Part 8 out of 14
The bill restoring the grade of lieutenant-general of the army had
passed through Congress and became a law on the 26th of February. My
nomination had been sent to the Senate on the 1st of March and confirmed
the next day (the 2d). I was ordered to Washington on the 3d to receive
my commission, and started the day following that. The commission was
handed to me on the 9th. It was delivered to me at the Executive
Mansion by President Lincoln in the presence of his Cabinet, my eldest
son, those of my staff who were with me and and a few other visitors.
The President in presenting my commission read from a paper--stating,
however, as a preliminary, and prior to the delivery of it, that he had
drawn that up on paper, knowing my disinclination to speak in public,
and handed me a copy in advance so that I might prepare a few lines of
reply. The President said:
"General Grant, the nation's appreciation of what you have done, and its
reliance upon you for what remains to be done in the existing great
struggle, are now presented, with this commission constituting you
lieutenant-general in the Army of the United States. With this high
honor, devolves upon you, also, a corresponding responsibility. As the
country herein trusts you, so, under God, it will sustain you. I
scarcely need to add, that, with what I here speak for the nation, goes
my own hearty personal concurrence."
To this I replied: "Mr. President, I accept the commission, with
gratitude for the high honor conferred. With the aid of the noble
armies that have fought in so many fields for our common country, it
will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations. I feel
the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know
that if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and above all, to
the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men."
On the 10th I visited the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac at
Brandy Station; then returned to Washington, and pushed west at once to
make my arrangements for turning over the commands there and giving
general directions for the preparations to be made for the spring
It had been my intention before this to remain in the West, even if I
was made lieutenant-general; but when I got to Washington and saw the
situation it was plain that here was the point for the commanding
general to be. No one else could, probably, resist the pressure that
would be brought to bear upon him to desist from his own plans and
pursue others. I determined, therefore, before I started back to have
Sherman advanced to my late position, McPherson to Sherman's in command
of the department, and Logan to the command of McPherson's corps. These
changes were all made on my recommendation and without hesitation. My
commission as lieutenant-general was given to me on the 9th of March,
1864. On the following day, as already stated, I visited General Meade,
commanding the Army of the Potomac, at his headquarters at Brandy
Station, north of the Rapidan. I had known General Meade slightly in
the Mexican war, but had not met him since until this visit. I was a
stranger to most of the Army of the Potomac, I might say to all except
the officers of the regular army who had served in the Mexican war.
There had been some changes ordered in the organization of that army
before my promotion. One was the consolidation of five corps into
three, thus throwing some officers of rank out of important commands.
Meade evidently thought that I might want to make still one more change
not yet ordered. He said to me that I might want an officer who had
served with me in the West, mentioning Sherman specially, to take his
place. If so, he begged me not to hesitate about making the change. He
urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole
nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the
way of selecting the right men for all positions. For himself, he would
serve to the best of his ability wherever placed. I assured him that I
had no thought of substituting any one for him. As to Sherman, he could
not be spared from the West.
This incident gave me even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did
his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to
be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the
most efficient service.
Meade's position afterwards proved embarrassing to me if not to him. He
was commanding an army and, for nearly a year previous to my taking
command of all the armies, was in supreme command of the Army of the
Potomac--except from the authorities at Washington. All other general
officers occupying similar positions were independent in their commands
so far as any one present with them was concerned. I tried to make
General Meade's position as nearly as possible what it would have been
if I had been in Washington or any other place away from his command. I
therefore gave all orders for the movements of the Army of the Potomac
to Meade to have them executed. To avoid the necessity of having to
give orders direct, I established my headquarters near his, unless there
were reasons for locating them elsewhere. This sometimes happened, and
I had on occasions to give orders direct to the troops affected. On the
11th I returned to Washington and, on the day after, orders were
published by the War Department placing me in command of all the armies.
I had left Washington the night before to return to my old command in
the West and to meet Sherman whom I had telegraphed to join me in
Sherman assumed command of the military division of the Mississippi on
the 18th of March, and we left Nashville together for Cincinnati. I had
Sherman accompany me that far on my way back to Washington so that we
could talk over the matters about which I wanted to see him, without
losing any more time from my new command than was necessary. The first
point which I wished to discuss was particularly about the co-operation
of his command with mine when the spring campaign should commence. There
were also other and minor points, minor as compared with the great
importance of the question to be decided by sanguinary war--the
restoration to duty of officers who had been relieved from important
commands, namely McClellan, Burnside and Fremont in the East, and Buell,
McCook, Negley and Crittenden in the West.
Some time in the winter of 1863-64 I had been invited by the
general-in-chief to give my views of the campaign I thought advisable
for the command under me--now Sherman's. General J. E. Johnston was
defending Atlanta and the interior of Georgia with an army, the largest
part of which was stationed at Dalton, about 38 miles south of
Chattanooga. Dalton is at the junction of the railroad from Cleveland
with the one from Chattanooga to Atlanta.
There could have been no difference of opinion as to the first duty of
the armies of the military division of the Mississippi. Johnston's army
was the first objective, and that important railroad centre, Atlanta,
the second. At the time I wrote General Halleck giving my views of the
approaching campaign, and at the time I met General Sherman, it was
expected that General Banks would be through with the campaign which he
had been ordered upon before my appointment to the command of all the
armies, and would be ready to co-operate with the armies east of the
Mississippi, his part in the programme being to move upon Mobile by land
while the navy would close the harbor and assist to the best of its
ability. (*22) The plan therefore was for Sherman to attack Johnston and
destroy his army if possible, to capture Atlanta and hold it, and with
his troops and those of Banks to hold a line through to Mobile, or at
least to hold Atlanta and command the railroad running east and west,
and the troops from one or other of the armies to hold important points
on the southern road, the only east and west road that would be left in
the possession of the enemy. This would cut the Confederacy in two
again, as our gaining possession of the Mississippi River had done
before. Banks was not ready in time for the part assigned to him, and
circumstances that could not be foreseen determined the campaign which
was afterwards made, the success and grandeur of which has resounded
throughout all lands.
In regard to restoring officers who had been relieved from important
commands to duty again, I left Sherman to look after those who had been
removed in the West while I looked out for the rest. I directed,
however, that he should make no assignment until I could speak to the
Secretary of War about the matter. I shortly after recommended to the
Secretary the assignment of General Buell to duty. I received the
assurance that duty would be offered to him; and afterwards the
Secretary told me that he had offered Buell an assignment and that the
latter had declined it, saying that it would be degradation to accept
the assignment offered. I understood afterwards that he refused to
serve under either Sherman or Canby because he had ranked them both.
Both graduated before him and ranked him in the old army. Sherman
ranked him as a brigadier-general. All of them ranked me in the old
army, and Sherman and Buell did as brigadiers. The worst excuse a
soldier can make for declining service is that he once ranked the
commander he is ordered to report to.
On the 23d of March I was back in Washington, and on the 26th took up my
headquarters at Culpeper Court-House, a few miles south of the
headquarters of the Army of the Potomac.
Although hailing from Illinois myself, the State of the President, I
never met Mr. Lincoln until called to the capital to receive my
commission as lieutenant-general. I knew him, however, very well and
favorably from the accounts given by officers under me at the West who
had known him all their lives. I had also read the remarkable series of
debates between Lincoln and Douglas a few years before, when they were
rival candidates for the United States Senate. I was then a resident of
Missouri, and by no means a "Lincoln man" in that contest; but I
recognized then his great ability.
In my first interview with Mr. Lincoln alone he stated to me that he had
never professed to be a military man or to know how campaigns should be
conducted, and never wanted to interfere in them: but that
procrastination on the part of commanders, and the pressure from the
people at the North and Congress, WHICH WAS ALWAYS WITH HIM, forced him
into issuing his series of "Military Orders"--one, two, three, etc. He
did not know but they were all wrong, and did know that some of them
were. All he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the
responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed,
pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering
such assistance. Assuring him that I would do the best I could with the
means at hand, and avoid as far as possible annoying him or the War
Department, our first interview ended.
The Secretary of War I had met once before only, but felt that I knew
While commanding in West Tennessee we had occasionally held
conversations over the wires, at night, when they were not being
otherwise used. He and General Halleck both cautioned me against giving
the President my plans of campaign, saying that he was so kind-hearted,
so averse to refusing anything asked of him, that some friend would be
sure to get from him all he knew. I should have said that in our
interview the President told me he did not want to know what I proposed
to do. But he submitted a plan of campaign of his own which he wanted
me to hear and then do as I pleased about. He brought out a map of
Virginia on which he had evidently marked every position occupied by the
Federal and Confederate armies up to that time. He pointed out on the
map two streams which empty into the Potomac, and suggested that the
army might be moved on boats and landed between the mouths of these
streams. We would then have the Potomac to bring our supplies, and the
tributaries would protect our flanks while we moved out. I listened
respectfully, but did not suggest that the same streams would protect
Lee's flanks while he was shutting us up.
I did not communicate my plans to the President, nor did I to the
Secretary of War or to General Halleck.
March the 26th my headquarters were, as stated, at Culpeper, and the
work of preparing for an early campaign commenced.
THE MILITARY SITUATION--PLANS FOR THE CAMPAIGN--SHERIDAN ASSIGNED TO
COMMAND OF THE CAVALRY--FLANK MOVEMENTS--FORREST AT FORT PILLOW--GENERAL
BANKS'S EXPEDITION--COLONEL MOSBY--AN INCIDENT OF THE WILDERNESS
When I assumed command of all the armies the situation was about this:
the Mississippi River was guarded from St. Louis to its mouth; the line
of the Arkansas was held, thus giving us all the North-west north of
that river. A few points in Louisiana not remote from the river were
held by the Federal troops, as was also the mouth of the Rio Grande.
East of the Mississippi we held substantially all north of the Memphis
and Charleston Railroad as far east as Chattanooga, thence along the
line of the Tennessee and Holston rivers, taking in nearly all of the
State of Tennessee. West Virginia was in our hands; and that part of
old Virginia north of the Rapidan and east of the Blue Ridge we also
held. On the sea-coast we had Fortress Monroe and Norfolk in Virginia;
Plymouth, Washington and New Berne in North Carolina; Beaufort, Folly
and Morris islands, Hilton Head, Port Royal and Fort Pulaski in South
Carolina and Georgia; Fernandina, St. Augustine, Key West and Pensacola
in Florida. The balance of the Southern territory, an empire in extent,
was still in the hands of the enemy.
Sherman, who had succeeded me in the command of the military division of
the Mississippi, commanded all the troops in the territory west of the
Alleghanies and north of Natchez, with a large movable force about
Chattanooga. His command was subdivided into four departments, but the
commanders all reported to Sherman and were subject to his orders. This
arrangement, however, insured the better protection of all lines of
communication through the acquired territory, for the reason that these
different department commanders could act promptly in case of a sudden
or unexpected raid within their respective jurisdictions without
awaiting the orders of the division commander.
In the East the opposing forces stood in substantially the same
relations towards each other as three years before, or when the war
began; they were both between the Federal and Confederate capitals. It
is true, footholds had been secured by us on the sea-coast, in Virginia
and North Carolina, but, beyond that, no substantial advantage had been
gained by either side. Battles had been fought of as great severity as
had ever been known in war, over ground from the James River and
Chickahominy, near Richmond, to Gettysburg and Chambersburg, in
Pennsylvania, with indecisive results, sometimes favorable to the
National army, sometimes to the Confederate army; but in every instance,
I believe, claimed as victories for the South by the Southern press if
not by the Southern generals. The Northern press, as a whole, did not
discourage these claims; a portion of it always magnified rebel success
and belittled ours, while another portion, most sincerely earnest in
their desire for the preservation of the Union and the overwhelming
success of the Federal armies, would nevertheless generally express
dissatisfaction with whatever victories were gained because they were
not more complete.
That portion of the Army of the Potomac not engaged in guarding lines of
communication was on the northern bank of the Rapidan. The Army of
Northern Virginia confronting it on the opposite bank of the same river,
was strongly intrenched and commanded by the acknowledged ablest general
in the Confederate army. The country back to the James River is cut up
with many streams, generally narrow, deep, and difficult to cross except
where bridged. The region is heavily timbered, and the roads narrow,
and very bad after the least rain. Such an enemy was not, of course,
unprepared with adequate fortifications at convenient intervals all the
way back to Richmond, so that when driven from one fortified position
they would always have another farther to the rear to fall back into.
To provision an army, campaigning against so formidable a foe through
such a country, from wagons alone seemed almost impossible. System and
discipline were both essential to its accomplishment.
The Union armies were now divided into nineteen departments, though four
of them in the West had been concentrated into a single military
division. The Army of the Potomac was a separate command and had no
territorial limits. There were thus seventeen distinct commanders.
Before this time these various armies had acted separately and
independently of each other, giving the enemy an opportunity often of
depleting one command, not pressed, to reinforce another more actively
engaged. I determined to stop this. To this end I regarded the Army of
the Potomac as the centre, and all west to Memphis along the line
described as our position at the time, and north of it, the right wing;
the Army of the James, under General Butler, as the left wing, and all
the troops south, as a force in rear of the enemy. Some of these latter
were occupying positions from which they could not render service
proportionate to their numerical strength. All such were depleted to
the minimum necessary to hold their positions as a guard against
blockade runners; where they could not do this their positions were
abandoned altogether. In this way ten thousand men were added to the
Army of the James from South Carolina alone, with General Gillmore in
command. It was not contemplated that General Gillmore should leave his
department; but as most of his troops were taken, presumably for active
service, he asked to accompany them and was permitted to do so.
Officers and soldiers on furlough, of whom there were many thousands,
were ordered to their proper commands; concentration was the order of
the day, and to have it accomplished in time to advance at the earliest
moment the roads would permit was the problem.
As a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or to act in support of
it, the 9th army corps, over twenty thousand strong, under General
Burnside, had been rendezvoused at Annapolis, Maryland. This was an
admirable position for such a reinforcement. The corps could be brought
at the last moment as a reinforcement to the Army of the Potomac, or it
could be thrown on the sea-coast, south of Norfolk, in Virginia or North
Carolina, to operate against Richmond from that direction. In fact
Burnside and the War Department both thought the 9th corps was intended
for such an expedition up to the last moment.
My general plan now was to concentrate all the force possible against
the Confederate armies in the field. There were but two such, as we
have seen, east of the Mississippi River and facing north. The Army of
Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee commanding, was on the south
bank of the Rapidan, confronting the Army of the Potomac; the second,
under General Joseph E. Johnston, was at Dalton, Georgia, opposed to
Sherman who was still at Chattanooga. Beside these main armies the
Confederates had to guard the Shenandoah Valley, a great storehouse to
feed their armies from, and their line of communications from Richmond
to Tennessee. Forrest, a brave and intrepid cavalry general, was in the
West with a large force; making a larger command necessary to hold what
we had gained in Middle and West Tennessee. We could not abandon any
territory north of the line held by the enemy because it would lay the
Northern States open to invasion. But as the Army of the Potomac was
the principal garrison for the protection of Washington even while it
was moving on Lee, so all the forces to the west, and the Army of the
James, guarded their special trusts when advancing from them as well as
when remaining at them. Better indeed, for they forced the enemy to
guard his own lines and resources at a greater distance from ours, and
with a greater force. Little expeditions could not so well be sent out
to destroy a bridge or tear up a few miles of railroad track, burn a
storehouse, or inflict other little annoyances. Accordingly I arranged
for a simultaneous movement all along the line. Sherman was to move
from Chattanooga, Johnston's army and Atlanta being his objective
points. (*23) Crook, commanding in West Virginia, was to move from the
mouth of the Gauley River with a cavalry force and some artillery, the
Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to be his objective. Either the enemy
would have to keep a large force to protect their communications, or see
them destroyed and a large amount of forage and provision, which they so
much needed, fall into our hands. Sigel was in command in the Valley of
Virginia. He was to advance up the valley, covering the North from an
invasion through that channel as well while advancing as by remaining
near Harper's Ferry. Every mile he advanced also gave us possession of
stores on which Lee relied. Butler was to advance by the James River,
having Richmond and Petersburg as his objective.
Before the advance commenced I visited Butler at Fort Monroe. This was
the first time I had ever met him. Before giving him any order as to
the part he was to play in the approaching campaign I invited his views.
They were very much such as I intended to direct, and as I did direct
(*24), in writing, before leaving.
General W. F. Smith, who had been promoted to the rank of major-general
shortly after the battle of Chattanooga on my recommendation, had not
yet been confirmed. I found a decided prejudice against his
confirmation by a majority of the Senate, but I insisted that his
services had been such that he should be rewarded. My wishes were now
reluctantly complied with, and I assigned him to the command of one of
the corps under General Butler. I was not long in finding out that the
objections to Smith's promotion were well founded.
In one of my early interviews with the President I expressed my
dissatisfaction with the little that had been accomplished by the
cavalry so far in the war, and the belief that it was capable of
accomplishing much more than it had done if under a thorough leader. I
said I wanted the very best man in the army for that command. Halleck
was present and spoke up, saying: "How would Sheridan do?" I replied:
"The very man I want." The President said I could have anybody I wanted.
Sheridan was telegraphed for that day, and on his arrival was assigned
to the command of the cavalry corps with the Army of the Potomac. This
relieved General Alfred Pleasonton. It was not a reflection on that
officer, however, for I did not know but that he had been as efficient
as any other cavalry commander.
Banks in the Department of the Gulf was ordered to assemble all the
troops he had at New Orleans in time to join in the general move, Mobile
to be his objective.
At this time I was not entirely decided as to whether I should move the
Army of the Potomac by the right flank of the enemy, or by his left.
Each plan presented advantages. (*25) If by his right--my left--the
Potomac, Chesapeake Bay and tributaries would furnish us an easy hauling
distance of every position the army could occupy from the Rapidan to the
James River. But Lee could, if he chose, detach or move his whole army
north on a line rather interior to the one I would have to take in
following. A movement by his left--our right--would obviate this; but
all that was done would have to be done with the supplies and ammunition
we started with. All idea of adopting this latter plan was abandoned
when the limited quantity of supplies possible to take with us was
considered. The country over which we would have to pass was so
exhausted of all food or forage that we would be obliged to carry
everything with us.
While these preparations were going on the enemy was not entirely idle.
In the West Forrest made a raid in West Tennessee up to the northern
border, capturing the garrison of four or five hundred men at Union
City, and followed it up by an attack on Paducah, Kentucky, on the banks
of the Ohio. While he was able to enter the city he failed to capture
the forts or any part of the garrison. On the first intelligence of
Forrest's raid I telegraphed Sherman to send all his cavalry against
him, and not to let him get out of the trap he had put himself into.
Sherman had anticipated me by sending troops against him before he got
Forrest, however, fell back rapidly, and attacked the troops at Fort
Pillow, a station for the protection of the navigation of the
Mississippi River. The garrison consisted of a regiment of colored
troops, infantry, and a detachment of Tennessee cavalry. These troops
fought bravely, but were overpowered. I will leave Forrest in his
dispatches to tell what he did with them.
"The river was dyed," he says, "with the blood of the slaughtered for
two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred
killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty
killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern
people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners." Subsequently
Forrest made a report in which he left out the part which shocks
humanity to read.
At the East, also, the rebels were busy. I had said to Halleck that
Plymouth and Washington, North Carolina, were unnecessary to hold. It
would be better to have the garrisons engaged there added to Butler's
command. If success attended our arms both places, and others too,
would fall into our hands naturally. These places had been occupied by
Federal troops before I took command of the armies, and I knew that the
Executive would be reluctant to abandon them, and therefore explained my
views; but before my views were carried out the rebels captured the
garrison at Plymouth. I then ordered the abandonment of Washington, but
directed the holding of New Berne at all hazards. This was essential
because New Berne was a port into which blockade runners could enter.
General Banks had gone on an expedition up the Red River long before my
promotion to general command. I had opposed the movement strenuously,
but acquiesced because it was the order of my superior at the time. By
direction of Halleck I had reinforced Banks with a corps of about ten
thousand men from Sherman's command. This reinforcement was wanted back
badly before the forward movement commenced. But Banks had got so far
that it seemed best that he should take Shreveport on the Red River, and
turn over the line of that river to Steele, who commanded in Arkansas,
to hold instead of the line of the Arkansas. Orders were given
accordingly, and with the expectation that the campaign would be ended
in time for Banks to return A. J. Smith's command to where it belonged
and get back to New Orleans himself in time to execute his part in the
general plan. But the expedition was a failure. Banks did not get back
in time to take part in the programme as laid down. Nor was Smith
returned until long after the movements of May, 1864, had been begun.
The services of forty thousand veteran troops, over and above the number
required to hold all that was necessary in the Department of the Gulf,
were thus paralyzed. It is but just to Banks, however, to say that his
expedition was ordered from Washington and he was in no way responsible
except for the conduct of it. I make no criticism on this point. He
opposed the expedition.
By the 27th of April spring had so far advanced as to justify me in
fixing a day for the great move. On that day Burnside left Annapolis to
occupy Meade's position between Bull Run and the Rappahannock. Meade
was notified and directed to bring his troops forward to his advance.
On the following day Butler was notified of my intended advance on the
4th of May, and he was directed to move the night of the same day and
get as far up the James River as possible by daylight, and push on from
there to accomplish the task given him. He was also notified that
reinforcements were being collected in Washington City, which would be
forwarded to him should the enemy fall back into the trenches at
Richmond. The same day Sherman was directed to get his forces up ready
to advance on the 5th. Sigel was in Winchester and was notified to move
in conjunction with the others.
The criticism has been made by writers on the campaign from the Rapidan
to the James River that all the loss of life could have been obviated by
moving the army there on transports. Richmond was fortified and
intrenched so perfectly that one man inside to defend was more than
equal to five outside besieging or assaulting. To get possession of
Lee's army was the first great object. With the capture of his army
Richmond would necessarily follow. It was better to fight him outside
of his stronghold than in it. If the Army of the Potomac had been moved
bodily to the James River by water Lee could have moved a part of his
forces back to Richmond, called Beauregard from the south to reinforce
it, and with the balance moved on to Washington. Then, too, I ordered a
move, simultaneous with that of the Army of the Potomac, up the James
River by a formidable army already collected at the mouth of the river.
While my headquarters were at Culpeper, from the 26th of March to the
4th of May, I generally visited Washington once a week to confer with
the Secretary of War and President. On the last occasion, a few days
before moving, a circumstance occurred which came near postponing my
part in the campaign altogether. Colonel John S. Mosby had for a long
time been commanding a partisan corps, or regiment, which operated in
the rear of the Army of the Potomac. On my return to the field on this
occasion, as the train approached Warrenton Junction, a heavy cloud of
dust was seen to the east of the road as if made by a body of cavalry on
a charge. Arriving at the junction the train was stopped and inquiries
made as to the cause of the dust. There was but one man at the station,
and he informed us that Mosby had crossed a few minutes before at full
speed in pursuit of Federal cavalry. Had he seen our train coming, no
doubt he would have let his prisoners escape to capture the train. I
was on a special train, if I remember correctly, without any guard.
Since the close of the war I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally,
and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I had
supposed. He is slender, not tall, wiry, and looks as if he could
endure any amount of physical exercise. He is able, and thoroughly
honest and truthful. There were probably but few men in the South who
could have commanded successfully a separate detachment in the rear of
an opposing army, and so near the border of hostilities, as long as he
did without losing his entire command.
On this same visit to Washington I had my last interview with the
President before reaching the James River. He had of course become
acquainted with the fact that a general movement had been ordered all
along the line, and seemed to think it a new feature in war. I
explained to him that it was necessary to have a great number of troops
to guard and hold the territory we had captured, and to prevent
incursions into the Northern States. These troops could perform this
service just as well by advancing as by remaining still; and by
advancing they would compel the enemy to keep detachments to hold them
back, or else lay his own territory open to invasion. His answer was:
"Oh, yes! I see that. As we say out West, if a man can't skin he must
hold a leg while somebody else does."
There was a certain incident connected with the Wilderness campaign of
which it may not be out of place to speak; and to avoid a digression
further on I will mention it here.
A few days before my departure from Culpeper the Honorable E. B.
Washburne visited me there, and remained with my headquarters for some
distance south, through the battle in the Wilderness and, I think, to
Spottsylvania. He was accompanied by a Mr. Swinton, whom he presented as
a literary gentleman who wished to accompany the army with a view of
writing a history of the war when it was over. He assured me--and I
have no doubt Swinton gave him the assurance--that he was not present as
a correspondent of the press. I expressed an entire willingness to have
him (Swinton) accompany the army, and would have allowed him to do so as
a correspondent, restricted, however, in the character of the
information he could give. We received Richmond papers with about as
much regularity as if there had been no war, and knew that our papers
were received with equal regularity by the Confederates. It was
desirable, therefore, that correspondents should not be privileged spies
of the enemy within our lines.
Probably Mr. Swinton expected to be an invited guest at my headquarters,
and was disappointed that he was not asked to become so. At all events
he was not invited, and soon I found that he was corresponding with some
paper (I have now forgotten which one), thus violating his word either
expressed or implied. He knew of the assurance Washburne had given as
to the character of his mission. I never saw the man from the day of
our introduction to the present that I recollect. He accompanied us,
however, for a time at least.
The second night after crossing the Rapidan (the night of the 5th of
May) Colonel W. R. Rowley, of my staff, was acting as night officer at
my headquarters. A short time before midnight I gave him verbal
instructions for the night. Three days later I read in a Richmond paper
a verbatim report of these instructions.
A few nights still later (after the first, and possibly after the
second, day's fighting in the Wilderness) General Meade came to my tent
for consultation, bringing with him some of his staff officers. Both
his staff and mine retired to the camp-fire some yards in front of the
tent, thinking our conversation should be private. There was a stump a
little to one side, and between the front of the tent and camp-fire.
One of my staff, Colonel T. S. Bowers, saw what he took to be a man
seated on the ground and leaning against the stump, listening to the
conversation between Meade and myself. He called the attention of
Colonel Rowley to it. The latter immediately took the man by the
shoulder and asked him, in language more forcible than polite, what he
was doing there. The man proved to be Swinton, the "historian," and his
replies to the question were evasive and unsatisfactory, and he was
warned against further eaves-dropping.
The next I heard of Mr. Swinton was at Cold Harbor. General Meade came
to my headquarters saying that General Burnside had arrested Swinton,
who at some previous time had given great offence, and had ordered him
to be shot that afternoon. I promptly ordered the prisoner to be
released, but that he must be expelled from the lines of the army not to
return again on pain of punishment.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE GRAND CAMPAIGN--GENERAL BUTLER'S POSITION
--SHERIDAN'S FIRST RAID.
The armies were now all ready to move for the accomplishment of a single
object. They were acting as a unit so far as such a thing was possible
over such a vast field. Lee, with the capital of the Confederacy, was
the main end to which all were working. Johnston, with Atlanta, was an
important obstacle in the way of our accomplishing the result aimed at,
and was therefore almost an independent objective. It was of less
importance only because the capture of Johnston and his army would not
produce so immediate and decisive a result in closing the rebellion as
would the possession of Richmond, Lee and his army. All other troops
were employed exclusively in support of these two movements. This was
the plan; and I will now endeavor to give, as concisely as I can, the
method of its execution, outlining first the operations of minor
detached but co-operative columns.
As stated before, Banks failed to accomplish what he had been sent to do
on the Red River, and eliminated the use of forty thousand veterans
whose cooperation in the grand campaign had been expected--ten thousand
with Sherman and thirty thousand against Mobile.
Sigel's record is almost equally brief. He moved out, it is true,
according to programme; but just when I was hoping to hear of good work
being done in the valley I received instead the following announcement
from Halleck: "Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do
nothing but run; never did anything else." The enemy had intercepted
him about New Market and handled him roughly, leaving him short six
guns, and some nine hundred men out of his six thousand.
The plan had been for an advance of Sigel's forces in two columns.
Though the one under his immediate command failed ingloriously the other
proved more fortunate. Under Crook and Averell his western column
advanced from the Gauley in West Virginia at the appointed time, and
with more happy results. They reached the Virginia and Tennessee
Railroad at Dublin and destroyed a depot of supplies, besides tearing up
several miles of road and burning the bridge over New River. Having
accomplished this they recrossed the Alleghanies to Meadow Bluffs and
there awaited further orders.
Butler embarked at Fort Monroe with all his command, except the cavalry
and some artillery which moved up the south bank of the James River.
His steamers moved first up Chesapeake Bay and York River as if
threatening the rear of Lee's army. At midnight they turned back, and
Butler by daylight was far up the James River. He seized City Point and
Bermuda Hundred early in the day, without loss and, no doubt, very much
to the surprise of the enemy.
This was the accomplishment of the first step contemplated in my
instructions to Butler. He was to act from here, looking to Richmond as
his objective point. I had given him to understand that I should aim to
fight Lee between the Rapidan and Richmond if he would stand; but should
Lee fall back into Richmond I would follow up and make a junction of the
armies of the Potomac and the James on the James River. He was directed
to secure a footing as far up the south side of the river as he could at
as early a date as possible.
Butler was in position by the 6th of May and had begun intrenching, and
on the 7th he sent out his cavalry from Suffolk to cut the Weldon
Railroad. He also sent out detachments to destroy the railroad between
Petersburg and Richmond, but no great success attended these latter
efforts. He made no great effort to establish himself on that road and
neglected to attack Petersburg, which was almost defenceless. About the
11th he advanced slowly until he reached the works at Drury's Bluff,
about half way between Bermuda Hundred and Richmond. In the mean time
Beauregard had been gathering reinforcements. On the 16th he attacked
Butler with great vigor, and with such success as to limit very
materially the further usefulness of the Army of the James as a distinct
factor in the campaign. I afterward ordered a portion of it to join the
Army of the Potomac, leaving a sufficient force with Butler to man his
works, hold securely the footing he had already gained and maintain a
threatening front toward the rear of the Confederate capital.
The position which General Butler had chosen between the two rivers, the
James and Appomattox, was one of great natural strength, one where a
large area of ground might be thoroughly inclosed by means of a single
intrenched line, and that a very short one in comparison with the extent
of territory which it thoroughly protected. His right was protected by
the James River, his left by the Appomattox, and his rear by their
junction--the two streams uniting near by. The bends of the two streams
shortened the line that had been chosen for intrenchments, while it
increased the area which the line inclosed.
Previous to ordering any troops from Butler I sent my chief engineer,
General Barnard, from the Army of the Potomac to that of the James to
inspect Butler's position and ascertain whether I could again safely
make an order for General Butler's movement in co-operation with mine,
now that I was getting so near Richmond; or, if I could not, whether his
position was strong enough to justify me in withdrawing some of his
troops and having them brought round by water to White House to join me
and reinforce the Army of the Potomac. General Barnard reported the
position very strong for defensive purposes, and that I could do the
latter with great security; but that General Butler could not move from
where he was, in co-operation, to produce any effect. He said that the
general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which
was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it
for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could
do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out
from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to
the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was
impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across
the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil
and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like
a bottle and that Butler's line of intrenchments across the neck
represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line
immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if
Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but,
as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a
small force could hold the cork in its place. This struck me as being
very expressive of his position, particularly when I saw the hasty
sketch which General Barnard had drawn; and in making my subsequent
report I used that expression without adding quotation marks, never
thinking that anything had been said that would attract attention--as
this did, very much to the annoyance, no doubt, of General Butler and, I
know, very much to my own. I found afterwards that this was mentioned
in the notes of General Badeau's book, which, when they were shown to
me, I asked to have stricken out; yet it was retained there, though
against my wishes.
I make this statement here because, although I have often made it
before, it has never been in my power until now to place it where it
will correct history; and I desire to rectify all injustice that I may
have done to individuals, particularly to officers who were gallantly
serving their country during the trying period of the war for the
preservation of the Union. General Butler certainly gave his very
earnest support to the war; and he gave his own best efforts personally
to the suppression of the rebellion.
The further operations of the Army of the James can best be treated of
in connection with those of the Army of the Potomac, the two being so
intimately associated and connected as to be substantially one body in
which the individuality of the supporting wing is merged.
Before giving the reader a summary of Sherman's great Atlanta campaign,
which must conclude my description of the various co-operative movements
preparatory to proceeding with that of the operations of the centre, I
will briefly mention Sheridan's first raid upon Lee's communications
which, though an incident of the operations on the main line and not
specifically marked out in the original plan, attained in its brilliant
execution and results all the proportions of an independent campaign.
By thus anticipating, in point of time, I will be able to more perfectly
observe the continuity of events occurring in my immediate front when I
shall have undertaken to describe our advance from the Rapidan.
On the 8th of May, just after the battle of the Wilderness and when we
were moving on Spottsylvania I directed Sheridan verbally to cut loose
from the Army of the Potomac, pass around the left of Lee's army and
attack his cavalry: to cut the two roads--one running west through
Gordonsville, Charlottesville and Lynchburg, the other to Richmond, and,
when compelled to do so for want of forage and rations, to move on to
the James River and draw these from Butler's supplies. This move took
him past the entire rear of Lee's army. These orders were also given in
writing through Meade.
The object of this move was three-fold. First, if successfully
executed, and it was, he would annoy the enemy by cutting his line of
supplies and telegraphic communications, and destroy or get for his own
use supplies in store in the rear and coming up. Second, he would draw
the enemy's cavalry after him, and thus better protect our flanks, rear
and trains than by remaining with the army. Third, his absence would
save the trains drawing his forage and other supplies from
Fredericksburg, which had now become our base. He started at daylight
the next morning, and accomplished more than was expected. It was
sixteen days before he got back to the Army of the Potomac.
The course Sheridan took was directly to Richmond. Before night Stuart,
commanding the Confederate cavalry, came on to the rear of his command.
But the advance kept on, crossed the North Anna, and at Beaver Dam, a
station on the Virginia Central Railroad, recaptured four hundred Union
prisoners on their way to Richmond, destroyed the road and used and
destroyed a large amount of subsistence and medical stores.
Stuart, seeing that our cavalry was pushing towards Richmond, abandoned
the pursuit on the morning of the 10th and, by a detour and an
exhausting march, interposed between Sheridan and Richmond at Yellow
Tavern, only about six miles north of the city. Sheridan destroyed the
railroad and more supplies at Ashland, and on the 11th arrived in
Stuart's front. A severe engagement ensued in which the losses were
heavy on both sides, but the rebels were beaten, their leader mortally
wounded, and some guns and many prisoners were captured.
Sheridan passed through the outer defences of Richmond, and could, no
doubt, have passed through the inner ones. But having no supports near
he could not have remained. After caring for his wounded he struck for
the James River below the city, to communicate with Butler and to rest
his men and horses as well as to get food and forage for them.
He moved first between the Chickahominy and the James, but in the
morning (the 12th) he was stopped by batteries at Mechanicsville. He
then turned to cross to the north side of the Chickahominy by Meadow
Bridge. He found this barred, and the defeated Confederate cavalry,
reorganized, occupying the opposite side. The panic created by his
first entrance within the outer works of Richmond having subsided troops
were sent out to attack his rear.
He was now in a perilous position, one from which but few generals could
have extricated themselves. The defences of Richmond, manned, were to
the right, the Chickahominy was to the left with no bridge remaining and
the opposite bank guarded, to the rear was a force from Richmond. This
force was attacked and beaten by Wilson's and Gregg's divisions, while
Sheridan turned to the left with the remaining division and hastily
built a bridge over the Chickahominy under the fire of the enemy, forced
a crossing and soon dispersed the Confederates he found there. The enemy
was held back from the stream by the fire of the troops not engaged in
On the 13th Sheridan was at Bottom's Bridge, over the Chickahominy. On
the 14th he crossed this stream and on that day went into camp on the
James River at Haxall's Landing. He at once put himself into
communication with General Butler, who directed all the supplies he
wanted to be furnished.
Sheridan had left the Army of the Potomac at Spottsylvania, but did not
know where either this or Lee's army was now. Great caution therefore
had to be exercised in getting back. On the 17th, after resting his
command for three days, he started on his return. He moved by the way
of White House. The bridge over the Pamunkey had been burned by the
enemy, but a new one was speedily improvised and the cavalry crossed
over it. On the 22d he was at Aylett's on the Matapony, where he
learned the position of the two armies. On the 24th he joined us on the
march from North Anna to Cold Harbor, in the vicinity of Chesterfield.
Sheridan in this memorable raid passed entirely around Lee's army:
encountered his cavalry in four engagements, and defeated them in all;
recaptured four hundred Union prisoners and killed and captured many of
the enemy; destroyed and used many supplies and munitions of war;
destroyed miles of railroad and telegraph, and freed us from annoyance
by the cavalry of the enemy for more than two weeks.
SHERMAN'S CAMPAIGN IN GEORGIA--SIEGE OF ATLANTA--DEATH OF GENERAL
MCPHERSON--ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE ANDERSONVILLE--CAPTURE OF ATLANTA.
After separating from Sherman in Cincinnati I went on to Washington, as
already stated, while he returned to Nashville to assume the duties of
his new command. His military division was now composed of four
departments and embraced all the territory west of the Alleghany
Mountains and east of the Mississippi River, together with the State of
Arkansas in the trans-Mississippi. The most easterly of these was the
Department of the Ohio, General Schofield commanding; the next was the
Department of the Cumberland, General Thomas commanding; the third the
Department of the Tennessee, General McPherson commanding; and General
Steele still commanded the trans-Mississippi, or Department of Arkansas.
The last-named department was so far away that Sherman could not
communicate with it very readily after starting on his spring campaign,
and it was therefore soon transferred from his military division to that
of the Gulf, where General Canby, who had relieved General Banks, was in
The movements of the armies, as I have stated in a former chapter, were
to be simultaneous, I fixing the day to start when the season should be
far enough advanced, it was hoped, for the roads to be in a condition
for the troops to march.
General Sherman at once set himself to work preparing for the task which
was assigned him to accomplish in the spring campaign. McPherson lay at
Huntsville with about twenty-four thousand men, guarding those points of
Tennessee which were regarded as most worth holding; Thomas, with over
sixty thousand men of the Army of the Cumberland, was at Chattanooga;
and Schofield, with about fourteen thousand men, was at Knoxville. With
these three armies, numbering about one hundred thousand men in all,
Sherman was to move on the day fixed for the general advance, with a
view of destroying Johnston's army and capturing Atlanta. He visited
each of these commands to inform himself as to their condition, and it
was found to be, speaking generally, good.
One of the first matters to turn his attention to was that of getting,
before the time arrived for starting, an accumulation of supplies
forward to Chattanooga, sufficiently large to warrant a movement. He
found, when he got to that place, that the trains over the single-track
railroad, which was frequently interrupted for a day or two at a time,
were only sufficient to meet the daily wants of the troops without
bringing forward any surplus of any kind. He found, however, that
trains were being used to transport all the beef cattle, horses for the
cavalry, and even teams that were being brought to the front. He at
once changed all this, and required beef cattle, teams, cavalry horses,
and everything that could travel, even the troops, to be marched, and
used the road exclusively for transporting supplies. In this way he was
able to accumulate an abundance before the time finally fixed upon for
the move, the 4th of May.
As I have said already, Johnston was at Dalton, which was nearly
one-fourth of the way between Chattanooga and Atlanta. The country is
mountainous all the way to Atlanta, abounding in mountain streams, some
of them of considerable volume. Dalton is on ground where water drains
towards Atlanta and into one of the main streams rising north-east from
there and flowing south-west--this being the general direction which all
the main streams of that section take, with smaller tributaries entering
into them. Johnston had been preparing himself for this campaign during
the entire winter. The best positions for defence had been selected all
the way from Dalton back to Atlanta, and very strongly intrenched; so
that, as he might be forced to fall back from one position, he would
have another to fall into in his rear. His position at Dalton was so
very strongly intrenched that no doubt he expected, or at least hoped,
to hold Sherman there and prevent him from getting any further. With a
less skilful general, and one disposed to take no risks, I have no doubt
that he would have succeeded.
Sherman's plan was to start Schofield, who was farthest back, a few days
in advance from Knoxville, having him move on the direct road to Dalton.
Thomas was to move out to Ringgold. It had been Sherman's intention to
cross McPherson over the Tennessee River at Huntsville or Decatur, and
move him south from there so as to have him come into the road running
from Chattanooga to Atlanta a good distance to the rear of the point
Johnston was occupying; but when that was contemplated it was hoped that
McPherson alone would have troops enough to cope with Johnston, if the
latter should move against him while unsupported by the balance of the
army. In this he was disappointed. Two of McPherson's veteran
divisions had re-enlisted on the express provision that they were to
have a furlough. This furlough had not yet expired, and they were not
Then, again, Sherman had lent Banks two divisions under A. J. Smith, the
winter before, to co-operate with the trans-Mississippi forces, and this
with the express pledge that they should be back by a time specified, so
as to be prepared for this very campaign. It is hardly necessary to say
they were not returned. That department continued to absorb troops to
no purpose to the end of the war. This left McPherson so weak that the
part of the plan above indicated had to be changed. He was therefore
brought up to Chattanooga and moved from there on a road to the right of
Thomas--the two coming together about Dalton. The three armies were
abreast, all ready to start promptly on time.
Sherman soon found that Dalton was so strongly fortified that it was
useless to make any attempt to carry it by assault; and even to carry it
by regular approaches was impracticable. There was a narrowing up in
the mountain, between the National and Confederate armies, through which
a stream, a wagon road and a railroad ran. Besides, the stream had been
dammed so that the valley was a lake. Through this gorge the troops
would have to pass. McPherson was therefore sent around by the right,
to come out by the way of Snake Creek Gap into the rear of the enemy.
This was a surprise to Johnston, and about the 13th he decided to
abandon his position at Dalton.
On the 15th there was very hard fighting about Resaca; but our cavalry
having been sent around to the right got near the road in the enemy's
rear. Again Johnston fell back, our army pursuing. The pursuit was
continued to Kingston, which was reached on the 19th with very little
fighting, except that Newton's division overtook the rear of Johnston's
army and engaged it. Sherman was now obliged to halt for the purpose of
bringing up his railroad trains. He was depending upon the railroad for
all of his supplies, and as of course the railroad was wholly destroyed
as Johnston fell back, it had to be rebuilt. This work was pushed
forward night and day, and caused much less delay than most persons
would naturally expect in a mountainous country where there were so many
bridges to be rebuilt.
The campaign to Atlanta was managed with the most consummate skill, the
enemy being flanked out of one position after another all the way there.
It is true this was not accomplished without a good deal of fighting
--some of it very hard fighting, rising to the dignity of very important
battles--neither were single positions gained in a day. On the
contrary, weeks were spent at some; and about Atlanta more than a month
It was the 23d of May before the road was finished up to the rear of
Sherman's army and the pursuit renewed. This pursuit brought him up to
the vicinity of Allatoona. This place was very strongly intrenched, and
naturally a very defensible position. An assault upon it was not thought
of, but preparations were made to flank the enemy out of it. This was
done by sending a large force around our right, by the way of Dallas, to
reach the rear of the enemy. Before reaching there, however, they found
the enemy fortified in their way, and there resulted hard fighting for
about a week at a place called New Hope Church. On the left our troops
also were fortified, and as close up to the enemy as they could get.
They kept working still farther around to the left toward the railroad.
This was the case more particularly with the cavalry. By the 4th of
June Johnston found that he was being hemmed in so rapidly that he drew
off and Allatoona was left in our possession.
Allatoona, being an important place, was strongly intrenched for
occupation by our troops before advancing farther, and made a secondary
base of supplies. The railroad was finished up to that point, the
intrenchments completed, storehouses provided for food, and the army got
in readiness for a further advance. The rains, however, were falling in
such torrents that it was impossible to move the army by the side roads
which they would have to move upon in order to turn Johnston out of his
While Sherman's army lay here, General F. P. Blair returned to it,
bringing with him the two divisions of veterans who had been on
Johnston had fallen back to Marietta and Kenesaw Mountain, where strong
intrenchments awaited him. At this latter place our troops made an
assault upon the enemy's lines after having got their own lines up close
to him, and failed, sustaining considerable loss. But during the
progress of the battle Schofield was gaining ground to the left; and the
cavalry on his left were gaining still more toward the enemy's rear.
These operations were completed by the 3d of July, when it was found
that Johnston had evacuated the place. He was pursued at once. Sherman
had made every preparation to abandon the railroad, leaving a strong
guard in his intrenchments. He had intended, moving out with twenty
days' rations and plenty of ammunition, to come in on the railroad again
at the Chattahoochee River. Johnston frustrated this plan by himself
starting back as above stated. This time he fell back to the
About the 5th of July he was besieged again, Sherman getting easy
possession of the Chattahoochee River both above and below him. The
enemy was again flanked out of his position, or so frightened by
flanking movements that on the night of the 9th he fell back across the
Here Johnston made a stand until the 17th, when Sherman's old tactics
prevailed again and the final movement toward Atlanta began. Johnston
was now relieved of the command, and Hood superseded him.
Johnston's tactics in this campaign do not seem to have met with much
favor, either in the eyes of the administration at Richmond, or of the
people of that section of the South in which he was commanding. The
very fact of a change of commanders being ordered under such
circumstances was an indication of a change of policy, and that now they
would become the aggressors--the very thing our troops wanted.
For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything
that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did
finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent
that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a
Atlanta was very strongly intrenched all the way around in a circle
about a mile and a half outside of the city. In addition to this, there
were advanced intrenchments which had to be taken before a close siege
could be commenced.
Sure enough, as indicated by the change of commanders, the enemy was
about to assume the offensive. On the 20th he came out and attacked the
Army of the Cumberland most furiously. Hooker's corps, and Newton's and
Johnson's divisions were the principal ones engaged in this contest,
which lasted more than an hour; but the Confederates were then forced to
fall back inside their main lines. The losses were quite heavy on both
sides. On this day General Gresham, since our Postmaster-General, was
very badly wounded. During the night Hood abandoned his outer lines,
and our troops were advanced. The investment had not been relinquished
for a moment during the day.
During the night of the 21st Hood moved out again, passing by our left
flank, which was then in motion to get a position farther in rear of
him, and a desperate battle ensued, which lasted most of the day of the
22d. At first the battle went very much in favor of the Confederates,
our troops being somewhat surprised. While our troops were advancing
they were struck in flank, and their flank was enveloped. But they had
become too thorough veterans to be thrown into irreparable confusion by
an unexpected attack when off their guard, and soon they were in order
and engaging the enemy, with the advantage now of knowing where their
antagonist was. The field of battle continued to expand until it
embraced about seven miles of ground. Finally, however, and before
night, the enemy was driven back into the city (*26).
It was during this battle that McPherson, while passing from one column
to another, was instantly killed. In his death the army lost one of its
ablest, purest and best generals.
Garrard had been sent out with his cavalry to get upon the railroad east
of Atlanta and to cut it in the direction of Augusta. He was successful
in this, and returned about the time of the battle. Rousseau had also
come up from Tennessee with a small division of cavalry, having crossed
the Tennessee River about Decatur and made a raid into Alabama. Finally,
when hard pressed, he had come in, striking the railroad in rear of
Sherman, and reported to him about this time.
The battle of the 22d is usually known as the Battle of Atlanta,
although the city did not fall into our hands until the 2d of September.
Preparations went on, as before, to flank the enemy out of his position.
The work was tedious, and the lines that had to be maintained were very
long. Our troops were gradually worked around to the east until they
struck the road between Decatur and Atlanta. These lines were strongly
fortified, as were those to the north and west of the city--all as close
up to the enemy's lines as practicable--in order to hold them with the
smallest possible number of men, the design being to detach an army to
move by our right and try to get upon the railroad down south of
On the 27th the movement by the right flank commenced. On the 28th the
enemy struck our right flank, General Logan commanding, with great
vigor. Logan intrenched himself hastily, and by that means was enabled
to resist all assaults and inflict a great deal of damage upon the
enemy. These assaults were continued to the middle of the afternoon,
and resumed once or twice still later in the day. The enemy's losses in
these unsuccessful assaults were fearful.
During that evening the enemy in Logan's front withdrew into the town.
This now left Sherman's army close up to the Confederate lines,
extending from a point directly east of the city around by the north and
west of it for a distance of fully ten miles; the whole of this line
being intrenched, and made stronger every day they remained there.
In the latter part of July Sherman sent Stoneman to destroy the
railroads to the south, about Macon. He was then to go east and, if
possible, release our prisoners about Andersonville. There were painful
stories current at the time about the great hardships these prisoners
had to endure in the way of general bad treatment, in the way in which
they were housed, and in the way in which they were fed. Great sympathy
was felt for them; and it was thought that even if they could be turned
loose upon the country it would be a great relief to them. But the
attempt proved a failure. McCook, who commanded a small brigade, was
first reported to have been captured; but he got back, having inflicted
a good deal of damage upon the enemy. He had also taken some prisoners;
but encountering afterwards a largely superior force of the enemy he was
obliged to drop his prisoners and get back as best he could with what
men he had left. He had lost several hundred men out of his small
command. On the 4th of August Colonel Adams, commanding a little
brigade of about a thousand men, returned reporting Stoneman and all but
himself as lost. I myself had heard around Richmond of the capture of
Stoneman, and had sent Sherman word, which he received. The rumor was
confirmed there, also, from other sources. A few days after Colonel
Adams's return Colonel Capron also got in with a small detachment and
confirmed the report of the capture of Stoneman with something less than
a thousand men.
It seems that Stoneman, finding the escape of all his force was
impossible, had made arrangements for the escape of two divisions. He
covered the movement of these divisions to the rear with a force of
about seven hundred men, and at length surrendered himself and this
detachment to the commanding Confederate. In this raid, however, much
damage was inflicted upon the enemy by the destruction of cars,
locomotives, army wagons, manufactories of military supplies, etc.
On the 4th and 5th Sherman endeavored to get upon the railroad to our
right, where Schofield was in command, but these attempts failed
utterly. General Palmer was charged with being the cause of this
failure, to a great extent, by both General Sherman and General
Schofield; but I am not prepared to say this, although a question seems
to have arisen with Palmer as to whether Schofield had any right to
command him. If he did raise this question while an action was going
on, that act alone was exceedingly reprehensible.
About the same time Wheeler got upon our railroad north of Resaca and
destroyed it nearly up to Dalton. This cut Sherman off from
communication with the North for several days. Sherman responded to
this attack on his lines of communication by directing one upon theirs.
Kilpatrick started on the night of the 18th of August to reach the Macon
road about Jonesboro. He succeeded in doing so, passed entirely around
the Confederate lines of Atlanta, and was back again in his former
position on our left by the 22d. These little affairs, however,
contributed but very little to the grand result. They annoyed, it is
true, but any damage thus done to a railroad by any cavalry expedition
is soon repaired.
Sherman made preparations for a repetition of his tactics; that is, for
a flank movement with as large a force as could be got together to some
point in the enemy's rear. Sherman commenced this last movement on the
25th of August, and on the 1st of September was well up towards the
railroad twenty miles south of Atlanta. Here he found Hardee
intrenched, ready to meet him. A battle ensued, but he was unable to
drive Hardee away before night set in. Under cover of the night,
however, Hardee left of his own accord. That night Hood blew up his
military works, such as he thought would be valuable in our hands, and
The next morning at daylight General H. W. Slocum, who was commanding
north of the city, moved in and took possession of Atlanta, and notified
Sherman. Sherman then moved deliberately back, taking three days to
reach the city, and occupied a line extending from Decatur on the left
to Atlanta in the centre, with his troops extending out of the city for
some distance to the right.
The campaign had lasted about four months, and was one of the most
memorable in history. There was but little if anything in the whole
campaign, now that it is over, to criticise at all, and nothing to
criticise severely. It was creditable alike to the general who
commanded and the army which had executed it. Sherman had on this
campaign some bright, wide-awake division and brigade commanders whose
alertness added a host to the efficiency of his command.
The troops now went to work to make themselves comfortable, and to enjoy
a little rest after their arduous campaign. The city of Atlanta was
turned into a military base. The citizens were all compelled to leave.
Sherman also very wisely prohibited the assembling of the army of
sutlers and traders who always follow in the wake of an army in the
field, if permitted to do so, from trading with the citizens and getting
the money of the soldiers for articles of but little use to them, and
for which they are made to pay most exorbitant prices. He limited the
number of these traders to one for each of his three armies.
The news of Sherman's success reached the North instantaneously, and set
the country all aglow. This was the first great political campaign for
the Republicans in their canvass of 1864. It was followed later by
Sheridan's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley; and these two campaigns
probably had more effect in settling the election of the following
November than all the speeches, all the bonfires, and all the parading
with banners and bands of music in the North.
GRAND MOVEMENT OF THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC--CROSSING THE RAPIDAN
--ENTERING THE WILDERNESS--BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS.
Soon after midnight, May 3d-4th, the Army of the Potomac moved out from
its position north Rapidan, to start upon that memorable campaign,
destined to result in the capture of the Confederate capital and the
army defending it. This was not to be accomplished, however, without as
desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed; not to be
consummated in a day, a week, a month, single season. The losses
inflicted, and endured, were destined to be severe; but the armies now
confronting each other had already been in deadly conflict for a period
of three years, with immense losses in killed, by death from sickness,
captured and wounded; and neither had made any real progress
accomplishing the final end. It is true the Confederates had, so far,
held their capital, and they claimed this to be their sole object. But
previously they had boldly proclaimed their intention to capture
Philadelphia, New York, and the National Capital, and had made several
attempts to do so, and once or twice had come fearfully near making
their boast good--too near for complacent contemplation by the loyal
North. They had also come near losing their own capital on at least one
occasion. So here was a stand-off. The campaign now begun was destined
to result in heavier losses, to both armies, in a given time, than any
previously suffered; but the carnage was to be limited to a single year,
and to accomplish all that had been anticipated or desired at the
beginning in that time. We had to have hard fighting to achieve this.
The two armies had been confronting each other so long, without any
decisive result, that they hardly knew which could whip.
Ten days' rations, with a supply of forage and ammunition were taken in
wagons. Beef cattle were driven with the trains, and butchered as
wanted. Three days rations in addition, in haversacks, and fifty rounds
of cartridges, were carried on the person of each soldier.
The country over which the army had to operate, from the Rapidan to the
crossing of the James River, is rather flat, and is cut by numerous
streams which make their way to the Chesapeake Bay. The crossings of
these streams by the army were generally made not far above tide-water,
and where they formed a considerable obstacle to the rapid advance of
troops even when the enemy did not appear in opposition. The country
roads were narrow and poor. Most of the country is covered with a dense
forest, in places, like the Wilderness and along the Chickahominy,
almost impenetrable even for infantry except along the roads. All
bridges were naturally destroyed before the National troops came to
The Army of the Potomac was composed of three infantry and one cavalry
corps, commanded respectively by Generals W. S. Hancock, G. K. Warren,
(*27) John Sedgwick and P. H. Sheridan. The artillery was commanded by
General Henry J. Hunt. This arm was in such abundance that the fourth
of it could not be used to advantage in such a country as we were
destined to pass through. The surplus was much in the way, taking up as
it did so much of the narrow and bad roads, and consuming so much of the
forage and other stores brought up by the trains.
The 5th corps, General Warren commanding, was in advance on the right,
and marched directly for Germania Ford, preceded by one division of
cavalry, under General J. H. Wilson. General Sedgwick followed Warren
with the 6th corps. Germania Ford was nine or ten miles below the right
of Lee's line. Hancock, with the 2d corps, moved by another road,
farther east, directly upon Ely's Ford, six miles below Germania,
preceded by Gregg's division of cavalry, and followed by the artillery.
Torbert's division of cavalry was left north of the Rapidan, for the
time, to picket the river and prevent the enemy from crossing and
getting into our rear. The cavalry seized the two crossings before
daylight, drove the enemy's pickets guarding them away, and by six
o'clock A.M. had the pontoons laid ready for the crossing of the
infantry and artillery. This was undoubtedly a surprise to Lee. The
fact that the movement was unopposed proves this.
Burnside, with the 9th corps, was left back at Warrenton, guarding the
railroad from Bull Run forward to preserve control of it in case our
crossing the Rapidan should be long delayed. He was instructed, however,
to advance at once on receiving notice that the army had crossed; and a
dispatch was sent to him a little after one P.M. giving the information
that our crossing had been successful.
The country was heavily wooded at all the points of crossing,
particularly on the south side of the river. The battle-field from the
crossing of the Rapidan until the final movement from the Wilderness
toward Spottsylvania was of the same character. There were some
clearings and small farms within what might be termed the battle-field;
but generally the country was covered with a dense forest. The roads
were narrow and bad. All the conditions were favorable for defensive
There are two roads, good for that part of Virginia, running from Orange
Court House to the battle-field. The most southerly of these roads is
known as the Orange Court House Plank Road, the northern one as the
Orange Turnpike. There are also roads from east of the battle-field
running to Spottsylvania Court House, one from Chancellorsville,
branching at Aldrich's; the western branch going by Piney Branch Church,
Alsop's, thence by the Brock Road to Spottsylvania; the east branch goes
by Gates's, thence to Spottsylvania. The Brock Road runs from Germania
Ford through the battle-field and on to the Court House. As
Spottsylvania is approached the country is cut up with numerous roads,
some going to the town direct, and others crossing so as to connect the
farms with roads going there.
Lee's headquarters were at Orange Court House. From there to
Fredericksburg he had the use of the two roads above described running
nearly parallel to the Wilderness. This gave him unusual facilities,
for that country, for concentrating his forces to his right. These
roads strike the road from Germania Ford in the Wilderness.
As soon as the crossing of the infantry was assured, the cavalry pushed
forward, Wilson's division by Wilderness Tavern to Parker's store, on
the Orange Plank Road; Gregg to the left towards Chancellorsville.
Warren followed Wilson and reached the Wilderness Tavern by noon, took
position there and intrenched. Sedgwick followed Warren. He was across
the river and in camp on the south bank, on the right of Warren, by
sundown. Hancock, with the 2d corps, moved parallel with Warren and
camped about six miles east of him. Before night all the troops, and by
the evening of the 5th the trains of more than four thousand wagons,
were safely on the south side of the river.
There never was a corps better organized than was the quartermaster's
corps with the Army of the Potomac in 1864. With a wagon-train that
would have extended from the Rapidan to Richmond, stretched along in
single file and separated as the teams necessarily would be when moving,
we could still carry only three days' forage and about ten to twelve
days' rations, besides a supply of ammunition. To overcome all
difficulties, the chief quartermaster, General Rufus Ingalls, had marked
on each wagon the corps badge with the division color and the number of
the brigade. At a glance, the particular brigade to which any wagon
belonged could be told. The wagons were also marked to note the
contents: if ammunition, whether for artillery or infantry; if forage,
whether grain or hay; if rations, whether, bread, pork, beans, rice,
sugar, coffee or whatever it might be. Empty wagons were never allowed
to follow the army or stay in camp. As soon as a wagon was empty it
would return to the base of supply for a load of precisely the same
article that had been taken from it. Empty trains were obliged to leave
the road free for loaded ones. Arriving near the army they would be
parked in fields nearest to the brigades they belonged to. Issues,
except of ammunition, were made at night in all cases. By this system
the hauling of forage for the supply train was almost wholly dispensed
with. They consumed theirs at the depots.
I left Culpeper Court House after all the troops had been put in motion,
and passing rapidly to the front, crossed the Rapidan in advance of
Sedgwick's corps; and established headquarters for the afternoon and
night in a deserted house near the river.
Orders had been given, long before this movement began, to cut down the
baggage of officers and men to the lowest point possible.
Notwithstanding this I saw scattered along the road from Culpeper to
Germania Ford wagon-loads of new blankets and overcoats, thrown away by
the troops to lighten their knapsacks; an improvidence I had never
Lee, while his pickets and signal corps must have discovered at a very
early hour on the morning of the 4th of May, that the Army of the
Potomac was moving, evidently did not learn until about one o'clock in
the afternoon by what route we would confront his army. This I judge
from the fact that at 1.15 P.M., an hour and a quarter after Warren had
reached Old Wilderness Tavern, our officers took off rebel signals
which, when translated, were seen to be an order to his troops to occupy
their intrenchments at Mine Run.
Here at night dispatches were received announcing that Sherman, Butler
and Crook had moved according to programme.
On discovering the advance of the Army of the Potomac, Lee ordered Hill,
Ewell and Longstreet, each commanding corps, to move to the right to
attack us, Hill on the Orange Plank Road, Longstreet to follow on the
same road. Longstreet was at this time--middle of the afternoon--at
Gordonsville, twenty or more miles away. Ewell was ordered by the
Orange Pike. He was near by and arrived some four miles east of Mine
Run before bivouacking for the night.
My orders were given through General Meade for an early advance on the
morning of the 5th. Warren was to move to Parker's store, and Wilson's
cavalry--then at Parker's store--to move on to Craig's meeting-house.
Sedgwick followed Warren, closing in on his right. The Army of the
Potomac was facing to the west, though our advance was made to the
south, except when facing the enemy. Hancock was to move south-westward
to join on the left of Warren, his left to reach to Shady Grove Church.
At six o'clock, before reaching Parker's store, Warren discovered the
enemy. He sent word back to this effect, and was ordered to halt and
prepare to meet and attack him. Wright, with his division of Sedgwick's
corps, was ordered, by any road he could find, to join on to Warren's
right, and Getty with his division, also of Sedgwick's corps, was
ordered to move rapidly by Warren's rear and get on his left. This was
the speediest way to reinforce Warren who was confronting the enemy on
both the Orange plank and turnpike roads.
Burnside had moved promptly on the 4th, on receiving word that the Army
of the Potomac had safely crossed the Rapidan. By making a night march,
although some of his troops had to march forty miles to reach the river,
he was crossing with the head of his column early on the morning of the
5th. Meade moved his headquarters on to Old Wilderness Tavern, four
miles south of the river, as soon as it was light enough to see the
road. I remained to hasten Burnside's crossing and to put him in
position. Burnside at this time was not under Meade's command, and was
his senior in rank. Getting information of the proximity of the enemy,
I informed Meade, and without waiting to see Burnside, at once moved
forward my headquarters to where Meade was.
It was my plan then, as it was on all other occasions, to take the
initiative whenever the enemy could be drawn from his intrenchments if
we were not intrenched ourselves. Warren had not yet reached the point
where he was to halt, when he discovered the enemy near by. Neither
party had any advantage of position. Warren was, therefore, ordered to
attack as soon as he could prepare for it. At nine o'clock Hancock was
ordered to come up to the support of Getty. He himself arrived at
Getty's front about noon, but his troops were yet far in the rear.
Getty was directed to hold his position at all hazards until relieved.
About this hour Warren was ready, and attacked with favorable though not
decisive results. Getty was somewhat isolated from Warren and was in a
precarious condition for a time. Wilson, with his division of cavalry,
was farther south, and was cut off from the rest of the army. At two
o'clock Hancock's troops began to arrive, and immediately he was ordered
to join Getty and attack the enemy. But the heavy timber and narrow
roads prevented him from getting into position for attack as promptly as
he generally did when receiving such orders. At four o'clock he again
received his orders to attack, and General Getty received orders from
Meade a few minutes later to attack whether Hancock was ready or not.
He met the enemy under Heth within a few hundred yards.
Hancock immediately sent two divisions, commanded by Birney and Mott,
and later two brigades, Carroll's and Owen's, to the support of Getty.
This was timely and saved Getty. During the battle Getty and Carroll
were wounded, but remained on the field. One of Birney's most gallant
brigade commanders--Alexander Hays--was killed.
I had been at West Point with Hays for three years, and had served with
him through the Mexican war, a portion of the time in the same regiment.
He was a most gallant officer, ready to lead his command wherever
ordered. With him it was "Come, boys," not "Go."
Wadsworth's division and Baxter's brigade of the 2d division were sent
to reinforce Hancock and Getty; but the density of the intervening
forest was such that, there being no road to march upon, they did not
get up with the head of column until night, and bivouacked where they
were without getting into position.
During the afternoon Sheridan sent Gregg's division of cavalry to Todd's
Tavern in search of Wilson. This was fortunate. He found Wilson
engaged with a superior force under General Rosser, supported by
infantry, and falling back before it. Together they were strong enough
to turn the tables upon the enemy and themselves become aggressive.
They soon drove the rebel cavalry back beyond Corbin's Bridge.
Fighting between Hancock and Hill continued until night put a close to
it. Neither side made any special progress.
After the close of the battle of the 5th of May my orders were given for
the following morning. We knew Longstreet with 12,000 men was on his
way to join Hill's right, near the Brock Road, and might arrive during
the night. I was anxious that the rebels should not take the initiative
in the morning, and therefore ordered Hancock to make an assault at 4.30
o'clock. Meade asked to have the hour changed to six. Deferring to his
wishes as far as I was willing, the order was modified and five was
fixed as the hour to move.
Hancock had now fully one-half of the Army of the Potomac. Wadsworth
with his division, which had arrived the night before, lay in a line
perpendicular to that held by Hill, and to the right of Hancock. He was
directed to move at the same time, and to attack Hill's left.
Burnside, who was coming up with two divisions, was directed to get in
between Warren and Wadsworth, and attack as soon as he could get in
position to do so. Sedgwick and Warren were to make attacks in their
front, to detain as many of the enemy as they could and to take
advantage of any attempt to reinforce Hill from that quarter. Burnside
was ordered if he should succeed in breaking the enemy's centre, to
swing around to the left and envelop the right of Lee's army. Hancock
was informed of all the movements ordered.
Burnside had three divisions, but one of them--a colored division--was
sent to guard the wagon train, and he did not see it again until July.
Lee was evidently very anxious that there should be no battle on his
right until Longstreet got up. This is evident from the fact that
notwithstanding the early hour at which I had ordered the assault, both
for the purpose of being the attacking party and to strike before
Longstreet got up, Lee was ahead in his assault on our right. His
purpose was evident, but he failed.
Hancock was ready to advance by the hour named, but learning in time
that Longstreet was moving a part of his corps by the Catharpin Road,
thus threatening his left flank, sent a division of infantry, commanded
by General Barlow, with all his artillery, to cover the approaches by
which Longstreet was expected. This disposition was made in time to
attack as ordered. Hancock moved by the left of the Orange Plank Road,
and Wadsworth by the right of it. The fighting was desperate for about
an hour, when the enemy began to break up in great confusion.
I believed then, and see no reason to change that opinion now, that if
the country had been such that Hancock and his command could have seen
the confusion and panic in the lines of the enemy, it would have been
taken advantage of so effectually that Lee would not have made another
stand outside of his Richmond defences.
Gibbon commanded Hancock's left, and was ordered to attack, but was not
able to accomplish much.
On the morning of the 6th Sheridan was sent to connect with Hancock's
left and attack the enemy's cavalry who were trying to get on our left
and rear. He met them at the intersection of the Furnace and Brock
roads and at Todd's Tavern, and defeated them at both places. Later he
was attacked, and again the enemy was repulsed.
Hancock heard the firing between Sheridan and Stuart, and thinking the
enemy coming by that road, still further reinforced his position
guarding the entrance to the Brock Road. Another incident happened
during the day to further induce Hancock to weaken his attacking column.
Word reached him that troops were seen moving towards him from the
direction of Todd's Tavern, and Brooke's brigade was detached to meet
this new enemy; but the troops approaching proved to be several hundred
convalescents coming from Chancellorsville, by the road Hancock had
advanced upon, to join their respective commands. At 6.50 o'clock A.M.,
Burnside, who had passed Wilderness Tavern at six o'clock, was ordered
to send a division to the support of Hancock, but to continue with the
remainder of his command in the execution of his previous order. The
difficulty of making a way through the dense forests prevented Burnside
from getting up in time to be of any service on the forenoon of the
Hancock followed Hill's retreating forces, in the morning, a mile or
more. He maintained this position until, along in the afternoon,
Longstreet came upon him. The retreating column of Hill meeting
reinforcements that had not yet been engaged, became encouraged and
returned with them. They were enabled, from the density of the forest,
to approach within a few hundred yards of our advance before being
discovered. Falling upon a brigade of Hancock's corps thrown to the
advance, they swept it away almost instantly. The enemy followed up his
advantage and soon came upon Mott's division, which fell back in great
confusion. Hancock made dispositions to hold his advanced position, but
after holding it for a time, fell back into the position that he had
held in the morning, which was strongly intrenched. In this engagement
the intrepid Wadsworth while trying to rally his men was mortally
wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. The enemy followed up,
but made no immediate attack.
The Confederate General Jenkins was killed and Longstreet seriously
wounded in this engagement. Longstreet had to leave the field, not to
resume command for many weeks. His loss was a severe one to Lee, and
compensated in a great measure for the mishap, or misapprehensions,
which had fallen to our lot during the day.
After Longstreet's removal from the field Lee took command of his right
in person. He was not able, however, to rally his men to attack
Hancock's position, and withdrew from our front for the purpose of
reforming. Hancock sent a brigade to clear his front of all remnants
that might be left of Longstreet's or Hill's commands. This brigade
having been formed at right angles to the intrenchments held by
Hancock's command, swept down the whole length of them from left to
right. A brigade of the enemy was encountered in this move; but it
broke and disappeared without a contest.
Firing was continued after this, but with less fury. Burnside had not
yet been able to get up to render any assistance. But it was now only
about nine in the morning, and he was getting into position on Hancock's
At 4.15 in the afternoon Lee attacked our left. His line moved up to
within a hundred yards of ours and opened a heavy fire. This status was
maintained for about half an hour. Then a part of Mott's division and
Ward's brigade of Birney's division gave way and retired in disorder.
The enemy under R. H. Anderson took advantage of this and pushed through
our line, planting their flags on a part of the intrenchments not on
fire. But owing to the efforts of Hancock, their success was but
temporary. Carroll, of Gibbon's division, moved at a double quick with
his brigade and drove back the enemy, inflicting great loss. Fighting
had continued from five in the morning sometimes along the whole line,
at other times only in places. The ground fought over had varied in
width, but averaged three-quarters of a mile. The killed, and many of
the severely wounded, of both armies, lay within this belt where it was
impossible to reach them. The woods were set on fire by the bursting
shells, and the conflagration raged. The wounded who had not strength
to move themselves were either suffocated or burned to death. Finally
the fire communicated with our breastworks, in places. Being
constructed of wood, they burned with great fury. But the battle still
raged, our men firing through the flames until it became too hot to
Lee was now in distress. His men were in confusion, and his personal
efforts failed to restore order. These facts, however, were learned
subsequently, or we would have taken advantage of his condition and no
doubt gained a decisive success. His troops were withdrawn now, but I
revoked the order, which I had given previously to this assault, for
Hancock to attack, because his troops had exhausted their ammunition and
did not have time to replenish from the train, which was at some
Burnside, Sedgwick, and Warren had all kept up an assault during all
this time; but their efforts had no other effect than to prevent the
enemy from reinforcing his right from the troops in their front.
I had, on the 5th, ordered all the bridges over the Rapidan to be taken
up except one at Germania Ford.
The troops on Sedgwick's right had been sent to enforce our left. This
left our right in danger of being turned, and us of being cut off from
all present base of supplies. Sedgwick had refused his right and
intrenched it for protection against attack. But late in the afternoon
of the 6th Early came out from his lines in considerable force and got
in upon Sedgwick's right, notwithstanding the precautions taken, and
created considerable confusion. Early captured several hundred
prisoners, among them two general officers. The defence, however, was
vigorous; and night coming on, the enemy was thrown into as much
confusion as our troops, engaged, were. Early says in his Memoirs that
if we had discovered the confusion in his lines we might have brought
fresh troops to his great discomfort. Many officers, who had not been
attacked by Early, continued coming to my headquarters even after
Sedgwick had rectified his lines a little farther to the rear, with news
of the disaster, fully impressed with the idea that the enemy was
pushing on and would soon be upon me.
During the night all of Lee's army withdrew within their intrenchments.
On the morning of the 7th General Custer drove the enemy's cavalry from
Catharpin Furnace to Todd's Tavern. Pickets and skirmishers were sent
along our entire front to find the position of the enemy. Some went as
far as a mile and a half before finding him. But Lee showed no
disposition to come out of his Works. There was no battle during the
day, and but little firing except in Warren's front; he being directed
about noon to make a reconnoissance in force. This drew some sharp
firing, but there was no attempt on the part of Lee to drive him back.
This ended the Battle of the Wilderness.
AFTER THE BATTLE--TELEGRAPH AND SIGNAL SERVICE--MOVEMENT BY THE LEFT
More desperate fighting has not been witnessed on this continent than
that of the 5th and 6th of May. Our victory consisted in having
successfully crossed a formidable stream, almost in the face of an
enemy, and in getting the army together as a unit. We gained an
advantage on the morning of the 6th, which, if it had been followed up,
must have proven very decisive. In the evening the enemy gained an
advantage; but was speedily repulsed. As we stood at the close, the two
armies were relatively in about the same condition to meet each other as
when the river divided them. But the fact of having safely crossed was
Our losses in the Wilderness were very severe. Those of the
Confederates must have been even more so; but I have no means of
speaking with accuracy upon this point. The Germania Ford bridge was
transferred to Ely's Ford to facilitate the transportation of the
wounded to Washington.
It may be as well here as elsewhere to state two things connected with
all movements of the Army of the Potomac: first, in every change of
position or halt for the night, whether confronting the enemy or not,
the moment arms were stacked the men intrenched themselves. For this
purpose they would build up piles of logs or rails if they could be
found in their front, and dig a ditch, throwing the dirt forward on the
timber. Thus the digging they did counted in making a depression to
stand in, and increased the elevation in front of them. It was
wonderful how quickly they could in this way construct defences of
considerable strength. When a halt was made with the view of assaulting
the enemy, or in his presence, these would be strengthened or their
positions changed under the direction of engineer officers. The second
was, the use made of the telegraph and signal corps. Nothing could be
more complete than the organization and discipline of this body of brave
and intelligent men. Insulated wires--insulated so that they would
transmit messages in a storm, on the ground or under water--were wound
upon reels, making about two hundred pounds weight of wire to each reel.
Two men and one mule were detailed to each reel. The pack-saddle on
which this was carried was provided with a rack like a sawbuck placed
crosswise of the saddle, and raised above it so that the reel, with its
wire, would revolve freely. There was a wagon, supplied with a
telegraph operator, battery and telegraph instruments for each division,
each corps, each army, and one for my headquarters. There were wagons
also loaded with light poles, about the size and length of a wall tent
pole, supplied with an iron spike in one end, used to hold the wires up
when laid, so that wagons and artillery would not run over them. The
mules thus loaded were assigned to brigades, and always kept with the
command they were assigned to. The operators were also assigned to
particular headquarters, and never changed except by special orders.
The moment the troops were put in position to go into camp all the men
connected with this branch of service would proceed to put up their
wires. A mule loaded with a coil of wire would be led to the rear of
the nearest flank of the brigade he belonged to, and would be led in a
line parallel thereto, while one man would hold an end of the wire and
uncoil it as the mule was led off. When he had walked the length of the
wire the whole of it would be on the ground. This would be done in rear
of every brigade at the same time. The ends of all the wires would then
be joined, making a continuous wire in the rear of the whole army. The
men, attached to brigades or divisions, would all commence at once
raising the wires with their telegraph poles. This was done by making a
loop in the wire and putting it over the spike and raising the pole to a
perpendicular position. At intervals the wire would be attached to
trees, or some other permanent object, so that one pole was sufficient
at a place. In the absence of such a support two poles would have to be
used, at intervals, placed at an angle so as to hold the wire firm in
its place. While this was being done the telegraph wagons would take
their positions near where the headquarters they belonged to were to be
established, and would connect with the wire. Thus, in a few minutes
longer time than it took a mule to walk the length of its coil,
telegraphic communication would be effected between all the headquarters
of the army. No orders ever had to be given to establish the telegraph.
The signal service was used on the march. The men composing this corps
were assigned to specified commands. When movements were made, they
would go in advance, or on the flanks, and seize upon high points of
ground giving a commanding view of the country, if cleared, or would
climb tall trees on the highest points if not cleared, and would denote,
by signals, the positions of different parts of our own army, and often
the movements of the enemy. They would also take off the signals of the
enemy and transmit them. It would sometimes take too long a time to
make translations of intercepted dispatches for us to receive any
benefit from them. But sometimes they gave useful information.
On the afternoon of the 7th I received news from Washington announcing
that Sherman had probably attacked Johnston that day, and that Butler
had reached City Point safely and taken it by surprise on the 5th. I
had given orders for a movement by the left flank, fearing that Lee
might move rapidly to Richmond to crush Butler before I could get there.
My order for this movement was as follows:
HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE U. S., May 7, 1864, 6.30 A.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE, Commanding A. P.
Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take position
at Spottsylvania C. H. with one army corps, at Todd's Tavern with one,
and another near the intersection of the Piney Branch and Spottsylvania
road with the road from Alsop's to Old Court House. If this move is
made the trains should be thrown forward early in the morning to the Ny
I think it would be advisable in making the change to leave Hancock
where he is until Warren passes him. He could then follow and become
the right of the new line. Burnside will move to Piney Branch Church.
Sedgwick can move along the pike to Chancellorsville and on to his
destination. Burnside will move on the plank road to the intersection
of it with the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road, then follow
Sedgwick to his place of destination.
All vehicles should be got out of hearing of the enemy before the troops
move, and then move off quietly.
It is more than probable that the enemy concentrate for a heavy attack
on Hancock this afternoon. In case they do we must be prepared to
resist them, and follow up any success we may gain, with our whole
force. Such a result would necessarily modify these instructions.
All the hospitals should be moved to-day to Chancellorsville.
U. S. GRANT, Lieut.-General.
During the 7th Sheridan had a fight with the rebel cavalry at Todd's
Tavern, but routed them, thus opening the way for the troops that were
to go by that route at night. Soon after dark Warren withdrew from the
front of the enemy, and was soon followed by Sedgwick. Warren's march
carried him immediately behind the works where Hancock's command lay on
the Brock Road. With my staff and a small escort of cavalry I preceded
the troops. Meade with his staff accompanied me. The greatest
enthusiasm was manifested by Hancock's men as we passed by. No doubt it
was inspired by the fact that the movement was south. It indicated to
them that they had passed through the "beginning of the end" in the
battle just fought. The cheering was so lusty that the enemy must have
taken it for a night attack. At all events it drew from him a furious
fusillade of artillery and musketry, plainly heard but not felt by us.
Meade and I rode in advance. We had passed but a little way beyond our
left when the road forked. We looked to see, if we could, which road
Sheridan had taken with his cavalry during the day. It seemed to be the
right-hand one, and accordingly we took it. We had not gone far,
however, when Colonel C. B. Comstock, of my staff, with the instinct of
the engineer, suspecting that we were on a road that would lead us into
the lines of the enemy, if he, too, should be moving, dashed by at a
rapid gallop and all alone. In a few minutes he returned and reported
that Lee was moving, and that the road we were on would bring us into
his lines in a short distance. We returned to the forks of the road,
left a man to indicate the right road to the head of Warren's column
when it should come up, and continued our journey to Todd's Tavern,
where we arrived after midnight.
My object in moving to Spottsylvania was two-fold: first, I did not
want Lee to get back to Richmond in time to attempt to crush Butler
before I could get there; second, I wanted to get between his army and
Richmond if possible; and, if not, to draw him into the open field. But
Lee, by accident, beat us to Spottsylvania. Our wagon trains had been
ordered easterly of the roads the troops were to march upon before the
movement commenced. Lee interpreted this as a semi-retreat of the Army
of the Potomac to Fredericksburg, and so informed his government.
Accordingly he ordered Longstreet's corps--now commanded by Anderson--to
move in the morning (the 8th) to Spottsylvania. But the woods being
still on fire, Anderson could not go into bivouac, and marched directly
on to his destination that night. By this accident Lee got possession
of Spottsylvania. It is impossible to say now what would have been the
result if Lee's orders had been obeyed as given; but it is certain that
we would have been in Spottsylvania, and between him and his capital.
My belief is that there would have been a race between the two armies to
see which could reach Richmond first, and the Army of the Potomac would
have had the shorter line. Thus, twice since crossing the Rapidan we
came near closing the campaign, so far as battles were concerned, from
the Rapidan to the James River or Richmond. The first failure was
caused by our not following up the success gained over Hill's corps on
the morning of the 6th, as before described: the second, when fires
caused by that battle drove Anderson to make a march during the night of
the 7th-8th which he was ordered to commence on the morning of the 8th.
But accident often decides the fate of battle.
Sheridan's cavalry had had considerable fighting during the afternoon of
the 7th, lasting at Todd's Tavern until after night, with the field his
at the close. He issued the necessary orders for seizing Spottsylvania
and holding the bridge over the Po River, which Lee's troops would have
to cross to get to Spottsylvania. But Meade changed Sheridan's orders
to Merritt--who was holding the bridge--on his arrival at Todd's Tavern,
and thereby left the road free for Anderson when he came up. Wilson,
who was ordered to seize the town, did so, with his division of cavalry;
but he could not hold it against the Confederate corps which had not
been detained at the crossing of the Po, as it would have been but for
the unfortunate change in Merritt's orders. Had he been permitted to
execute the orders Sheridan gave him, he would have been guarding with
two brigades of cavalry the bridge over the Po River which Anderson had
to cross, and must have detained him long enough to enable Warren to
reinforce Wilson and hold the town.
Anderson soon intrenched himself--if indeed the intrenchments were not
already made--immediately across Warren's front. Warren was not aware of
his presence, but probably supposed it was the cavalry which Merritt had
engaged earlier in the day. He assaulted at once, but was repulsed. He
soon organized his men, as they were not pursued by the enemy, and made
a second attack, this time with his whole corps. This time he succeeded
in gaining a position immediately in the enemy's front, where he
intrenched. His right and left divisions--the former Crawford's, the
latter Wadsworth's, now commanded by Cutler--drove the enemy back some
At this time my headquarters had been advanced to Piney Branch Church.
I was anxious to crush Anderson before Lee could get a force to his
support. To this end Sedgwick who was at Piney Branch Church, was
ordered to Warren's support. Hancock, who was at Todd's Tavern, was
notified of Warren's engagement, and was directed to be in readiness to
come up. Burnside, who was with the wagon trains at Aldrich's on our
extreme left, received the same instructions. Sedgwick was slow in
getting up for some reason--probably unavoidable, because he was never
at fault when serious work was to be done--so that it was near night
before the combined forces were ready to attack. Even then all of
Sedgwick's command did not get into the engagement. Warren led the last
assault, one division at a time, and of course it failed.
Warren's difficulty was twofold: when he received an order to do
anything, it would at once occur to his mind how all the balance of the
army should be engaged so as properly to co-operate with him. His ideas
were generally good, but he would forget that the person giving him
orders had thought of others at the time he had of him. In like manner,
when he did get ready to execute an order, after giving most intelligent
instructions to division commanders, he would go in with one division,
holding the others in reserve until he could superintend their movements
in person also, forgetting that division commanders could execute an
order without his presence. His difficulty was constitutional and
beyond his control. He was an officer of superior ability, quick
perceptions, and personal courage to accomplish anything that could be
done with a small command.
Lee had ordered Hill's corps--now commanded by Early--to move by the
very road we had marched upon. This shows that even early in the
morning of the 8th Lee had not yet become acquainted with my move, but
still thought that the Army of the Potomac had gone to Fredericksburg.
Indeed, he informed the authorities at Richmond he had possession of
Spottsylvania and was on my flank. Anderson was in possession of
Spottsylvania, through no foresight of Lee, however. Early only found
that he had been following us when he ran against Hancock at Todd's
Tavern. His coming detained Hancock from the battle-field of
Spottsylvania for that day; but he, in like manner, kept Early back and
forced him to move by another route.
Had I ordered the movement for the night of the 7th by my left flank, it
would have put Hancock in the lead. It would also have given us an hour
or earlier start. It took all that time for Warren to get the head of
his column to the left of Hancock after he had got his troops out of
their line confronting the enemy. This hour, and Hancock's capacity to
use his whole force when necessary, would, no doubt, have enabled him to
crush Anderson before he could be reinforced. But the movement made was
tactical. It kept the troops in mass against a possible assault by the
enemy. Our left occupied its intrenchments while the two corps to the
right passed. If an attack had been made by the enemy he would have
found the 2d corps in position, fortified, and, practically, the 5th and
6th corps in position as reserves, until his entire front was passed.
By a left flank movement the army would have been scattered while still
passing the front of the enemy, and before the extreme right had got by
it would have been very much exposed. Then, too, I had not yet learned
the special qualifications of the different corps commanders. At that
time my judgment was that Warren was the man I would suggest to succeed
Meade should anything happen to that gallant soldier to take him from
the field. As I have before said, Warren was a gallant soldier, an able
man; and he was beside thoroughly imbued with the solemnity and
importance of the duty he had to perform.
BATTLE OF SPOTTSYLVANIA--HANCOCK'S POSITION--ASSAULT OF WARREN'S AND
WRIGHT'S CORPS--UPTON PROMOTED ON THE FIELD--GOOD NEWS FROM BUTLER AND
The Mattapony River is formed by the junction of the Mat, the Ta, the Po
and the Ny rivers, the last being the northernmost of the four. It
takes its rise about a mile south and a little east of the Wilderness
Tavern. The Po rises south-west of the place, but farther away.
Spottsylvania is on the ridge dividing these two streams, and where they
are but a few miles apart. The Brock Road reaches Spottsylvania without
crossing either of these streams. Lee's army coming up by the Catharpin
Road, had to cross the Po at Wooden Bridge. Warren and Hancock came by
the Brock Road. Sedgwick crossed the Ny at Catharpin Furnace. Burnside
coming by Aldrich's to Gates's house, had to cross the Ny near the
enemy. He found pickets at the bridge, but they were soon driven off by
a brigade of Willcox's division, and the stream was crossed. This
brigade was furiously attacked; but the remainder of the division coming
up, they were enabled to hold their position, and soon fortified it.
About the time I received the news of this attack, word came from
Hancock that Early had left his front. He had been forced over to the
Catharpin Road, crossing the Po at Corbin's and again at Wooden Bridge.
These are the bridges Sheridan had given orders to his cavalry to occupy
on the 8th, while one division should occupy Spottsylvania. These
movements of the enemy gave me the idea that Lee was about to make the
attempt to get to, or towards, Fredericksburg to cut off my supplies. I
made arrangements to attack his right and get between him and Richmond
if he should try to execute this design. If he had any such intention
it was abandoned as soon as Burnside was established south of the Ny.
The Po and the Ny are narrow little streams, but deep, with abrupt
banks, and bordered by heavily wooded and marshy bottoms--at the time we
were there--and difficult to cross except where bridged. The country
about was generally heavily timbered, but with occasional clearings. It
was a much better country to conduct a defensive campaign in than an
By noon of the 9th the position of the two armies was as follows: Lee
occupied a semicircle facing north, north-west and north-east, inclosing
the town. Anderson was on his left extending to the Po, Ewell came
next, then Early. Warren occupied our right, covering the Brock and
other roads converging at Spottsylvania; Sedgwick was to his left and
Burnside on our extreme left. Hancock was yet back at Todd's Tavern,
but as soon as it was known that Early had left Hancock's front the
latter was ordered up to Warren's right. He formed a line with three
divisions on the hill overlooking the Po early in the afternoon, and was
ordered to cross the Po and get on the enemy's flank. The fourth
division of Hancock's corps, Mott commanding, was left at Todd's when
the corps first came up; but in the afternoon it was brought up and
placed to the left of Sedgwick's--now Wright's--6th corps. In the
morning General Sedgwick had been killed near the right of his
intrenchments by rebel sharpshooters. His loss was a severe one to the
Army of the Potomac and to the Nation. General H. G. Wright succeeded
him in the command of his corps.
Hancock was now, nine P.M. of the 9th of May, across the left flank of
Lee's army, but separated from it, and also from the remainder of
Meade's army, by the Po River. But for the lateness of the hour and the
darkness of the night he would have attempted to cross the river again
at Wooden Bridge, thus bringing himself on the same side with both
friend and foe.
The Po at the points where Hancock's corps crossed runs nearly due east.
Just below his lower crossing--the troops crossed at three points--it
turns due south, and after passing under Wooden Bridge soon resumes a
more easterly direction. During the night this corps built three
bridges over the Po; but these were in rear.
The position assumed by Hancock's corps forced Lee to reinforce his left
during the night. Accordingly on the morning of the 10th, when Hancock
renewed his effort to get over the Po to his front, he found himself
confronted by some of Early's command, which had been brought from the
extreme right of the enemy during the night. He succeeded in effecting
a crossing with one brigade, however, but finding the enemy intrenched
in his front, no more were crossed.
Hancock reconnoitred his front on the morning of the 10th, with the view
of forcing a crossing, if it was found that an advantage could be
gained. The enemy was found strongly intrenched on the high ground
overlooking the river, and commanding the Wooden Bridge with artillery.
Anderson's left rested on the Po, where it turns south; therefore, for
Hancock to cross over--although it would bring him to the same side of
the stream with the rest of the army--would still farther isolate him
from it. The stream would have to be crossed twice in the face of the
enemy to unite with the main body. The idea of crossing was therefore
Lee had weakened the other parts of his line to meet this movement of
Hancock's, and I determined to take advantage of it. Accordingly in the
morning, orders were issued for an attack in the afternoon on the centre
by Warren's and Wright's corps, Hancock to command all the attacking
force. Two of his divisions were brought to the north side of the Po.
Gibbon was placed to the right of Warren, and Birney in his rear as a
reserve. Barlow's division was left south of the stream, and Mott of
the same corps was still to the left of Wright's corps. Burnside was
ordered to reconnoitre his front in force, and, if an opportunity
presented, to attack with vigor. The enemy seeing Barlow's division
isolated from the rest of the army, came out and attacked with fury.
Barlow repulsed the assault with great slaughter, and with considerable
loss to himself. But the enemy reorganized and renewed the assault.
Birney was now moved to the high ground overlooking the river crossings
built by our troops, and covered the crossings. The second assault was
repulsed, again with severe loss to the enemy, and Barlow was withdrawn
without further molestation. General T. G. Stevenson was killed in this
Between the lines, where Warren's assault was to take place, there was a
ravine grown up with large trees and underbrush, making it almost
impenetrable by man. The slopes on both sides were also covered with a
heavy growth of timber. Warren, before noon, reconnoitred his front
twice, the first time with one and the second with two divisions. He
was repulsed on both occasions, but gained such information of the
ground as to induce him to report recommending the assault.
Wright also reconnoitred his front and gained a considerably advanced
position from the one he started from. He then organized a storming
party, consisting of twelve regiments, and assigned Colonel Emory Upton,
of the 121st New York Volunteers, to the command of it. About four
o'clock in the afternoon the assault was ordered, Warren's and Wright's
corps, with Mott's division of Hancock's corps, to move simultaneously.
The movement was prompt, and in a few minutes the fiercest of struggles
began. The battle-field was so densely covered with forest that but
little could be seen, by any one person, as to the progress made. Meade
and I occupied the best position we could get, in rear of Warren.