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On Thursday morning, the 16th, General Butler conceived the idea of advancing in his front, to intercept the movement of Lee towards Petersburg. He accordingly sent out a portion of the Tenth Corps, which, after destroying a portion of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, was compelled, by the approach of overwhelming forces, to retire within the lines.
The city of Petersburg lies chiefly on the southerly bank of the Appomattox, which thence runs nearly northeast to the James. It was defended by several lines of earthworks, consisting not only of square redoubts, but also of well-established rifle-trenches. It was the outer line of these that had been carried on the 15th, and was now held by Birney's Corps. The abandonment of the north side of the James by Grant had not been fully credited by the enemy, who left a force under A. P. Hill to guard against any sudden movement in that direction. Now, however, Beauregard's men again filled up so rapidly the trenches in front that it was necessary to hurry up Burnside to hold the ground won. That corps at length coming up, after a forced march from Charles City Court-House, a line of battle was immediately formed, Smith on the right, Hancock in the centre, Burnside on the left. The ground in front was rather open, though rugged, with here and there fields of grain. At six A. M. on the 16th, the attack was made. Barlow's Division and Griffin's Brigade, of Potter's Division, made a handsome charge under destructive artillery fire, and succeeded in gaining a foothold in the rifle-pits outside of the stronger works. Here our troops were annoyed by the enemy's fire, and Barlow, in connection with Burnside, determined to try an assault on the main works. But meanwhile the enemy opened so severely on Burnside as to show there was no hope of surprise. The enemy also cut off the skirmish line in Barlow's front, amounting to three hundred men, with their officers. After a three hours' fight, therefore, the assault was suspended till morning. The right had not taken an important part in the contest, and had lost but a few men. Birney's loss was about five hundred, and Potter's, in his gallant charge, not less. The entire loss was probably from fifteen hundred to two thousand. The enemy's loss was probably much less, from their advantage of position.
On Friday the attack was renewed, and some rifle-pits were carried by Burnside's Corps. About nine o'clock on Friday night, the enemy showed himself in force upon Birney's front, but did not advance. Å little later, he made a desperate and successful effort to retake from Burnside the works captured during the day. He moved in two columns, one in front, the other in flank. A very sharp fight followed. The enemy succeeded in leaping the works under cover of the darkness, and drove our men out. In the early part of the attack, about two hundred of the enemy were captured by us, and in yielding up the works, a like loss was suffered by us. The enemy's batteries comed the attack by vigorous shelling.
Early in the morning of this same day, part of Pickett's and Field's Division of the enemy attacked our lines near the James. Foster's Division, of Brooks's Tenth Corps (from which General Gillmore had been relieved), held a line extending across from near Ware Bottom
Church towards the Appomattox. The enemy were posted near Howlett's House, in his front. Our line was pushed back a little.
It was now determined to make a new and more vigorous assault on Saturday morning, the 18th, and the line was formed as follows, from right to left: Martindale's and Hinks's Divisions of the Eighteenth Corps, Wright's Sixth, Hancock's Second (under Birney), Burnside's Ninth, Warren's Fifth. At four o'clock A. M. the assault was to be made. But, upon sending out skirmishers, the enemy was found to have abandoned the works in our immediate front for an inner series of defences. New combinations were necessary, therefore, for the day. These were completed, and by noon a general advance of the three left corps was ordered. In the Second Corps, Gibbon pushed up an assaulting column of three brigades, the first and second of his own (Second) division, and the Second Brigade of Mott's Division. The remainder of the corps threw out double lines of skirmishers to divert the enemy's attention. Gibbon's men moved promptly up to the works to be assaulted, which were situated near the Fredericksburg and City Point Railroad. As they came out from their cover, they were met by a murderous fire, which enfiladed their left. They struggled desperately through it, but their ranks were swept by incessant volleys, from which even their veteran soldiers recoiled. The breastworks were approached, but not reached, and our men retired, leaving their dead and wounded on the field.
In the afternoon a second storming party was organized, to commence the attack from General Mott's position. The assaulting column was formed of Mott's Division, with detachments from the other two divisions. A little before five o'clock P. M., Mott moved out his force in two columns, and in gallant style the two leading brigades burst upon the enemy. They were received with a withering fire from concentrated batteries and musketry, and in spite of the most desperate bravery, were forced back, with terrible loss. The charge was worthy of the proverbial gallantry of the corps, but it failed of success, as the previous charge had also failed. The movements on the left by the Ninth and Fifth Corps were equally energetic and equally unsuccessful. The operations of the day, on the whole, did not repay the very serious loss sustained. The lines remained comparatively quiet during the three following days.
The first effect of the transfer of the whole Federal army to the south bank of the James River was, of course, the withdrawal of the Confederate force which had confined Butler to his intrenchments. It became necessary for Grant to capture Petersburg, and he immediately made the attack, while the enemy were yet unprepared. The attack, as we have seen, failed. The enemy, having recovered from immediate apprehension for Petersburg, turned his attention in other directions. He intrenched largely on the west side of the Appomattox, as Grant did on the east side of it. Having again driven Butler inside his lines, he reoccupied his works there, put the railroad into repair, and, from their lines as a base, began to make demonstrations in front, and to raid towards the James. On the night of Sunday, the 19th, he destroyed the wharves at Wilcox and Westover Landings.
Relative Strength of Armies.-Grant Moves against the Railroad Connections of Richmond.-Combat of June 21st.-Repulsed the 23d.-Sheridan's Expedition.—Movement of Wilson and Kautz on the Danville Road.-Five Hundred Thousand Men called out.-Explosion of the Mine in Front of Petersburg.-Failure of the Assault.
THE Consolidation of Butler's army with that of the Potomac had not added much to the relative strength of Grant. A similar junction of Beauregard with Lee had been effected, and the works behind which the enemy was intrenched were strong enough to enable him to hold them with inferior numbers, and, as will presently appear, to detach a force up the valley. On Tuesday, the 21st, Grant commenced operations designed to sever the Southern railroad connections with Petersburg. The road running to Norfolk was in his possession, and it was proposed to occupy and destroy that leading to Weldon. For this purpose, the Second Corps, on Monday night, moved to the left, and on Tuesday marched rapidly forward in a southerly direction, followed by Griffin's Division of the Fifth Corps, with the Sixth Corps in support. At the Jerusalem plankroad the enemy were encountered in force, and a counter-attack sustained. The troops then fell back into position for the night, during which the Sixth Corps came up, and formed on the left of the Second, directly on the left of the Jerusalem plankroad. The attack was to have been made at daybreak on Wednesday, the 22d, but each corps waited for the other until each got orders to advance at once, independently of the other, each being cautioned to protect his flank in case connection was not made by the other.
No sooner had Barlow struck into the thick woods than he began to open a gap between his left and the right of the Sixth Corps, and accordingly disposed flanking regiments so as to protect himself at the break. Mott, meanwhile, had moved directly to the position indicated for him, having without difficulty secured it, and had begun to intrench. Gibbon was already in position. Barlow, having moved forward sufficiently, was about to intrench also, when he was suddenly startled by firing on his flank, quickly spreading towards his rear. The enemy, Hill's Corps, advancing to check our movement on the railroad, was swiftly approaching in several solid columns, which followed hard on a dense crowd of skirmishers. At this time, the Sixth Corps was far distant on the left and rear, and a gap occurred in our advancing line, like that between the Fifth and Second Corps in the Wilderness. With more success in the present case than before, the enemy took advantage of the error. One entire division, with Mahone's Brigade in advance, came driving through the interval. Barlow's skirmishers were of course quickly overcome, and, with a quick appreciation of his advantage, and an impetuous rush, sweeping all before it, the enemy's column glanced diagonally between the two corps, struck Barlow's flank with great force, and almost instantane
ously rolled it up, capturing several hundred prisoners. The sudden recoil of Barlow's Division under this most dangerous of all attacks, a movement on the flank and rear, quickly uncovered the left flank of Mott, and exposed him to the same disadvantage. In his turn, Mott fell back also, with the loss of several hundred prisoners, and thus exposed the left of Gibbon. Meanwhile the other troops from Hill's Corps had joined the assault, and, having captured Mott's entire line of intrenchments, now pressed not only in front, but in the rear. right brigade was able to repel the comparatively trifling assault. But his left brigades were almost encircled by fire. McKnight's four-gun battery of the Twelfth New York Artillery opened, and was briskly and handsomely fought. But the troops in support were driven back, and the enemy had already carried Gibbon's intrenchments. In a word, in the sudden shock and confusion, several whole regiments were swept off and captured, without the chance of any thing like stout resistance. McKnight's Battery was then surrounded and captured entire, though most of the horses and caissons, and some of the men, succeeded in escaping to the rear.
At length Miles's reserve division, with a New Jersey battery, came up, enabling Gibbon's Division to rally on them, and form a new line. The enemy was now to some extent exhausted by his own exertions, but he repulsed an attempt of Birney to recapture the battery. The newly formed line of the Sixth and Second Corps again advanced, pushing the enemy before it; and, having proceeded a short distance, halted, and passed the night in strengthening its position. The enemy did the same on the east side of the Weldon road. The Federal loss in the attack was large, and included a number of prisoners. During the day, the cavalry of Wilson and Kautz had proceeded to the left, and cut the railroad about ten miles from Petersburg.
On Thursday, the 23d, Wright, finding the enemy weak on the extreme left, sent the Third, Fourth, and Eleventh Vermont regiments to occupy the railroad. They had not reached it, however, before they were enveloped by Anderson's Division, and severely handled. They lost some prisoners, besides a number killed and wounded. The enemy, flushed with success, pressed our men back to the main body, and then attacked right and left. Our line was withdrawn towards evening to the cover of breastworks, and operations ceased. Skirmishing continued to the close of June without any important operations.
Simultaneously with the transference of his own army from the northern bank of the Chickahominy to the southern bank of the James, Grant sent forth Sheridan, with a considerable cavalry force, to traverse the country between the Rappahannock and Richmond, and pass near Charlottesville, in the direction of Lynchburg, with a view of penetrat ing the valley, in order to give the hand to General Hunter, who was advancing on that point to close up upon Richmond. Sheridan set out
on the 9th of June, and on the 11th reached Trevillian's Station, on the Virginia Central Railroad, where he inflicted a severe defeat upon a large cavalry force in his front. On the succeeding day he thoroughly destroyed the railroad between Trevillian's and Louisa Court-House; and, early on the 13th, the rebels under Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh
Lee having in the mean time gathered in his front in great numbers, and his ammunition getting low, he moved off towards White House, followed at a respectful distance by Wade Hampton, who did not venture a serious attack until Sheridan had crossed the Pamunkey. Hampton then made a detour, and attacked the trains that Sheridan had left at the White House. General Abercrombie, with three thousand men, maintained his ground until Sheridan came up, when the enemy was driven off with loss. As soon as Sheridan had obtained a little rest, he resumed his march to the James with all his trains and guns. He was again assailed by Hampton, near Jones's Bridge, on the Chickahominy, on the 23d, without much result. As he approached Charles City Court-House, the enemy appeared again on his front, and on Friday, the 24th, attacked with vigor the trains protected by Gregg's Division, who succeeded in keeping them at bay. The affair was sharp, and Sheridan's rear-guard was badly handled. A brigade of infantry was sent to his relief. He succeeded in beating the enemy off at length, after the loss of four or five hundred men, saving all his train; and, on Saturday, the 25th, his whole force crossed the James safely, four or five miles above Fort Powhattan, under cover of the gunboats.
On the morning of June 22d the combined cavalry force of Wilson and Kautz set out on a raid against the Weldon and Danville Railroads. At Reams's Station, on the Weldon road, considerable damage was done to the track and buildings; and at Sutherland's and Ford's Stations, on the Petersburg and Lynchburg road, which the column next reached, a number of locomotives and cars and about twenty miles of track were destroyed. A part of the column now pushed on to Burkesville, the junction of the Lynchburg and Danville roads, where a similar destruction of property took place, and on the 24th the command bivouacked for the night at Keysville, on the Danville road. On the next day the railroad bridge over the Staunton River was reached, but was found to be too well defended by the enemy to attack. The order to return was now given, and so closely was the column harassed and pressed on the route, that it broke up into several bodies, which arrived in camp at various times between July 1st and 3d, exhausted and in wretched plight. The losses in men, guns, and trains combined to render the expedition a costly failure, notwithstanding the damage it had inflicted on the enemy.
There were no important operations undertaken for some time by the army before Petersburg. The state of affairs in the Valley of the Shenandoah, to which allusion will shortly be made, compelled the movement of troops to protect Washington, and the Sixth Corps was sent thither in the first week of July, a result very different from the anticipated accession of aid from Hunter as the consequence of the hoped-for capture of Lynchburg. The attention of the public was directed to the progress of Sherman in Georgia, from whose campaign against Atlanta most important results were expected.
Continual skirmishing was kept up in front of Petersburg, with alternate success, but no great operations were undertaken. The army had need of rest and recruiting. Nearly three months had elapsed since it crossed the Rapidan; and having fought its way to the northern bank