SIEGE OF PETERSBURG.
Skirmishing Along the Picket Line—Relative Positions of Both Armies Unchanged—They are Within Rifle Range of Each Other—Value of Rifle Pits—The Rebels now Behind Impromptu Earthworks—The Regular Defenses of Petersburg Taken by the Advance of Our Army—Their Possession a Great Advantage—Conduct of Negro Troops Gaining Esteem for Them Among the Soldiers.
Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
June 21st. 7 A. M.
Yesterday [June 20, 1864] was quiet, that is, there were no assaults and no line of active firing; but our batteries kept exchanging occasional compliments with those of the enemy, and along the picket line the spiteful whiz of the minie was a very familiar sound, enough so to assure one that two large armies lay in close proximity. The number of casualties in this skirmishing has been rather large.
The relative positions of our own and the Rebel army appear to be nearly the same as at the several points where they have lain for a time in opposing lines of battle from the Rapidan hither. Both occupy similar lines of intrenchments, within short rifle range of each other, but as it devolves on us to attack, the enemy derives the greatest advantage from his works.
One unfamiliar with military operations can hardly form a conception of the value of mere impromptu earthworks; rifle pits, such as can be constructed in a single night. But troops who have had to charge them can fully appreciate their importance as parts of a defensive system.
Every attack upon such works, unless it is a surprise, costs hundreds or thousands of lives, and men ensconced behind them can successfully hold at bay largely superior numbers. These impromptu works are all that now enable the Rebel army to keep us out of Petersburg. The strong fortifications taken by the advance of our army, on the evening of the 15th [of June, 1864]1, were the regular defenses of the place, and, had they been fully manned, could only have been taken by regular siege approaches, requiring protracted labors. That we gained possession of them so easily was an immense advantage, and is the more satisfactory because it is an unequivocal strategic victory over the wily Rebel commander [Robert E. Lee], to whom it must be extremely mortifying.
He was, for once at least, held in uncertainty as to our movements long enough to enable us to beat him in point of time—an achievement which the chivalry ought to consider a decided test, so confident have they always felt in his vigilance and promptness. The fact that the negro troops of the Eighteenth Corps [3/XVIII/AotJ] had the most important share in the capture of these works has won for dark skins a much higher respect than they have hitherto had from the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, and our artillerymen, who, without a contest, have planted their guns upon the captured heights in sight of the spires of Petersburg, speak in warmly appreciative tones of the service rendered them.2 Our line is nearly the same as when I last described its position. I may add that a Rebel fort (Fort Clifton) on the other side of the Appomatox, which bears upon our position here, is within range of Fort Springhill3, in Gen. BUTLER’S line of fortifications, and is commanded by it.4
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the first day of the Second Battle of Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Brigadier General Edward W. Hinks’ Third Division of the Eighteenth Crops was made up of USCT regiments. They were heavily involved in the first day’s fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg, capturing several batteries of the original Dimmock Line east of Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Fort Converse was a Federal fort built on Spring Hill, a site on the southern bank of the Appomattox River about two miles northeast of and on the opposite side of the river from Confederate Fort Clifton. The 4th USCT was involved in the construction of Fort Converse just prior to the Siege of Petersburg. ↩
- “Siege of Petersburg.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 23, 1864, p. 1, col. 1-2 ↩