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[553] decided that Fort Steadman could be taken by a night assault, and that it might be possible to throw into the breach thus made in Grant's lines a sufficient force to disorganize and destroy the left wing of his army before he could recover and concentrate his forces, then lying beyond the James and Appomattox Rivers. Fort Steadman was the point at which the earthworks of General Grant most nearly approached our own. This fort was located upon what was known as Hare's Hill, and was in front of the city of Petersburg, and of the point on our lines known as Colquitt's Salient. The two hostile lines could not have been more than two hundred to two hundred and fifty yards apart at this point; and the pickets were so close together that it was difficult to prevent constant conversation between those of the Confederate and Federal armies. Fort Steadman was upon the main line of General Grant's works, and flanked on either side by a line of earthworks and other forts, which completely commanded every foot of the intervening space between the hostile lines. In rear of Fort Steadman were three other forts, two of which, and perhaps all three, could command Fort Steadman, in case of its capture by our forces. These forts in rear of Steadman were protected by an almost impenetrable abatis, while, in front of Fort Steadman itself, and of the main line of which it was a part, was a line of sharpened fence-rails, with the lower ends buried deeply in the ground, their middle resting upon horizontal poles and wrapped with telegraph-wires, and their upper ends sharpened and elevated to the height of four and a half or five feet. These rails, which formed the obstruction in front of General Grant's lines at Fort Steadman and along the flanking works, were, is I said, wrapped with telegraph-wire where they rested on the horizontal poles, so as to prevent an attacking force from pressing them apart, and buried in the ground too deeply to be pulled up, and, sharpened at the upper end, were too high to be mounted by my men. This obstruction, therefore, had to be cut away with axes before the attacking force could enter the fort or lines.

General Lee, after considering the plan of assault and battle which I submitted to him, and which I shall presently describe, gave me orders to prepare for the movement, which was regarded by both of us as a desperate one, but which seemed to give more promise of good results than any other hitherto suggested. General Lee placed at my disposal, in addition to my own corps, a portion of A. P. Hill's and a portion of Longstreet's, and a detachment of cavalry—in all, about one half of the army.

The general plan of the assault and battle was this: To take the fort by a rush across the narrow space that lay between it and Colquitt's Salient, and then surprise and capture, by a stratagem, the commanding forts in the rear, thus opening a way for our troops to pass to the rear, and upon the flank of the left wing of Grant's army, which was to be broken to pieces by a concentration of all the forces at my command moving upon that flank. During the night of the 25th my preparations were made for the movement before daylight. I placed three officers in charge of three separate bodies of men, and directed them, as soon as the lines of Fort Steadman should be carried by the assaulting column, to rush through the gap thus produced to the three rear forts—one of these officers and bodies of men to go to each fort, and to approach them from their rear by the only avenue left open and seize those forts. A guide was placed with each of these officers, who was to conduct him and his troops to the rear of the front,


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