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Seize Petersburg by a coup-de-main,

and it had certainly succeeded but for an incredible negligence on his own part.

Smith's command reached Bermuda Hundred, where Grant was in person,1 on the evening of the 14th, and being reinforced by Kautz's Division of Cavalry and Hink's Division of Negro Infantry, was at once directed to cross the Appomattox at Point of Rocks, where pontons had been laid, and move rapidly on Petersburg. The passage of the river was effected during the same night, and early on the 15th, Smith advanced in three columns, Kautz with his horsemen covering his left. Now Hancock's entire corps had been ferried to the south side on the night of Smith's arrival at Bermuda Hundred, and might easily have been pushed forward to take part in the assault, but, left in ignorance of the projected coup-de-main, its commander, in obedience to orders, was awaiting rations where he had crossed. Incredible as it may seem, General Meade, the immediate commander of the Army of the Potomac, was left in like ignorance,2 and General Grant, hurrying back to the north side to push forward reinforcements from the corps of Wright and Burnside, found that the army ponton-train had been sent to piece out the wagon-train pontons, which had proved insufficient for the passage of the Chickahominy at Coles' ferry. Thus nearly a day was gained to the handful of brave men defending the lines of Petersburg, and lost to the Army of the Potomac--a curious instance of the uncertain contingencies of war, reminding the military student, with a difference, of the happy chance which saved Zaragoza in the first siege, when Lefebre Desnouettes, “missing the road to the bridge, missed that to victory.”

Smith, pushing forward his columns towards Petersburg early on the morning of the 15th, had scarcely advanced a distance of two [267] miles, when he encountered a hasty line of rifle trenches, held by Graham's light battery and a meagre force of dismounted cavalry — the whole under Dearing, a young brigadier of high and daring spirit and of much experience in war. This position, resolutely held for two hours, was finally carried by the infantry, yet Dearing, retiring slowly with unabashed front, hotly disputing every foot of the advance, so delayed the hostile columns that it was 11 o'clock A. M. before they came upon the heavy line of entrenchments covering the eastern approaches to the town.


1 Grant and His Campaigns, p. 348.

2 Swinton, pp. 499 and 503-506.

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