The other guns were to be taken by their proper commanders, when notified, to positions which adequate reconnoissance might indicate as best. Lieutenant-Colonel Cutts, Major Nelson, and Captain Dabney were summoned to accompany yourself and myself, attended by one or two members of each staff, on this reconnoissance. The tour proved laborious and perplexing. The enemy's shipping lay crowded before us; but positions were difficult of access, and a night approach required great care. In consequence, several hours of the night had passed before notice to advance could be given the batteries. In the haste and dark, a mistake occurred also respecting the force for Colonel Brown. This led to additional delay, and I became satisfied the movement was too much hurried and confused for success that night. This judgment was concurred in by all my field officers, and I was happy to find it sanctioned by yourself, so soon as communicated. We therefore resolved to waive further proceeding, and report to General Hill, who kindly acquiesced, though much disappointed, and anticipating failure the next night from the probable disclosure of our movement to, and preparation for it by, the enemy the ensuing day. By the time our force was replaced in position not to be seen from the enemy's balloon, when it should go up in the morning, day had dawned, and no rest or refreshment had yet been taken by men or horses. In the early forenoon of the thirty-first, General Hill having returned to his more comprehensive duties in Petersburg, and committed the expedition to us, you issued instructions for a systematic cooperation on the part of infantry and all, toward success that night, and I sketched and submitted to the artillery officers an exact programme for their proceeding. Colonel Brown was to take to Major Cocks twelve guns, viz., four ten-pounder Parrott rifles, two Napoleons, four twelve-pounder howitzers, and two six-pounders, under Captains Watson and Macon, and Lieutenants Thurmond and Pegram. He was to move by four P. M., so as to approach his position about dusk. Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman was to take to Coggin's Point, on its right, eight twelve-pounder howitzers, under Captains Dance and Joseph Graham, and Lieutenant Griffin. Major Nelson also to take to Coggin's Point, on its left, eight guns, viz., two ten-pounder Parrott rifles, two three-inch rifles, two twelve-pounder howitzers, and two six-pounders, under Captains Huckstep and R. C. M. Page, and Lieutenant Woodruff. Lieutenant-Colonel Cutts, to a point considerably farther on the left, eleven long-range guns, viz., eight Parrott rifles, two three-inch rifles, and one Napoleon, under Captains Lane and Ross, and Lieutenant Robertson. Captain Dabney (Major Lewis not having then arrived to command the heavy battery) to a position still farther back on the left, near Mr. Ruffin's residence, the four large rifles, to be operated by Captain Milledge and himself. The field and company officers assigned each position were directed to make, as carefully as possible, special examinations of their respective localities, and to adjust guide-posts for pointing their guns. By six P. M., the column was in motion, utmost silence being enjoined upon all. Dark came early, and was very intense, by reason of general cloud and rain; yet through this and along the difficult route, the whole moved successfully, under the skilful guidance of patriotic citizens familiar with the region. At midnight the signal gun was to fire. It was, however, half past 12 before all was ready at Coggin's Point, where my own position had been chosen. Then, just after the cry from the enemy's sentries, “All's well!” the fire was ordered, and the whole line instantly pealed forth, in all the terribleness of midnight surprise. Lights were glimmering on shipboard along the entire shore opposite; yet in the river and the camp beyond the stillness of sleep prevailed. To be compelled, resisting outrage, to meet our fellow-men in deadly shock, cannot but be, under any circumstances, painful to a Christian mind. Especially is the trial glorious when we must be slain by, or slay, those who were so lately our countrymen, but who, having trampled upon our rights, now seek to desolate our homes, appropriate our soil, kill off our young men, degrade our women, and subdue us into abject submission to their will, because we claim, under our own government, exemption from their insults and their control. And still more distressing to find it requisite toward contributing to avert the ruin threatened by malignant millions, thus to send the sleeping, however unprepared, to their great account. But painful as it is, just as it is, to snatch life from an assassin, whose arm is uplifted against our best beloved, most sacred is the duty; as such was this attack made, the issue being committed to unerring wisdom. Such considerations imparted a mournful solemnity to the scene, where so many sudden flashes, through thick darkness, and multiplied reverberations startling profound stillness, constituted elements of grandeur rarely combined. Not to give the enemy time to bring to bear against us, in so exposed a position, many of his powerful guns from his boats or his land batteries, I had limited the nearest pieces to twenty rounds each, and those more remote on the right and left to thirty rounds. These were generally fired, making, probably, one thousand shots in all, and the pieces limbered and quietly taken to the rear. When we had been firing about fifteen minutes, large shells began to be returned from the other side, some apparently from gunboats and some from the land, but with scarcely any damage to us. The two guns of Captain Dance, most of all exposed, having been taken down a ravine to the river's edge, within six or eight hundred yards of a number of vessels, were, under admirable
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Foreign accounts of the fight.
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