HEADQUARTERS EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS.
Near Petersburg, August 3, 1864.
GENERAL: In obedience to orders from General Meade (to whom I was ordered to report), the First and Third Divisions of the Eighteenth Corps were,on the night of the 29th of July, placed in the trenches of General Burnside’s front, relieving portions of his command as trench guards, that the Ninth Corps might prepare to assault the enemy’s line next a.m. The Second Division, Tenth Corps, Brigadier-General Turner commanding, and the Second Division, Eighteenth Corps, Brigadier-General Ames commanding, were placed in rear of General Burnside’s corps as reserve supports, and in positions selected by him. Their orders were to await orders, to be sent as soon as the result of the assault next morning by the Ninth Corps could decide where supports might be needed.
About 5 a.m. 30th of July the mine in front of the Ninth Corps was sprung, and I took my position near General Burnside, awaiting the result of his assault, and with an understanding that as soon as his corps could get out General Turner was to follow his [Burnside’s] rear division and support it on the right beyond our lines. About 6
o’clock General Burnside told me it was time for General Turner to move, and I directed General Turner accordingly; but the general got ahead of Potter’s division, Ninth Corps, and was obliged to wait until it had passed. To understand the manner of the movement I quote General Burnside’s order, dated July 29, for the assault, which says:
1. The mine will be exploded to-morrow morning at 3.30. * * *
2. General Ledlie will immediately, upon the explosion of the mine, move his troops forward. * * *
3. General Willcox will move his division forward after General Ledlie has passed through the first line of the enemy’s works, bearing off to the east.
4. General Potter will move his division forward to the right of General Ledlie’s as soon as it is apparent that he will not interfere with the movement of General Willcox’s division, and will, as near as possible, protect the right flank of General Ledlie from any attack in that quarter, and establish a line on the crest of a hill which seems to run from the Cemetery Hill nearly at right angles to the enemy’s main line, directly in our front. * * *
5. General Ferrero will move his division immediately after General Willcox until he reaches our present advance line, where he will remain until the ground in his front is entirely cleared by the other divisions, when he will move forward over the same ground that General Ledlie moved over, will pass through our lines, and, if possible, move down and occupy the village to our right.
Thus it will be seen that all three of his rear divisions had to follow each the action of those in its front; and I learned afterward that the passage out and to our front line of breast-works was by a long trench or covered way and through a breach in our works. Hence the movements were slow, and there was delay, especially after the enemy had massed his men, and our wounded coming from the front began to choke this covered way. About 6.30 a.m., having sent General Turner, commanding my advance division, an order to move forward on the crest of the hill to right of Potter (see the above order directing General Potter to establish a line on the crest of the hill), near or on the Jerusalem plank road, in reply to this General Turner reported that General Burnside’s troops filled the trenches in his front, occupying the crater and blocking up the way. About this time, or shortly after, I received an order directly from General Meade’s headquarters, as follows:
You will at once move forward your corps rapidly to the crest of the hill, independently of General Burnside’s troops, and make a lodgment there, reporting the result as soon as obtained.
This order I sent at once to Generals Turner and Ames. The latter was with his division, closing up on Turner and keeping his men massed for a movement in any direction. General Turner replied:
The only place I can get out of the lines is opposite the crater. It is already full of men who cannot develop. I shall put in my column as soon as I can. It is impossible, by reason of the topography, to charge in the manner you indicate. I must go in by head of column and develop to the right.
From General Ames I received the following:
I find that the covered way is the only way of getting to the front. General Turner occupies the road, and it is impossible for me to move until he gets out of my way.
Now, I had not seen the ground, and supposed all this time that there were several places of exit and the ground tolerably free from obstructions.
I sent Generals Turner’s and Ames’ replies to General Meade and went myself to the front, where I found our men were debouching into the crater and into a short space of the enemy’s trench on each side of it. I met General Turner, just from the crater (only seventy-five yards off), and saw our men needlessly filing into the crater and the short line of the enemy’s works under a destructive cross-fire. The enemy just
then had brought up an additional six-gun battery and was sweeping the seventy-five yards of bare up hill, where the Ninth Corps debouched, with a cross-fire of canister, grape, and musketry. I also saw that the crater, and trench adjacent, was in a sort of a re-entrant angle of the enemy’s works, and that the men who had crowded in them were useless and,in a measure, helpless. The crater was a big hole, some twenty feet deep, and was shortly afterward rendered almost inaccessible by the cross-fire,and the trenches near it were crowded with men who were indisposed or unable to go forward; and I saw that the black troops were charging out by the flank, increasing this mass of men huddled under the enemy’s fire. I directed General Turner not to put his men in the crater or the trench, already filled with men, but to make a charge to the right, where the enemy were massing. This he did, and I gave him all the aid in my power, the men climbing up and over our parapet and dashing toward the enemy’s trench in good style. (See Turner’s report.*) On my return to headquarters I overtook General Grant, and he directed me to say to General Burnside that no more men should be sent into the crater or trenches of the enemy already filled, but he (General Burnside) should send forward intrenching tools and hold all his men had gained. I did, so and again ordered General Turner, to push his whole division out, and to the right. Immediately thereafter, about 8 o’clock, I received from General Turner the following dispatch:
Colonel Bell’s brigade, in attempting to gain ground to the right of the enemy’s line, was severely met by the enemy’s fire, when a regiment of colored troops stampeded and broke through the brigade, carrying it all with them into our line.
This I communicated to General Meade, and repeated my orders to Turner to get his other brigades out to attack, but shortly afterward I received orders from General Meade to draw my men all inside our trenches to the rear, and afterward an order was received to return with my corps to my own front.
I may mention here that when General Burnside had received the information that his men had occupied the crater, and a part of his command was in front of the crater not advancing, I wrote the following dispatch before I had any order from General Meade:
HEADQUARTERS EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
July 30-7.30 o’clock.
Turner, in my front, reports that Burnside’s troops fill our trenches in his front, occupying the crater, the enemy still holding their trenches to the right and left of the crater. Shall I order the divisions (two) of the Eighteenth Corps to try and charge the enemy’s trenches over the heads of the men? Rifle firing has almost ceased in our front, and both parties covering.
E. O. C. ORD.
Major-General of Volunteers.
This dispatch I submitted to General Burnside, and he requested me to wait a few moments and he would have the way cleared. It was shortly after this I received the first order from General Meade to advance independently of General Burnside’s troops. After receiving the order from General Meade to draw off my men and go back to my own front, I found that if I drew out the First and Third Divisions, Eighteenth Corps, which had been placed by General Burnside in his the trenches, would be left too weak, and hence I directed General Carr, commanding these divisions, to remain where he was
until night, when General Burnside promised to relieve him. The next day I asked General Burnside for the two divisions left in his trenches, and finding that he could not send them all to me without inconvenience, I telegraphed General Meade that I could get along with the part which had been returned. The whole reported that night or the next morning.
Inclosed you will find reports of division commanders and reports of casualties.
I am, sir, respectfully,your obedient servant,
E. O. C. ORD,
Major-General of Volunteers, Commanding.
Major General A. A. HUMPHREYS,
Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 706-709 ↩