53: Chapter LIII.
<< 52: Chapter LII. || 54: Chapter LIV. >>
In the reconnaissance made by Mott on the 11th, a salient was
discovered at the right centre. I determined that an assault
should be made at that point.28 Accordingly in the afternoon
Hancock was ordered to move his command by the rear of Warren and
Wright, under cover of night, to Wright's left, and there form it
for an assault at four o'clock the next morning. The night was
dark, it rained heavily, and the road was difficult, so that it
was midnight when he reached the point where he was to halt. It
took most of the night to get the men in position for their
advance in the morning. The men got but little rest. Burnside
was ordered to attack 29 on the left of the salient at the
same hour. I sent two of my staff officers to impress upon him
the importance of pushing forward vigorously. Hancock was
notified of this. Warren and Wright were ordered to hold
themselves in readiness to join in the assault if circumstances
made it advisable. I occupied a central position most
convenient for receiving information from all points. Hancock
put Barlow on his left, in double column, and Birney to his
right. Mott followed Birney, and Gibbon was held in reserve.
The morning of the 12th opened foggy, delaying the start more
than half an hour.
The ground over which Hancock had to pass to reach the enemy,
was ascending and heavily wooded to within two or three hundred
yards of the enemy's intrenchments. In front of Birney there
was also a marsh to cross. But, notwithstanding all these
difficulties, the troops pushed on in quick time without firing
a gun, and when within four or five hundred yards of the enemy's
line broke out in loud cheers, and with a rush went up to and
over the breastworks. Barlow and Birney entered almost
simultaneously. Here a desperate hand-to-hand conflict took
place. The men of the two sides were too close together to
fire, but used their guns as clubs. The hand conflict was soon
over. Hancock's corps captured some four thousand prisoners
among them a division and a brigade commander twenty or more
guns with their horses, caissons, and ammunition, several
thousand stand of arms, and many colors. Hancock, as soon as
the hand-to-hand conflict was over, turned the guns of the enemy
against him and advanced inside the rebel lines. About six
o'clock I ordered Warren's corps to the support of Hancock's.
Burnside, on the left, had advanced up east of the salient to
the very parapet of the enemy. Potter, commanding one of his
divisions, got over but was not able to remain there. However,
he inflicted a heavy loss upon the enemy; but not without loss
This victory was important, and one that Lee could not afford to
leave us in full possession of. He made the most strenuous
efforts to regain the position he had lost. Troops were brought
up from his left and attacked Hancock furiously. Hancock was
forced to fall back: but he did so slowly, with his face to the
enemy, inflicting on him heavy loss, until behind the breastworks
he had captured. These he turned, facing them the other way, and
continued to hold. Wright was ordered up to reinforce Hancock,
and arrived by six o'clock. He was wounded soon after coming up
but did not relinquish the command of his corps, although the
fighting lasted until one o'clock the next morning. At eight
o'clock Warren was ordered up again, but was so slow in making
his dispositions that his orders were frequently repeated, and
with emphasis. At eleven o'clock I gave Meade written orders to
relieve Warren from his command if he failed to move promptly.
Hancock placed batteries on high ground in his rear, which he
used against the enemy, firing over the heads of his own troops.
Burnside accomplished but little on our left of a positive
nature, but negatively a great deal. He kept Lee from
reinforcing his centre from that quarter. If the 5th corps, or
rather if Warren, had been as prompt as Wright was with the 6th
corps, better results might have been obtained.
Lee massed heavily from his left flank on the broken point of
his line. Five times during the day he assaulted furiously, but
without dislodging our troops from their new position. His
losses must have been fearful. Sometimes the belligerents would
be separated by but a few feet. In one place a tree, eighteen
inches in diameter, was cut entirely down by musket balls. All
the trees between the lines were very much cut to pieces by
artillery and musketry. It was three o'clock next morning
before the fighting ceased. Some of our troops had then been
twenty hours under fire. In this engagement we did not lose a
single organization, not even a company. The enemy lost one
division with its commander, one brigade and one regiment, with
heavy losses elsewhere.30 Our losses were heavy, but, as
stated, no whole company was captured. At night Lee took a
position in rear of his former one, and by the following morning
he was strongly intrenched in it.
Warren's corps was now temporarily broken up, Cutler's division
sent to Wright, and Griffin's to Hancock. Meade ordered his
chief of staff, General Humphreys, to remain with Warren and the
remaining division, and authorized him to give it orders in his
During the day I was passing along the line from wing to wing
continuously. About the centre stood a house which proved to be
occupied by an old lady and her daughter. She showed such
unmistakable signs of being strongly Union that I stopped. She
said she had not seen a Union flag for so long a time that it
did her heart good to look upon it again. She said her husband
and son, being, Union men, had had to leave early in the war,
and were now somewhere in the Union army, if alive. She was
without food or nearly so, so I ordered rations issued to her,
and promised to find out if I could where the husband and son
There was no fighting on the 13th, further than a little
skirmishing between Mott's division and the enemy. I was afraid
that Lee might be moving out, and I did not want him to go
without my knowing it. The indications were that he was moving,
but it was found that he was only taking his new position back
from the salient that had been captured. Our dead were buried
this day. Mott's division was reduced to a brigade, and
assigned to Birney's division.
During this day I wrote to Washington recommending Sherman and
Meade 31 for promotion to the grade of Major-General in the
regular army; Hancock for Brigadier-General; Wright, Gibbon and
Humphreys to be Major-Generals of Volunteers; and Upton and
Carroll to be Brigadiers. Upton had already been named as such,
but the appointment had to be confirmed by the Senate on the
nomination of the President.
The night of the 13th Warren and Wright were moved by the rear
to the left of Burnside. The night was very dark and it rained
heavily, the roads were so bad that the troops had to cut trees
and corduroy the road a part of the way, to get through. It was
midnight before they got to the point where they were to halt,
and daylight before the troops could be organized to advance to
their position in line. They gained their position in line,
however, without any fighting, except a little in Wright's
front. Here Upton had to contend for an elevation which we
wanted and which the enemy was not disposed to yield. Upton
first drove the enemy, and was then repulsed in turn. Ayres
coming to his support with his brigade (of Griffin's division,
Warren's corps), the position was secured and fortified. There
was no more battle during the 14th. This brought our line east
of the Court House and running north and south and facing west.
During the night of the 14th-15th Lee moved to cover this new
front. This left Hancock without an enemy confronting him. He
was brought to the rear of our new centre, ready to be moved in
any direction he might be wanted.
On the 15th news came from Butler and Averill. The former
reported the capture of the outer works at Drury's Bluff, on the
James River, and that his cavalry had cut the railroad and
telegraph south of Richmond on the Danville road: and the
latter, the destruction of a depot of supplies at Dublin, West
Virginia, and the breaking of New River Bridge on the Virginia
and Tennessee Railroad. The next day news came from Sherman and
Sheridan. Sherman had forced Johnston out of Dalton, Georgia,
and was following him south. The report from Sheridan embraced
his operations up to his passing the outer defence of
Richmond. The prospect must now have been dismal in Richmond.
The road and telegraph were cut between the capital and Lee. The
roads and wires were cut in every direction from the rebel
capital. Temporarily that city was cut off from all
communication with the outside except by courier. This
condition of affairs, however, was of but short duration.
I wrote Halleck:
Near Spottsylvania C. H.,
May 16, 1864, 8 A.M.
Washington, D. C.:
We have had five days almost constant rain without any prospect
yet of it clearing up. The roads have now become so impassable
that ambulances with wounded men can no longer run between here
and Fredericksburg. All offensive operations necessarily cease
until we can have twenty-four hours of dry weather. The army is
in the best of spirits, and feel the greatest confidence of
assure the President and Secretary of War that the elements
alone have suspended hostilities, and that it is in no manner
due to weakness or exhaustion on our part.
U. S. Grant,
The condition of the roads was such that nothing was done on the
17th. But that night Hancock and Wright were to make a night
march back to their old positions, and to make an assault at
four o'clock in the morning. Lee got troops back in time to
protect his old line, so the assault was unsuccessful. On this
day (18th) the news was almost as discouraging to us as it had
been two days before in the rebel capital. As stated above,
Hancock's and Wright's corps had made an unsuccessful assault.
News came that Sigel had been defeated at New Market, badly, and
was retreating down the valley. Not two hours before, I had sent
the inquiry to Halleck whether Sigel could not get to Staunton to
stop supplies coming from there to Lee. I asked at once that
Sigel might be relieved, and some one else put in his place.
Hunter's name was suggested, and I heartily approved. Further
news from Butler reported him driven from Drury's Bluff, but
still in possession of the Petersburg road. Banks had been
defeated in Louisiana, relieved, and Canby put in his place.
This change of commander was not on my suggestion. All this
news was very discouraging. All of it must have been known by
the enemy before it was by me. In fact, the good news (for the
enemy) must have been known to him at the moment I thought he
was in despair, and his anguish had been already relieved when
we were enjoying his supposed discomfiture, But this was no time
for repining. I immediately gave orders for a movement by the
left flank, on towards Richmond, to commence on the night of the
19th. I also asked Halleck to secure the cooperation of the navy
in changing our base of supplies from Fredericksburg to Port
Royal, on the Rappahannock.
Up to this time I had received no reinforcements, except six
thousand raw troops under Brigadier General Robert O. Tyler,
just arrived. They had not yet joined their command, Hancock's
corps, but were on our right. This corps had been brought to
the rear of the centre, ready to move in any direction. Lee,
probably suspecting some move on my part, and seeing our right
entirely abandoned, moved Ewell's corps about five o'clock in
the afternoon, with Early's as a reserve, to attack us in that
quarter. Tyler had come up from Fredericksburg, and had been
halted on the road to the right of our line, near Kitching's
brigade of Warren's corps. Tyler received the attack with his
raw troops, and they maintained their position, until
reinforced, in a manner worthy of veterans.
Hancock was in a position to reinforce speedily, and was the
soldier to do it without waiting to make dispositions. Birney
was thrown to Tyler's right and Crawford to his left, with
Gibbon as a reserve; and Ewell was whirled back speedily and
with heavy loss.
Warren had been ordered to get on Ewell's flank and in his rear,
to cut him off from his intrenchments. But his efforts were so
feeble that under the cover of night Ewell got back with only
the loss of a few hundred prisoners, besides his killed and
wounded. The army being engaged until after dark, I rescinded
the order for the march by our left flank that night.
As soon as it was discovered that the enemy were coming out to
attack, I naturally supposed they would detach a force to
destroy our trains. The withdrawal of Hancock from the right
uncovered one road from Spottsylvania to Fredericksburg over
which trains drew our supplies. This was guarded by a division
of colored troops, commanded by General Ferrero, belonging to
Burnside's corps. Ferrero was therefore promptly notified, and
ordered to throw his cavalry pickets out to the south and be
prepared to meet the enemy if he should come; if he had to
retreat to do so towards Fredericksburg. The enemy did detach
as expected, and captured twenty-five or thirty wagons which,
however, were soon retaken.
In consequence of the disasters that had befallen us in the past
few days, Lee could be reinforced largely, and I had no doubt he
would be. Beauregard had come up from the south with troops to
guard the Confederate capital when it was in danger. Butler
being driven back, most of the troops could be sent to Lee. Hoke
was no longer needed in North Carolina; and Sigel's troops having
gone back to Cedar Creek, whipped, many troops could be spared
from the valley.
The Wilderness and Spottsylvania battles convinced me that we
had more artillery than could ever be brought into action at any
one time. It occupied much of the road in marching, and taxed
the trains in bringing up forage. Artillery is very useful when
it can be brought into action, but it is a very burdensome luxury
where it cannot be used. Before leaving Spottsylvania,
therefore, I sent back to the defence of Washington over one
hundred pieces of artillery, with the horses and caissons. This
relieved the roads over which we were to march of more than two
hundred six-horse teams, and still left us more artillery than
could be advantageously used. In fact, before reaching the
James River I again reduced the artillery with the army largely.
I believed that, if one corps of the army was exposed on the
road to Richmond, and at a distance from the main army, Lee
would endeavor to attack the exposed corps before reinforcements
could come up; in which case the main army could follow Lee up
and attack him before he had time to intrench. So I issued the
Near Spottsylvania C. H., VA.,
May 18, 1864.
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Before daylight to-morrow morning I propose to draw Hancock and
Burnside from the position they now hold, and put Burnside to
the left of Wright. Wright and Burnside should then force their
way up as close to the enemy as they can get without a general
engagement, or with a general engagement if the enemy will come
out of their works to fight, and intrench. Hancock should march
and take up a position as if in support of the two left corps.
To-morrow night, at twelve or one o'clock, he will be moved
south-east with all his force and as much cavalry as can be
given to him, to get as far towards Richmond on the line of the
Fredericksburg Railroad as he can make, fighting the enemy in
whatever force he can find him. If the enemy make a general
move to meet this, they will be followed by the other three
corps of the army, and attacked, if possible, before time is
given to intrench.
Suitable directions will at once be given for all trains and
surplus artillery to conform to this movement.
U. S. Grant.
On the 20th, Lee showing no signs of coming out of his lines,
orders were renewed for a left-flank movement, to commence after
28 Headquarters Armies U. S.,
May II, 1864.—3 P.M.
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Move three divisions of the 2d corps by the rear of the 5th and
6th corps, under cover of night, so as to join the 9th corps in
a vigorous assault on the enemy at four o'clock A.M. to-morrow.
will send one or two staff officers over to-night to stay with
Burnside, and impress him with the importance of a prompt and
vigorous attack. Warren and Wright should hold their corps as
close to the enemy as possible, to take advantage of any
diversion caused by this attack, and to push in if any
opportunity presents itself. There is but little doubt in my
mind that the assault last evening would have proved entirely
successful if it had commenced one hour earlier and had been
heartily entered into by Mott's division and the 9th corps.
U. S. Grant,
29 Headquarters, Armies U. S.,
May 11, 1864.-4 P.M.
Major-General A. E. Burnside,
Commanding 9th Army Corps.
Major-General Hancock has been ordered to move his corps under
cover of night to join you in a vigorous attack against the
enemy at 4 o'clock A.M. to-morrow. You will move against the
enemy with your entire force promptly and with all possible
vigor at precisely 4 o'clock A.M. to-morrow the 12th inst. Let
your preparations for this attack be conducted with the utmost
secrecy and veiled entirely from the enemy.
I send two of my staff officers, Colonels Comstock and Babcock,
in whom I have great confidence and who are acquainted with the
direction the attack is to be made from here, to remain with you
and General Hancock with instructions to render you every
assistance in their power. Generals Warren and Wright will hold
their corps as close to the enemy as possible, to take advantage
of any diversion caused by yours and Hancock's attack, and will
push in their whole force if any opportunity presents itself.
U. S. Grant,
30 Headquarters Armies U. S.,
May 12, 1864, 6.30 P.M.
Washington, D. C.
The eighth day of the battle closes, leaving between three and
four thousand prisoners in our hands for the day's work,
including two General officers, and over thirty pieces of
artillery. The enemy are obstinate, and seem to have found the
last ditch. We have lost no organizations, not even that of a
company, whilst we have destroyed and captured one division
(Johnson's), one brigade (Doles'), and one regiment entire from
U. S. Grant,
31 Spottsylvania C. H., May 13, 1864.
Hon E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War,
Washington, D. C.
I beg leave to recommend the following promotions be made for
gallant and distinguished services in the last eight days'
battles, to wit: Brigadier-General H. G. Wright and
Brigadier-General John Gibbon to be Major-Generals; Colonel S.
S. Carroll, 8th Ohio Volunteers Colonel E. Upton, 121st New York
Volunteers; Colonel William McCandless, 2d Pennsylvania Reserves,
to be Brigadier-Generals. I would also recommend Major-General W.
S. Hancock for Brigadier-General in the regular army. His
services and qualifications are eminently deserving of this
recognition. In making these recommendations I do not wish the
claims of General G. M. Dodge for promotion forgotten, but
recommend his name to be sent in at the same time. I would also
ask to have General Wright assigned to the command of the Sixth
Army Corps. I would further ask the confirmation of General
Humphreys to the rank of Major-General.
General Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations.
He and Sherman are the fittest officers for large commands I
have come in contact with. If their services can be rewarded by
promotion to the rank of Major-Generals in the regular army the
honor would be worthily bestowed, and I would feel personally
gratified. I would not like to see one of these promotions at
this time without seeing both.
U. S. Grant,
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