tv The Civil War Wilson Greene Civil War Petersburg CSPAN December 22, 2021 11:00am-12:23pm EST
or these achievements took place, it's because my army did this, my army made me. other questions? all right. i've worn you out after all that have good food and the cookies and things. thank you again for having me, i really enjoyed it. thank you very much. [ applause ] weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday, american history tv documents america's sunday. and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest on nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies, including comcast. >> do you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that. >> comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi so students can be ready for anything. >> comcast along with these
television companies supports c-span2 as a public service. american history tv continues now with more from the pamplin historical park civil war symposium. >> i'm very privileged to introduce a. wilson greene. it says he's retired. i don't believe that. from a 44-year career in public history, most notably as a former and founding executive director of someplace. [ laughter ] will previously served as historian and manager with the national park service before becoming the first president of the association of civil war studies. he's currently at work on his last two volumes of his trilogy which we're desperately waiting for. what's going on, are they coming? they're coming, great. i'm very happy to introduce a. wilson greene. [ applause ]
>> boy, is it good to look out on these faces. i gotta say. it's just wonderful to be with you all, and especially to be with such great colleagues. we're really fortunate that brian was able to make it, because he has a two-week engagement at the boom-boom room at the holiday inn in marietta. and he took time off to join us. so thank you for that, brian. i hope your flight is on time, you can get back to the 10:00 show at the holiday inn. pete carmichael, what a great [ inaudible ]. i'm a little surprised that he would take a shot at my sartorial habits, because this is a fellow who wears scarves in
the middle of july. and shows up at symposiums without socks on, wearing a sport coat. but be that as it may, thank you for those kind words and thanks for coming out. i must have not gotten the memo about the way the talks are supposed to go, because we've had these thought pieces and all of this great humor. and i'm just going to do like a straight battle talk. so i hope that you still have some energy and some brain cells left, because this talk on the first petersburg offensive is pretty complicated. you know, everybody's been to petersburg battlefield and been to battery 5 and you think you understood the first peterberg offensive, but it involves four armies. it involves four days of combat plus a major logistical movement in order to get there.
so we'll try to go through this and hopefully you'll have a better understanding of what i think is -- is my microphone cutting in and out, am i doing something wrong? okay. alexander, the famous confederate artillarist, thought petersburg was the most interesting point in the whole confederacy. you may not agree. the events in 1864, if they had gone differently at petersburg, would have altered the trajectory of the civil war tremendously, perhaps shortening it by months. so my talk is going to address the movements to petersburg at that time, the conduct of combat, not in a micro[ inaudible ].
now, the petersburg campaignmic [ inaudible ]. now, the petersburg campaign [ inaudible ] chief of all union armies. grant brought two [ inaudible ]. first, to apply [ inaudible ] across all the various theaters of the [ inaudible ]. it looks like we're going to get some technical help here. you don't want to miss any of my words, i'm sure. [ laughter ] if i was brian wills, i would tell a joke right now. [ laughter ] i'll just keep going. and the second thing, of course
[ inaudible ] decided not to make his headquarters in washington [ inaudible ] instead -- i don't think -- to make his headquarters with the [ inaudible ] and pursue relentless operations against the confederate opponents. now, grant would of course implement in plan in early may, sending his protege william sherman on a campaign in georgia to concentrate on johnson at a railroad hub in atlanta and in virginia mead would focus laser-like on the army of robert e. lee while two subordinate offences would take place up the shenandoah valley and up the james river towards the cell side of richmond and both of those [ inaudible ] failed in may with fonsegal failing in new market and butler being halted
south of richmond. the army of the potomac, of course, crossed the rapid ann river at the same time, had a series of engagements at the wilderness, spotsylvania courthouse, cold harbor, losing some 60,000 men in the process, inflicting sufficient number of casualties on lee's army to eliminate it as an offensive weapon. it was primarily now only opponent on the defense. a new threat in the valley posed by david hunter compelled general [ inaudible ] to release about [ inaudible ] infantry strength under jubal early to deal with that threat as well. but with butler's access to richmond blocked by confederate forces under pierre beauregard, with lee seemingly immovable in
front of the confederate capital at richmond, grant made a bold decision. he would shift his entire army south of the james river, capture petersburg 23 miles below the confederate capital which was richmond's logistical [ inaudible ] nexus. petersburg, as many of you know, was a much more relatively important city then than it is today. it was the seventh largest city in the confederacy, the second largest city in the commonwealth of virginia. no fewer than five railroads led into what was known as the cockade city at that time. the petersburg railroad, it was called the weldon railroad because that's where it ended 60 miles south in weldon, north carolina. all of them remained crucial to the confederate supply
situation. in fact [ inaudible ] richmond, fredericksburg and potomac railroad and the virginia central railroad all being interdicted by union forces, the capture of petersburg and those railroads would have rendered richmond moribund. and so i don't think [ inaudible ] in saying that the capture of petersburg would have been tantamount to the capture of richmond. so there's an awful lot at stake in this campaign. now, grant was only too aware of the risk involved in this maneuver. he has to disengage from his opponents around [ inaudible ] harbor without lee knowing it in order to gain a head [ inaudible ] much longer route to petersburg than lee [ inaudible ]. once lee realized that grant had departed, he would need to purr swayed the [ inaudible ] that he
was going to be approaching richmond in the same way that george mcclellan had done two years earlier in 1862. and even if all of this went [ inaudible ] plan [ inaudible ] chickamauga river. and [ inaudible ] river which was as much as 80 feet deep and as wide as 4,000 feet. in some places. [ inaudible ] in this [ inaudible ] the army of the potomac would be spread out and vulnerable, never more so than in the process of crossing the james river. now, the movement also put butler's army in jeopardy as grant would be much farther away from the army of the james than would the army of northern virginia. and lastly [ inaudible ] was
contrary to what the administration expected grant [ inaudible ] always lincoln administration nurtured a constant change of microphones. [ laughter ] and beyond that, a fear of losing washington, exposing washington to confederate forces. now, let's face it. by the second week of june of 1864, grant's results in virginia had not exactly been sterling. and had this operation failed, i suspect that even lincoln's indulges of his new general and chief would have been compromised. and i don't know that lincoln would have let grant have that long leash. now, that's a very complicated map, and probably more complicated than you need to try to inculcate from your seats out
there. but it shows you the planning that grant went into in order to get this movement to the james. the first thing he did had nothing to do with going south. the first thing he did was to attach phil sheridan and two-thirds of the cavalry to make a raid north against the virginia central railroad. ultimately, he hoped that sheridan would link up with the union forces coming east from the shenandoah valley. but more importantly for our purposes, sheridan's travilion station raid would compel lee to detach some of his own battery in order to counter sheridan's movement and absent lots of cavalry that would make an opportunity for grant to make a stealthy movement to the james much easier. he also arranged for a motley fleet of ferry boats to be assembled at fort monroe and move up the james river to provide transportation for his
army. he then authorized butler to destroy the railroad bridge connecting petersburg with chesterfield county on the north side of the appomattox river in order to prevent lee from detaching troops to the north and coming to petersburg's rescue. now, that operation did not succeed. on june 9th, the so-called battle of old men and young boys prevented that railroad bridge from being destroyed. now, grant began his movement to the james on june the 12th. there were five army corps involved in this movement, the four in the army of the potomac and baldy smith's 18th corps which had joined mead's army prior to cold harbor. each corps disengaged from north to south, following carefully selected routes in order to expedite the movement to the james river, while the 18th
corps would march to white house landing on the potomac river and take water transportation to get back to the area north of the appomattox river. now, the chicka hominee river, a wide ditch partly choked with rotten logs and full of brown, tepid, sickly looking water whose slow current would scarcely carry a straw along. now, the plan called for the army to move across the chickahominee by building pontoon bridges. the union scattered the thin confederate resistance at the crossing points and by dawn of the 13th mead's army was either south of the chickahominee or
poised to cross it. now, in order to follow that other precept of convincing lee that he was moving towards richmond north of the james river the way that mcclellan had approached richmond in 1862, mead said two divisions of give nor warren's fifth corps and a brigade cavalry towards glendale or, on this map, reddel's shop which i'm finding it someplace, you can see it better than i can. there it is right there. that's the glendale intersection where of course that big battle took place on june 30th, 1862. now, a sharp fight on june 13th left modest casualties and glendale in confederate hands but reinforced the notion in lee's mind that this thrust might actually represent grant's next attempt to capture richmond. now, this is not to say that lee was insensible to the possibility of grant going
across the james. but the confederate commander's primary responsibility was what? richmond. to protect richmond. and unless he could be sure that grant would not threaten the confederate capital, lee would maintain his position on the north side, counting on beauregard's army to provide timely intelligence regarding any enemy operations on the south side. now, because all of mead's pontoons in his train were required to cross the chickahominy river, he put general butler in charge of the pontoon bridge across the james river. and butler would turn to his chief engineer, brigadier general godfrey whitesell, to attempt the construction. whitesell would recommend a position on the lionoke peninsula where the river
measured less than 2,000 feet across but the banks on both sides required significant modification. so 150 men immediately went into the forest, cut down giant cypress trees, created avenues of approach, corduroy approaches especially on the north bank of the river where it was very swampy, and then built better approaches on the south side of the river as well. and by working around the clock, by the night of june 14th and 15th, they had built a pontoon bridge consisting of 101 boats, 2,000 feet across, and as one confederate said, the greatest bridge which the world has seen since the days of xerxes. now, in the meantime, the union infantry began gathering on the north bank of the james. on june 14th, winfield scott hancock, second corps, horatio wright's sixth core, burnside's
ninth corps and most of warren's fifth corps were on the north bank of the river in position to cross, having negotiated the intervening ground without any problems. meanwhile, smith's 18th corps moved up the james river and prepared to disembark at bermuda hundred. only the supply wagons that were guarded by the black division of the ninth corps encountered problems, discovering their designated crossing points down there on the chickahominy at cole's ferry was impractical and they had to move to windsor shades to try to get across, so they would be delayed. but everybody else had achieved a spectacular logistical achievement. grant had, no doubt, stolen a
march on robert e. lee and now he simply had to approach petersburg, overwhelm a line of thin defenders that were supposed to be until the works around the cockade city and force lee to fight for his communications, accept a cede to richmond or abandon the confederate capital. there is the union set up for this. what about the confederate perspective? as i mentioned, lee was perfectly cognizant of the potential of grant crossing sooner or later and getting to the south side of the james. but lee was uncertain of grant's intentions. and he declined to consider butler's june 9th effort as anything more than a reconnaissance. no troops have left general
grant's army, lee assured a nervous beauregard, and none could have crossed james river without being perceived. now, lee's confidence in this was derived from his own intelligence gathering abilities and on beauregard's line of scouts that were allegedly arrayed down the banks of the james river for many, many miles. but still, lee would order robert polk's division, which had been loaned to the army of northern virginia by beauregard's army prior to cold harbor, to move to the pontoon bridge that the confederates maintained at chaffen's bluff in case those generals should appear on the south side of the river. now, by june 14th, as grant arranged his petersburg offensive, lee and beauregard
speculated about the location and intentions of their enemy. lee responded to an inquiry from president davis early that afternoon by speculating, quote, that i think the enemy must be preparing to move south of the james. now, lee, of course, knew by this time that a large body of federals had moved south and that another large body of federals had boarded boats at white house landing. but this could mean that grant was changing his base to harrison's landing just like mcclellan had two years earlier where he could be resupplied for another movement against richmond south of the river -- north of the river, rather, and that all of those federals boarding boats might be some of these regiments that had their terms of enlistment expire and where heading home of which thousands were doing that. we ought to be extremely watchful and guarded, lee advised, but alertness did not equate changing focus yet from
richmond to petersburg. now, beauregard was less ambivalent about grant's intentions. he beseeched the war department, warning that if some combination of butler's and mead's armies attacked him, "i cannot be responsible for consequences." when this appeal elicited no response, beauregard took matters into his own hands and on 10:00 p.m., june 14th, sent orders to polk, who after all was part of his army, to move immediately across the james. he also sent staff officers to lee to justify the shift. but the absence of any hard evidence and beauregard's penchant for the fantastic convinced almost no one in richmond and certainly general lee of any imminent disaster.
while beauregard fretted and lee remained cautious, grant and lee proceeded on june 14th with their offensive plans. now, smith's 18th corps had boarded the transports on june 13th and by the next day had gun a staggered arrival at various points at bermuda 100 and up the appomattox river. this disembarkation began in the middle of the afternoon on the 14th and would continue until after dark. meanwhile, winfield scott hancock's second corps at 8:30 a.m. received orders from mead to cross the river utilizing that makeshift fleet that grant had assembled while engineers were putting the final touches on the pontoon bridge. by afternoon, the first of the corps boarded their boats and by
4:00 p.m. on the 14th they were ashore on the right bank, delighting the veterans such as this new jersey soldier who had grown disenchanted with the virginia landscape. as we steamed across the beautiful river, he said, our hearts were filled with new hope. for we had bidden farewell to the chickahominy to the long line of graves that stretched not only across the peninsula but across the hills and valleys and streams and fertile feeds to the rapid end. we were bidding farewell, he said, to the old battlefields and entering upon a new field of operations. now, it would take hancock until about dawn on the morning of june 15th to ferry his three divisions across the river. but by 5:00 a.m., the second corps was comfortably encamped on the south side. many of the men cleansing the grime of 40 days of constant
campaigning by taking swims in the james. hancock remained on the north side, communicating by signal flag to the far bank. and this is an important point. as in most military operations that don't succeed, there are a series of mistakes and misunderstandings. this is an important one that i don't think too many people have called attention to. but it was critical. hancock confirmed to mead that his corps, contrary to earlier reports, had three days of rations on hand and would not be out of food that night. so while the engineers finished their bridge and hancock's men ferried across the river, grant boarded a steamer and met with butler at bermuda 100 to outline the plans for the attack. grant told butler that he would be solely responsible for the attack, because hancock would
require reprovisioning before marching toward petersburg. and with mead's wagons, as i said, stalled on the north side of the chickahominy river waiting to find a different way to get across, butler would be responsible for providing those rations. 60,000 of them. grant says to butler, without this precaution, the services of this corps, meaning hancock, cannot be had for an emergency tomorrow. now, this message not only implied that grant considered hancock's participation in the june 15th offensive as necessary only in an emergency, but that he was unaware of hancock's actual supply situation. grant returned to the north side about sunset on the 14th and informed mead of butler's supply mission. and mead dutifully provided those orders to hancock at 10:00
that night, telling him not to advance until butler's supply ships had arrived to give him these 60,000 rations. and hacock would obey those orders, of course, a decision he was very unlikely to have made had he known that his presence at petersburg was expected. ultimately, the supply ships failed to arrive. so at 10:30 in the morning on june 15th, mead released hancock to begin his trip towards petersburg, thus nearly six hours were wasted between the time that the second corps arrived on the south bank and their departure for the front. six hours that might have changed history. as for the 18th corps, grant's orders to butler were to begin smith's march toward petersburg that night and to launch his attack, quote, as soon as he could after daylight. grant assumed that butler would
capture petersburg that morning and hancock would be available later that day to help smith hold the city should lee try to redeem the situation. smith would have the two white divisions that arrived from cold harbor, two brigades taken from his bermuda 100 line and 37 african american soldiers from city point under general edward hinks, a total of about 14,000 men. but smith would claim, and i think justifiably, that he had learned nothing of these plans until late on the 14th, as his troops were beginning to disembark from their ships at cold harbor. obviously it would take time to organize his men. and they had landed at three different points. and without any divisional integrity. so he had to get everybody
together, get them all in their proper brigades and proper divisions. smith would have to cross the appomattox river in the dark, march five miles to petersburg before deploying his attack. in short, grant's expectation of a dawn offensive was fantasy, an echo of the poor planning that had plagued hancock's departure. five men -- grant, butler, mead, smith, and hancock -- all needed to be on the same page in order for this plan to work. but grant failed to communicate his battle plans to all of his subordinates, and thus, like the university of georgia which drives down the field to the three-yard line and then fumbles, the general and chief jeopardized the potential payoff of his brilliant march to the james.
what about the confederates? what are they up to? of course this fellow, gustav beauregard, had been in command of something called the department of north carolina and southern virginia since april 23rd of 1864. this was a huge department that extended from the south -- the mouth of the cape fear river all the way up to the south bank of the james river. the virginia portion of his domain was called the first military district. it was under the command of henry lies, the former governor of virginia. but lies had really authority over the garrison troops in his division while bush rod johnson's infantry division bore responsibility for containing butler at bermuda 100 behind a compact defensive position known as the howlett line, a four-mile defensive line anchored on the left on the james and on the right on the appomattox river. because a portion of johnson's division was on detached duty,
beauregard deployed about 3,300 men on the howlett line. at petersburg, an elaborate defensive position known as the de mach line, featuring 55 artillery batteries connected by an infantry curtain that extended ten miles, anchored on both flanks of the appomattox river, was defended by about 4,000 men including a large contingent of local militia, which of course would be less than one-third of smith's troops approaching petersburg. no wonder. no wonder beauregard was very anxious to return holk's 6,600 men to his army. but despite the louisianians' orders, holk would not start to cross the james until noon on the 15th, leaning beauregard on
his own in this impending clash. once informed of his assignment, baldy smith quickly organized his advancing infantry about as well as he could, many of whom had enjoyed little or no rest after getting off their boats, and starting their march across the pontoon bridges of the appomattox river. the plan called for the cavalry to lead the way and allowing the infantry to march directly against the works. according to butler, defended only by a skeleton force. the federals began their march between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on the 15th but cowtz was delayed crossing the bridges and not until 5:00, a half hour after dawn, would smith's two white divisions join the black troops of edward hinks on the south side of the appomattox river. the union cavalry rode ahead and
encountered a stubborn confederate resistance at a place call baylor's farm several miles east of the de mach line, just east of the interchange with highway 36 and i-295 today. it's pretty much a lost battlefield. declaring the resistance too powerful for cavalry, smith called on hinks to shove the rebels aside. the black troops lurched forward in their first combat, absorbing significant casualties from a single cavalry regiment supported by one battery of artillery but eventually the 4 or 500 graycoats fell back, giving the black troops a e vic by a sinister byproduct, the intimidation of baldy smith. this fact caused me at once, he said, to cease taking anything for granted that had been
asserted. grant's dawn attack, already a moot point, would now face further delay. now, smith resumed his approach with extreme caution, advancing a skirmish line and halting at every intervening ridge between baylor's farm and the de mach line. not until afternoon did the federals approach the confederate position. smith would deploy his three divisions from the appomattox river on his right, so you thought ward with hinks on the left, and the cavalry even farther to the left. all along the line, rebel cannon belched forth at their new targets, inflicting minor casualties and further persuading smith that contrary to butler's assurances, beauregard's defenses were substantial. smith opted to conduct a thorough reconnaissance to identify the targets for his assault, taking almost all afternoon to decide on focusing on a place called battery 5, a
salient near the city point railroad. while this is all going on on the 15th, what's our friend general hancock doing? he had left the south bank of the james, remember, about 10:30 that morning. but he was traveling in an ambulance. he was not mobile. his gettysburg wound was festering and he was unable to mount a horse. his men were marching under unrelenting heat. it was over 95 degrees that day. they were traversing poor roads, and they had such faulty maps that one of his divisions, francis barlow's, which you see wandering off in the wrong direction, got completely lost and would be out of action. not until about 5:30 in the afternoon, 10:30 they start, 5:30 in the afternoon, did they -- did david burny's division begin to approach the confederate position. at that point, breathless
curious arrived from grant and smith urging hancock to support smith's impending attack. hancock is surprised by the urgency of these orders. he is under no illusion at this point that he's expected to participate in the fight. and it was almost impossible to find out where the hell smith wanted him to go. it was poor staff work. there was no maps. so more time is elapsed for this. now, smith will finally be successful. he identified a ravine that provided some defalade for battery 6 and 7, for you people who are local, where highway 36 goes under the park tour road. his plan was to send a reinforced skirmish line, really, in order to make the attack. he said that my best chance of success was to trust to a very
heavy skirmish line which would not of itself attract much artillery fire which would yet be sufficient to do the work if the enemy was not very strong in infantry. troops from william brooks' division would initiate the attack, triggering responses by john martindale's division on his right and hinks' black division on his left. he thought he should have an artillery bombardment. he gave orders to begin firing immediately but unbeknownst to him the artillery commander had taken all the battery horses out to be awarded so it would take time for them to get back, bring the guns into position. the artillery opens up, does a 20-minute bombardment and then smith launches his attack. about 7:00 at night. and, make a long story short, they penetrated through that ravine between batteries 6 and 7, and the entire complement of
confederate artillery. and those batteries and the adjacent batteries on either side surrendered. on books' right martindale scattered 3 and 4 while the black troops accomplished even more, capturing batteries 6, 7, 8, 9, and finally, 10. by the time the darkness enveloped the blood-stained landscape, smith had conquered two miles of the confederate line and captured at least 13 guns and inflicted hundreds of casualties. now the question remained, what would the federals do with this tardy but decisive victory? now, with barlow's division lost, only burney's and gibbons' divisions of the second corps were available to respond to those urgent messages to assist smith. but as i said, poor communications, confusing geography, conspired to delay
their arrival until well after dark, after most of the fighting had already been concluded. hancock met with smith about 9:00, who had explained to hancock what had transpired and pointed out the extent of his achievement. hancock confirmed that burney and gibbon were available to continue the offensive. although hancock outranked smith, he deferred to his junior's judgment, saying, i desired not to interfere with his honor as he was directed to take the place. smith declined to continue the attack, requesting only that hancock's two editions relieve brooks and hinks at the front and prepare to meet any confederate counterattacks. the second corps unit stumbled forward in the dark and between 11:00 and 3:00 in the morning occupied the captured line. now, one of the enduring questions of the petersburg story is the wisdom of smith's
and hancock's decision that night. there were certainly bitter voices who decried the failure to press ahead and try to capture petersburg. a private in the fourth u.s. artillery, for example, remembered that gradually the fact that we were not to fight that night impressed itself upon us. the rage of the intelligent enlisted men was devilish, the most bloodcurdling blasphemy uttered by men who knew they were to be sacrificed in the morning. many blamed smith, believing that petersburg would have gone like a rotten branch had smith exercised sufficient courage. other critics cited the bright moonlight that would have guided the federals into what was presumed to be a nearly defenseless city. now, it's easy to condemn baldy smith, who is a rather unlikable character and whose postwar
apologia reeked of prevarication. but to do so is simplistic. he certainly could have insisted on a coordinated advance after 9:00 if in his judgment such an attack was warranted. he did not. neither of the army commanders, butler or mead, set foot anywhere near the scene of action, nor did grant, whose headquarters at city point were barely an hour's ride from the front. all three of these men could have ordered an assault and had the authority to do so if they wished. now, smith would cite a plethora of reasons why he didn't continue the assault. chief among them, the darkness and the disorganization of his troops, particularly the blacks. smith also believed that by capturing batteries 3 through
10, he could mount an artillery bombardment close enough to petersburg to render it indefensible. and perhaps most of all, smith expressed concern that the confederates had been reinforced and to plunge troops into the darkness against an enemy of unknown strength would have been, as he said, simple madness and would have almost inevitably resulted in disaster and a loss of all that we had gained. although in hindsight, we should conclude that hancock and smith should have pressed on that night, i think they acted reasonably. and the confederates were in fact gathering strength. now, general beauregard had arrived in petersburg about 6:00 p.m. that night, traveling from his headquarters north of town. the attack that quickly followed didn't particularly surprise him. he had been predicting this disaster for days. but now the question for him was simple. should he defend petersburg by
stripping the defenses of bermuda 100? or for sake the cockade city and hold the howlett line? he had appealed to the war department unsuccessfully all through the day for instructions as to which of those options he should exercise but never received an answer. so he was on his own. not long after that federal breakthrough the leading elements of holk's division finally begin to arrive in the form of heygood's 1400, much to the delight of the panic-stricken citizens. when the news of the collapse of the eastern portion of the de mach line reached petersburg, new orders sent heygood to establish a defensive perimeter. heygood almost stumbled into the federal lines.
that occurred near stop 4 at harrison's creek. but with the aid of beauregard's very competent chief engineer, a man who is unfamiliar to most of you but shouldn't be, and one of the best engineers in the confederate army, colonel david b. harris, heygood helped draw a new line of defense along a ridge behind harrison's creek, connected the intact de mach line between batteries 2 and 15. and during the night, the georgians and north carolinians extended the line, digging furiously to create an earthwork barrier. in the meantime, beauregard made the decision to abandon the howlett line and bring johnson's division to petersburg, giving him around 11,000 men to meet the combined forces of smith and hancock, who still outnumbered the confederates 3-1. beauregard informed lee of his
decision and begged him to replace johnson's troops before butler discovered that the howlett line was evacuated and moved west to sever the road and railroad connections between richmond and petersburg. in the predawn hours of june 16th lee ordered george pickett's division of richard anderson's first corps of the army of north virginia, about 4,500 men, to cross the james for this purpose. how would the federal high command react on june 16th to this developing operational situation? lee put pickett's men on the road to the river crossings at 3:00 in the morning and a few hours later he sent charles fields' first corps division for the south side as well. but alert federal officers at bermuda 100 detected suspicious sounds during the night and at early daylight pressed forward. they found that the feud troops
of alabamans were the only defenders of the howlett line. they quickly scattered them. although there was only a fraction of butler's men involved in this they quickly began ripping up the tracks of the richmond and petersburg railroad. meanwhile, two additional union corps, burnside's ninth and warren's fifth, began using the completed pontoon bridge and the ferry boats to cross the james with orders to extend hancock's left. at the same time, johnson's graycoats crossed the appomattox and extended the new confederate defensive perimeter dubbed the heygood line to mirror hancock's deployment. throughout the day the second and 18th corps crept forward slowly and cautiously and discovered the new rebel defenses. grant merely ordered burnside and warren to provide flank protection for hancock while the second and 18th corps spent the
day identifying points for a proposed evening attack. as the federals probed, the confederates dug. so that by late in the afternoon on june 16th beauregard had fashioned the heygood line into a defensive position. meanwhile, up at bermuda 100, butler only committed a relative handful of his troops to the occupation and destruction of the vital link that connected richmond and petersburg. as a result, when pickett's leading brigades arrived on the scene and charged forward, the federals quickly withdrew. i think butler's failure to hold the position on the r&p railroad was an even more egregious mistake than the overcaution of hancock and smith the previous night. when fields' division arrived later in the day on the 16th, any opportunity to block additional confederate troops coming from richmond to petersburg had evaporated.
meanwhile, south of the appomattox, mead launched his attack on june 16th, about 6:00 p.m. all three corps then present, the 18th, second, and now the ninth on the left, advanced. smith and burnside merely demonstrated, never seriously challenging the confederates in their front. hancock's attack was a bit more spirited, resulted in the captures of batteries 13 and 14 but ran out of steam at dark without seriously damaging beauregard's new perimeter. the confederate commander, however, recognized that the heygood line was vulnerable and ordered colonel harris to lay out new defenses even closer to petersburg. now, during the day on june 16th, lee continued to press beauregard no fewer than four times to find out information on mead's whereabouts. and at 9:30 that morning, beauregard had notified lee of hancock's presence.
but here's another communications problem. he sent that message to lee's headquarters north of the james. but by then, lee had moved his headquarters south of the river, and that message never caught up with general lee. not until 7:00 p.m. would beauregard again mention the presence of the second corps, news now to lee, after two days, that a portion of the army of the potomac was at petersburg. here is something i just don't understand. first of all, beauregard never recognized the presence of the ninth corps or the fifth corps, despite the fact that he had skirmished with them. and how in the world did those scouts along the james river miss a 2,000-foot-long pontoon bridge and ferrying thousands of troops up the james river? i do not have an answer for that. but they didn't. so lee contended himself with shifting the last of the first corps divisions, joseph
kershaw's, closer to the pontoon bridge but keeping a.p. hill's corps north of the james in position to defend richmond against what was now a phantom force. now, after the fighting had died out on june 16 grant, however, admitted that, quote, not knowing appearances in front of you, i can't give positive direction how hard you should push in the morning. i will leave this to your judgment, knowing you will push any advantage that may be gained. this, they continued to deligate operational decisions to mead. the first petersburg offensive was george means's game. and he passed the information on to hancock, encouraging those officers to make an attack, to exploit the huge, if possible
pleating advantage. now, hancock's core had been somewhat bloodied on the 16th. so, the primary offensive responsibility would belong to burnside. burnside's black division had not yet crossed the river. he would have the services of his three white divisions. each of those divisions would venture seperal assaults, never achieving coordination with each other or the second and fifth cores on their flanks. the morning assault conducted by robert potters' division, targeted the southern flank of the defenses, centered on a high nole occupied by something called the shand house. those of you familiar with this area, the shand house knoll is just to the right side of the back gate to fort lee, along route 109. and the civil war trust is in
the process of acquiring some of that land now. granted a mitted he wasn't sure what was going to. happen but potter moved his men to the base of the hill in the night and at dawn charged up the slope. sending ransoms fleeing and decimating foelten's tennessee brigade. capturing some 600 men and all four of the guns on his hill. he expected his victory would be exploited by the second core on his right and reinforcements from the ninth division on his left and rear but neither of those units advanced. siting terrain too difficult to navigate and hancock's men claiming, where i think dubious voracity, that they tried to attack. it was the same story again. a gallant attack without adequate support, said amous misses veteran. had the divisions, ordered to support us, been ready to
advance, the fearful carnage of the two succeeding days would doubtless have been prevented. orlando wilcox's division spent the night in the core and by 10:00 a.m. on the 17th, they moved to the deep ravined. he assigned his accentric chief engineer to identify the most likely ground for wilcox's attack. warten selected the terrain north of the shand house ridge where the confederates, who had been defeated that morning, were desperately preparing a new line of work yet of very limited utility. wilcox' men boiled out of their protective ravine about 2:00, hampered by a faulty tactical alignment and greeted by waves of confederate canister. nevertheless, the federals approached the makeshift line
and almost were in the position to capture the works, when major moralitien directed the men, to quote, execute a half wheel to the right. and you see this represented on the map. morton paid for this ill conseevled tacting with his life as all the fire hit their left flank and they fled for safety behind hancocks's line. and they lay on a bountiful harvest field, wrote a wisconsin soldier. varably, it was a harvest death. and the final attack came from the division commanded by james ledly. ledly, of course, i hear chuckles, would become infamous about six weeks later for his role in the battle of the crater. but his flaws are already evident to any observer. his preevlious combat experience at the river in may featured a drunken and unauthorized attack. by the time his division was ready to execute their assault
on the 17th, ledly was too inebriated to secure command. a supply of artificial courage carried him beyond the proper counterpoise in which condition he remained in the ravine, explained a massachusetts captain. one of the brigade commanders had to lead the assault and regiments just after sun down and a portion of steven elliott 's south carolina brigade and collapsed the confederate forces. but they led out of ammunition and a series of counterattacks regained the lost ground. the fighting petered out about midnight. all during that day, colonel harris worked diligently to identify a third line of defense closer to petersburg and once the combat susided, the exhausted warriors quietly
slipped out and fell back to harris's designation, 800 to 1,000 yards in the rear. the weary rebels spent what was left of the evening furiously digging the earth works along the line harris had laid out. meanwhile, in bermuda, they restored are all the works that had been lost before. and now, as frustrating as the federal performance on june 17th must have been to meet and grant, robert e. lee suffered his own anxiety that day. at day break he again pressed him to identify the components. he said he face said two, presumably the 18ing and second kwoers. at 11:15, burnside compounded the confusion by informing lee
that warren had likely abandoned the petersburg area and headed for the pedemont. not long thereafter, boguard telling lee that a local citizen reported 30,000 federals crossed the james river and appealed to lee to help him hold his position. one can only imagine lee's reaction to this conflicting intelligence. at 4:30 that afternoon, lee told him have no information about grant crossing the james river. but ordered hill and kershaw to approach the plantoon. and they were either there or in
root to st.pedersbering. lee finally had the information he needed to shift the rest of the army south. ordered kershaw to rush immediately and told hill be prepared to cross to the south side at dawn. it was now a race. would mead and grant succeed? and overwhelming exhausted men before the army of northern virginia could arrive and save the city? kershaw's division began its march at 3:00 in the morning and a few hours later, hill's men started tramping across the plantoon bridges. and reacting to the night time orders to commence a coordinated advance at daylight. the second, ninth, the fifth from north to south lurched
forward, compare -- prepared to engage the confederates. most encountered the abandoned lines of the hay good line. surprised but undeterred, mead told his core commanders to launch a new attack, focusesed on the newly completed harris line. they pressed forward and soon discovered the rebel works in their front were well prepared and adequately manned and their efforts came to not. further south, the ninth and fifth cores never advanced at all. either claiming to be stymied by a lack of flank protection or saying they never received the orders. this infuriated mead, who snapped in an order. i find it useless to a point an hour to effect cooperation. demanding that all four of his cores advance without reference to the disposition of any of the other cores. by this time, and they're going
to church. god love you. by this time, kershaw extended the confederate right and field was moving into position while hill's troops were legging it south to get to petersburg. the federal responded to mead's frust rated and pree.ry response. and a former college protesser from maine, charged about 3:00 p.m., yelling like a pack of infeweriated devils before the fatal fire from the confederate line stopped them cold. colonel chamberlain, as we heard this morning, was among the casualties. but he would survive his wound, solidifying his place in history at appomattox.
at the other end of the line, hancocks's men, poised for another effort to breach the rebel works, focusing on high ground known as full quicks salient. the assault commencebed tween 4:00 and 4:30. in the face of furious confederate fire, most took a few steps and took the ground. having had enough of attacking earth works to recognize when they saw one. heavy artillrists, who were not so naive as to underestimate their peril, but nevertheless, they poured out of dev laid, along the prince george court house road and into the open field in front of the silliant, emerging about 200 yards from the rebel line. you can do that today. the park service, for unexplained reasons, has never really directed people to do this. but you can walk in the foot
steps of the first main heavy artillery. a soldier of whom said the field became a seegting hell. they poured it in from the front, right, and the left. and as many of you know, in less than ten minutes, 632 of the 900 men, who began that charge, were killed or wounded. the largest loss suffered in one battle by any regimen during the war. the final union spasm of the day came from burnside's bloody veterans, elements of whom managed across the norfolk and petersburg railroad, known as edmunds or petersburg salient. these men, however, dug in, exploiting the cover provided by the valley at poor creek, setting the stage, six weeks later, for the battle of the crater. lee had arrived in petersburg shortly before noon, met with
boguard at the custom's house and observed the situation from the city reservoir. the murcurial creole recommended lee taken a offensive but lee declined and remained on the defensive and that, decision, of course, led to the successful repulse of the union attacks and ended the first petersburg offensive. we triumphed at last and holding the invaders at bay and saving the city from the negro and the beast, boasted a virginiaen. if they keep charging, we will have them all killed in a few days. ulyssess. grant, for the time being had seen enough killing. 13,000 soldiers became casualties between june 15th and 18th. casualty figures are more murky
but my guess is 2500 to 3,000 of them became casualties as well. about 10:00 that evening, george mead sent a summary of the day's actions to grant, concluding by expressing with great regret i'm not able to report more success and adding, that i believe every effort in my command has been made. grant immediately replied without a hint of condemnation. i am perfectly satisfied, grant wrote, that all that has been done could be done. that was far from the truth. until the arrival of the first. troops from lee's army, grant's army group out numbered his opponents as much as 5/1. odds that should have spelled triumph. a few weeks later, mead confessed to a trusted staff officer that i should have taken petersburg. i had reason to calculate on success. but he didn't.
why? i think the primary cause of the federal failure can be found in the condition of the troops, particularly mead's own army. the army is kpaits exhausted, admitted the commander. it are absolutely requires rest. he added, we cannot replace officers with experienced men and there's no time for reorganization or careful selection. there can be no doubt that the horrendous casualties and consequential atrition at the line and field command level sustained from the wilderness to cold harbor reduced the efficiency of the army of the potomac. with many of the braves fighting men laying in shallow graves or languishing in hospitals, mead's offensive capabilities have been greatly diminished. that's not to say the soldiers were too demoralized to fight.
the long line of killed and wounded stands as testimony. but their willingness and ability to press an attack had all been vanished. there were also mistakes made at the higher command loevls. grant's failure to communicate his battle plan to all principals seriously compromised his success on june 15th. smith's executing the assault that day, allowed shattered ranks and meant a push into petersburg must occur in the dark, a risk neither smith nor hancock was willing to take. that conservative mindset effected the other core commanders who only felt sufficiently comfortable to advance in concert with one another. leading to the piece-meal assaults during the succeeding three days. benjamin butler fumbled a major
opportunity to sever the direct road and railroad connections between richmond and petersburg when he so easily surrendered his position between the two cities, allowing lee to funnel troops without interference. and part of the overall explanation lies with the general and chief, whose fingerprints were all but invisible during this four days. although, deligating operational activities to his subordinates was normal for his generalship. boguard performed as well as any force during the entire war, with such fearful and incredible odds against him, he maintained a successful barrier to the advance. a feet of war, almost without precedent. i think that might be over stating the case a tad. he does deserve high praise for selecting his two nigh lines of
defense, timing the evacuation of the old line flawlessly and allocatingthal brigades properly. there's little evidence he had influences on the combat that thwarted the union attacks. credit residing with subordinate officers, and tactical is required. and remarkably poor intelligence that was inconsistent of the situation and his front, contributed to lee's indecision. and as for lee, historians often site his failure to reinforce petersburg more quickly as one of the worst blemishes on his record. there can be no question that grant stole a march on the great commander and that his deception kept lee uncertain of his
enemies whereabouts. i think lee acted reasonably, given the information available to him. as we said, lee's first responsibility was the protection of richmond. and without some assurance the federal army was not lurking on the north side of the james, his decision to send incremental reinforcement said south was reasonable and prudent. once he had definitive information of the federal presence at saint petersburg, he acted swiftly. the first petersburg offensive should be ranked among the major battles of the civil war. more than 75,000 soldiers and approaching combined casualties of 16,000. numbers that correlate with the largest and bloodiest engagements of the war. grant's failure to capture petersburg would lead to eight more offensive in the next 188
days, before he achieved a victory that might have been his nine months earlier. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> my mission on these talks is to exhaust you to the point where vow no embarrassing questions revealing my superstilgs knowledge. so, thank you. pete's going to attack me about robert e. lee, i'll bet. >> so, two quick questions. the first is you think about the opening assaults and imagine the casualties were extraordinarily high but in fact, they're really not at all. you're talking three to four days. and of course required of me to mention gettysburg but three
days of gettysburg or two days. take your two bloodiest days at chancellor. again, is this all the hesitancy of the union attacks? i'd say they're fairly light. a second quick question. you think about world war i and som, which dominates our thinking in how we think of tactics on the western front. when in fact they did not characterize what followed. that soldiers adapted on each side. can you help us understand, did, in the siege of petersburg, not when the union army is doing flanking to the south, but were the raids at warfare changed on the front? >> two long questions. first of all, you're comparing the first petersburg offensive with the largest battle of the north american continent and i guess most would fail in comparison to that.
i don't think 16,000 casualties is insignificant. and i think my point is if you asked people in this room to list the 10-most important battles or major battles, none would mention june 15th and 18th. my point is this was a much more sang wuinariy and consequential civil war battle than it's given credit for. but relative numbers could beargued all day. secondly, i take exception to your characterization of the petersburg campaign. it was not a siege. to me a siege implies two things. one, encirclement by an army, of which there was no escape. that was not true. and secondly, according to military protocol, a siege involves standard approaches, like you had at vix burg or port
hudson. those were surges. general mead, after the first offensive, less than a week after all of that was going on in the first offensive, actually went to grant and said these things aren't working. we should exercise official siege operations and grant said okay. and it lasted for about 36 hours and then grant said no more digging trenches and approaches. we're going to continue these operations. so, in that regard, i think of petersburg is understood as a siege. i think that's deprived petersburg of a lot of the interest. what's more boring than a static siege? it's depressing and there's no real tactics to understand and therefore, who cares and let's move on to appomattox and be done with it. you said we're dismissing these -- there are nine federal
offenses and two confederate offenses. there was an awful lot of maneuver at petersburg. were there slack times in between? absolutely. and various trench raids, and various cavalry raids, lots of actions both north and south of the james rivrg. river. wuchb thing we have to understand is the petersburg campaign involves everything up in thp county. these mysterious battles, and second deep bottom, williamsburg road, second darby town road. all these things that only dick summers has ever understood is all part of the petersburg story. and there's lots of action going on north of the james and you can certainly argue, i think without much of a stretch, that 1864 shenandoah valley campaign was also part of the petersburg
story. that is a direct relation to what's going on at petersburg. if i understand your question, i mean, was there a combination of world war i and civil war tactics here? to some degree but i think that's really a stretch. i don't believe that petersburg is a precursor to world war i tactics. but thanks for chiming in, pete. it's always good to hear from you. >> i'll go a little easier on you, will. you mention in your talk about the expiring. do you have a rough number of how many troops that was, that actually walked away from the fight? i mean, god bless them. they'd done their service. >> i don't have it off the top of my head but there were dozens of regiments, not scores, not hundreds but dozens whose
enlistments were expiring and they were going north. they would be thousands, not 10s of thousands but thousands of men. enough to make an observer wonder if those ships that are leaving white house landing are heading their way eventually up the potomac to go back north. but there were a lot and someone earlier mentioned -- i guess it was andy or someone mentioned, must have been andy, about -- no, it was pete. talking about the greenness of the union army at that time. he's exactly right. there were lots and lots of new soldiers, whose motivation for joining the army was sometimes not as pure as the early volunteers were concerned. and that's part -- i don't think that's the explanation for the first offensive but i think it kicks in later in the petersburg campaign when these attacks don't seem to accomplish much
and you're dealing with guys inexperienced and maybe not quite as motivated as the fellas in 1862 and 1863 were. >> sir, could you share some of your thoughts on the condition of lee's army at the beginning of this time period, so around 13 june, and specifically. even if he'd had perfect intelligence, which is impossible, but even if scouts had been observing the james better, what options did he really have, in your opinion? just some of your thoughts. >> as i mentioned briefly, i think, although the overland campaign is almost always described as a failure on grant's part because of all the losses that he made and the fact that lee's army continued to defend richmond, which was allegedly grant's objective. grant had degraded -- grant and mead had degraded the army of
northern virginia to the point it was not an offensive army anymore and subtract a third of the infantry going to shenandoah valley and it's reduced to maybe 30,000 infantry. consequently, lee is a potent defensive force. he is not an offensive force. he's a counterpuncher but he's not going to be able to exercise any offensive movements on his own. he can't change the calculus on the war in virginia like he had done earlier in the campaign. as far as the morale seems very high. i have not seen any evidence of deteriorating morale in any kind of -- significant percentage. they still believed in lee and as far as they were concerned,
they had kicked some yanky but and they were doing pretty darn well and richmond was in their hands. and you read all sorts of quotes of keep it coming. we're going to kill them all and i'll be home by the fall. so, their morale was still very high at this point. >> to your point about the elon of the army at the potomac. a lot of those veteran regiments going north were replaced by green units from the defenses of washington, who had spent their military experiences sitting in a lot of forts, practicing artillery but nothing else. grant stripped them. that's one of the reasons why the raid was set off a lot of alarm bells in washington because they realized their dfss had been stripped of regiments sent south to petersburg. >> i agree, gordon. and the one thing that i maybe
glossed over, i want to emphasize. whenever you try to dig down a little bit deeper in a story of a civil war campaign, you start encountering conventional wisdoms, that may not be that wise. most of you probably read that the first main heavy artillery went into the attack on june 18th, not realizing they were going to a meat grinder and they would charge when the old veterans knew better than to do that. my conclusion is that the first main guys knew darn well that they were going into a very tough assignment. they did it anyway. they did it anyway. i think by petersburg, some of those heavy artillery units have been bloodied pretty badly at
places like s -- i think they still lacked combat experience but don't think they were naive about it. they were pretty brave guys, in other words. i don't want to stand between you and dinner. thank you very much. it's great to see you all. frrl thank you. [ applause ] >> so, how exactly did america get up to its neck in debt? >> we believe one of the greatest characteristics of being american is we're striving for equal opportunity for all citizens. >> video documentary competition, 2022. they're giving us behind-the-scenes looks. and you can enter the student span competition.
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