Number 245. Report of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, U. S. Army, Chief Engineer, Department of Virginia and North Carolina, of operations June 1-30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

Numbers 245. Report of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, U. S. Army, Chief Engineer, Department of Virginia and North Carolina, of operations June 1-30.1

HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
ENGINEER’S OFFICE,

July 7, 1864.

Bvt. Major General J. G. BARNARD,

Chief Engineer, Armies in the Field:

GENERAL: I have the honor to transmit herewith my official report of engineering operations in this department for the month of June, 1864. I also inclose the following maps and tracings*, to wit, viz:
Numbers 1.-One tracing showing roads between Bermuda Hundred and the enemy’s first line of intrenchments on the north and Petersburg on the south; also showing position of our and the enemy’s lines of works.
Numbers 2.-A photographic copy showing road between pontoon bridge at Point of Rocks and Petersburg, showing line of intrenchments captured by Eighteenth Army Corps.
Numbers 3.-A photographic copy of sketch of our works at Deep Bottom.
Numbers 4.-A photographic copy of maps showing position of pontoon bridge on which the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River June 14 and 15, 1864.
Numbers 5.-A photographic copy of sketch of signal tower on Cobb’s Hill, near Fort Wisconsin, on the left of our line of intrenchments.

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

G. WEITZEL,

Brigadier General and Chief Engineer, Dept. of Va. and N. C.
HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
ENGINEER’S OFFICE,

July 1, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following as my report of engineering operations in this department for the month of June, 1864:

In my last report I mentioned that detached works were in process of construction at Wilson’s Wharf, City Point, and Fort Powhatan, on the James River-the two former are now completed; the latter is still unfinished; and in addition to work heretofore mentioned, a signal tower, already sixty feet high, to communicate with City Point, is under construction. These works, assisted by the gun-boats stationed near there, and with garrisons of about 800 men each, will be able to resist any attack of the enemy with four or five times their force. The details of construction of these works have been intrusted to the officers and men of the First New York Volunteer Engineers, and have reflected credit upon them. The line of intrenchments in our front, with the detached works in advance, have never for a day been free from some effort to strengthen them, and every pains has been taken to make them as complete as possible. For the greater part of the month they have been under the charge of Colonel H. L. Abbot, First Connecticut Heavy Artillery (captain U. S. Engineers), to whose untiring activity, zeal, and industry their perfection is in a great measure due. Under his supervision also a battery of 20-pounder Parrotts has been erected on the

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*To appear in the Atlas.

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right bank of the James River, about 500 yards below the right of our line, which commands the reach below Doctor Howlett’s house, and can act a counter-battery to the rebel battery there. The signal and lookout tower mentioned previously was completed early in the month. It is on ground ninety feet above the Appomattox River, and is itself 125 feet high. From it can be seen the city of Petersburg, the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, the rebel Fort Clifton, and works, Port Walthall Junction, and the Appomattox River, and all the cleared country this side of the railroad.

June 11, in company with the commanding general, I made the inspection of the defenses of the posts on the James River.

June 12, in anticipation of the crossing of the James River by the Army of the Potomac, I sent Lieutenant Michie, U. S. Engineers, to examine the river in the vicinity of Fort Powhatan to get all information on the subject. He reported the width of the river at the three points (A, B, C) to be, respectively, 1,250 feet, 1,570 feet, 1,992 feet; that the two approaches on the east bank at A would be from an old field across a marsh 1,000 yards wide; at B over a marsh about 800 yards wide; from these a spit of sand and gravel bordering the river from the bridge-head averaging about forty feet wide and easily made into a good roadway sufficient for the passage of two columns of troops. On the west bank the approaches to the two first were already prepared, leading by gradual ascent to the bluff on which Fort Powhatan is situated. It would require, to make approaches to the third, the clearing away of trees, making a ramp of one-third leading to the field above, the filling up of ruts and gullies and making a roadway to the Petersburg and City Point road. In consequence of these facts, I telegraphed to Lieutenant-Colonel Comstock, senior aide to General Grant, that if the passage was to be made here I would only required, at the farthest, previous notice of thirty-six hours to have the approaches for the bridge ready.

June 13, without waiting for a reply, I directed Lieutenant Michie to proceed to the place and prepare the timber necessary for the corduroy across the marsh, as it seemed probable that it would be wanted. With 150 axmen, 1,200 feet of timber, in sticks averaging 6 inches in diameter and 20 feet long, was cut and prepared before dark, and over 3,000 feet was brought down to the creek above Fort Powhatan ready to be rafted across. At about 3 p.m. I received a dispatch from General Grant informing me that the head of his column would be at the bridge head at 10 a.m. the next day, and directing me to build approaches to the bridge at once at the point designated. An officer was immediately dispatches to Lieutenant Michie, with instructions to begin at once, using the detail that he had with him, and that I would join him as soon as possible with a heavy detail to carry on the work. With the greatest exertion on the part of both officers and men the approaches on both sides of the river, with a pier 150 feet long over the soft marsh on the east bank, was completed at 9.45 a.m., a quarter of an hour before the time indicated by General Grant; and the bridge would have been built, ready for the passage of the troops, at or before 10 a.m. on the 14th if the pontoon train had arrived, as it should, at this time. Through inexcusable tardiness, and more than culpable neglect of duty, Captain Robbins, of the Fiftieth New York Volunteer Engineers, did not appear in sight with his pontoons until after 12 o’clock at noon on the 14th, although he had but eighty miles to come from Fort Monroe, and received his orders to go as fast as he could at 2 p.m. on the 13th. So anxious was I that there should be no delay that I sent a dispatch boat to look for the pontoons down the river, with orders to go until

they were found and hurry them up. Fifteen miles below Jamestown Island they were found at anchor, the captain being asleep. Owing to the strength of the current and tide, and depth of water, it was deemed necessary to moor three schooners each above and below to steady the bridge. These had been brought down the night before with a view to this disposition, were anchored by us, and used by General Benham for that purpose.

June 15, in obedience to instructions from General Grant, I superintended this day the obstructions of the channel of James River, about 800 yards above Aiken’s Landing. Four schooners were sunk in the main left channel, first being moored fore and aft and connected with strong chains, and one schooner in the smaller right channel, thus leaving no aperture a vessel of more than ten feet draught could pass through. The shallow water between the channels was obstructed by booms made from the masts of the vessels, connected by anchor chains.

June 16, owing to the strong attack of General Smith upon Petersburg, the enemy were compelled to withdraw all of their troops from our front to go to its relief. Over 1,200 were sent out immediately to demolish the line of works erected by the enemy and to cut timber in our immediate front, heretofore impossible to reach on account of the enemy’s sharpshooters. A rapid survey was also made of the enemy’s works, the main line of which is shown in the accompanying tracing, with its position in reference to ours.

June 17, a position was determined upon as the site of an advanced redoubt which would permanently secure to us the right center of their line. Owing to the scarcity of men, it was impossible to commence the work before it was again occupied by the enemy in strong force. The cutting of timber to the left of the advanced square redoubt was continued to-day.

June 20, a position on the left bank of the James River, at Deep Bottom, was examined to-day with a view to its occupation. It was ordered that the position should be held by 2,000 men. I indicated to Lieutenant Michie, U. S. Engineers, the general plan of the works and directed him to see to the details. The enemy’s pickets being within 300 or 400 yards of the place designated, it required great caution so that they should not give the alarm. Immediately after dark the pontoon boats were brought to the James River, near the commissary wharf, one mile and a half above the point to be occupied, silently unloaded and placed in the stream, and safely and quietly landed, 1,400 men at the designated spot in less than thirty minutes after embarkation. The boats were then sent across and turned over to the pontoniers for the bridge. By 11 p.m. the details were at work, as follows: 500 men with shovels, 200 with picks, and 200 axes, a regiment placed on picket in advance of all. The pontoon bridge, roads, and approaches were all completed before daybreak. With ordinary soil the works would have progressed more rapidly; as it was, we were only able to throw up a simple defensive line. The ground was most unfavorable for excavation and embankment. It was a hard, white soil, breaking into small lumps on every application of the pick, and of such a character that the ravines formed were narrow, deep, and steep. It was impossible to use the ordinary proportion of shovels and picks, requiring here, at first, one pick to every shovel. At this point the James River is but 575 feet wide at high water, but very deep.

June 21, the work being well under way, Captain Eaton, First New York Volunteer Engineers, was placed in immediate charge and 1,800 of the 100-days’ men sent to do the fatigue labor. A tracing of the works and position accompany this report.

June 25, batteries were laid out for one 6-inch Sawyer gun and two 10-inch mortars on the Crow’s Nest, right bank of James River, about 1,500 yards below the right of our line, and for one 100-pounder Parrott and two 10-inch mortars at the Curtis house. From this time until the end of the month the works above alluded to have been under construction, constant labor being expended upon them, and no effort spared to make them perfect.

June 26, I made an inspection to-day of the line of defenses around Portsmouth and Norfolk. Although this system of defense did not seem to me to be the best, I did not deem it necessary to make any alternations for the present. I ordered that hired labor, heretofore used upon the works, be discontinued, and that the necessary labor be performed by the garrisons of the works. Since my appointment as chief engineer I have been doing the duties of chief of staff, and this latter has prevented my visiting the far distant posts of this department, such as New Berne and others in North Carolina. I have, however, no great concern about the engineering affairs there during the present position of our armies. Since my last report I have succeeded in having everything relating to my department arranged systematically. The office has issued to corps and other commanders maps of the country in this vicinity whenever called for. A photographic establishment has been located here by which maps are rapidly reproduced and pictures of the different batteries, bridges, and positions will soon be made. The topographical department is well conducted under the charge of Captain Dorr, U. S. Coast Survey. Lieutenant R. W. Coe, First New York Volunteers Engineers, has charge of my engineer depot and does very well. The expenditure of engineer material for the past month has been light when compared with the previous month.

I have the honor to submit with this the report of Captain Farquhar, chief engineer of the Eighteenth Army Corps, as follows:

June 21, General Smith’s corps occupied their lines around Petersburg. On this day there was laid out and partially completed a small flanking redan for the guns on the left of the City Point road, from the left face of which a complete enfilading view was had of the enemy’s position on the hill in front of our left. (See map of Battery Numbers 5.)

June 22, troops engaged in strengthening position and building traverses to protect them from an enfilading fire. After dark four light 12-pounder guns were placed in Battery Numbers 4, which had been finished during the previous night. Battery Numbers 1 looked down the river and across. Battery Numbers 2 looked toward Petersburg and across the Appomattox. Battery Numbers 3 looked toward Petersburg, and is a good position from which to destroy the bridge. In Battery Numbers 3. were four 10-pounder Parrotts.

June 24, troops were engaged in throwing up traverses and cutting abatis to be placed in front of infantry parapet at night.

June 25, laid out a covered way between Batteries Nos 1 and 2, which were commenced as soon as darkness came on. Four 30-pounders were placed in position in Battery Numbers 5 of enemy’s line to counter-batter the enemy’s guns in position on left bank of Appomattox. This battery was open to the rear, but it was partially closed, so as to admit of two embrasures toward Petersburg.

June 26, Major Graef, First New York Volunteer Engineers, reported with two companies of engineer troops. Four 30-pounders were placed near Rushmore’s, directly opposite to Fort Clifton, from which position they could deliver an enfilading fire on the enemy’s batteries that so much annoyed the flank of our line of battle. Fourt 8-inch mortars were placed in position near Howe’s [Hare’s] (see Battery Numbers 6) last night. An infantry parapet some thirty yards in front of General Turner’s line was commenced.

June 27, Battery Numbers 3 altered so that 30-pounders could be placed in it. A small magazine built. Six Coehorn mortars were last night placed in Battery Numbers 5. The 8-inch mortars placed in position yesterday do excellently well.

June 28 at daylight three 30-pounders were placed in Battery Numbers 3 and two 8-inch mortars in Battery Numbers 2. During the day platforms for two more 8-inch mortars were placed in Battery Numbers 2; also three platforms for 30-pounders, which

were placed immediately after dark in position, being removed from Battery Numbers 3. I made a reconnaissance from opposite Fort Clifton to Battery Numbers 1; found the right bank for the most part swamp, except from Rowlett’s to the battery.

June 30, no regular approaches have been made, as, until we invest the town, it would be almost useless, for the enemy can fortify to the rear as fast as we can approach. No details of batteries are sent in drawing, because for the most part they are irregular, having been made out of the infantry parapets strengthened. In the sketch our lines are marked in double red lines, the enemy’s in back. On the map are the dates that each line was taken up.

The following officers of the Engineer Corps are on duty in this department; Captain Francis U. Farquhar, chief engineer, Eighteenth Army Corps; First Lieutenant Peter S. Michie, assistant engineer, Department of Virginia and North Carolina; First Lieutenant William R. King, chief engineer, District of North Carolina.

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

G. WEITZEL,

Brigadier-General and Chief Engineer.

Bvt. Major General J. G. BARNARD,

Chief Engineer, Armies in the Field.

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), pages 675-679

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