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NP: June 28, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer: Petersburg Express Account of June 17, 1864

[SOPO Editor’s Note: I do not have a copy of the June 18, 1864 Petersburg Express. As a result, I have published this excerpt from the Philadelphia Inquirer as a partial replacement of the missing issue. It will remain here until/unless I obtain access to the original paper. This article covers the third day’s fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 17, 1864.  For good maps on the several fights mentioned here, see A. Wilson Greene’s A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1, pages 150, 159, and 165.]



[SOPO Editor’s Note: A portion of this article from the June 20, 1864 Richmond Enquirer has been excised because it will appear from the original paper later.]

The [Petersburg Daily] Express [presumably of June 18, 1864] gives the following in relation to Friday’s [June 17, 1864] operations:—

Friday’s Operations.

Yesterday’s [June 17, 1864] operations were again inaugurated by heavy firing, and this time the roar of the cannon and the rattle of musketry came from both sides of the [Appomattox] river.1

In Chesterfield the enemy had presumed upon a temporary evacuation of our breastworks on Thursday [June 16, 1864], to move up toward the railroad; but yesterday morning [June 17, 1864] early KERSHAW and PICKETT opened briskly and soon drove him back to his original position, and occupied all our old lines. The enemy, we hear, did not offer very stout resistance; but the result would have been the same, for we had the men, and these men had the vim to whip four times their number.2

In Prince George [County, just east of Petersburg] the enemy showed the same hankering for the position known as Battery No. 16 and vicinity, which covers the Baxter road. About 3 ½ o’clock [a.m. on Friday, June 17, 1864], as soon as the moon had sunk below the horizon, he appeared in great force, and by creeping stealthily through the thick undergrowth, got within twenty or thirty yards of our breastworks before he was discovered.3

In four lines of battle they rushed forward, and finding our men somewhat unprepared, leaned over the breastworks and demanded a surrender. On they poured, but our men gave them battle, and a desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued. A small gap having been left on the right, a large number of the enemy quickly availed themselves of this advantage, and our men finding themselves flanked, retreated in some disorder. General BUSHROD JOHNSON’s old brigade [led by Colonel John S. Fulton of the 44th Tennessee]4 sustained the chief force of this assault, and lost more heavily than any other. The entire loss, however, we hear, from all causes, killed, wounded and missing, will not aggregate over [100?]. A portion of our lines in this vicinity was held by the Twenty-Sixth Virginia, WISE’s Brigade, but the attack here was handsomely repulsed. We regret to hear that Colonel P[owhatan]. R. PAGE, of the Twenty-Sixth, commanding brigade, was mortally wounded in this assault. He was brought to this city, but died in the course of an hour or two after reaching the hospital. Several other officers were wounded.5

Our men fell back to a second line of works but a short distance in the rear of the first, which had been hastily constructed.

In this assault, we regret to learn that the battery of the Macon (Ga.) Light Artillery was captured. It consisted of four 12-pounder Napoleon howitzers. The men of this battery fought with unsurpassed bravery, and only abandoned their guns after losing twenty-one horses, which rendered the saving of their guns simply an impossibility.

Along other portions of the lines there was heavy skirmishing yesterday, and occasional cannonading until 3 P. M., when an effort was made to carry Battery No. 17, in close proximity to No. 16, and all important to a successful occupation of the Baxter road. The enemy approached in three lines of battle, but met with such determined opposition that after two or three attempts they abandoned the fort.6

Another Repulse.

At four o’clock the enemy charged our works on the hill near New Market Race Course, but were signally repulsed. A participant in the fight informs us that the enemy lost heavily in this charge, leaving many dead and wounded in our front. Unless recovered last night, the bodies lie there still, the two lines of breastworks being too near for either party to come out, lest they should fall by the hands of sharp-shooters.7

The Night Attack.

There was now quite a cessation of hostilities until 6 o’clock [p.m. on the evening of June 17, 1864], when heavy cannonading again commenced, the reverberations of the guns roaring through the city, and jarring the windows of every house.

As night approached the cannon firing grew more incessant, and the rattle of musketry, which was continuous, was distinctly audible to every ear.

The fight, we learn, commenced on our right, near batteries 17, 18, 19 and 20, at Colonel AVERY’s farm, but gradually extended around our extreme left, and by dark the engagement was general along the whole line, a distance of about five miles.8

As the contestants in the vicinity of the New Market race course became engaged, the booming of cannon and the popping of musketry fell upon our people with a distinctiveness which aroused the entire city to the largest pitch of excitement. The moon was high in the heavens and shone with unusual brilliancy.

For a half hour the battle raged and roared, and during this time from the nearness of the sound, many became impressed with the idea that the invaders of our soil were getting the advantage of our troops; but all of a sudden there was one universal blaze of musketry along the entire length of our line, and a shout from the throats of our brave boys which none were slow to interpret. It was the shout of victory—a glad and welcome sound to the fathers, mothers, and daughters of this city. Couriers soon arrived, announcing the glad tidings that we had repulsed the enemy along the entire line, and occupied the lines which we held at early dawn yesterday [June 16, 1864]. It was now ten minutes to ten o’clock [p.m. on the night of June 17, 1864], and the firing gradually slackened until eleven o’clock, when it had almost entirely ceased. About 7 o’clock there was a renewal of the musketry firing, and a few discharges of cannon, but it did not last more than 15 minutes.9

We have been unable to obtain any details or very little trustworthy intelligence, but parties who participated inform us that [ROBERT] HOKE’s Division stood like a wall of adamant, never receding an inch from their position. In front of their breastworks, all accounts agree that the slaughter of the enemy was fearful, and an ordnance officer who came in for ammunition, informs us that he has been present at all the great battles of LEE’s army, but that he has never witnessed greater mortality in the ranks of the enemy.

On the right, occupied by a portion of BUSHROD JOHNSON’s Division, we hear that the enemy came up in seven lines of battle, and so great was the pressure of overwhelming numbers that there was a temporary wavering among our men, who, upon the first shock, gave way. They were soon rallied, however, our lines restored, and the enemy made to pay fearfully for their temporary success.10

[SOPO Editor’s Note: A portion of this article from the June 18, 1864 Petersburg Register has been excised because it will appear from the original paper later.]11

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: There were two fights on June 17, 1864.  The first was the relatively minor Skirmish on the Bermuda Hundred Front, where Pickett’s Division drove the Army of the James back into Butler’s corked bottle.  There was also day three of the Second Battle of Petersburg, featuring multiple attacks by Burnside’s Union Ninth Corps upon Beauregard’s defenses east of Petersburg.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the Skirmish on the Bermuda Hundred front of June 17, 1864, which occurred north of the Appomattox River on the same day as day 3 of the Second Battle of Petersburg.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The attack was made by Potter’s Division of the Union Ninth Corps during day three of the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 17, 1864.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Fulton was commanding Johnson’s Tennessee Brigade during the battle. See Porter, G. W. D. “Col. John S. Fulton.” 44th Tennessee Infantry, www.tennessee-scv.org/4455/fulton.html. Accessed 13 Aug. 2020: “On June 16th, Fulton’s, Gracie’s, and Wise’s commands, and a few militia, met and defeated Butler in front of Petersburg, at the head of six Federal army corps – two of the James River army, and four of the Potomac, commanded as follows: Gilmore’s, Tenth Corps; Smith’s, Eighteenth Corps; Hancock’s, Second Corps; Warren’s, Fifth Corps; Wright’s, Sixth Corps; Burnside’s, Ninth Corps. Fulton’s command captured almost all of Wilcox’s command, six stands of colors, seven hundred prisoners and their arms. For the details of this battle see the October number of Annals of Tennessee, by Dr. Drake. The disaster the following day-the 17th-was not attributable to Fulton, but the result of weakness, not having men enough to close the gap; for he anticipated the move of the enemy, and called on Johnston for men, which he could not furnish. To avoid the disaster and conceal his weakness, Fulton then proposed a sortie upon the enemy on tile night of the 16th, believing they could be dislodged; but Gen. Johnston would not allow it, fearing the enemy would discover it and take advantage of the weakened lines.”
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: Colonel Powhatan R. Page was in charge of Henry Wise’s Brigade on June 17, 1864, as the paper writes, and he was mortally wounded that day.  See Page’s Find a Grave page, for instance, for confirmation.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: This paragraph admittedly confused me.  Willcox’s Third Division of Ninth Corps made an attack around 2 pm, but it was a little to the north of the morning attack.  See Wil Greene’s A Campaign of Giants, Vol. 1, page 159 for map of this attack.  Battery 17 was further south of the morning attack. If you can help clarify this, please Contact Us.  Perhaps it was just simply mistaken information which made it to print.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Although the time seems to be a little off, THIS paragraph describes Willcox’s Division’s afternoon attempt, just north of the morning fighting. Per Wil Greene, Willcox assaulted at 2 pm, not 4 pm. Willcox’s men were facing the Confederate brigades of Clingman and Wise in this assault. Miles of the Second Corps faced Martin’s Brigade on the Confederate side further north near the Hare house.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the third and final Ninth Corps assault on June 17, this time by Ledlie’s First Division, Ninth Corps. The main assault started sometime after 5:30 pm, and was directed at Wise’s Virginia Brigade and Elliott’s South Carolina Brigade. Supporting Confederate brigades included Ransom’s North Carolinians, Clingman’s North Carolinians, Gracie’s Alabamans, and Fulton’s Tennesseans. Wise and Elliott broke from this attack for good, leaving the Ledlie’s Division in command of the field, but the Confederate brigades on both sides held firm. Union reinforcements arrived in the form of Crawford’s Division of Fifth Corps and the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, also of Ninth Corps.  However, no more advantage could be gained in the darkness.  Beauregard’s Confederates withdrew that night to a line closer to Petersburg.  There would be a fourth day of fighting on June 18.
  9. SOPO Editor’s Note: This entire paragraph is wishful thinking.  It does not bear any resemblance to the actual state of affairs on the ground.
  10. SOPO Editor’s Note: The divisions of Bushrod Johnson and Robert Hoke were the units doing the fighting for the Confederates on June 17, 1864.  Both were parts of P. G. T. Beauregard’s Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia.  They do indeed deserve praise for the stand they made from June 15-17, waiting for the Army of Northern Virginia to arrive. Beauregard and his men had saved Petersburg.
  11. “Interesting Southern News.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). June 28, 1864, p. 2 col. 3-5
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