NP: June 16, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer: Gen Grant Has Crossed The James River

   

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in June 1864

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

GEN. GRANT HAS CROSSED THE JAMES RIVER.

For some time past there have been indications in the meagre news brought from the front that General GRANT was about to change his base once more.  The nature of the movement was, of course, matter for speculation, but that it would be successfully effected none who had studied the history of the brilliant strategy which had brought the Army of the Potomac from the Rapidan to the Chickahominy, could for a moment doubt.  The veil is now lifted by the Secretary of War, and the country is allowed to know the general facts without full statements of the details.  The great movement seems to have been carried out without a single failure, and without notice to the enemy, who must have waked up on Monday morning to find that the army which menaced them on the previous night had disappeared, and was already beyond the hope of successful pursuit.

A flank march is the most perilous of military operations.  General MCCLELLAN executed his celebrated “change of base” harassed at every step, fighting by day and retreating by night, so that when his army upon the seventh day reached Harrison’s Landing, fifteen thousand men who had crossed the Chickahominy were no longer in the ranks.  Their corpses lay thick upon the route; their bleeding bodies were frequently left to the tender mercies of the enemy, and six thousand of them were captured and consigned to the horrors of a living death at Libby and Belle Isle.  Whatever may be the consequences of this starting movement of General GRANT, the military critic cannot refuse the tribute of high admiration at the consummate skill which has effected so great a change with scarcely the loss of a man.

The great features of the movement seem to be these:—For some days past the attention of the Rebels was directed towards the means of crossing the Chickahominy at Meadow bridge, New bridge, Bottoms bridge and White Oak bridge.  Strong demonstrations were made at those points, and attempts made to carry them.  LEE applied himself busily to the strengthening of those bridges by defensive works.  Efforts to carry them would have undoubtedly caused a great loss of life.  But it was not General GRANT’S intention to force a passage there.  Hence, whilst LEE was amused by his feints, he was preparing a decisive movement in another direction.  When all was ready, Major-General SMITH, with the Eighteenth Army Corps, which had come to White House from Bermuda Hundred upon transports, moved back to the former point, and in the same transports returned to the James River.  General WRIGHT and General BURNSIDE moved with the army corps under their respective commands to Jones’ bridge, about ten miles southeast of Bottoms bridge, where they crossed without hindrance and then marched due south to Charles City Court House; HANCOCK and WARREN crossed the Chickahominy at Long Bridge, about six miles southwest of Bottoms Bridge.  They marched by a road nearly parallel with that leading to Charles City Court House from Jones’ Bridge, and on the average not more than four miles and a half distant.  They came out upon the James at Wilcox’s wharf, which is about five miles east of Harrison’s Landing.  The James was crossed at Powhatan Point, which, we presume, was formerly Wind Mill Point, which is now occupied by Fort Powhatan, which has been held by General WILD.  At the place of landing the army was not more than ten miles from General BUTLER’S intrenchments at Bermuda Hundred.  Having left Cold Harbor on Sunday night, the whole movement was effected and the troops in position for crossing the James River in about thirty hours.  Probably in thirty-six hours the whole army had crossed to the south side of the James River, and by that time General SMITH’S transports were up to Bermuda Hundred and his soldiers had joined their old comrades.

The consequences of this brilliant movement are yet to be seen.  Undoubtedly, General GRANT does not mean to waste time behind BUTLER’S intrenchments.  The Rebels have the interior and shorter line, and may meet him on the south side of Richmond as soon as he reaches that vicinity.  But even if they should do so, GRANT effects an important object.  Petersburg must fall.  The railroads leading into Richmond from Lynchburg and Danville also fall into our possession.  HUNTER, CROOKS and AVERILL have already spoiled the Virginia Central at Staunton, and by this time must be before Lynchburg.  If the latter place is captured, and General GRANT holds the railroads leading from the south and southeast, the predicament of LEE is very serious.  He has drawn together all his troops on the north side of Richmond, but his supplies have come from the South.  The destruction of the Fredericksburg Railroad at Sexton’s Junction and Beaver Dam, and the damage undoubtedly done before this time by SHERIDAN’S cavalry, which are out upon a raid toward Gordonsville and Charlottesville, complete this havoc.  If HUNTER is at Lynchburg and GRANT holds the railroad at Petersburg and the Danville road, LEE is cut off from all communications with the South, all reinforcements and all supplies, unless they move over dirt roads and through by-ways.  That he has transportation, horses and wagons for this service appears doubtful.  Even his hope of reconstructing any line of railroad which he possesses has been frustrated by GRANT, who has coolly deprived him of the greater part of the material of the railroad from West Point and White House to Richmond.  We have frequently heard during this war of the contending forces being “in a trap,” but this situation of LEE looks more like a trap than any device yet set for him.  It is the worst kind of a trap, a trap without fresh bait, a trap in which one hundred thousand soldiers are held while nibbling at the cheese upon the hook, but with no hope of fresh supplies.1

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Source:

  1. “General Grant Has Crossed the James River.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 16, 1864, p. 4 col. 1

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