Editor’s Note: This article was provided by John Hennessy and transcribed by Jackie Martin.
For the Boston Recorder.
THE REPULSE AT PETERSBURG.
Extract from a Soldier’s Letter.
NEAR PETERSBURG, Aug. 1, 1864.
Friday night, after dark, we struck tents, (we were on the extreme left of the line) and marched to within half a mile of the front and halted. It was now 11 P. M. We made coffee, and at 2 A. M. we started for the front. Owing to some fault in the orders, the fort was not blown up until about 5 o’clock, quite a while after daylight. We had almost given up, and thought that the thing had been postponed. But all at once the whole earth began to shake. It seemed to move just like a little boat on the water.
I had taken a safe position in the rear where I could see the whole thing. I could see the whole fort up in the air, men, cannon, sand-bags and everything flying all around. Then the charge was made. The first division was to charge through the fort in columns, and one column was to swing to the right and the other to the left; and as soon as they had done this, the second division was to charge on the right of the fort and the third division on the left. Then the fourth division was to charge right through the fort, (these are negroes,) and on toward the city and take the heights. This was the plan of the charge, (I am sure, because I heard it explained by a staff officer.)
Now see how this was carried out and blame whom you please. The first division charged up into the fort, and instead of swinging round on the flank of the rebels, they were ordered to halt. The first division, commanded by Gen. Ledlie, then the 2d division, commanded by Gen. Bartlett, charged up into the fort and halted also. Thus the way was completely blocked up, so that the fourth division, (colored,) could not get through, and the next charge could not be made until after a delay of four hours, which of course gave the rebels time to mass their forces. Then the third division, Gen. Wilcox, charged the left of the fort, and owing to the slack of the officers commanding regiments, not one half of the men went to the charge. Those who did, moved to the right too far, and were inside of the fort instead of the pits at the left of it before they knew it. Then the fourth division charged and took the pits at the right of the fort. But instead of going right ahead they were ordered to halt also. Then the rebels massed their forces and came down on them three times. The first and second time they were repulsed. But the third time the darkies gave way and the rebels swung right round our regiment, part of whom were in the pits with the colors, those who were not, of course came back on a double quick after the order was given. But those in the pits of course had to give up as prisoners. For if they got out of the pits they would have been shot before they could have gone a great ways.
You will see by this that the whole thing will be laid to the negro. But you will also see that the orders were not any of them carried out as they were laid out, because the negroes charged just where the second division was ordered to charge. If the whole thing had been done at the moment instead of waiting four hours Petersburg would have been ours to-day. The 18th and 10th corps laid in reserve, but why they were not sent up, I do not know. If you do, please let me know.
I hope they will hurry up the draft. I do not care if they draft the whole D____family. I believe the rebellion is on its last legs, and can easily be crushed out.
Yours in haste,
- “The Repulse at Petersburg.” Boston Recorder. September 2, 1864, p. ? col. ? ↩