OR XL P1 #5: Reports of Major General George G. Meade June 14-July 30, 1864

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 5. Reports of Major General George G. Meade, U. S. Army, commanding Army of the Potomac.1

HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
City Point, Va., August 22, 1864.

Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Chief of Staff of the Army:

GENERAL: Inclosed herewith I send you reports of the operations of the 30th ultimo against Petersburg. As the whole matters of our deplorable failure on that occasion has been submitted to investigation I will not make any report myself until after the report of the Court of Inquiry is submitted, and then will probably confine myself to remarks on their proceedings.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
August 16, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit herewith a report of the operations on the 30th ultimo, when an unsuccessful assault was made on the enemy’s works in front of Petersburg.

Soon after occupying our present lines Major-General Burnside, commanding Ninth Corps, at the suggestion of Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants, Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, commenced the running of a gallery from his line to a battery occupied by the enemy with a view of placing a mine under this battery. When my attention was called to this work I sanctioned its prosecution, though at the time, from the reports of the engineers, and my own examination, I was satisfied the location of the mine was such that its explosion would not be likely to be followed by any important result, as the battery to be destroyed was in a re-entering part of the enemy’s line exposed to an enfilading and reverse fire from points both on the right and left. The mine being completed, and the movement of the Second Corps to the north side of the James having drawn off the greater portion of the Confederate army, the lieutenant-general commanding directed the explosion of the mine, and the assaulting the enemy’s works. For this purpose the Eighteenth Corps was placed under my command in addition to the Army of the Potomac. On the 29th ultimo a general order of battle was issued, a copy of which is herewith annexed, marked A, *which will serve to show the plan of the proposed attack.

On the 30th, owing to a defect in the fuse, the explosion of the mine was delayed from 3.30 to 4.45 a.m., an unfortunate delay, because it was designed to assault the crest of the ridge occupied by the enemy just before daylight, when the movement would, in a measure, be obscured. As soon as the mine was sprung the First Division, Ninth Corps, Brigadier-General Ledlie commanding, moved forward and occupied the crater without opposition. No advance, however, was made from the crater to the ridge, some 400 yards beyond, Brigadier-General Ledlie giving as a reason for not pushing forward that the enemy could occupy the crater in his rear, he seeming to forget that the rest of his corps and all the Eighteenth Corps were waiting to occupy the crater and follow him. Brigadier-Generals Potter and Willcox, commanding the Second and Third Divisions, Ninth Corps, advanced simultaneously with Ledlie and endeavored to occupy parts of the enemy’s line on Ledlie’s right and left, so as to cover those flanks, respectively, but on reaching the enemy’s line Ledlie’s men were found occupying the vacated parts, both to the right and left of the crater, in consequence of which the men of the several divisions got mixed up, and a scene of disorder and confusion commenced, which seems to have continued to the end of the operations. In the mean time the enemy, rallying from the confusion incident to the explosion, began forming his infantry in a ravine to the right and planting artillery, both on the right and left of the crater. Seeing this, Potter was enabled to get his men out of the crater and enemy’s line, and had formed them for an attack on the right, when he received an order to attack the crest of the ridge. Notwithstanding he had to change front in the presence of the enemy, he succeeded not only in doing so, but, as he reports, advancing to within a few yards of the crest, which he would have taken if he had been supported. This was after 7 a.m., more than two hours after Ledlie had occupied the crater, and yet he had made no advance. He, however, states he was forming to advance when the Fourth Division (colored troops), General Ferrero commanding, came rushing into the crater and threw his men into confusion. The Fourth Division, passed beyond the crater and made an assault, when they encountered a heavy fire of artillery and infantry which threw them into inextricable con-

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*Here omitted. It appears as Appendix K, p. 134.

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fusion, and they retired in disorder through the troops in the crater and back into our lines. In the mean time, in ignorance of what was occurring, I sent orders to Major-General Ord, commanding Eighteenth Corps, who was expected to follow the Ninth, to advance at once on the right of the Ninth and independently of the latter. To this General Ord replied the only debouches were choked up with the Ninth Corps,which had not all advanced at this time. He, however, pushed a brigade of Turner’s division over the Ninth Corps’ parapets, and directed it to charge the enemy’s line on the right, where it was still occupied. While it was about executing this order the disorganized Fourth Division (colored) of the Ninth Corps came rushing back and carrying everything with them, including Turner’s brigade. By this time, between 8 and 9 a.m., the enemy, seeing the hesitation and confusion on our part, having planted batteries on both flanks in ravines where our artillery could not reach them, opened a heavy fire not only on the ground in front of the crater but between it and our lines, their mortars at the same time throwing shells into the dense mass of our men it the crater and adjacent works. In addition to this artillery fire, the enemy massed his infantry and assaulted the position. Although the assault was repulsed and some heroic fighting was done, particularly on the part of Potter’s division and some regiments of the Eighteenth Corps, yet the exhaustion incident to the crowding of the men and the intense heat of the weather, added to the destructive artillery fire of the enemy, produced its effect, and report was brought to me that our men were retiring into our old lines. Being satisfied that the moment for success had passed, and that any further attempts would only result in useless sacrifice of life, with the concurrence of the lieutenant-general commanding, who was present, I directed the suspension of further offensive movements, and the withdrawal of the troops in the crater when it could be done with security, retaining the position till night, if necessary. It appears that when this order reached the crater (12.20) the greater portion of those that had been in were out; the balance remained for an hour and a half, repulsing an attack of the enemy, but on the enemy’s threatening a second attack, retreated in disorder, losing many prisoners. This terminated this most unfortunate and not very creditable operation. I forbear to comment in the manner I might otherwise deem myself justified in doing, because the whole subject, at my request, has been submitted for investigation by the President of the United States to a court of inquiry, with directions to report upon whom, if any one, censure is to be laid.

I transmit herewith the reports of corps, division, and brigade commanders, giving the details of the operations of each corps.

There are two remarks in the report of Major-General Burnside which justice to myself requires I should notice. General Burnside has thought proper to state-

A plan of attack was submitted involving the putting the colored division in advance, and a certain formation of troops, and that this plan was disapproved in these two particulars.

This statement is not accurate. The proposition to place the colored division at the head of the assaulting column was disapproved, but no control was exercised over General Burnside in the tactical formation of his columns. This will be seen by reference to the correspondence that passed upon the subject, marked B and C.*

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*Here omitted. They appear as Appendixes L and M, pp. 136, 137.

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Again, Major-General Burnside says:

Peremptory orders from the commanding general directed me to throw in all my troops, and direct them against the crest. Under these orders I directed the Fourth Division (colored) to advance, which division I had hitherto held back, under the belief that these new troops could not be used to advantage in the crowded condition of the portion of the enemy’s line held by us.

I presume Major-General Burnside here refers to the dispatch addressed to him at 6 a.m., as follows:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
July 30, 1864-6 a.m.

Major-General BURNSIDE:

Prisoners taken say there is no line in their rear, and that their men were falling back when ours advanced; that none of their troops have returned from the James. Our chance is now; push your men forward at all hazards (white and black) and don’t lose time in making formations, but rush for the crest.

GEO. G. MEADE,
Major-General.

It was not intended by that order, nor is there any such construction justified by its terms, to push forward the colored division into the overcrowded crater, there to add to the disorganization and confusion already existing, and the existence of which I was utterly ignorant, but of which it is to be presumed from the extract from his report General Burnside was aware. The order required that the men in the crater should be pushed forward at all hazards to the crest beyond and when they moved the colored division advanced after them. It will be seen to be the concurrent testimony of all parties that the failure of success was in a great measure due to the injudicious advance of the colored division into the overcrowded crater and adjacent parts of the enemy’s line, and to the confusion produced by their retiring a disordered and disorganized mass, after attempting an assault. From the reports transmitted I cannot perceive that the colored troops are open to any more censure for their conduct than the other troops engaged.

I inclose herewith a list of casualties amounting in all, in the Army of the Potomac and Eighteenth Corps, to, 4,400 killed, wounded, and missing. Two hundred and forty-six prisoners, 2 colors and 2 guns were captured, but the latter were abandoned in retiring from the crater.

In closing this report I cannot forbear from expressing the poignant regret I experienced at the failure of an operation promising such brilliant results had it been successful. Had the mine been sprung at 3.30 and the crest promptly seized, as it is believed it could have been done in thirty minutes after the explosion, such a force could have been poured onto the crest as to have rendered its repossession by the enemy impossible and thus have rendered untenable all his lines around Petersburg. But the operation was essentially a coup de main, depending for success upon the utmost promptitude of movement and the taking advantage of the shock produced on the enemy by the explosion of the mine. The causes of the failure justice to all parties requires I should leave to the Court of Inquiry to ascertain.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel T. S. BOWERS,
Asst. Adjt. General, Headquarters Armies in the Field.

[Inclosure.]

XLPart1Pg167Table1

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General, Commanding.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
November 1, 1864.

COLONEL: *

By the 14th [June] the army was massed around Charles City Court-House. Transports having been assembled the Second Corps commenced crossing in them at noon. Brigadier-General Benham, in charge of bridge train, arrived early on the morning of the 14th and proceeded to lay the bridge, the site for which, and the approaches on each side, having been prepared by Brigadier-General Weitzel, chief engineer Department of Virginia and North Carolina. The bridge, over 2,000 feet in length, and the channel-boats anchored in over thirteen fathoms water, was completed by midnight. During this day (the 14th of June) the greater portion of the Second Corps was ferried across the river. In the evening orders were sent to Major-General Hancock to move early the next morning and take position in front of Petersburg. He was, however, authorized to delay for the receipt of subsistence stores, which in the absence of our supply trains, were to be sent down from Bermuda Hundred. Major-General Hancock moved without the supplies, his leading division, under Birney, reporting to Major General W. F. Smith about an hour before that officer’s attack on the enemy, and by direction of General Smith, Birney took position on the left of General Hinks. Soon after, or about dark, Major-General Hancock arrived with the rest of his corps, and on communicating with Major-General Smith was by that officer requested to place his command in a part of the works captured from the enemy. Late in the evening this day, the 15th, orders were received from the lieutenant-general commanding, then at City Point, to dispatch another corps to Petersburg, when Major-General Burnside, with the Ninth Corps, was immediately put en route for that place, reaching it about noon the next day. At the same time orders were given to Warren to cross his corps at early daylight by the ferries and proceed to Petersburg, he reaching there about dark of the 16th.

Having made these dispositions, early on the morning of the 16th I proceeded to City Point, and from thence to Petersburg, meeting, when

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*For portion of report (here omitted) covering operations from May 4 to June 13, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p. 188.

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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 other two divisions by water to City Point. Proceeding on I reached Petersburg about 2 p.m., and after communicating with corps commanders orders were given for an assault by Hancock and Burnside at 6 p.m., Smith demonstrating, he having reported an assault not expedient on his front. The assault was made, as directed, by Hancock, and resulted in taking and holding part of the enemy’s line. The fighting continued till late in the night, and at early dawn of the 17th of June a gallant assault was made by the Ninth Corps, capturing a redoubt, 4 guns, several colors, and many prisoners. During the night of the 16th Neill’s division, Sixth Corps, arrived, relieving Brooks’ division, of the Eighteenth, who,accompanied by Major-General Smith, returned to Bermuda Hundred, leaving General Martindale in command of Smith’s troops. Warren, with the Fifth Corps, also came up during the night of the 16th, and was posted on the left of the Ninth Corps.

During all of the 17th the enemy was vigorously pressed, Martindale pushing him back on the right, and the whole line gradually advancing. An assault of the whole line was ordered for daylight on the 18th, but on advancing it was found the enemy during the night had retired to a line about a mile nearer the city, the one he how occupies. Orders were immediately given to follow and develop his position, and, so soon as dispositions could be made, to assault. About noon an unsuccessful assault was made by Gibbon’s division, Second Corps. Martindale’s advance was successful, occupying the enemy’s skirmish line and making some prisoners. Major-General Birney, temporarily commanding Second Corps, 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 Fifth and Ninth Corps, with no better results. Being satisfied Lee’s army was before me, and nothing further to be gained by direct attacks, offensive operations ceased and the work of intrenching a line commenced, which line is part of that at present held. During these operations the supply trains were crossed at the bridge, covered by Wilson’s division of cavalry and Ferrero’s division of colored troops.

On the 18th of June news was received from Sheridan, who, on the 16th, was at Walkerton, on the Pamunkey. He reported having reached Trevilian Station, on the Central railroad, near Gordonsville, where he was attacked by Hampton’s cavalry, whom he repulsed and drove off. Sheridan then commenced the destruction of the railroad, but was soon interrupted by the return of Hampton, re-enforced with infantry from Gordonsville. Sheridan was again successful in his encounter with these forces, but finding his ammunition being exhausted, the country destitute of supplies, and hearing nothing of General Hunter’s movement, he deemed it prudent to abandon the further prosecution of the expedition and accordingly returned. Orders were sent to General Sheridan to proceed to the White House, resupply himself, and then escort to the James the garrison of that place. Sheridan reached the White House just as Hampton was about attacking it, compelling Hampton to retire. After breaking up the depot, Sheridan moved over to the James, sending Gregg’s division to cover the roads toward White Oak Swamp. Hampton fell on Gregg, handling him severely, but he was finally driven off, and the command reached the James and were safely ferried over near Fort Powhatan, on the 29th of June.

On the 21st of June, the Ninth Corps relieving the Second, and the Eighteenth the Sixth, these two corps were moved across the Jerusalem plank road, to which road the Fifth Corps was extended. The Second Corps was placed in position on the left of the Fifth and an effort for several days was made by means of the Sixth Corps to extend the lines to the Weldon railroad. The enemy resisted most persistently, and several skirmishes and small affairs were had, in which, owing to the character of the country, being a dense thicket, and want of knowledge on our part of the topography, the enemy was enabled to defeat our purpose, capturing a number of prisoners and taking from Gibbon’s division, Second Corps, four guns. The lines were established about half way to the Weldon road, but before they could be extended, early in July, the Sixth Corps was ordered from this army to Washington. This necessitated a contraction of our lines, the left being drawn in to the Jerusalem plank road and there refused.

On the 22nd of June Wilson, with his division of cavalry and Kautz’s division of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, proceeded to Burkeville the junction of the Danville and South Side railroads, with a view of destroying both these roads and cutting the enemy’s communications. Wilson crossed the Weldon road at Reams’ Station, destroying the depot and several miles of road, and struck the South Side road about fifteen miles from Petersburg, destroying some twenty-two miles of this road to near Nottoway Station, where he met W. H. F. Lee’s division of cavalry, and after a sharp fight defeated him. Kautz reached Burkeville on the afternoon of the 23d, where he destroyed the station and track and moved to Meherrin Station, forming a junction at this place with Wilson the 24th of June. The two then destroyed the road as far as Roanoke bridge, a distance of twenty-five miles. At this point the enemy was in position and could not be dislodged. In returning Wilson met on the evening of the 28th the enemy’s cavalry in force at the Weldon railroad crossing of Stony Creek, where he had a severe engagement. He then made a detour by his left, and endeavored to reach Reams’ Station, presuming it to be in our possession; but he here encountered not only the enemy’s cavalry but a strong force of infantry. Being largely outnumbered he was overwhelmed and forced to retire with the loss of his trains and artillery, but succeeded in crossing the Nottoway and coming in on our left and rear, bringing nearly all his command with him. The first intimation I had of Wilson’s situation was the intelligence brought by one of his aides, who cut his way through from Reams’ Station. The Sixth Corps was immediately sent to that point and Sheridan ordered up with the cavalry, but before the troops could reach the affair was over and the enemy withdrawn. Although regretting the disaster at the termination of the expedition, the brilliant success of the operation and the heavy injuries inflicted on the enemy were deemed ample compensation for the losses we sustained.

The greater portion of July was devoted to strengthening the line of entrenchment from the Jerusalem plank road to the Appomattox, constructing redoubts and siege batteries. On the 26th of July, this line being held by the Fifth, Ninth, and Eighteenth Corps, the Second Corps, with two divisions of cavalry under Sheridan, the whole under

Major-General Hancock, were crossed to the north side of the James at Deep Bottom. The enemy’s works at this point were carried, capturing four guns and a number of prisoners, and a line occupied extending from the James to the Long Bridge and New Market roads. This demonstration drew to the north side of the James the greater portion of Lee’s army, only three divisions being left to hold the lines in front of Petersburg. This was considered a suitable time to explode a mine which Major-General Burnside had excavated under one of the enemy’s batteries in his front. Accordingly Hancock was withdrawn on the night of the 29th, relieving Ord, commanding Eighteenth Corps, who was moved in rear and on the right of Burnside. Warren was directed to mass his available force on the left of the Ninth Corps. Burnside was ordered to mass his corps on the night of the 29th, organize his assaulting columns, take down his parapet and clear away the abatis and other obstructions, and make every preparation for an immediate assault as soon as the mine should be sprung, and he was particularly cautioned not to permit his columns to halt in the crater but to press on and crown the crest of Cemetery Hill, which was the important point to seize, for, this being once gained, the mass of men ready to follow would render resistance by the enemy with their diminished force out of the question, and this crest in our possession Petersburg would certainly fall. Every preliminary order was given and 3.30 a.m. of July 30 designated as the hour for springing the mine. Some delay occurred from an imperfect fuse, but the mine was sprung at 4.45. Soon after Ledlie’s division moved out and without opposition crowned the crater. The division,however, did not move beyond, but other troops were sent who crowded into the crater and the adjacent parts of the enemy’s line found vacated. Finding delay in the movement of Burnside’s column Ord was ordered to push forward his corps, but reported it impracticable from there being no debouche from our lines but the one in front of the Ninth Corps, still crowded with troops. The delay in pushing forward to Cemetery Hill enabled the enemy to rally and concentrate his forces, and soon he brought his batteries to bear from several points and opened on the crater. The operation being essentially a coup de main and dependent entirely on the prompt movement at the beginning, when 9 o’clock arrived and no advance of any consequence having been effected, I was satisfied a longer continuance of the attack would only result in a useless slaughter of the troops, and they were therefore recalled. Authority was given to Major-General Burnside to exercise his judgment as to the precise time of withdrawal. The troops were withdrawn about 2 p.m., after repulsing several attacks of the enemy, but losing many prisoners in the withdrawal.

I forbear to comment on the failure of an attack that seemed at first to promise the most complete success, because the whole subject, at my request, has been investigated by a court of inquiry, the proceedings of which are now and have been for some time in the hands of the President of the United States.*

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel T. S. BOWERS.
Assistant Adjutant-General.

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*For continuation of report, see Vol. XLII, Part I. [For statements of casualties, captures of guns, colors, and prisoners from May 5 to November 1, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, pp. 195, 196.]

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ADDENDA.

HEADQUARTERS SECOND CORPS,
August 2, 1864.

ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GENERAL,
Army of the Potomac:

GENERAL: I inclose herewith the proceedings of a board of officers convened at this place by virtue of Special Orders, Numbers 205, paragraph 4, Army of the Potomac.

Very respectfully, general, your obedient servant,

ED. SCHRIVER,
Inspector-General, Recorder.

[Indorsement.]

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
August 2, 1864

Respectfully forwarded for the information and action of the lieutenant-general commanding.

The points raised by the Board are, in my judgment, valid, particularly so far as expressing an opinion on the facts collected. The Board might be instructed to collect facts without expressing any opinion, but under the circumstances I would prefer not giving any further instructions, but would respectfully suggest the matter be referred to the President of the United States, with the request that he either confirm the powers given to the Board or constitute them into a court of inquiry. I am clearly of opinion the interest of the army and of the country are involved in having an investigation. I am desirous that my conduct, as well as that of all others concerned, should be thoroughly examined. This examination should be immediate and prompt. There is the broad fact, that well-laid plans, executed under the most favorable circumstance, have failed. Yet the absence of official reports, and the difficulty of getting them, prevent my having the necessary knowledge to act in the premises, and it appears that this Board, which was convened to collect the facts on which I might act, is of doubtful legality. I trust you will exercise your influence to induce the President to confer upon the Board the necessary authority, and for this purpose I would suggest an officer being sent to Washington.

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General.

[Inclosure.]

Proceedings of a board of officers which convened on the 2nd of August, 1864, pursuant to the following orders:

SPECIAL ORDERS, Numbers 205.

HDQRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
August 1, 1864.

* * * * * * *

4. A board of officers will assemble at such time and place on Tuesday, the 2nd instant, as the presiding officer may appoint, to examine into and report upon the facts and circumstances attending the unsuccessful assault on the enemy’s position in front of Petersburg on the morning of July 30, 1864. The board will also report whether in their judgment any party or parties censurable for the failure of the troops to carry into successful execution the orders issued for the occasion.

The board will consist of Major General W. S. Hancock, Brigadier General R. B. Ayres, Brigadier General N. A. Miles, Volunteer service; Colonel E. Schriver, inspector-general, recorder.

By command of Major-General Meade:

S. WILLIAMS
Assistant Adjutant-General.

AUGUST 2, 1864.

The Board met at 10 a.m. at the headquarters of the Second Corps, agreeable to the notification from Major-General Hancock, the presiding officer.

Present: Major General W. S. Hancock, Brigadier General R. B. Ayres, Brigadier General N. A. Miles, Volunteer service; Colonel E. Schriver, inspector-general, recorder.

The order for the Court was read. At the outset the Board finds itself embarrassed by the requirements of the order, viz, to report upon the facts and circumstances of a failure of the troops to execute certain orders on the 30th of July, and whether any one is answerable therefor.

There is demanded of it a duty, which has always been performed by a court of inquiry, but the powers of which required by law (see Ninety-first Article of War), such as summoning of witnesses and their examination on oath, in presence of those whose conduct may be censured in the finding of the Board, should they desire to appear, it does not possess. This alone would be a bar to legal and just proceeding. But without this obstacle, the Board is of opinion that the Rules and Articles of War especially forbid the institution of a tribunal, by whatever name it may be designated for an object like that specified in the special order, unless directed by the President of the United States, or on the demand of the accused who in this case, although not actually known to exist, may become no less a real personage by the finding of the Board, but who will not have had the privilege of being present throughout the investigation and of confronting witnesses by whose evidence he is placed in the position of an accused party.

The Board, therefore, unanimously directs that these preceedings be submitted to the commanding general.

On motion the Board adjourned until it shall be directed to meet again by the proper authorities.

W. S. HANCOCK,
Major-General, President of Board.

R. B AYRES,
Brigadier-General.

NELSON A. MILES.
Brigadier-general, U. S. Volunteers.

ED. SCHRIVER,
Inspector-General, Recorder.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
August 3, 1864.

Brigadier General JOHN A. RAWLINS,
Chief of Staff:

GENERAL: I am compelled from a sense of duty to ask the lieutenant-general commanding that Major General A. E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Corps, be relieved from duty with this army. The inclosed charges and specifications will show in part the gravamen of the reasons which require I should ask the removal of Major-General Burnside. The whole course of that officer on the 30th ultimo,and subse-

quently has been of such a character that it is impossible I can properly command this army if he continues in command. The lieutenant-general commanding is himself aware of the difficulty experienced on the 30th ultimo of obtaining any detailed or accurate information from General Burnside of what was actually occurring at the front. At about 5.30 a.m. I had accidentally placed in my hands a dispatch from Colonel Loring, of General Burnside’s staff, to General Burnside, written at the crater of the exploded mine, informing General Burnside of the occupation without resistance of the crater by the advance of his corps, but stating his (Colonel Loring’s) fears that the men could not be got to advance. Subsequent information from other sources led me to fear the existence of some obstacle of this kind to account for the non-advance of the column in accordance with my orders. Anxious to be advised of the exact condition of affairs, and considering it natural General Burnside should wish to defer any such report as long as he had hope of removing this obstacle, I wrote the dispatch asking to be advised of the truth, meaning the exact or true state of the case, in order that I might be governed by it, as if it was really the case that the column could not be got to advance, my judgment was clear it should be withdrawn before the enemy could mass his troops and arrange his batteries to render, as he subsequently did, that withdrawal not only precarious but disastrous and, as I fear, not very creditable to us.

In reply to this communication I not only received no satisfactory information, but was answered by a personal insult.

After it was determined by the lieutenant-general commanding and myself that it was useless to make any further efforts to advance, orders were given to General Burnside to withdraw, and on his representation of the precariousness of this operation, he was authorized to withdraw at such time and in such manner as would render the movement secure, and he was directed if necessary to hold the position till after dark.

It was represented to me at this time that the crater and adjacent parts of the enemy’s lines occupied by us were so overcrowded by our troops that it was impossible any more could leave our lines until an advance was made from the crater. At this time, between 10 and 11 a.m., in conjunction with the lieutenant-general commanding, I left General Burnside’s headquarters, and returned to my own, where I was in telegraphic communication with him. From that time till 7 p.m. I heard nothing from General Burnside, and, presuming our forces still in possession of the crater, I did not call for any information. At 7 p.m. a rumor reached me that the enemy had driven us out of the work, whereupon I addressed a telegram of inquiry to General Burnside. Not receiving any reply to this telegram, another was sent to General Burnside at 10 p.m., repeating the call for information, to which no more respect or attention was paid than to the first. The night passed without any reply,and about 9 a.m. of the 31st another call was made on General Burnside and his attention directed to the previous calls. This last likewise failed to elicit any information,and it was not till 9 a.m. of the 1st instant that any report of the withdrawal and the circumstances attending it was made to me by General Burnside and I the learned for the first time the extraordinary construction General Burnside had placed upon the order to withdraw, which justified apparently, in his estimation, the failure of his command to make any defense to a threatened attack, and this in the face of his acknowledgment that they had just successfully repelled one.

I respectfully submit the foregoing plain statement of facts is of itself sufficient to justify my application for General Burnside being relieved, and to convince the lieutenant-general commanding that I cannot be, and ought not to be, held responsible for the handling of this army where such an extraordinary course is adopted by a subordinate officer.

The lieutenant-general commanding having ordered an investigation into the causes of the recent lamentable failure to take advantage of what I consider one of the most brilliant opportunities for success offered in this war, I have omitted in the charges and specifications now inclosed any charge against Major-General Burnside for neglect, of duty and disobedience of orders in the conduct of that affair, although I have reason to believe that in the preliminary arrangements and subsequent handling of his troops his course is open to criticism, if not grave censure. The lieutenant-general commanding is aware Major-General Burnside, although my senior in rank, was placed under my command for the better securing an efficient organization and administration of the forces operating together. Although professing the utmost willingness to serve under my command, General Burnside has nevertheless repeatedly in various ways performed acts and exercised powers inconsistent with his position as a subordinate, and among others was that of assuming the authority to take off of the telegraph wires messages not addressed to him, and thus frequently making public matters which both the lieutenant-general and myself desired to keep secret. This assumption of authority, I regret to say, has continued after my distinctly informing General Burnside such action was irregular and unauthorized. Upon several occasions General Burnside has thought proper to place a construction on my official acts and dispatches utterly inconsistent with the relations existing between us, and not justified by any reasoning based on ordinary charity and common sense. In the cases an appeal to his intelligence, when his passion has subsided, has produced an expression of regret on his part for his unguarded ebullitions of temper, and I should be disposed to treat in the same way his amusing charge of unofficer-like and ungentlemanly conduct, because in the exercise of my prerogative as commanding general on the field of battle, I wished to be advised of the exact condition of affairs, but my patience and forbearance are exhausted, and I think the time has arrived when General Burnside should understand disrespectful and insubordinate language cannot be used in official communications with impunity. I have no personal feeling in this matter, and fully appreciate the many good qualities of General Burnside, especially his earnest zeal in the discharge of his duties, but it is out of the question, after what has passed, that there can be that harmony and co-operation between us which ought to exist, and I am compelled to ask his relief.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General, Commanding.

[Inclosure.]

Charges and specifications preferred against Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps.

CHARGE I.- Disobedience of orders.

Specification 1st. – In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps, being charged with certain important

duties in the action before Petersburg, Va., on the 30th of July, 1864, and having been duly ordered by his commanding officer, Major-General Meade, in orders dated headquarters Army of the Potomac, July 29, 1864, to advise him of every step in the progress of the operation and of everything important that should occur in that action and connected therewith within the command of him, said General Burnside, did fail to obey said over, although he was repeatedly called on verbally and in writing to do so. This before Petersburg, Va., on or about the 30th day of July 1864.

Specification 2nd. – In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps, being charged with certain important duties in the action before Petersburg, Va., on the 30th of July 1864, and having been duly ordered by his commanding officer, Major-General Meade in orders dated headquarters Army of the Potomac, July 29, 1864, to advise him of every step in the progress of the operation and of everything important that should occur in that action and connected therewith within the command of him, said General Burnside, did fail to advise the commanding general Major-General Meade of any steps in the progress of the operations, or to make any report of any kind to him between the hours of 11 a.m. July 30, 1864, and 9 a.m. July 31, 1864, although events of importance occurred within time in connection with said action, within his, said General Burnside’s, command. This before Petersburg, Va., on or about the 30th and 31st days of July, 1864.

Specification 3rd.- In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps, being charged with certain important duties in the action before Petersburg, Va., on the 30th of July, 1864, and having been duly ordered by his commanding officer, Major-General Meade, in orders dated headquarters Army of the Potomac, July 29, 1864, to advise him of every step in the progress of the operation and of everything important that should occur in that action and connected therewith within the command of him, said General Burnside, and having been specifically ordered by his said commanding officer, by telegraph, at about forty minutes after 7 p.m. on the 30th of July, 1864, to report to him (said specific order being in form and manner following)-

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
July 30, 1864-7.40 p.m.

Major-General BURNSIDE,
Commanding Ninth Corps:

The major-general commanding desires to know whether you still hold the crater, and, if so, whether you will be able to withdraw your troops from it safely to-night, and also to bring off the wounded. The commanding general wishes to know how many wounded are probably lying there. It will be recollected that on a former occasion General Beauregard declined to enter into any arrangement for the succor of the wounded and the burial of the dead lying under both fires, hence the necessity of immediate and active efforts for their removal in the present case.

A. A. HUMPHREYS.
Major-General and Chief of Staff.

-did fail to give the information required by said telegram, or to make any reply thereto. This before Petersburg, Va., on or about the 30th day of July, 1864.

Specification 4th. -In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps,being charged with certain important duties in the action before Petersburg Va., on the 30th of July, 1864, and having been duly ordered by his commanding officer, Major-General Meade in orders dated headquarters Army of the Potomac, July 29, 1864, to advise him of every step in the progress of the operation and

of everything important that should occur in that action and connected therewith within the command of him, said General Burnside, and having been specifically ordered by his said commanding officer, by telegraph, at about forty minutes after 10 p.m. on the 30th of July, 1864, to report to him (said specific order being in form and manner following)-

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
July 30, 1864-10.35 p.m.

Major-General.
Commanding Ninth Corps:

The major-general commanding desires to know whether you have any wounded left on the field, and directs me to say that he is awaiting your reply to dispatch of 7.40 p.m.

A. A. HUMPHREYS,
Major-General and Chief of Staff.

-did fail to give the information required by said telegram, or to make any reply thereto. This before Petersburg, Va., on or about the 30th day of July, 1864.

Specification 5th. – In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding Ninth Army Corps, having been ordered by Major-General Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac, to relieve at once the troops of the Eighteenth Corps in his (said General Burnside’s) line, did fail to relieve said troops. This before Petersburg, Va., on or about the 31st day of July 1864.

CHARGE II. – Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.

Specification.- In this: That Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, U. S. Volunteers, commanding Ninth Army Corps, having been ordered by Major-General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, to assault the enemy’s works before Petersburg, and to advance his troops to the crest in his front, and having received from Major-General Meade an official dispatch concluding as follows-

Do you mean to say your officers and men will not obey your orders to advance? If no, what is the obstacle? I wish to know the truth, and desire an immediate answer.

GEO. G. MEADE,
Major-General

-did address and send to Major-General Meade, his commanding officer, a dispatch in form and manner following, to wit:

HEADQUARTERS NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Battery Morton, July 30, 1864.

General MEADE:

Your dispatch by Captain Jay received. The main body of General Potter’s division is beyond the crater. I do not mean to say that my officers and men will not obey my orders to advance. I mean to say that it is very hard to advance to the crest. I have never in any report said anything different from what I conceived to be the truth. Were it not insubordinate I would say that the latter remark of your note was unofficer-like and ungentlemanly.

Respectfully,yours.

A. E. BURNSIDE,
Major-General.

This in the action before Petersburg, Va., on the 30th day of July, 1864.

GEO. G. MEADE.
Major-General, Commanding Army of the Potomac.

    Witnesses: Major General A. A. Humphreys; Major General E. O. C. Ord; Major General John Gibbon; Brigadier General Seth Williams; Captain William Jay, aide-de-camp; Messrs. Caldwell and Emerick, telegraph operators.

Abstract from tri-monthly returns showing the “present for duty equipped, ” or effective strength of the armies operating against Richmond, under Lieutenant General U. S. Grant, for June 30, July 20, and July 31, 1864.

XLPart1Pg177Table1

XLPart1Pg177Table2

Abstract from tri-monthly returns showing the “present for duty equipped,” &c.,-Cont’d.

XLPart1Pg178Table1

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pp. 163-178

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