NP: June 23, 1864 Richmond Examiner: Latest News from the North, June 15-17

   

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in June 1864

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

LATEST NEWS FROM THE NORTH.

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We received yesterday full files of Northern papers, covering dates as late as the 18th.  We make up from them the following summary:

“THE GREAT NEWS” IN THE NORTH.

The great feature of the news in the Northern papers of the 18th is the announcement—the emphatic announcement—of the CAPTURE OF PETERSBURG!!  It is announced with a great shout of exultation.  The papers are crowded with “the news” of it, and declare that THE CITY IS HELD BY THEM!  The Philadelphia INQUIRER has this heading to its announcement, making a half column in tremendous capitals.

GRANT—The Great Contest—“Baldy” Smith Attacks Petersburg—The Rebel Fortifications Carried—Four   Thousand Prisoners Captured—Several Stands of Colours Taken—Thirteen Cannon Fall into our Possession—Splendid Heroism of the Coloured Troops—They Win the Praise of All—The City now Held by Us—Richmond Railroad Destroyed.

The INQUIRER then gives an immense map, covering about half of its first page, under this caption:

THE CAPTURE OF PETERSBURG—Scene of General “Baldy” Smith’s Brilliant Victory—Petersburg and its

Railroad Connections—Communications with the Rebel Capital Severed.

The INQUIRER next publishes the following despatches, giving the particulars of “the capture of Petersburg:”

WASHINGTON, June 17, 9:30, A. M.—To Major-General Dix, New York:—The following despatches have been received by this department:

CITY POINT, June 15, via Jamestown Island, 5:30 A. M., June 16—General Smith, with fifteen thousand men, attacked Petersburg this morning.

General Butler reports from his observatory, near Bermuda Hundred, that there has been sharp fighting, and that the troops and trains of the enemy were, as he writes, moving from the city across the Appomattox, as if retreating.

Hancock is not near enough to render General Smith any aid.

The Richmond papers have nothing to indicate a suspicion of our crossing the James river.  The rebels expect to be attacked from the direction of Malvern Hill.

CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, June 15, 7.30, P. M—Our latest report from Smith was at 4, P. M.

He had carried a line of intrenchments at Beatty’s house, the coloured troops assaulting and carrying the rifle pits with great gallantry; but he had not yet carried the main line.

He describes the rebel artillery fire as very heavy.

He expected to assault this line just before dark.

Hancock is within three miles of Smith.

CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, June 16, 7, A. M., via Jamestown Island, 11.45, A. M.—At 7.20, P. M. yesterday Smith assaulted and carried the principal line of the enemy before Petersburg, TAKING THIRTEEN CANNON, SEVERAL STANDS OF COLOURS, AND BETWEEN THREE AND FOUR THOUSAND PRISONERS.

This line is two miles from Petersburg.

Hancock got up and took position on Smith’s left at 3, A. M. on Tuesday.

There was heavy firing in that direction from 5 to 6, A. M., but no report yet.

DOUTMART LANDING, VIRGINIA, 1, P. M., June 16.—After sending my despatch of this morning from the heights southeast of Petersburg, I went over the conquered lines with General Grant and the engineer officers.

The works are of the very strongest kind, more difficult to take than was Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga.

The hardest fighting was done by the black troops.  The forts they stormed I think the worst of all.

After the affair was over, General Smith went to thank them and tell them he was proud of their courage and dash.

He says they cannot be exceeded as soldiers, and that hereafter he will send them in a difficult place as readily as his best white troops.

They captured six out of the thirteen cannon which he took.

The prisoners he took were from Beauregard’s command.  Some of them said they had just crossed the James river above Drewry’s Bluff.

I do not think any of Lee’s army had reached Petersburg when Smith stormed it.  They seem to be there this morning, however, and to be making arrangements to hold the west side of the Appomattox.

The town they cannot think of holding, as it lies directly under our guns.

The weather continues splendid.

CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, June 16, 4.15, P. M., via Jamestown Island, 11.45, P. M.—General Butler reports from Bermuda Hundred that the enemy have abandoned the works in front of that place.  His troops are now engaged in tearing up the railroad between Petersburg and Richmond.

The following despatch does not designate the hour, but it is supposed to be later than the preceding ones:

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA, June 16.—I came down from the pontoon above Fort Powhatan with despatches for Secretary Stanton.  Just as I left, Captain Pitkin REPORTED TO ME THAT PETERSBURG WAS IN OUR POSSESSION.

The INQUIRER says editorially of “the capture of Petersburg” and the “great movements of Grant:”

The capture of Petersburg is a very important object in the plan of the campaign.  It completely shuts off all access to Richmond by the railroad leading to Weldon, Goldsboro, Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah, with lateral lines running from Charleston to Atlanta, and from Savannah by way of Macon to the same city.  If Hunter and Crooks have captured Lynchburg, which is their object, no railroad communication with Richmond remains but the road to Danville.  Sheridan is probably operating upon that line.  There is a report in the Richmond papers of the defeat of that gallant officer by Fitzhugh Lee, but with the memory of the mendacious despatches from Lee, Senior, in relation to his VICTORIES over Grant between the Wilderness and Cold Harbour; we shall take the liberty of doubting this piece of rebel news until we hear further.

Petersburg is a very important place.  It had a population in 1860 of twenty thousand.  It possesses extensive facilities for business.  Vessels of one hundred tons burden can go to its wharves, up the Appomattox, and those of large size, to Waltham’s landing, six miles below.  The larger vessels engaged in the Petersburg trade usually discharged their cargoes at City Point.  The town is well built, and contains about a dozen churches.  It has also three or four banks, several cotton and woolen factories, three rope walks, two iron furnaces, and numerous mills of various kinds.  The limits of the borough include the decayed village of Blandford, in Prince George county, which was once, in some respects, superior even to Petersburg itself.  The remains of its church are among the most interesting and picturesque ruins of Virginia.

The next movements of General Grant will be of great importance.  He has several objects to attain.  One is the capture of Fort Walthal, which now guards the left flank of the rebel line.  Another will be the reduction of Fort Darling, and another will be such a powerful demonstration against the line of the Danville railroad as will place that last resource of the rebels within our power.  Hard fighting may be necessary to effect these objects, but with Grant there is no such word as FAIL.”

OPERATIONS OF GRANT’S ARMY—THE GLORIOUS CHANGES IN THE MILITARY SITUATION.

The Philadelphia INQUIRER follows “the capture of Petersburg” with an editorial on “the operations of Grant’s army” and the “glorious change in the situation,” in which it says:

To get a full appreciation of the rapid character of the work which General Grant has lately performed, the reader should trace back the course of events (illegible) the preceding three days.  On Sunday evening General Grant and the army were on the Chickahominy with Lee’s army in their front, protected by that river, and with five successive lines of defences to fall back upon between it and Richmond.  The defences mentioned were known to be very formidable works, and the character of the intervening country, alternate swamps and rolling hills, made them exceedingly difficult to approach.  General Grant was therefore apparently brought to a stand still.  It seemed out of the question for him to make another movement by the left flank to avoid these strong works of the enemy, for such a manoeuvre would uncover Washington.  At the same time General Butler’s column was confined almost entirely to the defensive, and was just so much unavailable force, greatly wanted for co-operation, but not in hand for use.

That was the state of affairs on Sunday last, and most people, even some of the impatient ones, had made up their minds that some considerable time must elapse before there could be any decisive action.  But see how General Grant’s grand genius for moving large armies and for overcoming difficulties has changed all that.  From Sunday to Wednesday is but three days, but in that brief time the column under Hunter, Crook and Averill are placed in position to cover Washington from any enterprise Lee might be desperate enough to attempt.  Grant once more moves by the left flank beyond Lee’s elaborate obstructions; General Butler’s column is liberated so as to take the offensive; Smith and Hancock are battering down the defenses of Petersburg, and General Grant’s whole army is moving against Richmond, on the southside of the James river, and on its weakest side!

If the scribes of the American press had not made a strong word feeble by their abuse of it, we should be tempted to call such far reaching combinations, such rapid movements and such brilliant results, truly Napoleonic.

It has been observed that some people thought General Grant had come to a stand still on the Chickahominy for a considerable part of the summer, but those who had studied his other campaigns felt well assured that he would halt but a very short time there or anywhere else.

He is operating now very much as he did in his Vicksburg campaign, not only with regard to his frequent change of base, but with respect to his persistence in seeking the right point of attack.—When the direct attack upon Chickasaw Bluff failed under Sherman, Grant tried the canal opposite the city.  When it was found that that would not work, he tried successively Yazoo Pass, Sunflower river, Lake Providence and Steele’s Bayou.  After the failure of all these, he ran his transports through the gauntlet of the Vicksburg batteries, marching his troops overland through Louisiana, crossed the Mississippi at Bruinsburg, and headed once more for Vicksburg by the SOUTHERN route, the only one not previously tried.  He fought several battles and won several victories on the way, just as he has now commenced doing after crossing the James.  His Generals, while EN ROUTE, gobbled up considerable bodies of the enemy and large numbers of guns just as Smith did on Wednesday.  He deflected from a straight line to capture Jackson and cripple Johnston, just as he did the other day to capture Petersburg and whip Beauregard.

How suggestive is all this!  The same bold and brilliant strategy; the same confusion and discomfiture to the enemy.  The same indomitable purpose to discover the right point for his attack; who can doubt the same ultimate success?  Grant will try all ways and hold fast to that which is good.—Tenacity is the very essence of his composition.

Let it be borne in mind that Hunter’s column is in just THE position, either to cover Washington, or to cut Lee off from the southwest, and that Grant having united Butler’s column to his own, is moving upon Richmond in great force on its weakest side, and in position to cut Lee off upon the south.

When the reader has done this, he will have a fair idea of the glorious change made in the situation by the movements of the first four days of the present week.

DREADFUL CALAMITY AT WASHINGTON—EXPLOSION AT THE GOVERNMENT ARSENAL.

A terrible explosion occurred at the Washington Arsenal on Friday, a few minutes before 12 o’clock.

It appears that some red stars for fireworks had been made and set out in block pans to dry, and not being made to stand a higher temperature than two hundred degrees, were soon ignited by the heat of the sun.  The remainder of the powder and the laboratory were of course blown up.  The occupants of the building were all females.

Upon the explosion a terrible scene was witnessed in the yard.  About twelve hundred men and three hundred women immediately started out and left the yard, some of them being severely burned.

The alarm was immediately given, and after the fire was extinguished the work of recovering the bodies commenced.  Eighteen have been taken out, burned to a crisp, and their remains placed in boxes.  It will be impossible to identify them.—Eight have been placed in the hospitals, all females.  The scene at the yard was heartrending when the parents of the unfortunates reached the place.—Until the roll is called none of their names can be ascertained.

Major Stebbins, military storekeeper, was in the building at the time, with several other gentlemen, and states that after the powder on the benches caught, the fire ran down rapidly, blinding the girls and setting fire to their clothes.  Many of them ran to the windows, wrapped in flames, and on their way communicated the fire to the dresses of others.

The nineteen dead bodies taken out were so terribly charred as to be almost beyond identification.  Three more are mortally injured, and there are fifteen or twenty severe contusions.  Special care was taken to prevent the fire from reaching the large magazine, in which several tons of powder are constantly kept, for had the flames reached this building, the loss of life would have been fearful, as severa hundred persons were in the immediate vicinity.

While the firemen were engaged in pouring their streams upon the building in which the explosion occurred, another explosion took place in the ruins, but only resulted in throwing into the air some of the burning timbers.

Quite a number were injured in jumping from the windows, but the majority of those who escaped in this way immediately ran off in all directions, which renders it difficult to tell who perished or who escaped.  One young woman had an arm broken in jumping from the building.  Three boys are missing, and it is feared they perished in the building.

An inquest was held to-night, and the following is a portion of the verdict given by the jury.  They are of the opinion that Superintendent Brown was guilty of most culpable carelessness and negligence in placing lightly inflammable substances so near a building filled with human beings, indicating a most reckless disregard of life, which should be severely rebuked by the Government.

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GOLD.

Under the story of “the capture of Petersburg,” gold had declined in the North.  The New York correspondent of the Philadelphia INQUIRER writes:

American gold is heavy and lower, opening at 96 ¾ declining to 95 ½, and closing dull at 95 ¾ 95 7/8 per cent premium.  The money market is rather more easy to day at 67 per cent. for call loans.—Foreign Exchange is dull at 216, currency, for first class sterling.

The capture of Petersburg has had an exhilarating effect on the public mind.  That proceeding, it is believed places Lee in a rat-trap at Richmond, from which he can only escape, as if by a miracle, and miracles are not looked for on rebel behalf.  Gold is down.1

Source:

  1. “Latest News from the North.” Richmond Examiner. June 23, 1864, p. 3 col. 3-6

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