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Chapter 85:


At 1 o'clock P. M., on May 17th, while General Beauregard was still pursuing Butler's army, Ransom's division was withdrawn from him to Richmond, notwithstanding his request that the order should be suspended. General Whiting's forces had just come up, and were not yet assigned to position.

Thus left with about 12,000 men to operate against an enemy not less than 25,000 strong, General Beauregard, after another severe engagement on that day, drove the Federals back behind their intrenchments at Bermuda Hundreds Neck. A number of gunboats and transports, lying near the bend above Dutch Gap, [223] were repelled by a battery of two 20-pounder Parrotts, just captured from the defeated foe. Across this Neck, from the James to the Appomattox, General Beauregard now constructed a strong line of works (known thereafter as the ‘Howlett line’). Its left, at the Howlett House Bluff, commanded the part of the Dutch Gap facing that position. Thus it was that Butler and his army—in words attributed to General Grant—were so effectually ‘bottled up.’

It remains to be said that all the circumstances of the moment singularly favored the proposed plan of General Beauregard. General Grant, having lost fully 40,000 men from the outset of his campaign down to the battle of May 12th, near Spottsylvania Court-house, was, from that date to the 21st, awaiting reinforcements, without attempting any serious offensive movement. At this favorable period General Beauregard was denied a temporary reinforcement of 10,000 men from the Army of Northern Virginia, which he would have made stronger within forty-eight hours by 23,000 men,1 yet, scarcely three weeks afterwards, on the 13th of June, after General Grant had been reinforced by 51,000 men, and General Lee by only 18,000, General Early was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley with the entire 2d Corps. As an unfortunate consequence of the failure of the Confederate authorities to comply with General Beauregard's plan of operations, Butler, though badly beaten, was able to effect his retreat upon his strong base at Bermuda Hundreds, and could safely (as he did) detach from that point Smith's corps of 16,000 men, to aid General Grant in the effort made, on June 3d, at Cold Harbor, to break through General Lee's defensive lines, on that side of the James. Meanwhile, Butler, still 13,000 strong, continued to be a threat to the safety of Richmond, on the south side of the James. This rendered it unwise to detach any material part of General Beauregard's force to aid General Lee. So urgent, however, did the Confederate authorities regard the necessity, that they gradually withdrew from General Beauregard most of the troops that had been directly engaged under him in the battle of Drury's Bluff.

It is to be remembered that Butler's base at Bermuda Hundreds [224] was also a constant menace to General Lee's communications, via Richmond and Petersburg, with his main sources of supply— namely, the States and open ports south of Virginia. Wilmington was the only Atlantic harbor through which we could then receive ammunition and clothing from Europe. Communication with South Carolina and Georgia, by way of the Weldon and Danville Railroads, was also endangered by Butler's presence. This produced almost daily conflicts, and severe ones at times, showing that Butler's object was to seize or destroy the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, at the point nearest to Bermuda Hundreds. In consequence of this fully one-third of the Confederate force had to be used on picket service. This force now consisted only of part of Bushrod Johnson's division, about 3200 strong, holding the Bermuda Hundreds lines, and Wise's brigade, together with the local militia of Petersburg,2 in all about 2200 men, guarding that city.

On the 9th of June, Gillmore's corps was thrown across the Appomattox, by a pontoon-bridge at Point of Rocks, in a movement against Petersburg. The attack itself was made by a body about 5000 strong, chiefly of Kautz's mounted infantry, and was successfully repulsed. Had Gillmore's large force been handled with more vigor, Petersburg, with the handful of men then available for its defence (so completely had General Beauregard been deprived of troops for the support of General Lee), would have inevitably fallen into the hands of the enemy.

General Wise, in his narrative, gives a correct and graphic description of this affair. The following passage is copied from it:

‘They pressed hard upon the left for three or four hours, and then suddenly attacked the militia on my extreme right with a detachment numbering 1000, which were handsomely received by Archer; but they broke through his line, one-half of them taking the road into Petersburg, and the other the road leading to Blandford. Graham's battery, accidentally at the City Water Works, met the first, and a curious force drove back the latter. I had detailed all who could possibly do momentary duty out of the hospitals, calling them the “Patients;” and from the jail and guard-houses all the prisoners, calling them the “Penitents;” and the two companies of “Patients” and “Penitents” moved out on the Blandford road, while I advanced with three [225] companies of the 46th from our left; and the enemy on that road, seeing the head of the column of “P. P.'s” advancing in their front, and my three companies bearing on their right flank, they wheeled to the right — about at once and retired; and Graham's battery repulsed the other party advancing on the city. This was done with the loss of thirteen killed and a few wounded of the militia. Petersburg was thus barely saved on the 9th; and the defence was so critical, that I demanded additional forces, and General Beauregard at once reinforced my command with my 26th Virginia, and nine companies of the 34th.’

It is proper to add here that, before these reinforcements were forwarded, General Beauregard had sent General Dearing and most of his cavalry, from the right of the Bermuda lines—where he had yet no works—to General Wise's assistance. He arrived in time to aid in the repulse of the enemy.

Previous to this, forecasting the strategy of General Lee's adversary, and believing that, persevering in his movement leftward around Richmond, he would pass to the south side of the James, General Beauregard, as early as the 7th of June, forwarded the following telegram to General Bragg:

Dunlap's farm, June 7th, 1864:3.30 P. M.
General B. Bragg, Richmond, Va.:
Should Grant have left Lee's front, he doubtless intends operating against Richmond along James River, probably on south side. Petersburg being nearly defenseless, would be captured before it could be reinforced. Ransom's brigade and Hoke's division should, then, be returned at once.

The following was General Bragg's answer:

Richmond, June 8th, 1864.
To General Beauregard:
My acquaintance with the state of affairs in General Lee's front is not sufficient to enable me to form an accurate opinion on your suggestions of yesterday, as to return of Hoke and Ransom. Have therefore forwarded your despatch to General Lee.

Two days later, with that strategic discernment which characterized both himself and Jackson, General Beauregard forwarded the following written communication to Richmond:

Headquarters, Department N. C. And so. Va., Swift Creek, Va., June 9th, 1864, 7 A. M.
General Braxton Bragg, Comdg. C. S. Armies, Richmond, Va.:
General,—The present movements of Grant's army have a significancy which cannot have escaped your observation. He clearly seeks to move [226] around Lee's forces by an advance upon his left flank, in the direction of the James River, with a view to operate between that river and the Chickahominy, and, in case of his meeting with no adequate resistance, to plant himself on both sides of the former, throwing across it a pontoon-bridge, as close to Chaffin's Bluff as circumstances may permit; and, failing in this scheme, he may continue his rotary motion around Richmond, and attack it by concentrating the whole of his army on the south side of the James, using the fortified position at Bermuda Hundreds Neck as a base for his operations.

In that hypothesis our first object would seem to be to throw him off, as far as practicable, from his objective point (Richmond), unless the Government were to adopt the bold and, perhaps, safer policy of giving him battle, and decide at once the fate of that city, while we remain with a comparatively compact, well-disciplined, and enthusiastic army in the field.

To accomplish this object the river battery at Howlett's should be completed without delay, and thoroughly armed; the river should be obstructed by rope works and torpedoes, so distributed as to leave passage for only one ironclad at a time, which, in the meanwhile, should prevent the crossing of the river between that battery and Chaffin's Bluff. My defensive line, now nearly completed, and extending from the river battery at Howlett's to Mrs. Dunn's house, would be held by Johnson's division.

The comparatively level and open country between these two points might be defended by a line of redoubts from Dunn's house to Swift Creek. The short line west of Fort Clifton, between Swift Creek and the Appomattox, would be a barrier against any approach from the intersection of those two streams.

The defensive line from Mrs. Dunn's to the Appomattox could be defended by a part of Hoke's division, while the rest, taking position in Petersburg, might hold it until reinforcements from Lee's army were obtained.

Two divisions of about 15,000 men in all would thus prevent any force of the enemy from penetrating between Drury's Bluff and Petersburg, and compel him to take the latter before he could venture a real advance on Richmond.

With these views hastily thrown on paper I send you a statement of the strength and organization of the forces at the lines around Petersburg, at Drury's Bluff, and in front of Bermuda Hundreds Neck, that you may judge of my resources and ability to face the impending contingencies for which I may from moment to moment have to provide.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

It is apparent, upon a careful examination of the foregoing letter, and of the reasons there given in explanation of General Grant's predicted movement, that, had the latter looked over the whole field with the same clearness as did General Beauregard, and effected his passage at Bermuda Hundreds, instead of south of the Appomattox, while he might still have attacked [227] Petersburg—as he did, on the 15th, with Smith's corps, now increased to 22,000 men—the main body of the Federal army must have irresistibly planted itself upon the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. It would have been able, immediately thereafter, to stretch its left across the Richmond and Danville Railroad, cutting off General Beauregard from General Lee; cutting off General Lee and Richmond from the South; insuring the fall of Richmond; leaving no route of retreat for the army of Northern Virginia; and virtually ending the war by the 1st of July, 1864.

Anticipating this extreme danger, General Beauregard recommended the bold and—in his opinion—‘safer’ plan of concentration of all our available forces, to give General Grant battle, and thus decide, at once, the fate of the Confederate capital, while we still had in the field ‘a compact, well-disciplined, and enthusiastic army.’ As an alternative he proposed ‘to throw General Grant off as far as practicable from Richmond,’ by the proper defence and obstruction of the James and of the line from Drury's Bluff to Petersburg, so that he should be compelled, ‘under the greatest disadvantages, to attempt the capture of the latter place before venturing a real and serious advance on Richmond.’

Neither proposition met with consideration at Richmond, nor, it seems, from General Lee; for, when General Grant, instead of crossing at Bermuda Hundreds at a time when he could have done so almost without impediment, preferred the point of passage that made Petersburg his immediate objective, General Beauregard was left, with about 5400 men, gradually increased to about 11,000, to bear the pressure of a hostile force increasing, by successive reinforcements, from 22,000 to at least 90,000 men (exclusive of two divisions of Wright's corps)—substantially the mass of General Grant's army.

With such fearful and almost incredible odds against him, General Beauregard, from the 15th to the 18th of June, maintained a successful barrier to the Federal advance—a feat of war almost without a precedent in which the courage and the endurance of the troops, no less than the skill with which the commander used his small resources, were fully as conspicuous as the goodfortune that lent itself to such a result. During these few but, apparently, never-ending days of unremitting anxiety, General Beauregard, by repeated telegrams and messages, informed the [228] War Department and General Lee of the movement of the Federal army to the south side of the James, and against his lines in front of Petersburg. In support of this assertion we offer the following telegrams:


Movement of Grant's across Chickahominy and increase of Butler's force render my position here critical. With my present forces I cannot answer for consequences. Cannot my troops sent to General Lee be returned at once? Please submit my letter of 9th instant to President.


Swift Creek, Va., June 14th, 1864:8.10 P. M.
General R. E. Lee, Army N. Va.:
A deserter from the enemy reports that Butler has been reinforced by the 18th and a part of the 10th Army Corps.

Apart from the increasing strenuousness and weight with which the attack at Petersburg was made, and the unusual boldness with which Butler ventured out of his intrenchments, in aggressive demonstrations upon the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, the noticeable activity in the movement of the Federal transports on the James, the capture, south of the river, of prisoners from General Grant's several army corps, and the result of their carefully-sifted testimony, were pressingly urged as corroborative of General Beauregard's opinion.3

Had one of General Lee's corps reached the scene in time to enable General Beauregard to take the offensive, General Grant's forces, sent up in detail, as they were, might have been beaten in detail; and this was the object desired and urged by General Beauregard as soon as he saw that General Grant was passing to the south side of the James, which he had anticipated and predicted as the probable projected movement of the enemy. Indeed, it afterwards appeared that General Grant's purpose, in fighting the battle of Cold Harbor (June 3d) was that, if unsuccessful in breaking through General Lee's lines, he might thus prepare the way for such a movement.

General Grant's arrangements having been made for this last change of base, his several corps were put in motion for James [229] River in the afternoon and night of the 12th of June.4 Smith's corps (the 18th) was transported by way of the White House back to Bermuda Landing; Burnside's corps (the 9th) and Wright's (the 6th), by way of Jones's Bridge (Chickahominy) and Charles City Court-house Road; Hancock's (the 2d) and Warren's (the 5th) corps, by way of Long Bridge (Chickahominy) to Wilcox Landing, on the James,5 where General Grant's headquarters had been established on the 13th, and whence he telegraphed to Washington that the passage of the river would begin the next day. At 3 o'clock P. M., on the 14th, General Grant was at Bermuda Hundreds.

Smith's corps, brought around from the White House, was landed at Bermuda Hundreds in the afternoon of the 14th, and marched to Point of Rocks, on the Appomattox, where there was a pontoon-bridge already established, by which he crossed during that night and moved at once upon Petersburg,6 having been reinforced with Kautz's cavalry and Hink's division of colored troops, making his force, as already said, 22,000 strong.

At this critical juncture General Beauregard had, for the immediate defence of Petersburg, north and south of the Appomattox, Wise's brigade, not more than 1200 strong; some light artillery, with 22 pieces, besides a few men manning the three or four heavy guns in position; two small regiments of cavalry, under Brigadier-General Dearing, and the local militia already mentioned; in other words, an aggregate not exceeding 2200 men of all arms. These troops occupied, from the Appomattox to the Jerusalem plank-road, about three miles of the Petersburg lines, which were some seven miles and a half in length, leaving fully four miles undefended. True, on his extreme right, in the woods, outside of the lines of works, General Beauregard had thrown Dearing's command, whose duty was to guard that flank and give timely warning of any heavy body of the enemy approaching in that direction. But these were mere precautionary measures to prevent surprise. No hope of serious resistance, by so small a force, could be entertained. At the same time the lines across Bermuda Hundreds Neck, the object of which was to hold Butler [230] in check, were occupied only by Bushrod Johnson's division (less Ransom's and Gracie's brigades, still absent with General Lee), about 3200 men. That is to say, the total force under General Beauregard's orders was but 5425 strong. Hoke's division, the return of which he had been urging since the 7th of June, was still retained on the north side of the James. The defensive line of Petersburg, from the lower to the upper Appomattox, constructed by the Engineer Department some time before the arrival of the Federals, was so extensive7 as to require a force of not less than 25,000 men, instead of the 2200 then available.

At ten o'clock in the morning of the 15th of June W. F. Smith, after a hot engagement of several hours with Dearing's cavalry, in advance, moved upon the Confederate works by the Baxter road, in front of Batteries 6 and 7. He was met, with unsurpassed stubbornness, by General Wise's forces, and repeatedly repulsed; but he succeeded at last, at 7.30 P. M., in carrying the Confederate batteries, from No. 5 to No. 9, inclusive. Hancock's corps—which had crossed the James on the morning of the 15th, and, by some neglect or omission, was not immediately ordered to march upon Petersburg—came up to the support of General Smith only in the afternoon, too late to participate in the assault of that day.8

Hoke's division, of General Beauregard's force, withdrawn from it on the 30th of May to reinforce General Lee,9 had been ordered, at last, to hold itself in waiting at Drury's Bluff, and, in response to General Beauregard's continued urgent calls, had been allowed to march to Petersburg at 11.30 A. M. on the 15th.10 Hagood's brigade, forming part of that division, and for which railroad transportation had been sent to Chester, reached Petersburg about dusk, just after the batteries had fallen. It was followed by the two other brigades within a few hours. These reinforcements, as they arrived, were disposed upon a new line, a short distance in rear of the captured works, upon which a small epaulement was thrown up during the night. [231]

General Beauregard, seeing the immense gravity of the attack, and that a heavy mass of the Federal army was now present and pressing against Petersburg, at 9.11 P. M. on the 15th, notified General Bragg of the situation. He informed him that he would order Johnson down from Bermuda Hundreds, and that General Lee must look to the defence both of those lines and of Drury's Bluff.11 He also telegraphed General Lee to the same effect.12 The War Department had already been advised of the probable necessity of such a movement, and had been asked to elect between Petersburg and the Bermuda Hundreds line, as it grew more and more evident that both could not be held.13 For reasons of its own the War Department would make no decision in the matter. But, as immediate action was imperative, General Beauregard assumed the responsibility, and, knowing that the safety of Richmond depended upon the protection to be given to Petersburg, at 10.20 P. M. ordered the abandonment of the Bermuda Hundreds line. Johnson's division was accordingly transferred to Petersburg, moving at dawn on the 16th, and arriving at or about 10 o'clock A. M. on the same day. The thin skirmish line and few cavalry pickets which, in obedience to orders, he had left upon his withdrawal were driven off by Butler early on that morning.

The battery at Howlett's house had just been completed and armed with a few heavy guns received from Richmond when General Beauregard determined to evacuate those lines. He ordered Colonel Harris, his Chief-Engineer, to dismount the guns and bury them, with their carriages and chassis, in the most favorable locality in the vicinity of the battery, and to carefully cover the spot with sod, leaves, and bushes, so as to conceal them from the enemy. These instructions were carried out to the letter; and when, on the 18th, Pickett's division drove off the Federals from the Howlett Battery and the Bermuda Hundreds line, these guns and their appurtenances, being unearthed and found uninjured, were placed again in position, and used with telling effect on the Federal ironclads and other vessels lying in the long reach of Dutch Gap, facing the battery.

Thus reinforced, General Beauregard had under him a total effective force of about 10,000 men, of all arms, confronting [232] Hancock's corps (the 2d) and Smith's (the 18th), with an aggregate of not less than 44,000 men.

Burnside's corps (the 9th) came up at about noon on the 16th,14 and General Hancock, who, by instructions of General Meade, had refrained from attacking until these reinforcements arrived, ordered an assault, with all the available forces, to be made at or about 5.30 P. M.15 Three Federal corps (about 66,000 men) now united in an unrelaxing effort of three hours to break the Confederate line, and Birney's division, of Hancock's corps, finally succeeded in effecting a lodgment. The contest continued into the night, then gradually slackened and ceased. Warren's corps (the 5th), which had only reached Petersburg at dusk16 on that day, took no part in the action of the 16th.

No further offensive movement was attempted by the enemy until about noon of the next day (17th). With the addition of Warren's corps, composed of four divisions, the Federal force now assailing Petersburg consisted of not less than 90,000 men, of all arms, while the troops under General Beauregard only numbered 10,000 effectives, most of whom were unprotected by field-works.

With this fearful disparity, the battle opened on the 17th. Three times were the Federals driven back, but they as often resumed the offensive and held their ground. About dusk a portion of the Confederate lines was wholly broken, and the troops in that quarter were about to be thrown into a panic, which might have ended in irreparable disaster, when, happily, as General Beauregard, with his staff, was endeavoring to rally and re-form the troops, Gracie's brigade, of Johnson's division, consisting of about 1200 men—the return of which to his command General Beauregard had been urgently asking—came up from Chaffin's Bluff, whence, at last, the War Department had ordered it to move. It was promptly and opportunely thrown into the gap on the lines, and drove back the Federals, capturing [233] about 2000 prisoners. The conflict raged with great fury until after eleven at night. Foreseeing the inevitable rupture of his lines, General Beauregard had selected during the day, with his Chief-Engineer, Colonel Harris, a new and shorter defensive line along a ravine (Taylor's Creek) in the rear, which he caused to be clearly marked out with white stakes, so that it might be occupied at night without confusion, when the troops should be directed to retire upon it. Generals Hoke and Johnson were instructed to see that their staffofficers and those of the several brigades under them should examine and learn the new positions to be taken by their commands. This they did with their usual care and precision while the fight was still going on. Shortly after 11 P. M., and just as the firing on both sides had almost entirely ceased, General Beauregard ordered all the campfires to be brightly lighted, with sentinels well thrown forward, and as near as possible to the enemy's.17 Then, at about 12.30 A. M. on the 18th, began this retrograde movement, which, notwithstanding the exhaustion of our troops and their sore disappointment at receiving no further reinforcements, was safely and silently executed, with uncommonly good order and precision, though the greatest caution had to be used in order to retire unnoticed from so close a contact with so strong an adversary. Without a moment's rest the digging of trenches was begun, with such utensils as had been hastily collected at Petersburg, many of the men using their bayonets, their knives, and even their tin cans, to assist in the rapid execution of the work. Thus it was that, before daylight, and in spite of nearly insurmountable difficulties, our new defences were partially constructed, and our weary troops again placed under cover. It was one of the boldest [234] manoeuvres attempted during the war—one that General Beauregard had already twice resorted to with equal success, as the reader, no doubt, remembers; first, upon his retreat from Corinth, on the 30th of May, 1862, and afterwards, on the 6th of September, 1863, upon the evacuation of Battery Wagner, pending the siege of Charleston. But here the movement was much more hazardous, for it was undertaken and executed by troops who were contending against not less than nine times their number, who were exhausted by three days of almost incessant fighting, and in whose hearts hope itself must have been almost extinct. This was the line held by the Confederates until the end of the war. It was subsequently strengthened and materially improved; but its location, as then established by General Beauregard, remained unchanged. General Meade, in his report of the campaign of 1864 (made in November of that year), speaks as follows of this new line:

‘On advancing (on the 18th) it was found that the enemy, during the night, had retired to a line about a mile nearer the city—the one he now occupies.’

During these eventful days—beginning as early as the 15th —General Beauregard had kept Mr. Davis, General Bragg, and General Lee constantly informed, by telegraph and messages borne by his staff, of the immense odds against which he was contending, a fact then placed beyond all question by the capture of prisoners from at least three corps of General Grant's army. A strange skepticism, unexplained—unexplainable—was persisted in by those whom he so urgently addressed.

General Beauregard, however, no longer doubting, from the character of the attack and the accumulated proofs of every kind then before him, that, on the evening of the 17th, most of General Grant's forces had been brought against Petersburg, and knowing that the reinforcement of one division would be to no purpose, at 6.40 P. M. on the 17th telegraphed General Lee as follows:

Petersburg, June 17th, 1864:6.40 P. M.
General R. E. Lee, Clay's House18 (also to Chester, Va.):
The increasing number of the enemy in my front, and inadequacy of my force to defend the already much too extended lines, will compel me to fall [235] within a shorter one, which I will attempt to effect to-night. This I shall hold as long as practicable, but, without reinforcements, I may have to evacuate the city very shortly. In that event I shall retire in the direction of Drury's Bluff, defending the crossing at Appomattox River and Swift Creek.

He also despatched three of his staff (Chisolm, Roman, and Cooke) successively, at different hours of the day, evening, and night, the last of whom (Major Cooke) reached General Lee's headquarters at about 3 A. M., on the 18th, and, more fortunate than the two who had preceded him, was allowed to see General Lee, and ‘accomplished, in part, his object in seeking him.’19

Half an hour after Major Cooke's arrival at Drury's Bluff the following telegram was sent from General Lee's headquarters:

Drury's Bluff, June 18th, 1864:3.30 A. M.
Superintendent Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, Richmond:
Can trains run to Petersburg? If so, send all cars available to Rice's Turnout. If they cannot run through, can any be sent from Petersburg to the point where the road is broken? It is important to get troops to Petersburg without delay.

R. E. Lee, General.
Official. W. H. Taylor, A. A. G.

On the same day General Lee transmitted the following telegram to General Early:

Headquarters, Army N. Va., June 18th, 1864.
General J. A. Early, Lynchburg, Va.:
Grant is in front of Petersburg. Will be opposed there. Strike as quick as you can, and, if circumstances authorize, carry out the original plan, or move upon Petersburg without delay.

R. E. Lee, General.

Mr. Swinton, in his ‘Army of the Potomac,’ is, therefore, twice mistaken when he asserts (p. 506) that ‘during the night of the 15th the van of Lee's army reached the town (Petersburg), and men of a very different mettle from the crude soldiers to whom its defence had been intrusted silently deployed in line of battle.’

It must not be forgotten that, on and prior to the 15th, General Beauregard had been earnestly calling for reinforcements, including his own troops sent to General Lee; but that none [236] had been forwarded, at that time, from the Army of Northern Virginia is shown by the following despatch:

Drury's Bluff, June 16th, 1864:10.30 A. M.
To General Beauregard:
Your despatch of 9.45 received. It is the first that has come to hand.20 I do not know the position of Grant's army. Cannot strip north bank of James River. Have you not force sufficient?

R. E. Lee, General.

Kershaw's division of Anderson's corps, the first of General Lee's forces that arrived at Petersburg, only reached that place on the morning of the 18th of June, as is established by the following telegrams, to which is also added a letter of General Kershaw himself:


Headquarters, Drury's Bluff, June 17th, 1864:10 P. M.
General G. T. Beauregard, Petersburg, Va.:
General Kershaw's division, which will camp to-night on Redwater Creek, is ordered to continue its march to-morrow to Petersburg.

R. E. Lee, General.
Official. W. H. Taylor, A. A. G.


Occupied last night my new lines without impediment. Kershaw's division arrived about half-past 7, and Field's at about half-past 9 o'clock. They are being placed in position. All comparatively quiet this morning. General Lee has just arrived.


Extract from a letter of General Kershaw to General Beauregard.

Camden, S. C., July 22d, 1876.
My dear General,—* * * I have been induced to think over the matter more carefully, and am now reminded that my position, when first in line of battle at Petersburg, was, as you remember, with my right on or near the Jerusalem plank-road, extending across the open field, and bending back towards the front of the Cemetery. * * * The first of my division that arrived took the cars sent for them, and marched through the city while I was at your quarters. The sun was just up when I arrived there. I was at your headquarters not more than an hour. I think within another hour my troops were in position. * * * I am quite sure that the battle commenced within an hour after my troops were in position. * * *

I am, dear General, sincerely your friend and admirer,



clay's House, June 17th, 1864: 3.30 P. M.
Major-Genl. W. H. F. Lee, Malvern Hill, via Meaden Station:
Push after the enemy, and endeavor to ascertain what has become of Grant's army. Inform General Hill.


clay's House, June 17th, 1864:4.30 P. M.
Lieut.-Genl. A. P. Hill, Riddle's Shop, via Meaden Station:
General Beauregard reports large number of Grant's troops crossed James River, above Fort Powhatan, yesterday. If you have nothing contradictory of this, move to Chaffin's Bluff.

R. E. Lee.
Official. W. H. Taylor, A. A. G.


clay's House, June 17th, 1864: 12 M.
General G. T. Beauregard:
Telegram of 9 A. M. received. Until I can get more definite information of Grant's movements, I do not think it prudent to draw more troops to this side of river.


clay's House, June 17th, 1864; 4.30 P. M.
General G. T. Beauregard, Petersburg, Va.:
Have no information of Grant's crossing James River, but upon your report have ordered troops up to Chaffin's Bluff.

No further proof is necessary to show how impossible it is That ‘the van of lee's army’ could have reached Petersburg during the night of the 15th, when, from evidence furnished by General Lee himself, the first division of his forces only came up on the morning of the 18th.

This settles the point as to Mr. Swinton's first error. The second, referring to the ‘mettle’ of the troops defending Petersburg, although of less importance, is still deserving of comment.

The only difference between the ‘crude soldiersMr. Swinton speaks of and those belonging to the army of General Lee was, that some of them, numbering two hundred local militia, were less inured to the hardships of war, and were mostly old men and boys. But the other part consisted of Wise's brigade, which few commands in the service equalled, and of two small regiments of cavalry, under Dearing, who had infused into his men the dash and spirit that so eminently characterized him. The proof, however, that the ‘mettle’ of the forces at and around Petersburg on the 15th was identically the same as that of all the Southern troops is that, although they numbered but 2200 effectives,21 they [238] so gallantly manned and fought the extensive works on the south side of the city that three columns of Federals, amounting to not less than 22,000 veteran troops, were kept at bay during the whole day, and only succeeded, towards nightfall, in carrying a portion of the works, ‘without the possession either of Petersburg or of the line of the Appomattox.’22 The enemy had been informed that these fortifications were such that ‘cavalry could ride over them’—a representation, says Mr. Swinton (‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 502), ‘that did not turn out to be justified by experience; for Kautz, who, with his mounted division, essayed to work his way round on the left, found himself completely estopped by a heavy fire; and in front the approaches were discovered to be so covered by the play of artillery from the works, that from every point on which Smith attempted to place batteries to silence the enemy's fire the guns were speedily driven off.’

The reinforcements that first reached Petersburg formed part of General Beauregard's own troops, detached on the 30th of May and on or about the 3d of June, by order of the War Department, to co-operate with General Lee.23 They were: Hoke's division, the first brigade of which (Hagood's) arrived at nightfall on the 15th of June; part of Bushrod Johnson's division—which had been so seasonably withdrawn from Bermuda Hundreds, by order of General Beauregard—arriving a little before noon on the 16th; and Gracie's brigade, of Johnson's division, the opportune arrival of which, in the afternoon of the 17th, saved the Confederate lines from utter destruction. None of these troops belonged to the Army of Northern Virginia. Part of them had been borrowed and were returned to their original command, though with evident reluctance. The others had not left the limits of their Department. And here it may be said that, had General Beauregard's protests, made as early as May 29th,24 been heeded at Richmond, not a brigade, not even a regiment of his command, would have been taken away. But the War Department was ever willing to accede to any call made by General Lee on General Beauregard, while the latter was denied all assistance from the former, and could hardly obtain the return of his own troops when he [239] needed them most, during the days of the disproportionate conflict with General Grant's army, when General Lee had but few of the enemy in his front. Telegrams, to be found in the Appendix to the present chapter (to which the reader's attention is invited), will show that not only were General Lee and the War Department most anxious at that time to draw troops from General Beauregard, but that they had actually requested his presence and personal co-operation on the north side of the James. Butler, they thought, had sent the greater part of his army to reinforce General Grant, and had left only a nominal force to guard his position. General Beauregard, however, was too farseeing, too well-informed as to the enemy's movements in his front, to partake of these delusions. He expressed his readiness to obey any order given him by the authorities at Richmond, but warned them that at least 8000 men, under Gillmore, still confronted his lines, and most strongly advised that no more troops should be withdrawn from his Department.

Like Mr. Swinton, who, in most instances, is a careful and impartial examiner of the events he chronicles, Mr. J. D. McCabe, in his work entitled ‘Life and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee,’ falls into error with regard to the date of the arrival of General Lee's forces at Petersburg.

We quote from pages 507 and 508:

General Lee hurried forward as soon as he learned of the attack on Petersburg; but, as he was full forty miles from the Appomattox, his advanced forces did not reach the city until the night of the 15th.’

The reader is already aware that, on the 15th of June, General Lee had not the least idea of ‘hurrying forward’ to the support of General Beauregard. His own telegrams exist to bear witness --to this. Not only were none of his forces at or around Petersburg on ‘the night of the 15th,’ but as late as June 17th he did not believe that General Grant had left his front. He was endeavoring on that day to find out ‘what had become of Grant's army.’ Very clearly, Mr. McCabe had no such evidence, derived from General Lee himself, among ‘the valuable collection of materials for a history of the war’ from which, he says, his book was written.

This, however, is not the only error concerning the siege of Petersburg into which Mr. McCabe has fallen. [240]

We again quote from page 508 of his book:

General Lee had ordered General Beauregard not to evacuate his line until Anderson's corps, then moving from Richmond, should relieve him; but, as the demand for troops at Petersburg was so urgent, and there was no prospect that Anderson would get up in time, General Beauregard assumed the responsibility of withdrawing his command to Petersburg.’

It has already been shown that General Lee never gave—and, in fact, could not have given—such an order to General Beauregard, for the simple reason that General Beauregard was at that time in command of his own Department, and not in any way under the orders of General Lee. When he was advised by General Beauregard of the necessity of Johnson's withdrawal from the Bermuda Hundreds line, and asked to fill up the gap with his own troops, he answered:

Bottom's Bridge, June 16th, 1864:2 A. M.
General G. T. Beauregard:
A division has been ordered to move to lines on Bermuda Neck. It will be important for it to march there by daylight. The pickets and skirmishers on the lines should be retained there until troops arrive, if practicable. Please send an officer to meet the troops and conduct them.

R. E. Lee, General.
Official. W. H. Taylor, A. A. G.

This was evidently no order. It was received by General Beauregard at 4.30 A. M. on the 17th, not only after the withdrawal of Johnson from the Bermuda Hundreds line, but after his arrival at Petersburg, where he had so effectually assisted the evening before in repulsing the enemy. Had General Bushrod Johnson's fractional division been left at Bermuda Hundreds Neck, and not been ordered by General Beauregard to Petersburg, at that supreme moment Petersburg—and Richmond also—would have been captured before General Lee discovered whether or not General Grant's army had actually crossed the James. Both General Lee and the War Department had been previously informed by General Beauregard of the absolute necessity for that movement. General Lee readily complied with the hurried call then made upon him, and did his best to replace Johnson's division with troops drawn from the Army of Northern Virginia. No one blames him for the delay which ensued. But the War Department obstinately refused to say which, Petersburg or the Bermuda Hundreds line, should be abandoned; though it must have [241] been evident, even to the War Department, that both could not be held with the troops then at General Beauregard's disposal. Instead of an answer to the questions asked, a series of inquiries came, the next day, from the War Department: ‘At what hour, during the night of the 15th, did you evacuate the line across Bermuda Hundreds Neck?’ asked General Bragg in his official capacity, as Chief of Staff and military adviser of the President. ‘At what hour during the night did General Johnson make the movement? Did you inform General Lee of that movement? If so, at what hour and through what channel?’ Such was, in substance, the strange and querulous communication forwarded from Richmond to General Beauregard.

Here was one of the three leading generals of the Southern armies straining every nerve to guard the ‘entrance-gate’ to the Confederate capital, with no reliance but his own tenacity of purpose and the intrepidity of the handful of men he had under him; with an attacking foe becoming hourly bolder and hourly increasing in number; and because, after repeatedly pointing out the precariousness of his condition, and asking for advice which was persistently denied him, he finally determined to act with promptness and vigor, he was called upon, amid his anxieties and multitudinous duties, to suspend his weighty task and respond to this inquisitorial investigation of his conduct.25

Another very serious error we find at page 510 of Mr. McCabe's book.

We quote as follows:

Grant's whole army was now before Petersburg; and, still holding to his original resolve to capture the city, he ordered a general assault for the morning of the 18th. In the mean time, however, General Lee had been engaged in constructing a formidable line of works immediately around the city, and on the morning of the 18th he withdrew from the temporary line he had held in advance, and occupied that which was destined to become memorable for the siege it sustained.’

Here Mr. McCabe evidently drew from his imagination, and not from the reliable sources from which he claims to have derived his knowledge of the events he deals with. This new line has already been specially referred to in another part of this chapter. General Lee had had nothing to do with it. General Beauregard [242] had not only located and staked it out, without even consulting General Lee, but the line was already occupied by our troops, and had been so occupied for more than ten hours, when General Lee in person arrived at Petersburg.

Many inaccuracies concerning the Petersburg campaign are also to be found in Mr. John Esten Cooke's ‘Life of General Robert E. Lee.’ It is well to refer to some of them.

Speaking of the arrival of the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, Mr. Cooke says:

General Lee had moved with his accustomed celerity, and, as usual, without that loss of time which results from doubt of an adversary's intentions.’26

This eulogy is the more surprising, because General Lee himself, in several of his telegrams, already given to the reader, admitted how little he knew of General Grant's movements at that time; and it is now made clear how long he hesitated before he finally determined to come to General Beauregard's assistance. The truth is, he could not have waited longer.

Mr. Cooke proceeds as follows:

‘On the 16th he’ [General Lee] ‘was in face of his adversary there’ [at Petersburg]. ‘General Grant had adopted the plan of campaign which Lee expected him to adopt.’

This would be ludicrous, were it not so poor a compliment to General Lee's ability as a commander. If General Lee expected General Grant to do what he actually did, why did he not foil his purpose? The entire Federal army did not cross the James in a single day, nor did it march at once and together upon Petersburg. If General Lee foresaw Grant's movements, either he should have joined General Beauregard and annihilated the separate Federal corps as they came up, one after the other; or, he should have thrown his whole force upon what remained of Grant's army, on the north side of the James, after his first corps had effected a crossing. Mr. Cooke would have been correct had he made this assertion, with reference not to General Lee but to General Beauregard, whose letters and telegrams to the War Department, as early as June 7th, show how correctly he had interpreted General Grant's intentions. [243]

General Lee had scarcely gotten his forces in position on the 16th,’ says Mr. Cooke, ‘when he was furiously attacked; and such was the weight of this assault that Lee was forced from his advanced position, east of the city, behind his second line of works, by this time well forward in process of construction.’

Whatever of truth is contained in the foregoing sentence is found in the reference to the fact that ‘the second line of works,’ occupied by General Lee's forces when they reached Petersburg, on the 18th and 19th of June, ‘were well forward in process of construction;’ so much so, it may be added, that General Lee's forces, on their arrival, had only to file into that ‘second line of works,’ already located and already constructed —though not finally completed—by General Beauregard.

While commenting upon these erroneous statements, so strikingly alike in their false conclusions, we might also object to Mr. Pollard's account, in ‘The Lost Cause,’ of the various events relative to the attack upon Petersburg, from the 15th to the 18th of June. His recital is, in the main, accurate, but his purpose seems to be to leave the reader under the impression that it was General Lee who instigated and executed all the movements of the Southern forces operating, just then, in that part of the country. He will not admit that by General Beauregard's energy and farsightedness alone the Federal attempt was frustrated and the salvation of both Petersburg and Richmond was effected; thus prolonging the struggle for nearly another year.

It has always been a matter of surprise to many who were eyewitnesses of those great events that more credit was not accorded at the time, throughout the South, to General Beauregard and his small and exhausted force. Those who are supposed to have correctly chronicled the events of that campaign have erred grossly, even as to dates, and have unjustly ascribed to General Lee alone the almost incredible repulse of the Federal army in front of Petersburg. Mr. Davis is one of these writers. With the original knowledge of the facts and with the facilities at his disposal, during and since the war, it is hard to believe that the errors found in his book,27 concerning these events, were not the result of a biassed mind. To him, to General Bragg, [244] and to General Lee was sent every telegram necessary for the full and complete knowledge of the important movements of the Federal army; and the ‘Southern Historical Papers,’ to which Mr. Davis often refers, had already published, months before the appearance of his book, most of the field telegrams reproduced by us.28 These show when and how General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia first reached the City of Petersburg. And yet Mr. Davis says:

Lee crossed the James River on the 15th, and, by a night march, his advance was in the intrenchments of Petersburg before the morning for which the enemy was waiting. The artillery now had other support than the old men and boys of the town.’

And further on he adds:

‘On the 17th an assault was made with such spirit and force as to gain a part of our line, in which, however, the assailants suffered severely. Lee had now constructed a line in rear of the one first occupied, having such advantages as gave to our army much greater power to resist.’

Whether Mr. Davis derived his information from Swinton, McCabe, or Cooke, he has certainly ignored the clear and significant telegrams cited above, several of which are signed by General Lee himself.

The present writer well remembers the harassed and almost despairing look that gradually grew upon General Beauregard's bronzed and martial features, as each laborious day and sleepless night passed away without bringing the long-expected and often prayed — for reinforcements.

And here may be explained how General Beauregard became acquainted with every incident that occurred around him, and acquired such correct knowledge, not only of the enemy's positions, but even of his intended movements.

He established along the James River, below Fort Powhatan, a well-organized system of couriers, by means of which communications with his headquarters, from various divergent points, far and near, were regularly kept up. Indeed, these communications continued, from the date of the battle of Drury's Bluff until long after the enemy's landing at City Point, and even during the siege of Petersburg. This was no new experiment, for he had reduced the system almost to a science, and had [245] fully tested its efficacy along the Tennessee River, while at Jackson, in 1862; and also, in 1862-63, along the Atlantic coast, in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. ‘In war’—he was wont to say—‘it is as important to know where your enemy is, and what he intends doing, as it is to have men, arms, and ammunition.’ This maxim, or aphorism, is worthy of a place among those of Jomini.

The enemy's force at Petersburg on the 18th embraced Hancock's, Burnside's, and Warren's corps, with a portion—the stronger portion—of Smith's corps, under General Martindale, and Neill's division of Wright's corps, with all its artillery.29

At about noon on that day the attack was renewed by the Federals.30 Partial assaults, however, had been made on some parts of the line before that hour, but with no decided result, as they were mostly engagements between skirmishers. The withdrawal of our troops, during the night, from their former positions to the new line of intrenchments selected by General Beauregard had surprised the enemy to such an extent as to cause a halt in his operations; and this explains the delay of the general attack, which should have begun early in the morning, but was in fact begun in the afternoon. General Burnside, in his report, says:

‘A grand attack was ordered by the Major-General commanding the Army of the Potomac for 4 A. M. on the 18th, and General Wilcox was directed to take the advance of this corps (the 18th), supported by General Potter. On pushing out the skirmishers in advance of the attacking column it was discovered that the enemy had withdrawn from the line of the open ground in front of the Shade House, but their skirmishers were found in the woods that intervened between it and the Taylor House. * * * At 3.30 P. M. a general [246] attack was ordered by the Major-General Commanding (General Meade), which resulted, on the part of this corps, in driving the enemy entirely out of the cut and ravine, and establishing our extreme advance within about one hundred yards of the enemy's main line, beyond the railroad. * * * The troops of General Hancock, on our right, and Warren, on our left, fully co-operated with us in this engagement.’

General Meade also says that—

Major-General Birney, temporarily commanding the 2d Corps (Hancock's), then organized a formidable column, and, about 4 P. M., made an attack, but without success. Later in the day attacks were made by the 5th and 9th Corps, with no better results.’

General Beauregard's extreme right confronted Warren's corps, but was merely a thin skirmish line of infantry behind the defences. It was here that he placed Kershaw's division, as soon as it arrived on the field, barely in time to resist one of the assaults of the enemy in that quarter. This reinforcement gave General Beauregard at that time about 15,000 men, against not less than 90,000 Federals; for Field's division, which had arrived two hours after Kershaw's, was not yet in position.

Four entire Federal army corps were there. One division (Brooks's) of Smith's corps was absent, but its place hard been filled by a division (Neill's) of Wright's corps; and the whole of Wright's artillery had also been moved up. The fight went on with determined vigor on the one side, with indomitable resistance on the other, and, despite the overwhelming odds against us, closed, before dark, by the total repulse of all the assaulting columns. ‘When made, it’ (the assault) ‘was a complete repulse at every point, and was attended with another mournful loss of life.’31

General Lee reached Petersburg at 11.30 A. M. on the 18th, and his forces (except Kershaw's and Field's divisions) were brought up afterwards. General Beauregard's telegram to General Bragg, already given in a preceding portion of the present chapter, fully settles that point. By Sunday afternoon (the next day) the two corps then constituting the Army of Northern Virginia were within the defences of the city.32 [247]

Upon General Lee's arrival, General Beauregard, after riding with him towards the right of our line, on an elevation somewhat in advance of the City Reservoir, from whence a very good view was had of the whole field, proposed to him that, as soon as Hill's and Anderson's corps should arrive, an attack should be made upon General Grant's left flank and rear. General Lee refused his assent, on the ground that his troops needed rest, and that the defensive having been thus far so advantageous to him against Grant's offensive, north of the James, and to Beauregard, at Petersburg, he preferred continuing the same mode of warfare.

The Federals, with their ample resources, were so speedily and strongly intrenched against attack—as was foreseen by General Beauregard in his conference with General Lee—that, at any later date, the offensive became impracticable.

Had General Beauregard's warning of the situation and his urgent requisitions been heeded in season, or as late as mid-day of the 16th (that is, twenty-four hours after Grant's whole army had crossed the river), even if no offensive operation had been undertaken by the Confederates, the repulse of the Federals, that afternoon, must have been so severe as to change entirely the face and fortune of the campaign: a repulse far more important than that inflicted at Cold Harbor might then have been given. Or, if General Lee, when informed by General Beauregard that he had taken prisoners from three of the Federal corps, had boldly moved forward, with his whole force, or even with two-thirds of it, he might have crushed one-half of General Grant's army. The failure to attempt such a movement is the more justly subject to criticism, because it could have been effected without in any way uncovering Richmond.

General Beauregard's reports and demands, at that period, were discredited and neglected, even by General Lee. Yet it is known that, on June 14th;the latter was aware, from his own sources of information—and he reported the fact to the authorities at Richmond—that General Grant's whole army was massed at Wilcox Landing and Westover—the very point of its passage from the north to the south side of the James—and that its depot, at the White House, had been broken up, and all its material and stores removed, even including the railroad stock. What else could these facts have been supposed to indicate than an entire change of base on the part of the enemy?

1 Including the 10,000 to be taken from General Lee's army, and leaving about 4000 to hold the Bermuda Hundreds line.

2 That militia, composed of old men and boys, had brought forth the remark from the Northern Press, that it was made up of men snatched from the grave, and youths taken from the cradle.

3 See Appendix.

4 See ‘Army of the Potomac,’ by Swinton, p. 498. See, also, General Meade's report.

5 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 499.

6 Ibid., p. 500.

7 It measured seven miles and a half. A portion of it, especially in the quarter of Batteries 5, 6, and 7, was bad in location, and very vulnerable. General Beauregard, when first inspecting it, on his arrival at Petersburg (May 10th), had openly condemned its injudicious extension.

8 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 505. See, also, Hancock's report.

9 See Appendix.

10 See Appendix.

11 See Appendix.

12 See Appendix

13 See Appendix.

14 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 509. General Burnside, in his report, says he reached the position occupied by their troops at ‘about 10 A. M. on the 16th.’

15 In Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 509, the hour is given as ‘about 4 P. M.’ General Hancock, in his report, says: ‘I was ordered to be prepared to commence the attack at 6 P. M.’

16 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 509.

17 At 10 P. M., or about that time, on the 17th, while General Beauregard was anxiously waiting for the firing to cease, in order to take up his new position, a messenger from General Burnside to General Meade rode into our lines and was captured. He bore a despatch, which appeared to be an answer to Meade by Burnside, representing that two of his divisions were badly cut up, and the third so scattered at the time that it would be impossible to gather it up so as to go on with the attack before daybreak, and that his command was very much exhausted. General Beauregard, being aware that the other Federal commands were in no better condition, felt convinced that the fighting would soon come to a stop, and thus enable him to begin his retrograde movement.

18 On south side of James River.

19 See, in Appendix, reports of Colonel Roman and of Major Cooke on this subject.

20 General Lee evidently meant the first despatch received that day; otherwise his statement would have been altogether erroneous. See the telegrams already submitted to the reader, and Colonel Sam. Paul's report, to be found in Appendix.

21 See, in Appendix, synopsis of General Wise's report of the operations around Petersburg on the 15th of June, 1864.

22 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 503. The italics are ours.

23 See Appendix.

24 See General Beauregard's letter to Mr. Davis, and his telegrams to General Bragg, in Appendix.

25 See, in Appendix, General Beauregard's answer to General Bragg.

26 ‘Life of General Robert E. Lee,’ p. 44.

27 ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ vol. II., p. 638.

28 ‘Southern Historical Papers’ (vols. III. and IV.) for 1877.

29 General Meade, in his report, says: ‘During the night of the 16th Neill's division, 6th Corps, arrived, relieving Brooks's division of the 18th, who, accompanied by Major-General Smith, returned to Bermuda Hundreds, leaving General Martindale in command of Smith's troops.’ In a preceding part of his report General Meade also says: ‘Early on the morning of the 16th I proceeded to City Point, and from thence to Petersburg, meeting, when about half-way to the latter place, the Lieutenant-General Commanding, by whom I was instructed to take command of the troops then in front of Petersburg, and, if practicable, push the enemy across the Appomattox. At the same time orders were sent to Wright to move up his artillery and one division of his infantry to Petersburg, and to take the two others by water to City Point.’

30 In another part of his report General Meade says: ‘An unsuccessful assault by Gibbon's division was made about noon on that day.’

31 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 511.

32 Less the forces left on the north side of James River, to protect Richmond from that direction.

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