hoped to get into its rear; but night came on before he was ready; and, so imminent seemed the danger on this flank, that Lee
five of his eight remaining divisions across the James
to avert it, affording the opportunity which Grant
's corps held a position directly in front of Petersburg
, including a point where our lines, owing to the nature of the ground, had been pushed up to within 150 yards of the enemy's, where a fort projected beyond their average front.
Under this fort, a mine had been run from a convenient ravine or hollow within our lines, which was entirely screened from the enemy's observation; and this mine would seem to have been completed not only without counter-mining by the Rebels
, but without being even suspected by them; though a report of its existence (probably founded on the story of some deserter or prisoner) was printed in one of the Richmond
All being ready, the morning of July 30th was fixed for springing the mine; which was to be instantly followed, of course, by the opening of our guns all along the front, and by an assault at the chasm opened in the enemy's defenses by the explosion.
It was calculated that, if a crest barely 400 yards behind the doomed fort could be gained and held, Petersburg
must fall, with heavy loss to its defenders.
The mine was to be fired at 3 1/2 A. M.; when the match was duly applied, but no explosion followed.
After a considerable pause, Lt. Jacob Douty
and Sergt. Henry Rees
, of the 48th Pa., ventured into the gallery, detecting and removing the cause of failure.
And now, at 4 3/4 A. M.--the fuse having been relighted — the explosion took place; hoisting the fort into the air, annihilating its garrison of 300 men, and leaving in its stead a gigantic hollow or crater of loose earth, 150 feet long by some 60 wide and 25 to 30 deep.
Instantly, our guns opened all along the front; and the astounded enemy may well have supposed them the thunders of doom.
But it was indispensable to success that a column of assault should rush forward instantly and resolutely, so as to clear the chasm and gain the crest before the foe should recover from his surprise; and, on this vital point, failure had already been secured.
The 9th corps, as then constituted, was not that from which any commanding general would have selected a storming party; yet, because it was Burnside
's mine, his corps was, without discussion, allowed to furnish the column of assault.
His inspecting officer had reported that, of its four divisions, that composed of Blacks was fittest for this perilous service; but Grant
, discrediting this, had directed that one of the three White
divisions should be chosen.
Thereupon, the leaders of these divisions were allowed to cast lots
to see which of them should go in — or rather, which two of them should stay out — and the lot fell on the 1st, Brig.-Gen. Ledlie
--and no man in the army believed this other than the worst choice of the three.
It need hardly be added that no preparation had been made during the night preceding the explosion, by quietly removing (or opening paths through) the abatis, &c., which protected our front from sudden dashes