54: Chapter LIV.
<< 53: Chapter LIII. || 55: Chapter LV. >>
We were now to operate in a different country from any we had
before seen in Virginia. The roads were wide and good, and the
country well cultivated. No men were seen except those bearing
arms, even the black man having been sent away. The country,
however, was new to us, and we had neither guides nor maps to
tell us where the roads were, or where they led to. Engineer
and staff officers were put to the dangerous duty of supplying
the place of both maps and guides. By reconnoitering they were
enabled to locate the roads in the vicinity of each army
corps. Our course was south, and we took all roads leading in
that direction which would not separate the army too widely.
Hancock who had the lead had marched easterly to Guiney's
Station, on the Fredericksburg Railroad, thence southerly to
Bowling Green and Milford. He was at Milford by the night of
the 21st. Here he met a detachment of Pickett's division coming
from Richmond to reinforce Lee. They were speedily driven away,
and several hundred captured. Warren followed on the morning of
the 21st, and reached Guiney's Station that night without
molestation. Burnside and Wright were retained at Spottsylvania
to keep up the appearance of an intended assault, and to hold
Lee, if possible, while Hancock and Warren should get start
enough to interpose between him and Richmond.
Lee had now a superb opportunity to take the initiative either
by attacking Wright and Burnside alone, or by following by the
Telegraph Road and striking Hancock's and Warren's corps, or
even Hancock's alone, before reinforcements could come up. But
he did not avail himself of either opportunity. He seemed
really to be misled as to my designs; but moved by his interior
line—the Telegraph Road—to make sure of keeping between his
capital and the Army of the Potomac. He never again had such an
opportunity of dealing a heavy blow.
The evening of the 21st Burnside, 9th corps, moved out followed
by Wright, 6th corps. Burnside was to take the Telegraph Road;
but finding Stanard's Ford, over the Po, fortified and guarded,
he turned east to the road taken by Hancock and Warren without
an attempt to dislodge the enemy. The night of the 21st I had
my headquarters near the 6th corps, at Guiney's Station, and the
enemy's cavalry was between us and Hancock. There was a slight
attack on Burnside's and Wright's corps as they moved out of
their lines; but it was easily repulsed. The object probably
was only to make sure that we were not leaving a force to follow
upon the rear of the Confederates.
By the morning of the 22d Burnside and Wright were at Guiney's
Station. Hancock's corps had now been marching and fighting
continuously for several days, not having had rest even at night
much of the time. They were, therefore, permitted to rest during
the 22d. But Warren was pushed to Harris's Store, directly west
of Milford, and connected with it by a good road, and Burnside
was sent to New Bethel Church. Wright's corps was still back at
I issued the following order for the movement of the troops the
New Bethel, VA., May 22, 1864
Commanding Army of the Potomac.
Direct corps commanders to hold their troops in readiness to
march at five A.M. to-morrow. At that hour each command will
send out cavalry and infantry on all roads to their front
leading south, and ascertain, if possible, where the enemy is.
If beyond the South Anna, the 5th and 6th corps will march to
the forks of the road, where one branch leads to Beaver Dam
Station, the other to Jericho Bridge, then south by roads
reaching the Anna, as near to and east of Hawkins Creek as they
can be found.
The 2d corps will move to Chesterfield Ford. The 9th corps will
be directed to move at the same time to Jericho Bridge. The map
only shows two roads for the four corps to march upon, but, no
doubt, by the use of plantation roads, and pressing in guides,
others can be found, to give one for each corps.
The troops will follow their respective reconnoitering parties.
The trains will be moved at the same time to Milford Station.
Headquarters will follow the 9th corps.
U. S. Grant,
Warren's corps was moved from Harris's Store to Jericho Ford,
Wright's following. Warren arrived at the ford early in the
afternoon, and by five o'clock effected a crossing under the
protection of sharpshooters. The men had to wade in water up to
their waists. As soon as enough troops were over to guard the
ford, pontoons were laid and the artillery and the rest of the
troops crossed. The line formed was almost perpendicular to the
course of the river—Crawford on the left, next to the river,
Griffin in the centre, and Cutler on the right. Lee was found
intrenched along the front of their line. The whole of Hill's
corps was sent against Warren's right before it had got in
position. A brigade of Cutler's division was driven back, the
enemy following, but assistance coming up the enemy was in turn
driven back into his trenches with heavy loss in killed and
wounded, with about five hundred prisoners left in our hands. By
night Wright's corps was up ready to reinforce Warren.
On the 23d Hancock's corps was moved to the wooden bridge which
spans the North Anna River just west of where the Fredericksburg
Railroad crosses. It was near night when the troops arrived.
They found the bridge guarded, with troops intrenched, on the
north side. Hancock sent two brigades, Egan's and Pierce's, to
the right and left, and when properly disposed they charged
simultaneously. The bridge was carried quickly, the enemy
retreating over it so hastily that many were shoved into the
river, and some of them were drowned. Several hundred prisoners
were captured. The hour was so late that Hancock did not cross
until next morning.
Burnside's corps was moved by a middle road running between
those described above, and which strikes the North Anna at Ox
Ford, midway between Telegraph Road and Jericho Ford. The hour
of its arrival was too late to cross that night.
On the 24th Hancock's corps crossed to the south side of the
river without opposition, and formed line facing nearly west.
The railroad in rear was taken possession of and destroyed as
far as possible. Wright's corps crossed at Jericho early the
same day, and took position to the right of Warren's corps,
extending south of the Virginia Central Railroad. This road was
torn up for a considerable distance to the rear (west), the ties
burned, and the rails bent and twisted by heating them over the
burning ties. It was found, however, that Burnside's corps
could not cross at Ox Ford. Lee had taken a position with his
centre on the river at this point, with the two wings thrown
back, his line making an acute angle where it overlooked the
Before the exact position of the whole of Lee's line was
accurately known, I directed Hancock and Warren each to send a
brigade to Ox Ford by the south side of the river. They found
the enemy too strong to justify a serious attack. A third ford
was found between Ox Ford and Jericho. Burnside was directed to
cross a division over this ford, and to send one division to
Hancock. Crittenden was crossed by this newly-discovered ford,
and formed up the river to connect with Crawford's left. Potter
joined Hancock by way of the wooden bridge. Crittenden had a
severe engagement with some of Hill's corps on his crossing the
river, and lost heavily. When joined to Warren's corps he was
no further molested. Burnside still guarded Ox Ford from the
Lee now had his entire army south of the North Anna. Our lines
covered his front, with the six miles separating the two wings
guarded by but a single division. To get from one wing to the
other the river would have to be crossed twice. Lee could
reinforce any part of his line from all points of it in a very
short march; or could concentrate the whole of it wherever he
might choose to assault. We were, for the time, practically two
Lee had been reinforced, and was being reinforced, largely.
About this time the very troops whose coming I had predicted,
had arrived or were coming in. Pickett with a full division
from Richmond was up; Hoke from North Carolina had come with a
brigade; and Breckinridge was there: in all probably not less
than fifteen thousand men. But he did not attempt to drive us
from the field.
On the 22d or 23d I received dispatches from Washington saying
that Sherman had taken Kingston, crossed the Etowah River and
was advancing into Georgia.
I was seated at the time on the porch of a fine plantation house
waiting for Burnside's corps to pass. Meade and his staff,
besides my own staff, were with me. The lady of the house, a
Mrs. Tyler, and an elderly lady, were present. Burnside seeing
us, came up on the porch, his big spurs and saber rattling as he
walked. He touched his hat politely to the ladies, and remarked
that he supposed they had never seen so many "live Yankees"
before in their lives. The elderly lady spoke up promptly
saying, "Oh yes, I have; many more." "Where?" said Burnside.
"In Richmond." Prisoners, of course, was understood.
I read my dispatch aloud, when it was received. This threw the
younger lady into tears. I found the information she had
received (and I suppose it was the information generally in
circulation through the South) was that Lee was driving us from
the State in the most demoralized condition and that in the
South-west our troops were but little better than prisoners of
war. Seeing our troops moving south was ocular proof that a
part of her information was incorrect, and she asked me if my
news from Sherman was true. I assured her that there was no
doubt about it. I left a guard to protect the house from
intrusion until the troops should have all passed, and assured
her that if her husband was in hiding she could bring him in and
he should be protected also. But I presume he was in the
On the 25th I gave orders, through Halleck, to Hunter, who had
relieved Sigel, to move up the Valley of Virginia, cross over
the Blue Ridge to Charlottesville and go as far as Lynchburg if
possible, living upon the country and cutting the railroads and
canal as he went. After doing this he could find his way back
to his base, or join me.
On the same day news was received that Lee was falling back, on
Richmond. This proved not to be true. But we could do nothing
where we were unless Lee would assume the offensive. I
determined, therefore, to draw out of our present position and
make one more effort to get between him and Richmond. I had no
expectation now, however, of succeeding in this; but I did
expect to hold him far enough west to enable me to reach the
James River high up. Sheridan was now again with the Army of
On the 26th I informed the government at Washington of the
position of the two armies; of the reinforcements the enemy had
received; of the move I proposed to make 32; and directed
that our base of supplies should be shifted to White House, on
the Pamunkey. The wagon train and guards moved directly from
Port Royal to White House. Supplies moved around by water,
guarded by the navy. Orders had previously been sent, through
Halleck, for Butler to send Smith's corps to White House. This
order was repeated on the 25th, with directions that they should
be landed on the north side of the Pamunkey, and marched until
they joined the Army of the Potomac.
It was a delicate move to get the right wing of the Army of the
Potomac from its position south of the North Anna in the
presence of the enemy. To accomplish it, I issued the following
Quarles' Mills, VA., May 25, 1864.
Major General Meade,
Commanding A. P.
Direct Generals Warren and Wright to withdraw all their teams
and artillery, not in position, to the north side of the river
to-morrow. Send that belonging to General Wright's corps as far
on the road to Hanover Town as it can go, without attracting
attention to the fact. Send with it Wright's best division or
division under his ablest commander. Have their places filled
up in the line so if possible the enemy will not notice their
withdrawal. Send the cavalry to-morrow afternoon, or as much of
it as you may deem necessary, to watch and seize, if they can,
Littlepage's Bridge and Taylor's Ford, and to remain on one or
other side of the river at these points until the infantry and
artillery all pass. As soon as it is dark to-morrow night start
the division which you withdraw first from Wright's corps to make
a forced march to Hanover Town, taking with them no teams to
impede their march. At the same time this division starts
commence withdrawing all of the 5th and 6th corps from the south
side of the river, and march them for the same place. The two
divisions of the 9th corps not now with Hancock, may be moved
down the north bank of the river where they will be handy to
support Hancock if necessary, or will be that much on their road
to follow the 5th and 6th corps. Hancock should hold his command
in readiness to follow as soon as the way is clear for him.
Tomorrow it will leave nothing for him to do, but as soon as he
can he should get all his teams and spare artillery on the road
or roads which he will have to take. As soon as the troops
reach Hanover Town they should get possession of all the
crossings they can in that neighborhood. I think it would be
well to make a heavy cavalry demonstration on the enemy's left,
to-morrow afternoon, also.
U. S. Grant,
Wilson's division of cavalry was brought up from the left and
moved by our right south to Little River. Here he manoeuvred to
give the impression that we were going to attack the left flank
of Lee's army.
Under cover of night our right wing was withdrawn to the north
side of the river, Lee being completely deceived by Wilson's
feint. On the afternoon of the 26th Sheridan moved, sending
Gregg's and Torbert's cavalry to Taylor's and Littlepage's fords
towards Hanover. As soon as it was dark both divisions moved
quietly to Hanover Ferry, leaving small guards behind to keep up
the impression that crossings were to be attempted in the
morning. Sheridan was followed by a division of infantry under
General Russell. On the morning of the 27th the crossing was
effected with but little loss, the enemy losing thirty or forty,
taken prisoners. Thus a position was secured south of the
Russell stopped at the crossing while the cavalry pushed on to
Hanover Town. Here Barringer's, formerly Gordon's, brigade of
rebel cavalry was encountered, but it was speedily driven away.
Warren's and Wright's corps were moved by the rear of Burnside's
and Hancock's corps. When out of the way these latter corps
followed, leaving pickets confronting the enemy. Wilson's
cavalry followed last, watching all the fords until everything
had recrossed; then taking up the pontoons and destroying other
bridges, became the rear-guard.
Two roads were traversed by the troops in this move. The one
nearest to and north of the North Anna and Pamunkey was taken by
Wright, followed by Hancock. Warren, followed by Burnside, moved
by a road farther north, and longer. The trains moved by a road
still farther north, and had to travel a still greater
distance. All the troops that had crossed the Pamunkey on the
morning of the 27th remained quiet during the rest of the day,
while the troops north of that stream marched to reach the
crossing that had been secured for them.
Lee had evidently been deceived by our movement from North Anna;
for on the morning of the 27th he telegraphed to Richmond:
"Enemy crossed to north side, and cavalry and infantry crossed
at Hanover Town." The troops that had then crossed left his
front the night of the 25th.
The country we were now in was a difficult one to move troops
over. The streams were numerous, deep and sluggish, sometimes
spreading out into swamps grown up with impenetrable growths of
trees and underbrush. The banks were generally low and marshy,
making the streams difficult to approach except where there were
roads and bridges.
Hanover Town is about twenty miles from Richmond. There are two
roads leading there; the most direct and shortest one crossing
the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, near the Virginia Central
Railroad, the second going by New and Old Cold Harbor. A few
miles out from Hanover Town there is a third road by way of
Mechanicsville to Richmond. New Cold Harbor was important to us
because while there we both covered the roads back to White House
(where our supplies came from), and the roads south-east over
which we would have to pass to get to the James River below the
On the morning of the 28th the army made an early start, and by
noon all had crossed except Burnside's corps. This was left on
the north side temporarily to guard the large wagon train. A
line was at once formed extending south from the river, Wright's
corps on the right, Hancock's in the centre, and Warren's on the
left, ready to meet the enemy if he should come.
At the same time Sheridan was directed to reconnoiter towards
Mechanicsville to find Lee's position. At Hawes' Shop, just
where the middle road leaves the direct road to Richmond, he
encountered the Confederate cavalry dismounted and partially
intrenched. Gregg attacked with his division, but was unable to
move the enemy. In the evening Custer came up with a brigade.
The attack was now renewed, the cavalry dismounting and charging
as infantry. This time the assault was successful, both sides
losing a considerable number of men. But our troops had to bury
the dead, and found that more Confederate than Union soldiers had
been killed. The position was easily held, because our infantry
On the 29th a reconnaissance was made in force, to find the
position of Lee. Wright's corps pushed to Hanover Court
House. Hancock's corps pushed toward Totopotomoy Creek;
Warren's corps to the left on the Shady Grove Church Road, while
Burnside was held in reserve. Our advance was pushed forward
three miles on the left with but little fighting. There was now
an appearance of a movement past our left flank, and Sheridan was
sent to meet it.
On the 30th Hancock moved to the Totopotomoy, where he found the
enemy strongly fortified. Wright was moved to the right of
Hancock's corps, and Burnside was brought forward and crossed,
taking position to the left of Hancock. Warren moved up near
Huntley Corners on the Shady Grove Church Road. There was some
skirmishing along the centre, and in the evening Early attacked
Warren with some vigor, driving him back at first, and
threatening to turn our left flank. As the best means of
reinforcing the left, Hancock was ordered to attack in his
front. He carried and held the rifle-pits. While this was
going on Warren got his men up, repulsed Early, and drove him
more than a mile.
On this day I wrote to Halleck ordering all the pontoons in
Washington to be sent to City Point.
In the evening news was received of the arrival of Smith with
his corps at White House. I notified Meade, in writing, as
Near Hawes1 Shop, VA.,
6.40 P.M., May 30, 1864.
Commanding A. P.
General Smith will debark his force at the White House tonight
and start up the south bank of the Pamunkey at an early hour,
probably at 3 A.M. in the morning. It is not improbable that
the enemy, being aware of Smith's movement, will be feeling to
get on our left flank for the purpose of cutting him off, or by
a dash to crush him and get back before we are aware of it.
Sheridan ought to be notified to watch the enemy's movements
well out towards Cold Harbor, and also on the Mechanicsville
road. Wright should be got well massed on Hancock's right, so
that, if it becomes necessary, he can take the place of the
latter readily whilst troops are being thrown east of the
Totopotomoy if necessary.
I want Sheridan to send a cavalry force of at least half a
brigade, if not a whole brigade, at 5 A.M. in the morning, to
communicate with Smith and to return with him. I will send
orders for Smith by the messenger you send to Sheridan with his
U. S. Grant.
I also notified Smith of his danger, and the precautions that
would be taken to protect him.
The night of the 30th Lee's position was substantially from
Atlee's Station on the Virginia Central Railroad south and east
to the vicinity of Cold Harbor. Ours was: The left of Warren's
corps was on the Shady Grove Road, extending to the
Mechanicsville Road and about three miles south of the
Totopotomoy. Burnside to his right, then Hancock, and Wright on
the extreme right, extending towards Hanover Court House, six
miles south-east of it. Sheridan with two divisions of cavalry
was watching our left front towards Cold Harbor. Wilson with
his division on our right was sent to get on the Virginia
Central Railroad and destroy it as far back as possible. He got
possession of Hanover Court House the next day after a skirmish
with Young's cavalry brigade. The enemy attacked Sheridan's
pickets, but reinforcements were sent up and the attack was
speedily repulsed and the enemy followed some distance towards
32 Quarles' Mills, VA., May 26, 1864.
Washington, D. C.
The relative position of the two armies is now as follows: Lee's
right rests on a swamp east of the Richmond and Fredericksburg
road and south of the North Anna, his centre on the river at Ox
Ford, and his left at Little River with the crossings of Little
River guarded as far up as we have gone. Hancock with his corps
and one division of the 9th corps crossed at Chesterfield Ford
and covers the right wing of Lee's army. One division of the 9th
corps is on the north bank of the Anna at Ox Ford, with bridges
above and below at points nearest to it where both banks are
held by us, so that it could reinforce either wing of our army
with equal facility. The 5th and 6th corps with one division of
the 9th corps run from the south bank of the Anna from a short
distance above Ox Ford to Little River, and parallel with and
near to the enemy.
To make a direct attack from either wing would cause a slaughter
of our men that even success would not justify. To turn the
enemy by his right, between the two Annas is impossible on
account of the swamp upon which his right rests. To turn him by
the left leaves Little River, New Found River and South Anna
River, all of them streams presenting considerable obstacles to
the movement of our army, to be crossed. I have determined
therefore to turn the enemy's right by crossing at or near
Hanover Town. This crosses all three streams at once, and
leaves us still where we can draw supplies.
During the last night the teams and artillery not in position,
belonging to the right wing of our army, and one division of
that wing were quietly withdrawn to the north bank of the river
and moved down to the rear of the left. As soon as it is dark
this division with most of the cavalry will commence a forced
march for Hanover Town to seize and hold the crossings. The
balance of the right wing will withdraw at the same hour, and
follow as rapidly as possible. The left wing will also withdraw
from the south bank of the river to-night and follow in rear of
the right wing. Lee's army is really whipped. The prisoners we
now take show it, and the action of his army shows it
unmistakably. A battle with them outside of intrenchments
cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the MORALE
over the enemy, and attack him with confidence. I may be
mistaken, but I feel that our success over Lee's army is already
assured. The promptness and rapidity with which you have
forwarded reinforcements has contributed largely to the feeling
of confidence inspired in our men, and to break down that of the
We are destroying all the rails we can on the Central and
Fredericksburg roads. I want to leave a gap on the roads north
of Richmond so big that to get a single track they will have to
import rail from elsewhere. Even if a crossing is not effected
at Hanover Town it will probably be necessary for us to move on
down the Pamunkey until a crossing is effected. I think it
advisable therefore to change our base of supplies from Port
Royal to the White House. I wish you would direct this change
at once, and also direct Smith to put the railroad bridge there
in condition for crossing troops and artillery and leave men to
U. S. Grant,
<< 53: Chapter LIII. || 55: Chapter LV. >>