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Chapter 30:


Foiled in his attempts to turn Lee's flank south of the James by the capture of Petersburg, through Beauregard's brave resistance for four days against his repeated assaults, Grant drew back and commenced throwing up formidable lines of intrenchments, all along his front, during the night of June 18th and the following Sunday. Lee's army, facing to the eastward, was as busily occupied in throwing up equally strong defensive works, preparing to hold Petersburg as the key to the defenses of Richmond, in obedience to the Confederate authorities, although Lee himself would have preferred to draw Grant farther into the interior, away from his tidewater base and fortress, where he could have maneuvered against him in the open country and amid Nature's great fortifications, which so abound among the mountains of Virginia.

At this time, Beauregard's left rested on the navigable Appomattox, about one mile north of east from Petersburg, where the Appomattox turns northward, for five miles, to the vicinity of Port Walthall, and thence eastward, for about four miles, to City Point, where that river enters the James. On his right, Anderson, with the First corps, extended the Confederate line for some three miles to the southward, in front of Petersburg, crossing the Norfolk & Petersburg railroad in the vicinity of the Jerusalem plank road, thence westward, for some two miles; the Third corps, under A. P. Hill, extended the Confederate right, on the south of Petersburg, to the Weldon & Petersburg railroad. Pickett's division took up the line on the west side of the Appomattox and extended it north to the James, at the big bend opposite Dutch gap. The fortifications on the north of the James, from Chaffin's bluff northward, along the front of Richmond, were held by batteries and by local troops, in command of Lieut.-Gen. R. S. Ewell. [517] Subsequently the Confederate works were extended to the southwest of Petersburg for more than 10 miles, to beyond Hatcher's run, until Lee's line of defensive works, consisting of forts and redoubts connected by breastworks and strengthened by all means known to the art of war, extended for nearly 40 miles.

The Federal fortifications, commencing on the river road north of the James, in front of the Confederate lines, extended for four miles to the south, to Fort Brady, above Dutch gap; then were resumed, opposite the big bend of the James, and extended across the neck of the Bermuda Hundred peninsula, for nearly four miles, to the big bend of the Appomattox; then again resumed, upon the south side of that river and along its eastern side, and extended for over four miles, by redoubts and detached works, to the City Point railroad, on the bank of the Appomattox, and were thence prolonged, for 15 miles or more, around the front of Petersburg, to beyond Hatcher's run, frequently as double lines. South of these main defensive works, a line of formidable intrenchments protected the rear of the besieging army; while numerous forts, connected by heavy breastworks, extended across the City Point peninsula, making an enclosed camp for the base of supplies and the headquarters of the Federal army.

Grant ‘rested his men,’ as he had promised, with the vigorous use of intrenching tools, until near the end of June, constructing works far more formidable than those opposing him, and making such preparations as are only made when a great fortress is to be taken by protracted and regular siege operations. Within these well-fortified lines Grant collected more than 107,000 men, most of them veterans of the armies of the Potomac and of the James. To oppose these, Lee had, in his 40-mile line, for the defense of Richmond and Petersburg, some 54,000 men, the remaining veterans of the army of Northern Virginia, and of the department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, Beauregard's army. Grant's supplies easily reached him by water, up the broad navigable James to City Point. Lee drew his, mainly from the South, by three railroads that met at Petersburg and were thence continued by single line to Richmond. The first Federal assault cut the roads leading to City Point and Norfolk. [518]

Grant's first movement was to cut the road leading south to Weldon, that he might extend the strong arm of his fortifications westward, across that road, and hold it from Lee's use. On the 21st of June, he sent his Second and Sixth corps southward, across the Jerusalem plank road, which ran from Petersburg south, between the Norfolk and the Weldon railroads, and directed these to take position on the left of his Fifth corps, thus, by a great wheel of his left, hoping to flank Lee's right south of Petersburg. The battle line, when formed, was composed of the Fifth corps on the right, the Second in the center, and the Sixth on the left. This formidable line of attack was extended still farther to the left, by 6,000 cavalry, under Wilson, designed to strike the railway still farther to the south and then sweep up to the northward. Lee, in person, was at his right, on the morning of the 22d, when the Federal columns advanced to his front. Three of A. P. Hill's brigades were moved southward to meet the Federal columns, the movement of which was not in concert, and the Confederates discovered a wide gap between the Sixth and the Second corps. Into this, Mahone led Hill's brigades, through the pine forests, and fell, in fierce assault, on the left flank of the Second corps, driving it back in confusion, behind defensive works, with a loss of 1,700 men and four guns.

The next day the Sixth corps renewed the attempt to reach the railroad, when it was driven back with a loss of 500. Wilson's cavalry reached the railroad, at Reams' Station, nine miles south of Petersburg, on the 22d, and, after breaking the track, moved westward to the Southside railroad, where, on the 23d, after a vigorous attack on the division of W. H. F. Lee, it was driven back, and on the 24th, retreated toward Petersburg, having been turned back from Staunton river bridge by the local militia, closely followed by Lee. Hampton, who had hurried southward from his victory over Sheridan at Trevilian's, joined Lee in the pursuit. Reaching Reams' Station; Wilson found Mahone across his track, with two brigades of infantry, while Lee was closely pressing his rear. Thus assailed, his troops were routed, leaving behind them, not only a long supply train and thirteen guns, but loads of plunder robbed from private houses, and a thousand negro slaves taken from Virginia plantations. [519] Wilson's raid had been one of pillage, and he well merited the punishment he received at Reams' Station,

Early's Valley campaign and his advance on Washington, brought confusion to Grant's plans, in the early part of July, as narrated in the preceding chapter, and compelled him to organize a large force, under Sheridan, to look after Early, while he continued to hold his wellfor-tified lines and intrenched camps on the James and on the Appomattox.

During all the month of July, Grant's great army was busy throwing up parallels and driving mines in advancing upon Petersburg. In front of the Blandford cemetery, to the northeast of that city, there was a salient in the Confederate line known as Elliott's. At that point, the Federal lines, under Burnside, were but a hundred yards away, and in their rear was a deep ravine, from which Pennsylvania miners drove a main gallery, for 510 feet, under Burnside's works, the intervening space, and to well under the Elliott salient in the Confederate line. From this main gallery lateral ones were extended, right and left, and in these works were placed 8,000 pounds of powder, and the appliances for its explosion under Confederate works and the guns of Pegram's and Elliott's batteries. Grant proposed to spring this mine and thus blow open a way, through the Confederate intrenchments, by which he could send three of his corps, nearly half of his army, and capture Petersburg from Lee. The preparations for this peculiar kind of strategy by one who was always desiring open-field fighting, were all complete on the 28th of July.

On the 27th of July, Grant sent Sheridan's cavalry, and Hancock with the Second corps, across to the north side of the James, to attack the Confederate works at Chaffin's bluff, hoping to there break through and capture Richmond, or, at least, to create a diversion that would draw a large portion of Lee's army to the north of the James, and thus help to secure success for Burnside's attack, after the explosion of his mine. Crossing the river at Deep Bottom, Hancock drove back Kershaw's division and captured four pieces of his artillery, but on following up his success he encountered an intrenched line of battle, which brought him to a stand. On the 29th, Lee hurried cavalry and five divisions of infantry over the James, to aid in keeping back Hancock, leaving [520] Pickett between the Appomattox and the James, and but three divisions in the defenses of Petersburg, with but 13,000 men of all arms, to receive Burnside's assault on the morning of the 30th.

Meade was reluctant to spring his mine without having the steady Hancock behind Burnside, so Grant recalled the half of the Second corps, gave up the idea of a direct movement on Richmond, and reinforced Burnside, as Meade desired. Sheridan's cavalry was also brought back, to create a demonstration on Lee's right,. and so, by threatening his wings, divert attention from the intended assault on his center.

In his official report of 1865, Grant thus describes this battle of the Crater:

On the morning of the 30th, between 4 and 5 o'clock, the mine was sprung, blowing up a battery and most of a regiment, and the advance of the assaulting column, formed by the Ninth corps, immediately took possession of the crater made by the explosion and the line for some distance to the right and left of it, and a detached line in front of it, but for some cause failed to advance promptly to the ridge beyond. Had they done this, I have every reason to believe that Petersburg would have fallen. Other troops were immediately pushed forward, but the time consumed in get. ting them up enabled the enemy to rally from his surprise (which had been complete) and get forces to this point for its defense. The captured line thus held, being untenable and of no advantage to us, the troops were withdrawn, but not without heavy loss. Thus terminated in disaster what promised to be the most successful assault of the campaign.

This explosion partially destroyed Elliott's brigade and opened a wide gap into Petersburg, without a single Confederate soldier present to contest the passage of Burnside through to the rear of Lee's lines. More than one hundred and sixty Federal guns concentrated their fire on the Confederate works, to the right and left of this breach, to engage attention while Burnside made his assault. This terrific explosion, for the time being, naturally terrified the nearby men of both armies, and twenty minutes passed before Burnside's leading brigade advanced, cautiously, up the slope of the crater and took shelter in its yawning opening, which was 135 feet in length and 30 feet in depth. The commanding hill of Blanford cemetery, within the Confederate lines, was just in front of the assaulting column and undefended; but Burnside's men lingered within the crater and failed to move on to this point of vantage. Another brigade [521] of the assaulting column followed, and that also took shelter in the great pit, and there an entire Federal division remained, as a confused mass, which its officers tried in vain to move forward, in face of the scattering fire that the Confederate infantry, now rushing in from all directions, poured into the crater.

Haskell's battery, the one nearest at hand on the plank road, was speedily moved forward and its fire was added to that of the musketry. Hamilton Chamberlayne, though sick in a near hospital, hastened to reinforce Haskell with his guns, while Wright and Langhorne, from the left. screened by a small body of pines, raked with canister, from their position in a salient, the ground between the crater and the Federal line of intrenchments, across which Burnside must send reinforcements. Grant's artillery showered shot and shell upon these Confederate batteries, but they stood bravely to their work. Burnside sent two more divisions to push forward the hesitating assault, but most of the men of these found refuge in the swarming mass that already nearly filled the bottom of the crater. Meade, watching from the rear, and learning, on demand, from Burnside the cause of this delay, excitedly asked: ‘Do you mean to say your officers and men will not obey your orders to advance?’ Burnside wrote reply: ‘I mean to say that it is very hard to advance to the crest.’

At 8 o'clock a negro division was sent forward to march over the white Federal soldiers in the crater. These quickly sought refuge in the adjacent, unoccupied Confederate rifle-pits. A division of the Tenth corps was now added to the assaulting column, which, encouraged by the power of numbers, was bracing itself for an advance to the Cemetery hill. At this juncture of affairs, General Lee, from beyond the Appomattox, arrived and took charge of the defense. Two of Hill's brigades were drawn from his right, and Mahone promptly ordered these to cover the breach; Pegram's battery came forward to join the combat; through the covered way, which led from the plank road to the ravine in front of the crater, Weisiger's brigade, of Mahone's division, rushed to the brink of the crater. The negro division fled from the rifle-pits, at sight of the charging Virginians, and leaped into the crater, followed by most of the other Federal troops that had ventured beyond it. [522]

Wright's Georgia brigade soon came to the aid of Weisiger, and by about midday the Confederate line was re-established by the capture of its broken works. Volleys were poured into the crater, until the mass of Federal soldiers, there entrapped, surrendered at discretion. Grant had brought 65,000 of his soldiers to this grand assault, which, through the lack of audacious courage in his officers and men, brought to him not only failure, but a loss of nearly 5,000 of his soldiers. A howl of despair arose in every portion of the North. Gold went up to $2.80 for a dollar, as compared with greenbacks. The New York Herald advised that an embassy should be sent to the Confederate government, ‘to see if this dreadful war cannot be ended in a mutually satisfactory treaty of peace.’

Early in August, Grant sent Sheridan, with the Sixth corps of infantry and Torbert's and Wilson's divisions of cavalry, to the Shenandoah valley to look after the troublesome Early. To meet these, and aid his lieutenant, Lee dispatched Fitz Lee's division of cavalry and Kershaw's division of infantry from his First corps, in the same direction. Believing, from information received, that Lee had sent three divisions of his army away from Petersburg, thus greatly weakening his defensive force, Grant decided, on the 13th of August, ‘to threaten Richmond from the north side of the James, to prevent his sending troops away, and, if possible, to draw back those sent.’ That night he moved the Second corps and Gregg's division of cavalry from the army of the Potomac, and the Tenth corps from Butler's army of the James, to the north of the river, and the next day these assaulted the Confederate lines in front of Richmond, only to be repulsed, with the loss of 1,000 men; although Grant claims to have captured six pieces of artillery, several hundred prisoners, and to have detained troops that were under marching orders to Early. Gen. F. A. Walker writes of this movement: ‘It should be frankly confessed that the troops on our side engaged, behaved with little spirit. . . . When it is added that the two brigades most in fault were the Irish brigade and that which had been so long and so gloriously commanded by Brooke, it will appear to what a condition the army had been reduced by three months of desperate fighting.’ [523]

Having drawn a portion of Lee's army north of the James, Grant, on the 18th, sent Warren, with the Fifth corps, to his left, to capture the Weldon railroad and attack Lee's right. Following the plank road southward to the Globe tavern, on the railroad south of Petersburg, Warren then turned northward, along the railway, toward Petersburg, until Heth's division of Hill's corps struck his exposed left flank and captured nearly a thousand of his men. The next day, A. P. Hill confronted Warren with two divisions, assailing his left with Heth's, while Mahone's fell on his right. Warren, after a loss of 2,900 men, threw up works and assumed the defensive. Hill attacked him again, on the 21st, but was repulsed with considerable loss.

During this affair between Hill and Warren, Grant withdrew Hancock and Gregg from the north side of the James, and, on the 21st, sent these to Reams' Station, south of Petersburg and beyond Warren's division, to tear up the track of the railway, in the meantime holding some old Confederate works at the station. To interfere with this destructive work, Lee sent A. P. Hill, with eight brigades of infantry, preceded by Hampton's division of cavalry. On the 24th these attacked Hancock. Pegram's artillery secured a position which took Hancock's lines in both reverse and enfilade, with eight guns at very short range. This unexpected and rapid fire opened the way for a charge, by Heth's division, when the larger portion of Hancock's men took a panic and broke in flight, leaving their works, 9 guns, 12 flags, over 3,000 muskets, and 2,150 prisoners, in Hill's hands, with a loss to him of but 720 men. It was an unheard — of thing for the veteran soldiery of Hancock to be thus discomfited, and they were only saved from utter rout by the desperate fighting of a small number of steadfast men, led by Hancock in person. Walker, in his Life of that great soldier, attributed this defeat to ‘the weakened spirit of our (Hancock's) men,’ adding:

Hancock had seen his troops fail in their attempts to carry the intrenched positions of the enemy, but he had never before had the mortification of seeing them driven, and his lines and guns taken. as on this occasion; and never before had he seen his men fail to respond, to the utmost, when he called upon them, personally, for a supreme effort; nor had he ever before ridden toward an enemy followed by a beggarly array of a few hundred stragglers, who had been gathered together and pushed toward the enemy. He could no longer conceal from himself that his once mighty corps retained but [524] the shadow of its former strength and vigor. . . . ‘I do not care to die,’ cried Hancock, ‘but I pray God I may never leave this field.’ The agony of that day never passed away from the proud soldier.

Grant's only mention of this affair in his final report is: ‘On the 24th, the Second corps and Gregg's division of cavalry, while at Reams' Station destroying the railroad, were attacked, and after desperate fighting a part of our line gave way and five pieces of artillery fell into the hands of the enemy.’

The various combats between the two opposing armies at Petersburg, during the month of August, resulted in a loss of about 8,000 men to Grant and 2,000 to Lee. Grant persistently continued his attacks on Lee's flanks, but mainly on his right, his object being to so extend his left to the westward as to capture and hold Lee's lines of communication with the South. In his report, Grant writes: ‘By the 12th of September a branch railroad was completed from the City Point & Petersburg railroad to the Weldon road, enabling us to supply without difficulty, in all weather, the army in front of Petersburg. The extension of our lines across the Weldon railroad compelled the enemy to so extend his that it seemed he could have but few troops north of the James for the defense of Richmond.’ This railway extension was between two lines of formidable intrenchments, safely guarding it from attack.

After reaching the conclusion just mentioned, Grant, on the night of September 28th, sent the Tenth corps, under Birney, and the Eighteenth corps, under Ord, to the north of the James, by the way of Deep Bottom (a way by which he had already so many times sent expeditions for the same purpose), to attack the ‘few troops’ which he supposed Lee now had at Chaffin's farm, or Fort Harrison, for the defense of his right, resting on the James. The Federal attack was made on the morning of the 29th, as Grant reports, ‘carrying the very strong fortifications and intrenchments below Chaffin's farm, known as Fort Harrison, capturing fifteen pieces of artillery and the New Market road and intrenchments. This success was followed up by a gallant attack on Fort Gilmer, immediately in front of the Chaffin's farm fortifications, in which we were repulsed with heavy loss. Kautz's cavalry was pushed forward on the road to the right of this, supported by infantry, and reached the [525] enemy's inner line, but was unable to get further. The position captured from the enemy was so threatening to Richmond that I determined to hold it. The enemy made several desperate attempts to dislodge us, all of which were unsuccessful, and for which he paid dearly.’ Grant's loss in this affair was 2,300 men.

Supposing that Lee's right at Petersburg had been weakened in meeting the attack north of the James, Meade, on the 30th of September, sent four divisions to attack Lee's right, at Poplar Spring church. Hill met the flank of these with two divisions and forced them back, with a loss of over 2,000 men. Parke, commanding the Ninth corps, attributed this disaster to ‘the large amount of raw material in the ranks [that] has greatly diminished the efficiency of the corps.’

On the 7th of October, Lee attacked Kautz's cavalry, north of the James, and, as Grant reports, ‘drove it back with heavy loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and the loss of all the artillery—eight or nine pieces. This he followed by an attack on our intrenched infantry line, but was repulsed with severe slaughter.’ On the 13th, Butler essayed to drive the Confederates from his front, where they were constructing some new defensive works, but he was driven back with heavy loss.

On the 27th of October, it was said to strengthen Lincoln's prospects in the near-at-hand presidential election with the report of a victory, Grant sent a column, consisting of 3,000 cavalry and 32,000 infantry, to turn Lee's right at Hatcher's run, 14 miles to the southwest of Petersburg. His plan of engagement provided that Hancock should march westward, following the Vaughn road across Hatcher's run, and place himself across the Boydton plank road. He was then to march northward, recross Hatcher's run and the Southside railroad in the rear of Lee's right. Gregg's cavalry and the Fifth and Ninth corps were moved to the Federal left to support Hancock. In. the morning the Ninth corps attacked the extreme right of Lee's intrenchments, to engage attention while Hancock made his flanking movement. Finding Lee's men ready for the attack, the Ninth corps halted and threw up breastworks for its protection. Hancock reached his assigned position, across the Boydton plank road, but when he would advance he found Hill standing ready, on the northern bank of the [526] run, to oppose his northward march. A division of the Fifth corps was then moved to the left to strengthen Hancock, but most of its regiments lost their way in the intricacies of the forest roads in that region. The Federal line was not well established, and its left was broken into fragments in the bewildering forest. Heth promptly met Hancock's flank movement with one of his own. He sent Mahone's division westward, across the run, and, hurrying them into the gap that had been left between the Fifth and Second corps, fiercely attacked Hancock's right, while Hampton's cavalry fell on his left. Hancock's superior force enabled him to repulse these attacks and re-establish his lines, but Hill captured six of his guns and 700 prisoners.

During the succeeding night, Grant withdrew his unsuccessful movement, after a loss of 1,761 men, and left Hill in possession of the field of contention. In his final report, after describing the movement to where the battle of Hatcher's Run took place, Grant wrote:

At this point we were six miles from the Southside railroad, which I had hoped, by this movement, to reach and hold. But finding that we had not reached the end of the enemy's fortifications, and no place presenting itself for a successful assault by which he might be doubled up and shortened, I determined to withdraw to within our fortified lines. Orders were given accordingly. Immediately upon receiving a report that General Warren had connected with General Hancock, I returned to my headquarters. Soon after dark the enemy moved out across Hatcher's run, in the gap between Generals Hancock, and Warren, which was not closed as reported, and made a desperate attack on General Hancock's right and rear. General Hancock immediately faced his corps to meet it, and after a bloody combat drove the enemy within his works, and withdrew that night to his old position.

On this same October 27th, Grant ordered Butler to make a demonstration north of the James, on the defenses of Richmond on the Williamsburg road and on the York River railroad, to the west of Fair Oaks and Seven Pines. Grant reports that ‘in the former he was unsuccessful; in the latter he succeeded in carrying a work which was afterward abandoned, and his forces withdrawn to their former position.’ Butler had attempted to steal into Richmond by way of the concealed roads through the White Oak swamp, but Longstreet, who had just returned to his command, not only drove him back, but inflicted upon him a loss of more than 1,000 men. [527]

‘From this time forward,’ says Grant in his report, ‘the operations in front of Petersburg and Richmond, until the spring campaign of 1865, were confined to the defense and extension of our lines and to offensive movements for crippling the enemy's lines of communication and to prevent his detaching any considerable force to send South. By the 7th of February (1865), our lines were extended to Hatcher's run, and the Weldon railroad had been destroyed to Hicksford.’ In December, Grant recalled the Sixth corps from the Shenandoah valley to his army, when Lee at once brought the Second corps, from the same region, to the trenches at Petersburg. Sheridan's big army of 56,000 men had neither cut the Virginia Central railway at Staunton, Charlottesville or Gordonsville, nor had it captured Lee's base of supplies at Lynchburg, having been held in the valley by Early, who had inflicted upon him a loss of 17,000.

Dr. Henry Alexander White, in his every way admirable Life of Lee, says of the army of Northern Virginia, at this time:

Winter poured down its snows and its sleet upon Lee's shelterless men in the trenches. Some of them burrowed into the earth. Most of them shivered over the feeble fires kept burning along the lines. Scanty and thin were the garments of these heroes. Most of them were clad in mere rags. Gaunt famine oppressed them every hour. One quarter of a pound of rancid bacon and a little meal was the daily portion assigned to each man by the rules of the war department But even this allowance failed when the railroads broke down and left the bacon and the flour and the meal piled up beside the tracks in Georgia and the Carolinas. One-sixth of this daily ration was the allotment for a considerable time, and very often the supply of bacon failed entirely. At the close of the year (1864) Grant had 110,000 men. Lee had 66,000 on his rolls, but this included men on detached duty, leaving him barely 40,000 soldiers to defend the trenches that were then stretched out 40 miles in length from the Chickahominy to Hatcher's run. With dauntless hearts these gaunt-faced men endured the almost ceaseless fire of Grant's mortar batteries. The frozen fingers of Lee's army of sharpshooters clutched the musket barrel with an aim so steady that Grant's men scarcely ever lifted their heads from their bomb proofs.

On the 5th of February, Grant again sent a large force to his left to capture Lee's defenses on Hatcher's run. This was driven back by three divisions of Confederates, and the Federal line of the Fifth corps was broken by a charge of Gen. C. A. Evans' division. During this engagement, the brave Gen. John Pegram, who commanded at Rich mountain in July, 1861, was killed. [528] Lee's small force fought, with its usual vigor and obstinacy, during the severe weather of the three days and nights of this second Hatcher's Run engagement. Lee wrote of them: ‘Under these circumstances, heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail and sleet. . . The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment.’

Environed by defeats in every direction, except in the immediate neighborhood of Richmond, and seeing the Federal armies closing in upon this last stronghold of the Confederacy, President Davis, grasping the last straw offering relief, on the 6th of February, 1865, appointed General Lee commander-in-chief of all the Confederate armies. In his first general order, after reluctantly accepting this added responsibility, Lee said, in substance: ‘Deeply impressed with the difficulties and responsibilities of the situation, and humbly invoking the guidance of the Almighty God, I rely for success upon the courage and fortitude of the army, sustained by the patriotism and firmness of the people; confident that their united efforts, under the blessing of Heaven, will secure peace and independence.’ In a second order on the 14th, he said of his soldiers: ‘The choice between war and abject submission is before them. To such a proposal, brave men, with arms in their hands, can have but one answer. They cannot barter manhood for peace, nor the right of self-government for life or property. But justice to them requires a sterner admonition to those who have abandoned their comrades in the hour of peril.’

At this crisis the homes of those beyond the confines of Virginia, which heretofore had not felt the presence of the enemy, were being overrun with ruthless destruction, as by Sherman's march from Atlanta to the sea, and the wanton damages of scattered bodies of Federal soldiers. Large numbers of absentees were unable to return to their commands, and Lee's army was being depleted by constant desertions. He appealed to these sorely tried men to come back, offering pardon; adding, ‘Our resources, wisely and vigorously employed, are ample; and with a brave army, sustained by a determined [529] and united people, success, with God's assistance, cannot be doubted.’

The urgent need for recruits to Lee's army brought to the front the question of employing negro slaves as soldiers. During the secret discussion of this matter, in the Confederate Congress, Lee, in reply to a letter from one of its members, wrote on the 18th of February: ‘I think the measure not only expedient, but necessary. The enemy will certainly use them against us if he can get possession of them. . . . I believe we should provide resources for a protracted struggle—not merely for a battle or campaign. . . . In my opinion, the negroes, under proper circumstances, will make efficient soldiers. . . . I think those who are employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise, in my opinion, to require them to serve as slaves.’

On the 19th of February, when Sherman's great and victorious army was driving Johnston's back to the vicinity of Charlotte, Lee wrote: ‘It is necessary to bring out all our strength, and, I fear, to unite our armies, as separately they do not seem to be able to make head against the enemy. . . . Provisions must be accumulated in Virginia, and every man in all the States must be brought off. I fear it may be necessary to abandon all our cities, and preparations should be made for this contingency.’ On the 25th he wrote an earnest letter to Governor Vance, of North Carolina, in reference to desertions from his army and the causes that induced them, concluding: ‘I think our sorely tried people could be induced to make one more effort to bear their suffering a little longer, and regain some of the spirit that marked the first two years of the war.’

At a conference between President Davis and General Lee, early in March, 1865, it was decided that Lee should march his army to Danville, and there, joining to it the 18,000 under Johnston, give battle, in North Carolina, to Sherman's 90,000, before Grant could reach him. Before doing this, Lee proposed to check Grant's efforts at extending his left toward the Southside railroad, leading to Danville, by assaulting Fort Stedman near the center of Grant's line of works near the Appomattox, and almost immediately in front of the famous Crater. On the 25th of March, Lee placed the remnant of the Second corps, now under command of Gen. John B. Gordon, [530] in front of the Blanford suburb of Petersburg, with its left resting in reserve. At the word of command, just before the dawning of the day, Gordon's men leaped over their intrenchments, rushed across the 150 yards between these and Fort Stedman, and captured that and three adjacent batteries. The attack had been delayed by the tardiness of Longstreet's supporting detachment, and the plan of assault was but half carried out on the approach of full daylight. Gordon tried, in vain, to capture the forts on his right and left, as his efforts were not seconded by the advance of his supporting forces. Daylight enabled the Federal batteries, from a commanding position, to rake Gordon's lines, and Federal infantry were pushed forward in overwhelming numbers to attack him. After inflicting a loss of 2,000 upon Grant, and suffering one of 3,000 in his own command, Gordon was compelled to retire. Grant reports that, after this repulse, ‘General Meade at once ordered the other corps to advance and feel the enemy in their respective fronts. Pushing forward, they captured and held the enemy's strongly intrenched picket line, in front of the Second and Sixth corps, and captured 834 prisoners. The enemy made desperate attempts to retake this line, but without success. Our loss in front of these was 52 killed, 864 wounded, and 207 missing.’

Writing of this period, Grant says, in his final report:

I had spent days of anxiety lest each morning should bring the report that the enemy had retreated the night before. I was firmly convinced that Sherman's crossing the Roanoke would be the signal for Lee to leave. With Johnston and him combined, a long, tedious and expensive campaign, consuming most of the summer, might become necessary. By moving out I would put the army in better condition for pursuit, and would at least, by the destruction of the Danville road, retard the concentration of the two armies of Lee and Johnston, and cause the enemy to abandon much material that he might otherwise save. I therefore determined not to delay the movement ordered.

On the night of the 27th, three divisions of the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth corps, preceded by McKenzie's cavalry, took up the line of march, and was in position, near Hatcher's run, on the morning of the 29th. The Fifth corps moved at 3 a. m. of that day, the Second at 9. Sheridan's cavalry reached Dinwiddie Court House the night of the 29th, and the left of the infantry advance extended to the Quaker road, near its junction with the [531] Boydton plank road, and Grant now had an unbroken line from the Appomattox to Dinwiddie Court House. He now had, in his immediate command, 124,700 men, 13,000 of whom were well mounted cavalry. To oppose, these, Lee had about 45,000, less than 5,000 of whom were cavalry, under Fitz Lee, mounted on mere skeletons of poorly-fed horses. So far, Grant's movement had met with but little opposition, but Hill held, threateningly, his line in front of the position that had been gained. Lee quickly transferred his cavalry and Pickett's division from his left to his right, and at the close of March 30th, with 10,000 infantry and cavalry, under Pickett, Lee's right menaced Grant's advance at Five Forks. The next morning, Lee, in person, led three brigades from his right and drove Warren's corps behind Gravelly run. Pickett forced Sheridan back to Dinwiddie Court House, but, finding Federal infantry in support, he withdrew to Five Forks, where, detached from support, Sheridan's cavalry and Warren's corps, overlapping his flanks, fell upon and routed him on the 1st of April.

On the morning of the 2d of April, the Federal Sixth corps broke through Lee's attenuated line, four miles southwest of Petersburg. In an attempt to recover that captured line, the brave and impetuous A. P. Hill lost his life, and Lee lost one of the ablest of his corps lieutenants. A fierce contention was kept up all along the lines, the Confederates continuing to fight, in broken masses, with desperate courage. Heavy blows were inflicted upon Grant's solid lines, but numbers at last won, and the enemy gained the rear of Lee's lines on his right. Riding back toward Petersburg from this disaster, General Lee remarked to one of his aides, ‘This is a sad business, Colonel.’ And soon after, he added, ‘It has happened as I told them at Richmond it would happen. The line has been stretched until it is broken.’ As he continued slowly riding to his rear, the shells from the advancing batteries of the enemy began to burst about him. An eye-witness of the scene writes: ‘He turned his head over his right shoulder, his cheeks became flushed, and a sudden flash of the eye showed with what reluctance he retired before the fire directed upon him. No other course was left him, however, and he continued to ride slowly toward his inner line—a low earthwork [532] in the suburbs of the city—where a small force was drawn up, still ardent, hopeful, defiant, and saluting the shells, now bursting above them, with cheers and laughter. It was plain that the fighting spirit of his ragged troops remained unbroken; and the shout of welcome with which they received him, indicated their unwavering confidence in him, despite the untoward condition of affairs.’

That Sunday night, the 2d of April, 1865, under cover of darkness, Lee evacuated Petersburg and turned the head of his army, along both banks of the Appomattox, to Amelia Court House, on the line of the Richmond & Danville railroad, which the officials of the Confederate government had passed over, late in the day, after General Lee had telegraphed to President Davis, when in church at Richmond, near the middle of the day, that his lines were broken and he must evacuate Petersburg. The forces in front of Richmond, under Ewell, were called in and marched across the James, by two roads, also toward Amelia Court House, after unwisely setting fire to the storehouses of Richmond and destroying, in conflagration, a large part of the city which for four long years army after army of invaders had tried in vain to capture.

The cheerfulness with which a veteran soldier accepts whatever the fortunes of war may bring him, was well illustrated by Lee's soldiers in the beginning of this, their last march. One of their comrades writes of them: ‘In excellent spirits, probably from the highly agreeable contrast of the budding April woods with the squalid trenches, and the long, unfelt joy of an unfettered march through the fields of spring. General Lee shared this hopeful feeling in a very remarkable degree. His expression was animated and buoyant; his seat in the saddle erect and commanding, and he seemed to look forward to assured success in the critical movement which he had now undertaken.’ [533]

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