General Grant on the Wilderness campaign.
Extract from his report as Lieutenant-General, dated July 22d, 1865.
The movement of the Army of the Potomac commenced early on the morning of the 4th of May, under the immediate direction and orders of Major-General Meade
, pursuant to instructions.
Before night, the whole army was across the Rapidan
(the Fifth and Sixth corps crossing at Germanna Ford, and the Second Corps at Ely's Ford, the cavalry, under Major-General Sheridan
, moving in advance), with the greater part of its trains, numbering about four thousand wagons, meeting with but slight opposition.
The average distance traveled by the troops that day was about twelve miles. This I regarded as a great success, and it removed from my mind the most serious apprehensions I had entertained: that of crossing the river in the face of an active, large, well-appointed, and ably commanded army, and how so large a train was to be carried through a hostile country and protected.
Early on the 5th the advance corps (the Fifth, Major-General G. K. Warren
commanding) met and engaged the enemy outside his intrenchments near Mine Run
The battle raged furiously all day, the whole army being brought into the fight as fast as the corps could be got upon the field, which, considering the density of the forest and narrowness of the roads, was done with commendable promptness.
, with the Ninth Corps, was, at the time the Army of the Potomac moved, left with the bulk of his corps at the crossing of the Rappahannock River
and Alexandria Railroad, holding the road back to Bull Run
, with instructions not to move until he received notice that a crossing of the Rapidan
was secured, but to move promptly as soon as such notice was received.
This crossing he was apprised of on the afternoon of the 4th.
By 6 o'clock of the morning of the 6th he was leading his corps into action near the Wilderness Tavern
, some of his troops having marched a distance of over thirty miles, crossing both the Rappahannock
and Rapidan rivers
Considering that a large proportion, probably two-thirds of his command, was composed of new troops, unaccustomed to marches and carrying the accouterments of a soldier, this was a remarkable march.
The battle of the Wilderness
was renewed by us at 5 o'clock on the morning of the 6th, and continued with unabated fury until darkness set in, each army holding substantially the same position that they had on the evening of the 5th.
After dark, the enemy made a feeble attempt to turn our right flank, capturing several hundred prisoners and creating considerable confusion.
But the promptness of General Sedgwick
, who was personally present and commanded that part of our line, soon re-formed it and restored order.
On the morning of the 7th reconnoissances showed that the enemy had fallen behind his intrenched lines, with pickets to the front, covering a part of the battle-field.
From this it was evident to my mind that the two days fighting had satisfied him of his inability to further maintain the contest in
the open field, notwithstanding his advantage of position, and that he would wait an attack behind his works.
I therefore determined to push on and put my whole force between him and Richmond
; and orders were at once issued for a movement by his right flank.
On the night of the 7th the march was commenced toward Spotsylvania Court House, the Fifth Corps moving on the most direct road.
But the enemy, having become apprised of our movement and having the shorter line, was enabled to reach there first.
On the 8th General Warren
met a force of the enemy, which had been sent out to oppose and delay his advance to gain time to fortify the line taken up at Spotsylvania
This force was steadily driven back on the main force, within the recently constructed works, after considerable fighting, resulting in severe loss to both sides.
On the morning of the 9th General Sheridan
started on a raid against the enemy's lines of communication with Richmond
The 9th, 10th, and 11th were spent in manoeuvring and fighting, without decisive results.
Among the killed on the 9th was that able and distinguished soldier Major-General John Sedgwick
, commanding the Sixth Army Corps. Major-General H. G. Wright
succeeded him in command.
Early on the morning of the 12th a general attack was made on the enemy in position.
The Second Corps, Major-General Hancock
commanding, carried a salient of his line, capturing most of [Edward] Johnson
's division of Ewell
's corps and twenty pieces of artillery.
But the resistance was so obstinate that the advantage gained did not prove decisive.
The 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th were consumed in manoeuvring and awaiting the arrival of reenforcements from Washington
Deeming it impracticable to make any further attack upon the enemy at Spotsylvania Court House, orders were issued on the 18th with a view to a movement to the North Anna
, to commence at 12 o'clock on the night of the 19th.
Late in the afternoon of the 19th, Ewell
's corps came out of its works on our extreme right flank; but the attack was promptly repulsed with heavy loss.
This delayed the movement to the North Anna
until the night of the 21st, when it was commenced.
But the enemy, again having the shorter line and being in possession of the main roads, was enabled to reach the North Anna
in advance of us, and took position behindit.
The Fifth Corps reached the North Anna
on the afternoon of the 23d, closely followed by the Sixth Corps.
The Second and Ninth corps got up about the same time, the Second holding the railroad bridge, and the Ninth lying between that and Jericho Ford.
effected a crossing the same afternoon, and got a position without he was violently attacked, but repulsed the enemy with great slaughter.
On the 25th General Sheridan
rejoined the Army of the Potomac from the raid on which he started from Spotsylvania
, having destroyed the depots at Beaver Dam
stations, four trains of cars, large supplies of rations, and many miles of railroad-track; recaptured about four hundred of our men on their way to Richmond
as prisoners of war; met and defeated the enemy's cavalry at Yellow Tavern
; carried the first line of works around Richmond
(but finding the second line too strong to be carried by assault), recrossed to the north bank of the Chickahominy
at Meadow Bridge
under heavy fire, and moved by a detour to Haxall's Landing, on the James River
, where he communicated with General Butler
This raid had the effect of drawing off the whole of the enemy's cavalry force, making it comparatively easy to guard our trains.
moved his main force up the James River
, in pursuance of instructions, on the 4th of May, General Gillmore
having joined him with the Tenth Corps.
At the same time he sent a force of 1800 cavalry, by way of West Point
, to form a junction with him wherever he might get a foothold, and a force of 3000 cavalry, under General Kautz
, from Suffolk
, to operate against the road south of Petersburg
On the 5th he occupied, without opposition, both City Point
and Bermuda Hundred
, his movement being a complete surprise.
On the 6th he was in position with his main army, and commenced intrenching.
On the 7th he made a reconnoissance against the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, destroying a portion of it after some fighting.
On the 9th he telegraphed as follows:
On the evening of the 13th and morning of the 14th he carried a portion of the enemy's first line of defenses at Drewry's Bluff
, or Fort Darling
, with small loss.
The time thus consumed from the 6th lost to us the benefit of the surprise and capture of Richmond
, enabling, as it did, Beauregard
to collect his loose forces in North
and South Carolina
, and bring them to the defense of those places.
On the 16th, the enemy attacked General Butler
in his position in front of Drewry's Bluff
He was forced back, or drew back, into his intrenchments between the forks of the James
and Appomattox rivers
, the enemy intrenching strongly in his front, thus covering his railroads, the city, and all that was valuable to him. His army, there-fore, though in a position of great security, was as completely shut off from further operations directly against Richmond
as if it had been in a bottle strongly corked.
It required but a comparatively small force of the enemy to hold it there.
On the 12th General Kautz
, with his cavalry, was started on a raid against the Danville Railroad, which he struck at Coalfield
, Powhatan, and Chula stations, destroying them, the railroad track, two freight trains, and one locomotive, together with large quantities of commissary and other stores; thence, crossing to the South Side Road
, struck it at Wilson
, and Black's
and White's stations
, destroying the road and station-houses; thence he proceeded to City Point
, which he reached on the 18th.
On the 19th of April, and prior to the movement of General Butler
, the enemy, with a land force under General Hoke
and an iron-clad ram, attacked Plymouth, N. C.
, commanded by General H. W. Wessells
, and our gun-boats there; and, after severe fighting, the place was carried by assault, and the entire garrison and armament captured.
The gun-boat Smithfield
was sunk, and the Miami
The army sent to operate against Richmond
having hermetically sealed itself up at Bermuda Hundred
, the enemy was enabled to bring the most, if not all, the reenforcements brought from the South
against the Army of the Potomac.
In addition to this reenforeement, a very considerable one, probably not less than fifteen thousand men, was obtained by calling in the scattered troops under Breckinridge
from the western part of Virginia
The position of Bermuda Hundred
was as easy to defend as it was difficult to operate from against the enemy.
I determined, therefore, to bring from it all available forces, leaving enough only to secure what had been gained; and accordingly, on the 22d, I directed that they be sent forward, under command of Major-General W. F. Smith
, to join the Army of the Potomac.
On the 24th of May the Ninth Army Corps, commanded by Major-General A. E. Burnside
, was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, and from this time forward constituted a portion of Major-General Meade
Finding the enemy's position on the North Anna
stronger than either of his previous ones, I withdrew on the night of the 26th to the north bank of the North Anna
, and moved via Hanover Town to turn the enemy's position by his right.
's and Merritt
's divisions of cavalry, under Sheridan
, and the Sixth Corps led the advance; crossed the Pamunkey River
at Hanover Town, after considerable fighting, and on the 28th the two divisions of cavalry had a severe but successful engagement with the enemy at Hawes's Shop.
On the 29th and 30th we advanced, with heavy skirmishing, to the Hanover Court House and Cold Harbor road, and developed the enemy's position north of the Chickahominy
Late on the evening of the last day the enemy came out and attacked our left, but was repulsed with very considerable loss.
An attack was immediately ordered by General Meade
, along his whole line, which resulted in driving the enemy from a part of his intrenched skirmish line.
On the 31st General Wilson
's division of cavalry destroyed the railroad bridges over the South Anna River
, after defeating the enemy's cavalry.
, on the same day, reached Cold Harbor, and held it until relieved by the Sixth Corps and General Smith
The Wilderness Tavern.
From a photograph taken in 1884.|
Brass Coehorns in use at Cold Harbor.
From a War-time sketch.|
which had just arrived, via White House
, from General Butler
On the first day of June an attack was made at 5 P. M. by the Sixth Corps and the troops under General Smith
, the other corps being held in readiness to advance on the receipt of orders.
This resulted in our carrying and holding the enemy's first line of works in front of the right of the Sixth Corps, and in front of General Smith
During the attack the enemy made repeated assaults on each of the corps not engaged in the main attack, but was repulsed with heavy loss in every instance.
That night he made several assaults to regain what he had lost in the day, but failed.
The 2d was spent in getting troops into position for an attack on the 3d.
On the 3d of June we again assaulted the enemy's work, in the hope of driving him from his position.
In this attempt our loss was heavy, while that of the enemy, I have reason to believe, was comparatively light.
It was the only general attack made from the Rapidan
to the James
which did not inflict upon the enemy losses to compensate for our own losses.
I would not be understood as saying that all previous attacks resulted in victories to our arms, or accomplished as much as I had hoped from them; but they inflicted upon the enemy severe losses, which tended, in the end, to the complete overthrow of the rebellion.
From the proximity of the enemy to his defenses around Richmond
, it was impossible by any flank movement to interpose between him and the city.
I was still in a condition either to move by his left flank, and invest Richmond
from the north side, or continue my move by his right flank to the south side of the James
While the former might have been better as a covering for Washington
, yet a full survey of all the ground satisfied me that it would be impracticable to hold a line north and east of Richmond
that would protect the Fredericksburg Railroad, a long, vulnerable line, which would exhaust much of our strength to guard, and that would have to be protected to supply the army, and would leave open to the enemy all his lines of communication on the south side of the James
My idea, from the start, had been to beat Lee
's army north of Richmond
, if possible; then, after destroying his lines of communication north of the James River
, to transfer the army to the south side, and besiege Lee
, or follow him south if he should retreat.
After the battle of the Wilderness
, it was evident that the enemy deemed it of the first importance to run no risks with the army he then had. He acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them, and where, in case of repulse, he could easily retire behind them.
Without a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make, all could not be accomplished that I had designed north of Richmond
I therefore determined to continue to hold substantially the ground we then occupied, taking advantage of any favorable circumstances that might present themselves, until the cavalry could be sent to Charlottesville
to effectually break up the railroad connection between Richmond
and the Shenandoah Valley and Lynch-burg; and when the cavalry got well off, to move the army to the south side of the James River
, by the enemy's right flank, where I felt I could cut off all his sources of supply, except by the canal.
On the 7th, two divisions of cavalry, under General Sheridan
, got off on the expedition against the Virginia Central Railroad, with instructions to Hunter
, whom I hoped he would meet near Charlottesville
, to join his forces to Sheridan
's; and after the work laid out for them was thoroughly done, to join the Army of the Potomac by the route laid down in Sheridan
On the 10th of June General Butler
sent a force of infantry under General Gillmore
, and of cavalry under General Kautz
, to capture Petersburg
possible, and destroy the railroad and common bridges across the Appomattox
The cavalry carried the works on the south side, and penetrated well in toward the town, but were forced to retire.
, finding the works which he approached very strong, and deeming an assault impracticable, returned to Bermuda Hundred
without attempting one.
Attaching great importance to the possession of Petersburg
I sent back to Bermuda Hundred
and City Point General Smith
's command by water via the White House
, to reach there in advance of the Army of the Potomac.
This was for the express purpose of securing Petersburg
before the enemy, becoming aware of our intention, could reenforce the place.
The movement from Cold Harbor commenced after dark on the evening of the 12th. One division of cavalry, under General Wilson
, and the Fifth Corps crossed the Chickahominy
at Long Bridge
, and moved out to White Oak Swamp
, to cover the crossings of the other corps.
The advance corps reached James River
, at Wilcox's Landing and Charles City Court House, on the night of the 13th.
During three long years the armies of the Potomac
and Northern Virginia
had been confronting each other.
In that time they had fought more desperate battles than it probably ever before fell to the lot of two armies to fight, without materially changing the vantage-ground of either.
The Southern press and people, with more shrewdness than was displayed in the North
, finding that they had failed to capture Washington
and march on to New York, as they had boasted they would do, assumed that they only defended their capital and Southern territory.
, and all the other battles that had been fought were by them set down as failures on our part and victories for them.
Their army believed this.
It produced a morale
which could only be overcome by desperate and continuous hard fighting.
The battles of the Wilderness
, North Anna
, and Cold Harbor, bloody and terrible as they were on our side, were even more damaging to the enemy, and so crippled him as to make him wary ever after of taking the offensive.
His losses in men were probably not so great, owing to the fact that we were, save in the Wilderness
, almost invariably the attacking party; and when he did attack, it was in the open field.
The details of these battles, which for endurance and bravery on the part of the soldiery have rarely been surpassed, are given in the report of Major-General Meade
and the subordinate reports accompanying it.
During the campaign of forty-three days, from the Rapidan
to the James River
, the army had to be supplied from an ever-shifting base, by wagons, over narrow roads, through a densely wooded country, with a lack of wharves at each new base from which to conveniently discharge vessels.
Too much credit cannot therefore be awarded to the quartermaster and commissary departments for the
Mansion and grounds on Marye's Hill: this sketch is from a photograph taken during the Wilderness campaign when the mansion and grounds were filled with Union wounded.
The portico faces Fredericksburg, and a few paces in front of it the Hill drops abruptly to the sunken telegraph road and stone wall.|
General Grant and staff at Bethesda Church, North of Cold Harbor.
From a War-time photograph.
General Grant is sitting with his back to the smaller tree.|
zeal and efficiency displayed by them.
Under the general supervision of the chief quartermaster
, Brigadier-General R. Ingalls
, the trains were made to occupy all the available roads between the army and our water-base, and but little difficulty was experienced in protecting them.
The movement in the Kanawha and Shenandoah valleys
, under General Sigel
, commenced on the 1st of May. General Crook
, who had the immediate command of the Kanawha
expedition, divided his forces into two columns, giving one, composed of cavalry, to General Averell
They crossed the mountains by separate routes.
struck the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, near Wythe-ville, on the 10th, and, proceeding to New River
, destroyed the road, several important bridges and depots, including New River Bridge, forming a junction with Crook
at Union on the 15th. General Sigel
moved up the Shenandoah Valley, met the enemy at New Market
on the 15th, and, after a severe engagement, was defeated with heavy loss, and retired behind Cedar Creek
Not regarding the operations of General Sigel
as satisfactory, I asked his removal from command, and Major-General Hunter
was appointed to supersede him. His instructions were embraced in the following dispatches to Major-General H. W. Halleck
of the army:
immediately took up the offensive, and, moving up the Shenandoah Valley, met the enemy on the 5th of June at Piedmont
, and, after a battle of ten hours, routed and defeated him, capturing on the field of battle 1500 men, three pieces of artillery, and 300 stand of small-arms.
On the 8th of the same month he formed a junction with Crook
, from which place he moved direct on Lynchburg
, via Lexington
, which place [Lynchburg] he reached and invested on the 16th day of June.
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 that, to the enemy important, point.
The destruction of the enemy's supplies and manufactories was very great.
To meet this movement under General Hunter
, General Lee
sent a force, perhaps equal to a corps, a part of which reached Lynchburg
a short time 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 way of Kanawha
This lost to us the use of his troops for several weeks from the defense of the North
Had General Hunter
moved by way of Charlottesville
, instead of Lexington
, as his instructions contemplated, he would have been in a position to have covered the Shenandoah Valley against the enemy, should the force he met have seemed to endanger it. If it did not, he would have been within easy distance of the James River canal
, on the main line of communication between Lynchburg
and the force sent for its defense.
I have never taken exception to the operations of General Hunter
, and am not now disposed to find fault with him, for I have no doubt he acted within what he conceived to be the spirit of his instructions and the interests of the service.
The promptitude of his movements and his gallantry should entitle him to the commendation of his country.
To return to the Army of the Potomac: The Second Corps commenced crossing the James River
on the morning of the 14th by ferry-boats at Wilcox's Landing.
The laying of the pontoon-bridge was completed about midnight of the 14th, and the crossing of the balance of the army was rapidly pushed forward by both bridge and ferry.
After the crossing had commenced, I proceeded by steamer to Bermuda Hundred
to give the necessary orders for the immediate capture of Petersburg
The instructions to General Butler
were verbal, and were for him to send General Smith
immediately, that night, with all the troops he could give him without sacrificing the position he then held.
I told him that I would return at once to the Army of the Potomac, hasten its crossing, and throw it forward to Petersburg
by divisions as rapidly as it could be done; that we could reenforce our armies more rapidly there than the enemy could bring troops against us. General Smith
got off as directed, and confronted the enemy's pickets near Petersburg
before daylight next morning, but, for some reason that I have never been able to satisfactorily understand, did not get ready to assault his main lines until near sundown.
Then, with a part of his command only, he made the assault, and carried the lines north-east of Petersburg
from the Appomattox River
, for a distance of over two and a half miles, capturing fifteen pieces of artillery and three hundred prisoners. This was about 7 P. M. Between the line thus captured and Petersburg
there were no other works, and there was no evidence that the enemy had reenforced Petersburg
with a single brigade from any source.
The night was clear — the moon shining brightly — and favorable to further operations.
, with two divisions of the Second Corps, reached General Smith
just after dark, and offered the service of these troops as he (Smith
) might wish, waiving rank to the named commander, who he naturally supposed knew best the position of affairs, and what to do with the troops.
But instead of taking these troops and pushing at once into Petersburg
, he requested General Hancock
to relieve a part of his line in the captured works, which was done before midnight.
By the time I arrived the next morning the enemy was in force.
An attack was ordered to be made at 6 o'clock that evening by the troops under Smith
and the Second and Ninth corps.
It required until that time for the Ninth Corps to get up and into position.
The attack was made as ordered, and the fighting continued with but little intermission until 6 o'clock the next morning, and resulted in our carrying the advance and some of the main works of the enemy to the right (our left) of those previously captured by General Smith
, several pieces of artillery, and over four hundred prisoners.
The Fifth Corps having got up, the attacks were renewed and persisted in with great vigor on the 17th and 18th, but only resulted in forcing the enemy into an interior line, from which he could not be dislodged.
The advantages of position gained by us were very great.
The army then proceeded to envelop Petersburg
toward the South Side Railroad, as far as possible without attacking fortifications.