details of the movement may well be given here, as its results in prisoners and guns, and, above all, in the fresh life imparted to the drooping spirits of the men, were of a magnitude not easy to be overstated.
For a proper appreciation of the character of this action, some description is necessary of Major General William Mahone
, the leader and moving spirit of the occasion.
was a singular illustration of the fact that the Confederate
service, while well calculated to develop the natural native aptitudes of its generals, did not afford all of them full scope for the exercise of the genius thus educed, but kept within narrow limits many high spirits which felt themselves capable of larger responsibilities, or wider fields than the cramped resources of the South
admitted of their undertaking.
He was a man of high personal courage and magnetic presence.
A stern disciplinarian, he was greatly respected by his men, who, in the hour of battle, never fought so well as when under his immediate command.
His frequent selection for the conduct of most delicate and difficult movements proved the high esteem in which he was held by General Lee
He was an officer in whom, it may be said, were blended the strategic qualities of Soult
, and the ardent gallantry of Vandamme.
Closely watching his front at all times, he never failed to strike the enemy whenever an opportunity offered, and his blows were always felt.
When General Grant
, with the intention of more closely enveloping Petersburg
, applied his old maneuvre of extending his left, he moved forward the Second and Sixth Army Corps for the purpose of seizing the Weldon Railroad.
The movement was begun by the Second Corps, which marched to the Federal
left and took position west of the Jerusalem plank road, their right connecting with the Fifth Corps.
This movement at once drew out a strong force of Confederates to confront it, and a slight skirmish was the result.
This happened on the 21st of June.
That same night the Sixth (Federal) Corps moved up in rear of the Second Corps, and on a line parallel with it. It thus happened that when General Birney
, commanding the Second Corps, swung forward his left more closely to envelop the Confederate
works, a gap was created between the Second and Sixth, which widened as the turning movement progressed.
promptly noticed the bad formation of this part of the line, and himself suggested to General Lee
the feasibility of attacking the left flank of Birney
, then thrown well forward in the air. The march of Mahone
's Division to the front was concealed from the enemy by the nature of the ground over which it passed to get into position.
Nor, indeed, was his departure from the works