch Gap, for the passage of
the moultors, directed me to report on the practicabil-
ity of this project. The report being favorable, ground
was broken August 10th, 1864. The canal, cutting ofT
494 miles of river navigation, was only 174 yards long—
the excavation being 43 yards wide at the top, 27 yards
at water-level, and 13.6 yards at a depth of 16 feet below
water-level; 31 yards deep at the north-west end and
nearly 12 yards at the south-east end ; the total excava-
tion being very nearly 67,000 cubic yards. While no se-
rious civil-engineering dlttlculties occurred, the troops
employed were constantly subjected to a severe con-
tinuous fire, first of heavy rifled guns and afterward of
mortars. The casualties were continuous throughout,
on one occasion resulting in twelve killed and forty
wounded ; in addition, great losses in mules, horses, and

cal flre from mortar-batteries only twelve
hundred yards distant delayed the work beyond an-
ticipation, causing frequent suspension of all labor.
The troops seeking cover in earthen dug-outs that cov-
ered the site of the work were also undergoing con-
stant discomfort and exposure. The greater part of the
excavation was done by colored troops, who displayed
the greatest courage and fortitude, and maintained
under the most trying circumstances their usual good
humor and cheerful disposition. Owing to various
causes, and especially to the capture by General Butler
of the outer line of tlie Richmond defenses on the 29th
of September, the importance of the canal project sensi-
bly diminished ; therefore the work was much delayed,
was sul^ect to indififerent management, and was not ulti-
mately completed until December 30th, 1864. The rather
large bulkhead eontaining nearly 6000 cubic yards of
earth was mined and charged with 12,000 pounds of
powder, distributed in four charges, one being 26 feet,
and three 16 feet, below the water-level. At 3 : 60 p. m.,
January 1st, 1866, these mines were exploded by means
of a Gomez fulminate fuse so arranged as to give a
point of ignition for every one hundred pounds of
powder. The condition of the canal in November is
well delineated in the accompanying out. The bomb-
proof steam-pump is shown in the far comer, and the
bulkhciid, separated from the adjacent embankment
by vertical trenches. Is that which was mined and
blown up. After the explosion the debris at the north-
west end was partially i*eraoved by means of a steam-
dredge. This canal was not of service during the war,
but was subsequently enlarged and perfected, and be-
came the usual channel for the passage of vessels.*'



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About 2 o'clock in the afternoon
General Butler was forced back to
the line the enemy had withdrawn
from in the morning. General
Wright, with his two diviidons,
joined General Butler on the fore-
noon of the 17th, the latter still
holding with a strong picket-line
the enemy's works. But instead
of putting these divisions into the
i enemy's works to hold them he
H permitted them to halt and rest
^ some distance in the rear of his
^ own line. Between 4 and 5 o'clock
o in the afternoon the enemy at-
z tacked and drove in his pickets
"^ and re-occupied his old line.
o On the night of the 20th and

morning of the 21st a lodgment
was effected by General Butler,
with one brigade of infantry, on the
north bank of the James, at Deep
Bottom, and connected by pontoon-
bridge with Bermuda Hundred.

On the 19th General Sheridan,

on his return from his expedition

^ against the Virginia Central Rail-

road [see p. 233], arrived at the
White House just as the enemy's

S cavalry was about to attack it, and
S compelled it to retire. . . . After
g breaking up the depot at that place
^ he moved to the James Biver,
£ which he reached safely after
S heavy fighting. He commenced
5; crossing on the 25th, near Fort
S Powhatan, without further moles-
hi tation, and rejoined the Army of
the Potomac.

1 On the 22d [of June] General
* Wilson, with his own division of
g cavalry of the Army of the Poto-
'^ mac and General Eautz's division

2 of cavalry of the Army of the
as James, moved against the enemy's
^ railroads south of Richmond. [See
< p. 535.] . . .

a With a view of cutting the ene-

my's railroad from near Richmond
to the Anna rivers, and making
^ him wary of the situation of his
« army in the Shenandoah, and, in
H the event of failure in this, to take
^ advantage of his necessary with-
g drawal of troops from Petersburg,
to explode a mine that had been
5 prepared in front of the Ninth
Corps and assault the enemy's lines
at that place, on the night of the
26th of July the Second Corps and
two divisions of the cavalry corps
and Eautz's cavalry were crossed
to the north bank of the James
River and joined the force Gen-
eral Butler had there. On the 27th
the enemy was driven from his in.-



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trenched position, with the loss of four pieces of
artillery. [See map, p. 198.] On the 28th our
lines were extended from Deep Bottom to New
Market road, but in getting this position were
attacked by the enemy in heavy force. The fight-
ing lasted for several hours, resulting in con-
siderable loss to both sides. The first object of
this move having failed, by reason of the very
large force thrown there by the enemy, I deter-
mined to take advantage of the diversion made
by assaulting Petersburg before he could get his
force back there. One division of the Second Corps
was withdrawn on the night of the 28 th, and
moved during the night to the rear of the Eight-
eenth Corps, to relieve that corps in the Uue, that it
might be foot-loose in the assault to be made. The
other two divisions of the Second Corps and Sheri-
dan's cavalry were crossed over on the night of the
29th and moved in front of Petersburg. On the
morning of the 30th, between 4 and 5 o'clock,
the mine was sprung, blowing up a battery and
most of a regiment, and the advance of the as-
saulting column, formed of the Ninth Corps, im-
mediately took possession of the crater made by the
explosion, and the line for some distance to the
right and left of it, and a detached line in front of
it, but for some cause failed to advance promptly
to the ridge beyond. [See p. 540, etseq.'i Had they
done this, I have every reason to believe that
Petersburg would have fallen. Other troops were
immediately pushed forward, but the time con-
sumed in getting them up enabled the enemy to
rally from his surprise (which had been complete)
and get forces to this point for its defense. The
captured line thus held being imtenable, and of no
advantage to us, the troops were withdrawn, but not
without heavy loss. Thus terminated in disaster
what promised to be the most successful assault of
the campaign. . . .

Reports from various sources led me to believe
that the enemy had detached three divisions from
Petersburg to reinforce Early in the Shenandoah
Valley. [See pp. 500 and 522.] I therefore sent
the Second Corps and Gregg's division of cavalry, of
the Army of the Potomac, and a force of General
Butler's army, on the night of the 13th of August,
to threaten Richmond from the north side of the
James, to prevent him from sending troops away,
and, if possible, to draw back those sent. [See map,
p. 198.] In this move we captured six pieces of
artillery and several hundred prisoners, detained
troops that were under marching orders, and
ascertained that but one division (Kershaw's) of
the three reputed detached had gone.

The enemy having withdrawn heavily from Pe-
tersburg to resist this movement, the Fifth Corps,
General Warren commanding, was moved out on
the 18th, and took possession of the Weldon Rail-
road. [See p. 568.] During the day he had con-
siderable fighting. To regain possession of the road

i The assault on Fort Gilmer was made by General
Adelbert AmeA*B division, and Bri^radier-General Will-
iam Bimey*8 colored brigade of the Tenth Corps.—

$ The assaults on Fort Harrison were made by the
hrii^ades of Clingman, Colquitt, Law, G. T. Anderson,

the enemy made repeated and desperate assaults,

Online LibraryRobert Underwood JohnsonBattles and leaders of the civil war → online text (page 91 of 146)