Selected Samples from the Siege of Petersburg Online: June 11, 1864
Description: The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts put out a series of books with first person accounts of Civil War battles similar to the Battles and Leaders series. Items related to the Siege of Petersburg appear in volumes Five, Six, and Fourteen. Theodore Lyman left a detailed record of events at the Siege of Petersburg in his role as Army of the Potomac Commander George Meade’s aide-de-camp (ADC). In this article, Lyman recalls the rarely discussed period from the last major assaults at Cold Harbor, to Grant’s crossing of the James, to the eve of the Second Battle of Petersburg.
Description: A Northern newspaper collected reports of the ongoing affairs around Richmond. A reporter with the Times writes on June 11: “It is not proper at this time to say precisely how Grant will attempt to discomfit the enemy.” Clearly he had gotten wind of Grant’s upcoming move, but in a surprising show of self-censorship (or more likely pressure from army brass) he keeps things vague.
Description: The Siege of Petersburg Online has republished many articles from the Southern perspective. I’ve made the conscious choice to focus on the four Richmond papers as well as the Petersburg Express first. Unfortunately, the Petersburg Express is neither easily available nor affordable to me at the present time in its current microfilm format. I’ve chosen instead to utilize the Raleigh Confederate, a newspaper which often reprinted Express articles in full, as you can see with the June 9 First Battle of Petersburg coverage.
The brevity of this article on the Confederate side from the Confederate gives an indication of how little the Confederates knew of Grant’s plans. Everyone expected Grant to slowly move on and besiege Richmond. The swift change of base was unexpected. Interestingly, McClellan had proposed just such a move after he had retreated to Harrison’s Landing on the James in early July 1862, but was overruled.
Description: This article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, copied from the New York Times, also covers events from the Northern side. As with the Raleigh Confederate article, this one describes a period of quiet along the lines. A perhaps little known point is that at the time this article was written and copied in June 1864, the Philadelphia Inquirer was a much more popular newspaper than the New York Times. In fact, the New York Tribune and the New York Herald were both more popular than the Times in the city of New York alone. The Inquirer was widely regarded as the newspaper which provided the best and most impartial coverage of the war, North or South. As a result, you’ll see a lot of articles from the Inquirer posted here at the Siege of Petersburg Online.
Another clue that something was about to happen can be gleaned from the following tidbit:
“Yesterday an order was issued by General MEADE forbidding unauthorized communications with the enemy. The men on both sides have been holding intercourse with each other for interchange of newspapers and the barter of coffee and tobacco. In this way a great deal of [illegible] was likely to result, as information of vital importance is always apt to leak out.”
The New York Times reporter concludes his thoughts on June 11 with the following note on the continued willingness of the Confederates to fight:
“I have seen a great many prisoners lately. Their appearance entirely refutes the very current story that the Rebel army is in a destitute and starving condition. It is simply idle to talk about starving the enemy into submission. The Rebel soldiers, as a general thing, are stout, strong and the very picture of health. It is insulting to our own brave men that the statements so industriously circulated respecting the feebleness and lack of power of endurance of the Southern soldiers should be believed. The rations of the Rebel troops may not be in as great variety as those furnished to our men, but they have proved to be truly as nutritious. This fact cannot be gainsayed.”