Today in History:

45 Series I Volume XL-I Serial 80 - Richmond, Petersburg Part I


July 30, and which, in my judgment are necessary to show to this Court that I had a full appreciation of the difficulties that were to be encountered, and that I had endeavored, so far as my capacity and judgment would enable me, not only to anticipate but to take measures to overcome those difficulties.

The mine constructed in front of General Burnside was commenced by that officer soon after the occupation of our present lines, upon the intercession of Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants, I think, of a Pennsylvania regiment, without any reference to or any sanction obtained from the general headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. When the subject was brought to my knowledge I authorized the continuance of the operations, sanctioned them, and trusted that the work would at some time result in forming an important part in our operations. But from the first I never considered that the location of General Burnside's mine was a proper one, because, from what I could ascertain of the position of the enemy's works and lines erected at that time, the position against which he operated was not a suitable one in which to assault the enemy's lines, as it was commanded on both flanks and taken in reverse by their position on the Jerusalem plank road and their works opposite the Hare house.

I will now read to the Court the dispatches which passed between Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the Aries of the United States, and myself, which will bear in themselves a sort of history of those preliminary operations-a correspondence which resulted, as I said before, in the final arrangements for the assault on July 30.

On the 24th of July I received a letter from the lieutenant-general commanding, which I will now read. I had been previously informed by the lieutenant-general commanding that he desired some operations to take place (offensive) against the enemy, and he had instructed the engineer officer at his headquarters, the engineer officer at General Butler's headquarters, and the engineer officer at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac to make an examination of the enemy's position, and give an opinion as to the probable result of an attack. Their opinion is contained in the following letter (document marked A, Appendix).

I desire to call the particular attention of the Court to that communication, because it contains the views of the lieutenant-general commanding with reference to the assault which should be made on Petersburg, and I wish them to compare this communication with the orders and arrangements that I gave and made, so that they may see that to the best of my ability I ordered everything which he indicated to be done. At the time that this communication was made to me, however, I was under the impression that the obstacles to be overcome were more formidable than the subsequent operations led me to believe, and also that subsequent to that time there had been no movement of the army to produce that great weakening of the enemy's front which afterward occurred. Therefore my reply was to the effect that I was opposed to our making the assault.

The following is my reply sent on the 24th (documents B and B 2).

In reply to that I received a communication or report from General Grant, the result of which was a suspension of the proposed attack (document C).

Next day I made a closer examination, and in the mean time a signal station was erected in a pine tree in front of General Burnside, which gave us a more complete view than we had previously had of the enemy's line. My observation modified my views, because I could not detect a second line, although I detected isolated batteries on the crest. I therefore wrote the following communication to General Grant, dated 12 m. July 26 (document D), to which I received the following reply (document E).

There you perceive that the lieutenant-general commanding ordered that whilst the Second Corps was across the James River I should immediately make an assault with the Ninth and Fifth, abandoning the line of the Fifth Corps. In answer to that I wrote him the following dispatch (document F).

That produced a suspension of the order to attack until the return of General Hancock.

The next dispatch I received from General Grant was the following (document G), which I answered at 1 p.m. July 28, as follows (document H).

I will here observe that Lieutenant-General Grant, in consequence of the services which the Second Corps had performed across the river, desired, and gave me directions verbally to that effect, to use the Eighteenth Corps in the assault, and to let the Second Corps take the place of the Eighteenth in the line.

The next dispatch I received was the following, dated City Point, July 29 (document I).

General Grant had come to my headquarters at 4 p.m., and at that time I showed him the order for the assault next day, which had just then been prepared, and which order met with his perfect approbation. He read the order and expressed his satisfaction with it. No other dispatches passed between the lieutenant-general and myself. Next morning between 3.30 and 4 o'clock (before 4 o'clock) he arrived on the ground at General Burnside's headquarters, and all further communications between us were verbal until August 1 at 11.40 a.m., when I received the following dispatch (document J).