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The investment of Petersburg

On Grant's city Point railroad--a new kind of siege gun


Where the photographer “drew fire” : the man who remembered. June 21, 1864, is the exact date of the photograph that made this picture and those on the three following pages. A story goes with them, told by one of the very men pictured here. As he looked at it forty-six years later, how vividly the whole scene came back to him! This is Battery B, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery, known as Cooper's Battery of the Fifth Corps, under General G. K. Warren. On the forenoon of this bright June day, Brady, the photographer, drove his light wagon out to the entrenchments. The Confederates lay along the sky-line near where rose the ruined chimney of a house belonging to a planter named Taylor. Approaching Captain Cooper, Brady politely asked if he could take a picture of the battery, when just about to fire. At the command, from force of habit, the men jumped to their positions. Hardly a face was turned toward the camera. They might be oblivious of its existence. The cannoneer rams home a charge. The gunner “thumbs the vent” --but “our friend the enemy” just over the hill observes the movement, and, thinking it means business, opens up. Away goes Brady's horse, scattering chemicals and plates. The gun in the foreground is ready to send a shell across the open ground, but Captain Cooper reserves his fire. Brady, seeing his camera is uninjured, recalls his assistant and takes the other photographs, moving his instrument a little to the rear. And the man who saw it then, sees it all again to-day just as it was. He is even able to pick out many of the men by name. Their faces come back to him. Turning the page, may be seen Captain James H. Cooper, leaning on his sword, and Lieutenant Alcorn, on the extreme right. In the photograph above is Lieutenant Miller, back of the gun. Lieutenant James A. Gardner was the man who saw all this, and in the picture on the preceding page he appears seated on the trail of the gun to the left in the act of sighting the gun. The other officers shown in this picture were no longer living when, in 1911, he described the actors in the drama that the glass plate had preserved forty-six years.

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Just as the camera caught them: the man who remembered. General Warren's Corps had arrived in front of Petersburg on the 17th of June, 1864, and Battery B of the First Pennsylvania Light Artillery was put into position near the Avery house. Before them the Confederates were entrenched, with Beauregard in command. On the 17th, under cover of darkness, the Confederates fell back to their third line, just visible beyond the woods to the left in the first picture. Early the next morning Battery B was advanced to the line of entrenchments shown above, and a sharp interchange of artillery fire took place in the afternoon. So busy were both sides throwing up entrenchments and building forts and lunettes that there had been very little interchange of compliments in the way of shells or bullets at this point until Photographer Brady's presence and the gathering of men of Battery B at their posts called forth the well-pointed salute. Men soon became accustomed to artillery and shell-fire. It was not long before Battery D was advanced from the position shown above to that held by the Confederates on the 21st of June, and there Fort Morton was erected, and beyond the line of woods the historic Fort Stedman, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting before Petersburg. If you look closely at the second photograph, you will perceive a man in civilian clothes; Lieutenant Gardner (standing just back of the man with the haversack) thinks that this is Mr. Brady himself. There are fifteen people in this picture whom Lieutenant Gardner, of this battery, recognized after a lapse of forty-six years and can recall by name. There may be more gallant Pennsylvanians who, on studying this photograph, will see themselves and their comrades, surviving and dead, as once they fought on the firing-line.



“Where is Grant?” : heavy artillery just arrived before Petersburg--1864. this heavy Federal battery looks straight across the low-lying country to Petersburg. Its spires show in the distance. The smiling country is now to be a field of blood and suffering. For Grant's Army, unperceived, has swung around from Cold Harbor, and “the Confederate cause was lost when Grant crossed the James,” declared the Southern General Ewell. It was a mighty and a masterful move, practicable only because of the tremendous advantages the Federals held in the undisputed possession of the waterways, the tremendous fleet of steamers, barges, and river craft that made a change of base and transportation easy. Petersburg became the objective of the great Army under Grant. His movements to get there had not been heralded; they worked like well-oiled machinery. “where is Grant?” frantically asked Beauregard of Lee. The latter, by his despatches, shows that he could not answer with any certainty. In fact, up to the evening of the 13th of June, when the Second Corps, the advance of the Army of the Potomac, reached the north bank of the James, Lee could not learn the truth. By midnight of the 15th, bridges were constructed, and following the Second Corps, the Ninth began to cross. But already the Fifth and Sixth Corps and part of the Army of the James were on their way by water from White House to city Point. The Petersburg campaign had begun. Lee's Army drew its life from the great fields and stock regions south and southwest of Richmond. With the siege of Petersburg, the railroad center of the state, this source of supply was more and more cut off, until six men were made to live on the allowance first given to each separate Southern soldier. Outnumbered three to one in efficient men, with the Cold of winter coming on and its attendant hardships in prospect, no wonder the indomitable Southern bravery was tried to the utmost. Sherman was advancing. The beginning of the end was near.

[181] [182]

The busiest place in Dixie city Point, just after its capture by Butler. From June, 1864, until April, 1865, city Point, at the juncture of the Appomattox and the James, was a Point of entry and departure for more vessels than any city of the South including even New Orleans in times of peace. Here landed supplies that kept an army numbering, with fighting force and supernumeraries, nearly one hundred and twenty thousand well-supplied, well-fed, well-contented, and well-munitioned men in the field. This was the marvelous base — safe from attack, secure from molestation. It was meals and money that won at Petersburg, the bravery of full stomachs and warm-clothed bodies against the desperation of starved and shivering out-numbered men. A glance at this picture tells the story. There is no need of rehearsing charges, counter-charges, mines, and counter-mines. Here lies the reason — Petersburg had to fall. As we look back with a retrospective eye on this scene of plenty and abundance, well may the American heart be proud that only a few miles away were men of their own blood enduring the hardships that the defenders of Petersburg suffered in the last campaign of starvation against numbers and plenty.


Supplies and infrastructure.

no signs of warfare, no marching men or bodies lying on the blood-soaked sward, are needed to mark this as a war-time photograph. No laboring boss would have fallen into the position of the man on the top of the embankment. Four years in uniform has marked this fellow; he has caught the eye of the camera and drawn up at “attention,” shoulders back, heels together, and arms hanging at his side. There is no effect of posing, no affectation here; he stands as he has been taught to stand. He is a soldier. No frowning cannon could suggest the military note more clearly. Just beyond the Point to the left, above the anchorage and the busy wharves, are General Grant's headquarters at city Point. From here it was but a few minutes' ride on the rough military railway to where the one hundred and ten thousand fighting men lay entrenched with the sixty-six thousand veterans in gray opposed to them. A warship lying where these vessels lie could drop a 12-inch shell into Petersburg in modern days. From here President Lincoln set out to see a grand review and witnessed a desperate battle. Here General Sherman, fresh from his victorious march from Atlanta to the sea, came up in the little gunboat Bat to visit Grant. During the last days, when to the waiting world peace dawned in sight, city Point, to all intents and purposes, was the National capital, for from here President Lincoln held communication with his Cabinet officers, and replied to Stanton's careful injunctions “to take care of himself” with the smiling assurance that he was in the hands of Grant and the army.

The teeming wharves

Supplies for an army.

An engine of the U. S. Military railroad.


A movable menace: the Railroad mortar. the 17,000-pound mortar, “Dictator,” was run on a flat-car from point to point on a curve of the Railroad track along the bank of the Appomattox. It was manned and served before Petersburg, July 9-31, 1864, by Company G, First Connecticut artillery, during its stay. When its charge of fourteen pounds of powder was First fired, the car broke under the shock; but a second car was prepared by the engineers, strengthened by additional beams, tied strongly by iron rods and covered with iron-plating. This enabled the “Dictator” to be used at various points, and during the siege it fired in all forty-five rounds--nineteen of which were fired during the battle of the Crater. It was given at last a permanent emplacement near Battery no. 4--shown on the following pages.

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Railroad mortar.

here are the men who did the thinking for the great mortar that rests so stolidly in the midst of the group. They are its cabinet ministers, artillerymen every one, versed in the art of range-finding and danger-angles, of projectory arcs and the timing of shell-fuses. In the front line the two figures from left to right are Colonel H. L. Abbott, First Connecticut heavy artillery, and General H. J. Hunt, Chief of artillery. In the second, or rear line, also from left to right, the First is Captain F. A. Pratt; second (just behind Colonel Abbott), Captain E. C. Dow; fourth (just behind and to General Hunt's left), Major T. S. Trumbull.

The dictators of the “dictator”

A permanent position


Railroad mortar.

these nine men are the executive committee that controlled the actions of the great mortar, and a glance at them shows that they were picked men for the job — men in the prime of life, brawny and strong — they were the slaves of their pet monster. Some shots from this gun went much farther than they were ever intended, carrying their fiery trails over the Confederate entrenchments and exploding within the limits of the town itself, over two and a quarter miles. The roar of the explosion carried consternation to all within hearing. In the lower picture is the great mortar resting in the position it occupied longest, near Battery no. 4.

The Railroad gun's executive committee

Pointed toward Petersburg

the cause was lost, but the end was not yet. The noble Army of Northern Virginia, once, twice conqueror of empire, must bite the dust before its formidable adversary. --Lieutenant-General James Longstreet, C. S. A., in From Manassas to Appomattox.

the disastrous failure of the Union Army on the sanguinary battlefield of Cold Harbor, in June, 1864, destroyed Grant's last chance to turn the Confederate right flank north of Richmond. He could still try to turn Lee's left and invest Richmond from the north, but this would not have interfered with the lines of supply over the James River and the railroads from the South and West. The city could have resisted for an indefinite time. If Richmond were to fall, it must be besieged from the South.

the movement from Cold Harbor began after dark on June 12th, and Meade's whole Army was safely over the James River at Wilcox's Landing by midnight on the 16th of June. The little city of Petersburg is situated twenty-one miles South of Richmond on the Southern bank of the Appomattox, a small stream threading its way through the Virginia tidewater belt, almost parallel with the James, into which it flows. In itself the town was of little value to either Army. But it was the doorway to Richmond from the South. Three railroads from Southern points converged here. To reach the Confederate capital, Petersburg must first be battered down. At this time the town ought not to have been difficult to capture, for its defenses were but weak entrenchments, and they were not formidably manned. General Smith, who reached Bermuda hundred by water, with his corps, on the night of the 14th, was ordered by Butler, under instructions from Grant, to move on Petersburg at daylight. [189]

The diggers at Petersburg--1864 there was not a day during the whole of the nine months siege of Petersburg that pick and shovel were idle. At first every man had to turn to and become for the nonce a laborer in the ditches. But in an army of one hundred and ten thousand men, in the maintenance of Camp discipline, there were always soldier delinquents who for some infringement of military rules or some neglected duty were sentenced to extra work under the watchful eye of an officer and an armed sentry. Generally, these small punishments meant six to eight hours digging, and here we see a group of Federal soldiers thus employed. They are well within the outer chain of forts, near where the military road joins the Weldon & Petersburg Railroad. The presence of the camera man has given them a moment's relaxation.


the Confederate forces at Petersburg were now commanded by General Beauregard. He had conjectured what Grant's plans might be, and in order to prevent the capture of the town and enable him to hold Butler at Bermuda hundred, he called on Lee for immediate reenforcement. But the latter, not yet convinced that Grant was not moving on Richmond, sent only Hoke's division. On the day after Meade began to move his army toward the James, Lee left the entrenchments at Cold Harbor. Keeping to the right and rear of the Union lines of march, by the morning of the 16th, he had thrown a part of his force to the south side of the James, and, by the evening of the 18th, the last of the regiments had united with those of Beauregard, and the two great opposing armies were once more confronting each other — this time for a final settlement of the issue at arms. The Union army out-numbered that of the Confederates, approximately, two to one.

the contest for Petersburg had already begun. For two days the rapidly gathering armies had been combating with each other. On June 15th, General Smith pushed his way toward the weakly entrenched lines of the city. General Beauregard moved his men to an advanced line of rifle-pits. Here the initial skirmish occurred. The Confederates were driven to the entrenched works of Petersburg, and not until evening was a determined attack made upon them. At this time Hancock, “the superb,” came on the field. Night was falling but a bright moon was shining, and the Confederate redoubts, manned by a little over two thousand men, might have been carried by the Federals. But Hancock, waiving rank, yielded to Smith in command. No further attacks were made and a golden opportunity for the Federals was lost.

by the next morning the Confederate trenches were beginning to fill with Hoke's troops. The Federal attack was not made until afternoon, when the fighting was severe for three hours, and some brigades of the Ninth Corps assisted the Second and Eighteenth. The Confederates were driven back [191]

Mahone, “the hero of the Crater” General William Mahone, C. S. A. It was through the promptness and valor of General Mahone that the Southerners, on July 30, 1864, were enabled to turn back upon the Federals the disaster threatened by the hidden mine. On the morning of the explosion there were but eighteen thousand Confederates left to hold the ten miles of lines about Petersburg. Everything seemed to favor Grant's plans for the crushing of this force. Immediately after the mine was sprung, a terrific cannonade was opened from one hundred and fifty guns and mortars to drive back the Confederates from the breach, while fifty thousand Federals stood ready to charge upon the panic-stricken foe. But the foe was not panic-stricken long. Colonel McMaster, of the Seventeenth South Carolina, gathered the remnants of General Elliott's brigade and held back the Federals massing at the Crater until General Mahone arrived at the head of three brigades. At once he prepared to attack the Federals, who at that moment were advancing to the left of the Crater. Mahone ordered a counter-charge. In his inspiring presence it swept with such vigor that the Federals were driven back and dared not risk another assault. At the Crater, Lee had what Grant lacked — a man able to direct the entire engagement.

[192] some distance and made several unsuccessful attempts during the night to recover their lost ground. Before the next noon, June 17th, the battle was begun once more. Soon there were charges and countercharges along the whole battle-front. Neither side yielded. The gray and blue lines surged back and forth through all the afternoon. The dusk of the evening was coming on and there was no prospect of a cessation of the conflict. The Union troops were pressing strongly against the Confederates. There was a terrible onslaught, which neither powder nor lead could resist. A courier, dashing across the field, announced to Beauregard the rout of his army. Soon the panic-stricken Confederate soldiers were swarming in retreat. The day seemed to be irreparably lost. Then, suddenly in the dim twilight, a dark column was seen emerging from the wooded ravines to the rear, and General Gracie, with his brigade of twelve hundred gallant Alabamians, plunged through the smoke, leapt into the works, and drove out the Federals. Now the battle broke out afresh, and with unabated fury continued until after midnight.

Early on the morning of the 18th, a General assault was ordered upon the whole Confederate front. The skirmishers moved forward but found the works, where, on the preceding day, such desperate fighting had occurred, deserted. During the night, Beauregard had successfully made a retrograde movement. He had found the old line too long for the number of his men and had selected a shorter one, from five hundred to one thousand yards to the rear, that was to remain the Confederate wall of the city during the siege. But there were no entrenchments here and the weary battle-worn soldiers at once set to work to dig them, for the probable renewal of the contest. In the darkness and through the Early morning hours, the men did with whatever they could find as tools — some with their bayonets, or split canteens, while others used their hands. This was the beginning of those massive works that defied the army of Grant before Petersburg for nearly a year. By noon [193]

What eight thousand pounds of powder did the Crater, torn by the mine within Elliott's salient. At dawn of July 30, 1864, the fifty thousand Federal troops waiting to make a charge saw a great mass of earth hurled skyward like a water-spout. As it spread out into an immense cloud, scattering guns, carriages, timbers, and what were once human beings, the front ranks broke in panic; it looked as if the mass were descending upon their own heads. The men were quickly rallied; across the narrow plain they charged, through the awful breach, and up the heights beyond to gain Cemetery Ridge. But there were brave fighters on the other side still left, and delay among the Federals enabled the Confederates to rally and re-form in time to drive the Federals back down the steep sides of the Crater. There, as they struggled amidst the horrible debris, one disaster after another fell upon them. Huddled together, the mass of men was cut to pieces by the canister poured upon them from well-planted Confederate batteries. At last, as a forlorn hope, the colored troops were sent forward; and they, too, were hurled back into the Crater and piled upon their white comrades.

[194] of that day they had assumed quite a defensive character. Again the Federals attempted to break the Confederate line. All during the afternoon, regiments were hurled against the newly made works. Artillery bombarded here and there with but little effect. At times the attacking force would come within thirty yards of the entrenchments, only to recoil. Night came, and in front of the trenches the ranks of the Union dead lay thickly strewn.

during these four days, divisions and batteries were being added to both armies, and when the Union assault was successfully repulsed in the twilight hours of June 18, 1864, those two grim adversaries, Grant and Lee, stood in full battle array — this time for the final combat. The siege of Petersburg began the next day.

it was a beautiful June Sabbath. There was only the occasional boom of some great gun as it thundered along the Appomattox, or the fretful fire of picket musketry, to break the stillness. But it was not a day of rest. With might and main the two armies busily plied with pick and spade and axe.

in an incredibly short time, as if by magic, impregnable bastioned works began to loom about Petersburg. More than thirty miles of frowning redoubts, connected with extended breastworks, strengthened by mortar batteries and field-works of every description, lined the fields near the Appomattox. In front were abatis — bushy entanglements and timber slashings. Bomb-proofs and parapets completed these cordons of offense and defense — the one constructed to keep the Federals out; the other to keep the Confederates in. So formidable were the works, that only twice during the siege was there any serious attempt made by either army upon the entrenchments of the other, and both assaults were failures.

it was Grant's purpose to extend his lines to the south and west, until they would finally envelop Lee's right flank, and then strike at the railroads, upon which the Confederate army and Richmond depended for supplies. On June 21st, two corps, [195]

Before Petersburg.

on July 30, 1864, at the exploding of the hidden mine under Elliott's salient, the strong Confederate fortification opposite. The plan of the mine was conceived by Colonel Henry Pleasants and approved by Burnside, whose Ninth Corps, in the assaults of June 17th and 18th, had pushed their advance position to within 130 yards of the Confederate works. Pleasants had been a mining engineer and his regiment, the forty-eighth Pennsylvania, was composed mainly of miners from the coal regions. The work was begun on June 25th and prosecuted under the greatest difficulties. In less than a month Pleasants had the main gallery, 510.8 feet long, the left lateral gallery, 37 feet long, and the right lateral gallery; 38 feet long, all completed. While finishing the last gallery, the right one, the men could hear the Confederates working in the fortification above them, trying to locate the mine, of which they had got wind. It was General Burnside's plan that General Edward Ferrero's division of colored troops should head the charge when the mine should be sprung. The black men were kept constantly on drill and it was thought, as they had not seen any very active service, that they were in better condition to lead the attack than any of the white troops. In the upper picture are some of the colored troops drilling and idling in Camp after the battle of the Crater, in which about three hundred of their comrades were lost. The lower picture shows the entrenchments at Fort Morton, whence they sallied forth.

Colored troops after the disaster of the mine

Fort Morton, before Petersburg

[196] the Second and Sixth, moved out of their entrenchments to capture the Weldon Railroad, and to extend the line of investment. The region to be traversed was one characteristic of the tidewater belt — dense forests and swampy lowlands, cut by many small creeks. The morning of June 22d found the two army corps in the midst of tangled wilderness. There was some delay in bringing these divisions together — thus leaving a wide gap. While the troops were waiting here, two divisions of A. P. Hill's corps were advancing against them. Hill led Mahone's division through a ravine close by. Screened by the intervening ridge, the Confederates quickly formed in line of battle, dashed through the pine forest, with a fierce, wild yell, and swiftly and suddenly burst through the gap between the two Federal corps, attacking the flank and rear of Barlow's division. A withering volley of musketry, before which the Northerners could not stand, plowed through their ranks. The Federal line was doubled upon itself. The terrific onslaught was continued by the Confederates and resulted in forging to the entrenchments and capturing seventeen hundred prisoners, four guns, and several colors. At dusk Hill returned to his entrenchments. The Second and Sixth corps were joined in a new position.

at the same time the Cavalry, under General James H. Wilson, including Kautz's division, started out to destroy the railroads. The Confederate Cavalry leader, General W. H. F. Lee, followed closely, and there were several sharp engagements. The Union Cavalry leader succeeded, however, in destroying a considerable length of track on both the Weldon and South side railroads between June 22d and 27th. Then he turned for the works at Petersburg, but found it a difficult task. The woods were alive with Confederates. Infantry swarmed on every hand. Cavalry hung on the Federals' flanks and rear at every step. Artillery and wagon trains were being captured constantly. During the entire night of June 28th, the Union troopers were constantly [197]

An oasis in the desert of war throughout all the severe fighting south of Petersburg the Aiken house and its inhabitants remained unharmed, their safety respected by the combatants on both sides. The little farmhouse near the Weldon Railroad between the lines of the two hostile armies was remembered for years by many veterans on both sides. When Grant, after the battle of the Crater, began to force his lines closer to the west of Petersburg the Weldon Railroad became an objective and General Warren's command pushed forward on August 18, 1864, and after a sharp fight with the Confederates, established themselves in an advance position near Ream's Station. Three gallant assaults by the Confederates on the three succeeding days failed to dislodge the Federals. In these engagements the tide of battle ebbed and flowed through the woods and through thickets of vine and underbrush more impenetrable even than the “Wilderness.”

[198] harassed on every hand. They fell back in every direction. The two divisions became separated and, driven at full speed in front of the Confederate squadrons, became irreparably broken, and when they finally reached the Union lines — the last of them on July 2d--it was in straggling parties in wretched plight.

on June 25th, Sheridan returned from his raid on the Virginia Central Railroad. He had encountered Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee at Trevilian Station on June 11th, and turned back after doing great damage to the Railroad. His supply of ammunition did not warrant another engagement.

now ensued about five weeks of quiet during which time both generals were strengthening their fortifications. However, the Federals were covertly engaged in an undertaking that was destined to result in a conspicuous failure. While the Northern soldiers were enduring the rays of a blistering July sun behind the entrenchments, one regiment was delving underneath in the cool, moist earth. It was the forty-eighth Pennsylvania regiment of the Ninth Corps, made up mostly of miners from the upper Schuylkill coal-district of Pennsylvania. From June 25th until July 23d, these men were boring a tunnel from the rear of the Union works to a point under-neath the Confederate fortifications. Working under the greatest difficulties, with inadequate tools for digging, and hand-barrows made out of cracker boxes, in which to carry away the earth, there was excavated in this time a passage-way five hundred and ten feet in length, terminating in left and right lateral galleries, thirty-seven and thirty-eight feet respectively. Into these lateral galleries eight thousand pounds of gunpowder were packed and tamped, and a fuse attached. On July 28th, everything was ready for the match to be applied and for the gigantic upheaval, sure to follow.

Grant, in order to get a part of Lee's army away, had sent Hancock's Corps and two divisions of cavalry north of the James, as if he might attack Richmond. The ruse was successful. Preparations were then completed to fire the mine, [199]


the Federals were not the first to use a gun mounted on railway trucks. In the defense of Richmond during the seven days and at the attack on Savage's Station the Confederates had mounted a field-piece on a flat-car and it did severe damage to the Federal camps. But they possessed no such formidable armored truck as this. Propelled by man-power, no puffing locomotive betrayed its whereabouts; and as it rolled along the tracks, firing a shot from time to time, it must have puzzled the Confederate outposts. This was no clumsy experimental toy, but a land gunboat on wheels, armored with iron-plating, backed by massive beams.

at the Globe Tavern General Warren made his headquarters after the successful advance of August 18th, and from here he directed the maneuvers by which the Federal lines to the westward of Petersburg were drawn closer and closer to cut off the last of Confederate communications. The country hereabout was the theater of constant activities on both sides during the autumn, and skirmishing between the hostile forces was kept up far into November. The old Tavern was the very center of war's alarms. Yet the junior officers of the staff were not wholly deprived of amenities, since the Aiken house near by domiciled no less than seven young ladies, a fact that guaranteed full protection to the family during the siege. A strong safeguard was encamped within the garden railing to protect the house from intrusion by stragglers.

The safe end of the moving battery

The globe tavern, Weldon railroad

[200] tear a gap in the Confederate works, and rush the Union troops into the opening. A Division of colored soldiers, under General Ferrero, was selected and thoroughly drilled to lead the charge. Everything was in readiness for a successful attack, but at the last moment the colored Division was replaced by the First Division of the Ninth Corps, under General Ledlie. The explosion was to take place at half-past 3 on the morning of July 30th. The appointed time had come. Everything required was in its place, ready to perform its part. Less than four hundred feet in front were the Confederate works, and directly beneath them were four tons of powder waiting to perform their deadly work.

then the Federals applied the match. The fuse sputtered as the consuming flame ate its way to the magazines within the tunnel. The men waited in breathless suspense. In another moment the earth would be rent by the subterranean upheaval. Minute after minute passed. The delay was unbearable. Something must have gone wrong. A gallant sergeant of the forty-eighth Pennsylvania, Henry Rees by name, volunteered to enter the gallery and find out why the fuse had failed. It had parted within fifty feet of the powder. Rees returned for materials to resplice the fuse, and on the way out met Lieutenant Jacob Douty. The two men made the necessary repairs; the fire was again applied, and then — at twenty minutes to five--the ground underneath trembled as if by an earthquake, a solid mass of earth shot two hundred feet into the air, and a flame of fire burst from the vent as from a new-born volcano. Smoke rose after the ascending column. There in mid-air, earth, cannon, timbers, sand-bags, human beings, smoke, and fire, hung suspended an instant, and bursting asunder, fell back into and around the smoking crater where three hundred Confederates had met their end.

when the cloud of smoke had cleared away, the waiting troops of Ledlie charged, Colonel Marshall at the head of the Second Brigade, leading the way. They came to an immense [201]

Federal fighters at Reams' Station.

these men of Barlow's First division of the Second Corps, under command of Brigadier-General Nelson A. Miles, gallantly repulsed the Second and third attacks by the Confederates upon Reams' Station, where Hancock's men were engaged in destroying the Weldon Railroad on August 24, 1864. in the First picture is seen Company D of the famous “Clinton guard,” as the sixty-first New York infantry called itself. The picture was taken at Falmouth in April, 1863, and the trim appearance of the troops on dress parade indicates nothing of the heavy losses they sustained when at Fredericksburg, led by Colonel miles, they fought with distinguished bravery against Jackson's men. Not only the regiment but its officers attained renown, for the regiment had the honor to be commanded by able soldiers. First, Francis C. Barlow was its Colonel, then Nelson A. Miles, then Oscar A. Broady, and lastly George W. Scott.

Federal fighters at Reams' Station: Company D of the famous “Clinton guard,” as the sixty-first New York infantry called itself.

Federal fighters at Reams' Station.

[202] opening, one hundred and seventy feet long, sixty feet wide, and thirty feet deep. They climbed the rim, looked down into the pit at the indescribable horrors, and then plunged into the crater. Here, they huddled in inextricable confusion. The two brigades poured in until the yawning pit was crowded with the disorganized mass. All semblance of organization vanished. In the confusion, officers lost power to recognize, much less to control, their own troops. A regiment climbed the slope, but finding that no one was following, went back to the crater.

the stunned and paralyzed Confederates were not long in grasping the situation. Batteries were soon planted where they could sweep the approach to the crater. This cut off the possibility of retreat. Then into the pit itself poured a stream of wasting fire, until it had become a veritable slaughter-house. Into this death-trap, the sun was sending down its shafts until it became as a furnace. Attempts were made to pass around the crater and occupy Cemetery Hill, which had been the objective of the Federals. But the withering fire prevented. The colored troops, who had been originally trained to lead in the charge, now tried to save the day. They passed by the side of the crater and started for the crest of the Hill. They had not gone far when the Confederates delivered a countercharge that broke their ranks.

the Confederates were being rapidly reenforced. At eight o'clock Mahone's division of Georgians and Virginians swept onto the field, to the scene of the conflict. They had been hidden from view until they were almost ready for the charge. The Federals, seeing the intended attack, made ready to resist it. Lieutenant-Colonel Bross of the Twenty-ninth colored regiment sprang upon the edge of the crater with the Union flag in his hand and was quickly struck down. The men began to scramble out after him, but before a line could be formed the Confederates were on them, and the Federals were driven back into the pit, already overflowing with the living and the dead. Huge missiles from Confederate mortars [203]

Siege of Petersburg.

dotted with formidable fortifications such as these, Confederate works stretched for ten miles around Petersburg. Fort Mahone was situated opposite the Federal Fort Sedgwick at the point where the hostile lines converged most closely after the battle of the Crater. Owing to the constant cannonade which it kept up, the Federals named it Fort Damnation, while Fort Sedgwick, which was no less active in reply, was known to the Confederates as Fort Hell. Gracie's salient, further north on the Confederate line, is notable as the point in front of which General John B. Gordon's gallant troops moved to the attack on Fort Stedman, the last desperate effort of the Confederates to break through the Federal cordon. The views of Gracie's salient show the French form of chevaux-de-frise, a favorite protection against attack much employed by the Confederates.

Fort Mahone--“Fort Damnation”

Rives' salient

Traverses against cross-fire

Gracie's salient, and other forts along the ten miles of defenses

[204] rained into the awful chasm. The muskets left by the retreating Federals were thrown like pitchforks among the huddled troops. The shouts, the explosions, the screams, and groans added to the horror of the carnage. The clay in the pit was drenched with the blood of the dead and dying. The Southerners pushed in from both sides of the crater, forming a cordon of bayonets about it. The third and final charge was made, about two in the afternoon, and the bloody fight at the crater was ended as the brigade commanders followed Burnside's order to withdraw to the Federal lines. Both of Ledlie's brigade commanders were captured in the crater. The total Federal loss in this disastrous affair was over thirty-nine hundred, of whom all but one hundred were in the Ninth Corps. The Confederates lost about one thousand.

now came a season of comparative quiet about Petersburg, except for the strategic maneuverings of the Federals who were trying to find weak places in the Confederate walls. On August 18th, however, Grant sent General Warren to capture the Weldon Railroad. Desperate fighting was to be expected, for this was one of the important routes along which supplies came to the Confederate capital. The Federal forces moved out quietly from their camp, but the alert Beauregard was ready for them. By the time Warren had reached the Railroad, near the Globe Tavern, four miles from Petersburg, he was met by a force under Heth which at once drove him back. Rallying his troops, Warren entrenched on the Railroad.

the fight was renewed on the next day, when, strongly reenforced by Lee, the Confederates burst suddenly upon the Federals. Mahone thrust his gallant division through the Federal skirmish line and then turned and fought from the rear, while another division struck the right wing. The Union force was soon in confusion; more than two thousand were taken prisoners, including General Joseph Hayes, and but for the arrival of the Ninth Corps, the field would have been lost. Two days later, Lee again attacked the position by massing [205]

The defenders' counter-mine the sinister burrow opens within the Confederate Fort Mahone, seen more fully at the top of the preceding page. Fort Sedgwick, directly opposite Fort Mahone, had been originally captured from the Confederates and its defenses greatly strengthened. So galling did its fire become, and so important was its position to the Confederates, that early in the siege they planned to lay a mine in order to regain it and perhaps break through the Federal lines and raise the siege. The distance across the intervening plain was but fifteen hundred feet. The Confederates ran their main gallery somewhat more than a third of this distance before finally abandoning it, the difficulties of the undertaking having proved too great. This Fort was named after General William Mahone, who was conspicuously engaged in the defense of Petersburg, and whose gallant conduct at the explosion of the Federal mine under Elliott's salient saved the day to the Confederates. Weak as were the defenses of Petersburg in comparison with the strong investing works of the Federals, they withstood all assaults during nine months except when Elliott's salient was captured during the battle of the Crater.


Siege of Petersburg.

at Fort Stedman was directed the gallant onslaught of Gordon's men that resulted so disastrously for the Confederates on the 25th of march. For no troops could stand the heavy artillery and musketry fire directed on them from both flanks and from the rear at daylight. What was left of this brave division, shattered and broken, drifted back to their own line. It was the forlorn hope of Lee's beleaguered army. Fort McGilvery was less than one-half a mile from the Appomattox River, just north of the city Point Railroad, at the extreme right of the Federal line. It was one of the earliest forts completed, being built in July, 1864. Fort Morton, named after Major St. Clair Morton, killed by a sharpshooter's bullet in July, 1864, was renowned as the place from which the mine was dug and from which the disastrous attempt to break through the Confederate lines was made on July 30th. Fort Morton lay almost in the center of the most active portion of the lines, and was about a mile south of Fort Stedman.

Where Gordon's men attacked, Fort Stedman

The powder magazine at Fort McGilvery

Fort Morton, opposite the crater


Siege of Petersburg.

almost every one of the forts in the long Federal line was named after some gallant officer who had lost his life in action. They might have been termed the memorial forts. The almost circular entrenchment, strengthened by logs and sandbags and defended by the formidable abatis of tree trunks, was named after Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Meikle, of the Twentieth Indiana Volunteers. From the position shown we are looking directly into Petersburg. Military observers have conceded that the fortifications surrounding Petersburg were the most remarkable of any in the world. Before the end of October, 1864, the Army of the Potomac occupied a formidable cordon of defenses that stretched for more than thirty-two miles, and comprised thirty-six forts and fifty batteries. For years succeeding the war excursions were run from New York and from all parts of the country to this historic ground. It took three days to complete the tour. Then most of the forts were in the condition in which we see them pictured here.

A position of complete defense, Fort Meikle

The sweeping lines of Fort Sedgwick

Fort rice, as the Confederates saw it

[208] thirty guns and pouring volley after volley of fierce fire into the ranks of blue. The Union lines stood firm and returned the fire. Finally, the fighting Mahone, with his matchless band, was brought to turn the tide. The attack was made with his usual impetuousness, but the blue-clad riflemen withstood the terrific charge, and the serried ranks of Mahone fell back. The Weldon Railroad was lost to the Confederacy.

Hancock, who had returned from the north side of the James, proceeded to destroy the road, without hindrance, until three days later, August 25th, when General A. P. Hill made his appearance and Hancock retreated to some hastily built breastworks at Ream's Station. The Confederate attack was swift and terrific. The batteries broke the Union lines. The men were panic-stricken and were put to flight. Hancock tried in vain to rally his troops, but for once this splendid soldier, who had often seen his men fall but not fail, was filled with agony at the rout of his soldiers. Their rifle-pits had been lost, their guns captured and turned upon them. Finally, General Nelson A. Miles succeeded in rallying a few men, formed a new line and, with the help of some dismounted cavalry, partly regained their former position. The night came on and, under cover of darkness, Hancock withdrew his shattered columns.

The two great opposing armies had now come to a deadlock. For weeks they lay in their entrenchments, each waiting for the other to move. Each knew that it was an almost hopeless task to assail the other's position. At the end of September, General Ord, with the Eighteenth Corps, and General Birney, with the Tenth, captured Fort Harrison north of the James, securing a vantage-point for threatening Richmond. The Union line had been extended to within three miles of the South Side Railroad, and on October 27th, practically the whole Army of the Potomac was put in motion to secure this other avenue of transportation to Richmond. After severe fighting for one day the attempt was given up, and the Union troops returned to the entrenchments in front of Petersburg.

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