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NP: August 1, 1864 Richmond Examiner: A Richmond Editor’s View of Grant’s Third Offensive

[SOPO Editor’s Note: From time to time I like to publish editorials from the Richmond papers if they deal wholly with the Siege of Petersburg.  This is one such case.]

One peculiarity of the people with whom we fight, is the fact that their publick journals have been and are accurate indicators of their General’s intentions.  Details they have lately latterly succeeded in suppressing; but the general plan of future military operations may always be ascertained from their newspapers.  That people put into their papers all the ideas they have—Each General has his pet journal, and with it a representative in his camp; and he can not fail to know very nearly the leading objects in view.

For the last month the Northern press have consoled its publick for the “apparent inactivity” of General GRANT by grandiose (illegible) notions of some immense thing that would happen in this neighbourhood “before the 30th of July”.  That they had grounds for their expectation, and what they were, we now know very well.  In the designated week GRANT was, indeed, in full motion.  He threw a large army to the northern bank of the James.  Whether the movement was a feint to distract attention from Petersburg, or whether he really intended to attack Richmond while Lee’s forces were engaged in repelling the assault on the former place is a question which cannot be answered on present information:  but it may be assumed as probable that if he had not found an ample force on the lines of Richmond, his troops would have kept the line of battle which they formed, from Deep Bottom to the Chickahominy, and attacked on Saturday [July 30, 1864].  But they found an army on this front which not only make an attack hopeless, but rendered their own safety precarious; and the troops appear to have been nearly all withdrawn, on Friday night [July 29, 1864].

On the next morning [July 30, 1864] the nature of the brilliant, and wonderful, and brand new scheme for the taking of Petersburg was definitely explained.  On that morning the ground beneath one of the batteries burst asunder as if a volcano had opened a crater—the enemy had sprung a mine.  The assault succeeded in good time and overwhelming force, and although the Confederate troops displayed perfect discipline, and made the assailants pay a tremendous price, they could not prevent them from gaining possession of position and introducing their cannon.1

But such success is of no avail where the opposing army and generals are like those who hold Petersburg.  The greater part of their acquisitions was immediately wrested from the enemy, and in the counter assault which followed as soon as our troops could be concentrated the entire line was retaken, and with a general officer, seventy-five commissioned officers, all the cannon, our own and the enemy’s; and the whole force which had established themselves in the batteries was killed or taken prisoners.2

Thus the mine, like everything that GRANT has tried, was a total failure.  It was not, however, a failure because ill executed.  It was a perfect mine, and perfectly exploded; the assault was powerful; the whole attempt was as formidable as such a thing could be.  But the day of the mine has gone.  Under the old system of fortifications it was one of the most effective and dangerous means of siege; and in spite of ‘fougasse’ and ‘camouflet,’ countermine and gallery, the advantages of the system were, to the last always greatly on the side of the attack.  But that new theory of defence, which was first brought into common [usage?] at Comorn3, and afterwards exhibited on a grand scale at Sebastopol4—detached and advanced earthworks, erected with even more ease and rapidity than the batteries and parallels of the besieger—has greatly diminished the utility of mines.  They could easily make an irretrievable breach in a rampart of masonry, and a town defended on the old system was turned inside out when entered.—But an earthwork blown up affords but doubtful advantages.  It is quickly commanded by another, and the new system partakes so much of the nature of fluid operations, that a position so gained may generally be flanked by the army within the lines, surrounded and captured.5

But we have not yet seen the end of GRANT.  Although he has sent off a large force to meet EARLY, the next fortnight’s operations in this neighbourhood will probably be active.  He has doubtless learned with accuracy the nature of the country and the climate in which he is living.  He knows that the periodical [illegible] sickly season on the tidewater streams of Virginia, withal,  begin about the middle of this present month; and then his army will be [illegible] little til the latter part of October.  He will doubtless feel the necessity of using what little time that remains.  We do not anticipate the destruction of his whole force by ague and fever; [illegible] before Syracuse, or the several armies which have buried themselves around Rome.  We have no such thing in Virginia as the malaria of the Campagna or Sicily.  But we have what will make two thirds of GRANT’S army very sick, and sick for a long time, as he will [find?], if he is outside of the town a month more.6,7

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

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The editor of the Richmond Examiner is of course discussing Union movements during the Third Offensive, including the First Battle of Deep Bottom and the Battle of the Crater. For a good book on these events, check out Earl Hess’ Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: As he so often did during the Siege of Petersburg, Robert E. Lee called on William Mahone and the men of his division to retake the Crater.  As the editor notes, they did so successfully.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: I learned something new here.  The Fortress of Komárom, often referred to as Comorn in English language sources such as this one, played an important role in the European Revolutions of 1848.  It’s capitulation signaled the end of that struggle in Hungary. For more, see this monograph.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Sebastopol was the Russian town in the Crimea which was the site of the most famous battle of the Crieman War of 1853-1856.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: This paragraph made me think of the tunneling under enemy works done in World War 1.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: The editor was to be sorely disappointed.  Grant’s army never succumbed to disease in the way he describes here.
  7. No Title. Richmond Examiner. August 1, 1864, p. 2 col. 1-2
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