Today in History:

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

Page 46 OPERATIONS IN SE. VA. AND N. C. Chapter LII.

We had given our respective views concerning the assault and I particularly impressed my views with reference to the difficulties to be overcome. When it was ascertained that the movement of the Second Corps had drawn over to the north bank of the James five of the eighth divisions composing General Lee's army, together with the information I had obtained that the enemy had no second line upon the ridge but only one or two isolated batteries, I came to the conclusion that the explosion of the mine and the subsequent assault on the crest, I had every reason to believe, would be successful and would be followed by results which would have consisted in the capture of the whole of the enemy's artillery and a greater part of his infantry. The plan sketched out by Lieutenant-General Grant in his dispatch to me, which I endeavored to carry out, and for the execution of which I gave the necessary orders, was that the mine should be exploded as early as possible in the morning-before daylight; that in the mean time the Ninth Corps should be massed and formed in assaulting columns; that every preparation should be made by removing the abatis so that the troops could debouche, and particularly the assaulting columns; that as soon as the mine was exploded the assaulting columns should push forward; that a sufficient proportion should be left to guard the flank of the main column, because they had to look for an attack on the flanks; that the main body should hold the lines during the attempt to gain the crest of the hill, and if it was successful then I intended to throw up the whole of the Eighteenth Corps, to be followed by the Second Corps, and, if necessary, by the Fifth Corps also. I do not suppose it is necessary to read the order; I will read it, however, (document K).

Having read to the Court the correspondence which passed between the lieutenant-general and myself preliminary to the operations, and having read the order for the operations, I now propose to read and to accompany with some explanatory remarks the dispatches and correspondence which passed between myself and Major-General Burnside, who had the immediate active operations to perform; afterward between myself and Major-General Ord, between myself and Major-General Warren, and between myself and Major-General Hancock. These dispatches when compared with each other and in connection with the remarks which I shall make, will show the facts so far as they came to my knowledge; and I wish the Court to bear in mind, and I desire to call their attention particularly to the paucity of information which was furnished me by Major-General Burnside of the operations which were made, and to the difficulty that a major-general commanding an army like the one I am commanding labors under to give direct orders in the ignorance of matters transpiring in the front at the immediate scene of operations. Before those operations were concluded upon I called on Major-General Burnside to furnish me in writing what he proposed to do in case his mine was exploded, in response to which I received the following report (document L).

The request made in that communication by Major-General Burnside was complied with-that is to say, sand-bags were furnished him, but the amount of powder asked for, which was 12,000 pounds, was reduced to 8,000, upon the belief on my part, and on my engineers, that 8,000 pounds would be sufficient for the purpose. Another matter in that dispatch to which my attention was directed, and which was finally the subject of an order on my part, is the suggestion of Major-General Burnside to place the colored troops at the head of the assaulting column. That I disapproved, and I informed him of my disapproval, which was based upon the ground not that I had any reason to doubt, or any desire to doubt, the good qualities of the colored troops, but that I desired to impress upon Major-General Burnside (which I did do in conversation, of which I have plenty of witnesses to evidence, and in very way I could) that this operation was to be a coup de main; that his assaulting column was to be as a forlorn hope, such as are put into breaches, and that he should assault with his best troops; not that I had any intention to insinuate that the colored troops were inferior to his best troops, but that I understood that they had never been under fire; not that they should not be taken for such a critical operation as this, but that he should take such troops as from previous service could be depended upon as being perfectly reliable. Finding General Burnside very much disappointed-for he had made known to General Ferrero and his troops that they were to lead in the assault, and fearing that the effect might be injurious, and in order to show him that I was not governed by any motive other than such as I ought to be governed by- I told him I would submit the matter with his reasons and my objections to the lieutenant-general commanding the armies, and I would abide by the decision of the lieutenant-general as to whether it was expedient and right for the colored troops to lead the assault. Upon referring the question to the lieutenant-general commanding he fully concurred in my views, and I accordingly addressed to Major-General Burnside, or had addressed to him, the following communication (document M).

The following dispatches read near the end of the testimony are here inserted, as directed, in their proper place (documents M 1 and M 2).

Page 46 OPERATIONS IN SE. VA. AND N. C. Chapter LII.