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Chapter 14: in command of the Army of the James.

  • Detailed to command
  • -- extent of Department -- minor expeditions -- pusillanimity of the government regarding Reprisals -- Wistar's attempted surprise of Richmond and capture of Davis frustrated -- advantages of occupying Bermuda hundred noted: Grant and Butler plan its occupation -- presidential election of 1864 -- both Lincoln and Chase offer Butler the Vice-presidency -- embarkation at Yorktown and seizure of City Point -- Drury's Bluff should have been seized at once -- fortifying the neck -- minor demonstrations -- misleading despatches from the Army of the Potomac -- Butler's Corps commanders, Smith and Gillmore, insubordinate and hostile -- the fighting around Drury's Bluff -- false despatches of Grant's successes -- Butler supposes him rapidly approaching and acts accordingly

On the second day of November, 1863, without solicitation, I was detailed to the command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, with headquarters at Fortress Monroe. The Union forces were then in occupation of the peninsula between the York and James Rivers, up to the line of Williamsburg, the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, and a line extending towards Suffolk, about seven miles from Norfolk, on the line of the Dismal Swamp Canal in Virginia, and by the aid of the gunboats, the Currituck, Albemarle, and Pamlico Sounds, Roanoke Island, Hatteras Bank, Morehead City, Beaufort, the line of railroad from New Berne, and the cities of New Berne, Plymouth, and Washington, and as much land as was fairly within the pickets of the garrison of those cities in North Carolina.

Upon inspection of these several posts it appeared to me that holding Washington and Plymouth was useless, because, while Washington was distant from New Berne only about twenty miles, and Plymouth perhaps a less distance from Washington by land, the enemy held the intervening territory, and the only communication between these places was by water by travelling a distance of from 120 to 170 miles. This opinion was reported to the War Department, but no action was taken, and I did not feel at liberty to order the evacuation of either place.

November 16, an expedition under Colonel Quinn, with 450 men of the One Hundred and Forty-Eighth New York Volunteers, captured a rebel marine brigade organized to prey upon the commerce of Chesapeake Bay, and a dangerous nest of pirates was broken up.

November 27, Colonel Draper, with the Sixth U. S. Colored Troops, [618] made a successful raid into the counties lying on the sounds in Virginia and North Carolina, capturing and dispersing organized guerillas.

December 4, Brigadier-General Wilde, at the head of two regiments of colored troops, overran all the counties as far as Chowan River, releasing some two thousand slaves and inflicting much damage upon the enemy.

December 13, Brigadier-General Wistar sent a force from Williamsburg to Charles City Court-House and captured two companies of rebel cavalry, being the outposts of Richmond. The force was gallantly led by Col. Robert West.

The army being much in need of recruits, and Eastern Virginia claiming to be a fully organized loyal State, by permission of the President an enrolment of all the able-bodied loyal citizens of Virginia within my command was ordered for the purposes of a draft, when one should be called for in the other loyal States. This order was vigorously protested against by Governor Pierpont, and this was all the assistance the United States ever received from the loyal government of Virginia in defending the State. My predecessors in command had endeavored to recruit a regiment of loyal Virginians, but after many months of energetic trial, both by them and by myself, the attempt was abandoned. A company and a half was all the recruits that State would furnish to the Union, and these were employed in defending the lighthouses and protecting the loyal inhabitants from the outrages of their immediate neighbors.

January 25, 1864, the roads being impassable, Brigadier-General Graham, with some armed transports, went up the James River to Lower Brandon and destroyed a large quantity of provisions and forage stored there, and captured some smuggling vessels.

Major-General Pickett, of the Confederate forces, made an attack upon New Berne and our lines at Beaufort, N. C., on the 1st of February, but was cleverly repulsed with loss, Brigadier-General Palmer commanding the district.

By a surprise of an outpost, fifty-three of the Second North Carolina (loyal) Regiment were captured by General Pickett. By his order they were tried by court martial and twenty-two of them were hanged. Their supposed offence was that they, being enrolled in the Confederate army, had enlisted in the Union army. Upon [619] remonstrance by General Peck, commanding in North Carolina, Pickett replied, that being deserters they were executed by his orders, and if retaliation was attempted he would execute ten United States soldiers for every one upon whom we retaliated, unless, indeed, the Confederates were deserters from our army, in which case hanging them would be proper. As Pickett himself deserted our army to take up arms in the Rebellion, the exception was quite suggestive of the duty of our government towards such men as he.

The correspondence in relation to this affair is illustrative of the mode of warfare which we endured.1

I referred the whole correspondence to General Grant with recommendation that stringent measures be taken for the protection of loyal Southern men in our armies, but nothing was done.

I have been often asked why our war was so protracted. Was not the pusillanimity and want of executive force of the government as exhibited in this transaction, one sufficient answer? Why was not Pickett hanged for these twenty-two deliberate murders when he was captured by us?

It is needless to say that recruiting for our forces in North Carolina ceased.

Information was received from my correspondents at Richmond that while the troops usually around Richmond were away operating in North Carolina, the enemy, relying upon the almost impassable condition of the roads, had left but a small guard at Bottom's Bridge, over the Chickahominy, eleven miles from Richmond. Believing that a rapid march and a surprise would carry the intrenchments around the city if the bridge could be seized, Brigadier-General Wistar, whose suggestion it was, was permitted to make the attempt with about three thousand men from Williamsburg.2 His march was a brilliant one, his dispositions admirable, but success was snatched from him, because of the escape, from his guard at Williamsburg, the night before the expedition started, of a prisoner who had been ordered to be executed for the wilful murder of an officer, and who had been reprieved by the President. The man fled to the enemy and gave information, so that when our men reached Bottom's Bridge, we found it held by a strong force.3

A few words are needed to explain fully the objects of this expedition, [620] which did not succeed because it failed to be a surprise. Had it not been for the escape of the condemned murderer who gave information that the expedition was in progress, and had it not been for the unwise clemency of the President, of which I have spoken before, in interfering with his execution, the surprise would doubtless have been complete.

I tried to get that murderer sent to me in exchange for any Confederate the rebels desired me to give, but they, knowing his service to them, always took care of him, and smuggled him to New York to vote the Democratic ticket for them. As the man's pardon was in the direct line of my argument with Mr. Lincoln upon the uselessness of his pardons, I addressed confidentially a note to him explaining all that he had lost by his clemency to this wretch.

Upon looking into the reports of Brig.-Gen. Eppa Hunton, who commanded the Confederate forces in Richmond, I find that he was thoroughly puzzled to learn

Gen. Godfrey Weitzel

what we were up there for, and why if we intended to assault the city we did not do it with more vigor than by a mere reconnoissance of cavalry. We had learned that there was but half a company of artillerymen at Bottom's Bridge, and that there were no forces between Bottom's Bridge and Capitol Square in Richmond, for in less than a week previous trusty men had traversed that road.

It will be observed that General Wistar speaks of ulterior and “specific” objects. He was well instructed in them. The first and most important was to release the large number of prisoners there, who would have made a very great addition to our force; and the second was to capture the Confederate Cabinet and Mr. Jefferson Davis. [621] We had for one of our guides when the city was reached, his gardener, who had deserted to us, and if we could have laid our hands upon Davis in the early morning he would certainly have taken a ride to Fortress Monroe to greet an old friend of his who would have taken special care to keep him there, certainly as long as the telegraph wires would not work between there and Washington so that the President's pardon could not reach him. If the city could have been reached, and the Union prisoners there added to our force, Wistar was instructed to hold on if possible, and I was ready to march with all my available command into Richmond, and once there I doubt if anybody would have desired to have the rebel capital there any longer.

In view of the possibility of my march upon Richmond with my whole force, in case it was found as unprepared for attack as it had been reported, I desired that Lee might be detained from sending any part of his army to Richmond, and asked that the Army of the Potomac lying in front of Lee might make a movement upon him as a feint. General Meade being sick, General Sedgwick, who was in command, was ordered to co-operate with me. But after considerable correspondence he telegraphed that he could not get ready in time.

On the 4th of March I received notice that General Kilpatrick had started, with a cavalry force, on a raid to Richmond from the Army of the Potomac, and was directed to make dispositions to aid him, or cover with infantry his march to Fortress Monroe. Accordingly I marched a column to New Kent Court-House, and there met General Kilpatrick on his return.

On the 9th of March the Confederates made a demonstration upon our lines at Suffolk. Not knowing the force of the enemy, and Kilpatrick's men being recruiting from their march at Yorktown, I asked his aid to meet this advance, which was promptly and kindly given, and the movement of the enemy handsomely met and repulsed.

When I had reported for duty to Mr. Stanton in obedience to his order to take command, he informed me of the probable importance of my department in the campaign of the coming spring and summer, in which would be a movement upon Richmond. Whereupon in all my spare moments I examined particularly the topography of Virginia and North Carolina and that, too, in connection with the campaigns [622] of McClellan around Richmond and his final retreat to Harrison's Landing.

I was a good deal impressed with the peculiar topographical formation of the country below Richmond on the south side of the James down as far as its junction with the Appomattox. In their windings the rivers approach each other within two miles and a half, at a point on the James about eight miles in direct line from Richmond, and on the Appomattox about the same distance from Petersburg. A glance at the map will show these two places, the “Point of Rocks” near Port Walthall five miles up the Appomattox, and “Osborn” nineteen miles down the James River from Richmond. The banks of both rivers are, at these points, bluffs some 120 feet high. A line drawn across from point to point includes within the rivers a peninsula of more than thirty square miles. The neck of this peninsula by this line across it is cut by deep, wide, and quite impassable ravines for about a quarter of the distance up from the James and nearly half way up from the Appomattox, leaving considerably less than a mile of hard, dry land between the heads of the two ravines, to be fortified and intrenched. The water of both rivers around the whole peninsula and opposite the ravines was deep enough to float our largest draught monitors.

I took special pains to have this position thoroughly examined and reported upon by a very competent man who made a good map of it. It was evident that if this neck of land could be seized, as it might well be with the aid of the navy, and a properly intrenched line from river to river put across at that point, there would be more than thirty square miles of land, large enough for a base of supplies and encampment of an army of any probable size, easily defensible by five thousand men against any possible attack on the land side, the navy holding the waters. With a battery which would protect a naval depot at City Point, a bluff at the junction of the two rivers, water transportation could be covered, within eight miles of Richmond, and less from Petersburg, and an intrenched camp could be made of Bermuda Hundred more impregnable than Fortress Monroe. I thought this should be the basis of operations by the Army of the Potomac against Richmond. Troops could be brought from Washington and the North by water transportation in three days to the amount of a hundred thousand men without the loss of [623] [624] [625] [626] [627] a single man by straggling, desertion, or sickness. The location was a healthy one. Supplies could always come up the river from the North by water, and the enormous cost of supplying the army through the sixty odd miles of march by land from Washington to Richmond would be saved.

On the 1st day of April, General Grant came down to Fortress Monroe to consult with me as to the campaign against the rebel capital. It was the first time I ever met him. I showed him my maps of the department and also of the lay of the land around Richmond. I showed him also that Richmond was by no means as strongly fortified on the south side as it had been on the north, and that the country surrounding it on the south side was high, healthy land suitable for campaigning. But whether it was determined to make the attack on the north side of the James or on the south, Bermuda and City Point should be used as a base of operations. City Point on the opposite side of the peninsula, which was known as Bermuda Hundred, needed to be fortified and held as a depot for the navy and for the water transportation of the army. At Wilson's Wharf, afterwards Fort Pocahontas, on the north side of the James River, and at Fort Powhatan, shortly above, on the south side, were the only two points where batteries could be erected by the rebels to hinder the passage of transports on the river. These points were to be seized and strongly fortified so as to be surely held. This was afterwards done.

Grant was very much struck with my views thus given and the information thus imparted. After a full consideration, he said he thought such a plan should be adopted, and he approved of it. “But,” said he, “bringing my troops to the James by water will uncover Washington, and Lee may attack there.”

To that I answered: “Lee cannot march troops enough to attack Washington in eight days after he gets in motion. Keeping our transportation here ready, we can send sufficient men to Washington in three days to meet him, without losing a man, because it is all inland navigation.” 4

It also happened that I was proven right, for in the summer [628] Lee did send Early to make an attack on Washington with his corps, it being known that quite all the veteran troops had been drawn to the Army of the Potomac, and substantially all others. Early began his attack upon Washington, and Wright with his Sixth Corps was sent from City Point by water, and I sent a portion of the Nineteenth Corps, and although the transportation was by no means conducted with all the celerity possible, yet our troops got to Washington in time to repulse Early's attack.

Grant seemed very doubtful whether the march could be made as quickly as I claimed. He appeared to have no idea of the capabilities of transportation by vessels in smooth water. I endeavored to convince him that the transportation could be thus speedily effected, but he called my attention to the fact that it took McClellan three months to move less than thirty thousand troops from Washington to Fortress Monroe, and the whole country was ransacked for boats, and all knew of the expedition during that time.

He said he was quite sure that the government at Washington would not permit him thus to uncover it. He said he thought the campaign could be best conducted in this way: The Army of the Potomac should attack Lee's army and drive it back to Richmond. An army under my command, if, as I said, it could be done, should be put around Richmond on the south side of the James, marching by the left flank. The two armies should join above Richmond and thus scoop it out of the Confederacy, cutting off all the sources of supply for Lee's army unless he could break through our lines when we were acting together on the defensive.

Grant asked me if I supposed it possible to surprise City Point and this peninsula of Bermuda Hundred and so hold it as to get around Richmond with my troops with my left resting on the James, ready to join with him in ten days after the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan.

I told him there was not the slightest trouble about that. I would undertake to transport thirty thousand men up to Bermuda Hundred and City Point with all their ammunition and supplies in twenty-four hours after I was notified of the march of his army across the Rapidan. By besieging West Point, at the head of York River, and beginning to fortify it, erecting store-houses, as if I was making a base of supplies for my army when it landed to meet the army of the enemy, [629] I could so far hoodwink Lee and his officers that they would believe I was there fifty miles away from Richmond for the purpose of joining Grant's army. I could gather the water craft to transport my army from Yorktown, Gloucester, and Fortress Monroe in twenty-four hours, so as to be up the James River at City Point and Bermuda before the enemy knew that I was moving in that direction. I explained to him in great detail every step that I proposed to take to do this, and thus showed him every one by which I afterwards did that very thing.

He at first said it was impossible, but I so far convinced him that he agreed that the enterprise should be undertaken, and that he himself would move upon the quartermaster-general to allow me to procure my own transportation so that I might make the expedition secretly. He pressed upon me over and over again that my objective point must be Richmond, and that I must be there on the south side within ten days after his march began, as he would be there on the north side of the James to join me.

General Grant further informed me that General Banks was moving up Red River, and had been ordered to get through within a limited time, so that if I needed additional force, a part of his army would be ordered to reinforce me instead of moving against Mobile.

He said that it was particularly desirable that I should have the Weldon Railroad cut at Hicksford, as that would prevent reinforcements coming from the South and supplies from reaching Richmond, so that we should be able the more easily to starve Lee out.

He remained some three days examining into the details of the proposed campaign, studying with care the topography of the country around Richmond, with which he seemed to have no acquaintance, and discussing matters of the exchange of prisoners.

One thing he impressed upon me: that I must be sure to hold City Point in any event, and make Bermuda impregnable; so that if he failed in turning the left flank of General Lee and driving him back into Richmond, he could march with his own army by the left flank across the James and join me at City Point.

I insert his orders. Let them tell the story of that planned campaign, which was carried out in every point by the Army of the James, and in no single particular by the Army of the Potomac, save that they came down to take advantage of the refuge we had prepared for them. [630]


Fortress Monroe, Va., April 2, 1864.
General:--In the spring campaign, which it is desirable shall commence at as early a day as practicable, it is proposed to have co-operative action of all the armies in the field, as far as this object can be accomplished. It will not be possible to unite our armies into two or three large ones, to act as so many units, owing to the absolute necessity of holding on to the territory already taken from the enemy. But, generally speaking, concentration can be practically effected by armies moving to the interior of the enemy's country from the territory they have to guard. By such movement they interpose themselves between the enemy and the country to be guarded, thereby reducing the numbers necessary to guard important points, or at least occupy the attention of a part of the enemy's force, if no greater object is gained. Lee's army and Richmond being the greater objects towards which our attention must be directed in the next campaign, it is desirable to unite all the force we can against them. The necessity of covering Washington with the Army of the Potomac, and of covering your department with your army, makes it impossible to unite these forces at the beginning of any move. I propose, therefore, what comes nearest this of anything that seems practicable. The Army of the Potomac will act from its present base, Lee's army being the objective point. You will collect all the forces from your command that can be spared from garrison duty,--I should say not less than twenty thousand men — to operate on the south side of James River, Richmond being your objective point. To the force you already have will be added about ten thousand men from South Carolina, under Major-General Gillmore, who will command them in person. Maj.-Gen. W. F. Smith is ordered to report to you, to command the troops sent into the field from your own department.

General Gillmore will be ordered to report to you at Fortress Monroe, with all the troops on transports, by the 18th instant, or as soon thereafter as practicable. Should you not receive notice by that time to move, you will make such disposition of them and your other forces as you may deem best calculated to deceive the enemy as to the real move to be made.

When you are notified to move, take City Point with as much force as possible. Fortify, or, rather, intrench at once, and concentrate all your troops for the field there as rapidly as you can. From City Point directions cannot be given at this time for your further movements.

The fact that has already been stated — that is, that Richmond is to be your objective point, and that there is to be co-operation between your [631] force and the Army of the Potomac--must be your guide. This indicates the necessity of your holding close to the south bank of the James River as you advance. Then, should the enemy be forced into his intrenchments in Richmond, the Army of the Potomac would follow, and by means of transports the two armies would become a unit.

All the minor details of your advance are left entirely to your direction. If, however, you think it practicable to use your cavalry south of you so as to cut the railroad about Hicksford about the time of the general advance, it would be of immense advantage. You will please forward for my information, at the earliest practicable day, all orders, details, and instructions you may give for the execution of this order.

U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General. to Maj.-Gen. B. F. Butler.

It was specially enjoined upon me to regulate my movements by those of the Army of the Potomac, so as to co-operate with it, and that both should move at the same moment, “rain or shine.”

Early in the spring of 1864 the political campaign for the presidency was in progress. Indeed, the hopes of the most far-seeing rebel statesmen, and of General Lee especially, and the conduct of the military campaign by the enemy, were to a great extent regulated by the endeavor to hold on with such success in the war as to tire out the people of the North. This was done with the expectation that the Democrats and the Peace Party, as it was called, would be able to elect a President, who it was foreshadowed would be McClelan. This idea expressed itself in the Chicago Democratic Convention by the resolution that the war was a failure. Indeed, I have always believed that Lee's only hopes were to prolong the war with such success as might be gained until the presidential election should take place. I have blamed him because, when Lincoln was elected, which determined the fate of the Confederacy, the decision was not gracefully acceded to. It doubtless would have been except for the obstinacy of President Davis, who insisted upon the revocation of the proclamation of emancipation as one of the terms of peace.

Secretary Chase was making a very strenuous endeavor to be the candidate of the Republican party, using, as he well might, all the great power of his office as Secretary of the Treasury for that purpose.

In the early spring I was visited by one of his most confidential [632] officials, who held his place directly from the Secretary and without the intervention of the President or Senate, and who at the time controlled the means of enabling men to make fortunes greater in number and larger in amount than any other treasury official has ever held to my knowledge. This control was in connection with the administration of the captured and abandoned property act, and also with the admitting of cotton into our lines. This power alone could furnish plenty of funds for a political campaign. His official duties brought him in not unfrequent contact with myself.

In the early spring he called upon me at Fortress Monroe, ostensibly upon some official business. After that was finished the actual object of his visit was disclosed.

“There has been some criticism, General,” said he, “based upon the assertion that Mr. Chase is using the powers of his office to aid his presidential aspirations. What do you think of Mr. Chase's action, assuming that he does so?”

“I see no objection,” I answered, “to his using his office to advance his presidential aspirations by every honorable means, providing President Lincoln will let him do it. It is none of my business, but I have for some time thought that Lincoln was more patient than I should have been, but if he doesn't object, nobody else has either the right or the power so to do.”

“ Then, General, you approve of Mr. Chase's course in this. regard?”

“ Yes; he has a right to use in a proper manner every means he has to further a laudable ambition.”

“ As Chase is a Western man,” he continued, “had not the Vice-President better come from the East? Who, General, do you think would make a good candidate with Mr. Chase?”

“ There are plenty of good men,” I answered, “but as Chase is a very pronounced anti-slavery man and Free-Soiler, Gen. John A. Dix, of New York, would bring to his banner and at the polls the War Democrats, of whom Dix claims to be a fair representative.”

“ You are a War Democrat, General,” said he; “would you take that position with Chase, yourself?”

“Are you authorized by Mr. Chase to put this question to me and report my answer to him for his consideration?”

“ You may rest assured,” was the reply; “I am fully empowered [633] by Mr. Chase to put the question, and he hopes the answer will be favorable.”

“Say, then,” I answered, “that I have no desire to be Vice-President. I am forty-five years old; I am in command of a fine army; the closing campaign of the war is about beginning, and I hope to be able to do some further service for the country, and I should not, at my time of life, wish to be Vice-President, even if I had no other position. Assure him that my determination in this matter has no connection with himself personally. I will not be a candidate for any elective office whatever until the war is over.”

“I will report your determination to Mr. Chase,” said he, “and I can assure you, for I know his feelings, that he will hear it with regret.”

We shook hands and parted.

Within three weeks afterwards, the Hon. Simon Cameron, who

Simon Cameron.

stood very high in Mr. Lincoln's confidence, came to me at Fortress Monroe. This was after a high position in the coming military campaign had been allotted me by General Grant, in the results of which I had the highest hope, and for which I had been laboring. Cameron and myself had from the beginning of the war been in warm friendly relations and I owed much to him which I can never repay save with gratitude. Therefore, he spoke with directness.

“The President, as you know,” said he, “intends to be a candidate [634] for re-election, and as his friends indicate that Mr. Hamlin should no longer be a candidate for Vice-President, and as he is from New England, the President thinks his place should be filled by someone from that section. Besides reasons of personal friendship which would make it pleasant to have you with him, he believes that as you were the first prominent Democrat who volunteered for the war, your candidature would add strength to the ticket, especially with the War Democrats, and he hopes that you will allow your friends to co-operate with his to place you in that position.”

“ Please say to Mr. Lincoln,” I replied, “that while I appreciate with the fullest sensibilities his act of friendship and the high compliment he pays me, yet I must decline. Tell him that I said laughingly that with the prospects of a campaign before me I would not quit the field to be Vice-President even with himself as President, unless he would give me bond in sureties in the full sum of his four years salary that within three months after his inauguration he will die unresigned. Ask him what he thinks I have done to deserve to be punished at forty-six years of age by being made to sit as presiding officer of the Senate and listen for four years to debates more or less stupid in which I could take no part or say a word, or even be allowed to vote upon any subject which might concern the welfare of the country, except when my enemies might think my vote would injure me in the estimation of the people, and therefore by some parliamentary trick make a tie upon such questions so that I might be compelled to vote. And then at the end of four years, as nowadays no Vice-President is ever elected President, because of the dignity of the position I have held, I should not be permitted to go on with my profession, and therefore there would be nothing open for me to do, save to ornament my lot in the cemetery tastefully and get into it gracefully and respectfully as a Vice-President should do. No, no, my friend. To be serious, tell the President I will do everything I can to aid his election if he is nominated, and that I hope he will be, as until this war is finished there should be no change of administration.”

“ I am sorry you won't go on with us,” replied my friend, “but I think you are sound in your judgment.” 5 [635]

“Is Mr. Chase making any headway in his candidature?” I asked.

“ Yes, some; and he is using the whole power of the treasury to help himself.”

“Well,” said I, “that is the right thing for him to do.”

“ Do you think so?” said he.

“ Yes. Why ought not he to do that if Lincoln lets him?”

“ How can Lincoln help letting him?”

“ By tipping him out. If I were Lincoln I should say to the Secretary of the Treasury: ‘ You know I am a candidate for re-election, as I suppose it is proper for me to be. Now, every one of my equals has a right to be a candidate against me, and every citizen of the United States is my equal who is not my subordinate. Now, if you desire to be a candidate I will give you the present opportunity to be one by making you my equal and not my subordinate, and I will do that in any way which will be the most pleasant to you, but things cannot go on as they are.’ You see I think it is Lincoln's fault and not Chase's that he is using the treasury against Lincoln.”

“Right again,” said Cameron; “I will tell Mr. Lincoln every word you have said.”

What happened after that is history.

Preparations were pushed with vigor for the opening campaign. During the early days of April despatches came from General Peck that the enemy were preparing to attack Plymouth.

General Wessels, in command there, however, whose gallant defence of the place is applauded, gave me his belief that the post could be held, if the navy could hold the river. Commander Flusser (who was a Farragut, wanting thirty years experience, and no higher praise can be given) was sure that he could meet the rebel iron-clad ram, and laughed to scorn the idea of her driving out his gunboats. [636] An attack was made in the night of the 19th of April, by the rebel ram. Flusser was killed by the recoil of a shell from a gun fired by his own hands; the Southfield was sunk; the Miami partially disabled and the rest of our fleet driven out of the Roanoke; the rebel gunboats commanded the town, and Plymouth, after a brave defence, was captured with some sixteen hundred men and considerable provisions.

By direction of the lieutenant-general, I ordered Washington, N. C., to be evacuated, and the troops sent to join the force preparing for the campaign. It will thus be seen that my opinion, given to the War Department upon taking command of this department, that Plymouth and Washington were worse than useless to us, was unhappily verified.

On the 9th of April, General Grant wrote to General Meade a letter6 in which he set out his whole plan of campaign, which shows how fully at that time the plan of my operations became a fixed fact, and further, how fully it was determined that General Grant should strike the left flank of Lee and turn that so as to drive him into Richmond, which he afterwards did. But Grant was repulsed at the Battle of the Wilderness, so that it became necessary for him to march by his left flank and come down to co-operate with me against Lee, as he afterwards did, at City Point, Bermuda Hundred, and Petersburg.

In consultation with Gen. Wm. F. Smith, as to the movements of the enemy in North Carolina, the subject of my proposed army co-operation with the Army of the Potomac, by moving it to that State, was discussed with General Grant at his visit. Smith very much favored it, saying our army should be called the “Army of Cape Fear River.” I learned afterwards from General Smith that General Grant had considerably favored such co-operative movement before he came to Fortress Monroe, and that Smith himself was quite impressed with it, as, among other things, it would be a means of relieving our forces in North Carolina from their impending danger. Meanwhile, orders came to the quartermaster to prepare transportation for two and a half millions of rations to North Carolina. With this fact in view, knowing that General Smith had strongly advised a movement into North Carolina instead of up the James, and fearing lest the lieutenant-general, [637] in his kindness of heart and delicacy toward me, a stranger, had, partly from these motives, yielded to my plan of movement up the James, when his own unbiassed judgment would have dictated a different course, and thinking perhaps, also, that he might have desired to give General Smith a separate command, if it would not interfere with mine, I sent General Smith, at his own request, to General Grant, bearing a letter in which I took leave to say that if a movement upon the enemy in North Carolina was intended, as I was inclined to believe was the case because of the fact that the quartermaster had been called upon to furnish transportation for two and a half millions of rations to that State, any disposition of the troops under my command which he might think best in the interests of the service, would be most agreeable to me, and that I should be happy to co-operate with him in any such movement.7

I received from General Grant a generous and considerate reply to my letter, in which he assured me that no operations in North Carolina were intended, and that it was his wish that with all the forces of the Army of the James that could be spared from other duty, and such additional troops as had been ordered to report to me at Fortress Monroe, I should seize upon City Point and act directly in concert with the Army of the Potomac, with Richmond as the objective point.8

On the 21st of April, Lieutenant-Colonel Dent, of General Grant's staff, came to Fortress Monroe as bearer of a letter and memorandum of instructions.9 Before his arrival Plymouth, which General Grant desired should be held at all hazards, had fallen; but everything else for which they provided had already been done.

From my conversation with Grant and from his reiterated instructions that I was to “intrench and fortify at City Point and Bermuda Hundred;” that “our new base was to be established there ;” that “I was to obtain a footing as far up the south side of the James as I could, in co-operation with the navy;” that “if I could reach the James above Richmond, with my left resting on the south bank, he would join me there,” i. e., on the north bank of the James, thus scooping Richmond out of the Confederacy; that “that might be advisable, anyhow;” that I should “make an attack on the city only in case” I heard of his advance on that side, “or the enemy [638] looking for danger on that side;” and because it was impossible for the fleet to go above Osborn, which is just below Trent's Reach, I drew and sent to Admiral Lee, in obedience to the lieutenant-general's letter, after full verbal conference with the admiral and at his request, a plan of the operations to be made, a copy of which was sent to, General Grant, and submitted to the President, and never dissented from in any quarter.10

It appears, both from the instructions and the plan, that while Richmond was my “objective point,” yet it was never contemplated by them or by me, that any attack or assault should be made upon Richmond, except in co-operation with the Army of the Potomac, or any movement made further up the river than the navy could aid me. General Grant had told me, in conversation, if I could hold the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad cut for ten days, and secure our proposed base at Bermuda and City Point, that by that time he would join me there, or on the James above Richmond, having either whipped Lee's army or forced it into the intrenchments around Richmond, when the combined armies of the Potomac and my command would invest Richmond, the navy holding the James as we approached.

It further appeared from the reply of Admiral Lee11 that it was considered by him impossible for the navy to go above Trent's Reach or Osborn, on the right of the proposed intrenched lines of Bermuda Hundred, which was the highest point ever reached by the navy until after the surrender of Richmond. The admiral also doubted whether it was possible to make the movement a surprise, and argued strenuously against an attempt by the joint expedition to go above City Point,--Osborn, the point proposed by me, being almost twenty miles beyond by the river.

To divert the enemy's attention, all the white troops were concentrated at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and all the colored infantry and artillery at Hampton, the colored cavalry at Williamsburg, and all the white cavalry at the line beyond Norfolk in the direction of Suffolk.

About the 1st of May West Point, at the head of York River, was seized, preparations were made for building wharves and landings, and fortifications were begun, as if with the intention of making this the base of operations for a junction with Grant's army. [639]

General Meigs, quartermaster-general, was of opinion that it would be nearly, if not quite impossible to gather sufficient transportation to move at one time thirty thousand men more than a hundred and thirty miles, or move with their artillery and supplies, at least without attracting the attention of the enemy, because when General McClellan tried to move the Army of the Potomac from Washington to Fortress Monroe, scarcely twenty-five thousand men were able to be got afloat at one time, after months of preparations known to the whole country.

But, notwithstanding his opinion, General Meigs most earnestly and zealously aided our enterprise, and allowed me to procure in my own way all the transportation I deemed necessary to move the army and its supplies. But it was impossible to obtain sufficient transportation to take with us all the supply trains of the army, and it was some days before our whole trains got up, although every exertion was made by Colonel Biggs, chief quartermaster of the department, and Col. J. Wilson Shaffer, my chief of staff, to whose powers of business organization the country is largely indebted for a movement of troops which, for numbers, celerity, distance, and secrecy, was never before equalled, in any particular, in the history of war.

On the 30th of April I received from General Grant my final orders,12 to start my forces on the night of the 4th of May so as to get up James River as far as possible by daylight the next morning, and to push on with the greatest energy from that time for the accomplishment of the object designated in the plan of campaign.

General Gillmore did not arrive from Charleston until the 3d of May, so that I was deprived of the full opportunity of organizing the Tenth Corps, and did not have so much consultation with him upon the plans of the movement as was desirable. His reasons for the delay were substantially set forth in a letter which I addressed to General Grant on the 20th of April.13

The iron-clads had not come up, and both these causes of delay were sources of great anxiety as well to the lieutenant-general as to the general commanding the department.14

On the 4th of May the embarkation began at Yorktown,15 of the Tenth and Eighteenth Army Corps, under the command of Generals W. F. Smith and Q. A. Gillmore, amounting to about twenty-five [640] thousand men. The colored troops (part of the Eighteenth Corps), about fifty-five hundred men, under command of Brig.-Gen. E. W. Hincks, embarked at Fortress Monroe. At sunrise of the 5th, General Kautz, with three thousand cavalry, moved from Suffolk to cut the Weldon Railroad at Hicksford, and thence to join us at City Point. Col. Robert West, with eighteen hundred colored cavalry, moved at the same time from Williamsburg to meet us at Turkey Bend, opposite City Point.

The armed transports, under the command of Brig.-Gen. Charles K. Graham, moved at night on the 4th up James River, destroyed the enemy's signal stations, and arrived at City Point at 11 A. M., of the 5th, finding no torpedoes. This service was most gallantly and skilfully performed.

At daylight of the 5th the whole transport fleet was assembled at Newport News, and ascended the river, led by the iron-clads and the vessels of the fleet, under Acting Rear-Admiral Lee. Wilson's Wharf was seized and occupied by two regiments of colored troops. Fort Powhatan, seven miles above, was also occupied by a regiment of the same troops, all under the immediate command of Brig.-Gen. E. A. Wilde, who had remained in the service although he lost an arm at the battle of Gettysburg.

General Hincks, with the remainder of his division, seized City Point and began fortifying it, while the white troops of the two corps pushed on to Bermuda Hundred, and by eight o'clock ten thousand men, with their artillery, were landed. The colored troops thus took the first possession of the James, and were intrusted with the duty of keeping open the water communications of the army, which duty was ever after fully done by them, although they were several times attacked by the enemy.

We arrived about five o'clock in the evening. As soon as my boat had come to anchor one of my confidential scouts came off to it. He had been at Richmond some weeks, and he brought me a letter from my correspondent there, Miss Van Lieu. He stated that quite all the troops had gone from Richmond to Lee's army, relying upon that city being garrisoned by troops which had shortly before been sent down to North Carolina from there, and were expected back. But they had not yet returned, and if I would send up at once before it was known that I was there, Richmond could be [641] taken without any difficulty. The Southern troops were expected very soon, so that the attack must be made at once.

I placed the most implicit reliance upon this statement and was very much tempted to march myself with what troops I had landed and seize Drury's Bluff at least. It was a march of but a little rising fourteen miles. My map showed that there was a stage road direct up to the Richmond turnpike, and then, of course, directly into Richmond.

I called on my generals, Smith and Gillmore, and explained this plan. I said to them that our troops were perfectly fresh, and that

Confederate Capitol at Richmond.

indeed they would be better for a march, having been twenty-four hours on the transports. I showed them by the map that there was a direct road up there. The night was a fair one and not dark, and I suggested to them that they march as soon as the men had got their coffee and supper. The men all had two days rations in their haversacks and I would send up plenty of supplies by the wagons in the morning, and they could easily get there by daylight. They both very strongly objected to the expedition. One of them intimated that he should feel it his duty to refuse it even if it were ordered. I said I should not order it for I could have no hopes of an expedition made against the will of the commander. an expedition made against the will of the commander. [642]

I was tempted to go myself, but I had Kautz out before the enemy, and West with his negro cavalry out making a demonstration on the Chickahominy. I had all the details of the movement of the army only under the personal supervision and knowledge of my staff, and I thought it was my duty not to go. I sent, however, for Weitzel, but then it had got quite well along in the night. Weitzel said to me: “General, I shall go if you order me to, as you know, and do the very best I can, but it is exceedingly hazardous, and if it should fail after your two corps commanders, Smith and Gillmore, have so strenuously advised that it should not be undertaken, it would entirely ruin you, although to take charge of it under your orders would not harm me. They have been to me and told me what you want done, and supposing you would send for me have advised very strongly against it. And as your strongest friend, I myself must advise against it, especially because I think they will throw every obstacle in the way of our having an early march.” At this I gave it up.

The only delay experienced in the movement up James River came from General Gillmore, who did not effect his embarkation with the celerity which his orders and place in line required, and I telegraphed him that having waited for his corps from Port Royal, I was not a little surprised at the necessity for waiting for him at Fortress Monroe, and instructed him to push forward.16

During the 6th the remainder of the troops were landed. A march of about seven miles brought us to the proposed line, which was at once occupied, and intrenching begun. It was discovered that on the opposite side of the Appomattox, at Springhill, the ground overlooked the Bermuda side. We occupied this point by General Hincks with his colored troops, and a very strong redoubt was constructed, effectually holding the right bank of that river, and covering the left flank of our line.

On the same day General Smith made a reconnoissance toward the railroad between Petersburg and Richmond, but did not strike the road.

On the evening of the 5th of May our operations were communicated by telegraph to the lieutenant-general.17

In pursuance of my instructions from General Grant that I should cut the railroad leading into Richmond so as to stop the enemy's [643] supplies, as fast and as early as possible, without waiting for the report of Kautz's cavalry which were to cut the railroad south of Petersburg, I determined at once to make a demonstration in my front to destroy the railroad as far as possible between Petersburg and Richmond, especially at Chester Junction, where there was a branch road which came around Petersburg and led to it and Richmond.

Accordingly, on the morning of the 7th, I ordered Gillmore to move to his front and demonstrate against the railroad for that purpose. He reported to me that he “did not make the movement for reasons which appeared to him perfectly satisfactory.”

On the same morning I received a telegram from Mr. Stanton, giving such information as the department possessed in regard to the operations of General Grant, a copy of which I at once sent to my two corps commanders, Generals Gillmore and Smith, accompanied by despatches urging upon them the necessity for diligence in putting their lines in posture of defence.18

Meanwhile I determined to cut the railroad by a movement which should not fail, and putting it under the command of General Smith, I issued an order to General Gillmore to cause one brigade of each division of his command to report, for the purpose, to General Smith at eight o'clock on the 7th. I informed General Smith of this order, and also directed him to make a like detail from his command for the purposes of this movement.19

Although my order to Gillmore was explicit, yet he claimed that his troops which I had ordered should report to General Smith, were still under his own command; and because of his unofficer-like interference it became necessary that I should issue a general order placing General Smith in command of the detached forces of the Tenth and Eighteenth Army Corps, which had been ordered to operate toward Petersburg and Richmond on the railroad.20

By this movement we succeeded in destroying a portion of the railroad between Richmond and Petersburg, so as to break off communication between these points and interrupt the forwarding of troops and supplies from the South to Lee's army.

On the evening of the same day a report of operations was telegraphed to the Secretary of War.21 [644]

In my report to the Secretary of War I made a request for a portion of the reserves which General Grant had assured me were to be collected in Washington, to be sent to the “weak points,” with the idea that if we had them we could demonstrate toward Petersburg with one portion of our force, and toward Richmond with the other, each column strong enough to sustain itself, after leaving enough to complete the intrenchment of our lines, which was deemed of the first importance. Besides, as the Army of the Potomac was to join us in a few days “anyhow,” the reserves would be with us ready for service. But I suppose, we were not the “weak point,” as with the exception of a single regiment of heavy artillery for the trenches, no substantial reinforcements ever came to us until after we were joined by the Army of the Potomac; but, on the contrary, as will be seen hereafter, we sent seventeen thousand men to the rescue of Grant's army at Cold Harbor.

Finding it impossible to get on with Major-General Gillmore's tardiness of movement, and knowing that he was before the Senate for confirmation to the grade which he filled, I wrote a note to the Chairman of the

Gen. Charles A. Heckman.

Military Committee of the Senate, asking that he bring his name before the Senate at once and have it rejected by that body, giving my reasons for making the request.22

I prefer to give from the documents and contemporaneous action, such criticism or laudation of the acts of officers under my command as occurred from day to day, when the mind could view them impartially by light of results, and omissions, or blunders in action or conduct, unprejudiced by subsequent events or malign influences, rivalries, or ambitions. I never gave an officer my confidence whom I did not think worthy, and if any blame or praise was due to him it came at the time. It was never an afterthought arising from [645] his subsequent acts toward me, censuring either my military or political conduct.

On the 7th General Smith struck the railroad near Port Walthall Junction, and began its destruction. Generals Brooks and Heckman of his corps had severe fighting, with some loss, but with more damage to the enemy.

Colonel West, of the colored cavalry, had most successfully performed his march, having driven the enemy from the fords of the Chickahominy after a lively skirmish, and crossing and joining us opposite City Point, as ordered.

During the day of the 8th no movement was made, but the troops were given rest, dispositions being made to move our whole force to the railroad and destroy as much of it as possible. General Smith was to endeavor to reach the railroad bridge over Swift Creek, supported by General Gillmore on the left toward Chester Station.

It was found quite impossible to discover any ford to cross the creek, and the railroad bridge was strongly held by the enemy with intrenched artillery. General Gillmore's command destroyed a large portion of the road, and in the afternoon the troops were got in position to force the enemy back on the next day. That evening I had a consultation with my corps commanders, and it was determined that we should make a vigorous movement on the morrow to pass Swift creek, to reach the Appomattox, and destroy the bridges across it. Cooperating with this, General Hincks was to move on the south side of the Appomattox upon Petersburg itself, and at least create a diversion, if he did not carry the city, while the enemy were defending the line of the creek. Orders were prepared and sent to General Hincks for that purpose. At the close of the consultation he was advised by a despatch that it was thought best he should not advance beyond his picket-line before 7 A. M., so as to give an opportunity for all the rebel forces to be drawn to the front of General Smith, from whom Hincks should have word before engaging the enemy.23

Upon my return to my headquarters that evening I found several despatches from the Secretary of War, giving information of the movements of General Grant.

The first stated that on Friday night Lee's army was in “full retreat” for Richmond, Grant pursuing; that Hancock had passed [646] Spottsylvania Court-House, on the morning of the 8th; and that Fredericksburg was occupied by Federal forces.24

This was followed by the information that another despatch from Grant had just been received at the War Department; that he was marching with his whole army to make a junction with me, but had not determined his route.25

A despatch of a still later hour brought from the War Department the intelligence that advices from the front gave ground for the belief that Grant's operations would prove a success and complete victory, and that the enemy's only hope was in heavy reinforcements from Beauregard.26

To this news, which I fully credited, save as to the reinforcements, as I had Beauregard at Petersburg, I made reply, detailing the operations under my command, and stating that Beauregard, with a large portion of his force, was, by the cutting of the railroads by Kautz's cavalry, left south of Petersburg, while the portion of his forces under the command of Hill which reached that city had been whipped by us that day, after a severe fight, so that General Grant would not be troubled with further reinforcements to Lee from Beauregard's army.27

If “Lee's army was in full retreat toward Richmond,” “Grant pursuing with his army on Friday night” (the 6th) (not true), if “Hancock had passed Spottsylvania Court-House on Sunday morning, the 8th” (not true), if “Grant, on that day, was on the march to join me, but had not determined the route” (not true), if “General Grant's operations had proved a great success and a complete victory” (not true), and “the only hope of Lee was in heavy reinforcements from Beauregard” (which I knew was futile), then it was plain that I should carry out my instructions, secure my base at Bermuda Hundred, and move as far up the James as possible, to co-operate with the Army of the Potomac in its investment of Richmond.28 No [647] time was to be lost in attacking Petersburg upon either side of the Appomattox, but Richmond was to be invested on the south side of the James in ten days from the 4th of May, to hold all the troops there from marching to the aid of Lee, and I was to throw my force between Beauregard and Lee, and prevent a possible junction of their forces. General Grant's victorious army was pressing the broken troops of Lee within three days march of Richmond at the moment, and while I was securing the line of the Appomattox, Lee might be upon my rear and line of communications. At the same time I received a despatch which showed that the enemy had withdrawn from North Carolina, and might be concentrating upon Richmond to form a junction with Lee.29

The enemy had already withdrawn all their troops from South Carolina. While meditating upon all this information, the correctness of which I could not doubt, for it had been sent from General Grant for my guidance, I was roused by a communication from both of my corps commanders, in the handwriting of General Gillmore, suggesting, as the result of a conference between them, whether it would not be better to withdraw our forces to our lines, destroying all that part of the road north of Chester Station, and then cross the Appomattox on a pontoon bridge and cut all the roads, entering Petersburg on that side.30

To that letter I at once replied that, while regretting the infirmity of purpose which did not permit them to state to me while personally present the suggestion contained in their note, but allowed me to go to my headquarters under the impression that a far different purpose was advised by them, I should not yield to their written suggestions which implied a change of plan within thirty minutes after I left [648] them. I also stated to them that the advices received from the Army of the Potomac convinced me that our movement should be toward Richmond, and gave orders for the disposition of their troops, having in view an early demonstration up James River from the right of our position. And with this letter I sent the proper orders to my corps commanders to carry out the movement indicated in it.31

General Gillmore having stated in reply to my letter that he did not know what I intended to do, I directed that he should meet with me for consultation. He did so, and after the fullest explanation of my plan of operations made no objection.

After he retired, I sent a despatch to General Hincks informing him that the news received from the Army of the Potomac would involve a change of plan, and gave him orders not to move on Petersburg as was intended, but to devote his energies to perfecting the defences at City Point and Fort Powhatan.32

It will be observed that one movement to take Petersburg was thus frustrated by information from headquarters through Washington which was in every substantial particular misleading and untrue.

There was severe fighting on the night of the 9th, the enemy making an attack in force upon Generals Brooks and Heckman, but were handsomely repulsed.

On the 10th the plan of withdrawal of the troops from Swift Creek was carried out without loss, and the railroad wholly destroyed for seven miles, under my personal supervision, there being no such agreement between my corps commanders as would lead them to do any other thing in unison save to protest against the plans of the commanding general.33

Generals Smith and Gillmore made separate replies to my letter. These replies did not agree with each other, and, what was of more consequence, they had no effect upon my plans under the instructions and recent information I had received from Lieutenant-General Grant. Another letter of General Smith34 shows the state of co-perative feeling between my two corps commanders upon other subjects of joint action. They would not now be published save that justice requires that their answers to my implied censure should be made public. This is but fair-play. [649]

Those letters plainly demonstrate that which had become painfully evident before — that my two corps commanders agreed upon but one thing and that was, how they could thwart and interfere with me. Smith's letter shows that Gillmore would do nothing in the world to aid Smith. I did not then think Smith was quite in that frame of mind towards Gillmore, but other evidence has shown me that he was. Indeed, as will appear, it was impossible even to get them to join their intrenchments on our line. One insisted on building on one line, and the other insisted on building on another. This required me to detail General Weitzel from the command of his division to be chief engineer of the department, in order to get these intrenched fortifications, on which our whole safety depended, put in order so that they could be capable of being defended by a small force while we demonstrated towards Richmond.

About twelve o'clock, while the movement of the 9th was going on, the enemy, advancing from Richmond upon our rear, attacked the covering force of the Tenth Corps under Colonel Voorhis of the Sixty-Seventh Ohio, and for a moment forced him back, although he gallantly held his position. General Terry, with the reserve of that corps, advanced from Port Walthall Junction. Two pieces of artillery that had been lost were re-captured by a gallant achievement of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Roman, who drove the enemy back with loss to them of three hundred killed. The woods from which the enemy had been driven took fire under a high wind and their dead and severely wounded were burned. General Terry held his position till night and then withdrew to his place in line. As Brigadier-General Turner's division was retiring, General Hagood, by authority of General Bushrod Johnson of the Confederate forces, sent a flag of truce asking permission to bury their dead and to bring off their wounded, which was granted.

On the morning of the 10th I received advices by signal from General Kautz announcing his return with his entire command. He had failed to reach Hicksford, but had burned the Stony Creek bridge, the Nottoway Bridge, and Jarratt's Station, and captured about one hundred and thirty prisoners, with a loss to his command of about thirty, killed and wounded.35

Wishing to have the assistance of General Kautz's cavalry in the [650] contemplated movement I gave them rest, and to put the lines in the best possible order to be held with a small force, I rested on the 11th, making ready to move by daylight on the 12th. On the 11th the following orders were issued to the corps commanders and preparations were made to carry them out:--

Headquarters in the field, May 11, 1864, 9.30 P. M.
Major-General Gillmore, Commanding Tenth Army Corps:
A movement will be made to-morrow morning at daybreak of the troops in the manner following: General Smith will take all of his corps that can be spared from his line with safety, and will demonstrate against the enemy up the turnpike, extending his line of advance to the left, with his right resting, at the beginning of the movement, on the river at or near Howlett's house, pressing the enemy into their intrenchments with the endeavor to turn them on the left, if not too hotly opposed. General Gillmore will order one division of his corps to report to General Smith with two days rations ready to march at any time at or after daylight, at General Smith's order. General Gillmore will make such dispositions with the remainder of his corps as to hold the enemy in check if any movement is made upon the rear of General Smith or upon our lines from the direction of Petersburg, holding such troops as may not be necessary to be thrown forward by him upon the turnpike, in reserve, ready to reinforce any point that may be attacked.

Of course, General Smith's demonstration will cover the right of General Gillmore's line of works, unless he [General Smith] is forced back. General Kautz has orders to proceed as soon as the demonstration of General Smith's troops has masked his movements from, at, or near Chester Station, to make demonstrations upon the Danville railroad for the purpose of cutting it. It is intended to develop [by this movement] the entire strength of the enemy in the direction of Richmond, and, if possible, either to force them within their intrenchments or turn them, as the case may be. If successful, it is supposed that the troops will occupy, during the night, the line of advance secured. General Hincks has orders to seize and hold a point [on the Appomattox] opposite General Smith's headquarters pending this movement. The commanding general fails to make further orders in detail because of personal explanation given to each corps commander of the movement intended.


Benj. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding.


For good and sufficient reasons, although it called me to abandon my base temporarily, I came to the conclusion to take command in person of this movement so that nothing should be lost because of any disagreement between my corps commanders, neither of whom really desired that the other should succeed.

At daybreak on the 12th, all the movements were made in conformity with these orders. Brigadier-General Ames' brigade was posted near Port Walthall Junction to cover our rear from the enemy's forces arriving at Petersburg from the South. The enemy met us at Proctor or Mill Creek, and after several severe engagements were forced back into their first line of works around Drury's Bluff. As soon as the roads by Chesterfield Court-House were opened by our advance, in obedience to the instructions of the lieutenant-general, General Kautz was sent with his cavalry by those roads to cut the Danville Railroad and the James River Canal. He was not able to strike the canal, but cut the road near Appomattox Station, and thence marched along the line of the road destroying it at several points, but did not succeed in destroying the Nottoway Bridge. Thence, he struck across to the Weldon Railroad again destroying it at Jarratt's Station, and thence by a detour came to City Point.

On the 13th, the enemy making a stand at their line of works, General Gillmore was sent to endeavor to turn their right while Smith attacked the front. Both movements were gallantly accomplished after severe fighting. Meantime, I endeavored to have the navy advance so as to cover our right, which rested near the river, from the fire of the enemy's fleet. But from the correspondence that ensued, it was obvious that we could have no assistance from the navy above Trent's Reach.36

On the 14th, General Smith drove the enemy from the first line of works, which we occupied. In the morning of that day I received a telegram from the Secretary of War stating that a despatch just received reported a general attack by Grant, in which great success was achieved; that Hancock had captured Maj.-Gen. Edward Johnson's division, and taken him and Early, and forty cannon, and that the prisoners were counted by thousands.37

Twelve hours later the Secretary of War sent me a second telegram [652] confirmatory of the first, in which I was informed that Lee had abandoned his works, and that Grant was pursuing.38

These telegrams strengthened me still further in the view that it was necessary to invest Richmond as closely as possible, and prepare to meet General Grant around the intrenchments above the city, to which point I supposed he was marching.

Oh, that the news contained in those despatches had been true!39

Believing the information to be true I sent a despatch at 7 P. M. to General Ames, who was watching the enemy at Petersburg,

General Butler's horse.

enclosing “glorious news from Grant,” and asking him to guard against surprise and night attack, and to report to me frequently.40

Having sent away General Kautz with his cavalry, in obedience to “instructions,” I was much crippled in my movements for want of a sufficient cavalry force to cover my left flank, which was “in the air.” [653] To observe the enemy in my rear so as to release the large force which I was obliged to leave there for the purpose of covering my rear, I endeavored to supply this deficiency as below set forth.

At evening of the 14th General Sheridan was reported by Lieutenant-Colonel Fuller, chief quartermaster, as having arrived at Haxalls, or Turkey Bend, on the opposite side of the river, some fourteen miles below, where he asked to be supplied with rations and forage. I telegraphed to Colonel Fuller to give General Sheridan all the forage and rations he needed.41

Later in the day I sent a despatch to General Sheridan requesting that he join me with his command, and suggesting that I wished he might be able to capture Chaffin's farm on his side of the river, where there were about two hundred men.42 But in any event I desired that he send up a force along the north bank of the James to search for torpedoes, and the wires and batteries by which they may be discharged, with instructions to burn any house in which such machines were found, and send to me any persons captured having anything to do with them. I also asked for a personal interview at the earliest moment.

On the 15th General Sheridan called on me at the front, and in conference with him I learned that he thought it would take seven or eight days to refit the horses and men of his command to make his return march. Trusting that General Grant would be with me before that time, and deeming that if General Sheridan's command, numbering four thousand effective men, were encamped on the right of my lines near Howlett's house, where there was an admirable place for a cavalry encampment, that it would be so much in effect addition to my force, holding the position which I desired should be held by the navy, I gave him orders to bring his command at once across the river to Bermuda landing, and encamp it between Howlett's house and the railroad, and informed him that the quartermaster would supply him with the necessary transportation and forage.43

At the same time I instructed him to turn over all his disabled and unserviceable horses to the quartermaster at Bermuda, to be turned out to graze.44 [654]

General Sheridan on the next day sent me a copy of his instructions from the Army of the Potomac, but declined to make the movement ordered, although I believe by the Articles of War, having come within the territorial command of a superior officer, he was bound to obey his orders. On the 17th, however, finding that his horses were recruited sooner than he expected, he left us and began his return march. He found out very soon that his horses could be recruited in two days instead of eight, when he was called upon to do something for his country.45

Decorative Motif.

1 See Appendix No. 14.

2 See Appendix No. 15.

3 See Appendix No. 16.

4 In the re-transfer of McClellan's army in 1862, Halleck reports that “On the first of August I ordered General Burnside to immediately embark his troops at Newport News [on the James River], transfer them to Acquia Creek [near Washington], and take position opposite Fredericksburg. This officer moved with great promptness, and reached Acquia Creek on the night of the third.”

5 The following is a statement of the matter made by Mr. Cameron during his lifetime:--

I had been summoned from Harrisburg by the President to consult with him in relation to the approaching campaign. He was holding a reception when I arrived, but after it was over we had a long and earnest conversation. Mr. Lincoln had been much distressed at the intrigues in and out of his Cabinet to defeat his renomination; but that was now assured, and the question of a man for the second place on the ticket was freely and earnestly discussed. Mr. Lincoln thought and so did I that Mr. Hamlin's position during the four years of his administration made it advisable to have a new name substituted. Several men were freely talked of, but without conclusion as to any particular person. Not long after that I was requested to come to the White House again. I went and the subject was again brought up by the President, and the result of our conversation was that Mr. Lincoln asked me to go to Fortress Monroe and ask General Butler if he would be willing to run, and, if not, to confer with him upon the subject.

General Butler positively declined to consider the subject, saying that he preferred to remain in the military service, and he thought a man could not justify himself in leaving the army in the time of war to run for a political office. The general and myself then talked the matter over freely, and it is my opinion at this distance from the event that he suggested that a Southern man should be given the place. After completing the duty assigned by the President, I returned to Washington and reported the result to Mr. Lincoln. He seemed to regret General Butler's decision, and afterwards the name of Andrew Johnson was suggested and accepted. In my judgment Mr. Hamlin never had a serious chance to become the vice-presidential candidate after Mr. Lincoln's renomination was assured.

6 See Appendix No. 17.

7 See Appendix No. 18.

8 See Appendix No. 19.

9 See Appendix No. 20.

10 See Appendix No. 21.

11 See Appendix No. 22.

12 See Appendix No. 23.

13 See Appendix No. 24.

14 See Appendix No. 25.

15 See Appendix No. 26.

16 See Appendix No. 27.

17 See Appendix No. 28.

18 See Appendix No. 29.

19 See Appendix No. 30.

20 See Appendix No. 31.

21 See Appendix No. 32.

22 See Appendix No. 33.

23 See Appendix No. 34.

24 See Appendix No. 35.

25 See Appendix No. 36.

26 See Appendix No. 37.

27 See Appendix No. 38.

28 Lieutenant-General Grant, in his report to the country, made fifteen months afterwards, gives a different account of the “victories,” “full retreats,” and “rapid pursuit,” of the days from the 6th to the 9th of May. It is not true that he had not determined his route on the 8th, assuming his now report to be true; for he says that on the 7th, “I determined to push on, and put my whole force between him and Richmond; and orders were at once issued for a movement by his (the enemy's) right flank.” This would bring General Grant to the James, below Richmond.

Extract from General Grant's Official Report, pp. 6, 7.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Battle of the Wilderness was renewed by us at 5 o'clock on the morning of the 6th, and continued with unabated fury until darkness set in, each army holding substantially the same position that they had on the evening of the 5th. After dark, the enemy made a feeble attempt to turn our right flank, capturing several hundred prisoners and creating considerable confusion. But the promptness of General Sedgwick, who was personally present and commanded that part of our line, soon re-formed it and restored order. On the morning of the 7th, reconnoissances showed that the enemy had fallen behind his intrenched lines, with pickets to the front, covering a part of the battle-field. From this it was evident to my mind that the two days fighting had satisfied him of his inability to further maintain the contest on the open field, notwithstanding his advantage of position, and that he would wait an attack behind his works. I therefore determined to push on, and put my whole force between him and Richmond, and orders were at once issued for a movement by his right flank. On the night of the 7th, the march was commenced towards Spottsylvania Court-House, the Fifth Corps moving on the most direct road. But the enemy, having become apprised of our movement, and having the shorter line, was enabled to reach there first. On the 8th, General Warren met a force of the enemy which had been sent out to oppose and delay his advance, to gain time to fortify the line taken up at Spottsylvania. This force was steadily driven back on the main force, within the recently constructed works, after considerable fighting, resulting in severe loss to both sides. On the morning of the 9th, General Sheridan started on a raid against the enemy's lines of communication with Richmond. The 9th, 10th, and 11th were spent in manoeuvring and fighting without decisive results.

29 See Appendix No. 39.

30 See Appendix No. 40.

31 See Appendix No. 41.

32 See Appendix No. 42.

33 See Appendix No. 43.

34 See Appendix No. 44.

35 See Appendix No. 45.

36 See Appendix No. 46.

37 See Appendix No. 47.

38 See Appendix No. 48.

39 General Grant, in his report (page 7), gives a very different account of the operations of “yesterday” (the 12th), as will be seen by the following;--

The 9th, 10th, and 11th were spent in manoeuvring and fighting, without decisive results. . . . Early on the morning of the 2th a general attack was made on the enemy in position. The Second Corps, Major-General Hancock commanding, carried a salient of his line, capturing most of Johnson's division of Elwell's Corps and twenty pieces of artillery. But the resistance was so obstinate that the advantage gained did not prove decisive. The 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th were consumed in manoeuvring and awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Washington.

40 See Appendix No. 49.

41 See Appendix No. 50.

42 See Appendix No. 51.

43 See Appendix No. 52.

44 See Appendix No. 53.

45 This statement implies a censure on General Sheridan. It seemed to me, when I wrote it, to be just, as it did at the time of the occurrence, and so I choose to let it stand; but since then I have seen publications in which it appears that after General Sheridan called on me and received my orders,--which he disobeyed,--he had a consultation upon the situation with Maj.-Gen. Wm F. Smith, and got advice from him as to what he should do, which seems to have determined his conduct. So that censure, and very much more, belongs to Smith.

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