Commencement of the Grand campaign-general Butler's position-sheridan's first raid
The armies were now all ready to move for the accomplishment of a single object.
They were acting as a unit so far as such a thing was possible over such a vast field.
, with the capital of the Confederacy
, was the main end to which all were working.
, with Atlanta
, was an important obstacle in the way of our accomplishing the result aimed at, and was therefore almost an independent objective.
It was of less importance only because the capture of Johnston
and his army would not produce so immediate and decisive a result in closing the rebellion as would the possession of Richmond
and his army.
All other troops were employed exclusively in support of these two movements.
This was the plan; and I will now endeavor to give, as concisely as I can, the method of its execution, outlining first the operations of minor detached but co-operative columns.
As stated before, Banks
failed to accomplish what he had been sent
to do on the Red River
, and eliminated the use of forty thousand veterans whose co-operation in the grand campaign had been expected--ten thousand with Sherman
and thirty thousand against Mobile
's record is almost equally brief.
He moved out, it is true, according to programme; but just when I was hoping to hear of good work being done in the valley I received instead the following announcement from Halleck
is in full retreat on Strasburg
He will do nothing but run; never did anything else.”
The enemy had intercepted him about New Market
and handled him roughly, leaving him short six guns, and some nine hundred men out of his six thousand.
The plan had been for an advance of Sigel
's forces in two columns.
Though the one under his immediate command failed ingloriously the other proved more fortunate.
and [William W.] Averell
his western column advanced from the Gauley
in West Virginia
at the appointed time, and with more happy results.
They reached the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad at Dublin
and destroyed a depot of supplies, besides tearing up several miles of road and burning the bridge over New River
Having accomplished this they recrossed the Alleghenies
to Meadow Bluffs and there awaited further orders.
embarked at Fort Monroe
with all his command, except the cavalry and some artillery which moved up the south bank of the James River
His steamers moved first up Chesapeake Bay
and York River
as if threatening the rear of Lee
At midnight they turned back, and Butler
by daylight was far up the James River
He seized City Point
and Bermuda Hundred
early in the day [May 5], without loss and, no doubt, very much to the surprise of the enemy.
This was the accomplishment of the first step contemplated in my instructions to Butler
He was to act from here, looking to Richmond
as his objective point.
I had given him to understand that I should aim to fight Lee
between the Rapidan
if he would stand; but should Lee
fall back into Richmond
I would follow up and make a junction of the armies of the Potomac
and the James
on the James River
He was directed to secure a footing as far up the south side of the river as he could at as early a date as possible.
was in position by the 6th of May and had begun intrenching, and on the 7th he sent out his cavalry from Suffolk
to cut the Weldon Railroad.
He also sent out detachments to destroy the railroad between Petersburg
, but no great success attended these latter efforts.
He made no great effort to establish himself on that road and neglected to attack Petersburg
, which was almost defenceless.
About the 11th [May 12] he advanced slowly until he reached the works at Drury's Bluff, about half way between Bermuda Hundred
In the mean time Beauregard
had been gathering reinforcements.
On the 16th he attacked Butler
with great vigor, and with such success as to limit very materially the further usefulness of the Army of the James as a distinct factor in the campaign.
I afterward ordered a portion of it to join the Army of the Potomac, leaving a sufficient force with Butler
to man his works, hold securely the footing he had already gained and maintain a threatening front toward the rear of the Confederate
The position which General Butler
had chosen between the two rivers, the James
, was one of great natural strength, one where a large area of ground might be thoroughly inclosed by means of a single intrenched line, and that a very short one in comparison with the extent of territory which it thoroughly protected.
His right was protected by the James River
, his left by the Appomattox
, and his rear by their junction — the two streams uniting near by. The bends of the two streams shortened the line that had been chosen for intrenchments, while it increased the area which the line inclosed.
Previous to ordering any troops from Butler
I sent my chief engineer, General [John G.] Barnard
, from the Army of the Potomac to that of the James
to inspect Butler
's position and ascertain whether I could again safely make an order for General Butler
's movement in co-operation with mine, now that I was getting so near Richmond
; or, if I could not, whether his position was strong enough to justify me in withdrawing some of his troops and having them brought round by water to White House
to join me and reinforce the Army of the Potomac. General Barnard
reported the position very strong for defensive purposes, and that I could do the latter with great security; but that General Butler
could not move from where he was, in cooperation, to produce any effect.
He said that the general occupied a place between the James
and Appomattox rivers
which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively.
I then asked him why Butler
could not move out
from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond
He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler
had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler
's line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler
was in a bottle.
He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard
expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place.
This struck me as being very expressive of his position, particularly when I saw the hasty sketch which General Barnard
had drawn; and in making my subsequent report I used that expression without adding quotation marks, never thinking that anything had been said that would attract attention — as this did, very much to the annoyance, no doubt, of General Butler
and, I know, very much to my own. I found afterwards that this was mentioned in the notes of General Badeau
's book, which, when they were shown to me, I asked to have stricken out; yet it was retained there, though against my wishes.
I make this statement here because, although I have often made it before, it has never been in my power until now to place it where it will correct history; and I desire to rectify all injustice that I may have done to individuals, particularly to officers who were gallantly serving their country during the trying period of the war for the preservation of the Union
certainly gave his very earnest support to the war; and he gave his own best efforts personally to the suppression of the rebellion.
The further operations of the Army of the James can best be treated of in connection with those of the Army of the Potomac, the two being so intimately associated and connected as to be substantially one body in which the individuality of the supporting wing is merged.
Before giving the reader a summary of Sherman
's great Atlanta campaign
, which must conclude my description of the various cooperative movements preparatory to proceeding with that of the operations of the centre, I will briefly mention Sheridan
's first raid upon Lee
's communications which, though an incident of the operations on the main line and not specifically marked out in the original plan, attained in its brilliant execution and results all the proportions of an independent campaign.
By thus anticipating, in point of time, I will be able to more perfectly observe the continuity of events
occurring in my immediate front when I shall have undertaken to describe our advance from the Rapidan
On the 8th of May, just after the battle of the Wilderness
and when we were moving on Spottsylvania
I directed Sheridan
verbally to cut loose from the Army of the Potomac, pass around the left of Lee
's army and attack his cavalry: to cut the two roads-one running west through Gordonsville
, the other to Richmond
, and, when compelled to do so for want of forage and rations, to move on to the James River
and draw these from Butler
This move took him past the entire rear of Lee
These orders were also given in writing through Meade
The object of this move was three-fold.
First, if successfully executed, and it was, he would annoy the enemy by cutting his line of supplies and telegraphic communications, and destroy or get for his own use supplies in store in the rear and coming up. Second, he would draw the enemy's cavalry after him, and thus better protect our flanks, rear and trains than by remaining with the army.
Third, his absence would save the trains drawing his forage and other supplies from Fredericksburg
, which had now become our base.
He started at daylight the next morning, and accomplished more than was expected.
It was sixteen days before he got back to the Army of the Potomac.
The course Sheridan
took was directly to Richmond
Before night [J. E. B. “Jeb
” ] Stuart
, commanding the Confederate cavalry, came on to the rear of his command.
But the advance kept on, crossed the North Anna
, and at Beaver Dam
, a station on the Virginia Central Railroad, recaptured four hundred Union prisoners on their way to Richmond
, destroyed the road and used and destroyed a large amount of subsistence and medical stores.
, seeing that our cavalry was pushing towards Richmond
, abandoned the pursuit on the morning of the 10th and, by a detour and an exhausting march, interposed between Sheridan
at Yellow Tavern
, only about six miles north of the city.
destroyed the railroad and more supplies at Ashland
, and on the 11th arrived in Stuart
A severe engagement ensued in which the losses were heavy on both sides, but the rebels were beaten, their leader [Stuart] mortally wounded, and some guns and many prisoners were captured.
passed through the outer defences of Richmond
, and could, no doubt, have passed through the inner ones.
But having no supports near he could not have remained.
After caring for his wounded he
struck for the James River
below the city, to communicate with Butler
and to rest his men and horses as well as to get food and forage for them.
He moved first between the Chickahominy
and the James
, but in the morning (the 12th) he was stopped by batteries at Mechanicsville
He then turned to cross to the north side of the Chickahominy
by Meadow Bridge
He found this barred, and the defeated Confederate cavalry, reorganized, occupying the opposite side.
The panic created by his first entrance within the outer works of Richmond
having subsided troops were sent out to attack his rear.
He was now in a perilous position, one from which but few generals could have extricated themselves.
The defences of Richmond
, manned, were to the right, the Chickahominy
was to the left with no bridge remaining and the opposite bank guarded, to the rear was a force from Richmond
This force was attacked and beaten by Wilson
's and Gregg
's divisions, while Sheridan
turned to the left with the remaining division and hastily built a bridge over the Chickahominy
under the fire of the enemy, forced a crossing and soon dispersed the Confederates
he found there.
The enemy was held back from the stream by the fire of the troops not engaged in bridge building.
On the 13th Sheridan
was at Bottom's Bridge, over the Chickahominy
On the 14th he crossed this stream and on that day went into camp on the James River
at Haxall's Landing.
He at once put himself into communication with General Butler
, who directed all the supplies he wanted to be furnished.
had left the Army of the Potomac at Spottsylvania
, but did not know where either this or Lee
's army now was. Great caution therefore had to be exercised in getting back.
On the 17th, after resting his command for three days, he started on his return.
He moved by the way of White House
The bridge over the Pamunkey
had been burned by the enemy, but a new one was speedily improvised and the cavalry crossed over it. On the 22d he was at Aylett
's on the Matapony
, where he learned the position of the two armies.
On the 24th he joined us on the march from North Anna
to Cold Harbor, in the vicinity of Chesterfield
in this memorable raid passed entirely around Lee
's army: encountered his cavalry in four engagements, and defeated them in all; recaptured four hundred Union prisoners and killed and captured many of the enemy; destroyed and used many supplies and munitions of war; destroyed miles of railroad and telegraph, and freed us from annoyance by the cavalry of the enemy for more than two weeks.