Today in History:

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


The next dispatch to General Burnside was addressed by me at 9.45 p.m. July 29, the evening before the action. I had received a dispatch from General Ord stating that it would take him till very late to relieve the troops in the trenches. The following is my dispatch to General Burnside (document N).

My idea was that General Burnside should form his columns of assault, make all his preparations, take all his men out of the trenches, and move forward; and that then General Ord should occupy his trenches in case he should find it necessary to return. No further dispatches passed between General Burnside and myself. I think it proper to state, however, that on the day previous to the assault I was at General Burnside's headquarters and had the good fortune to meet his three division commanders, and some conversation passed between us; and I would like the Court to inquire into what transpired on that occasion, because I would like to impress upon the Court, as I did impress upon General Burnside and his officers, that this operation which we had to perform was one purely of time; that if immediate advantage was not taken of the explosion of the mine, and the consequent confusion of the enemy, and the crest immediately gained, it would be impossible to remain there; for, that as soon as the enemy should recover from their confusion, they would bring their troops and batteries to bear upon us and we would be driven out; that there were two things to be done, namely-that we should go up promptly and take the crest, for, in my judgment, the mere occupation of the crater and the holding on to that was of no possible use to us, because the enemy's line was not such a line as would be of advantage to us to hold except to go from it to the crest; and that the troops were to be withdrawn when the assault proved unsuccessful.

General HANCOCK, president. Do you not mean that you met four division commanders instead of three, as you said, at the headquarters of General Burnside?

General MEADE: No; I mean three. I saw Potter, Ledlie, and Willcox, and I mentioned in the presence of those gentlemen the tactical maneuvers to be made between that crater and the crest; that the only thing to be done was to rush for the crest and take it immediately after the explosion had taken place, and that they might rest assured that any attempt to take time to form their troops would result in a repulse. Those were all the dispatches that transpired between General Burnside and myself before the day of the assault. On the morning of the 30th, about 3.15 o'clock, when I was about preparing to go forward to General Burnside's headquarters, I found that it was very dark, and suggestions being made by some of my officers that it was too dark to operate successfully and that a postponement of the explosion of the mine might be advantageous, I accordingly addressed a dispatch to General Burnside to the following effect (document O).

To that I received the following reply from General Burnside (document P.)

I then went over to General Burnside's headquarters, he, during these operations, being farther to the front. The hour had arrived; I stood waiting. I heard no report from General Burnside and no explosion of the mine. In the mean time Lieutenant-General Grant arrived. Finding that there was no explosion, I sent two staff officers, first Captain Jay and then (I do not recollect the name of the other), but I sent two staff officers to ascertain from General Burnside what the difficulty was (if there was any difficulty), why his mine did not explode, if he knew, to which I received no answer. At 4.10 the following dispatch was sent to him (document Q), and to this I got no answer. At 4.20 another dispatch was sent to him as follows (document R).

I should have stated before this that in order to secure the speedy transmission of intelligence, I took the precaution to have a telegraph run from my headquarters in General Burnside's to where General Burnside had established his headquarters for the day, in the fourteen-gun battery. The following is the next dispatch I sent to General Burnside, (document S). To this I received no reply. Finding that no replies were received, and the lieutenant-general commanding desiring that an immediate assault should be made without reference to the mine, at 4.35 the following dispatch was sent to General Burnside (document T.)

The same orders, you will find, were sent to General Warren, to General Mott, and to General Hunt, to open the artillery. About this time, however, about 4.40, the mine was exploded. In the mean time Captain Jay returned and informed me that the fuse had failed; that a defect was found, and the fuse had been overhauled about fifty feet or twenty-five feet (I forget the distance) from the entrance; that the defect had been ascertained, and had been remedied, and that finally the mine had been exploded. So far as my recollection goes the mine was exploded about 4.40 or 4.45. At 5.45 a.m., one hour after the explosion of the mine, the following dispatch was sent to General Burnside (document U).

The following dispatch was received from him apparently as an answer to mine, although through a difference in time it is dated before it (document V).