OPERATIONS OF FRIDAY [June 24, 1864].
A Rebel Charge on Stannard’s Lines—The Storming Party Annihilated—What South Carolina Prisoners Say—General Wright Destroyes [sic] Five Miles of the Weldon Railroad—All Quiet on Friday Night [June 24, 1864].
Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.
HEAD-QUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
NEAR PETERSBURG, FRIDAY, June 24 —9 P. M.
This morning [June 24, 1864] opened with one of the heaviest cannonades of the whole campaign, and the impression was produced on people at a distance from the scene that a terrible battle was in progress. It transpired, soon, however, that the enemy had merely been wasting ammunition in a concentrated and tremendous but harmless fire upon the troops and batteries of the Eighteenth Corps, from his batteries beyond the Appomat[t]ox. Terrible as was the storm of shot, shell, grape and cannister that rained along our lines on the right, the damage done was utterly insignificant.
The ball opened at about 6:30 o’clock A. M., and closed at about nine. Our own batteries during this time were not silent, but replied in spirited style. While this artillery fire was raging, a charge was made on a position of General STANNARD’S Division of the Eighteenth Corps [1/XVIII/AotJ], by HOKE’S [sic, Hagood’s] Brigade [of Hoke’s Division] of Rebels. About four hundred of them succeeded in entering our front line of rifle pits—a mere picket line, our skirmishers retiring to the main breastwork of the front line of battle. While these were coming in our troops did not fire from the fear that they might hit our own men.
The Rebels, encouraged by this, advanced boldly towards our intrenchments, but the moment our skirmishers had all got in a volley was immediately fired into the ranks of the enemy, and mowed them down fearfully. Their progress was all at once stopped, and to retreat was as much out of the question as to advance. While placed in this dilemma our men continued firing rapidly upon them. They made signs of a desire to surrender, which was not at first perceived, but as soon as their wish was ascertained firing was discontinued and they received a cordial invitation to come in.1
The number of prisoners taken was one hundred and sixty-six, and thirty-six wounded were brought off the ground. The remainder of the four hundred must have been either killed or too badly wounded to get away, as the men captured say none went back. Many of the prisoners appeared to be rather pleased than sad at the lot which had befallen them. One, a sergeant, exclaimed fervently, as he jumped into our intrenchments, “Thank God, I’m a white man again,” a rather emphatic way of announcing that he considered himself released from slavery in becoming a prisoner.
Another one, a Captain, expressed the opinion that the entire brigade to which he belonged would come in if they could do so without being fired on. It is worthy of remark that these men appear to be chiefly South Carolinians, and judging by the feelings they express, one would infer that the State which inaugurated the war was ready to cry “hold, enough,” but these men are of the poorer class, and their views and feelings are entirely distinct from those of the wealthy oligarchy who rule them, and wield them for the accomplishment of their own aims by combining a system of the most shameless mendacity with a rigorous exercise of power.
Some of the prisoners taken this morning say they have been told constantly that the Yankees, if successful, will reduce them to a condition almost worse than that of the slaves, compelling them to work for seven pence a day, or whatever they may see fit to give. I was particularly struck by the naturalness and evident sincerity of the reply made by a wounded Rebel to some one who inquired whether he came into the army on his own inclination. “No, indeed,” he answered, “I ought to be at home ploughing corn this very hour.” The look of care in his eye as he said this betrayed anxious thoughts of his distant wife and children, and the crops he had planted, wilting under the hot sun for want of his culture.
Yesterday afternoon [June 23, 1864], General [HORATIO] WRIGHT, with the Sixth Corps [VI/AotP], made a movement to the left and reached the Weldon Railroad, of which he destroyed some five miles. Fires were built along it which destroyed the ties and at the same time warped the iron so as to be unfit for future use. Having accomplished this object he returned to his former position. Towards evening a report was brought in that a heavy column of the enemy was moving off towards our left with the probable intention of turning our flank.2
Some little excitement was created by this statement as soon as it got hinted around, but it was only a very brief time before preparations had been made to repel any attack from the threatened quarter. Colonel [JACOB B.] SWEITZER’S Brigade of General [CHARLES] GRIFFIN’S Division, Fifth Corps [2nd/1st/V/AotP], moved down the Jerusalem plank road at double-quick, and Colonel COLLIS, with the Provisional Brigade from Head-quarters of the army [Provost/AotP]3, moved down in the same direction. Selecting a suitable position they deployed across and to the right of the road, and threw up a line of breastworks which were held throughout the night, but no enemy appeared to molest them.
Everything is extremely quiet to-night. Three or four times since dark I have heard the report of cannon and a little musketry but now I hear no sound more warlike than that of [?] hovering in the bushes near where I write, [?] single wagon rattling over corduroys a quarter of a mile away; not the sound of a single gun, large or small, for the last half hour. The heat to-day has been intense, and the dust rises in clouds, which envelop everything.4
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the June 24, 1864 Action at Hare’s Hill. Robert E. Lee wanted to test the Union lines close to the Appomattox River to see how much or if they had been weakened. The Union had just sent out two full corps to their left the try to take the Weldon Railroad, so Lee reasonably thought they may have had to weaken their lines closer to Petersburg to make this happen. Through some confusion, only Hagood’s South Carolina Brigade attacked the Union lines, with predictably bloody results. This was the start of a feud between division commanders Robert Hoke and Charles W. Field. Field’s Division was to have supported Hagood’s attack, but the support arrived too late. These two divisions were in different higher commands, making their successful coordination even more unlikely. This feud would bubble to the surface again on September 30, 1864 on the second day of the Battle of Fort Harrison. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This section describing the Sixth Corps advance at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road on June 23, 1864 is missing something significant. Out on the Union skirmish line, a large number of men from the First Vermont Brigade were attacked, cut off, made prisoners, and ultimately suffered and died at Andersonville. For an excellent book on the ill-fated Vermonters, see David F. Cross’ book A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad: The Vermont Brigade, June 23, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Charles H. T. Collis was the commander of Collis’ Zouaves, aka the 114th Pennsylvania, a regiment which at this time belonged to the Provost Guard of the Army of the Potomac. Collis was placed in charge of a collection of Provost Guard units which formed an ad hoc brigade of sorts for this specific movement. See the Official Records, Volume XL, Part 2, page 335 for the order sending Collis and the infantry of the Provost Guard south. If you know the specific units involved, please Contact Us. ↩
- “Operations of Friday.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 27, 1864, p. 1, col. 2-3 ↩