The Progress of the Siege—Fun in the Trenches—What the Rebels Think—Why a Colonel Fears for Richmond—Glances at General Grant—Supplies all Right—The Cavalry on Another Raid.
HEAD-QUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, NEAR BOTTOM BRIDGE, Va., June 10 .—I have been waiting for several days to observe the success of the siege works which have been going on since the failure of our assault [on June 3 at Cold Harbor]; but the siege train and the mortars have not yet opened, and the present indications point unmistakably to a postponement of the work. But in that case our works at this point have not been useless, and we privately entertain the opinion that every day has been silently but surely advancing this campaign one stadium nearer to its completion.
So thinks the army; and the temporary check it has received, and its extensive siege operations, do not diminish in the least its confidence in General GRANT. A prudent use of the spade is no uncongenial employment for the veterans who have bared their breasts many a cruel day before the enemy’s intrenchments. Our men love to fight when they can have the enemy in front of their earthworks. They like to take their turn at receiving an assault. It is only a recreation to them, after marching until footsore and weary upon a dusty road, to work all night in piling up rails and logs, and earth in front of them.
Our men have singular amusements while at their labor. “Hamlet” wondered that the grave-diggers sang at their work, and would be more surprised to witness the sports with which the soldiers amuse themselves while employed in a similar occupation. Our lines were so near to the enemy that we could hear their voices distinctly. No man dared to raise his head above the works.
At such a time, by way of diversion, our troops devoted themselves to trifling with the excitability of the enemy’s pickets, by getting up a sham assault. A cry was raised, muskets rattled, and a shout:—“Steady in the centre,” “Guide right,” “Charge,” created, no doubt, great perturbation in the enemy’s ranks.
When this sport was exhausted so as to be no longer available, the accuracy and vigilance of the enemy’s sharp-shooters were unfeelingly tampered with by many of our men, who, fastening their hats upon their bayonets, raised them cautiously above their works, as if about to look over, when a bullet from an enemy’s rifleman passing through the empty hat, justified a most hearty laugh on our side.
We are all curious to know what the enemy think about our chances of getting to Richmond. Well, the testimony of the great bulk of prisoners captured is not worth much; but I had a conversation recently with a Rebel Colonel, who gave a very decided account of public opinion. Said he, “We are not afraid of GRANT’S fighting qualities, nor his strategy (he should have learned more respect for both); but,” said he, “we are afraid of a siege. We are afraid that GRANT’S bull-dog pertinacity will prevail in the end. That is all we fear in Richmond.”
The apprehension struck me as very reasonable, and I agreed perfectly with the Rebel Colonel, except with a deeper respect both for GRANT’S strategy and fighting ability. I have been so uncivil as to amuse myself occasionally in side-long glances at General GRANT, for the purpose of discovering in his physiognomy the evidence of that greatness which his past successes and his present position indicate; and that which impresses me always, which never disappears and never is secondary to any other expression of emotion, is the terrible pertinacity of which the Rebel Colonel says the people of Richmond stand in fear.
Our base at White House is completely established and capable of supplying us indefinitely with an unlimited quantity of rations and forage. The railroad has been completed to the front, near Despatch Station, and the fine locomotive, named Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant, ranges back and forth nearly to the Chickahominy.
Our Cavalry Corps [Cav/Aotp] has gone to the west of Richmond, upon a grand raid, and we expect soon to hear of the enemy’s communications being cut for another fortnight. Meanwhile the infantry is not idle.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Monday, June 6.—Several Private letters lately received ask me a hundred questions, the gist of which may be reduced to three, VIZ:—Has the campaign thus far been successful, reasonably successful? Have not our losses greatly exceeded the enemy’s? When will we get Richmond?
It should be understood that GRANT’S object is not primarily the occupation of Richmond but the utter destruction of LEE’S army. Let the people fix this fact in their minds, and they will have a correct point of departure from which to measure the bearing and importance of daily events.
To the first question I answer, “Yes, reasonably successful, highly successful.”
To the second I answer, “Not greatly, I doubt if our losses exceed theirs by a single man.”
To the third I answer, “Don’t, I beg of you, imagine me so presumptuous as to fix a date on which or by which we shall occupy the Rebel capital, but take it for GRANT-ed that there will be no respite in this campaign till Richmond falls.”
The army with which GRANT crossed the Rapidan, unreinforced by a single man, had LEE not been reinforced by a single man, fighting as it has been fighting, before this date would have broken, dispersed, destroyed the Rebel army that moved from Madison Court House. Reduce each army to-day to those men who formed a part of it at the beginning of the campaign, and we should dispose of the Rebel portion before night. I believe this—I know it.
I reason, then, that the heavy reinforcements each commander has brought to his help will simply have the result of prolonging the campaign; that the end were the same in either case. BRECKINRIDGE, and BUCKNER, and BEAUREGARD have joined LEE, and they bring with them more men than the latter had originally. Overbearing all these and taking Richmond, the victory will mean fifty times as much, will have fifty times the value that it would had it been wrested from LEE alone.
Within a very short time the Rebels will be compelled to choose between two things.—They may march with their main army westward or southward, leaving an ordinary garrison, or no garrison at all, in Richmond, and in either case expecting the city to land into our hands without long delay, or they may make it the “last ditch,” concentrate there all they have, and stake the Confederacy upon the issue.
I don’t think GRANT cares which course they may adopt. If the former, he wins a great victory, moral and material, say by the Fourth of July, and he will have had the Fall to push them to the Gulf. If the latter, it may require several months longer to “take Richmond.” But at length taking it, and all that is in it, as he surely would, the whole Rebel concern tumbles in one big crash.
As to the comparative losses:—As the rule is that the General prosecuting an offensive campaign suffers more than his enemy, unless winning victories, he compensates his excess of killed and wounded by an excess of prisoners taken. But while the campaign has been boldly, even daringly offensive, it has been so conducted that in nearly every collision the enemy has been obliged to become the attacking party.
So at the Wilderness, where LEE attacked, and where, when he would no longer attack, GRANT LEFT HIM. So on the Po. So on the North Anna. So on Topopotamy. GRANT attacked here on the Chickahominy, but only in one general assault. In fully half of the fighting here—in all of the night fighting—the Rebels have attacked and been repulsed and slaughtered outright.
I remember thus colloquy between the two Roman Generals:—“If thou art a great General, come down and fight me!” “If THOU art a great General, MAKE me come down and fight THEE!” And I have seen that four times out of five, for we have fought on five distinct lines, GRANT, by a single march, has made them “come down and fight” him.
Is not the inference, from the nature of the fighting, clear that their losses equal or exceed ours? But there is direct proof of it. We have often held the field or portions of it, and always the dead in Rebel grey have been more than the dead in Union blue.
Now, and probably always hereafter, the nature of the ground will admit of the effective use of artillery. By our immense superiority in that arm, even though we shall be compelled to assault every day, I am greatly mistaken if we shall not still (illegible) the score even, or to our advantage.
It is my rule to religiously refrain from speculation when I do not know, and statement when I do not know, as to future movements of the army. But it may alleviate the anxiety which fears terrible losses in the event of an attempt to carry by assault the works now in our immediate front, for me to state that it is not proposed to assault them. We shall go around them. The list of possible flank movements is not yet exhausted.
Anchor your souls to one fact—a fact of which the army is as firmly convinced as it is that the sun shines to-day, or that it will not shine to-night—THE ARMY CANNOT BE BEATEN BACK FROM ITS PURPOSE. The MORALE is held high by continual reinforcements. It numbers to-day far larger than it did on the Rappahannock.
The slightly wounded of the first battles are resuming their places by thousands. The conviction is universal, shared in alike by Generals GRANT and MEADE and the humblest soldier, that this is the last grand campaign—the last because it will accomplish the practical destruction of the Confederacy.
I close with the statement that I believe it to be GRANT’S purpose to compel as many open field engagements as possible, he hopes a decisive one, before he comes to the investment proper and actual siege of the doomed city.—TRIBUNE1
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
- “Newspaper Accounts.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 14, 1864, p. 1 col. 2-3 ↩