The Memoirs of General Ulysses S. Grant, Part 5.
Ulysses S. Grant
Part 1 out of 2
Produced by David Widger
PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF U. S. GRANT, Part 5.
by U. S. Grant
BATTLE OF SPOTTSYLVANIA--HANCOCK'S POSITION--ASSAULT OF WARREN'S AND
WRIGHT'S CORPS--UPTON PROMOTED ON THE FIELD--GOOD NEWS FROM BUTLER AND
The Mattapony River is formed by the junction of the Mat, the Ta, the Po
and the Ny rivers, the last being the northernmost of the four. It
takes its rise about a mile south and a little east of the Wilderness
Tavern. The Po rises south-west of the place, but farther away.
Spottsylvania is on the ridge dividing these two streams, and where they
are but a few miles apart. The Brock Road reaches Spottsylvania without
crossing either of these streams. Lee's army coming up by the Catharpin
Road, had to cross the Po at Wooden Bridge. Warren and Hancock came by
the Brock Road. Sedgwick crossed the Ny at Catharpin Furnace. Burnside
coming by Aldrich's to Gates's house, had to cross the Ny near the
enemy. He found pickets at the bridge, but they were soon driven off by
a brigade of Willcox's division, and the stream was crossed. This
brigade was furiously attacked; but the remainder of the division coming
up, they were enabled to hold their position, and soon fortified it.
About the time I received the news of this attack, word came from
Hancock that Early had left his front. He had been forced over to the
Catharpin Road, crossing the Po at Corbin's and again at Wooden Bridge.
These are the bridges Sheridan had given orders to his cavalry to occupy
on the 8th, while one division should occupy Spottsylvania. These
movements of the enemy gave me the idea that Lee was about to make the
attempt to get to, or towards, Fredericksburg to cut off my supplies. I
made arrangements to attack his right and get between him and Richmond
if he should try to execute this design. If he had any such intention
it was abandoned as soon as Burnside was established south of the Ny.
The Po and the Ny are narrow little streams, but deep, with abrupt
banks, and bordered by heavily wooded and marshy bottoms--at the time we
were there--and difficult to cross except where bridged. The country
about was generally heavily timbered, but with occasional clearings. It
was a much better country to conduct a defensive campaign in than an
By noon of the 9th the position of the two armies was as follows: Lee
occupied a semicircle facing north, north-west and north-east, inclosing
the town. Anderson was on his left extending to the Po, Ewell came
next, then Early. Warren occupied our right, covering the Brock and
other roads converging at Spottsylvania; Sedgwick was to his left and
Burnside on our extreme left. Hancock was yet back at Todd's Tavern,
but as soon as it was known that Early had left Hancock's front the
latter was ordered up to Warren's right. He formed a line with three
divisions on the hill overlooking the Po early in the afternoon, and was
ordered to cross the Po and get on the enemy's flank. The fourth
division of Hancock's corps, Mott commanding, was left at Todd's when
the corps first came up; but in the afternoon it was brought up and
placed to the left of Sedgwick's--now Wright's--6th corps. In the
morning General Sedgwick had been killed near the right of his
intrenchments by rebel sharpshooters. His loss was a severe one to the
Army of the Potomac and to the Nation. General H. G. Wright succeeded
him in the command of his corps.
Hancock was now, nine P.M. of the 9th of May, across the left flank of
Lee's army, but separated from it, and also from the remainder of
Meade's army, by the Po River. But for the lateness of the hour and the
darkness of the night he would have attempted to cross the river again
at Wooden Bridge, thus bringing himself on the same side with both
friend and foe.
The Po at the points where Hancock's corps crossed runs nearly due east.
Just below his lower crossing--the troops crossed at three points--it
turns due south, and after passing under Wooden Bridge soon resumes a
more easterly direction. During the night this corps built three
bridges over the Po; but these were in rear.
The position assumed by Hancock's corps forced Lee to reinforce his left
during the night. Accordingly on the morning of the 10th, when Hancock
renewed his effort to get over the Po to his front, he found himself
confronted by some of Early's command, which had been brought from the
extreme right of the enemy during the night. He succeeded in effecting
a crossing with one brigade, however, but finding the enemy intrenched
in his front, no more were crossed.
Hancock reconnoitred his front on the morning of the 10th, with the view
of forcing a crossing, if it was found that an advantage could be
gained. The enemy was found strongly intrenched on the high ground
overlooking the river, and commanding the Wooden Bridge with artillery.
Anderson's left rested on the Po, where it turns south; therefore, for
Hancock to cross over--although it would bring him to the same side of
the stream with the rest of the army--would still farther isolate him
from it. The stream would have to be crossed twice in the face of the
enemy to unite with the main body. The idea of crossing was therefore
Lee had weakened the other parts of his line to meet this movement of
Hancock's, and I determined to take advantage of it. Accordingly in the
morning, orders were issued for an attack in the afternoon on the centre
by Warren's and Wright's corps, Hancock to command all the attacking
force. Two of his divisions were brought to the north side of the Po.
Gibbon was placed to the right of Warren, and Birney in his rear as a
reserve. Barlow's division was left south of the stream, and Mott of
the same corps was still to the left of Wright's corps. Burnside was
ordered to reconnoitre his front in force, and, if an opportunity
presented, to attack with vigor. The enemy seeing Barlow's division
isolated from the rest of the army, came out and attacked with fury.
Barlow repulsed the assault with great slaughter, and with considerable
loss to himself. But the enemy reorganized and renewed the assault.
Birney was now moved to the high ground overlooking the river crossings
built by our troops, and covered the crossings. The second assault was
repulsed, again with severe loss to the enemy, and Barlow was withdrawn
without further molestation. General T. G. Stevenson was killed in this
Between the lines, where Warren's assault was to take place, there was a
ravine grown up with large trees and underbrush, making it almost
impenetrable by man. The slopes on both sides were also covered with a
heavy growth of timber. Warren, before noon, reconnoitred his front
twice, the first time with one and the second with two divisions. He
was repulsed on both occasions, but gained such information of the
ground as to induce him to report recommending the assault.
Wright also reconnoitred his front and gained a considerably advanced
position from the one he started from. He then organized a storming
party, consisting of twelve regiments, and assigned Colonel Emory Upton,
of the 121st New York Volunteers, to the command of it. About four
o'clock in the afternoon the assault was ordered, Warren's and Wright's
corps, with Mott's division of Hancock's corps, to move simultaneously.
The movement was prompt, and in a few minutes the fiercest of struggles
began. The battle-field was so densely covered with forest that but
little could be seen, by any one person, as to the progress made. Meade
and I occupied the best position we could get, in rear of Warren.
Warren was repulsed with heavy loss, General J. C. Rice being among the
killed. He was not followed, however, by the enemy, and was thereby
enabled to reorganize his command as soon as covered from the guns of
the enemy. To the left our success was decided, but the advantage was
lost by the feeble action of Mott. Upton with his assaulting party
pushed forward and crossed the enemy's intrenchments. Turning to the
right and left he captured several guns and some hundreds of prisoners.
Mott was ordered to his assistance but failed utterly. So much time was
lost in trying to get up the troops which were in the right position to
reinforce, that I ordered Upton to withdraw; but the officers and men of
his command were so averse to giving up the advantage they had gained
that I withdrew the order. To relieve them, I ordered a renewal of the
assault. By this time Hancock, who had gone with Birney's division to
relieve Barlow, had returned, bringing the division with him. His corps
was now joined with Warren's and Wright's in this last assault. It was
gallantly made, many men getting up to, and over, the works of the
enemy; but they were not able to hold them. At night they were
withdrawn. Upton brought his prisoners with him, but the guns he had
captured he was obliged to abandon. Upton had gained an important
advantage, but a lack in others of the spirit and dash possessed by him
lost it to us. Before leaving Washington I had been authorized to
promote officers on the field for special acts of gallantry. By this
authority I conferred the rank of brigadier-general upon Upton on the
spot, and this act was confirmed by the President. Upton had been badly
wounded in this fight.
Burnside on the left had got up to within a few hundred yards of
Spottsylvania Court House, completely turning Lee's right. He was not
aware of the importance of the advantage he had gained, and I, being
with the troops where the heavy fighting was, did not know of it at the
time. He had gained his position with but little fighting, and almost
without loss. Burnside's position now separated him widely from
Wright's corps, the corps nearest to him. At night he was ordered to
join on to this. This brought him back about a mile, and lost to us an
important advantage. I attach no blame to Burnside for this, but I do
to myself for not having had a staff officer with him to report to me
The enemy had not dared to come out of his line at any point to follow
up his advantage, except in the single instance of his attack on Barlow.
Then he was twice repulsed with heavy loss, though he had an entire
corps against two brigades. Barlow took up his bridges in the presence
of this force.
On the 11th there was no battle and but little firing; none except by
Mott who made a reconnoissance to ascertain if there was a weak point in
the enemy's line.
I wrote the following letter to General Halleck:
NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA C. H., May 11, 1864--8.30 A.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington, D. C.
We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result up to
this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy as well
as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time eleven general
officers killed, wounded and missing, and probably twenty thousand men.
I think the loss of the enemy must be greater--we having taken over four
thousand prisoners in battle, whilst he has taken from us but few except
a few stragglers. I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons
for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to fight it
out on this line if it takes all summer.
The arrival of reinforcements here will be very encouraging to the men,
and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible, and in as great
numbers. My object in having them sent to Belle Plain was to use them
as an escort to our supply trains. If it is more convenient to send
them out by train to march from the railroad to Belle Plain or
Fredericksburg, send them so.
I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to the
mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers, and by
keeping them intrenched in every position they take.
Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee's army
being detached for the defence of Richmond.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
And also, I received information, through the War Department, from
General Butler that his cavalry under Kautz had cut the railroad south
of Petersburg, separating Beauregard from Richmond, and had whipped
Hill, killing, wounding and capturing many. Also that he was
intrenched, and could maintain himself. On this same day came news from
Sheridan to the effect that he had destroyed ten miles of the railroad
and telegraph between Lee and Richmond, one and a half million rations,
and most of the medical stores for his army.
On the 8th I had directed Sheridan verbally to cut loose from the Army
of the Potomac and pass around the left of Lee's army and attack his
cavalry and communications, which was successfully executed in the
manner I have already described.
HANCOCK'S ASSAULT-LOSSES OF THE CONFEDERATES--PROMOTIONS RECOMMENDED
--DISCOMFITURE OF THE ENEMY--EWELL'S ATTACK-REDUCING THE ARTILLERY.
In the reconnoissance made by Mott on the 11th, a salient was discovered
at the right centre. I determined that an assault should be made at that
point. (*28) Accordingly in the afternoon Hancock was ordered to move
his command by the rear of Warren and Wright, under cover of night, to
Wright's left, and there form it for an assault at four o'clock the next
morning. The night was dark, it rained heavily, and the road was
difficult, so that it was midnight when he reached the point where he
was to halt. It took most of the night to get the men in position for
their advance in the morning. The men got but little rest. Burnside
was ordered to attack (*29) on the left of the salient at the same hour.
I sent two of my staff officers to impress upon him the importance of
pushing forward vigorously. Hancock was notified of this. Warren and
Wright were ordered to hold themselves in readiness to join in the
assault if circumstances made it advisable. I occupied a central
position most convenient for receiving information from all points.
Hancock put Barlow on his left, in double column, and Birney to his
right. Mott followed Birney, and Gibbon was held in reserve.
The morning of the 12th opened foggy, delaying the start more than half
The ground over which Hancock had to pass to reach the enemy, was
ascending and heavily wooded to within two or three hundred yards of the
enemy's intrenchments. In front of Birney there was also a marsh to
cross. But, notwithstanding all these difficulties, the troops pushed
on in quick time without firing a gun, and when within four or five
hundred yards of the enemy's line broke out in loud cheers, and with a
rush went up to and over the breastworks. Barlow and Birney entered
almost simultaneously. Here a desperate hand-to-hand conflict took
place. The men of the two sides were too close together to fire, but
used their guns as clubs. The hand conflict was soon over. Hancock's
corps captured some four thousand prisoners among them a division and a
brigade commander twenty or more guns with their horses, caissons, and
ammunition, several thousand stand of arms, and many colors. Hancock,
as soon as the hand-to-hand conflict was over, turned the guns of the
enemy against him and advanced inside the rebel lines. About six
o'clock I ordered Warren's corps to the support of Hancock's. Burnside,
on the left, had advanced up east of the salient to the very parapet of
the enemy. Potter, commanding one of his divisions, got over but was
not able to remain there. However, he inflicted a heavy loss upon the
enemy; but not without loss in return.
This victory was important, and one that Lee could not afford to leave
us in full possession of. He made the most strenuous efforts to regain
the position he had lost. Troops were brought up from his left and
attacked Hancock furiously. Hancock was forced to fall back: but he
did so slowly, with his face to the enemy, inflicting on him heavy loss,
until behind the breastworks he had captured. These he turned, facing
them the other way, and continued to hold. Wright was ordered up to
reinforce Hancock, and arrived by six o'clock. He was wounded soon
after coming up but did not relinquish the command of his corps,
although the fighting lasted until one o'clock the next morning. At
eight o'clock Warren was ordered up again, but was so slow in making his
dispositions that his orders were frequently repeated, and with
emphasis. At eleven o'clock I gave Meade written orders to relieve
Warren from his command if he failed to move promptly. Hancock placed
batteries on high ground in his rear, which he used against the enemy,
firing over the heads of his own troops.
Burnside accomplished but little on our left of a positive nature, but
negatively a great deal. He kept Lee from reinforcing his centre from
that quarter. If the 5th corps, or rather if Warren, had been as prompt
as Wright was with the 6th corps, better results might have been
Lee massed heavily from his left flank on the broken point of his line.
Five times during the day he assaulted furiously, but without dislodging
our troops from their new position. His losses must have been fearful.
Sometimes the belligerents would be separated by but a few feet. In one
place a tree, eighteen inches in diameter, was cut entirely down by
musket balls. All the trees between the lines were very much cut to
pieces by artillery and musketry. It was three o'clock next morning
before the fighting ceased. Some of our troops had then been twenty
hours under fire. In this engagement we did not lose a single
organization, not even a company. The enemy lost one division with its
commander, one brigade and one regiment, with heavy losses
elsewhere.(*30) Our losses were heavy, but, as stated, no whole company
was captured. At night Lee took a position in rear of his former one,
and by the following morning he was strongly intrenched in it.
Warren's corps was now temporarily broken up, Cutler's division sent to
Wright, and Griffin's to Hancock. Meade ordered his chief of staff,
General Humphreys, to remain with Warren and the remaining division, and
authorized him to give it orders in his name.
During the day I was passing along the line from wing to wing
continuously. About the centre stood a house which proved to be
occupied by an old lady and her daughter. She showed such unmistakable
signs of being strongly Union that I stopped. She said she had not seen
a Union flag for so long a time that it did her heart good to look upon
it again. She said her husband and son, being, Union men, had had to
leave early in the war, and were now somewhere in the Union army, if
alive. She was without food or nearly so, so I ordered rations issued
to her, and promised to find out if I could where the husband and son
There was no fighting on the 13th, further than a little skirmishing
between Mott's division and the enemy. I was afraid that Lee might be
moving out, and I did not want him to go without my knowing it. The
indications were that he was moving, but it was found that he was only
taking his new position back from the salient that had been captured.
Our dead were buried this day. Mott's division was reduced to a
brigade, and assigned to Birney's division.
During this day I wrote to Washington recommending Sherman and Meade
(*31) for promotion to the grade of Major-General in the regular army;
Hancock for Brigadier-General; Wright, Gibbon and Humphreys to be
Major-Generals of Volunteers; and Upton and Carroll to be Brigadiers.
Upton had already been named as such, but the appointment had to be
confirmed by the Senate on the nomination of the President.
The night of the 13th Warren and Wright were moved by the rear to the
left of Burnside. The night was very dark and it rained heavily, the
roads were so bad that the troops had to cut trees and corduroy the road
a part of the way, to get through. It was midnight before they got to
the point where they were to halt, and daylight before the troops could
be organized to advance to their position in line. They gained their
position in line, however, without any fighting, except a little in
Wright's front. Here Upton had to contend for an elevation which we
wanted and which the enemy was not disposed to yield. Upton first drove
the enemy, and was then repulsed in turn. Ayres coming to his support
with his brigade (of Griffin's division, Warren's corps), the position
was secured and fortified. There was no more battle during the 14th.
This brought our line east of the Court House and running north and
south and facing west.
During the night of the 14th-15th Lee moved to cover this new front.
This left Hancock without an enemy confronting him. He was brought to
the rear of our new centre, ready to be moved in any direction he might
On the 15th news came from Butler and Averill. The former reported the
capture of the outer works at Drury's Bluff, on the James River, and
that his cavalry had cut the railroad and telegraph south of Richmond on
the Danville road: and the latter, the destruction of a depot of
supplies at Dublin, West Virginia, and the breaking of New River Bridge
on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. The next day news came from
Sherman and Sheridan. Sherman had forced Johnston out of Dalton,
Georgia, and was following him south. The report from Sheridan embraced
his operations up to his passing the outer defences of Richmond. The
prospect must now have been dismal in Richmond. The road and telegraph
were cut between the capital and Lee. The roads and wires were cut in
every direction from the rebel capital. Temporarily that city was cut
off from all communication with the outside except by courier. This
condition of affairs, however, was of but short duration.
I wrote Halleck:
NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA C. H., May 16, 1864, 8 A.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Washington, D. C.:
We have had five days almost constant rain without any prospect yet of
it clearing up. The roads have now become so impassable that ambulances
with wounded men can no longer run between here and Fredericksburg. All
offensive operations necessarily cease until we can have twenty-four
hours of dry weather. The army is in the best of spirits, and feel the
greatest confidence of ultimate success. * * * *
* * You can assure the President and Secretary of War that the
elements alone have suspended hostilities, and that it is in no manner
due to weakness or exhaustion on our part.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
The condition of the roads was such that nothing was done on the 17th.
But that night Hancock and Wright were to make a night march back to
their old positions, and to make an assault at four o'clock in the
morning. Lee got troops back in time to protect his old line, so the
assault was unsuccessful. On this day (18th) the news was almost as
discouraging to us as it had been two days before in the rebel capital.
As stated above, Hancock's and Wright's corps had made an unsuccessful
assault. News came that Sigel had been defeated at New Market, badly,
and was retreating down the valley. Not two hours before, I had sent
the inquiry to Halleck whether Sigel could not get to Staunton to stop
supplies coming from there to Lee. I asked at once that Sigel might be
relieved, and some one else put in his place. Hunter's name was
suggested, and I heartily approved. Further news from Butler reported
him driven from Drury's Bluff, but still in possession of the Petersburg
road. Banks had been defeated in Louisiana, relieved, and Canby put in
his place. This change of commander was not on my suggestion. All this
news was very discouraging. All of it must have been known by the enemy
before it was by me. In fact, the good news (for the enemy) must have
been known to him at the moment I thought he was in despair, and his
anguish had been already relieved when we were enjoying his supposed
discomfiture, But this was no time for repining. I immediately gave
orders for a movement by the left flank, on towards Richmond, to
commence on the night of the 19th. I also asked Halleck to secure the
cooperation of the navy in changing our base of supplies from
Fredericksburg to Port Royal, on the Rappahannock.
Up to this time I had received no reinforcements, except six thousand
raw troops under Brigadier General Robert O. Tyler, just arrived. They
had not yet joined their command, Hancock's corps, but were on our
right. This corps had been brought to the rear of the centre, ready to
move in any direction. Lee, probably suspecting some move on my part,
and seeing our right entirely abandoned, moved Ewell's corps about five
o'clock in the afternoon, with Early's as a reserve, to attack us in
that quarter. Tyler had come up from Fredericksburg, and had been
halted on the road to the right of our line, near Kitching's brigade of
Warren's corps. Tyler received the attack with his raw troops, and they
maintained their position, until reinforced, in a manner worthy of
Hancock was in a position to reinforce speedily, and was the soldier to
do it without waiting to make dispositions. Birney was thrown to
Tyler's right and Crawford to his left, with Gibbon as a reserve; and
Ewell was whirled back speedily and with heavy loss.
Warren had been ordered to get on Ewell's flank and in his rear, to cut
him off from his intrenchments. But his efforts were so feeble that
under the cover of night Ewell got back with only the loss of a few
hundred prisoners, besides his killed and wounded. The army being
engaged until after dark, I rescinded the order for the march by our
left flank that night.
As soon as it was discovered that the enemy were coming out to attack, I
naturally supposed they would detach a force to destroy our trains. The
withdrawal of Hancock from the right uncovered one road from
Spottsylvania to Fredericksburg over which trains drew our supplies.
This was guarded by a division of colored troops, commanded by General
Ferrero, belonging to Burnside's corps. Ferrero was therefore promptly
notified, and ordered to throw his cavalry pickets out to the south and
be prepared to meet the enemy if he should come; if he had to retreat to
do so towards Fredericksburg. The enemy did detach as expected, and
captured twenty-five or thirty wagons which, however, were soon retaken.
In consequence of the disasters that had befallen us in the past few
days, Lee could be reinforced largely, and I had no doubt he would be.
Beauregard had come up from the south with troops to guard the
Confederate capital when it was in danger. Butler being driven back,
most of the troops could be sent to Lee. Hoke was no longer needed in
North Carolina; and Sigel's troops having gone back to Cedar Creek,
whipped, many troops could be spared from the valley.
The Wilderness and Spottsylvania battles convinced me that we had more
artillery than could ever be brought into action at any one time. It
occupied much of the road in marching, and taxed the trains in bringing
up forage. Artillery is very useful when it can be brought into action,
but it is a very burdensome luxury where it cannot be used. Before
leaving Spottsylvania, therefore, I sent back to the defences of
Washington over one hundred pieces of artillery, with the horses and
caissons. This relieved the roads over which we were to march of more
than two hundred six-horse teams, and still left us more artillery than
could be advantageously used. In fact, before reaching the James River
I again reduced the artillery with the army largely.
I believed that, if one corps of the army was exposed on the road to
Richmond, and at a distance from the main army, Lee would endeavor to
attack the exposed corps before reinforcements could come up; in which
case the main army could follow Lee up and attack him before he had time
to intrench. So I issued the following orders:
NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA C. H., VA., May 18, 1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE, Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Before daylight to-morrow morning I propose to draw Hancock and Burnside
from the position they now hold, and put Burnside to the left of Wright.
Wright and Burnside should then force their way up as close to the enemy
as they can get without a general engagement, or with a general
engagement if the enemy will come out of their works to fight, and
intrench. Hancock should march and take up a position as if in support
of the two left corps. To-morrow night, at twelve or one o'clock, he
will be moved south-east with all his force and as much cavalry as can
be given to him, to get as far towards Richmond on the line of the
Fredericksburg Railroad as he can make, fighting the enemy in whatever
force he can find him. If the enemy make a general move to meet this,
they will be followed by the other three corps of the army, and
attacked, if possible, before time is given to intrench.
Suitable directions will at once be given for all trains and surplus
artillery to conform to this movement.
U. S. GRANT.
On the 20th, Lee showing no signs of coming out of his lines, orders
were renewed for a left-flank movement, to commence after night.
MOVEMENT BY THE LEFT FLANK--BATTLE OF NORTH ANNA--AN INCIDENT OF THE
MARCH--MOVING ON RICHMOND--SOUTH OF THE PAMUNKEY--POSITION OF THE
We were now to operate in a different country from any we had before
seen in Virginia. The roads were wide and good, and the country well
cultivated. No men were seen except those bearing arms, even the black
man having been sent away. The country, however, was new to us, and we
had neither guides nor maps to tell us where the roads were, or where
they led to. Engineer and staff officers were put to the dangerous duty
of supplying the place of both maps and guides. By reconnoitring they
were enabled to locate the roads in the vicinity of each army corps.
Our course was south, and we took all roads leading in that direction
which would not separate the army too widely.
Hancock who had the lead had marched easterly to Guiney's Station, on
the Fredericksburg Railroad, thence southerly to Bowling Green and
Milford. He was at Milford by the night of the 21st. Here he met a
detachment of Pickett's division coming from Richmond to reinforce Lee.
They were speedily driven away, and several hundred captured. Warren
followed on the morning of the 21st, and reached Guiney's Station that
night without molestation. Burnside and Wright were retained at
Spottsylvania to keep up the appearance of an intended assault, and to
hold Lee, if possible, while Hancock and Warren should get start enough
to interpose between him and Richmond.
Lee had now a superb opportunity to take the initiative either by
attacking Wright and Burnside alone, or by following by the Telegraph
Road and striking Hancock's and Warren's corps, or even Hancock's alone,
before reinforcements could come up. But he did not avail himself of
either opportunity. He seemed really to be misled as to my designs; but
moved by his interior line--the Telegraph Road--to make sure of keeping
between his capital and the Army of the Potomac. He never again had
such an opportunity of dealing a heavy blow.
The evening of the 21st Burnside, 9th corps, moved out followed by
Wright, 6th corps. Burnside was to take the Telegraph Road; but finding
Stanard's Ford, over the Po, fortified and guarded, he turned east to
the road taken by Hancock and Warren without an attempt to dislodge the
enemy. The night of the 21st I had my headquarters near the 6th corps,
at Guiney's Station, and the enemy's cavalry was between us and Hancock.
There was a slight attack on Burnside's and Wright's corps as they moved
out of their lines; but it was easily repulsed. The object probably was
only to make sure that we were not leaving a force to follow upon the
rear of the Confederates.
By the morning of the 22d Burnside and Wright were at Guiney's Station.
Hancock's corps had now been marching and fighting continuously for
several days, not having had rest even at night much of the time. They
were, therefore, permitted to rest during the 22d. But Warren was
pushed to Harris's Store, directly west of Milford, and connected with
it by a good road, and Burnside was sent to New Bethel Church. Wright's
corps was still back at Guiney's Station.
I issued the following order for the movement of the troops the next
NEW BETHEL, VA., May 22, 1864
MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE, Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Direct corps commanders to hold their troops in readiness to march at
five A.M. to-morrow. At that hour each command will send out cavalry
and infantry on all roads to their front leading south, and ascertain,
if possible, where the enemy is. If beyond the South Anna, the 5th and
6th corps will march to the forks of the road, where one branch leads to
Beaver Dam Station, the other to Jericho Bridge, then south by roads
reaching the Anna, as near to and east of Hawkins Creek as they can be
The 2d corps will move to Chesterfield Ford. The 9th corps will be
directed to move at the same time to Jericho Bridge. The map only shows
two roads for the four corps to march upon, but, no doubt, by the use of
plantation roads, and pressing in guides, others can be found, to give
one for each corps.
The troops will follow their respective reconnoitring parties. The
trains will be moved at the same time to Milford Station.
Headquarters will follow the 9th corps.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
Warren's corps was moved from Harris's Store to Jericho Ford, Wright's
following. Warren arrived at the ford early in the afternoon, and by
five o'clock effected a crossing under the protection of sharpshooters.
The men had to wade in water up to their waists. As soon as enough
troops were over to guard the ford, pontoons were laid and the artillery
and the rest of the troops crossed. The line formed was almost
perpendicular to the course of the river--Crawford on the left, next to
the river, Griffin in the centre, and Cutler on the right. Lee was
found intrenched along the front of their line. The whole of Hill's
corps was sent against Warren's right before it had got in position. A
brigade of Cutler's division was driven back, the enemy following, but
assistance coming up the enemy was in turn driven back into his trenches
with heavy loss in killed and wounded, with about five hundred prisoners
left in our hands. By night Wright's corps was up ready to reinforce
On the 23d Hancock's corps was moved to the wooden bridge which spans
the North Anna River just west of where the Fredericksburg Railroad
crosses. It was near night when the troops arrived. They found the
bridge guarded, with troops intrenched, on the north side. Hancock sent
two brigades, Egan's and Pierce's, to the right and left, and when
properly disposed they charged simultaneously. The bridge was carried
quickly, the enemy retreating over it so hastily that many were shoved
into the river, and some of them were drowned. Several hundred
prisoners were captured. The hour was so late that Hancock did not
cross until next morning.
Burnside's corps was moved by a middle road running between those
described above, and which strikes the North Anna at Ox Ford, midway
between Telegraph Road and Jericho Ford. The hour of its arrival was
too late to cross that night.
On the 24th Hancock's corps crossed to the south side of the river
without opposition, and formed line facing nearly west. The railroad in
rear was taken possession of and destroyed as far as possible. Wright's
corps crossed at Jericho early the same day, and took position to the
right of Warren's corps, extending south of the Virginia Central
Railroad. This road was torn up for a considerable distance to the rear
(west), the ties burned, and the rails bent and twisted by heating them
over the burning ties. It was found, however, that Burnside's corps
could not cross at Ox Ford. Lee had taken a position with his centre on
the river at this point, with the two wings thrown back, his line making
an acute angle where it overlooked the river.
Before the exact position of the whole of Lee's line was accurately
known, I directed Hancock and Warren each to send a brigade to Ox Ford
by the south side of the river. They found the enemy too strong to
justify a serious attack. A third ford was found between Ox Ford and
Jericho. Burnside was directed to cross a division over this ford, and
to send one division to Hancock. Crittenden was crossed by this
newly-discovered ford, and formed up the river to connect with
Crawford's left. Potter joined Hancock by way of the wooden bridge.
Crittenden had a severe engagement with some of Hill's corps on his
crossing the river, and lost heavily. When joined to Warren's corps he
was no further molested. Burnside still guarded Ox Ford from the north
Lee now had his entire army south of the North Anna. Our lines covered
his front, with the six miles separating the two wings guarded by but a
single division. To get from one wing to the other the river would have
to be crossed twice. Lee could reinforce any part of his line from all
points of it in a very short march; or could concentrate the whole of it
wherever he might choose to assault. We were, for the time, practically
two armies besieging.
Lee had been reinforced, and was being reinforced, largely. About this
time the very troops whose coming I had predicted, had arrived or were
coming in. Pickett with a full division from Richmond was up; Hoke from
North Carolina had come with a brigade; and Breckinridge was there: in
all probably not less than fifteen thousand men. But he did not attempt
to drive us from the field.
On the 22d or 23d I received dispatches from Washington saying that
Sherman had taken Kingston, crossed the Etowah River and was advancing
I was seated at the time on the porch of a fine plantation house waiting
for Burnside's corps to pass. Meade and his staff, besides my own
staff, were with me. The lady of the house, a Mrs. Tyler, and an
elderly lady, were present. Burnside seeing us, came up on the porch,
his big spurs and saber rattling as he walked. He touched his hat
politely to the ladies, and remarked that he supposed they had never
seen so many "live Yankees" before in their lives. The elderly lady
spoke up promptly saying, "Oh yes, I have; many more." "Where?" said
Burnside. "In Richmond." Prisoners, of course, was understood.
I read my dispatch aloud, when it was received. This threw the younger
lady into tears. I found the information she had received (and I suppose
it was the information generally in circulation through the South) was
that Lee was driving us from the State in the most demoralized condition
and that in the South-west our troops were but little better than
prisoners of war. Seeing our troops moving south was ocular proof that
a part of her information was incorrect, and she asked me if my news
from Sherman was true. I assured her that there was no doubt about it.
I left a guard to protect the house from intrusion until the troops
should have all passed, and assured her that if her husband was in
hiding she could bring him in and he should be protected also. But I
presume he was in the Confederate army.
On the 25th I gave orders, through Halleck, to Hunter, who had relieved
Sigel, to move up the Valley of Virginia, cross over the Blue Ridge to
Charlottesville and go as far as Lynchburg if possible, living upon the
country and cutting the railroads and canal as he went. After doing
this he could find his way back to his base, or join me.
On the same day news was received that Lee was falling back,on Richmond.
This proved not to be true. But we could do nothing where we were
unless Lee would assume the offensive. I determined, therefore, to draw
out of our present position and make one more effort to get between him
and Richmond. I had no expectation now, however, of succeeding in this;
but I did expect to hold him far enough west to enable me to reach the
James River high up. Sheridan was now again with the Army of the
On the 26th I informed the government at Washington of the position of
the two armies; of the reinforcements the enemy had received; of the
move I proposed to make (*32); and directed that our base of supplies
should be shifted to White House, on the Pamunkey. The wagon train and
guards moved directly from Port Royal to White House. Supplies moved
around by water, guarded by the navy. Orders had previously been sent,
through Halleck, for Butler to send Smith's corps to White House. This
order was repeated on the 25th, with directions that they should be
landed on the north side of the Pamunkey, and marched until they joined
the Army of the Potomac.
It was a delicate move to get the right wing of the Army of the Potomac
from its position south of the North Anna in the presence of the enemy.
To accomplish it, I issued the following order:
QUARLES' MILLS, VA., May 25, 1864.
MAJOR GENERAL MEADE, Commanding A. P.
Direct Generals Warren and Wright to withdraw all their teams and
artillery, not in position, to the north side of the river to-morrow.
Send that belonging to General Wright's corps as far on the road to
Hanover Town as it can go, without attracting attention to the fact.
Send with it Wright's best division or division under his ablest
commander. Have their places filled up in the line so if possible the
enemy will not notice their withdrawal. Send the cavalry to-morrow
afternoon, or as much of it as you may deem necessary, to watch and
seize, if they can, Littlepage's Bridge and Taylor's Ford, and to remain
on one or other side of the river at these points until the infantry and
artillery all pass. As soon as it is dark to-morrow night start the
division which you withdraw first from Wright's corps to make a forced
march to Hanover Town, taking with them no teams to impede their march.
At the same time this division starts commence withdrawing all of the
5th and 6th corps from the south side of the river, and march them for
the same place. The two divisions of the 9th corps not now with
Hancock, may be moved down the north bank of the river where they will
be handy to support Hancock if necessary, or will be that much on their
road to follow the 5th and 6th corps. Hancock should hold his command
in readiness to follow as soon as the way is clear for him. To-morrow it
will leave nothing for him to do, but as soon as he can he should get
all his teams and spare artillery on the road or roads which he will
have to take. As soon as the troops reach Hanover Town they should get
possession of all the crossings they can in that neighborhood. I think
it would be well to make a heavy cavalry demonstration on the enemy's
left, to-morrow afternoon, also.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
Wilson's division of cavalry was brought up from the left and moved by
our right south to Little River. Here he manoeuvred to give the
impression that we were going to attack the left flank of Lee's army.
Under cover of night our right wing was withdrawn to the north side of
the river, Lee being completely deceived by Wilson's feint. On the
afternoon of the 26th Sheridan moved, sending Gregg's and Torbert's
cavalry to Taylor's and Littlepage's fords towards Hanover. As soon as
it was dark both divisions moved quietly to Hanover Ferry, leaving small
guards behind to keep up the impression that crossings were to be
attempted in the morning. Sheridan was followed by a division of
infantry under General Russell. On the morning of the 27th the crossing
was effected with but little loss, the enemy losing thirty or forty,
taken prisoners. Thus a position was secured south of the Pamunkey.
Russell stopped at the crossing while the cavalry pushed on to Hanover
Town. Here Barringer's, formerly Gordon's, brigade of rebel cavalry was
encountered, but it was speedily driven away.
Warren's and Wright's corps were moved by the rear of Burnside's and
Hancock's corps. When out of the way these latter corps followed,
leaving pickets confronting the enemy. Wilson's cavalry followed last,
watching all the fords until everything had recrossed; then taking up
the pontoons and destroying other bridges, became the rear-guard.
Two roads were traversed by the troops in this move. The one nearest to
and north of the North Anna and Pamunkey was taken by Wright, followed
by Hancock. Warren, followed by Burnside, moved by a road farther
north, and longer. The trains moved by a road still farther north, and
had to travel a still greater distance. All the troops that had crossed
the Pamunkey on the morning of the 27th remained quiet during the rest
of the day, while the troops north of that stream marched to reach the
crossing that had been secured for them.
Lee had evidently been deceived by our movement from North Anna; for on
the morning of the 27th he telegraphed to Richmond: "Enemy crossed to
north side, and cavalry and infantry crossed at Hanover Town." The
troops that had then crossed left his front the night of the 25th.
The country we were now in was a difficult one to move troops over. The
streams were numerous, deep and sluggish, sometimes spreading out into
swamps grown up with impenetrable growths of trees and underbrush. The
banks were generally low and marshy, making the streams difficult to
approach except where there were roads and bridges.
Hanover Town is about twenty miles from Richmond. There are two roads
leading there; the most direct and shortest one crossing the
Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, near the Virginia Central Railroad, the
second going by New and Old Cold Harbor. A few miles out from Hanover
Town there is a third road by way of Mechanicsville to Richmond. New
Cold Harbor was important to us because while there we both covered the
roads back to White House (where our supplies came from), and the roads
south-east over which we would have to pass to get to the James River
below the Richmond defences.
On the morning of the 28th the army made an early start, and by noon all
had crossed except Burnside's corps. This was left on the north side
temporarily to guard the large wagon train. A line was at once formed
extending south from the river, Wright's corps on the right, Hancock's
in the centre, and Warren's on the left, ready to meet the enemy if he
At the same time Sheridan was directed to reconnoitre towards
Mechanicsville to find Lee's position. At Hawes' Shop, just where the
middle road leaves the direct road to Richmond, he encountered the
Confederate cavalry dismounted and partially intrenched. Gregg attacked
with his division, but was unable to move the enemy. In the evening
Custer came up with a brigade. The attack was now renewed, the cavalry
dismounting and charging as infantry. This time the assault was
successful, both sides losing a considerable number of men. But our
troops had to bury the dead, and found that more Confederate than Union
soldiers had been killed. The position was easily held, because our
infantry was near.
On the 29th a reconnoissance was made in force, to find the position of
Lee. Wright's corps pushed to Hanover Court House. Hancock's corps
pushed toward Totopotomoy Creek; Warren's corps to the left on the Shady
Grove Church Road, while Burnside was held in reserve. Our advance was
pushed forward three miles on the left with but little fighting. There
was now an appearance of a movement past our left flank, and Sheridan
was sent to meet it.
On the 30th Hancock moved to the Totopotomoy, where he found the enemy
strongly fortified. Wright was moved to the right of Hancock's corps,
and Burnside was brought forward and crossed, taking position to the
left of Hancock. Warren moved up near Huntley Corners on the Shady
Grove Church Road. There was some skirmishing along the centre, and in
the evening Early attacked Warren with some vigor, driving him back at
first, and threatening to turn our left flank. As the best means of
reinforcing the left, Hancock was ordered to attack in his front. He
carried and held the rifle-pits. While this was going on Warren got his
men up, repulsed Early, and drove him more than a mile.
On this day I wrote to Halleck ordering all the pontoons in Washington
to be sent to City Point.
In the evening news was received of the arrival of Smith with his corps
at White House. I notified Meade, in writing, as follows:
NEAR HAWES' SHOP, VA., 6.40 P.M., May 30, 1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE, Commanding A. P.
General Smith will debark his force at the White House tonight and start
up the south bank of the Pamunkey at an early hour, probably at 3 A.M.
in the morning. It is not improbable that the enemy, being aware of
Smith's movement, will be feeling to get on our left flank for the
purpose of cutting him off, or by a dash to crush him and get back
before we are aware of it. Sheridan ought to be notified to watch the
enemy's movements well out towards Cold Harbor, and also on the
Mechanicsville road. Wright should be got well massed on Hancock's
right, so that, if it becomes necessary, he can take the place of the
latter readily whilst troops are being thrown east of the Totopotomoy if
I want Sheridan to send a cavalry force of at least half a brigade, if
not a whole brigade, at 5 A.M. in the morning, to communicate with Smith
and to return with him. I will send orders for Smith by the messenger
you send to Sheridan with his orders.
U. S. GRANT.
I also notified Smith of his danger, and the precautions that would be
taken to protect him.
The night of the 30th Lee's position was substantially from Atlee's
Station on the Virginia Central Railroad south and east to the vicinity
of Cold Harbor. Ours was: The left of Warren's corps was on the Shady
Grove Road, extending to the Mechanicsville Road and about three miles
south of the Totopotomoy. Burnside to his right, then Hancock, and
Wright on the extreme right, extending towards Hanover Court House, six
miles south-east of it. Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry was
watching our left front towards Cold Harbor. Wilson with his division
on our right was sent to get on the Virginia Central Railroad and
destroy it as far back as possible. He got possession of Hanover Court
House the next day after a skirmish with Young's cavalry brigade. The
enemy attacked Sheridan's pickets, but reinforcements were sent up and
the attack was speedily repulsed and the enemy followed some distance
towards Cold Harbor.
ADVANCE ON COLD HARBOR--AN ANECDOTE OF THE WAR--BATTLE OF COLD HARBOR
--CORRESPONDENCE WITH LEE--RETROSPECTIVE.
On the 31st Sheridan advanced to near Old Cold Harbor. He found it
intrenched and occupied by cavalry and infantry. A hard fight ensued
but the place was carried. The enemy well knew the importance of Cold
Harbor to us, and seemed determined that we should not hold it. He
returned with such a large force that Sheridan was about withdrawing
without making any effort to hold it against such odds; but about the
time he commenced the evacuation he received orders to hold the place at
all hazards, until reinforcements could be sent to him. He speedily
turned the rebel works to face against them and placed his men in
position for defence. Night came on before the enemy was ready for
Wright's corps was ordered early in the evening to march directly to
Cold Harbor passing by the rear of the army. It was expected to arrive
by daylight or before; but the night was dark and the distance great, so
that it was nine o'clock the 1st of June before it reached its
destination. Before the arrival of Wright the enemy had made two
assaults on Sheridan, both of which were repulsed with heavy loss to the
enemy. Wright's corps coming up, there was no further assault on Cold
Smith, who was coming up from White House, was also directed to march
directly to Cold Harbor, and was expected early on the morning of the
1st of June; but by some blunder the order which reached Smith directed
him to Newcastle instead of Cold Harbor. Through this blunder Smith did
not reach his destination until three o'clock in the afternoon, and then
with tired and worn-out men from their long and dusty march. He landed
twelve thousand five hundred men from Butler's command, but a division
was left at White House temporarily and many men had fallen out of ranks
in their long march.
Before the removal of Wright's corps from our right, after dark on the
31st, the two lines, Federal and Confederate, were so close together at
that point that either side could detect directly any movement made by
the other. Finding at daylight that Wright had left his front, Lee
evidently divined that he had gone to our left. At all events, soon
after light on the 1st of June Anderson, who commanded the corps on
Lee's left, was seen moving along Warren's front. Warren was ordered to
attack him vigorously in flank, while Wright was directed to move out
and get on his front. Warren fired his artillery at the enemy; but lost
so much time in making ready that the enemy got by, and at three o'clock
he reported the enemy was strongly intrenched in his front, and besides
his lines were so long that he had no mass of troops to move with. He
seemed to have forgotten that lines in rear of an army hold themselves
while their defenders are fighting in their front. Wright reconnoitred
some distance to his front: but the enemy finding Old Cold Harbor
already taken had halted and fortified some distance west.
By six o'clock in the afternoon Wright and Smith were ready to make an
assault. In front of both the ground was clear for several hundred
yards and then became wooded. Both charged across this open space and
into the wood, capturing and holding the first line of rifle-pits of the
enemy, and also capturing seven or eight hundred prisoners.
While this was going on, the enemy charged Warren three separate times
with vigor, but were repulsed each time with loss. There was no officer
more capable, nor one more prompt in acting, than Warren when the enemy
forced him to it. There was also an attack upon Hancock's and
Burnside's corps at the same time; but it was feeble and probably only
intended to relieve Anderson who was being pressed by Wright and Smith.
During the night the enemy made frequent attacks with the view of
dispossessing us of the important position we had gained, but without
effecting their object.
Hancock was moved from his place in line during the night and ordered to
the left of Wright. I expected to take the offensive on the morning of
the 2d, but the night was so dark, the heat and dust so excessive and
the roads so intricate and hard to keep, that the head of column only
reached Old Cold Harbor at six o'clock, but was in position at 7.30 A.M.
Preparations were made for an attack in the afternoon, but did not take
place until the next morning. Warren's corps was moved to the left to
connect with Smith: Hancock's corps was got into position to the left
of Wright's, and Burnside was moved to Bethesda Church in reserve. While
Warren and Burnside were making these changes the enemy came out several
times and attacked them, capturing several hundred prisoners. The
attacks were repulsed, but not followed up as they should have been. I
was so annoyed at this that I directed Meade to instruct his corps
commanders that they should seize all such opportunities when they
occurred, and not wait for orders, all of our manoeuvres being made for
the very purpose of getting the enemy out of his cover.
On this day Wilson returned from his raid upon the Virginia Central
Railroad, having damaged it considerably. But, like ourselves, the
rebels had become experts in repairing such damage. Sherman, in his
memoirs, relates an anecdote of his campaign to Atlanta that well
illustrates this point. The rebel cavalry lurking in his rear to burn
bridges and obstruct his communications had become so disgusted at
hearing trains go whistling by within a few hours after a bridge had
been burned, that they proposed to try blowing up some of the tunnels.
One of them said, "No use, boys, Old Sherman carries duplicate tunnels
with him, and will replace them as fast as you can blow them up; better
save your powder."
Sheridan was engaged reconnoitring the banks of the Chickahominy, to
find crossings and the condition of the roads. He reported favorably.
During the night Lee moved his left up to make his line correspond to
ours. His lines extended now from the Totopotomoy to New Cold Harbor.
Mine from Bethesda Church by Old Cold Harbor to the Chickahominy, with a
division of cavalry guarding our right. An assault was ordered for the
3d, to be made mainly by the corps of Hancock, Wright and Smith; but
Warren and Burnside were to support it by threatening Lee's left, and to
attack with great earnestness if he should either reinforce more
threatened points by drawing from that quarter or if a favorable
opportunity should present itself.
The corps commanders were to select the points in their respective
fronts where they would make their assaults. The move was to commence
at half-past four in the morning. Hancock sent Barlow and Gibbon
forward at the appointed hour, with Birney as a reserve. Barlow pushed
forward with great vigor, under a heavy fire of both artillery and
musketry, through thickets and swamps. Notwithstanding all the
resistance of the enemy and the natural obstructions to overcome, he
carried a position occupied by the enemy outside their main line where
the road makes a deep cut through a bank affording as good a shelter for
troops as if it had been made for that purpose. Three pieces of
artillery had been captured here, and several hundred prisoners. The
guns were immediately turned against the men who had just been using
them. No (*33) assistance coming to him, he (Barlow) intrenched under
fire and continued to hold his place. Gibbon was not so fortunate in
his front. He found the ground over which he had to pass cut up with
deep ravines, and a morass difficult to cross. But his men struggled on
until some of them got up to the very parapet covering the enemy.
Gibbon gained ground much nearer the enemy than that which he left, and
here he intrenched and held fast.
Wright's corps moving in two lines captured the outer rifle-pits in
their front, but accomplished nothing more. Smith's corps also gained
the outer rifle-pits in its front. The ground over which this corps
(18th) had to move was the most exposed of any over which charges were
made. An open plain intervened between the contending forces at this
point, which was exposed both to a direct and a cross fire. Smith,
however, finding a ravine running towards his front, sufficiently deep
to protect men in it from cross fire, and somewhat from a direct fire,
put Martindale's division in it, and with Brooks supporting him on the
left and Devens on the right succeeded in gaining the outer--probably
picket--rifle-pits. Warren and Burnside also advanced and gained
ground--which brought the whole army on one line.
This assault cost us heavily and probably without benefit to compensate:
but the enemy was not cheered by the occurrence sufficiently to induce
him to take the offensive. In fact, nowhere after the battle of the
Wilderness did Lee show any disposition to leave his defences far behind
Fighting was substantially over by half-past seven in the morning. At
eleven o'clock I started to visit all the corps commanders to see for
myself the different positions gained and to get their opinion of the
practicability of doing anything more in their respective fronts.
Hancock gave the opinion that in his front the enemy was too strong to
make any further assault promise success. Wright thought he could gain
the lines of the enemy, but it would require the cooperation of
Hancock's and Smith's corps. Smith thought a lodgment possible, but was
not sanguine: Burnside thought something could be done in his front,
but Warren differed. I concluded, therefore to make no more assaults,
and a little after twelve directed in the following letter that all
offensive action should cease.
COLD HARBOR, June 3, 1864.-12.30 P.M. MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE,
Commanding A. P.
The opinion of corps commanders not being sanguine of success in case an
assault is ordered, you may direct a suspension of farther advance for
the present. Hold our most advanced positions and strengthen them.
Whilst on the defensive our line may be contracted from the right if
Reconnoissances should be made in front of every corps and advances made
to advantageous positions by regular approaches. To aid the expedition
under General Hunter it is necessary that we should detain all the army
now with Lee until the former gets well on his way to Lynchburg. To do
this effectually it will be better to keep the enemy out of the
intrenchments of Richmond than to have them go back there.
Wright and Hancock should be ready to assault in case the enemy should
break through General Smith's lines, and all should be ready to resist
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
The remainder of the day was spent in strengthening the line we now
held. By night we were as strong against Lee as he was against us.
During the night the enemy quitted our right front, abandoning some of
their wounded, and without burying their dead. These we were able to
care for. But there were many dead and wounded men between the lines of
the contending forces, which were now close together, who could not be
cared for without a cessation of hostilities.
So I wrote the following:
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 5, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE, Commanding Confederate Army.
It is reported to me that there are wounded men, probably of both
armies, now lying exposed and suffering between the lines occupied
respectively by the two armies. Humanity would dictate that some
provision should be made to provide against such hardships. I would
propose, therefore, that hereafter, when no battle is raging, either
party be authorized to send to any point between the pickets or skirmish
lines, unarmed men bearing litters to pick up their dead or wounded,
without being fired upon by the other party. Any other method, equally
fair to both parties, you may propose for meeting the end desired will
be accepted by me.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
Lee replied that he feared such an arrangement would lead to
misunderstanding, and proposed that in future, when either party wished
to remove their dead and wounded, a flag of truce be sent. I answered
this immediately by saying:
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 6, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE, Commanding Army of N. Va.
Your communication of yesterday's date is received. I will send
immediately, as you propose, to collect the dead and wounded between the
lines of the two armies, and will also instruct that you be allowed to
do the same. I propose that the time for doing this be between the
hours of 12 M. and 3 P.M. to-day. I will direct all parties going out
to bear a white flag, and not to attempt to go beyond where we have dead
or wounded, and not beyond or on ground occupied by your troops.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
Lee's response was that he could not consent to the burial of the dead
and removal of the wounded in the way I proposed, but when either party
desired such permission it should be asked for by flag of truce and he
had directed that any parties I may have sent out, as mentioned in my
letter, to be turned back. I answered:
COLD HARBOR, VA, June 6, 1864.
GENERAL R. E. LEE. Commanding Army, N. Va.
The knowledge that wounded men are now suffering from want of attention,
between the two armies, compels me to ask a suspension of hostilities
for sufficient time to collect them in, say two hours. Permit me to say
that the hours you may fix upon for this will be agreeable to me, and
the same privilege will be extended to such parties as you may wish to
send out on the same duty without further application.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
Lee acceded to this; but delays in transmitting the correspondence
brought it to the 7th of June--forty-eight hours after it commenced
--before parties were got out to collect the men left upon the field.
In the meantime all but two of the wounded had died. And I wrote to
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 7, 1864. 10.30 A.M.
GEN. R. E. LEE, Commanding Army of N. Va.
I regret that your note of seven P.M. yesterday should have been
received at the nearest corps headquarters, to where it was delivered,
after the hour which had been given for the removal of the dead and
wounded had expired; 10.45 P.M. was the hour at which it was received at
corps headquarters, and between eleven and twelve it reached my
headquarters. As a consequence, it was not understood by the troops of
this army that there was a cessation of hostilities for the purpose of
collecting the dead and wounded, and none were collected. Two officers
and six men of the 8th and 25th North Carolina Regts., who were out in
search of the bodies of officers of their respective regiments, were
captured and brought into our lines, owing to this want of
understanding. I regret this, but will state that as soon as I learned
the fact, I directed that they should not be held as prisoners, but must
be returned to their commands. These officers and men having been
carelessly brought through our lines to the rear have not determined
whether they will be sent back the way they came, or whether they will
be sent by some other route.
Regretting that all my efforts for alleviating the sufferings of wounded
men left upon the battle-field have been rendered nugatory, I remain,
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever
made. I might say the same thing of the assault of the 22d of May,
1863, at Vicksburg. At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to
compensate for the heavy loss we sustained. Indeed, the advantages
other than those of relative losses, were on the Confederate side.
Before that, the Army of Northern Virginia seemed to have acquired a
wholesome regard for the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities
generally of the Army of the Potomac. They no longer wanted to fight
them "one Confederate to five Yanks." Indeed, they seemed to have given
up any idea of gaining any advantage of their antagonist in the open
field. They had come to much prefer breastworks in their front to the
Army of the Potomac. This charge seemed to revive their hopes
temporarily; but it was of short duration. The effect upon the Army of
the Potomac was the reverse. When we reached the James River, however,
all effects of the battle of Cold Harbor seemed to have disappeared.
There was more justification for the assault at Vicksburg. We were in a
Southern climate, at the beginning of the hot season. The Army of the
Tennessee had won five successive victories over the garrison of
Vicksburg in the three preceding weeks. They had driven a portion of
that army from Port Gibson with considerable loss, after having flanked
them out of their stronghold at Grand Gulf. They had attacked another
portion of the same army at Raymond, more than fifty miles farther in
the interior of the State, and driven them back into Jackson with great
loss in killed, wounded, captured and missing, besides loss of large and
small arms: they had captured the capital of the State of Mississippi,
with a large amount of materials of war and manufactures. Only a few
days before, they had beaten the enemy then penned up in the town first
at Champion's Hill, next at Big Black River Bridge, inflicting upon him
a loss of fifteen thousand or more men (including those cut off from
returning) besides large losses in arms and ammunition. The Army of the
Tennessee had come to believe that they could beat their antagonist
under any circumstances. There was no telling how long a regular siege
might last. As I have stated, it was the beginning of the hot season in
a Southern climate. There was no telling what the casualties might be
among Northern troops working and living in trenches, drinking surface
water filtered through rich vegetation, under a tropical sun. If
Vicksburg could have been carried in May, it would not only have saved
the army the risk it ran of a greater danger than from the bullets of
the enemy, but it would have given us a splendid army, well equipped and
officered, to operate elsewhere with. These are reasons justifying the
assault. The only benefit we gained--and it was a slight one for so
great a sacrifice--was that the men worked cheerfully in the trenches
after that, being satisfied with digging the enemy out. Had the assault
not been made, I have no doubt that the majority of those engaged in the
siege of Vicksburg would have believed that had we assaulted it would
have proven successful, and would have saved life, health and comfort.
LEFT FLANK MOVEMENT ACROSS THE CHICKAHOMINY AND JAMES--GENERAL LEE
--VISIT TO BUTLER--THE MOVEMENT ON PETERSBURG--THE INVESTMENT OF
Lee's position was now so near Richmond, and the intervening swamps of
the Chickahominy so great an obstacle to the movement of troops in the
face of an enemy, that I determined to make my next left flank move
carry the Army of the Potomac south of the James River. (*34)
Preparations for this were promptly commenced. The move was a hazardous
one to make: the Chickahominy River, with its marshy and heavily
timbered approaches, had to be crossed; all the bridges over it east of
Lee were destroyed; the enemy had a shorter line and better roads to
travel on to confront me in crossing; more than fifty miles intervened
between me and Butler, by the roads I should have to travel, with both
the James and the Chickahominy unbridged to cross; and last, the Army of
the Potomac had to be got out of a position but a few hundred yards from
the enemy at the widest place. Lee, if he did not choose to follow me,
might, with his shorter distance to travel and his bridges over the
Chickahominy and the James, move rapidly on Butler and crush him before
the army with me could come to his relief. Then too he might spare
troops enough to send against Hunter who was approaching Lynchburg,
living upon the country he passed through, and without ammunition
further than what he carried with him.
But the move had to be made, and I relied upon Lee's not seeing my
danger as I saw it. Besides we had armies on both sides of the James
River and not far from the Confederate capital. I knew that its safety
would be a matter of the first consideration with the executive,
legislative and judicial branches of the so-called Confederate
government, if it was not with the military commanders. But I took all
the precaution I knew of to guard against all dangers.
Sheridan was sent with two divisions, to communicate with Hunter and to
break up the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal, on the
7th of June, taking instructions to Hunter to come back with him (*35).
Hunter was also informed by way of Washington and the Valley that
Sheridan was on the way to meet him. The canal and Central Road, and
the regions penetrated by them, were of vast importance to the enemy,
furnishing and carrying a large per cent. of all the supplies for the
Army of Northern Virginia and the people of Richmond. Before Sheridan
got off on the 7th news was received from Hunter reporting his advance
to Staunton and successful engagement with the enemy near that place on
the 5th, in which the Confederate commander, W. S. Jones, was killed.
On the 4th of June the enemy having withdrawn his left corps, Burnside
on our right was moved up between Warren and Smith. On the 5th Birney
returned to Hancock, which extended his left now to the Chickahominy,
and Warren was withdrawn to Cold Harbor. Wright was directed to send
two divisions to the left to extend down the banks of that stream to
Bottom's Bridge. The cavalry extended still farther east to Jones's
On the 7th Abercrombie--who was in command at White House, and who had
been in command at our base of supplies in all the changes made from the
start--was ordered to take up the iron from the York River Railroad and
put it on boats, and to be in readiness to move by water to City Point.
On the 8th Meade was directed to fortify a line down the bank
overlooking the Chickahominy, under cover of which the army could move.
On the 9th Abercrombie was directed to send all organized troops
arriving at White House, without debarking from their transports, to
report to Butler. Halleck was at this time instructed to send all
reinforcements to City Point.
On the 11th I wrote:
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 11, 1864.
MAJOR-GEN. B. F. BUTLER, Commanding Department of Va. and N. C.
The movement to transfer this army to the south side of the James River
will commence after dark to-morrow night. Col. Comstock, of my staff,
was sent specially to ascertain what was necessary to make your position
secure in the interval during which the enemy might use most of his
force against you, and also, to ascertain what point on the river we
should reach to effect a crossing if it should not be practicable to
reach this side of the river at Bermuda Hundred. Colonel Comstock has
not yet returned, so that I cannot make instructions as definite as I
would wish, but the time between this and Sunday night being so short in
which to get word to you, I must do the best I can. Colonel Dent goes
to the Chickahominy to take to you the 18th corps. The corps will leave
its position in the trenches as early in the evening, tomorrow, as
possible, and make a forced march to Cole's Landing or Ferry, where it
should reach by ten A.M. the following morning. This corps numbers now
15,300 men. They take with them neither wagons nor artillery; these
latter marching with the balance of the army to the James River. The
remainder of the army will cross the Chickahominy at Long Bridge and at
Jones's, and strike the river at the most practicable crossing below
I directed several days ago that all reinforcements for the army should
be sent to you. I am not advised of the number that may have gone, but
suppose you have received from six to ten thousand. General Smith will
also reach you as soon as the enemy could, going by the way of Richmond.
The balance of the force will not be more than one day behind, unless
detained by the whole of Lee's army, in which case you will be strong
I wish you would direct the proper staff officers, your chief-engineer
and your chief-quartermaster, to commence at once the collection of all
the means in their reach for crossing the army on its arrival. If there
is a point below City Point where a pontoon bridge can be thrown, have
Expecting the arrival of the 18th corps by Monday night, if you deem it
practicable from the force you have to seize and hold Petersburg, you
may prepare to start, on the arrival of troops to hold your present
lines. I do not want Petersburg visited, however, unless it is held,
nor an attempt to take it, unless you feel a reasonable degree of
confidence of success. If you should go there, I think troops should
take nothing with them except what they can carry, depending upon
supplies being sent after the place is secured. If Colonel Dent should
not succeed in securing the requisite amount of transportation for the
18th corps before reaching you, please have the balance supplied.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
P. S.--On reflection I will send the 18th corps by way of White House.
The distance which they will have to march will be enough shorter to
enable them to reach you about the same time, and the uncertainty of
navigation on the Chickahominy will be avoided.
U. S. GRANT.
COLD HARBOR, VA., June 11,1864.
MAJOR-GENERAL G. G. MEADE, Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Colonel Comstock, who visited the James River for the purpose of
ascertaining the best point below Bermuda Hundred to which to march the
army has not yet returned. It is now getting so late, however, that all
preparations may be made for the move to-morrow night without waiting
The movement will be made as heretofore agreed upon, that is, the 18th
corps make a rapid march with the infantry alone, their wagons and
artillery accompanying the balance of the army to Cole's Landing or
Ferry, and there embark for City Point, losing no time for rest until
they reach the latter point.
The 5th corps will seize Long Bridge and move out on the Long Bridge
Road to its junction with Quaker Road, or until stopped by the enemy.
The other three corps will follow in such order as you may direct, one
of them crossing at Long Bridge, and two at Jones's Bridge. After the
crossing is effected, the most practicable roads will be taken to reach
about Fort Powhattan. Of course, this is supposing the enemy makes no
opposition to our advance. The 5th corps, after securing the passage of
the balance of the army, will join or follow in rear of the corps which
crosses the same bridge with themselves. The wagon trains should be
kept well east of the troops, and if a crossing can be found, or made
lower down than Jones's they should take it.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
P. S.--In view of the long march to reach Cole's Landing, and the
uncertainty of being able to embark a large number of men there, the
direction of the 18th corps may be changed to White House. They should
be directed to load up transports, and start them as fast as loaded
without waiting for the whole corps or even whole divisions to go
U. S. GRANT.
About this time word was received (through the Richmond papers of the
11th) that Crook and Averell had united and were moving east. This,
with the news of Hunter's successful engagement near Staunton, was no
doubt known to Lee before it was to me. Then Sheridan leaving with two
divisions of cavalry, looked indeed threatening, both to Lee's
communications and supplies. Much of his cavalry was sent after
Sheridan, and Early with Ewell's entire corps was sent to the Valley.
Supplies were growing scarce in Richmond, and the sources from which to
draw them were in our hands. People from outside began to pour into
Richmond to help eat up the little on hand. Consternation reigned
On the 12th Smith was ordered to move at night to White House, not to
stop until he reached there, and to take boats at once for City Point,
leaving his trains and artillery to move by land.
Soon after dark some of the cavalry at Long Bridge effected a crossing
by wading and floundering through the water and mud, leaving their
horses behind, and drove away the cavalry pickets. A pontoon bridge was
speedily thrown across, over which the remainder of the army soon passed
and pushed out for a mile or two to watch and detain any advance that
might be made from the other side. Warren followed the cavalry, and by
the morning of the 13th had his whole corps over. Hancock followed
Warren. Burnside took the road to Jones's Bridge, followed by Wright.
Ferrero's division, with the wagon train, moved farther east, by Window
Shades and Cole's Ferry, our rear being covered by cavalry.
It was known that the enemy had some gunboats at Richmond. These might
run down at night and inflict great damage upon us before they could be
sunk or captured by our navy. General Butler had, in advance, loaded
some vessels with stone ready to be sunk so as to obstruct the channel
in an emergency. On the 13th I sent orders to have these sunk as high
up the river as we could guard them, and prevent their removal by the
As soon as Warren's corps was over the Chickahominy it marched out and
joined the cavalry in holding the roads from Richmond while the army
passed. No attempt was made by the enemy to impede our march, however,
but Warren and Wilson reported the enemy strongly fortified in their
front. By the evening of the 13th Hancock's corps was at Charles City
Court House on the James River. Burnside's and Wright's corps were on
the Chickahominy, and crossed during the night, Warren's corps and the
cavalry still covering the army. The material for a pontoon bridge was
already at hand and the work of laying it was commenced immediately,
under the superintendence of Brigadier-General Benham, commanding the
engineer brigade. On the evening of the 14th the crossing commenced,
Hancock in advance, using both the bridge and boats.
When the Wilderness campaign commenced the Army of the Potomac,
including Burnside's--which was a separate command until the 24th of May
when it was incorporated with the main army--numbered about 116,000 men.
During the progress of the campaign about 40,000 reinforcements were
received. At the crossing of the James River June 14th-15th the army
numbered about 115,000. Besides the ordinary losses incident to a
campaign of six weeks' nearly constant fighting or skirmishing, about
one-half of the artillery was sent back to Washington, and many men were
discharged by reason of the expiration of their term of service.* In
estimating our strength every enlisted man and every commissioned
officer present is included, no matter how employed; in bands, sick in
field hospitals, hospital attendants, company cooks and all. Operating
in an enemy's country, and being supplied always from a distant base,
large detachments had at all times to be sent from the front, not only
to guard the base of supplies and the roads to it, but all the roads
leading to our flanks and rear. We were also operating in a country
unknown to us, and without competent guides or maps showing the roads
The manner of estimating numbers in the two armies differs materially.
In the Confederate army often only bayonets are taken into account,
never, I believe, do they estimate more than are handling the guns of
the artillery and armed with muskets (*36) or carbines. Generally the
latter are far enough away to be excluded from the count in any one
field. Officers and details of enlisted men are not included. In the
Northern armies the estimate is most liberal, taking in all connected
with the army and drawing pay.
Estimated in the same manner as ours, Lee had not less than 80,000 men
at the start. His reinforcements were about equal to ours during the
campaign, deducting the discharged men and those sent back. He was on
the defensive, and in a country in which every stream, every road, every
obstacle to the movement of troops and every natural defence was
familiar to him and his army. The citizens were all friendly to him and
his cause, and could and did furnish him with accurate reports of our
every move. Rear guards were not necessary for him, and having always a
railroad at his back, large wagon trains were not required. All
circumstances considered we did not have any advantage in numbers.
General Lee, who had led the Army of Northern Virginia in all these
contests, was a very highly estimated man in the Confederate army and
States, and filled also a very high place in the estimation of the
people and press of the Northern States. His praise was sounded
throughout the entire North after every action he was engaged in: the
number of his forces was always lowered and that of the National forces
exaggerated. He was a large, austere man, and I judge difficult of
approach to his subordinates. To be extolled by the entire press of the
South after every engagement, and by a portion of the press North with
equal vehemence, was calculated to give him the entire confidence of his
troops and to make him feared by his antagonists. It was not an
uncommon thing for my staff-officers to hear from Eastern officers,
"Well, Grant has never met Bobby Lee yet." There were good and true
officers who believe now that the Army of Northern Virginia was superior
to the Army of the Potomac man to man. I do not believe so, except as
the advantages spoken of above made them so. Before the end I believe
the difference was the other way. The Army of Northern Virginia became
despondent and saw the end. It did not please them. The National army
saw the same thing, and were encouraged by it.
The advance of the Army of the Potomac reached the James on the 14th of
June. Preparations were at once commenced for laying the pontoon
bridges and crossing the river. As already stated, I had previously
ordered General Butler to have two vessels loaded with stone and carried
up the river to a point above that occupied by our gunboats, where the
channel was narrow, and sunk there so as to obstruct the passage and
prevent Confederate gunboats from coming down the river. Butler had had
these boats filled and put in position, but had not had them sunk before
my arrival. I ordered this done, and also directed that he should turn
over all material and boats not then in use in the river to be used in
ferrying the troops across.
I then, on the 14th, took a steamer and ran up to Bermuda Hundred to see
General Butler for the purpose of directing a movement against
Petersburg, while our troops of the Army of the Potomac were crossing.
I had sent General W. F. Smith back from Cold Harbor by the way of White
House, thence on steamers to City Point for the purpose of giving
General Butler more troops with which to accomplish this result.
General Butler was ordered to send Smith with his troops reinforced, as
far as that could be conveniently done, from other parts of the Army of
the James. He gave Smith about six thousand reinforcements, including
some twenty-five hundred cavalry under Kautz, and about thirty-five
hundred colored infantry under Hinks.
The distance which Smith had to move to reach the enemy's lines was
about six miles, and the Confederate advance line of works was but two
miles outside of Petersburg. Smith was to move under cover of night, up
close to the enemy's works, and assault as soon as he could after
daylight. I believed then, and still believe, that Petersburg could
have been easily captured at that time. It only had about 2,500 men in
the defences besides some irregular troops, consisting of citizens and
employees in the city who took up arms in case of emergency. Smith
started as proposed, but his advance encountered a rebel force
intrenched between City Point and their lines outside of Petersburg.
This position he carried, with some loss to the enemy; but there was so
much delay that it was daylight before his troops really got off from
there. While there I informed General Butler that Hancock's corps would
cross the river and move to Petersburg to support Smith in case the
latter was successful, and that I could reinforce there more rapidly
than Lee could reinforce from his position.
I returned down the river to where the troops of the Army of the Potomac
now were, communicated to General Meade, in writing, the directions I
had given to General Butler and directed him (Meade) to cross Hancock's
corps over under cover of night, and push them forward in the morning to
Petersburg; halting them, however, at a designated point until they
could hear from Smith. I also informed General Meade that I had ordered
rations from Bermuda Hundred for Hancock's corps, and desired him to
issue them speedily, and to lose no more time than was absolutely
necessary. The rations did not reach him, however, and Hancock, while
he got all his corps over during the night, remained until half-past ten
in the hope of receiving them. He then moved without them, and on the
road received a note from General W. F. Smith, asking him to come on.
This seems to be the first information that General Hancock had received
of the fact that he was to go to Petersburg, or that anything particular
was expected of him. Otherwise he would have been there by four o'clock
in the afternoon.
Smith arrived in front of the enemy's lines early in the forenoon of the
15th, and spent the day until after seven o'clock in the evening in
reconnoitering what appeared to be empty works. The enemy's line
consisted of redans occupying commanding positions, with rifle-pits
connecting them. To the east side of Petersburg, from the Appomattox
back, there were thirteen of these redans extending a distance of
several miles, probably three. If they had been properly manned they
could have held out against any force that could have attacked them, at
least until reinforcements could have got up from the north of Richmond.
Smith assaulted with the colored troops, and with success. By nine
o'clock at night he was in possession of five of these redans and, of
course, of the connecting lines of rifle-pits. All of them contained
artillery, which fell into our hands. Hancock came up and proposed to
take any part assigned to him; and Smith asked him to relieve his men
who were in the trenches.
Next morning, the 16th, Hancock himself was in command, and captured
another redan. Meade came up in the afternoon and succeeded Hancock,
who had to be relieved, temporarily, from the command of his corps on
account of the breaking out afresh of the wound he had received at
Gettysburg. During the day Meade assaulted and carried one more redan
to his right and two to his left. In all this we lost very heavily.
The works were not strongly manned, but they all had guns in them which
fell into our hands, together with the men who were handling them in the
effort to repel these assaults.
Up to this time Beauregard, who had commanded south of Richmond, had
received no reinforcements, except Hoke's division from Drury's
Bluff,(*37) which had arrived on the morning of the 16th; though he had
urged the authorities very strongly to send them, believing, as he did,
that Petersburg would be a valuable prize which we might seek.
During the 17th the fighting was very severe and the losses heavy; and
at night our troops occupied about the same position they had occupied
in the morning, except that they held a redan which had been captured by
Potter during the day. During the night, however, Beauregard fell back
to the line which had been already selected, and commenced fortifying
it. Our troops advanced on the 18th to the line which he had abandoned,
and found that the Confederate loss had been very severe, many of the
enemy's dead still remaining in the ditches and in front of them.
Colonel J. L. Chamberlain, of the 20th Maine, was wounded on the 18th.
He was gallantly leading his brigade at the time, as he had been in
the habit of doing in all the engagements in which he had previously
been engaged. He had several times been recommended for a
brigadier-generalcy for gallant and meritorious conduct. On this
occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot, and forwarded a copy of
my order to the War Department, asking that my act might be confirmed
and Chamberlain's name sent to the Senate for confirmation without any
delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious officer
received partial justice at the hands of his government, which he had
served so faithfully and so well.
If General Hancock's orders of the 15th had been communicated to him,
that officer, with his usual promptness, would undoubtedly have been
upon the ground around Petersburg as early as four o'clock in the
afternoon of the 15th. The days were long and it would have given him
considerable time before night. I do not think there is any doubt that
Petersburg itself could have been carried without much loss; or, at
least, if protected by inner detached works, that a line could have been
established very much in rear of the one then occupied by the enemy.
This would have given us control of both the Weldon and South Side
railroads. This would also have saved an immense amount of hard
fighting which had to be done from the 15th to the 18th, and would have
given us greatly the advantage in the long siege which ensued.
I now ordered the troops to be put under cover and allowed some of the
rest which they had so long needed. They remained quiet, except that
there was more or less firing every day, until the 22d, when General
Meade ordered an advance towards the Weldon Railroad. We were very
anxious to get to that road, and even round to the South Side Railroad
Meade moved Hancock's corps, now commanded by Birney, to the left, with
a view to at least force the enemy to stay within the limits of his own
line. General Wright, with the 6th corps, was ordered by a road farther
south, to march directly for the Weldon road. The enemy passed in
between these two corps and attacked vigorously, and with very serious
results to the National troops, who were then withdrawn from their
The Army of the Potomac was given the investment of Petersburg, while
the Army of the James held Bermuda Hundred and all the ground we
possessed north of the James River. The 9th corps, Burnside's, was
placed upon the right at Petersburg; the 5th, Warren's, next; the 2d,
Birney's, next; then the 6th, Wright's, broken off to the left and
south. Thus began the siege of Petersburg.
RAID ON THE VIRGINIA CENTRAL RAILROAD--RAID ON THE WELDON RAILROAD
--EARLY 'S MOVEMENT UPON WASHINGTON--MINING THE WORKS BEFORE PETERSBURG
--EXPLOSION OF THE MINE BEFORE PETERSBURG--CAMPAIGN IN THE SHENANDOAH
VALLEY--CAPTURE OF THE WELDON RAILROAD.
On the 7th of June, while at Cold Harbor, I had as already indicated
sent Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry to destroy as much as he
could of the Virginia Central Railroad. General Hunter had been
operating up the Shenandoah Valley with some success, having fought a
battle near Staunton where he captured a great many prisoners, besides
killing and wounding a good many men. After the battle he formed a
junction at Staunton with Averell and Crook, who had come up from the
Kanawha, or Gauley River. It was supposed, therefore, that General
Hunter would be about Charlottesville, Virginia, by the time Sheridan
could get there, doing on the way the damage that he was sent to do.
I gave Sheridan instructions to have Hunter, in case he should meet him
about Charlottesville, join and return with him to the Army of the
Potomac. Lee, hearing of Hunter's success in the valley, started
Breckinridge out for its defence at once. Learning later of Sheridan's
going with two divisions, he also sent Hampton with two divisions of
cavalry, his own and Fitz-Hugh Lee's.
Sheridan moved to the north side of the North Anna to get out west, and
learned of the movement of these troops to the south side of the same
stream almost as soon as they had started. He pushed on to get to
Trevilian Station to commence his destruction at that point. On the
night of the 10th he bivouacked some six or seven miles east of
Trevilian, while Fitz-Hugh Lee was the same night at Trevilian Station
and Hampton but a few miles away.
During the night Hampton ordered an advance on Sheridan, hoping, no
doubt, to surprise and very badly cripple him. Sheridan, however, by a
counter move sent Custer on a rapid march to get between the two
divisions of the enemy and into their rear. This he did successfully, so
that at daylight, when the assault was made, the enemy found himself at
the same time resisted in front and attacked in rear, and broke in some
confusion. The losses were probably very light on both sides in killed
and wounded, but Sheridan got away with some five hundred prisoners and
sent them to City Point.
During that day, the 11th, Sheridan moved into Trevilian Station, and
the following day proceeded to tear up the road east and west. There
was considerable fighting during the whole of the day, but the work of
destruction went on. In the meantime, at night, the enemy had taken
possession of the crossing which Sheridan had proposed to take to go
north when he left Trevilian. Sheridan learned, however, from some of
the prisoners he had captured here, that General Hunter was about
Lynchburg, and therefore that there was no use of his going on to
Charlottesville with a view to meet him.
Sheridan started back during the night of the 12th, and made his way
north and farther east, coming around by the north side of White House,
and arriving there on the 21st. Here he found an abundance of forage
for his animals, food for his men, and security while resting. He had
been obliged to leave about ninety of his own men in the field-hospital
which he had established near Trevilian, and these necessarily fell into
the hands of the enemy.
White House up to this time had been a depot; but now that our troops
were all on the James River, it was no longer wanted as a store of
supplies. Sheridan was, therefore, directed to break it up; which he
did on the 22d of June, bringing the garrison and an immense wagon train
with him. All these were over the James River by the 26th of the month,
and Sheridan ready to follow.
In the meantime Meade had sent Wilson's division on a raid to destroy
the Weldon and South Side roads. Now that Sheridan was safe and Hampton
free to return to Richmond with his cavalry, Wilson's position became
precarious. Meade therefore, on the 27th, ordered Sheridan over the
river to make a demonstration in favor of Wilson. Wilson got back,
though not without severe loss, having struck both roads, but the damage
done was soon repaired.
After these events comparative quiet reigned about Petersburg until late
in July. The time, however, was spent in strengthening the
intrenchments and making our position generally more secure against a
sudden attack. In the meantime I had to look after other portions of my
command, where things had not been going on so favorably, always, as I
could have wished.
General Hunter who had been appointed to succeed Sigel in the Shenandoah
Valley immediately took up the offensive. He met the enemy on the 5th
of June at Piedmont, and defeated him. On the 8th he formed a junction
with Crook and Averell at Staunton, from which place he moved direct on
Lynchburg, via Lexington, which he reached and invested on the 16th. Up
to this time he was very successful; and but for the difficulty of
taking with him sufficient ordnance stores over so long a march, through
a hostile country, he would, no doubt, have captured Lynchburg. The
destruction of the enemy's supplies and manufactories had been very
great. To meet this movement under General Hunter, General Lee sent
Early with his corps, a part of which reached Lynchburg before Hunter.
After some skirmishing on the 17th and 18th, General Hunter, owing to a
want of ammunition to give battle, retired from before the place.
Unfortunately, this want of ammunition left him no choice of route for
his return but by the way of the Gauley and Kanawha rivers, thence up
the Ohio River, returning to Harper's Ferry by way of the Baltimore and
Ohio Railroad. A long time was consumed in making this movement.
Meantime the valley was left open to Early's troops, and others in that
quarter; and Washington also was uncovered. Early took advantage of this
condition of affairs and moved on Washington.
In the absence of Hunter, General Lew Wallace, with headquarters at
Baltimore, commanded the department in which the Shenandoah lay. His
surplus of troops with which to move against the enemy was small in
number. Most of these were raw and, consequently, very much inferior to
our veterans and to the veterans which Early had with him; but the
situation of Washington was precarious, and Wallace moved with
commendable promptitude to meet the enemy at the Monocacy. He could
hardly have expected to defeat him badly, but he hoped to cripple and
delay him until Washington could be put into a state of preparation for
his reception. I had previously ordered General Meade to send a
division to Baltimore for the purpose of adding to the defences of
Washington, and he had sent Ricketts's division of the 6th corps
(Wright's), which arrived in Baltimore on the 8th of July. Finding that
Wallace had gone to the front with his command, Ricketts immediately
took the cars and followed him to the Monocacy with his entire division.
They met the enemy and, as might have been expected, were defeated; but
they succeeded in stopping him for the day on which the battle took
place. The next morning Early started on his march to the capital of
the Nation, arriving before it on the 11th.
Learning of the gravity of the situation I had directed General Meade to
also order Wright with the rest of his corps directly to Washington for
the relief of that place, and the latter reached there the very day that
Early arrived before it. The 19th corps, which had been stationed in
Louisiana, having been ordered up to reinforce the armies about
Richmond, had about this time arrived at Fortress Monroe, on their way
to join us. I diverted them from that point to Washington, which place
they reached, almost simultaneously with Wright, on the 11th. The 19th
corps was commanded by Major-General Emory.
Early made his reconnoissance with a view of attacking on the following
morning, the 12th; but the next morning he found our intrenchments,
which were very strong, fully manned. He at once commenced to retreat,
Wright following. There is no telling how much this result was
contributed to by General Lew Wallace's leading what might well be
considered almost a forlorn hope. If Early had been but one day earlier
he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the
reinforcements I had sent. Whether the delay caused by the battle
amounted to a day or not, General Wallace contributed on this occasion,
by the defeat of the troops under him a greater benefit to the cause
than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render
by means of a victory.
Farther west also the troubles were threatening. Some time before,
Forrest had met Sturgis in command of some of our cavalry in Mississippi
and handled him very roughly, gaining a very great victory over him.
This left Forrest free to go almost where he pleased, and to cut the
roads in rear of Sherman who was then advancing. Sherman was abundantly
able to look after the army that he was immediately with, and all of his
military division so long as he could communicate with it; but it was my
place to see that he had the means with which to hold his rear. Two
divisions under A. J. Smith had been sent to Banks in Louisiana some
months before. Sherman ordered these back, with directions to attack
Forrest. Smith met and defeated him very badly. I then directed that
Smith should hang to Forrest and not let him go; and to prevent by all
means his getting upon the Memphis and Nashville Railroad. Sherman had
anticipated me in this matter, and given the same orders in substance;
but receiving my directions for this order to Smith, he repeated it.
On the 25th of June General Burnside had commenced running a mine from
about the centre of his front under the Confederate works confronting
him. He was induced to do this by Colonel Pleasants, of the
Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose regiment was mostly composed of miners,
and who was himself a practical miner. Burnside had submitted the
scheme to Meade and myself, and we both approved of it, as a means of
keeping the men occupied. His position was very favorable for carrying
on this work, but not so favorable for the operations to follow its
completion. The position of the two lines at that point were only about
a hundred yards apart with a comparatively deep ravine intervening. In
the bottom of this ravine the work commenced. The position was
unfavorable in this particular: that the enemy's line at that point was
re-entering, so that its front was commanded by their own lines both to
the right and left. Then, too, the ground was sloping upward back of
the Confederate line for a considerable distance, and it was presumable
that the enemy had, at least, a detached work on this highest point.
The work progressed, and on the 23d of July the mine was finished ready
for charging; but I had this work of charging deferred until we were
ready for it.
On the 17th of July several deserters came in and said that there was
great consternation in Richmond, and that Lee was coming out to make an
attack upon us the object being to put us on the defensive so that he
might detach troops to go to Georgia where the army Sherman was
operating against was said to be in great trouble. I put the army
commanders, Meade and Butler, on the lookout, but the attack was not
I concluded, then, a few days later, to do something in the way of
offensive movement myself, having in view something of the same object
that Lee had had. Wright's and Emory's corps were in Washington, and
with this reduction of my force Lee might very readily have spared some
troops from the defences to send West. I had other objects in view,
however, besides keeping Lee where he was. The mine was constructed and
ready to be exploded, and I wanted to take that occasion to carry
Petersburg if I could. It was the object, therefore, to get as many of
Lee's troops away from the south side of the James River as possible.
Accordingly, on the 26th, we commenced a movement with Hancock's corps
and Sheridan's cavalry to the north side by the way of Deep Bottom,
where Butler had a pontoon bridge laid. The plan, in the main, was to
let the cavalry cut loose and, joining with Kautz's cavalry of the Army
of the James, get by Lee's lines and destroy as much as they could of
the Virginia Central Railroad, while, in the mean time, the infantry was
to move out so as to protect their rear and cover their retreat back
when they should have got through with their work. We were successful
in drawing the enemy's troops to the north side of the James as I
expected. The mine was ordered to be charged, and the morning of the
30th of July was the time fixed for its explosion. I gave Meade minute
orders (*38) on the 24th directing how I wanted the assault conducted,
which orders he amplified into general instructions for the guidance of
the troops that were to be engaged.
Meade's instructions, which I, of course, approved most heartily, were
all that I can see now was necessary. The only further precaution which
he could have taken, and which he could not foresee, would have been to
have different men to execute them.
The gallery to the mine was over five hundred feet long from where it
entered the ground to the point where it was under the enemy's works,
and with a cross gallery of something over eighty feet running under
their lines. Eight chambers had been left, requiring a ton of powder
each to charge them. All was ready by the time I had prescribed; and on
the 29th Hancock and Sheridan were brought back near the James River
with their troops. Under cover of night they started to recross the
bridge at Deep Bottom, and to march directly for that part of our lines
in front of the mine.
Warren was to hold his line of intrenchments with a sufficient number of
men and concentrate the balance on the right next to Burnside's corps,
while Ord, now commanding the 18th corps, temporarily under Meade, was
to form in the rear of Burnside to support him when he went in. All
were to clear off the parapets and the _abatis_ in their front so as to
leave the space as open as possible, and be able to charge the moment
the mine had been sprung and Burnside had taken possession. Burnside's
corps was not to stop in the crater at all but push on to the top of the
hill, supported on the right and left by Ord's and Warren's corps.
Warren and Ord fulfilled their instructions perfectly so far as making
ready was concerned. Burnside seemed to have paid no attention whatever
to the instructions, and left all the obstruction in his own front for
his troops to get over in the best way they could. The four divisions
of his corps were commanded by Generals Potter, Willcox, Ledlie and
Ferrero. The last was a colored division; and Burnside selected it to
make the assault. Meade interfered with this. Burnside then took
Ledlie's division--a worse selection than the first could have been. In
fact, Potter and Willcox were the only division commanders Burnside had
who were equal to the occasion. Ledlie besides being otherwise
inefficient, proved also to possess disqualification less common among
There was some delay about the explosion of the mine so that it did not
go off until about five o'clock in the morning. When it did explode it
was very successful, making a crater twenty feet deep and something like
a hundred feet in length. Instantly one hundred and ten cannon and
fifty mortars, which had been placed in the most commanding positions
covering the ground to the right and left of where the troops were to
enter the enemy's lines, commenced playing. Ledlie's division marched
into the crater immediately on the explosion, but most of the men
stopped there in the absence of any one to give directions; their
commander having found some safe retreat to get into before they
started. There was some delay on the left and right in advancing, but
some of the troops did get in and turn to the right and left, carrying
the rifle-pits as I expected they would do.
There had been great consternation in Petersburg, as we were well aware,
about a rumored mine that we were going to explode. They knew we were
mining, and they had failed to cut our mine off by countermining, though
Beauregard had taken the precaution to run up a line of intrenchments to
the rear of that part of their line fronting where they could see that
our men were at work. We had learned through deserters who had come in
that the people had very wild rumors about what was going on on our
side. They said that we had undermined the whole of Petersburg; that
they were resting upon a slumbering volcano and did not know at what
moment they might expect an eruption. I somewhat based my calculations
upon this state of feeling, and expected that when the mine was exploded
the troops to the right and left would flee in all directions, and that
our troops, if they moved promptly, could get in and strengthen
themselves before the enemy had come to a realization of the true
situation. It was just as I expected it would be. We could see the men
running without any apparent object except to get away. It was half an
hour before musketry firing, to amount to anything, was opened upon our
men in the crater. It was an hour before the enemy got artillery up to
play upon them; and it was nine o'clock before Lee got up reinforcements
from his right to join in expelling our troops.
The effort was a stupendous failure. It cost us about four thousand
men, mostly, however, captured; and all due to inefficiency on the part
of the corps commander and the incompetency of the division commander
who was sent to lead the assault.
After being fully assured of the failure of the mine, and finding that
most of that part of Lee's army which had been drawn north of the James
River were still there, I gave Meade directions to send a corps of
infantry and the cavalry next morning, before Lee could get his forces
back, to destroy fifteen or twenty miles of the Weldon Railroad. But
misfortunes never come singly. I learned during that same afternoon
that Wright's pursuit of Early was feeble because of the constant and
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