Chapter 14: siege of Petersburg.
, on the left bank of the James
, and Petersburg
, on the right bank of the Appomattox
, were strategic twin cities twenty-one miles apart.
The capture of one embraced the fall of the other.
proper, from a point on the river below to a position on the river above, was easily defended.
Its investment would still leave the Weldon
, or Southside, and Danville Railroad open for supplies.
Circumvallating lines around Petersburg
would ultimately close all of them; this done, Richmond
must be evacuated.
But were it possible to capture Richmond
first, to Burkeville
, the junction of the Southside
and Danville roads, the Southern
army must retreat, not to Petersburg
, though not remarkable as a strategist, promptly saw the way to reach the Confederate
To reach Richmond
it was necessary to batter down the gates of Petersburg
made several attempts to capture the city before Grant
took him under his charge, but failed.
, having decided to cross the Army of the Potomac to the south side of the James
, determined to essay the capture of Petersburg
before Leewho had drawn most of Beauregard
's force to him on the north side-could prevent it, and would have been successful if he had not lost a day in getting his pontoons ready; and even then it could have been done if General Smith
, of the Eighteenth Corps, to whom the duty was confided, had attacked when he arrived before it. Beauregard
was in peril.
He had re-enforced Lee
, but Lee
had not yet returned the compliment, and when “Baldy
began to deploy on his front, about ten o'clock on the morning of June 15th, with eighteen
thousand men, he had but twenty-two hundred soldiers to return his greetings, and had to station them so as to allow one man for every four yards and a half of his works.
At 7 P. M. Smith
carried with a “cloud of tirailleurs
” the lines on a portion of his front, in spite of the heroic resistance of General Henry A. Wise
, and held on to them during the night.
, who was on the morning of the 15th on the south side of the James
, been ordered to Petersburg
, he could have been there by twelve or one o'clock, and Petersburg
would have certainly fallen.
knew nothing of Smith
's proposed coup de main
, nor did Hancock
, until he received orders at half-past 5 that afternoon to join General Smith
, reaching his position about dark, after he had made a lodgment.
About the same time Hoke
's division, from Drewry's Bluff
, re-enforced Beauregard
On the morning of the 16th Hancock
was in command of the operating troops, but was instructed by Meade
not to attack until Burnside
arrived with his corps.
He reached the field at 10 A. M., but Hancock
did not attack until after 5 P. M. In the meantime Beauregard
drew to him Bushrod Johnson
's division, who had been playing the cork to the Butler bottle in front of the Bermuda lines
But the inequality in numbers was still very great-Beauregard then having ten thousand, and Hancock
For three hours the battle raged, and at night the result was a serious loss on the Southern
right, but Beauregard
gained some advantage on the left.
had now arrived, but too late for the attack, making the Federal
army in front of Petersburg
All day on the 17th the contest was maintained with no decisive results.
About dusk a portion of the Confederate
lines was wholly broken, which might have ended in irreparable disaster; but at the opportune moment a fine brigade, under General Gracie
, an excellent officer, reached the scene from Chaffin's Bluff, leaped the breastworks captured by Burnside
, and drove out his troops, capturing two thousand prisoners.
was still in danger.
's engineering skill, as well as that of his chief of engineers, Colonel D. B. Harris
, was brought into requisition,
and during the day selected the site of another and shorter line of defense, near Taylor's Creek
, to his rear, and at midnight successfully made a retrograde movement, occupied and began fortifying his new line.
On the 18th a general assault on the Southern
lines was ordered at an early hour, but finding the old line had been abandoned, it was not made until noon-then only partially; but about 6 P. M. the “predetermined great attack,” as Beauregard
called it, was made by the Second Corps and everywhere repulsed, as were like attempts later by the Fifth and Ninth.
's, and Warren
's corps, Martindale
's division of Smith
's, and Neill
's division from the Sixth Corpsor ninety thousand effectives — were present, while on that day Beauregard
had been re-enforced by Kershaw
's and Field
's division of Longstreet
's corps, making his total twenty thousand.
At half-past 11 General Lee
rode up and was warmly welcomed by Beauregard
, who had been anxiously hoping to see him for three days. He had been very slow in giving credence to Beauregard
's telegrams about Grant
's movements, and even as late as the night of the 17th dispatched, “Am not yet satisfied as to General Grant
's movements, but upon your representations will move at once on Petersburg
And it was well he did, for the remarkable resistance of Beauregard
's troops alone saved the city from capture on the 15th, 16th, and 17th.
It was very difficult for Lee
to ascertain on the north side of the James
what troops Grant
was crossing to its southern side, because his crossing was masked by the presence of troops interposed between the point of crossing and Lee
's position; and he had to be most careful lest, in his anxiety to save Petersburg
, he would lose Richmond
He could not afford to take the risk of denuding the Richmond lines
until it had been demonstrated beyond doubt that the real battle was to be delivered at Petersburg
The admirably selected new line of Beauregard
was strengthened, and maintained until the end of the war.
The next day the main portion of the Army of Northern Virginia arrived, and Beauregard
wanted to throw the entire disposable force on the Union
and rear before they began to fortify; but General Lee
pronounced against the plan.
, satisfied that nothing more could be gained by direct assaults --ten thousand men had been lost in three days-decided to play another game for the prize in which spades should be trumps, and the siege of Petersburg
In an incredibly short time high, impregnable, bastioned works began to erect their crests.
It was designed to make the Union
defensive lines so formidable as to be unassailable.
A system of redans chained together by powerful parapets, whose approaches were to be obstructed by abatis, were constructed.
Behind these gigantic earthworks a small force could safely remain, and thus the “loyal legions” could be drawn out at any time for other work.
The Federal plan, wisely adopted, was to extend their ramparts south, then west, to seize and retain the Weldon Railroad and cut off Lee
's communication with the coast States, then gradually work westerly toward the Lynchburg Railroad, which once in Grant
's possession, would have confined Lee
to the Danville
and Richmond Railroads to supply his army.
The short road from Petersburg
connected him with it and the Staunton
road, running north from Richmond
It was intended to throw a huge steel cordon around Petersburg
, which would force Lee
with his limited numbers to so extend his lines that they would snap or be weak enough to break under blows.
had now established his troops in the best location for the achievement of his purpose.
With bloody hands he had reached the confines of the object of his campaign; but he was there and most excellently situated; his water line of communication down the James
and up the Potomac
and the North
was absolutely free from hostile interruption.
His headquarters-City Point
, at the junction of the Appomattox
and the James
— was connected with his army by rail, and from a point on that road a field railroad, moving in the rear of his lines, made the transportation of supplies from his water base easy in sunshine or storm.
Field telegraph connected army headquarters with those of subordinate commanders; so with plenty of commissary, quartermaster
, and medical supplies, and plenty of
men, he anticipated with confidence future success.
At Deep Bottom
, on the James
, he had thrown a pontoon bridge and protected it by strongly fortified works on the north side, manned by a sufficient force to defend them, thus always securing a debouch on the Richmond
side of the river.
He could thus make a mock assault on Richmond
and a real attack at Petersburg
, or the reverse.
was uneasy; he was defending two cities and a line of intrenchments enveloping both thirty-five miles long, and could not know with certainty at what point on them the real blow would be delivered.
's troops withdrawn from one portion of his front at night, could appear at another before the sun lifted the mists of morning.
too had communication with the Richmond
defenses by a pontoon bridge above Grant
's at Drewry's Bluff
, but in any movement of troops across the river Grant
, if the aggressor, would move first and thereby gain a start.
Then, too, Lee
's days were full of other troubles: the question of supplies, always a serious one, was growing daily more so. The subjugation of productive portions of the South
and the devastation of other sections made the collection of food for men and forage for animals more difficult than ever.
The supply of men was exhausted.
Conscription in 1862 first placed on the rolls all men between eighteen and thirty-five, and later between thirty-five and forty.
, a call was made for men between forty and forty-five, and in February, 1864, the Conscript Act
was more stringent, and the population between seventeen and fifty were made subject to call-“a robbery,” designated at the time, “of the cradle and the grave.”
The end of conscription had been reached.
The currency in the Confederate Treasury
was in value as sixty to one of coin.
A deficiency in supply of arms and ammunition was imminent.
The Ordnance Department contained only twentyfive thousand stand of small arms for the whole Confederacy; the foreign market supplied one half of the arms used, but that market was nearly cut off; many workshops had been destroyed, and the usefulness of others much impaired by the withdrawal of details of men.
Then General Lee
was distressed at the condition of his army.
It had been exposed in a violent campaign against overwhelming numbers, was badly fed — a pound of flour and a quarter of a pound of meat to the manbadly paid and cared for in camp and hospital, and every letter brought news of the families of the troops suffering at home.
As his resources diminished, those of his opponent seemed to increase.
He was too weak to assume the offensive against fortification, and yet something must be attempted.
In the midst of the gathering gloom, Lee
once more attempted to diminish the troops in his front by threatening the Federal
, suffering from the loss of his leg, had relinquished the command of his corps to Early
, and with eight thousand muskets this officer had been sent, as already stated, to Lynchburg
, to re-enforce Breckinridge
had retreated from Lynchburg
to the mountains of West Virginia
could strike him. Then General Lee
submitted to Early
the question whether the condition of his troops would permit him to threaten Washington
as originally contemplated; if not, to return to his army.
Early determined to take the responsibility of carrying out the original plan, so he turned the head of his column toward the Potomac
On June 26th he was at Staunton
, July 2d at Winchester
, crossing the Potomac
on the 6th, fought and defeated six thousand troops under General Lew Wallace
on the Monocacy
on the 9th, and arrived in front of the works at Washington
at noon on July Sixth with about ten thousand men and forty pieces of artillery.
That afternoon his army was placed in position with orders to assail the works at daylight next morning; but learning during the night that the Sixth Corps from the Army of the Potomac and the Nineteenth, under Emory
, from New Orleans, had arrived, he countermanded the order, remained in front of Washington
during the 12th, and that night withdrew and began his march back to Virginia
, reaching Strasburg
, in the Valley of Virginia
, on the 22d. General Early
could not have held Washington
if he had entered its gates with his small force.
No re-enforcements were nearer to him than Richmond
, and from the North
's army a large force could have been speedily assembled.
, in consequence of the opportune arrival of Emory
, only detached the Sixth Corps from his lines, which did not materially reduce his great numbers in Lee
's front, and hence Lee
did not dare to weaken his lines by re-enforcing Early
Early's presence in the lower valley was menacing to Washington
, preserved a threatening attitude toward Pennsylvania
, prevented the use of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
, and kept a large force from Grant
's army to defend the Federal
The greater part of this force was moved south of the Potomac
, organized into the Army of the Shenandoah, and the command of it given, on August 7th, to General Sheridan
With the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, and the Army of West Virginia, as General George Crook
's force was called, Sheridan
had a total present for duty on September 10th, including Averill
's cavalry, of fortyeight thousand men and officers.
He was abundantly able to assume the offensive, for he had in addition garrisons of seven thousand men at Harper's Ferry
, and other points, making his whole force about fifty-five thousand. General Lee
was very anxious to win a battle in the lower valley — it was the only way he could relieve Petersburg-and so re-enforced Early
by a division of cavalry and one of infantry, both under General Anderson
, the commander of Longstreet
This officer was selected to produce the impression, the remaining divisions of his corps were to follow, in order to induce Grant
to send troops to Sheridan
equivalent to Longstreet
's whole corps.
In that case Lee
would again re-enforce Early
and transfer the principal scene of hostilities to the Potomac
, just as he had successfully drawn McClellan
from the James
from the Rappahannock
by similar movements; but Grant
refused to follow the precedent.
had already an army numerically equal to the one Lee
commanded on the Petersburg lines
, and was strong enough to stand alone.
could not detach more troops, but instead was obliged to recall Anderson
and his infantry.
The failure to transfer the seat of war
from in front of Petersburg
was due to the decreasing Confederate strength and the increase of that of their opponents.
could only wait, watch, and frustrate Grant
's plans as far as possible.
's departure from the Valley Sheridan
assumed the offensive, and on September 19th, with nearly fifty thousand troops, fought and defeated, at Winchester
, fourteen thousand under Early
, the Confederate
loss being about four thousand, the Federal
five thousand, of which nearly forty-four hundred were killed or wounded.
On the 22d Early was again defeated at Fisher's Hill
, but, being reenforced near Port Republic
's division of infantry and Cutshaw
's battalion of artillery, and later by Rosser
's brigade of cavalry, he assumed the offensive and again moved down the Valley
to Fisher's Hill
retiring in his front to Cedar Creek
Here he was attacked by Early
on the 19th of October before daybreak and defeated, but afterward, rallying his troops, he in turn attacked and routed Early
, who lost twentythree pieces of artillery, eighteen hundred and sixty in killed and wounded, and over one thousand prisoners.
, one of Early
's best and bravest officers, was mortally wounded.
The operations here were practically over, and both Grant
called to them the greater part of their respective troops.
The beautiful Valley of Virginia was a barren waste, and from the breasts of its mountains was reflected the light of two thousand burning barns, seventy mills filled with wheat and farming utensils, while in front of the victorious army were driven thousands of head of stock.
In the expressive language of the Federal
commander-“A crow flying across the Valley
would have to carry its rations.”
's duties were very exacting, and he was constantly called upon to meet some movement of his enemy.
He was closer to his family in Richmond
than he had been, and the citizens around him were very kind, considerate, and generous.
In a note to Mrs. Lee
, dated Petersburg
, June 19th, he says: “I am much obliged to the kind people for the clothes; but if they are not gray they are of no use to me in the field.
hope to go to church this blessed day, and shall remember you all in my poor prayers.”
The ladies were always contributing to his comfort.
He writes from Camp Petersburg, July 24, 1864: “The ladies of Petersburg
have sent me a nice set of shirts.
They were given to me by Mrs. James R. Branch
, and her mother, Mrs. Thomas Branch
In fact, they have given everything — which I fear they can not spare-vegetables, bread, milk, ice cream
To-day one of them sent me a nice peach — the first one I think I have seen for two years. I sent it to Mrs. Shippen
. Mr. Platt
held services again to-day under the trees near my camp.
We had quite a large congregation of citizens, ladies and gentlemen, and our usual number of soldiers.
During the services I constantly heard the shells crashing among the houses of Petersburg
Tell Life [his youngest daughter] I send her a song composed by a French soldier.
As she is so learned in that language I want her to send me a reply in verse.”
And from Camp Petersburg, June 26, 1864: “I hope it is not as hot in Richmond
The men suffer a great deal in the trenches; and this condition of things, with the heat of the sun, nearly puts an end to military operations.”
And again: “Camp Petersburg, June 30, 1864.-I was very glad to receive your letter yesterday, and to hear that you were better.
I trust you will continue to improve and soon be as well as usual.
God grant that you may be entirely restored in his own good time!
Do you recollect what a happy day thirty-three years ago this was?
How many hopes and pleasures it gave birth to!
God has been very merciful and kind to us, and how thankless and sinful I have been!
I pray that he may continue his mercies and blessings to us and give us a little peace and rest together in this world, and finally gather us and all he has given us around his throne in the world to come.
The President has just arrived, and I must bring my letter to a close.
God bless you all.”
And on July 10, 1864: “I was pleased, on the arrival of my little courier this morning, to hear that you were better, and that Custis Morgan
(a pet squirrel) was still among the missing.
I think the farther he gets from you the better you will be. The shells have scattered
the poor inhabitants in Petersburg
, so that many of the churches are closed.
Indeed, they have been visited by the enemy's shells.
, pastor of the principal Episcopal Church, had services at my headquarters today.
The services were under the trees, and the discourse on the subject of salvation.”
, dissimilar in many characteristics, were similar in others: both were quiet and self-possessed, both sometimes restless-Grant to break through Lee
's works somewhere, Lee
impatient to improve any opportunity that might be offered.
By mere chance both were gratified.
The Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, Burnside
's corps, was largely composed of Schuylkill
coal miners, and its lieutenant colonel, Pleasants
, had been a mining engineer.
One hundred and thirty yards in front, on General Johnson
's front, at the center of General Elliott
's brigade, was a salient in the Confederate
It was a re-entrant commanded by a flank from either side; in its rear was a deep hollow.
The mining men, with the instinct of their profession, conceived the idea of blowing it up. Burnside
approved it, and work was commenced on June 25th.
knew what was going on and directed countermining, but abandoned it and threw up intrenchments at the gorge of the salient, and established 8-and 10-inch mortar batteries to give a front and cross fire on it. It was prosecuted under many difficulties.
, and his chief engineer, Duane
, did not believe such a mine for military purposes could be excavated.
The former did not think the location selected was the proper one.
The part of the line containing the works to be blown up could not be assaulted with success, because it was commanded in both flanks by the fire of the Southern
troops, and could be taken in reverse from their position on the Jerusalem plank road and from their works opposite the Hare House
deserves great credit for his perseverance.
, his corps, and Potter
, his division commander, of the officers of high rank, alone encouraged his efforts.
On July 23d the mine was ready for the powder; for forty workmen, even with inferior implements, can move much dirt in a month.
Imagine a main gallery five
hundred and ten and eight tenths feet long, with lateral galleries thirty-seven and thirty-eight feet each, into which eight magazines were placed, filled with a total charge of eight thousand pounds of powder.
The theodolite had accurately measured the distance; the powder was directly under the fort.
, of course, was assigned the honor of making the grand assault.
He had three white divisions and one division of negro troops in his corps, and determined to charge in column of divisions on all men and guns not blown up, and directed that the negroes should lead in what was expected to be a finishing stroke to a great war, and thus give the goddess Fame the opportunity to crown the colored brow.
thought the colored division would make a better charge at that time than the white division, because the latter had been for forty days in the trenches, had few opportunities of washing, and were not in condition to make a vigorous charge.
objected, the former because “they were untried and could not be trusted,” while the latter directed the leading column of assault to be formed of white, not black troops.
The negro was a sensitive plant in the Northern
greenhouses at that time; and if he had been butchered in the attack there it would have been charged by some, as Meade
expressed it, that “we were shoving these people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them.”
There was only one negro division then in the Army of the Potomac, and the fact that in over one hundred thousand men it had been selected to lead the “On-to-petersburg!”
charge would have been a striking and unique stricture upon the rest of the army.
The sight of forty-three hundred howling, charging black men at the head of the column would have been a red rag to the Southern
bull, and the contest would have been butcherly, bloody, and brief.
A humorous picture has been drawn of these negro troops on the night they learned Burnside
was going to give them the advance.
They were represented sitting in circles in their company streets, intently and solemnly “studying,” when all at once a heavy voice began to sing:
We-e looks li-ike me-en a-a-marching on,
We looks li-ike men-er war,
and shortly thereafter a thousand voices were upraised to swell the refrain.
The dark men with white eyes and teeth and red lips crouching over smoldering fires, the rays of lanterns piercing the gloom, made a picturesque scene.
The heroes “carved in ebony” being ruled out, Burnside
made his three white division commanders “pull straws” to ascertain who should lead the attack when the mine was sprung, and General Ledlie
, commanding the first division, “was the unlucky victim.”
At 3.30 A. M. on the morning of the 30th Ledlie
was in position, and ready to follow him were the other divisions.
had made every preparation for a general assault, the whole army, if necessary, was to be thrust through the broken works into the city.
's Fifth Corps, and General Ord
, commanding the Eighteenth Corps, was to support Burnside
, who had been moved to the north side of the James River
to threaten an attack upon Richmond
to draw troops from Lee
to that side, and thus weaken his Petersburg
lines, was to move back during the night and be in position at daylight to follow up the assaulting column, and Sheridan
, with the cavalry corps, was to move on Petersburg
by the roads leading from the southward and westward.
The great mine upon whose explosion this comprehensive wholesale battle plan pivoted was to be sprung at half-past 3 in the morning; but, owing to a defect in the fuse, the wreck of matter did not begin until an hour and a quarter afterward.
Then the earth trembled and heaved and opened over the powder, and cannon, caissons, sandbags, timbers, men; smoke and fire went up in the mass of earth to a high altitude, spread out like an immense cloud, which “flushed to an angry crimson and floated away to meet the morning sun.”
The solid part began to fall.
The troops waiting to make the charge thought the great descending mass was aimed at them, and, without the word of command, broke and scattered to the rear, and a little time, most valuable to the Confederates
, was lost in reforming them.
When the order for the advance was given, more time
was consumed in climbing over their own breastworks, which broke their ranks, and in irregular order they pushed on for the crater one hundred and thirty yards distant, the debris
having covered up the Confederate
abatis and chevaux-de-frise
in front of it. An enormous hole in the ground here confronted them-one hundred and seventy feet long, sixty feet wide, and thirty feet deep ---“filled with dust, great blocks of clay, guns, broken guncarriages, projecting timbers, and men buried up to their necks, others to their waists, and some with only their feet and legs protruding from the earth.”
Two hundred and fifty-six South Carolinians — the Eighteenth and part of the Twenty-third-and twenty-two men and officers of Pegram's Petersburg battery, were buried beneath “the jagged rocks of blackened clay.”
The two advance brigades became inextricably mixed in the one great desire to look into the hole; and then, when the Confederates
on either side of the crater began to take in the situation and to fire from the traverses, there was an uncontrollable and natural desire to get in the hole.
, while forming his command on the higher ground in the rear of the crater, was severely wounded; but Colonel McMaster
, who succeeded to the command, got part of his troops in the ravine in the rear, and their front fire, and the flank fire from the remainder, and Ransom
's troops to the Confederate
left, repulsed all attempts of the Union
troops to advance.
The crest of the crater was now being swept by canister, for Lieutenant-Colonel John Haskell
had with great promptness brought up two light batteries, and Pegram
's guns were rapidly coming up. Wright
's four guns, six hundred yards to the southern left of the salient, concealed in the woods and covered by traverses, and two guns to the right of the crater, opened a destructive fire and covered the ground between the big hole and the Union
The artillery alone stood between the crater and Cemetery Hill
, which, if occupied and held as had been intended, would have resulted in the fall of Petersburg
was in the rear ensconced in a “bomb-proof” protected angle of his own works, his division in the crater, and his orders to move forward were not obeyed.
“It was as utterly impracticable to
reform brigades outside of the crater under the severe fire of front and rear as it would be to marshal bees into line after upsetting the hive, or to hold dress parade in front of a charging enemy,” wrote a Federal officer.
's brigade of Potter
's division was advanced, but, meeting a severe fire, fell back in the crater.
Every organization melted away, as soon as it entered this hole in the ground, into a mass of human beings clinging to the almost perpendicular sides.
The other brigade of Potter
's division now advanced, but got no farther than the abandoned traverses and intrenchments; and then Wilcox
, with the third and last division of Burnside
's white troops, started forward.
The crater was filled with men at this time, the thermometer above ninety degrees, and the sun beating down in the great hole caused much suffering.
No more troops could get in. Wilcox
was left out, and with a part of his command attempted to carry some of the works on the Confederate
right of the crater, but only held them a short time.
Orders were being constantly sent to push forward and occupy Cemetery Hill
, but were not relished and not obeyed.
It was now two hours after the explosion of the mine; Burnside
determined to let loose the real dogs of war, and ordered General Edward Ferrero
with his black division to advance, pass the white troops, and carry the crest of Cemetery Hill
at all hazards.
did not think it advisable to move his troops in, as there were already three divisions of white troops in his front “huddled together” ; but Burnside
said the order was peremptory.
The colored division moved out to death or glory; its commander did not, but sought the “bomb-proof” where Ledlie
was. These troops, moving by the flank, passed around the crater and attempted to advance, but a deadly fire enveloped them and they broke in disorder, some falling back to the crater, while a majority ran back to the Union
's Eighteenth Corps was now ordered to go forward.
He had difficulty in getting through the Ninth Corps intrenchments; the parapets and abatis were not prepared for an exit, and the covered ways were crowded with the soldiers
of the Ninth Corps.
's, his leading division, succeeded in advancing to the Confederate
works, but would not stay, and fell back to the starting point.
The object now was to get the men in and around the crater back to the Union
The ground was so thoroughly combed with showers of shot that it was proposed to dig a covered way; but not many spades or picks were available, though it was commenced.
Any advance was now hopeless, and Meade
, at 1.30 P. M., gave orders for the troops to be withdrawn from the crater — a difficult undertaking.
thought they should stay there until night.
In the meantime the Confederates
were massing for the attack.
heard what had been done about 6 A. M., promptly took steps to retake the position, and sent a staff officer for troops to do it. Traveler carried him rapidly to Gee House, a commanding position five hundred yards in the rear of the crater.
was already there, and soon Mahone
with two brigades- Weiseger
's and Wright
's-arrived, and formed in a ravine in the rear of the crater.
The Virginia brigade had formed for the attack, and the Georgia
troops were in the act of forming when suddenly Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Bross
, of the Thirty-first United States Colored Troops, sprang upon the crater crest waving a flag and calling upon his men to follow him.
, commanding the Virginia
brigade, saw him, and, thinking his position would be assailed, determined to move first, and appealed, he says, to Captain Girardy
, of Mahone
's staff, to give the order, for he had been directed by Mahone
to wait until he or Girardy
ordered him forward.
The order was given, and the lines were captured by a most gallant charge.
The crater remained crammed with human beings, living and dead, into which huge missiles from mortars were bursting.
The Georgia brigade advanced and attempted to dislodge the Union
troops in the lines south of the crater, but failed.
Later the Alabama
brigade came up, when a general assault by these and other troops on the lines upon either side of the crater was made, and everywhere successfully; and just then a white handkerchief on the end of a ramrod was projected
above the crater, in token of the surrender of the men there.
Altogether it was a horrible affair; and what promised, Grant
said, “to be the most successful assault of the campaign terminated in disaster” --a disaster in which the Federals
lost four thousand men. “The operation was not successful,” Meade
states, “for a coup de main
depends for success upon the utmost promptitude of movement.”
Fifty thousand troops were ready to support it, but proper debouches had not been prepared.
The Ninth Corps had great difficulty in getting over the high works in their front, and the space was too contracted to deploy troops, preventing rapidity of execution and cordial co-operation essential to success.
From camp, July 31, 1864, General Lee
wrote: “Yesterday morning the enemy sprung a mine on one of our batteries on the line and got possession of a portion of our intrenchments.
It was the part defended by General Beauregard
I sent General Mahone
with two brigades of Hill
's corps, who charged into them handsomely, recapturing the intrenchments and guns, twelve stand of colors, seventy-three officers, including General Bartlett
, his staff, three colonels, and eight hundred and fifty-five enlisted men. There were upward of five hundred of his dead unburied in the trenches, among them many officers and blacks.
He suffered severely.
He has withdrawn his troops from the north side of the James
I do not know what he will attempt next.
He is mining on other points along our line.
I trust he will not succeed in bettering his last attempt.”
The vigilance of the Southern
general was daily displayed, and his remarkable talent for promptly disregarding the feint and locating the real attack had to be incessantly exercised.
If at first he was in doubt of Grant
's designs, he was patient, knowing that as they developed he would fathom his purpose.
From camp, August 14, 1864, he wrote his wife: “I have been kept from church to-day by the enemy's crossing to the north side of the James River
, and the necessity of moving troops to meet him. I do not know what his intentions are. He is said to be cutting a canal across the Dutch Gap
— a point in the river-but
I can not as yet discover it. I was up there yesterday, and saw nothing to indicate it. We shall ascertain in a day or two.
I received to-day a kind letter from the Rev. Mr. Cole
, of Culpeper Court House.
He is a most excellent man in all the relations of life.
He says there is not a church standing in all that country within the lines formerly occupied by the enemy.
All are razed to the ground, and the materials used often for the vilest purposes.
Two of the churches at the Court House
barely escaped destruction.
The pews were all taken out to make seats for the theater.
The fact was reported to the commanding officer
, General Newton
), by their own men of the Christian Commission, but he took no steps to rebuke or arrest it. We must suffer patiently to the end, when all things will be made right.”
from attending divine services.
's direction, he left City Point
with the Second and Tenth Corps on steamers, at ten o'clock Saturday night, the 13th ofAugust, to produce the impression he was going to Washington
, but disembarked at the lower pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom
and marched toward Richmond
's cavalry division and the artillery of the two corps went by land and across the usual pontoon bridge.
The movement was made to prevent further detachments of Lee
's army going to the Valley
, and if possible call back those sent, and under the impression the remaining divisions of Longstreet
's corps had followed Kershaw
It involved the capture of Chaffin's Bluff, one of the chief fortifications guarding the river approach to Richmond
Field's and Wilcox
's divisions, re-enforced by Mahone
's division of infantry, and Hampton
's and W. H. F. Lee
's cavalry divisions sent from the south side, interposed an effective barrier to Hancock
This officer, after making one unsuccessful assault, remained quiet for four days, and then during the night withdrew to the south side with a loss of twenty-seven hundred and eighty-six men.
In a combat on the 16th between the Confederate
's Federal cavalry, General John R. Chambliss
, a bold, enterprising Southern brigadier of cavalry, was killed.
was demonstrating on the
north side, Warren
with his Fifth Corps was withdrawn from his lines and sent to destroy, with Kautz
's cavalry, the Weldon Railroad.
He struck it a point four miles from Petersburg
, at Globe Tavern, and was soon afterward re-enforced by three divisions of the Ninth Corps.
's Confederate cavalry was there and reported to Beauregard
the occupation of the railroad by infantry, who sent Heth
with two brigades to attack him. A sharp encounter between Ayers
's division and Heth
followed, in which both sides lost heavily.
On the 19th the fighting was renewed, both sides being re-enforced.
attacked with five brigades under Heth
, a division of cavalry, and Pegram
's batteries, at the intersection of the Vaughn
road with the railroad.
made a fine effort, meeting with deserved success, but were later in turn repulsed.
lost three thousand men, and on the 20th fell back a mile and a half and intrenched.
On the 21st Hill
again attacked, but was unsuccessful.
, of Mahone
's brigade, was killed.
was now brought up with instructions to destroy the Weldon Railroad south of Ream's Station.
He was attacked by Hill
on the 25th at 5 P. M. with eight infantry brigades and two divisions of cavalry under Hampton
, and beaten, capturing three batteries of artillery.
A disorderly rout was avoided by the personal bearing and example of General Hancock
and the good behavior of a part of his first division under Miles.
's division had been so roughly handled that their commanders, said Humphreys
, could not get the troops to advance; they were driven from the breastworks by Hampton
's dismounted cavalry; Gregg
's cavalry division was also driven back by these troopers, and during the night Hancock
retreated, having lost twenty-three hundred and seventy-two men, while Hill
's loss only amounted to seven hundred and twenty.
captured twelve stand of colors, nine guns and ten caissons, thirty-one hundred stand of small arms, and twenty-one hundred and fifty prisoners.
's labors were incessant; as soon as one attempt on his lines failed another began.
His power of endurance was great, but anxiety, fatigue, and loss of
rest must make inroads.
, growing uneasy for fear the great strain upon him would be too heavy, remonstrated and begged him to look more to his comfort and health.
From Camp Petersburg, September 18, 1864, he replies: “But what care can a man give to himself in time of war?
It is from no desire of exposure or hazard that I live in a tent, but from necessity.
I must be where I can speedily at all times attend to the duties of my position, and be near or accessible to the officers with whom I have to act. I have been offered rooms in the houses of our citizens, but I could not turn the dwellings of my kind hosts into a barrack, where officers, couriers, distressed women, etc., would be entering day and night.”
was still intrenched across the Weldon Railroad on the left of the Union
Ten days after Hancock
had their battle, Grant
next endeavored to break the Southern
lines on the Richmond
, with the Tenth and Eighteenth Corps, crossed the James
the night of September 28th, moved rapidly up the River
and New Market roads, while Kautz
's cavalry marched on the Darby
The sixteen thousand troops sought to assail and capture the Confederate
works, which were feebly garrisoned, before they could be re-enforced from the south side.
, nearest the river, succeeded in capturing Fort Harrison
, a strong work on the Southern
main line of intrenchments about a mile and a quarter from the river, with its sixteen guns and a number of prisoners, as well as two adjoining lunettes with their artillery-six guns.
's attack on Fort Gilmer
, three quarters of a mile north of Harrison
, was repulsed with great loss to him. Grant
was present urging Birney
forward, but the canister and musketry fire broke his advancing lines and caused them to fall back in confusion.
was in command of the local troops on the north side, Lee
joined him during the day, and at 2 P. M. on the 30th directed an assault on Fort Harrison
with five brigades under Anderson
, commanding Longstreet
's corps; but during the night before, large working parties had made Fort Harrison
an inclosed work and too strong to be carried.
After this Grant
's left on the south
side was further extended to the Peebles farm
, and cooperative movements on both Lee
's flanks followed without practical results.
returned to duty on the 19th of October, and was assigned to the command of the troops on the north side and on the Bermuda Hundred
was given the command of the Eighteenth Federal Corps, and General Hancock
was called to Washington
to organize, out of abundant material, another fresh corps to take the field in the spring.
The picture of the winter of 1864 and 1865 has a somber background.
The Confederate commander had displayed “every art by which genius and courage can make good the lack of numbers and resources,” but could not gather hope from coming days; clothing, food, ammunition, and forage for animals were so scarce, suffering and distress so plentiful.
The leader of a brave people must fight until the war clouds of misfortune enveloped him on so many sides he could fight no longer.
“I say that, if the event had been manifest to the whole world beforehand, not even then ought Athens
to have forsaken this course, if she had any regard for her glory or for her past, or for the ages to come,” exclaimed Demosthenes
Self-possessed and calm, Lee
struggled to solve the huge military problem, and make the sum of smaller numbers equal to that of greater numbers.
It was the old heathen picture of “man sublimely contending with Fate to the admiration of the gods, accepting the last test of endurance, and with the smile of a sublime resolution risking the last defiance of fortune.”
His thoughts ever turned upon the soldiers of his army — the ragged, gallant fellows around him, whose pinched cheeks told hunger was their portion, and whose shivering forms denoted the absence of proper clothing.
, in her invalid chair in Richmond
, with large heart and small means, assisted by friends, was busy knitting socks and sending them to him. He writes her from Petersburg
, November 30, 1864: “I received yesterday your letter of the 27th, and am glad to learn your supply of socks is so large.
If two or three hundred would send an equal number we should have a sufficiency.
I will endeavor
to have them distributed to the most needy.”
And again on December 17, 1864: “I received day before yesterday the box with hat, gloves, and socks; also the barrel of apples.
You had better have kept the latter, as it would have been more useful to you than to me, and I should have enjoyed its consumption by yourself and the girls more than by me.”
And on December 30, 1864, he tells her: “The Lyons
furs and fur robe
have also arrived safely, but I can learn nothing of the saddle of mutton.
, of whom I inquired as to its arrival, is greatly alarmed lest it has been sent to the soldiers' dinner.
If the soldiers get it I shall be content.
I can do very well without it. In fact, I should rather they would have it than I.
” And on January 10, 1865, after stating how the socks which Mrs. Lee
had sent had been distributed to the army, the general writes: “Yesterday afternoon three little girls walked into my room, each with a small basket.
The eldest carried some fresh eggs laid by her own hens; the second, some pickles made by her mother; the third, some pop corn which had grown in her garden.
They were accompanied by a young maid with a block of soap made by her mother.
They were the daughters of a Mrs. Nottingham
, a refugee from Northampton County
, who lived near Eastville
, not far from old Arlington
The eldest of the girls, whose age did not exceed eight years, had a small wheel on which she spun for her mother, who wove all the cloth for her two brothers-boys of twelve and fourteen years. I have not had so pleasant a visit for a long time.
I fortunately was able to fill their baskets with apples, which distressed poor Bryan
[his steward], and begged them to bring me nothing but kisses and to keep the eggs, corn, etc., for themselves.
I pray daily, and almost hourly, to our heavenly Father to come to the relief of you (Mrs. Lee
was sick) and our afflicted country.
I know he will order all things for our good, and we must be content.”
Children always held the key which would unlock the heart of Lee
, and his description of the little girls bringing him presents is a charming illustration of his fondness for them.
In spite of the wonderful success attending Lee
efforts, at every attempt Grant
made to get toward Lynchburg
or Southside Railroad, the Union
line of contravallation continued to stretch, and it was evident, unless Lee
could get more men, he would lose that line of railroad.
A lodgment once effected, enormous intrenchments would follow, which could not be assailed with success; but where were men to come from when the end of conscription had been reached and exchange of prisoners stopped?
did not believe the white population could supply the necessities of a long war without overtaxing its capacity, and thought the time had come to enlist the negroes as soldiers, and so wrote Hon. E. Barksdale
, a member of the Confederate States
House of Representatives, on February 18, 1865. Six months before, he had advocated their employment as teamsters, laborers, and mechanics, in place of whites, who, being replaced, could be restored to the ranks.
He thought, too, that the negroes would be used against the South
as fast as the Federals
got possession of them; that he could make as good soldiers of them as his enemy, who attached great importance to their assistance; that the negroes furnished more promising material than many armies mentioned in history, possessed the requisite physical qualifications, and their habits of obedience constituted a good foundation for discipline; and that those who were employed should be freed.
Congress passed a bill for the purpose; but it was now too late to experiment with new measures.
The Southern chief not only wanted more men, but supplies for those he already commanded.
“The struggle now is,” said he, “to keep the army fed and clothed.
Only fifty men,” he wrote, “in some regiments had shoes, and bacon is only issued once in a few days.”
On January 11, 1865, he tells Mr. Seddon
, the Secretary of War
, that his army had only two days supplies, the country was swept clear, and the sole reliance was on the railroads.
And the next day he issued an appeal to the “farmers east of the Blue Ridge
and south of the James
to send food for the army, for which he would pay, or return in kind.”
Many months before, flour was quoted at two hundred and fifty dollars per barrel in Confederate money; meal fifty dollars, corn
forty, and oats twenty-five dollars per bushel; hay twenty-five dollars per pound; beans fifty dollars, and black-eyed peas, forty-five dollars per bushel.
, ten dollars, coffee, twelve dollars, and tea, thirtyfive dollars per pound, and very scarce.
Sorghum, a substitute for sugar and meat, forty dollars per gallon.
a relative offered General Lee
a cup of tea, and to prevent him from knowing one cup was all she had, filled her own cup with James River
water, colored by mud from recent rains, which she unconcernedly sipped with a spoon.
The capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina
, on January 15, 1865, closed the last gateway between the Southern States
and the outside world.
with a powerful army reached Savannah
, on his march from Atlanta
to the sea, on December 21, 1864, from which point he could unite with Grant
by land or water.
On February 1st he crossed into South Carolina
, and on March 23d was at Goldsborough, N. C.
, one hundred and fifty miles from Petersburg
had now been made commander in chief of all the armies of the Confederacy
, and assumed charge in General Orders No. 1, February 9th.
He could have had practical control of military operations throughout the South
before, for his suggestions would have been complied with by the constitutional commander in chief, but he always attended to his own affairs and let those of others alone.
Five days after he was commissioned commander in chief he issued General Orders No. 2
, exhorting Southern soldiers to respond to the call of honor and duty, pardoning deserters and those improperly absent if they returned in twenty days-except those who deserted to the enemy-and saying, “Let us oppose constancy to adversity, fortitude to suffering, and courage to danger, with the firm assurance that He who gave freedom to our fathers will bless the efforts of their children to preserve it.”
The day before this order was issued “was the most inclement day of winter.”
dispatched to Seddon
, Secretary of War
, that his troops “were greatly exposed in line of battle two days, had been without meat for three days, and in scant clothing took the cold hail and sleet.”
The commissary general reported not a pound of meat at his disposal.
“The physical strength of the men,” said Lee
, “if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment;” that his “cavalry had to be dispersed for want of forage; with these facts, taken in connection with paucity of numbers, you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.”
General John C. Breckinridge
, who had been appointed Secretary of War
in Mr. Seddon
's place, received and referred General Lee
's letter to Mr. Davis
, who indorsed upon it: “This is too sad to be patiently considered.”
Want of supplies, want of men, was indeed a grievous calamity.
In the numerous recent combats many of his best men and officers had fallen, among the latter, General John Pegram
, who was endeared to him by many personal ties.
It seemed difficult to get the simplest necessaries-even soap became scarce, and, as a consequence, many of his soldiers had cutaneous diseases.
“The supply from the Commissary Department is wholly inadequate,” he wrote, “notwithstanding the materials for making it are found in every household and the art is familiar to all well-trained domestics.”
The equipments for cavalrymen were so greatly wanted that Lee
issued a circular requesting the citizens to send him any saddles, revolvers, pistols, and carbines that might be in their possession.
His scant battalions grew smaller and smaller, the lines to be guarded longer and longer.
“Cold and hunger struck them down in the trenches, while from the desolate track of triumphant armies in their rear came the cries of starving and unprotected homes.”
On all sides difficulties and dangers multiplied.
had been sent South to concentrate such troops as he could in Sherman
's front, and had reported that Sherman
would move via Greensborough
, or unite with Schofield
has a difficult task to perform,” said Lee
, Secretary of War
, “and one of his best officers, General Hardee
, is incapacitated by sickness.
I have heard his own health is indifferent; should his health give way there is no one in the department to replace him, nor have I any one to send there.
General J. E. Johnston
is the only officer I know who has the
confidence of the army and the people, and if he were ordered to report to me I would place him there on duty.”
had no troops to send Beauregard
, and yet it was all-important to retard Sherman
The troops in the Valley
, under General L. L. Lomax
, were scattered for subsistence, and could not be concentrated.
“You may expect,” said Lee
on February 21st, “Sheridan
to move up the Valley
, and Stoneman
What, then, will become of those sections of the country?
will be forced back by Schofield
, I fear, and until I abandon James River
nothing can be sent from the army.
is preparing to draw out by his left with the intent of enveloping me; he may be preparing to anticipate my withdrawal.
Everything of value should be removed from Richmond
The cavalry and artillery are still scattered for want of provender, and our supply and ammunition trains, which ought to be with the army in case of a sudden movement, are absent collecting provisions and forage in West Virginia
and North Carolina
You will see to what straits we are reduced.”
On the same day he wrote Mrs. Lee
: “After sending my note this morning I received from the express office a bag of socks.
You will have to send down your offerings as soon as you can and bring your work to a close, for I think General Grant
will move against us soon-within a week if nothing prevents-and no man can tell what may be the result; but, trusting to a merciful God, who does not always give the battle to the strong, I pray we may not be overwhelmed.
I shall, however, endeavor to do my duty and fight to the last.
Should it be necessary to abandon our position to prevent being surrounded, what will you do?
Will you remain, or leave the city?
You must consider the question and make up your mind.
It is a fearful condition, and we must rely for guidance and protection upon a kind Providence
determined to make one more effort by a bold stroke to break the chains forged to confine him. Grant
had so extended his left that he thought he might break through his works near the Appomattox
below and east of Petersburg
, and hence determined to assault
, two miles from the city, where the opposing lines were one hundred and fifty yards and the respective pickets fifty yards apart.
, an officer always crammed with courage and fond of enterprise, was selected to make the attack with his corps (formerly Ewell
's) and parts of Longstreet
's and Hill
's and a detachment of cavalry.
His object was to capture the fort, thrust the storming party through the gap, and seize three forts on the high ground beyond and the lines on the right and left of it, under the impression that the forts were opened at the gorge.
But there were no such forts.
The redoubts that had a commanding fire on Fort Stedman
were on the main line in the rear, and in front were a line of intrenchments.
At about half-past 4 on the morning of March 25th Gordon
made his daring sortie, broke through the trench guards, overpowered the garrison, and captured Fort Stedman
, or Hare's Hill, and two adjacent batteries; but, after a most gallant struggle, was forced to retire, losing nineteen hundred and forty-nine prisoners and one thousand killed and wounded, but bringing back five hundred and sixty prisoners and Brigadier-General McLaughlin
On February 27th Sheridan
, with two divisions of cavalry, ten thousand sabers, moved up the Valley
, pushed from his front at Waynesborough
a small force under Early
, and, marching via Charlottesville
, joined Grant
on March 27th.
now recalled Rosser
's cavalry division, and his cavalry corps embraced that division, W. H. F. Lee
's and Fitz Lee
's old division under Munford
, Fitz Lee
being assigned to the command of the cavalry corps--in all, about five thousand five hundred troopers.
During the winter General Lee
had given careful consideration to the question of evacuating Petersburg
It was attended with many embarrassments.
was the capital city, the machinery of the Confederate Government was in motion there, and the abandonment of a country's capital was a serious step; there, too, were the workshops, iron works, rolling mills, and foundries, which were so essential.
Their loss would be a deprivation; and then, too, there
was sorrow in turning away and leaving to their fate the noble women, children, and old men of the two cities, whose hearths and homes he had been so long defending.
The question of withdrawal was discussed with Mr. Davis
, who consented to it, the line of retreat was decided, and Danville, in Virginia
, selected as the point to retire upon.
It was determined to collect supplies at that point, so that Lee
, rapidly moving from his lines, could form a junction with General Joseph E. Johnston
, who on February 23d had been instructed to assume the command of the Army of the Tennessee, and all troops in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
were then to assail Sherman
could get to his relief, as the question of supplying his enormous army, moving from its base to the interior, would retard him after the first few days' march.
, after his junction with Schofield
, had nearly ninety thousand men of the three arms.
, having only eighteen thousand seven hundred and sixty-one, telegraphed Lee
that with his small force he could only annoy Sherman
, not stop him, adding: “You have only to decide where to meet Sherman
; I will be near him.”
It is possible Lee
, with his army out of the trenches, gaining strength from other quarters as he marched to Danville
, and with absentees returning, as in that event many would, could have carried to Johnston
fifty or sixty thousand fighting menmaking their combined force over seventy thousand effectives, as against Sherman
's ninety thousand.
The South would have gladly staked its fortunes upon a battle, when Lee
rode boot to boot and directed the tactical details.
by water visited Grant
on March 27th, told him he would be ready to move from Goldsborough
by April 10th, would threaten Raleigh
and march for Weldon
, sixty miles south of Petersburg
, and to General Grant
in the direction deemed best.
, apprehensive that Lee
would certainly abandon his intrenchments as soon as he heard Sherman
had crossed the Roanoke
, determined to take the initiative.
He could easily do it, for he had an army
one hundred and twenty-four thousand seven hundred men for duty.
The returns of February 28, 1865, gives as the strength of General Lee
's army, total effective of all arms, fifty-nine thousand and ninety-three.
His losses in March were great at Fort Stedman
-nearly three thousand-and desertions were numerous.
, on March 31st, estimates that Lee
had thirtythree thousand muskets to defend a line thirty-five miles in length, or a thousand men to the mile.
told the writer he had at that time thirty-five thousand; but after Five Forks
, and in the encounters of March 31st, April 1st and 2d, he had only twenty thousand muskets available, and of all arms not over twenty-five thousand, when he began the retreat that terminated at Appomattox Court House.
The opposing horsemen, commanded by General Wesley Merritt
, were composed of three divisions, under Thomas C. Devin
, and Crook
and formed part of the mixed command of Sheridan
From the morning report of March 31, 1865, they numbered thirteen thousand two hundred and nine present for duty, exclusive of a division under General Ronalds Mackenzie
-about two thousand effectives.
The cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac numbered over fifteen thousand men in the saddle.
In other words, where Lee
had one infantry or cavalry or artillery soldier Grant
He possessed the enormous advantage, too, of being able to hold his formidable works with a force equal to the whole of Lee
's army and still manoeuvre nearly one hundred thousand men outside of them, either to extend his left or for other purposes.
Fully aware of his great advantage, he waited impatiently to commence the spring campaign.
He was apprehensive that Lee
would quietly draw out from his front at night and, gaining a good start, appear in Sherman
's front before he could reach him. Having plenty of men, why should he wait for Sherman
to join him?
“I have had a feeling that it is better,” said
he to Mr. Lincoln
, “to let Lee
's old antagonist give his army the final blow and finish up the job. If the Western
armies were ever to put in an appearance against Lee
's army, it might give some of our politicians a chance to stir up sectional feeling in claiming everything for the troops from their own section of the country.”
“I see, I see,” replied Mr. Lincoln
; “in fact, my anxiety has been so great that I didn't care where the help came from so the work was perfectly done.”
, chained to his trenches by his necessities, and waiting for better roads on account of the weak condition of his artillery and transportation animals, gave General Grant
the opportunity to get around his lines west of Petersburg
, for which he had so long waited.
On March 28th Grant
sounded the laissez aller, as a writer puts it, and the next day great turning columns were put in motion to swing around the flank of Lee
, and get possession of his remaining lines of transportation, the Lynchburg
or Southside Railroad, and the Danville Railroad at Burkesville
, the junction of the two.
It was calculated that Lee
would largely draw troops from his lines to avert such a disaster, and in that event they could be successfully assailed by the troops on their front.
On that day General Lee
wrote Mrs. Lee
: “I have received your note with a bag of socks.
I return the bag and receipt.
The count is all right this time.
I have put in the bag General Scott
's autobiography, which I thought you might like to read.
The general, of course, stands out very prominently, and does not hide his light under a bushel, but he appears the bold, sagacious, truthful man that he is. I inclose a note for little Agnes.
I shall be very glad to see her to-morrow, but can not recommend pleasure trips now.”
The Southern lines south of James River
stretched from the Appomattox
along the territory south of the city, then ran in a southwest direction parallel and protecting the Lynchburg Railroad, then bending west and northwest, terminated on Hatcher's Run
, a little over a mile from Sutherland Station on the railroad.
From this point the White Oak
road runs west to Five Forks
, four miles distant, where it is crossed
by the Ford
road at right angles; a road from Dinwiddie courthouse joins the intersection of the two.
A person at that point could therefore travel in five different directions-east or west, north or south, or southeast — to the courthouse, eight miles away, from which the location probably derives its name.
, in front of the Southern
right, became a strategic point.
occupied it he could tear up the Southside Railroad west of Sutherland Station, and, while holding Lee
in his lines, detach infantry and cavalry, and destroy the Danville Railroad, the only connecting link with the Southern States
's large cavalry corps, supported by Warren
's Fifth and Humphreys
's Second Corps, was directed, on the 29th, to Dinwiddie Court House, the infantry to occupy the country between the courthouse and Federal left, the cavalry the courthouse.
, who had succeeded to the command of Burnside
's Ninth Corps, Wright
with his Sixth, and Ord
with the Army of the James, held the line in the order named from the Appomattox
, in command of the Twentyfourth (Gibbon
's) and Twenty-fifth (Weitzel
's) Army Corps, Butler
's old army, had placed Weitzel
in charge of the defenses at Bermuda Hundred
and on the north side of the James
The purpose of the Union
commander to get around his right rear and break up his railroad connections was promptly perceived by Lee
. General Anderson
was sent at once, with Bushrod Johnson
's division and Wise
's brigade, to his extreme right.
's division was also transferred to that point, and Fitz Lee
's division of cavalry was brought from the north side of James River
to Five Forks
, reaching there on the morning of the 30th; this division was at once advanced toward Dinwiddie Court House, and met, fought, and checked the Union
cavalry under Merritt
, advancing from that point to Five Forks
. General W. H. Payne
, whose conspicuous daring and gallant conduct on every battlefield had made him so well known to the public and the army, was here severely wounded.
At sunset Pickett
, with Corse
's, and Stuart
's brigades of his own division, and Ransom
's and Wallace
's of Johnson
arrived at Five Forks
, and so did the cavalry divisions of W. H. F. Lee
The five infantry brigades under Pickett
and the three cavalry divisions of Fitz Lee
moved out on the Dinwiddie Court House road on the 31st, and attacked and drove Sheridan
's cavalry corps back to the courthouse.
Night put an end to the contest.
The Confederates fell back early on the morning of April 1st to Five Forks
, to prevent Warren
's Fifth Corps, which had moved during the night to Sheridan
's assistance, from attacking their left rear.
followed with Warren
's infantry and his cavalry; Pickett
's line of battle ran along the White Oak
's cavalry division was on his left, W. H. F. Lee
's on his right, and Rosser
in the rear, north of Hatcher's Run
, guarding the wagon trains.
About 4 P. M. Sheridan
, having succeeded in massing the Fifth Corps, concealed by the woods beyond Pickett
's left, attacked by seizing the White Oak
road between Pickett
and General Lee
's lines, four miles away, with Warren
's infantry, which enabled him to flank Pickett
's line with the Fifth Corps, while he assailed his front and right with his cavalry corps.
was connected with the main line of his army by the cavalry pickets of Roberts
's brigade, and was cut off from support and badly defeated, in spite of his right making a gallant resistance, in which W. H. F. Lee
, with one of his cavalry brigades, in a brilliant encounter, repulsed two brigades under Custer
The Confederates lost between three and four thousand men, thirteen colors, and six guns.
's isolated position was unfortunately selected.
A line behind Hatcher's Run
or at Sutherland Station could not have been flanked, but might been maintained until re-enforced by troops drawn from the Southern
right at the Claiborne
road crossing of Hatcher's Run
The Confederate cavalry were withdrawn during the night to the Southside Railroad, and were joined there by Hunton
's brigade of Pickett
's division and by General Bushrod Johnson
, with Wise
's, Gracies's, and Fulton
's brigade, all under the command of General R. H. Anderson
The disaster at Five Forks
was the beginning of the end. Two large infantry and one cavalry corps, making
a total of fifty thousand officers and men,2
with a roving commission in front of Lee
's extreme right, imperiled his communications most seriously, as well as the safety of his lines.
The Southern general could not risk another attack outside of his works, and, in order to strengthen that portion of them sufficiently to resist assault, had so weakened what remained that it became vulnerable.
From the Appomattox
to the right center the thin gray line was so stretched that it was not as formidable as a well-prepared skirmish line.
Though holding with tenacity to his right, Lee
must let the bars down elsewhere.
Thirty-five thousand muskets were guarding thirty-seven miles of intrenchments.
Grant on the night of April 1st was at Dabney's Mill, a mile or two south of Boydton
plank road, which runs from Dinwiddie Court House to Petersburg
Colonel Horace Porter
, his aid-de-camp, first gave him the news of Sheridan
's success at 9 P. M. that night as he was sitting before “a blazing camp fire with his blue cavalry overcoat on and the ever-present cigar in his mouth.”
He sent over the field-wires at once orders for an immediate assault along the lines, but subsequently directed the attack to be made at 4 A. M. the next day. All during the night a bombardment was kept up on all portions of the Confederate
At dawn on Sunday, April 2d, Parke
, with the Ninth and Sixth Corps, and Ord
, with the Army of the James, successfully assaulted the attenuated lines in their front.
The task was easy, and while handfuls of brave men heroically resisted, like shooting stars their course was brilliant but brief.
The storming pioneer parties everywhere cut away the abatis and chevaux-de-frise
, and through the opening the blue masses poured into the works.
There were high parapets and high relief and deep ditches; but the troops had been drawn away to the Southern
right, and except here and there, notably at Fort Gregg, it was only a matter of physical agility to climb over them.
Only small garrisons were in the forts, and very few men in the connecting lines.
Four small brigades, Wilcox
's division, Hill
's, and McCombs
's-held the entire line in the front of the armies of Ord
, while Gordon
, with a few thousand troops, held in front of Parke
's Ninth Corps.
's troops were forced back to an inner line whose flanks rested on the river above and below Petersburg
, and there resisted all further attempts to break through them.
Before 10 A. M., Lee
knew he could only hope to cling to his trenches until night, and that the longer defense of Richmond
was not possible.
All his skill would be required to extricate his army and get it out and away from the old lines.
from the north side of the James
about 10 A. M. on the 2d, with Field
It is stated that he had not perceived that the Federal
lines in front of Richmond
had been weakened by transferring troops to the vicinity of Petersburg
, and hence did not move to Lee
earlier, as he had been instructed to do in that event.
In the midst of the turmoil, excitement, and danger, Lee
was as calm and collected as ever.
When the Sixth Corps broke over A. P. Hill
's lines, that officer was at General Lee
's headquarters at the Turnbull House
, and rode at once rapidly to his front, where he was killed by some stragglers who had crossed the Boydton
road in the direction of the railroad, whose presence in that vicinity he did not expect.
in many respects was a good officer-earnest, dashing, zealous, and prompt to execute; he had rendered marked service throughout the whole war, and his light division had written many victories upon its proud standards.