Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
THE ATTACK ON PETERSBURG.
A View of Petersburg from the Captured Fortifications—Our Army Getting into Position—Strength of the Rebel Fortifications—Details of the Battle of the 15th instant—Splendid Record of the Eighteenth Corps—Gallantry of the Colored Troops.
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE INQUIRER.
BEFORE PETERSBURG, June 16, 1864.
From an elevated point on the line of the captured fortifications I have just viewed the spires of Petersburg, visible through the foliage of surrounding timber lands, at the distance of only two miles. Here and there a little cloud of smoke bursting suddenly into existence and followed after several seconds by the booming of a cannon, marks the position of a Rebel battery.
Most of them are opposite our right wing, and on the opposite side of the Appomattox River, with our right flank resting on the river, our line of battle extending in front and in plain sight of the city, the Eighteenth Corps forming the right wing, and the Second Corps the left. The other corps are not yet up and in line, but troops are constantly arriving, and by night or to-morrow morning the entire army will probably be in position.
Yesterday at this hour the strong breastworks on which I now write were garrisoned by Rebel troops. From here is obtained a magnificent view of the surrounding country spread out like a panorama with fields, hills and valleys, dotted with camps of two opposing armies, with the river and city in front. Looking at their thick breastworks, deep ditches, and strong redoubts commanding the open ground in their front, it takes little deliberation to decide that an assault on such a position must have been a very serious undertaking.
Five thousand men ought to have been able to hold it against twenty thousand, or even a larger number, but they did not hold it, although our attacking force did not amount to anything like the number just mentioned; while it is presumed the enemy had fully five thousand men for their defense. This outer defense was taken at about seven P. M. yesterday, and with it fifteen guns and from three to four hundred prisoners, a number of small arms, and camp and garrison equipage of the Rebel troops; another gun had been captured in the earlier part of the day making in all sixteen guns, all in good order, and rifled ordnance, brass twelve pounders.
It was a good day’s work, whether we consider the value of the captures or the importance of the position gained. To “Baldy” SMITH’S Eighteenth Corps is due all the glory attached to it. This achievement, added to the splendid fighting of the Eighteenth Corps in the two battles of Cold Harbor, makes their record in conjunction with the Army of the Potomac an exceedingly brilliant one.
This corps embarked at the White House on Monday, a little more than forty-eight hours before the assault at Petersburg. They were passing up James river, opposite WILCOX Landing, on the afternoon and evening of Tuesday and disembarking at Point of Rocks. They were joined the same night by General HINKS’ division of colored troops, and yesterday, before daylight, were EN ROUTE for Petersburg. Skirmishing commenced before 10 A. M., from the main line of fortifications, and at a point two and a half or three miles from these works the enemy were found to have a line of rifle-pits, in which they took position and resisted our advance with obstinacy, holding us back for an hour or more, during which time there was quite a sharp fight, a battery or two being vigorously plied.
HINKS’ colored division was in the advance, and finally charged the pits, took them and one gun which the “Greybacks,” in haste to get out of the way, had to abandon. The Twenty-second United States colored regiment is mentioned as one that led this charge, and lost a considerable number of men. At several other points on the road the enemy contested the ground warmly with our skirmishers, and it was not until near evening that the corps deployed into line of battle before the fortifications of Petersburg.
Before the assault was made our sharp-shooters selected positions from which they could pick off the Rebel gunners with unerring aim, thus very nearly silencing their batteries and greatly reducing the difficulties of the charge. The grand assault was made about 7 P. M., and was equally successful along the entire line. General MARTINDALE’S Division was on the right, its flank near the river. General BROOKS, with his own division and two brigades of AMES’, held the centre, and HINKS’ Colored Division had the extreme left.
The most formidable of the works taken were in front of the latter division, and the gallant style in which the colored troops made the charge as well as their general conduct throughout the day, elicited the highest commendation. The experience of yesterday adds another to the proofs already furnished that negroes will fight. At the Eighteenth Corps Hospital I saw some wagons of the Christian Commission, and a number of its agents were present administering to the wants of the wounded.
The Sanitary Commission is also represented here, and among these philanthropists at the front I noticed Mr. MARSHALL, of Massachusetts, Mrs. General BARLOW and Miss HELEN S. GIBSON. The fortifications captured form the left of the Rebel lines around Petersburg, next to the Appomatox River, and at that point there are no other works of importance between us and the city, but the hills across the river are fortified, and the enemy still hold the right of their line on this side, and although it would be impossible to prevent our advance into the city, it would not, under these circumstances, be tenable. It is supposed that at the time of this attack no portion of LEE’S army had arrived; reinforcements to the garrison were on the way and near at hand, but did not arrive in time to take any part in the fight.
An Assault Upon the Rebel Position—Our Troops Gain Ground—Burnside Captures Seven Guns and a Large Number of Prisoners—Hardee Reinforces Lee.
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE INQUIRER.
BEFORE PETERSBURG, June 17th, 8 A. M.
During the past night there has been very severe fighting, the bright moon being particularly favorable for night operations. The Ninth Corps came up yesterday afternoon and took position on the left of HANCOCK, thus making three corps in line of battle around the city. A charge was ordered to be made at six P. M. to get possession of the fortifications in front of HANCOCK’S Corps an attack being made by other corps at their parts of the line at the same time. Some ground was gained, but the position was not taken. Several other charges were made during the night and this morning.
BURNSIDE has gained important advantages on the left, capturing several hundred prisoners and seven guns—a large proportion of the prisoners belonging to the Sixty-third Tennessee Regiment of HARDEE’S Corps, from which fact it is inferred that reinforcements have reached LEE from the West. Although our advance reached this point a few hours in advance of LEE, there is no doubt that here now we have the entire Rebel army in front of us.
Further Details of the Assault of Thursday—Success of the Different Portions of the Line—A Splendid Bayonet Charge—Prisoners, Guns and Battle Flags Captured—Partial List of Casualties.
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE INQUIRER.
NEAR PETERSBURG, June 17—Evening.
The two days passed around Petersburg have been marked by severe fighting. The Second Corps, which took position on the night of the 15th, commenced to interchange salutes with the enemy early yesterday morning, and desultory firing was kept up during a greater portion of the day. A number of casualties occurred, among them Colonel EAGAN (sic), Fortieth New York, commanding Second Brigade, BIRNEY’S Division, was severely wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel WARNER, of the same regiment.
On the afternoon of yesterday General BURNSIDE arrived with the Ninth Corps and took a position to the left of the Second, and at 6 P. M. a charge by the latter was ordered to attempt the capture of an important position of the enemy in its front, General SMITH’S Corps also making an advance at the same time, and opening fire from its batteries, General BIRNEY, with two brigades of General GIBBON’S Division, and the Brigades of Colonel BELL and Colonel HENRY, from BROOK’S Division, Eighteenth Corps, formed the right of the Second Corps, and General BARLOW the left. The advance was made a short time before sunset and a severe contest immediately opened.
All the ground gained we had to fight for, and the principal works which were the objects of attack could not then be taken; but our lines were considerably advanced, and we obtained a better position from which to make a subsequent attack. The First and Third Brigades of BARLOW’S Division, which were on his right, succeeded in driving the enemy from his intrenched picket line, and holding the rifle pits. The Second and Fourth Brigades, on the left, were less successful. On the right of this Corps, General BIRNEY effected an advance of three-quarters of a mile, and since that time he has held the position there gained, which is within about twenty-five hundred yards of the city.
On this advance he captured over a hundred prisoners, representing EWELL’S, HILL’S and BEAUREGARD’S Corps. The casualties in this charge were very heavy, probably not less than fifteen hundred. At three o’clock this morning General BURNSIDE, in accordance with instructions, ordered an attack on the main position, which had formed the object of attack last night.
During the night he had closed the right of his line on the left of General BARLOW, and the latter had orders to act with him if he saw it could be done with advantage. General POTTER’S Division formed the first line of BURNSIDE’S Corps, and was the only portion of the corps engaged, although the remainder were in support, and ready to go in if needed.
The advance was made promptly at three A. M., General BARLOW’S Division advancing simultaneously with POTTER, and closely connected with the right of the latter. Not a gun was fired in the charge, and the works were carried at once at the point of the bayonet. Two redoubts, with two guns in each, several hundred prisoners and three battle flags were captured, and the whole was the result of a few minutes’ work. It was a brilliant and valuable success.
A charge was made this afternoon upon another Rebel position, and some advance made, our men holding their ground behind a crest or hill. This was on the left of our line, and the troops engaged were WILCOX’S Division of the Ninth Corps.
The Casualties in the Ninth Corps.
The following is a partial list of the casualties near Petersburg, on the night of the 16th instant:—
G. O. Hendricks, Co. A, 53d Pennsylvania, thumb.
Thomas J. Henwood, G, 84th Pennsylvania, both feet.
John Breeze, A, 84th Pennsylvania, arm.
Benjamin Ferrell, G, 99th Pennsylvania, shoulder.
James Mullen, C, 110th Pennsylvania, scalp.
Lieut. Russell Wingate, G. 84th Pennsylvania, leg.
Captain Jos Delehoat, A, 84th Pennsylvania, side.
Lieut-Col. E. E. Lewis, 110th Pennsylvania, arm.
Henry McLaughlin, E, 84th Pennsylvania, face.
A(illegible) Gir(illegible), F, 84th Pennsylvania, side.
M(illegible) or J. F. Hamilton, 110th Pennsylvania, back.
Ruben Hinkes, D, 84th Pennsylvania, back.
Alfred Albrec, H, 141st, Pennsylvania, arm.
G. P. Salisburg, F, 141st Pennsylvania, back.
Corporal Hugh Barnes, A, 110th Pennsylvania, killed.
Ruben Beers, E, 84th Pennsylvania, killed.
Captain E. D. Page, 148th Pennsylvania, head.
Lieutenant A. Rose, 55th Pennsylvania, foot.
Lieutenant W. H. Short, 55th Pennsylvania, foot.
Lieut. Vloonhold, 55th Pennsylvania, face and chest.
Lieut. and Adjutant Hirsch, 99th mortally.
Captain Gillor, E, 99th Pennsylvania, thigh.
The following are some of the casualties among the officers:—
Col. Henry S. Russell, 5th Massachusetts Cav., shoulder.
Major Adams, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, breast.
Capt. Clark, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, leg.
Lieut. Bingham, Adjt. 4th U. S. Colored Troops, mortally.
Major Chas. E. Prayn, 148th New York, slightly.
Colonel RUSSELL, of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, is a cousin of Colonel SHAW, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, who was killed in the attack on Fort Wagner. This regiment yesterday was dismounted and fought with the infantry. The entire loss on the 15th was not more than three hundred, if as many.
FROM CITY POINT.
Arrival of Transports with Supplies—General Ingalls Chief Quartermaster of all the Union Forces in Virginia—A Regular Line of Mail Boats.
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE INQUIRER.
Saturday, 9 A. M., June 18.
Our transports in charge of Captain PITKIN have arrived with stores, supplies, &c.
General RUFUS INGALLS has been appointed by General GRANT Chief-Quartermaster of all the troops now in this department, including General BUTLER’S forces. Lieutenant-Colonel BATCHELOR takes charge of the Army of the Potomac.
There is nothing but desultory firing in the direction of Petersburg this morning. Our line of mail boats will leave here at 10 A. M., daily, direct for Washington and will return, leaving Washington at 2 P. M., daily.1
- “The Attack on Petersburg.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 20, 1864, p. 1 col. 3-4 ↩