MHSM Papers V5: The Petersburg Mine by Captain Charles H. Porter

   

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in Volume 5

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XI

THE PETERSBURG MINE1

BY

CAPTAIN CHARLES H. PORTER Late 39th Massachusetts Volunteers

Read before the Society January 12, 1885

THE PETERSBURG MINE

Before proceeding to the subject of this paper it will be desirable to recall briefly the movements of the Fifth Corps from the 17th of June, 1864.

The Fifth Corps had marched from Windmill Point on the James, all the afternoon and night of the 16th, by the Prince George Court House Road, and as sunlight of the 17th was fairly lighting up the country, we were passing the Ninth Corps hospitals.

Not long afterwards we rested a little to the west of the redoubt near the Shand house, which had been so gallantly won by General Griffin’s Brigade, Potter’s Division, Ninth Corps, that morning at daybreak.

The headquarters of this corps, the Ninth, were but a few yards east of where we were halted. We remained in this position all day, although the firing in our front was very heavy, and occasionally shots flew over our heads, but so tired were we from our night’s march that we hailed this day with delight, and improved the rest to the fullest extent, doing nothing but trying to get well rested and fed.

As the daylight left us the corps were put in position on the left of the Ninth Corps, and Cutler’s Division (the Fourth) became quite severely engaged, repulsing a demonstration upon our left, that was made when Gracie’s Brigade advanced, and retook the line which Ledlie’s Division, under command of Colonel Gould, 59th Mass. Vols, (a most gallant soldier), had carried during the afternoon. It was a great pity that a portion of the Fifth Corps had not been in position to support that assault. Had it joined its impetus to the success attained by Gould, Beauregard’s fears would indeed have been realized,

and the city, so gallantly and obstinately defended, would surely have fallen. His whole line on his right would have been broken, and, with no troops whatever to have stopped the victorious divisions of the Fifth Corps in their advance, his retreat would have been disastrous. He ought to have been absolutely overwhelmed. As it was, however, we crept up to the further crest of a ravine, relieved some of the troops, and here passed the night, repulsing supposed advances of the enemy with great ease. The truth was that in the night they fell back some thousand yards or more, to establish a new line in a more favorable position. On the morning of the 18th the Fifth Corps, on the extreme left, advanced and pushed the pickets of the enemy back over the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, and up the hill to the right and left of the Baxter Road, Crawford’s (Third) Division on the right, making close connection with the left of the Ninth Corps. Two brigades were in line, the Third on the right, the Second on the left; the First was in reserve. We assaulted the enemy’s lines and fought our battle exactly on the ground where the mine was afterwards exploded, that is, where Elliot’s salient of the Confederate line was established. Our left reached the Baxter Road, and our right was well over to and beyond the site of this salient. This Baxter Road joins the Jerusalem Plank Road just beyond the crest of the hill which it was Willcox’s duty to take on the 30th of July, 1864. Although the assaults of the Fifth Corps during the day of June 18 had failed, yet we were assembled again in three lines of battle, caps removed from the muskets, bayonets fixed, at eight o’clock P. M., to rush over the lines if possible. We were formed in the ravine where the opening to the mine was afterwards begun. This assault was never made. At eleven P. M. the line was withdrawn and established on the hill opposite, where the fourteen-gun battery was afterwards built, which became known as Battery Morton. General Burnside’s headquarters on the morning of the assault on the mine were

established at this point. We, the Fifth Corps, remained here until the 24th of June, when we were relieved by the Ninth Corps, and this ground came into their possession for the first time. We were relieved early in the morning, and General Potter testified that it was on that day that Colonel Pleasants suggested the mine. The statement has been made that this ground was originally carried by the Ninth Corps, but the preceding narrative will, I think, clear the matter up. After the failure of the movements against the Weldon Railroad on June 21-23, 1864, General Meade gave orders to proceed by siege operations against the enemy’s lines in front of Generals Burnside and Warren. The earthworks were greatly strengthened with fascines and gabions, covered ways were constructed, and the line which had been called the main line was abandoned for more advanced positions. Artillery was placed at all good points, and all our work looked towards siege operations. The army was in position as follows: Fifth Corps on the left; Ninth on the right, and Second Corps in reserve; the Eighteenth Corps was on the right of the Ninth, and extended to the Appomattox River, but was not under the direct orders of Meade, except on the 30th of July.(1) Crawford’s Division of the Fifth Corps held the extreme left, connecting at Fort Sedgwick, on the Jerusalem Plank Road, with Griffin’s Division. The line ran thence to the left for a half mile to Fort Davis, and thence to the rear. The Sixth Corps had been detached for the defence of Washington, but Sheridan and his cavalry still remained with the Army of the Potomac.

Colonel Abbott had brought his siege train to the front; its mortar practice was very fine and added a great deal to the discomfort of the enemy. On our front (the Fifth Corps) the picket firing was not indulged in, the enemy not showing the least desire to keep up the rattling fusillade that was poured forth on the Ninth Corps front. Our lines from the Appomat-

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(1) 82 W. R. 590.

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tox to Fort Davis were very carefully built. The hastily constructed rifle-pits had been converted into substantial earthworks, and our forts were enclosed works in almost every instance, and in this respect they were very different from the enemy’s forts, which were almost invariably open to the rear. I believe that Battery 45 (Fort Lee) and Battery Gregg were almost the only exceptions to this rule, on their entire line.

In the mean while, the enemy had been busy, and if our line had grown strong and easily defended, the same was true in as great a degree of theirs. Where we bad fought on the 18th of June, instead of a hastily constructed rifle-pit a most formidable line had been constructed. The salient had been strengthened by traverses; a line nearly at right angles had been built; abatis of all kinds had been put in front of their works. The line at its first building, strongly defended as it was, had easily repulsed all our attempts to take it, and in the six weeks that had elapsed it had been greatly improved in all ways. General Beaureguard suspected from reports made to him by deserters that we were mining, he strengthened his line and erected batteries to give a cross fire upon the salient. There was some countermining but nothing was discovered.

General Grant had a direct assault upon the enemy’s line in mind all the time. The lines from the James to the Plank Road were examined very carefully by the engineers. Butler’s front was inspected over and over again, but the unanimous agreement was reached that the greatest chances of success were on either Burnside’s or Warren’s front. The mine determined which front was to be used for the assault. While never sanctioned by the general commanding, its construction had been allowed to go on. On the 18th of July it was finished ready for charging,(1) and it was loaded on July 26 with 8000 pounds of powder.

Major Duane, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac,

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(1) General Potter says the mine was completed July 18. 82 W. R. 477. General Humphreys says July 23. Va. Camp. 250.

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had held from the first that the direct assault would fail, because of a line of works supposed to be on the ridge; and under date of July 24 he said that in case Burnside should succeed in exploding his mine, he would be able to take the enemy’s first mine, as it was one hundred yards in advance of his approach, and that he would fail to get the crest of Cemetery Hill unless the works in front of the Fifth Corps were carried, as the artillery fire from them would take in flank the attacking force and repulse them. He added that he did not believe the works in front of the Fifth Corps could be carried until our lines had been extended so as to envelop the enemy’s line.(1)

General Humphreys, at this time Chief of Staff, also did not share in the belief that success would crown our efforts or that it was a suitable point to assault.(2) General Grant, however, was anxious to make the attempt, and he issued orders for a movement to begin on the 26th of July, by which Richmond would be threatened by an advance on the north side of the James. Accordingly, the Second Corps and Sheridan’s Cavalry crossed the river at Deep Bottom, and began the demonstration. General Lee had been always sensitive to movements in this direction, and he showed no hesitation now, for he at once determined to reenforce the two divisions he had there already by three more, so as to crush the force moving against his extreme left. He had, to oppose the advance of the Second Corps and Sheridan’s Cavalry, five divisions of infantry and his whole cavalry. Our movement was thus successful in its object; the diversion had its desired effect. Lee believed that this advance was too serious to be trifled with, and hence met it with the bulk of his army. He left only three divisions in the lines from the Appomattox to the

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(1) 82 W. R. 428.

(2) Va. Camp. 250. General Humphreys, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says the assault should have been successful. C. W. 1865, vol. 1, p. 182.

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Weldon Railroad. These were Hoke’s, Bushrod Johnson’s, and Mahone’s. General Hoke was on the left, and held the line from the Appomattox to Gracie’s salient; General Johnson held from Gracie’s salient to near the Jerusalem Plank Road; General Mahone from near Fort Mahone on the Plank Road to about a mile west of it. He had one brigade, Wesiger’s, which was entirely detached, and was on the Weldon Railroad at the Lead Works, nearly two and a half miles from the left of the rest of the division. The Plank Road entered the Confederate line of intrenchments just to the left of Fort Mahone, and then turned and ran in a northeasterly direction into the city of Petersburg, just in rear of their line, and on the crest in rear of the line at the mine, by the cemetery and the old Blandford Church. The Baxter Road joined the Plank Road on the hill, just to the west of the crest.

It having been determined that a second line did not exist on the crest of Cemetery Hill, but that there were on the crest only detached batteries, General Meade, who at the outset had no faith in the scheme of a direct assault, admitted that it might succeed, and that if the mine should successfully open our way over the lines, there was no reason why our troops could not at once advance to the crest and carry it. With the crest in our hands success would be ours. A new signal tower on Burnside’s front materially aided our engineers in getting at the facts in regard to the enemy’s line. General Grant was informed of the new condition of affairs, and he at once ordered that an assault should be made as soon as it could be done. The mine was charged with 8000 pounds of powder, and all was gotten ready. General Mott’s Division of the Second Corps had returned to the lines, relieving the Eighteenth Corps, and upon the request of General Meade the remaining divisions of the Second Corps were returned to the army, and massed on the left of Mott’s Division. The Ninth Corps was to make the assault. The Fifth Corps was to hold its lines in force, as it was apparently expected that the enemy would

make a diversion against our left; General Meade was very strenuous about this.

The 30th of July was selected by General Meade as the time when all would be in readiness, and it was ordered that this should be the day for the assault.

The orders(1) issued by General Meade were short, plain, and simple. There could be no doubt of what was to be done, and of the way to do it. The mine was to be exploded at 3.30 A. M. The Ninth Corps was to make the assault, followed by the Eighteenth Corps on its right. Ledlie’s Division was to lead, Willcox to follow, then Potter. It was supposed that Ledlie would advance over the crater, and immediately push forward to the crest, and take the works there. Willcox was to advance and cover Ledlie’s left flank and gain the Plank Road near where the Baxter Road joins it. Potter was to follow Ledlie on his right and protect his right flank. All were to move, however, in the general direction of the crest. The troops of the Fifth Corps were disposed as follows : Left flank and rear, Crawford’s Division, connecting with Griffin’s Division, on the right. Griffin continued the line to near the Baxter Road. The divisions of Ayres and Cutler were massed in rear of the right flank, in the railroad cut near the Baxter Road, and were to follow Willcox and reenforce him when he was well on towards the crest. The Second Corps was to be on the alert, and should the enemy show any weakness, to take advantage of it promptly. The advance of the Eighteenth Corps was to be on the right of the Ninth and the troops were to form on the ground occupied on the night of the 29th by Potter’s Division. As the Ninth Corps was to be well out of the way in ample season, it was supposed that this arrangement would be perfect ; and as the crest was to be in our possession, the 18th Corps was a reenforcement to help to resist any assault of the enemy, and to push our victory.

The mine was not exploded until 4.45 A. M., which was full

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(1) 82 W. R. 596.

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daylight, and something of the surprise was lost, but when it did explode there was a dull roar, a tremble, a huge cloud of dust and smoke, followed by the discharge of all the cannons aud mortars in battery from the Appomattox to the Plank Road. A few minutes elapsed, when the troops of Ledlie’s Division advanced with a cheer and rushed up the sides and into the hole made by the explosion. This cheer was loud and full. I remember distinctly hearing this inspiring sound although two miles from the assault. So far all had gone on as directed. The first line had been captured. But, alas! with this rush we stopped short; our brave men, ever ready to rush into battle when properly led, were allowed to wait in the crater until too late, and when called upon to advance, it was quite useless to make the attempt. It is an established fact, well supported by evidence on both sides, that there were no Confederate soldiers in position to fire a shot or offer any resistance of any moment for nearly half an hour after the explosion of the mine; and if the troops who were hugging the crater (and there were plenty of them) had been led through it they could have gone right forward and taken the crest. In this event Willcox, slow as he was, would have been in force enough to have protected the left; and Potter could have advanced from the ground he was holding and covered the right, and this too with but little or no loss.

Conceive, if you will, the effect of the presence of our line of battle, in sufficient force, entirely in rear of the enemy’s intrenchments. Its moral effect would have been tremendous, and, when pushing right on, driving the enemy before them, it is certain that success would have crowned our efforts. The heavy artillery and a good deal of the light artillery would have fallen into our hands. The city certainly would have been captured, and Lee’s army, hopelessly divided, would have been disastrously beaten. It is almost impossible to conceive of the results which would have happened from a successful advance to that crest, if the enemy had been pushed as he

might have been. Their cause would have received a blow that would have been well nigh disastrous.

But the fates were against us and the best laid plans were again defeated. It is assumed that there were about 12,000 men to a corps in the Army of the Potomac at this time. The return for the 20th of July showed in the three corps an infantry force of 37,984 men, and in the cavalry corps a strength of 10,280 men. Suppose that the three divisions of the Ninth Corps had advanced with the speed expected of them; it is safe to say that there would have been at least 9000 men on the crest within three quarters of an hour. Two divisions of the Fifth Corps would have been there to reenforce them, giving them 5000 more, and the Eighteenth Corps would have added at least 8000 more. It is safe to say, then, that a good many more men could have reached there in an hour than could have been used to advantage. A force largely in excess of the entire Confederate troops, from the Appomattox to Weldon Railroad, would have crowned the crest; and when you consider that the Second Corps would have had an opportunity to advance, as well as Griffin and Crawford of the Fifth, we can readily see that there would have been but a limited chance for an open field fight with any success for the three divisions of the Army of Northern Virginia with this advancing host. There could have been but one result to such a contest. Of the causes of failure it is not necessary to speak. They are all too well known. The advance of the colored division was useless, and the delay which ensued in moving and getting into position of Potter’s Division prevented the Eighteenth Corp from forming until too late to be of any great service. Just here I wish to call your attention to the effect of the explosion of the mine, because I am satisfied that the failure to estimate it was one of the causes of our lack of success, which is rarely or never mentioned. I do not think that our corps commanders were at all aware of the effect of the explosion upon the enemy’s soldiers in their front. Their

troops were badly shaken and broken, and those men who held the lines for at least three hundred yards’ to the right and left of the crater ran away as soon as the mine was exploded. The heavily intrenched line was without defenders ; and those troops that remained were in no condition to fight. Potter did not advance for about an hour, but even after this long delay he was able to carry the lines to the right of the crater with but very little loss. What would have been the case had an assault been delivered by Ayres supported by Cutler? General Warren’s instructions were very precise; he was to support Willcox in protecting the left of Ledlie’s Division; and when Willcox was out of the way he was to advance, fill the gap, and help to pursue the enemy. I am strongly of the opinion, however, that if Ayres, supported by Cutler, had gone over with Ledlie, an enormous breach in the lines would have been made. At that time the enemy’s lines could have been carried with ease, but it would have been utterly useless for them to have advanced after an hour’s delay, because by that time the enemy had begun to rally, troops had been hurried into line from the right, and portions of the works were again strongly held. General Meade, in his testimony before the Court of Inquiry, is very particular to mention that the Fifth Corps was to have followed the Ninth after the Ninth was out of the way. General Warren has been blamed because he did not take the initiative at once, and that he did not without waiting for orders deliver the blow ; but, as I have said, no one seems to have thought for a moment of the effect such an explosion would have, — that the works would be undefended, and the men in a sort of pauic. Then, too, we must remember that his instructions did not contemplate any such action. Attention is called to the despatch of Humphreys to Warren,(1) at 5.50 A. M., directing him to make an assault, if there was an opportunity, on his front; but I contend that this was over an hour too late. Such instructions

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(1) 82 W. R. 651.

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as these should have been given at 3.30 A. M., or on the explosion of the mine; and had they been given at that time and followed out, the attack would have succeeded. General Grant has said that the failure of Warren to assault was the cause of the failure; but I must believe this to be an afterthought. Warren very cogently says that it would have been folly to have assaulted such intrenchments as were in his front on the 30th of July, on the very same ground where he had fought a battle six weeks before and had been repulsed by the same enemy when they were much less protected with earthworks and there was no abatis. However, for the reasons given, I firmly believe that success would have been with him had he sent Ayres simultaneously with Ledlie against the works. I think aD assault on Griffin’s front would have failed. Ord was unable to be in position until six o’ clock, and quite an hour too late to be of any good. Nevertheless, he attempted some assaults, but with no good results.

General Hancock could not discover that the enemy had weakened their line in his front, and consequently he made no attempt to force their lines.

This idea of attacking the intrenched lines about Petersburg was not confined to the generals alone. Many a time when on picket in front of Fort Mahone, sitting on the parapet of our intrenched picket line, which was originally built by Gibbon June 21-23, I have heard the men discussing the chances of carrying the lines in our front. The discussion was stoutly carried on, and it invariably wound up with the assurance that we should have a chance to try conclusions upon this matter in due time. It has always seemed to me, in recurring to this action, that a very important movement could have been made on the same day and at the same time on our extreme left, and it has always seemed strange that no operations were attempted against the Weldon Railroad and the Lead Works. Crawford’s Division of the Fifth Corps was on the extreme left of the army. Griffin held the line up to the Jerusalem Plank

Road; Fort Sedgwick was at his extreme left. The 1st Brigade, 3d Division, held from Fort Sedgwick to Fort Davis, and the 3d Brigade from Fort Davis along the Plank Road to the rear. The 2d Brigade was in reserve. Fort Davis was the extreme left of the line, and about half a mile to the left and rear of Fort Sedgwick. Of course we in Fort Davis were wide awake on this eventful morning. The troops were to be under arms at 3.30 A. M. No enlisted men were to be on the parapets, but all were to be ready to meet the enemy, should they make a counter attack, or to advance should the enemy abandon their line. Well aware of what was to be done, we could not restrain our desire to have a good look at what was going on, and determining to see for ourselves we mounted the parapet. While there, Colonel Prey, of the 104th N. Y. Vols., who was field officer of the day, came along and we talked the matter over. The time had come and gone ; we were wondering at the delay, when, to our astonishment, the roar and rumble which I have before mentioned was heard, and a few minutes afterwards the cheer of our men as they advanced to the assault. There had never been a hostile picket shot fired on our line since we had been here. The men of both armies sat out in full view of each other on their advanced works, their muskets stacked in rear of the works, and usually not a day passed but that the men would meet just half way between the lines, discuss the news, exchange newspapers, and barter hard bread, sugar, and coffee for tobacco. It suited the commandant of the artillery in Fort Mahone to fire an evening salute now and then, and invariably the Confederates would shout out a warning and rush to their lines, and we would do the same, and when over they would call out to us that it was all done, and climb out on their works, and we would follow suit. But never would a hostile musket be fired. So much confidence was there that no assault was to be made by our left, that Mahone’s troops were encamped outside of their main line of works, and on the morning of the 30th these conditions were

in full force. As Colonel Prey and I looked about to see the effect of the explosion, the first thing that met our gaze was the almost instantaneous breaking of camp by these troops. They folded up their tents and stole away as rapidly as possible. Mounted officers could be seen inside their lines hurrying to and fro. Fort Sedgwick sent its compliments to Fort Mahone, and as a good shot was made loud cheers would go up. We could see that our lines were being very closely inspected, and finally after about half an hour the enemy, seeing we were perfectly quiet, and that evidently no assault was coming from our portion of the line, regiment after regiment of their troops left the works in our front and marched over the hill towards the crater. Soon another column of troops came along in rear of the enemy’s line, directed to the one spot. These troops were the ones that joined in the final assault upon those of our men who were holding the crater, and at last carried it, capturing those who were left. It is a curious comment, that Wesiger’s Brigade, the one that was furthest from the battlefield, should have suffered so severely on this day. I believe but one brigade in the three divisions lost so many, and that was Elliott’s, which was the one that held the line which was blown up. Not a shot was fired by us on this day.

I am strongly of the opinion that, instead of maintaining this absolute quiet upon the left, it should have been the scene of the greatest activity. Our corps should have been massed there and a heavy column of assault formed. Had this been done, the enemy’s line would have been broken beyond repair, and it would seem as if there would have been nothing to prevent this column from marching directly up to the Halifax Road and thence to the city. Its advance would have entirely relieved the pressure at the crater. It would have outnumbered the entire Confederate force within the lines west of the Baxter Road, and it would have been opposed by only fifteen hundred men, and by them only in part.

The Confederate line was held in force only one half mile to the right of Fort Mahone. From the Jerusalem Plank Road to the Weldon Railroad it is three miles. On the Weldon Railroad, at the Lead Works, was Wesiger’s Brigade of Mahone’s Division, about fifteen hundred men, together with a small force of cavalry under General Dearing, not above six or seven hundred men. The two divisions of cavalry under Fitz-Hugh Lee and W. H. F. Lee, the whole under Hampton, were north of the James.

This force of General Dearing was picketing on the railroad and also had patrols looking to the left and communicating with the other troops of Mahone’s Division. Thus you see that there was a gap of at least two miles protected by cavalry patrols only, not another man in this space. A column could have been formed of two whole brigades of Crawford and the larger part of the third brigade of the same division, two brigades of Griffin and the whole of Ayres and Cutler, at least nine thousand men in all. Sheridan with his entire cavalry had returned from Deep Bottom and was operating on the left near Lee’s Mills. This force, consisting principally of old troops in good condition, could have been organized. It should have been formed with its left resting on the road that runs by the Aiken House, north, being the road near where Fort Howard was afterwards built, and precisely the same road over which Mahone moved on the 19th of August, when he made such a handsome flank movement against the Fifth Corps. The advance would not have been difficult. There are no very severe depressions in the ground,—generally it is of a level character, — and it was generally cleared. There are no woods of any moment in this territory. There would have been a small run to cross (it is an arm of Lieutenant Creek), not at all difficult to cross, however. It was one and one fourth miles west of Fort Mahone and quite out of range of its guns. There were no troops at this point. Wesiger was a mile and a half further west. There were no works to be met until the main line was

reached. This column could have moved into position on the night of the 29th, and would have been covered in great degree by our pickets. The furthest distance to be marched by any of the troops was four miles and this could easily have been made in two and one half hours. The arrangements completed, the troops all known to each other, everything should have been in readiness in the morning. The signal for the advance should have been the explosion of the mine, which could easily have been heard, and it seems to me that this column would have swept right over all the slight opposition that could have been made to it, and would have entered the works without difficulty. Supposing the works carried, it could have swept up to the Halifax Road, or have swung to the right and have swept all before it up to the Plank Road in rear of the enemy’s line, and then turned towards the city. Lee’s army, divided as it was, could not have been concentrated. Our army was practically concentrated. I am well aware that in advocating such a division of our army I must take into account that the columns of attack would have been separated by three or four miles, that in such cases concerted movements are almost impossible. Usually in such attacks some signal is agreed upon as the time to begin the movement, It is not uncommon that concerted action fails because such signals fail to be heard. But in this case there could be no mistaking the note of warning. It was so loud and certain that the two columns would have moved together, unless some other cause had arisen to provoke delay, and it would seem as if great successes must have resulted. Would it not have accomplished precisely that which Major Duane predicted was necessary, namely, the enveloping, by extension of our lines, the enemy’s intrenched line to the right of the crater, and thus have made success at the crater possible ?

This assaulting on the left was thought of by Humphreys — see his despatch(1) to Warren at 6.30 A. M. July 30th, wherein

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(1) 82 W. R. 652.

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he says: “the signal officers report that they can see no troops of the enemy in their works near the Lead Works. The commanding general wishes, if it is practicable, that you make an assault in that direction.” Warren replied that he had all his troops but Crawford’s on the right, that he had sent him Meade’s despatch with directions to do what he could with Baxter’s (2d) Brigade and half of Ledlie’s (this should be Lyle’s, 1st) Brigade. “Do you mean for me,” he adds, “to move Ayres in that direction ? “(1)

At 7 A. M. Humphreys inquired about the matter,(2) and at 7.50 A. M. Warren informed him(3) that it would take some time to hear from Crawford, and at 8 A. M. he reported that it would be impracticable to make the attack. He said, however, he could make a demonstration. However, at that hour all movements in this direction had terminated. Indeed, all this was too late. Humphreys’ suggestion was all right, but it was made at least twenty-four hours too late. Had this movement been directed in the general orders of the battle, it would, no doubt, have been successfully made.

As it was, Crawford rode up the Plank Road, ordered Baxter’s Brigade to mass and to be prepared to move. He drew out of Fort Davis one half of Lyle’s Brigade and posted them on the Plank Road. The 39th Mass. Vols, was one of the regiments. After remaining in this position for a few minutes, they marched back again and all was as quiet and serene as ever within our portion of the line.

Again, previous to the explosion, another movement against the Weldon Railroad had been considered at headquarters. The mine, however, turned the scale in favor of a direct assault. If this movement in conjunction with the mine had been made, success would have followed, as, all things considered, the chances were much more favorable than when successfully executed three weeks later, namely, on the 18th of August, 1864.

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(1) 82 W. R. 652.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

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No such opportunity for the carrying of earthworks was ever presented to an army as that presented on the 30th of July, 1864, and never did an army more signally fail than did our army on that day.

According to Badeau, our losses on this day were forty-four hundred.  By the Medical Department the total is put at four thousand and eight.

General Humphreys thinks that the losses did not exceed thirty-five hundred,(1) and he is so careful in all his statements, and had such a thorough knowledge of all the matters at that time, that I am led to believe his statement the most accurate.

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(1) Va. Camp. 250.  3798 loss reported, 80 W.R. 249.–Ed.

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ABBREVIATIONS USED IN REFERENCES IN VOLUME 5 OF THE PAPERS OF THE MILITARY HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MASSACHUSETTS

Source:

  1. Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Volume 5, pages 221-239

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