« AnteriorContinuar »
length, towards noon, they ceased their efforts to retake the position. But they had successfully disputed our further advance. Part of the captured cannon remained covered by sharpshooters, so that neither party could carry them off. The only solid advantage gained was the possession of the angle surprised in the morning. The enemy's front remained elsewhere apparently impregnable, every avenue of approach being swept by the withering fire of artillery, and their force being strong enough to hold the position against twice the attacking numbers. After many heroic attempts to force them, the design was abandoned.
General Meade began early in the afternoon contracting his line and massing troops on his left, with a view to turn the enemy's right. All the afternoon the battle raged with great fury. The enemy made corresponding movements from his left to his right. Every inch of soil, muddy with gore, was fought over with desperation, and yielded only when it became impossible to hold it. Neither the rain nor the mire
of the roads delayed the rapidity or intensity of the fight. The rival bayonets often interlocked, and a bloody grapple over the intrenchments lasted for hours, the rebel battle-flags now surging up side by side with our own, and anon, torn and riddled, disappearing in the woods. The dead and wounded lay thickly strewn along the ground, and fairly heaped up where the fight was deadliest.
After fourteen hours' fighting, night fell on a battle unsurpassed in severity in the history of the war. For the first time in the campaign a decided success was achieved. Warren and Wright, who moved two hours after Hancock, had not advanced on the enemy's front; but this was not expected, as his position could not there be carried. On the extreme left, Burnside had severely suffered; while on the left centre, Hancock had stormed and held an important angle of the enemy's works, despite all their efforts to repossess it. Official dispatches add that the day's work also gave us more than three thousand prisoners, and also two general officers, and eighteen pieces of artillery actually brought into our lines. Between forty and fifty pieces had been at one time captured, but the remainder rested on debatable ground, and were subsequently withdrawn by the enemy. The brilliant dash of the morning had secured a strong grasp on the enemy's left centre, and an advance of a mile in our line in that direction. Five determined assaults were made during the day to expel our troops, but all were fruitless. No more gallant, desperate, or long-continued fighting, on either side, for the possession of intrenchments, had occurred during the war; while the severity of the wounds gave proof of something more than musketry fighting.
The foregoing movements were thus described by the Assistant Secretary of War, who accompanied the army in its advance:
"SPOTTSYLVANIA COURT-HOUSE, VA., Friday, May 13, 1864-8 A. M. "Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
"Lee abandoned his position during the night, whether to occupy a new position in the vicinity, or to make a thorough retreat, is not determined.
"One division of Wright's and one of Hancock's are engaged in settling this question, and at half-past seven A. M. had come up on his rear-guard. Though our army is
greatly fatigued from the enormous efforts of yesterday, the news of Lee's departure inspires the men with fresh energy. The whole force will soon be in motion, but the heavy rains of the last thirty-six hours render the roads very difficult for wagons and artillery. The proportion of severely wounded is greater than on either of the previous days' fighting. This was owing to the great use made of artillery.
"C. A. DANA."
Meanwhile, on May 9th, a picket body of cavalry, under the immediate command of General Sheridan,* chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, had left the front on an expedition to the rear of Lee's army, the main object of which was to cut off the rebel communications and supplies. Moving rapidly south along the Negro Foot road towards Childsburg, he crossed the North Anna River at the fords and suddenly pounced upon the Beaver Dam Station of the Virginia Central Railroad, where a rebel provost-guard, having charge of nearly four hundred Union prisoners, was captured. The latter were promptly released. Thence moving towards Richmond, he sent a detachment to Ashland Station, on the Fredericksburg Railroad, where the track, station-house, and considerable rolling stock were destroyed. On the 11th the command, again concentrated, had reached a point within six miles of Richmond, where the rebel cavalry under General Stuart was encountered, and, after a sharp fight, defeated, with the loss of several guns, Stuart himself being mortally wounded. On the succeeding morning a detachment penetrated to the second line of defences of Richmond, but not being in sufficient force to make a dash at the city, rejoined the main body, which was moving towards Meadow Bridge, on the Chickahominy. The rebels, aware by this time of the intentions of Sheridan, were moving rapidly in superior force to surround and cut him off, and upon reaching the river the Union cavalry found Meadow
James River, and in the flanking movement by which Lee was driven out of Petersburg and event ually destroyed, he held the chief command, defeating the rebels with severe loss at the battle of Five Forks. At the conclusion of the war he went to Texas as commander of the military division of the Gulf. He is a major-general of the regular army.
Philip Henry Sheridan was born in Perry County, Ohio, in 1931, and graduated at West Point in 1533. He saw considerable service in the West, and after the outbreak of the rebellion was commissioned a captain in the Thirteenth United States Infantry. For nearly a year he acted as chief quartermaster in the Trans-Mississippi Department, and in May, 1862, was appointed colonel of the Second Michigan Cavalry. In June he was James E. B. Stnart was born in Patrick Coanput in command of a cavalry brigade, and for a ty. Virginia, about 1832, and graduated at West brilliant victory over the rebel General Chalmers, Point in 1854. He served in a cavalry regiment un at Booneville, Mississippi, July 1st, he was pro- til the outbreak of the rebellion, when he resigned moted, on General Grant's recommendation, to be his commission and entered the rebel army, in a brigadier-general of volunteers. During the in- which, in September, 1561, he was commissioned vasion of Kentucky by Bragg, in 1862, he was as- a brigadier-general. In the ensuing winter he or signed to the command of a division in Buell's ganized the rebel cavalry forces in Virginia and army, and subsequently fought at Perrysville and during the Peninsular campaign distinguished himMurfreesboro', earning by his valor in the latter self by a raid in McClellan's rear, which was the engagement his promotion to be major-general of precursor of that general's change of base to the volunteers. He participated in the campaign of James River, and of the seven days' fighting which 1563 against Chattanooga, and again distinguished accompanied the movement. He commanded the himself at Chickamauga and the succeeding battle cavalry during the succeeding invasion of Maryon Missionary Ridge. In the spring of 1864 he land, and a few weeks after the battle of Antietam was summoned eastward to assume command of again rode around the Union lines, bringing off a the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, in which considerable amount of spoils. In the Chancelcapacity he led several daring expeditions against lorsville campaign and Lee's second invasion of the enemy's communications In August he took the North, his cavalry was active, and, after the charge of the military division of the Shenandoah, battle of Gettysburg, effectually covered the rebel gained the brilliant victories of September 19th and retreat. He was mortally wounded in an encoun21st over Early, and on October 19th won the hard-ter with the Union cavalry at Yellow Tavern, near fought battle of Cedar Creek, changing by his op- Richmond, on the 11th, and died a few hours later. portune arrival a Union defeat into a signal vic- He then held the rank of lieutenant-general tory. In March, 1865, he moved his cavalry to the
Bridge destroyed and the Fredericksburg Railroad bridge, which crosses the Chickahominy near this place, commanded by defensive works. To add to Sheridan's embarrassment, another rebel force now came up in his rear, cutting off his retreat and seriously icopardizing the command.
Hemmed in between two fires, with a difficult river to cross, and a vigilant and confident enemy surrounding his tired troopers, Sheridan acted with consummate coolness and judgment. The railroad bridge being under the circumstances impracticable, he immediately commenced to reconstruct Meadow Bridge, though exposed the while to a severe fire, to which his own artillery effectually replied, and obliged to repel the enemy in his rear by frequent counter-attacks. At length, the bridge was completed, and preparations were made to pass his ammunition train across. But as this operation, under the hot fire of the enemy, would be attended with no little risk, he gathered his men up for a final charge, and, putting himself at their head, sabre in hand, drove the rebels in confusion to the shelter of the neighboring woods, their flight being accelerated by several well-aimed shots from the Union artillery. The trains were now quickly passed across the river, and the rebel force on the farther bank was driven through Mechanicsville to Cold Harbor, with the loss of many prisoners. Sheridan encamped that night at Gaines's Mill, the old battle-ground of June 27th, 1862, and on the 14th reached General Butler's headquarters, near City Point, on the James River. He then opened communications with Yorktown, and thence with Washington.
Retrograde Movement of the Enemy.-Bad Condition of the Roads.-Union Movement to the Left.-Relative Position of Armies.-Re-enforcements.-Irruption on the Rear Repulsed.-Grant Crossing the North Anna.-Impregnable Position of the Enemy. -North Anna Recrossed, and Movement to the Left continued.
FRIDAY, the 13th, continued stormy, but the skirmishers were early pushed out, only to discover that the enemy had fallen back to a new position, made necessary by the loss of the angle occupied by Hancock. The roads were in such a condition that rapidity of movement was out of the question, and the day was occupied mostly in burying the dead. General Meade issued a congratulatory order to the troops. Towards night, new dispositions were determined on. The enemy's right being deemed the only practicable point of attack, our lines were to be once more shifted down to the left, in the endeavor to flank. The Fifth and Sixth Corps were selected this time, for an attempt resembling that of the Second and Ninth. The position of Thursday, the 12th, as already indicated, ran thus, from right to left: Warren, Wright, Hancock, Burnside. About nine o'clock, on Friday night, the two right corps were put in motion, and marched all night to their new position. The difficulties of the march through the ankle-deep and knee-deep mud, and amid the furious storm, made the movement
slow and arduous, and only endurable by contrast with the severer experience of constant battle.
On the morning of Saturday, the 14th, the enemy was found to have fallen back a little, and to have brought his line more to the east, still holding the Court-House and the forked roads. In this neighborhood, the Ny and the Po Rivers, branches of the Mattapony, approach each other to form their junction. The Federal army was in the fork formed by these streams, and at right angles with the road from Fredericksburg to Spottsylvania. The several corps were posted as follows: Hancock's Second Corps on the right, Burnside's Ninth on the right centre, Wright's Sixth on the left centre, Warren's Fifth on the left. On Saturday, Wright had not been able to get immediately into position, and was farther to the left and a little thrown back, as if in reserve. The position was a good one, on the crests of rolling ridges running nearly northwest and southeast, and covering the southerly bank of the Ny River. There was also space for the sweep of the artillery. Unfortunately, the almost indescribably bad condition of the roads had prevented the successful completion of the movement in season to authorize an attack. There was no hope of surprise, and before our artillery trains and infantry masses were in position the enemy was alert and hostile.
The head-quarters of Grant and Meade were at Gail's House, eight miles from Fredericksburg and two miles from the Court-House. The extremities of the two wings were about equidistant from the house, and the skirmishing line a mile in front. The enemy's position was a semicircular line of earthworks, with rifle-pits here and there, well established on commanding heights, and the whole flanked right and left by dense woods. Artillery was already in position, and new intrenchments building. A part of the works appeared to be sodded, showing an old construction, and the utmost activity was manifest in strengthening the position. Our forces soon commenced to throw up field-works, and the great armies, so lately contending with bayonet and bullet, were now quietly and sedulously emulating each other with the spade.
Sunday, the 15th, was the twelfth day since the army had left Culpepper, and was the first of comparative rest that the men had enjoyed. There was but little skirmishing on either side. On Monday, the 16th, Grant sent word to Washington that operations would be suspended until the roads should be passable. Monday and Tuesday passed in welcome rest for the army. The wounded were sent back in long trains of ambulances to Fredericksburg, and the roads were lined with crippled soldiers painfully making their way in the same direction. Mosby's guerrillas scoured the country on both sides of the Rapidan, picking up squads of stragglers. Re-enforcements had been received to the extent of thirty-five thousand, according to the announcement of the Secretary of War, to fill up the terrible gaps made by the previous ten days' service. The time was similarly employed by the enemy.
By Tuesday afternoon, the 17th, the ground had become somewhat improved, so as to admit of reconnoissances. Hitherto the constant