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NP: July 12, 1964 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 20: Unsatisfactory To All Concerned

Unsatisfactory To All Concerned

(The following is the twentieth in a series of articles published in observance of the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg.)


The Chinese saying that one look is worth a thousand words is overworked, if only because you need words to say that, but it is borne out by the sketch, “View of Petersburg from Captain Davis’s Battery, First Connecticut Artillery,” which William Waud made for Harper’s Weekly and which is reproduced on this page.


In the lower part of the picture appear earthworks and members of the battery. Above, beyond the bend of the Appomattox River, are the spires and buildings of Petersburg.

It must have been from this battery or a point close by that [Fifth Corps Artillery chief] Colonel [Charles S.] Wainwright wrote in his diary: “At the Appomattox [River] we have a large battery of 4.5 inch guns; from it I got a good view of the lower part of the town, and the railroad bridges.”

And at this and many other places along the line a Union diarist could convey the so-near-and-yet-so-far idea by writing that he could hear the town clock strike, a band play, and even the dogs bark in Petersburg.

*     *     *

It was a very unsatisfactory situation for everybody involved.

For Petersburg the honor of being besieged by the largest of the Union armies was an unwanted distinction, not to mention the disagreeable experience of being shelled. However, in the wake of recent events, Confederate morale was high, so much so that in retrospect this would seem to have been the time to seek a negotiated peace. The thought was opposed by many on the ground it could result in something less than independence. For the Union it was a season of frustration and disappointment, which would not end until events took a different turn  in the last summer and fall.

Physical discomfort added to the bilateral misery. The summer of 1864 and the winter of 1864-65 exemplified Virginia weather at its worst. At the present time, a century ago [July 12, 1864], a drought of seven weeks which would not end until July 19 was in progress.

In Petersburg the hope was expressed that lack of water would compel Grant to go away, but going away was not Grant’s way. In the absence of important news rumor took over, and the favorite rumor had it that the Union commander had died. Thousands of men, judging from the many surviving examples, must have taken pen in hand to try to describe the dust and smoke for those back home; later there would be accounts of tough, clinging mud and water standing two feet deep in the trenches.

Except for the mine being dug from Burnside’s front and never ending work on fortifications, action consisted chiefly of the sharpshooting which impressed many of the participants as a particularly senseless form of slaughter. At other times the enemies would be meeting between the lines to exchange newspapers, tobacco for coffee, buttons, and other articles.

One of the chance meetings between the lines before Petersburg involved a Maryland father and son from the opposing armies. A Confederate officer was duly dismayed to find that some of his men had gone over behind the Union line to play cards. Fraternization, usually officially disapproved, had occurred at Vicksburg, Knoxville, and on the Rapidan, but it reached its climax in the long campaign for Petersburg. More philosophical participants meditated on the fact of men enjoying each other’s company at one moment and trying to kill each other the next.

*     *     *

The chief action of the season was related to the Petersburg campaign but was not a part of it. Early in July [1864], Lee sent General Jubal Early on a raid which was to take him across the Potomac, into Frederick and Hagerstown [Maryland], and into the suburbs of Washington [D. C.]. Except for the destruction of Montgomery Blair’s house in Silver Spring and some chagrin and consternation in the capital, the results were not great.

President Lincoln on July 11 [1864] witnessed skirmishing at Fort Stevens, on the outskirts of Washington, and may have had a close call from a bullet. This episode was re-enacted in Washington yesterday [July 11, 1964, a hundred years later]. Lincoln thought of bringing Grant to Washington and did call for additional volunteers.

In former times Early’s raid might have been reason enough for bringing the army back to Washington, but Grant, no more disposed to leave because of a raid against Washington than for lack of water, would be free to continue exercising the tenacity which made an effective substitute for brilliant victories.1

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:


  1. “Unsatisfactory To All Concerned.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  July 12, 1964, p. 4, col. 1-6
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