NP: June 13, 1864 New York Herald-Tribune: From General Butler The Attack on Petersburg



in June 1864

Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Ken Perdue.





Gillmore Ordered “to Engage the Enemy.”



The Cavalry Enter the Streets of Petersburg.

But Gillmore Fails to Co-operate.

Kautz Gets No Help, and is Forced to Retire.

Gen. Butler in Communication with Gen. Grant.

From Our Special Correspondent.


Thursday, June 9, 1864.

The peaceful monotony of camp life has been interrupted. The interruption commenced late last night by the clatter of 1,400 horsemen across the pontoon bridge over the Appomattox. These were followed by a brigade of infantry from Gen. Gillmore’s command, and the tramping of the infantry was accompanied by the rumble of artillery. On the other side of the river the infantry were joined by a brigade of colored troops from Gen. Hinks’s division, commanded by Gen. Hinks in person, the whole, except the cavalry, being in charge of Maj. Gen. Gillmore. The 1,400 picked horsemen were under the command of Gen. Kautz. What could the marshaling of this force (about 5,000 in all) mean?

Any one who has ridden to the left of our line during the past week, and looked through the telescope at the signal station, has seen the City of Petersburg, lying about six miles distant, waiting to be captured. Its spires and houses have looked imploringly northward, although its inhabitants are strongly of the Southern persuasion.

With the reduced force left at his disposal, Gen. Butler has not deemed it prudent to assault a place known to be fortified and garrisoned while any doubts as to the success of such assault existed. All the information lately received from various sources, however, made it clear that but a limited force was left in and around Petersburg. Gen. Butler therefore determined to make a diversion upon the city, and at the same time to send Gen. Kautz to enter Petersburg from the opposite side, and also to again cut the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad. It was intended to send Gen. Hinks with a sufficient number of his troops to carry the place by assault, for the conduct of which movement Gen. H. is admirably adapted.

At this juncture Gen. Gillmore expressed a desire to take a brigade from his command, and go in charge of the expedition. The desire was made known to the Commanding General, who thereupon assigned Gen. Gillmore to the command.

Gen. Kautz, with his cavalry, moved about daylight this morning for the south, south-west side of the city, followed by Gen. Gillmore with the infantry force. As the Rebel battery known as the “Clifton Battery” commands the river road, a detour was made so as to get out of its range. Breakfast was ordered early this morning, and horses immediately after, and Gen. Butler and staff left headquarters about 1 o’clock, riding to a commanding position on the river above Point of Rocks. To our right Capt. Follet’s battery was in position, and soon commenced throwing percussion and fuse shell in the direction of the Rebel batteries opposite the center of our lines. The firing, to a casual observer, appeared very curious, and quite the opposite of warlike.

In front of where the battery was in position a forest of solemn pines towered aloft, completely shutting out all view beyond. Here was a battery of six guns firing at stated intervals in the most solemn sort of way at — what ? — apparently nothing. You saw the flash, the smoke, heard the report, and the peculiar whiz of the shell as it sped on over the trees, and then came a distant noise — the explosion of the shell. It was difficult to tell what such seemingly random shooting could amount to; but after a while it woke up the Rebels, who, not having the remotest idea as to where this battery was situated, vented their indignation upon the batteries along the center and right of our line. This afforded our artillerists a renewed opportunity to pay their respects and, as usual, to silence the Rebel guns. The firing from Capt. Follett’s battery was, however, continued. From the position taken by the General, near the new signal tower erected by Gen. Weitzel, an excellent view was obtained of both sides of the Appomattox, and in the distance was seen the “Clifton Battery.”

In the inner channel of the river hidden from view lay the gunboat Com. Perry; the army gunboats were also within range of the Rebel work. On the opposite side of the Appomattox a field battery was placed in a commanding position. The firing had just opened and was at first rather wild. This was excusable in the gunboats as they could not see the objective point although all were good line shots. But the land battery had not this excuse, as from their position the Rebel battery was in full sight. Shell after shell exploded nearer and nearer the work, when a flash and a puff of white smoke came from the Rebel gun, followed some seconds after by a dull boom, telling that the graybacks were not going to remain silent spectators of the scene. At first they directed their shot against the land battery and over shot it. Then they tried the gunboats and fell short. By this time the Com. Perry, firing by signals from the shore, had got the range and lodged a shell from her 100-pound Parrott fairly in one of the embrasures. The shell exploded and an army wagon could have been driven through the opening thus made.

But the Rebels were not idle, and between the discharges of the Parrott gun were seen busily at work trying to repair damages. But all in vain <unreadable> shell was burst with unerring aim in the fort, and the garrison forced to leave, save one individual, who, in white shirt and gray trowsers, persisted in displaying his gymnastics by standing upon the parapet, watching and dodging the shells. Meanwhile Gen. Gillmore’s forces had passed on, and were out of range of the battery. Soon their guns were seen flashing, and a slight skirmish took place, but the enemy retired before them. At noon they were within one and a half miles of Petersburg, and Gen. G. sent a dispatch that he had heard Kautz’s guns away to his left but had had no communication with him. Gen. Gillmore started out with instructions to advance upon Petersburg and engage the enemy. He returned to-night. It was immaterial whether he succeeded or not, the real object being to divert attention from Kautz, who was to dash into the city from the opposite side, burn the bridge over the Appomattox, destroy the stores and supplies, depots, &c., and to do all that he could to annoy and harass the enemy. The signal glass showed that Kautz was fulfilling his mission, as cavalry were seen attacking upon the farther side, and driving the enemy before them. This was inside the intrenchments, and in the outskirts of the city.

All was well with the cavalry.

“And Gillmore!” was the cry.

Alas! he was not there. He had encountered a woman who told him that she had been in Petersburg the day before, and that the movement was known there yesterday at noon.

Availing himself of the second clause of his instructions, viz: to return to-night, he sent back word that he found the works quite formidable, and more strongly garrisoned than he had anticipated, and that he and Gen. Hinks did not deem it prudent to attack them, and had, therefore, retired half a mile, where he had formed in line of battle. Meanwhile Gen. Kautz had found the line of intrenchments with his cavalry, and was fighting in the city, expecting that infantry would assist him. The Rebels, seeing Gillmore’s force withdrawn, turned their undivided attention to Kautz, pressing him closely, and captured a three-inch gun, after shooting nearly all its horses. At this the cavalry became enraged (horrid fellows!), and pounced upon a 12 pounder brass piece, which they seized and brought away. Still no sign of a diversion in their favor by the infantry. To attempt to accomplish the work assigned him to do was madness, and Gen. Kautz reluctantly ordered a withdrawal.

Gen. Gillmore, by this time, was obeying the return part of his instructions, and preceded his command across the river, and thence to headquarters, where he made his report. While this was transpiring, came a dispatch from the signal station, that <two? unreadable> long trains of cars, with heavy siege guns, were leaving Petersburg for Richmond, and that Petersburg was being evacuated. Gen. Butler directed an aid to proceed at once to Gen. Gillmore, and halt his column wherever he should meet it. The aid met Gen. Gillmore at the pontoon bridge. Gen. Kautz, at first, was opposed by cavalry and some infantry, with a battery in position, and reports that, at the time the troops came from the other side of the city, there about two regiments in all, probably militia.

It is certain that had this force, or even a larger force, if there, been kept employed by the infantry, Gen. Kautz could have destroyed the bridge across the Appomattox, and burned depots and storehouses. No troops passed to the aid of Petersburg, over the railroad or turnpike, from six o’clock in the morning. Deserters agree in saying that the intended attack was known to them at one o’clock this morning, but knew of no rëenforcements arriving. Gen. Gillmore’s losses in the skirmishing were very small, and Gen. Kautz’s only ten or fifteen. Between forty and fifty prisoners were captured by Gen. Kautz. The infantry recrossed the Appomattox, in excellent order, about sunset.

Col. Comstock of Gen. Grant’s staff reached this place night before last, and has been in consultation with Gen. Butler. Col. Comstock leaves this morning. Major Ludlow of Gen. Butler’s staff had been sent to communicate with Gen. Grant. On the army gunboat Parke he proceeded up the Chickahominy to near Jones’s Bridge, thence fourteen miles across the country to White House, with ten men as escort. He encountered but two Rebel pickets, who “scattered in all directions.” Reaching Gen. Grant’s headquarters he there learned that Col. Comstock had already been dispatched to Gen. Butler. Major Ludlow reports the Army of the Potomac in good spirits and excellent condition. They think there that the hard fighting is about to begin. There is conditional skirmishing along the line, with an occasional attempt at assault. What Gen. Grant’s plans for the future are, is of course surmised.

A boy came into our lines last night from Richmond, having swam the James River.    W. H. K.

A Demonstration on Petersburg — The Enemy’s Earthworks Carried — Destruction of a Portion of the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad.

FORTRESS MONROE, Saturday, June 11, 1864.

Yesterday morning a detachment of Gen. Butler’s forces under Gen. Gillmore made a demonstration on Petersburg, and succeeded in carrying the enemy’s outer earthworks, with a loss of only a few wounded. Several contrabands made their escape, and have arrived at Fortress Monroe.

While Gen. Gillmore was advancing on Petersburg, Gen. Butler sent a force which succeeded in destroying three or four miles of the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad without loss.1

Note: This newspaper article is used with the permission of  All rights reserved.


  1. New York Herald Tribune, June 13, 1864


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