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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. III
p392
Chapter XXIII

The Crossing of the James

The cries of the wounded were fainter on the morning of June 4, but all day long the same pitiful plea, "Water, water, for God's sake, water!" could be heard within the Confederate lines. No attack was made that day over the ground covered by these agonized men, but no request came from the Union side for a truce to succor them. Lee, of course, dispatched no flag, because virtually none of the casualties in front of his trenches had been among his own men. It was June 5 when Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant sent any message, and then he merely proposed that each army be privileged to put out relief parties when no action was on.1 Lee had to say, in answer to this unusual proposal, that it would lead to "misunderstanding and difficulty," and that when either army desired to remove the victims of battle, it should follow the normal procedure and ask for a suspension of hostilities. "It will always afford me pleasure," he said, "to comply with such a request as far as circumstances will permit."2 Grant could not bring himself to make this tacit admission of defeat until late in the afternoon of the 6th.3 The subsequent slow exchange of official communications through the lines delayed the execution of the truce until the evening of June 7.4 By that time all except the ambulant wounded had died or had been removed at night by comrades.

The period of this correspondence and the five days that followed the burial of the Union dead — eight days altogether — were marked by no general action. The skirmishing, however, was constant, and several minor attacks were delivered by Lee, only to be halted before they reached the formidable Union positions.5 On the 6th Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early prepared a second sweep down the Federal lines from the Confederate left to the right, but found it impossible to p393 progress through the trench system of the enemy.6 The Northerners, for their part, remained on the defensive. Some of the Confederates took this to mean that the Union high command had at last seen the futility of frontal assaults. "Grant," said General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pendleton, "has been so shaken in the nerves of his army, if not in his own, that apparently he must get some rest."7 Lee held a more cautious view, because of other operations undertaken by the enemy. On June 7 most of Sheridan's cavalry corps started for a raid up the Virginia Central Railroad.8 Lee at once detached Hampton and Fitz Lee with 4700 troopers in pursuit, leaving with the army only Rooney Lee's small division and Gary's mounted brigade of the Richmond garrison — a very serious division of force. It was an inevitable countermove but it was to prove most costly. Lee observed that Sheridan started about the same time that Sigel's successor, Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.David Hunter, began moving up the Shenandoah Valley. Lee assumed that these two advances were connected, and he reasoned that Grant might be waiting on the outcome, rather than halting because of exhaustion.9

Lee did not, however, adopt the assault tactics his antagonist seemingly had abandoned temporarily. General Matt W. Ransom's brigade had been sent over from the Bermuda Hundred front to strengthen the department of Richmond and indirectly had made good the losses at Cold Harbor.10 As long as Grant remained north of the Chickahominy, the Confederate front was quite secure. But the front of action was so restricted, the Federal commander was guarding all the approaches so closely, and the Confederate cavalry was so reduced, that Lee did not think he could drive Grant out except by an assault on the Federal fortifications, and this he was anxious to avoid if possible.11

As the armies watched each other, neither willing to take the offensive, Lee had his first opportunity of fixing the status of the officers who had been named to succeed those who had fallen p394 between the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. Under the new law permitting appointments with temporary rank, Anderson was promoted lieutenant general and Early was elevated to the same grade.12 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell, naturally, was displeased at being supplanted, and made formal application to return to duty, but Lee did not think he could stand the hardships of active service and slated him to take charge of the department of Richmond.13 Major General Robert Ransom, whom Ewell was to succeed, when able to do so, was sent to head the cavalry in western Virginia. His troops were placed under Custis Lee until Ewell could take charge.14 In this way Custis at last had opportunity of active combat, with his father near enough at hand to guide him. Mahone was given temporary rank as major general to direct Anderson's division, and Ramseur was awarded the same honor with Early's division. Kershaw was formally designated as successor to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McLaws in the First Corps, and a number of new brigadiers were named, some with permanent and some with temporary rank.15 Lee was acutely conscious of the shortage of good material but careful, as always, to select the best men available.16

While these officers were adjusting themselves to their duties in the trenches around Cold Harbor, the men were dodging the Union sharpshooters and were enjoying what was to them the sumptuous fare of fat Nassau bacon and onions, with the luxury of sugar and coffee.17 Their spirits rose with their rations. "Old U. S. Grant is pretty tired of it — at least it appears so," Colonel Taylor wrote his sweetheart. "We are in excellent trim — men in fine spirits and ready for a renewal of the fight whenever the signal is given."18 The assurance that prevailed in the army was reflected in Richmond. "I have been struck very forcibly," Richard W. Corbin wrote his father in Paris, "by the sense of security which seems to prevail here among all classes. . . . Such is the unbounded confidence of the people in Lee and his noble army, p395 that you hear them talking not only of driving the enemy but of gobbling him up."19

On the sectors around Cold Harbor the men saw more of their commanding general. He rode among them often, for now he could discard his carriage, and his garb was almost as simple as theirs — blue military breeches with boots, a short linen sack coat, no waistcoat or suspenders, a soft felt hat and buff gauntlets. Traveller was always faultlessly groomed, but Lee at this time usually carried neither sword, pistol, nor fieldglasses.20 Rarely was he attended by more than one orderly.21 Wherever he went, he always was quick to return the salutations of his veterans. To a feeble-minded soldier who greeted him with an unmilitary "Howdy do, dad," he returned a kindly "Howdy do, my man."22 There were some "croakers" in Richmond who said Lee had lost most of his influence with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.President Davis because an anti-administration congressman had proposed that he be named dictator in case constitutional government was set aside;23 and others maintained that at last he had met a foeman who could match his steel, even if he was not worthy of it;24 but his influence over his troops was undiminished. Once, during the Cold Harbor campaign, a noisy column was passing along a Hanover road, with banter and clatter, when some of the men observed Lee resting under a tree. Word was instantly passed that "Marse Robert" was asleep, and the men immediately became as silent as if they had been skirmishers, taking position within earshot of the enemy.25

Anything was a relief after the ghastly fighting of the preceding month, but nothing of the hilarity of winter quarters prevailed in those scorching trenches, under the June sun, there in the sands and swamps of Hanover. The sharpshooting was worse than it had ever been, owing to the nearness of the opposing lines. Vicious artillery fire broke out at intervals. Demonstrations were frequent. More serious, on every count, was a slow, daily shifting of the Federal line to the left in Grant's favorite manoeuvre.26 This kept Lee's army constantly on the alert, lest the Federals slip by its right flank.27

p396 Simultaneously, bad news came from the Shenandoah Valley. Hunter's column, which had begun its march when Sheridan started on his raid up the Virginia Central Railroad, was reported to be strong and aggressive. At Piedmont, above Staunton, on June 5, Hunter fell on the Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General W. E. Jones, killed him, routed his small force, and took 1000 prisoners.28 The next day Hunter occupied Staunton, where the Virginia Central crossed the Valley. Toward him, from Lewisburg, Brigadier General George Crook was moving along the railway, destroying it as he advanced. General Averell was following Crook with his cavalry. Rumor put the combined strength of these invaders at 20,00029 — a force large enough to do much mischief. Lee, anxiously consulted by the President,30 did not lose his strategical perspective. "It is apparent," he said, "that if Grant cannot be successfully resisted here we cannot hold the Valley — If he is defeated it can be recovered." He thought, on the whole, however, that the Southern cause would best be served by returning Breckinridge and his command to Lynchburg, whence the troops could be moved according to Hunter's line of advance.31 Breckinridge left on or about June 7, and reduced Lee's strength by approximately 2100.32 Hill took over the lines Breckinridge vacated. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heth's division, which had been brought from the left,33 was moved up in immediate reserve.

The situation now became complicated. Lee was satisfied that the X Corps from General Butler, as well as the XVIII, was in his front, and that the force opposing Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard was very small.34 Beauregard, on the other hand, was becoming more and more alarmed. He interpreted Grant's shift to the left as designed to bring the Army of the Potomac to the James, and he was concerned over the appearance in the river of a large pontoon bridge.35

p397 A movement across the James had, indeed, become such a distinct possibility that Lee had now to reckon on four threats:

1. Grant was within nine miles of Richmond and might continue his hammering. To oppose him, with part of the Confederate cavalry detached, Lee had less than 45,000 men of all arms and could use the garrison of Richmond of about 7400.36 Grant's strength was assumed to be as great as at any time during the campaign — a minimum of 100,000.

2. Grant might cross the James and crush Beauregard's 7900 men either at Bermuda Hundred, at Petersburg, or on both sectors.37 In any such operation Grant could utilize Butler's command — small, in Lee's opinion, formidable in the judgment of Beauregard.

3. Hunter might sweep the Valley and then move eastward with his force, which was now estimated at 15,000, instead of 20,000.38 To defeat him, Breckinridge would have 9000 when he reached the foot of the Blue Ridge, though hardly more than 5000 of these could be counted as combat troops.39

Sheridan might cut the Virginia Central Railroad and join Hunter or, having devastated midland Virginia and having destroyed Lee's communications with the Valley, might return to Grant. Sheridan's strength was unknown but was understood to be much greater than that of the 4700 that Lee had sent after him in Hampton's and Fitz Lee's divisions.40

In short, with 73,000 men in four areas of action, Lee was facing 125,000 to 130,000.41 These were odds of which Lee was not unmindful, but in his view, nothing that could happen in western p398 Virginia or even, for the time being, at Petersburg, was as important as inflicting a defeat on the Army of the Potomac. No diversion clouded his vision. "We must destroy this army of Grant's before he gets to James River," he told Early. "If he get there, it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time."42 It was the first time he had ever hinted at such an outcome.

On the afternoon of June 9 Lee received a message from General Bragg announcing that a surprise attack had been delivered that morning against Petersburg. Beauregard had sent to the beleaguered city all the troops he could spare from the Bermuda Hundred line and said that if he were not reinforced by Lee he would have to choose between losing Petersburg and abandoning the railway between Richmond and that city.43 Lee did not believe that Grant had detached troops from the Army of the Potomac, or that he could send a force across the James from the position he then occupied without being observed. He regarded the move against Petersburg as a reconnaissance and nothing more.44 Nevertheless, Lee set Matt Ransom's brigade in motion for the Confederate pontoons at Drewry's Bluff45 and Bragg ordered Gracie's brigade to the same crossing.46 As it developed, neither was required immediately at Petersburg. For, when the Federals had appeared in front of the defenses of the city, the district commander, Brigadier General Henry A. Wise, had mustered the few troops at his disposal and had manned that part of the extensive works facing the enemy. In Petersburg the tocsin had been sounded and the reserves in the city, men over forty-five and boys in their middle 'teens, had been called to defend the works that Wise could not cover. Major Fletcher H. Archer, a veteran of the Mexican War, who commanded these poorly armed civilians, had posted them judiciously and had told them p399 they must die before they let the Unionists seize their town. A Negro band from the city had sallied out under Philip Slaughter to play inspiring airs and to give the impression that ample troops were at hand. Even the prisoners in the jail had been released at their own request to share in the city's defense, and had been hastily organized as the "company of penitents." On the left, facing Wise, the Federal infantry had done little more than make a demonstration, but on the right, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Kautz's cavalry had attacked with vigor. The old men and the boys had beaten off one attack and had held up a second until they had been almost surrounded. Then the survivors had been compelled to retreat, but they had gained enough time for Beauregard to hurry up reinforcements. Graham's battery had gone through the town at the gallop, followed by Dearing's cavalry. Before the dust from their passing had settled, Graham had been shelling the enemy. Kautz had quickly retreated, Dearing had followed him up, and the battle had been over — perhaps the unique battle of the entire war.47

What did this attack portend? Was it merely a bold raid against Beauregard's flank, or was it the preliminary of a movement to transfer the campaign to the south side of the James? There was, as yet, no way of ascertaining the answer; but on June 11, after Beauregard transmitted a rumor that a column had crossed the river and was planning a new advance on Petersburg,48 Gracie's brigade was sent him as a precaution.49 It was common talk in Richmond that if Beauregard was wrong that day about the appearance of Grant's troops on the south side, he would soon be right. The movement of the Army of the Potomac over the James was taken for granted by many,50 especially as reports continued to come in of pontoons moving up the river,51 presumably to afford Grant a crossing either on the lower Chickahominy or on the James. Beauregard's friends were exhorting him to tell the War Department that in his critical situation he p400 had either to sacrifice the Bermuda Hundred line or Petersburg, as he could not hold both.52

Lee, however, had to consider all the other possibilities, along with that of a general movement of Grant's army to the south side of the James. In the face of Grant's persistent efforts to bludgeon his way into Richmond, Lee could not afford to weaken his front north of the Chickahominy on the assumption that his adversary had suddenly changed his strategy and his tactics. Nor could Lee overlook the chance that Grant might shift to the south of the Chickahominy and besiege Richmond between that stream and the James, as McClellan had essayed to do in 1862. Finally, Lee had to consider the likelihood that Grant would return the troops taken from Butler and would undertake simultaneous operations up both banks of the James. Next only to the preservation of his own army, Lee's first assigned duty was to defend Richmond. That had to be put above another temporary break in communications between Richmond and Petersburg, above even the safety of so important a railroad centre as Petersburg.

At his disposal were only two methods of resolving the dilemma that Grant's proximity to the James presented: Either Lee had to attack, or else he had to concentrate on his right and prepare to move after Grant as soon as his adversary marched southward from the Cold Harbor line. Much as Lee desired to take the initiative, the first course was impracticable. "To attack [Grant] here," Lee told the President, "I must assault a very strong line of entrenchments, and run great risk to the safety of the army."53 He could only prepare for the next stage of the campaign by concentrating on his right. This he did by bringing Early from the left, where he now faced abandoned works, and putting him in rear of A. P. Hill.54 To reduce the chances that Grant could make an orderly withdrawal unobserved, Lee had, since the battle of Cold Harbor, bombarded the Federal lines heavily about 9 P.M. every evening.55

Early took his new position on the 11th.56 The previous day p401 General Breckinridge had arrived at Blue Ridge tunnel, west of Charlottesville, and had telegraphed that Hunter was moving up the Valley, either toward Lexington or toward the mountain gaps that led to Lynchburg. General Bragg was of opinion that the Valley should be cleared; Davis passed on the message to Lee without suggestion. Lee answered on the 11th that it was desirable to expel the enemy from the Valley, but that this would require him to detach a corps. "If it is deemed prudent," he said, "to hazard the defense of Richmond . . . I will do so." But, he added, "I think this is what the enemy would desire. A victory over General Grant would also relieve our difficulties."57 The next day the news was that Hunter had occupied Lexington on the 11th. He was now free to cross the Blue Ridge and, with the Valley under his control, to harry midland Virginia and then to reinforce Grant. This was too great a risk to take. Hunter must be stopped. Without further debate on the subject, Lee promptly changed his mind. He ordered Early to break camp and to start on the morning of the 13th with his artillery and his 8000 infantry for the Shenandoah Valley to meet Hunter.58 Coupled with the previous detachment of Breckinridge, this meant that Lee was losing 20 per cent of his entire force or approximately one-fourth of his infantry at a time when his adversary was engaged in the most menacing manoeuvre he had thus far undertaken. Yet if the thing had to be done, Lee determined to make the most of the necessity. With good generalship, Early would have enough men to dispose of Hunter. Then Lee planned that Early should march down the Shenandoah Valley and make a new demonstration against Washington and Baltimore. This, Lee hoped, would either compel Grant to attack the Army of Northern Virginia in an effort to make Lee recall Early, or else force Grant to detach troops for the defense of the capital and thereby give Lee some prospect of a successful offensive against the reduced Army of the Potomac.59

By one of those coincidences that place the history of the Army p402 of Northern Virginia among the most dramatic stories in the annals of war, Lee's skirmishers brought back the long-expected word at the very hour when the men of Early's corps were turning their faces westward: The long trenches in front of Cold Harbor were empty; Grant was gone. Either toward the James or toward the lower stretches of the Chickahominy, the Army of the Potomac had marched away so quietly that the Confederate pickets had not observed its departure. When they advanced a mile or two beyond the old Federal lines the skirmishers still failed to find the enemy.60

Immediately the order was given to take up the pursuit. Wasting no time in choosing easy routes, Lee threw both corps across the Chickahominy, struck for the Charles City road and moved down it toward Riddell's Shop, which had been just within the Federal line at the battle of Frayser's Farm.61 The day was very hot and straggling was serious, but the columns were kept closed and rapid speed was made.62 The Confederate cavalry outposts which had been stationed at Riddell's Shop were met during the march and reported that Federals, advancing up the Long Bridge road from the direction of the Chickahominy, had driven them back. This quickened the pace of the infantry. Late in the afternoon contact with the enemy was established by Hill's corps and he was forced steadily eastward. All the prisoners proved to be cavalrymen, though there was some suspicion that Federal infantry had been in support.63 Nightfall found the army extended southward from the White Oak Swamp. Hill was on the left, with his right flank near Riddell's Shop, and Anderson held the right, bivouacked on the battlefield of June 30, 1862. The cavalry occupied the Willis Church road and Malvern Hill.64 Lee was thus covering the approaches to Richmond between the lower Chickahominy and the James, and at the same time had his right flank within ten miles of the pontoon bridge at Drewry's Bluff, in case Grant moved across James River. The situation had changed so abruptly and might involve so great an extension of front that President Davis asked whether it might not be wise p403 to recall Early. Lee did not favor it. "I do not know that the necessity for his presence today is greater than it was yesterday," he said. "His troops would make us more secure here, but success in the Valley" — success in marching on Washington — "would relieve our difficulties that at present press heavily upon us."65

As the exact strength of the Federal force on the Long Bridge road was not determined when darkness ended the pursuit on the evening of the 13th, Lee intended to attack there with Hill's corps, but on the morning of June 14 he found that before the skirmishers advanced at dawn the enemy had departed.66 Whither had Grant moved? In the absence of Hampton and Fitz Lee, no cavalry operations, on a large scale, could be attempted to ascertain where Grant was reconcentrating, but everywhere that Lee's scant cavalry units could operate close to the front they were sent out to uncover the enemy. In some instances the scouting parties were so numerous that they interfered with one another.67 Before noon their reports began to arrive. Grant was said to have crossed Long Bridge from the north bank of the Chickahominy with nearly the whole of his army;68 the base at White House had been broken up; the enemy was believed to be at Harrison's Landing; captured stragglers asserted that he intended to pass over the James at that point.69

It was impossible, however, with certainty to ascertain the position or movements of the Federals. There were few county roads in that part of Charles City County whither Grant had moved, and those few ran in rough quadrilaterals. By maintaining strong guards at the crossroads, Grant could screen his army as effectively as if he had taken ship and vanished down the James. For the first time since the opening of the campaign Lee was out of touch with his adversary. His cavalry was too scanty to make a reconnaissance in force, and the infantry both too distant and too weak to attempt an advance. It is worth while to sketch the terrain to show how the land favored Grant by making complete concealment possible within the area he had blocked.

p404

[image ALT: zzz]
Terrain between the Chickahominy and James Rivers, east of the line White Oak Swamp-Malvern Hill,
showing how command of a few crossroads concealed Grant's position after leaving Cold Harbor,
June 13, 1864.

Weighing all the probabilities suggested by such reports as he had, Lee wrote the President at 12:10 P.M. June 14:

". . . I think the enemy must be preparing to move South of James River. . . . It may be Gen. Grant's intention to place his army within the fortifications around Harrison's landing, which I believe still stand, and where by the aid of his gunboats, he could offer a strong defence. I do not think it would be advantageous p405 to attack him in that position. He could then either refresh it or transfer it the other side of the River without our being able to molest it, unless our ironclads are stronger than his. It is reported by some of our scouts that a portion of his troops marched to the White House, and from information derived from citizens, were there embarked. I thought it probable that these might have been their discharged men. . . . Still I apprehend that he may be sending troops up the James River with the view of getting possession of Petersburg before we can reinforce it. We ought therefore to be extremely watchful and guarded. Unless I hear something satisfactory by evening, I shall move Hoke's division back to the vicinity of the pontoon bridge across James River in order that he may cross if necessary. The rest of the army can follow should circumstances require it."70

Lee had received intelligence of Forrest's success at Brice's Crossroads, Miss., on June 10, and the still more welcome news that Hampton had met Sheridan at Trevillian's Station, near Gordonsville, on June 11‑12, had defeated him handsomely and had removed the threat of a junction between Hunter and Sheridan.71 This was most substantial relief, and evidence to Lee's believing eyes that the South was not forsaken by "a gracious Providence." He added, "We have only to do our whole duty and everything will be well."72

Within three hours after this letter was written information accumulated that Grant was on the James and that part of his forces were at Wilcox's Landing, below Westover, where the stream was narrow. Lee made his contemplated disposition of Hoke and promptly explained to the President: "I see no indication of [Grant's] attacking me on this side of the river, though of course I cannot know positively. As his facilities for crossing the river and taking possession of Petersburg are great, I have sent Gen. Hoke with his command to a point above Drewry's Bluff p406 in easy distance of the first pontoon bridge above that place. He will execute any orders you may send to him there."73

The cumulative result of the successive detachments that culminated in these orders was about as follows:

Effective Infantry strength, June 4
42,000[image ALT: a blank space]
Less Breckinridge, June 7
2,100[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a horizontal line]
Total, June 8
39,900[image ALT: a blank space]
Less Early, June 13
8,000[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a horizontal line]
Total, June 14, A.M.
31,900[image ALT: a blank space]
Less Hoke, June 14
6,000[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a horizontal line]
Total, June 14, P.M.
25,900[image ALT: a blank space]
Margin of error, 10 per cent
2,59074
[image ALT: a blank space]
[image ALT: a horizontal line]
28,490[image ALT: a blank space]

The Richmond garrison, by the return of Gracie to Beauregard, was reduced to 6400.

Before Hoke had moved to the pontoon bridge, the Confederate cavalry had pushed on to Harrison's Landing, where it had encountered the enemy. The First and Third Corps had spent the day on substantially the line taken up on the evening of the 13th. But if Grant was going to cross the James there was no point in holding a position so far advanced. On the contrary, if the Army of Northern Virginia was to be called upon to defend both the north and the south sides of the river, it was desirable to retire closer to the Richmond defenses.

The cavalry were withdrawn accordingly,75 and Lee was planning on the afternoon of the 14th to move the infantry nearer the Richmond entrenchments76 when messages from General Beauregard raised a new doubt whether Grant was actually contemplating an early crossing of the James. Beauregard announced that transports were moving upstream. Further, he quoted his p407 scouts as saying that a pontoon train which had gone down the James several days before had returned part of the way. As it had not passed Coggin's Point, which is opposite Harrison's Landing, it might have gone up the Chickahominy.77 A little later Beauregard telegraphed that deserters said Butler had been reinforced by the XVIII and part of the X Corps, previously sent to Grant.78 Could it be, then, that Grant had simply used the pontoons to cross the Chickahominy, that he had returned Butler's troops, and that he was planning to operate against Richmond, between the Chickahominy and the James, while Butler resumed the offensive south of the James? The suggestion that Butler's troops were being restored to him fitted in with the reports from the White House that Lee had forwarded earlier in the day to President Davis.79 Grant's march down the river might simply have been undertaken to give him a more convenient base on deep water.80 For these reasons Lee decided not to draw back to the fortifications of Richmond on the night of the 14th. Instead, he kept his headquarters at Riddell's Shop and remained with his right flank in the direction of Malvern Hill.81

The next morning, June 15, opened one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, a crisis that put Lee's military judgment to the supreme test. Very early his cavalry reported Federal troopers in their front, on the road from Salem Church, and at Malvern Hill.82 A. P. Hill wrote that the enemy was active on his front, also, but that, as late as 9 A.M., he had encountered only cavalry.83 The ease with which the Federals were driven back84 indicated that there was no great strength behind them and renewed Lee's doubts whether Grant intended to attack on the north side of the James. As that, in turn, increased the probability of an attack on Petersburg, Lee p408 felt that he should not hold Hoke any longer at the pontoon bridge but should send him forthwith to support Beauregard. He issued orders accordingly.85

Shortly after Hoke was ordered to move, Colonel Samuel B. Paul, one of Beauregard's aides, arrived at Lee's headquarters with a full statement of the strength and disposition of Beauregard's troops. Lee was busy at the time and not disposed to go fully into the papers, saying he knew Beauregard was weak, but that he would have to make the best of the force he had. When Paul insisted, Lee reviewed the situation with him. The General explained that he had already ordered Hoke to Beauregard, and expressed the belief that Beauregard was mistaken in saying he was confronted with troops from Grant's army, though it was probable he soon would be. Those that had returned, Lee contended, were Butler's men who had been with Grant. After some discussion, Colonel Paul stated that Beauregard believed he would be safe, both at Petersburg and at Bermuda Hundred, if all his original command were restored to him. The only troops of Beauregard's army still north of the river were the 1800 men of Matt Ransom's brigade in the Chaffin's Bluff defenses. These were not under Lee's orders, but he promised to ask that they be returned to Beauregard, even if their place had to be taken by local defense units from Richmond. He assured Paul that if Beauregard were seriously threatened, he would send aid and, if need be, would come himself.86 With friendly personal messages to General Beauregard, he sent the anxious officer on his way.

Almost in the tracks of Colonel Paul's departing horse, a courier arrived with dispatches from General Bragg. These covered telegrams from General Beauregard received prior to 8:45 that morning. The latest of them was probably one written at 7 A.M. This set forth that the return of Butler's forces and the arrival of Grant at Harrison's Landing rendered Beauregard's position "more critical than ever." Beauregard said: "If not reinforced immediately, enemy could force my lines at Bermuda Hundred Neck, capture Battery Dantzler, now nearly ready, or take Petersburg, before any troops from Lee's army or Drewry's Bluff could arrive p409 in time." He concluded, "Can anything be done in the matter?"87

There was nothing in this, or in any other of the dispatches, to indicate that Beauregard thought any of Grant's troops were already on the south side of the James. Beauregard's immediate concern was over the smallness of the force with which he confronted Butler's restored army. Lee had already anticipated Beauregard's need by dispatching Hoke, and now, answering Bragg at 12:30 P.M., he urged that Ransom be returned to Beauregard.88 Pending further developments, he decided to keep the remainder of the army, now reduced to six divisions, on the lines it then occupied.

The cavalry that had followed the enemy during the morning returned late in the afternoon and reported that all their prisoners were Federal troopers. No infantry had been encountered.89 That probably was all the news Lee had, for, so far as the records show, he received no further advices from Richmond that day. Perhaps General Bragg reasoned that Lee had sent Hoke's division to Beauregard and was dispatching Matt Ransom after Hoke, Beauregard would have sufficient strength to meet the new movements of the enemy in front of Petersburg that he reported in a series of dispatches to Bragg during the day.90 Beauregard's files show no telegrams to Lee, though copies of two messages to Bragg were directed through Richmond to be forwarded to Lee. One of these telegrams, marked 1 P.M., said that Hoke would be sent to Petersburg, that Johnson's division might have to be moved there from Bermuda Hundred to support Hoke, and that another division should be dispatched to the south side. The second telegram to Bragg, 9:11 P.M., announced that the enemy had penetrated the lines at Petersburg. Johnson would be sent there to aid Hoke, Beauregard said, and Lee would have to look to the defense of Petersburg and of Bermuda Neck.91 The evidence is strong, though circumstantial, that these two messages had not reached Lee when he was awakened by a staff officer at 2 A.M. on the morning of June 16 and was handed this telegram:92

p410

Petersburg, Va., June 15, 1864, 11:15 P.M.

General R. E. Lee,

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia:

I have abandoned my lines of Bermuda Neck to concentrate all my force here; skirmishers and pickets will leave there at daylight. Cannot these lines be occupied by your troops? The safety of our communications requires it. Five thousand or 6,000 men may do.

G. T. Beauregard,          
General.93

That and no more. Manifestly, no soldier of Beauregard's distinction would be abandoning the Bermuda Hundred line and concentrating on Petersburg unless the enemy was likely to capture that city. But was it Grant or Butler, and in what strength? If Lee had received copies of all the telegrams Beauregard had sent Bragg that day, he would not have been able to say whether the attacking troops were Grant's or Butler's. There had been one hint in a dispatch from Brigadier General James Dearing, commander of Beauregard's cavalry, that the IX Corps was south of the James,94 but, for the rest, General Beauregard had only mentioned a Federal force, first estimated at four regiments of cavalry and four of infantry, and then as three brigades of infantry with cavalry support.95 Who, besides these, were now menacing Petersburg? Being wholly in the dark, Lee could only act on the information Beauregard gave him. As that officer asked for 5000 or 6000 men to occupy a critical sector that he was about to abandon, Lee did what he had done wherever Beauregard had made a call for troops in the face of an immediate threat: He sent them. Although the act would reduce his mobile force on the north side of the James to something between 21,000 and 24,000 infantry, plus the doubtful strength of the immobile Richmond garrison, he unhesitatingly summoned Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pickett's division from the vicinity of Frayser's Farm and directed it to cross the river at Drewry's Bluff and to occupy the lines.96 Anderson was instructed p411 to proceed at once to Bermuda Hundred, in person, with the head of the column, and to take charge on the exposed front. Beauregard was requested, if he could, to keep his skirmishers in position until these reinforcements arrived.97 It was only a request, for in dealing with Beauregard, Lee did not exercise the power, if indeed he knew it had been given him the previous day by the President, to direct the operations of all separate commands in Virginia and North Carolina — a definite if belated recognition of the need of a unified command.98

One brigade of Pickett's division was speedily under way; the others were slow in taking the road. It was nearly 8 o'clock when the first brigade crossed the James on the pontoon bridge, and 9 before the rest of the division was over.99 Anxious to see the situation for himself, and doubly anxious because his information was so scanty, Lee broke up his headquarters at Riddell's Shop and followed the first troops. Shortly before 9:40 A.M., on the morning of June 16, he was south of the river.100 He turned aside, soon after he crossed, and knelt by the roadside, in the dust, while a minister prayed for Divine guidance in the new operations he was about to undertake.101 Then he rode on to Drewry's Bluff. This move brought him midway between his own army and Petersburg, where he could supervise operations on the Bermuda Hundred front; but it did not put him in closer touch with Beauregard and it separated him from the cavalry on the north side of the river. He had to rely on the telegraph for communication with Beauregard and on a line of couriers to Malvern Hill and beyond.

His first act on arriving was to advise Beauregard of his position and to inform him of the arrival of Pickett's division, with a request for what he needed most — intelligence as to what the enemy was doing.102 Before Beauregard could receive this message, one was handed Lee from Petersburg. It was filed at 9:45 and read as follows:

"The enemy is pressing us in heavy force. Can you not send forward the re-enforcements asked for this morning and send p412 to our assistance the division now occupying the trenches lately evacuated by Johnson's division, replacing it by another division?

G. T. Beauregard."103

Evidently Beauregard had sent earlier dispatches that had not been received, dispatches in which he had asked for reinforcements; but now he explained nothing except that he was being pressed and needed help. Not one word had yet reached Lee from him indicating or even intimating that Grant had crossed the James.104 For all Lee knew, the troops attacking Petersburg might be those that were known to be returning to Butler from Grant. To bring another division from the northside would be to reduce the troops there to 20,000‑23,000 infantry, including the diminished Richmond garrison. Counting Pickett, the force on the south side of the James already was 19,600 infantry, with about 1900 cavalry.105 In the absence of specific information as to Beauregard's situation, Lee at 10:30 A.M. could only telegraph him in answer:

"Your dispatch of 9:45 received. It is the first that has come to hand. I do not know the position of Grant's army, and cannot strip north bank of the James. Have you not force sufficient?"106

While Lee was waiting for an answer to this, the head of Anderson's column was moving down the Petersburg pike. Shortly after 1 o'clock Lee heard from Anderson that he had encountered the enemy at a point about opposite Chester and was driving the Union skirmishers back. "It is to be presumed," wrote Anderson, "that he has possession of our breastworks opposite Bermuda Hundred." The commander of the First Corps went on: "I have not been able to communicate with our troops near p413 Petersburg. If I find difficulty in clearing the road it will be impracticable for General Pickett to reach Petersburg."107

A new complication, this! Regardless of how badly Beauregard might need reinforcements, if the road to Petersburg was blocked they could not be sent there speedily. More than that, as he would have to follow roundabout roads, Lee feared it would be a slow and costly business to "bottle" Butler again and to reopen the Petersburg turnpike.108 So, without delay, Lee ordered Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Field's division to cross at Drewry's Bluff and directed that Kershaw march his division to the north end of the pontoon bridge and await orders there.109 When Field arrived, the disposition of the joint forces would be as follows: At Petersburg, Wise's brigade and Bushrod Johnson's and Hoke's divisions, with a few minor units; on the south side of the James between Drewry's Bluff and the Appomattox, Pickett's and Field's divisions; on the north side, at the pontoons, Kershaw's division; on the line from Malvern Hill to Riddell's Shop, A. P. Hill's three divisions, with one division and one brigade of cavalry in support; at Chaffin's Bluff, a few regiments of second-line infantry and some heavy artillery; at Drewry's Bluff, a small battalion of marines and a few other gunners. Leaving the heavy artillery and the cavalry out of account, the comparative strength of the forces defending Richmond and those on the Drewry's Bluff-Petersburg front would be: north side, 20,000 to 23,000; south side, 22,600.110

Beauregard's next telegram contained nothing to justify a change in these dispositions. Beauregard explained, instead, that Pickett had not reached his line at Bermuda Neck by 10:30 and that, at that hour, his pickets still held the second line, under orders to maintain it as long as practicable.111 Lee's information did not indicate that the pickets were still in position, and at 11:15 he telegraphed Beauregard that he feared their withdrawal had caused the loss of the line in front of Bermuda Neck. He explained Anderson's movements and his plans to repossess the lines p414 and concluded: "What line have you on your front? Have you heard of Grant's crossing James River?"112

Soon it was 3 o'clock. Anderson was driving back the Federal skirmishers and was preparing to attack the second Confederate line, which had been abandoned that morning, when Lee received a reassuring answer from Beauregard, written at 12:45 P.M.:

"Your dispatch of 10:20113 received. We may have force sufficient to hold Petersburg. Pickett will probably need re-enforcements on the lines of Bermuda Hundred Neck. At Drewry's Bluff at 9 A.M. or later no news of Pickett's division."114

Still not a word about the troops opposing Beauregard! Measurable assurance that he had sufficient strength at Petersburg, and apparently more concern for Bermuda Hundred Neck than for the city which he had been asking that reinforcements be sent! It was an odd telegram, to which Lee replied with a broad hint for more specific information and with a frank statement that he himself had no positive knowledge on Grant's crossing the river:

"Dispatch of 12:45 received. Pickett had passed this place at date of my first dispatch. I did not receive your notice of intended evacuation till 2 A.M. Troops were then at Malvern Hill, four miles from me. Am glad to hear you can hold Petersburg. Hope you will drive the enemy. Have not heard of Grant's crossing James River."115

In answer to this message, Beauregard only stated that the signal corps reported the movement of forty-two transports up the James in recent days.116 Lee had every reason to believe that the transports were returning Butler's troops from the White House, and at 4 o'clock he so advised Beauregard. He added now a specific inquiry on the all-important question: Had Grant been seen crossing the James?117 In other words, was Beauregard sure that the troops opposing him had come from Grant, rather than from Butler?

p415 This time the answer was slow in coming. Down the Petersburg pike, Anderson's troops manoeuvred for the second line occupied that morning by the Federals and took the left of it without difficulty about 6 P.M.118 At Drewry's Bluff, Lee sat down to write the President of the day's events. After telling him of the troop movements, he expressed the fear that it would be difficult and costly to recapture the first line occupied by the Federals after Beauregard had been forced to call its defenders to Petersburg. Lee then wrote: "I have not learned from General Beauregard what force is opposed to him in Petersburg, or received any definite account of operations there, nor have I been able to learn whether any portion of Grant's army is opposed to him."119

As Lee was finishing this letter, another telegram arrived from General Beauregard, but this contained only the information that he had countermanded the order for the withdrawal of his pickets from the Bermuda Hundred line and that they had held on until 10:15 A.M., but had then been compelled to withdraw. In justice to Beauregard, who had clearly done his utmost to maintain the front until the arrival of Pickett, Lee added this information to his letter to the President.120

At last, at the end of the long, tense day there came a somewhat more specific telegram from Beauregard, written at 7 P.M. and reading thus:

"There has been some fighting today without result. Have selected a new line of defences around city, which will be occupied tomorrow, and hope to make it stronger than the first. The only objection to it is its proximity to city. No satisfactory information yet received of Grant's crossing James River. Hancock's and Smith's corps are however in our front."121

Lee must have held that sheet a long time in his hand and must have read it again and again: "Some fighting . . . a stronger line. . . . No satisfactory information yet received of Grant's crossing James River" — nothing in that to hint of disaster or even p416 of acute danger. Smith's corps was there, and Smith belonged to Butler's army. But Hancock's corps, of course, was of the Army of the Potomac. Was Lee to conclude that only this corps from Grant was across the James? Was the remainder of the main Federal army still on the northside?122 It was a portentous question with which to close a day of doubt. Small wonder he wrote in a letter on the same 16th of June, "Our existence depends upon everyone's exerting themselves at this time to the utmost."123

The first news that reached Lee at Drewry's Bluff on the morning of June 17 was altogether encouraging. At 11 o'clock the previous night Pickett's men had recaptured the first Confederate line on the left, from the Hewlett House to Clay's Farm.124 The troops went to work at once to re-establish Battery Dantzler, where the guns and carriages which had been buried by Beauregard's orders, were found uninjured.125 From Petersburg, Beauregard reported that he had repulsed two attacks during the night and had captured 400 prisoners, though he had not entirely regained his first position.126 For the time it seemed as if the situation was stabilized, with every prospect that Petersburg would be held, that the Bermuda Hundred front would be recovered in its entirety, and that the four divisions on the north side of the James would not be needed south of the river. Lee telegraphed Beauregard his congratulations and urged him to restore his lines, not knowing to what point Beauregard had retreated or whether he was fighting at a disadvantage. Once again he inquired: "Can you ascertain anything of Grant's movements? I am cut off now from all information."127

Ordering the immediate repair of the Richmond-Petersburg Railroad, a part of which had been broken by Butler's advance,128 Lee watched the operations to regain the southern end of the first line on Bermuda Hundred Neck, kept Beauregard advised of his progress, and made a personal examination of Trent's Reach on the James, where the Federals had sunk a number of vessels in p417 the hope of preventing the descent of the Confederate ironclads from Richmond.129 All was going well when, shortly before noon, Lee received this message from Beauregard, written at 9 A.M.:

"Enemy has two corps in my front, with advantage of position. Impossible to recover with my means part of lines lost. Present lines entirely too long for my available forces. I will be compelled to adopt shorter lines. Could I not be sufficiently re-enforced to take the offensive [and] thus get rid of the enemy here? Nothing positive yet known of Grant's movements."130

This message had to be read carefully. Written in the characteristic manner of one who was always fashioning some bold design, it did not state that reinforcements were necessary to maintain the new lines Beauregard announced that he was preparing to draw. His request was for reinforcements with which to take the offensive. He stated that he was faced by two corps and, inferentially, by only two. Nor could he affirm that any more of Grant's army was in his front than the II Corps, which was one of those he had mentioned the previous evening as opposed to him. The other, of course, was the XVIII. Manifestly, if Beauregard had only that force against him, the rest of Grant's army either had not crossed or had not reached the Petersburg lines. Lee could only answer: "Until I get more definite information of Grant's movements I do not think it prudent to draw more troops to this side of the river."131

Presently, Beauregard telegraphed for information as to the movements of the V Corps. He suggested that it had probably gone to meet Early and that the Petersburg line might be suddenly reinforced and the enemy in his front crushed.132 This did not look as if Beauregard were in extremis. Lee replied with such scanty facts as he had concerning the movements of the V Corps to June 14;133 and, as it seemed impossible to get any detailed facts from Beauregard concerning Grant's operations, he turned p418 again to the north bank to see if the cavalry that had been left there could find out where the V, VI, and IX Corps were.134

Anderson by this time held all the Confederate second line and most of the first line, except for a stronghold on Clay's Farm. During the early afternoon, Pickett on the left and Field on the right were made ready to assault this central position so as to restore the front as Beauregard had held it prior to the morning of the 16th. Just as the assault was about to be made, the engineers reported that a line could be drawn around that part of Clay's Farm in such a fashion as to make an assault unnecessary. Orders were immediately sent to Pickett and to Field to abandon plans for attacking. These orders reached Field, but they did not arrive at Pickett's headquarters until his men were on the move. Not knowing that Field had been ordered to remain where he was, Pickett informed Gregg's brigade of Field's division that he would need its support on his right flank. Gregg conformed and, in doing so, gave warning to the next brigade on his right that his flank would have to be guarded. As Pickett moved up the high ground in his front, Gregg began to manoeuvre to cover him. Soon the men began to pour out from Field's trenches to share in the assault, and ere long, despite orders, the whole left of Field's division was sweeping forward with Pickett. The Federals made only a feeble resistance. Shortly after 4 o'clock the Confederate flag was again flying along the whole of the front opposite Bermuda Neck.135 Lee had not witnessed the assault in person and he thought that it had been made exclusively by Pickett's division. In admiration for the achievement he wrote Anderson a message of congratulation which is interesting not only because it is almost the only instance in which Lee displayed his sense of humor in an official dispatch of this sort, but also because it exhibits his unshaken faith in his army. The paper read:

"General: I take great pleasure in presenting to you my congratulations upon the conduct of the men of your corps. I believe that they will carry anything they are put against. We tried very p419 hard to stop Pickett's men from capturing the breastworks of the enemy, but couldn't do it. I hope his loss has been small."136

The road to Petersburg was now out of range of the enemy, and the railway would soon be repaired. This had not been done a moment too soon. For while the men of Anderson's corps were mounting the hill on Clay's Farm, Beauregard was forwarding new and alarming dispatches. The enemy, he said, that morning had carried another other weak points on his old line and was concentrating on his right centre. He was collecting all available troops to resist until nightfall, when he hoped to take up new lines. "We greatly need re-enforcements to resist such large odds against us," he concluded. "The enemy must be dislodged or the city will fall."137 In another dispatch, which was received just prior to 4:30 P.M., Beauregard reported that a large number of troops from Grant's army crossed the James above Fort Powhatan on the 16th and that a prisoner affirmed 30,000 were on the south side marching to join those in front of Petersburg.138

There was nothing specific, even yet, as to what troops remained on the northside and what units had crossed to Petersburg, but Lee felt that Beauregard's situation was now serious, despite his previous assurance and talk of a counter-offensive. Lee at once ordered A. P. Hill, if he had no contrary news of the enemy, to move to Chaffin's Bluff.139 To Beauregard he telegraphed: "Have no information of Grant's crossing James River, but upon your report have ordered troops up to Chaffin's Bluff."140 Kershaw, about the same time, was directed to move from Chaffin's Bluff to the Bermuda Hundred line.141

Lee had moved his headquarters on the forenoon of the 17th to the vicinity of the Clay house,142 and there during the evening p420 he awaited developments. Vague indications began to point to a reduction in the Federal forces on the Bermuda Hundred sector.143 The Confederate troops were disposed for a shift to Petersburg if that, as now seemed probable, should be the next turn of the wheel of fortune: Hoke was already with Beauregard; the First Corps was, or soon would be, entirely on the Bermuda Hundred front; the Third Corps was marching toward Chaffin's Bluff. If Beauregard found that the whole of Grant's army was on the south side of the James, part of the First Corps could easily be moved to Petersburg the next morning, and Hill could be sent on before the 18th was out, leaving the remainder of Anderson's troops on the Bermuda Hundred line. If, again, Grant should be contemplating a surprise attack on Richmond, Hill was still on the north bank and close enough to the outer defenses to man them against assault.

The next thing from Beauregard — what a flood of them there had been during the last two days! — had been written at 5 P.M. and read thus:

"Prisoners just taken report themselves as belonging to the Second, Ninth and Eighteenth Corps. They state that the Fifth and Sixth Corps are coming on. Those from Second and Eighteenth came here by transports and arrived first; others marched night and day from Gaines' Mill and arrived yesterday evening. The Ninth crossed at Turkey Bend where they have a pontoon bridge. They say Grant commanded on the field yesterday. All are positive they passed Grant on the road several miles from here."144

Until that hour, on the evening of June 17, it must be remembered that Lee had been told only that the Federal force on Beauregard's front was large, and that the II and XVIII Corps had been identified. Now, it appeared, the whole army was there or close at hand, except for part of the X Corps, which, of course, was on the Bermuda Hundred line. Even strength of that command now seemed definitely diminished.145

If all this were true, a clear course of action was marked out. p421 But was it true? Lee had a poor opinion of the information given by prisoners and by untried scouts, and with the fate of Richmond at stake he was not prepared to trust everything to this telegraphic summary of the examination of miscellaneous prisoners by an unidentified officer. At the same time, if the information was correct, then there was every reason to expect an overwhelming assault on Petersburg as soon as the Army of the Potomac could be disposed in Beauregard's front. Lee concluded that the weight of probability was much on the side of Beauregard's information and that the greater part of Grant's army was on the south side of the river,146 but he did not feel himself justified in altogether abandoning the possibility of an attack on Richmond by an adversary whose command of the river made it easy for him to move swiftly large bodies of men.

He did not have to wrestle much longer with his perplexities. Before 10 o'clock this message from Beauregard, written at 6:40 pm, was handed him:

"The increasing number of the enemy in my front, and inadequacy of my force to defend the already much extended lines, will compel me to fall within a shorter one, which I will attempt to effect tonight. This I shall hold as long as practicable, but, without reinforcements, I may have to evacuate the city very shortly. In that event I shall retire in the direction of Drury's Bluff, defending the crossing at Appomattox River and Swift Creek."147

If Beauregard was reduced to this plight, and faced as long odds as his previous telegram had indicated, then some further chance had to be taken that Richmond might be captured by a surprise attack, or else Petersburg would be lost. So, at 10 o'clock, Lee ordered Kershaw to march early the next morning to reinforce Beauregard in Petersburg148 and simultaneously he instructed A. P. Hill to continue to Chaffin's Bluff, to cross the pontoon bridge, to move to the Petersburg pike and there to await further orders.149 If needed in Petersburg, he could hurry thither; if required on the north side of the James, he could return.

p422 About the time these orders were issued, Captain A. R. Chisholm of Beauregard's staff arrived at the Clay house with the first full details Lee had yet received of the battle that had been going on at Petersburg since the beginning of the Federal offensive. The story was enough to stir Lee's martial blood: Dearing's 1900 cavalry had been driven back on the morning of June 15 to the lines that had been erected in a crude half circle on the south side of the Appomattox River, in front of Petersburg. These works were manned by three thin regiments of Wise's fine brigade, with twenty-two field guns and some heavy pieces. A few weak and scattered units of infantry supported Wise, whose total effective strength, Dearing included, was 2738.150 Wise spread out this little force on nearly six miles of the Petersburg defenses and awaited attack. The enemy advanced from the east and skirmished briskly until 7 o'clock that evening.151 Shortly after that hour the enemy broke through the line just south of the City Point Railroad and could undoubtedly have marched straight into Petersburg had he pressed on. As it was, he delayed long enough for Wise's absent regiment to come up. It was followed soon by Hagood's brigade, the advance of Hoke's division, sent by Lee. These troops took a position in rear of the break in the line, and, by the morning of the 16th, when all of Hoke's division had arrived, were able to present a more formidable front to the enemy. Three brigades of Bushrod Johnson's division also arrived from the Bermuda Hundred line a few hours later and gave Beauregard more confidence. During the afternoon a general assault was delivered. This gained some advantage for the Federals, though it brought them no decision. Beauregard himself was on the ground by this time and, with the assistance of Hoke and Bushrod Johnson, put up an almost flawless defense. At intervals the Confederates counterattacked as if they had abundant strength,152 and on nearly the whole of the line they held the Federals at bay. No attempt whatever was made by the Union troops against the extreme right of the Confederate position, which was virtually undefended.153 On the 17th the Federals p423 renewed their attacks with vigor and soon penetrated a gap in the front of Johnson's division. They did not develop this, however, and failed in every assault until nearly the hour Captain Chisholm left Petersburg. Then about sundown they smashed through the right centre of Johnson's division and doubtless would have doubled up the whole of Beauregard's line but for the arrival, at that very moment and at that precise point, of Gracie's brigade, which had formed the picket line General Beauregard had left at Bermuda Hundred when he had withdrawn the rest of Bushrod Johnson's division.154 Gracie immediately counterattacked, closed the gap, and halted the enemy. As Chisholm was describing this to Lee, Beauregard was drawing back to a new line, well-sighted but unpleasantly close to Petersburg.155

Chisholm's visit and Beauregard's telegram, with its hint of a possible evacuation of Petersburg, determined Lee to send Field's division after Kershaw's, as a further reinforcement to Beauregard. The outlook brightened momentarily, after this was ordered, for a later message from Beauregard told of a successful repulse of the last assaults of the enemy; but the next dispatch, dated 12:40 A.M. contained a new warning:

All quiet at present. I expect renewal of attack in morning. My troops are becoming much exhausted. Without immediate and strong reinforcements results may be unfavorable. Prisoners report Grant on the field with his whole army."156

Soon two other staff officers from Beauregard reached Lee's headquarters and confirmed all this. One of them, probably Major Giles B. Cooke, told Lee that Beauregard said: "Unless reinforcements are sent before forty-eight hours, God Almighty alone can save Petersburg and Richmond." The language was not pleasing to Lee. He answered, simply and reverently, "I hope God Almighty p424 will."157 Before morning, and perhaps before these officers arrived, Lee learned that his cavalry on the northside had reached the vicinity of Wilcox's Landing on the afternoon of the 17th and had gained positive information that the last of Grant's army had crossed over to the south of the James on a pontoon bridge at that point.158

By 3:30 A.M., on June 18, the situation was clear for the first time since the enemy had disappeared on the morning of June 13. Lee proceeded at once to shift the remainder of his force to the new front. The undamaged part of the Richmond-Petersburg Railroad was utilized to expedite the troop movement;159 A. P. Hill was instructed to continue the march of his corps to Petersburg, leaving one division north of the Appomattox, in case it might be recalled to defend Richmond; Rooney Lee was ordered to Petersburg with one brigade of his cavalry, while the other remained north of the James;160 General Early was acquainted with the situation and was told to strike the enemy and return to Petersburg as soon as practicable, or else to carry out the original plan and make a diversion toward the Potomac.161 Finally, Lee himself broke up headquarters at the Clay house and rode swiftly after Anderson's troops toward Petersburg.162

p425 At 7:30 that morning, as the exhausted troops of Beauregard's command put aside their spades and took up their muskets on the new line they had constructed during the night, they saw the glint of the bayonets of Kershaw's division coming through a ravine near Blandford cemetery, and it was to their weary eyes the fairest sight of the entire war.163 Field's division arrived at 9:30 A.M.;164 Hill's divisions were spread out on the Petersburg pike, fighting dust and thirst and marching at a furious pace.165 When they arrived, which would not be before night, they were to take position on the extreme right and were to extend the front well beyond the railroad that led from Petersburg to Weldon.166

Lee reached Petersburg about 11 o'clock167 and rode out at once to join Beauregard. Together they went over the line that had been drawn the previous night. It was so close to Petersburg that when the enemy organized his front the city could be bombarded. Otherwise, Lee had no fault to find with it. Colonel D. B. Harris, Beauregard's brilliant chief engineer, had excelled himself in selecting the best available ground when he had scarcely a moment to spare. Beauregard was so elated at the safe withdrawal to this line, and so reassured by the arrival of Kershaw and Field, that he proposed an instant attack against the enemy's flank. Lee immediately rejected the idea, in the conviction that the troops were much too exhausted for combat.168 It was no day to waste troops in futile counterattacks. It was, instead, a time to watch every move, to consider every step, and to conserve every life. For the great and bloody campaign from the Rapidan to Petersburg had now ended in something closely akin to what Lee had most desired to avoid. He could not have forgotten, that June morning, what he had told Early: If Grant reached James River, "it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time."169 With communications still open and the troops on the north side of the James well outside the Richmond defenses, it was not yet a siege, but that, too, was only a question of time.


The Author's Notes:

1 O. R., 36, part 3, p600.

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2 Ibid.

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3 O. R., 36, part 3, pp638‑39.

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4 O. R., 36, part 3, pp666, 667.

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5 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1033, 1034; ibid., 51, part 2, p984.

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6 Lee's Dispatches, 219. On the evening of the 8th a surprise attack was projected for dawn of the 9th but was abandoned (O. R., 36, part 3, p880).

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7 Pendleton, 340. Cf. 2 Meade, 201: "I think Grant has had his eyes opened, and is willing to admit now that Virginia and Lee's army is not Tennessee and Bragg's army."

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8 Lee's Dispatches, 221 ff. Sheridan's report is in O. R., 36, part 1, pp795 ff.

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9 Lee's Dispatches, 221 ff.

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10 Cf. O. R., 36, part 3, p874.

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11 Lee's Dispatches, 219.

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12 O. R., 36, part 3, p873.

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13 O. R., 36, part 3, pp863, 897; ibid., 40, part 2, p646. Lee's Dispatches, 242‑43. It was Lee's expectation at the time to restore Ewell to duty when, as he said, "the present occasion for extraordinary exertion shall have passed" (O. R., 36, part 3, p898).

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14 O. R., 51, part 2, p1006.

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15 O. R., 36, part 3, pp873‑74, 883.

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16 Cf. O. R., 40, part 2, p650, for the case of Major General Arnold Elzey. Cf. also O. R., 51, part 2, p993.

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17 14 S. H. S. P., 537; O. R., 36, part 3, p888. The meat ration, raised to one-half pound, was again reduced to one-third pound on June 11 (ibid., 899).

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18 Taylor MSS., June 9, 1864.

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19 Letters of a Confederate Officer, 30.

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20 Hagood, 304.

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21 Ibid.

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22 Figg, 204.

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23 2 R. W. C. D., 230.

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24 O. R., 51, part 2, p993.

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25 35 Confederate Veteran, 287.

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26 O. R., 36, part 1, p1033.

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27 Cf. O. R., 36, part 3, p877.

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28 O. R., 37, part 1, pp95, 150.

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29 O. R., 37, part 1, p151. Their real number was around 17,500 (O. R., 37, part 1, pp96, 571).

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30 O. R., 51, part 2, p990; Lee's Dispatches, 215; Lee to Davis, MS., June 5, 1864, Duke Univ. MSS.

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31 Lee's Dispatches, 216‑18, 219 ff.

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32 Lee's Dispatches, 217.

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33 Early, 363. Heth had marched on the 4th.

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34 Lee's Dispatches, 218. Lee was misled by the fact that two divisions of the X Corps had been incorporated in the XVIII as its third division (O. R., 36, part 1, p179).

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35 O. R., 36, part 3, pp878, 878‑89; O. R., 51, part 2, pp986996.

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36 This estimate of Lee's strength assumes 25,000 casualties from the Wilderness through Cold Harbor and 15,000 replacements, not counting temporary additions to the Richmond garrison, subsequently returned to Beauregard. The V. M. I. cadets, who had been listed with the Richmond garrison, had left the city (O. R., 36, part 3, p861). Their place was taken by Matt Ransom's brigade of 1800 (ibid., 819). This raised the Richmond garrison for a few days to the figure given in the text. Of this number, 2500 were artillerists serving the guns in the Richmond defenses.

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37 O. R., 51, part 2, p999. The probability that Grant would cross the James was generally conceded in Richmond and was openly discussed in The Richmond Examiner on June 7, 8, and 9.

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38 O. R., 37, part 1, p159.

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39 O. R., 37, part 1, p758.

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40 E. L. Wells, 189. Sheridan had about 9000 men.

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41 To recapitulate, Lee had about 49,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia, counting his absent cavalry. Breckinridge had 9000, as noted, Beauregard 7900, and 7400 were in the Richmond defenses. These figures are no better than approximations, owing to the absence of reports, but if they err they overstate Lee's numbers. There are no reports of the strength of the Army of the Potomac on June 10. Grant had 103,875 (p398)on June 1 (O. R., 36, part 1, p209), exclusive of the XVIII Corps. His casualties of the next three days were around 13,000. Listing the X and XVIII Corps as part of the Army of the James, Butler's strength was at least 20,000. Add 15,000 for the columns under Hunter and the total is 125,000, to which should be added an undetermined number of replacements between June 1 and 10.

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42 Early, quoted in Jones, 40.

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43 O. R., 36, part 3, p884.

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44 Lee to Beauregard, June 9, 2:30 P.M., in 2 Roman, 566. It was the statement of Lee concerning Grant's inability to cross the James without being detected that drew the sarcasm of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill mentioned in note 52, p400.

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45 Lee's Dispatches, 223‑24; cf. O. R., 51, part 2, p997.

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46 O. R., 36, part 3, p885; ibid., 51, part 2, p997.

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47 Reports in O. R., 36, part 2, pp273 ff.; 4 B. and L., 535 ff.; 35 S. H. S. P., 6 ff.; Mrs. Campbell Pryor's MS. Memoirs; F. H. Archer in George S. Bernard: War Talks of Confederate Veterans (cited hereafter as Bernard), 107 ff.; MS. Address by P. H. Drewry, M.C., June 9, 1927. The last-named is the fullest account. Some facts supplementing General Wise's congratulatory orders in O. R., 36, part 2, pp316‑17, appear in 2 Roman, 224‑25. Much picturesque matter will be found in 1 Macrae, 167 ff.

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48 O. R., 36, part 3, p889.

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49 O. R., 36, part 3, p896; ibid., 51, part 2, pp1003, 1004.

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50 Corbin: Letters of a Confederate Officer, 30; O. R., 51, part 2, p1005.

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51 O. R., 40, part 2, p653.

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52 In writing Beauregard to this effect, General D. H. Hill remarked that it was "arrant nonsense for Lee to say that Grant can't make a night march without his knowing it" (O. R., 36, part 3, p896). Lee had said nothing of the sort, but, on the contrary, early in the campaign, had told the President that in a wooded country, Grant could always get one march ahead of the defending army. See supra, p348.

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53 O. R., 51, part 2, p1003.

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54 Early, 364.

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55B. and L., 219.

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56 Early, 364.

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57 O. R., 51, part 2, p1003.

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58 Early, 364. Writing to W. H. Taylor, April 29, 1867, General Early remarked that he was sure none of Lee's staff officers knew anything of Lee's orders to him during the time he was in corps command, "for," said he, "I received all orders of importance from the General in person, or by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet in his own handwriting" (Taylor MSS.).

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59 O. R., 37, part 1, p346; ibid., 40, part 2, p667; Early, 371, 380.

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60 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035.

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61 O. R., 36, part 3, pp1059‑60; Wilcox's MS. report, 49.

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62 History of McGowan's Brigade, 160.

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63 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035; Wilcox's MS. report, 49.

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64 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1052, 1060; Lee's Dispatches, 239‑40.

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65 Lee's Dispatches, 240. This letter is marked June 15, but the internal evidence fixes June 13 as the correct date.

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66 Lee's Dispatches, 229; O. R., 36, part 1, p1035.

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67 Lee's Dispatches, 230; O. R., 51, part 2, p1016.

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68 O. R., 51, part 2, p1016.

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69 O. R., 51, part 2, pp1013, 1017.

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70 Lee's Dispatches, 227‑232.

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71 O. R., 36, part 1, pp1095‑98; U. R. Brooks: Butler and His Cavalry, 236 ff.; E. L. Wells, 190 ff.

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72 Lee's Dispatches, 232. Cf. Lee to Reverend T. V. Moore, n. d. (summer of 1864): "I thank you especially that I have a place in your prayers. No human power can avail us without the blessing of God, and I rejoice to know that, in this crisis of our affairs, good men everywhere are supplicating Him for his favor and protection" (Jones, Christ in the Camp, 52).

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73 Lee's Dispatches, 233. Cf. ibid., 234.

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74 These figures, independently computed, agree closely with Venable's estimate, 14 S. H. S. P., 538, that Lee had from 25,000 to 27,000 infantry after detaching Hoke.

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75 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035.

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76 Lee's Dispatches, 236.

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77 O. R., 51, part 2, p1012.

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78 O. R., 40, part 2, p653.

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79 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035; ibid., 51, part 2, p1013.

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80 Cf. Lee's Dispatches, 231.

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81 O. R., 36, part 1, p1052. For the location of his headquarters, see Lee's Dispatches, 239, 240.

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82 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035. Salem Church was five miles north of Westover. The main route from Salem Church westward entered the road leading from Richmond to Harrison's Landing, at a point two miles southeast of Malvern Hill. Needless to say, the Federal horse had been thrown out on these roads to screen Grant's movement. Their position illustrated what was said on p403 concerning the ease with which Grant's new base could be protected.

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83 O. R., 51, part 2, p1017.

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84 O. R., 36, part 1, p1035.

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85 Lee's Dispatches, 235. Hoke received his instructions before 11:30 A.M. and set his troops in motion at once (O. R., 40, part 2, p658).

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86 For the evidence on this controverted interview, see Appendix, III-5.

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87 O. R., 40, part 2, p655.

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88 Lee's Dispatches, 235‑36, 242‑43.

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89 O. R., 51, part 2, p1017.

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90 O. R., 40, part 2, pp654‑56.

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91 O. R., 40, part 2, p656.

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92 Lee wrote Davis from Drewry's Bluff at 7:30 P. M., on the 16th: "I received at 2 A.M. a dispatch from Genl. Beauregard stating that he had abandoned his lines on Bermuda (p410)Neck . . ." (Lee's Dispatches, 243). If Lee had received copy of Beauregard to Bragg, 9:11 P.M., June 15, he would almost certainly have acted on it and would have mentioned that message to the President.

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93 O. R., 40, part 2, p657.

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94 2 Roman, 570.

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95 O. R., 40, part 2, pp655, 656.

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96 Lee's Dispatches, 244. Pickett then had around 4500 men.

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97 Lee's Dispatches, 244.

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98 O. R., 40, part 2, p654.

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99 Lee's Dispatches, 244.

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100 O. R., 40, part 2, p659.

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101 Jones, Christ in the Camp, 51.

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102S. H. S. P., 296.

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103 O. R., 51, part 2, p1078.

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104 This is an essential point in explaining Lee's dispositions on June 16. Beauregard had telegraphed at 7:45 that a prisoner had been taken that morning who said that he belonged to Hancock's corps, and that it had crossed on the 14th and 15th (O. R., 51, part 2, p1078). This message doubtless had been sent to Lee via Richmond and had not yet been forwarded to Drewry's Bluff.

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105 Pickett, 4500; Hoke, 6000; Wise, 2200; Bushrod Johnson, 5100; Ransom, 1800. Cf. 5 M. H. S. M., 149‑55.

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106 O. R., 40, part 2, p659.

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107 O. R., 51, part 2, p1079. Cf. Lee's Dispatches, 244; O. R., 40, part 1, p760.

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108 Lee's Dispatches, 244‑45.

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109 Lee's Dispatches, 240; O. R., 40, part 1, p760.

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110 This assumes that Field's division numbered 3000. If it were larger, the force on the southside would be increased by the excess.

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111 O. R., 51, part 2, p1078. The text of this telegram is not marked with the hour at which it was written, but its opening sentence shows it was sent after 10:30. It fits into the day's chronology at this point, and at no other.

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112 2 Roman, 571.

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113 The correct hour was 12:30.

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114 O. R., 51, part 2, p1078.

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115 O. R., 40, part 2, p659.

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116 O. R., 51, part 2, p1078.

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117 O. R., 40, part 2, p659.

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118 O. R., 40, part 1, p760. F. A. Osborn in 5 M. H. S. M., 199; Walter Harrison, 130.

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119 Lee's Dispatches, 244‑45.

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120 Lee's Dispatches, 245.

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121 O. R., 51, part 2, p1079.

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122 In a telegram to Bragg, Beauregard limited still further his reference to the troops from Grant. "They belong," he said, "to First Brigade of Hancock's corps" (O. R., 40, part 2, p660).

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123 Lee's Dispatches, 247.

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124 Lee to Davis, 3 S. H. S. P., 298.

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125 Ibid.; 2 Roman, 231, 575.

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126S. H. S. P., 298.

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127 O. R., 40, part 2, p664.

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128S. H. S. P., 297‑98.

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129 Dispatches in 3 S. H. S. P., 298‑99. The message to Davis, as there printed, improperly gives the name of the Reach as "French's." Trent's Reach is the southern side of the bend that was to be eliminated by the digging of Dutch Gap Canal. It is about one and one-quarter miles in length.

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130 O. R., 51, part 2, p1079.

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131 O. R., 40, part 2, p664.

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132 O. R., 51, part 2, p1079.

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133 O. R., 40, part 2, p664.

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134 O. R., 40, part 2, p663.

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135 Venable in 14 S. H. S. P., 538‑39 and in 4 B. and L., 245; O. R., 40, part 2, p665; ibid., 51, part 2, pp1019‑20; Lee's Dispatches, 247.

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136 Walter Harrison, 130‑31.

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137 O. R., 51, part 2, p1079.

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138 O. R., 51, part 2, p1080. Cf. O. R., 40, part 2, p665.

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139 O. R., 40, part 2, p662. A second undated message to Hill, contingent in its terms, may have been sent earlier in the day (ibid.).

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140 O. R., 40, part 2, p665.

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141 The hour of Kershaw's move is doubtful. In the History of Kershaw's Brigade, 380, the statement is made that the march began at midnight and continued until the next day; but in the diary of the First Corps (O. R., 40, part 1, pp760‑61), Kershaw's arrival at Perdue's, opposite Chester, is recorded on the 17th and his departure for Petersburg at 3 A.M. on the morning of the 18th is noted. General Lee, writing at 10 P.M., indicated that Kershaw was then on the march and had selected his bivouac for the night (O. R., 40, part 2, p665).

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142 Three miles southeast of Chester and east of the Petersburg pike.

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143 Lee's Dispatches, 251.

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144 O. R., 51, part 2, p1080.

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145 O. R., 51, part 2, p1080; Lee's Dispatches, 251.

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146 O. R., 36, part 3, p901.

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147 2 Roman, 234‑35.

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148 O. R., 40, part 2, p665.

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149 O. R., 40, part 2, p663; 4 S. H. S. P., 190.

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150 2 Roman, 567. General Wise stated that his actual combat strength was only 2200. Federal critics credit him with 4000. See 5 M. H. S. M., 150.

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151 Wise in 25 S. H. S. P., 13, and in 2 Roman, 568.

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152 Cf. Ropes in 5 M. H. S. M., 165.

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153 Cf. Beauregard to Wilcox, June 9, 1874, 5 M. H. S. M., 121.

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154 Beauregard to Wilcox, loc. cit., p121. Ransom had been ordered to relieve Gracie. Singularly enough, Colonel Roman (op. cit., 2, 232) affirmed that Gracie's brigade came from Chaffin's Bluff, "whence," he said, "at last, the War Department had ordered it to move."

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155 O. R., 40, part 2, p666; Beauregard to Wilcox, loc. cit., 122; Ropes in ibid., 166 ff.; Hagood, 266 ff.; 2 Roman, 233 ff.; W. Gordon McCabe in 2 S. H. S. P., 269 ff. The best map of the Petersburg defenses at this period of the operations is that in O. R., Atlas, Plate XL.

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156 O. R., 40, part 2, p666.

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157 2 Roman, 576‑77. As narrated by Colonel Roman in 1874 this incident might create the impression that Lee was cynical in his answer. Lee never was that, nor was he ever otherwise than reverent in his use of the name of God. Colonel Roman was one of the two officers to go to Lee's headquarters. He stated that he was unable to see the General but was told by a staff officer whomº he thought was Colonel Walter Taylor, that Beauregard was mistaken as to the force in his front. Further, Colonel Roman said he was told that General Lee was confident the greater part of Grant's army was still on the north side of the James. Major Giles B. Cooke, according to Colonel Roman, insisted on seeing General Lee and received much the same impression. Major Cooke's diary, which Colonel Roman quoted, is not explicit on the point at issue, and Major Cooke himself is now (1934) unable to recall the details. The contention must, therefore, rest on Colonel Roman's statement. In the light of the facts given in the text, one of two things is apparent: either the officer who talked to Colonel Roman was himself misinformed, or else Colonel Roman's memory was at fault when he wrote in 1874. General Lee could not have said that he was sure Beauregard's information was erroneous and that the major part of the Army of the Potomac was still in front of Richmond. Lee had stated to Beauregard that he was without information as to Grant's positions, and when he did receive intelligence during the night of June 17‑18 it was to the effect that Grant was across the James.

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158 W. H. F. Lee to R. E. Lee, June 17, 1864, 4 P.M. (O. R., 51, part 2, p1080). This dispatch should have reached Lee's headquarters in a maximum of eight hours.

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159 O. R., 40, part 2, p668.

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160 Lee's Dispatches, 249‑50, 251‑52. For the arrival of Hill's troops in Petersburg, see 1 Macrae, 193.

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161 O. R., 40, part 2, p667.

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162 A critique of the movement across the James will be found on pp438 ff.

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163 MS. Memoirs of W. B. Freeman.

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164 O. R., 40, part 2, p668.

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165 History of McGowan's Brigade, 162.

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166 Wilcox's MS. report, 51.

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167 Venable stated in 14 S. H. S. P., 539, that Lee arrived with "the van of his army, Kershaw's division"; Beauregard's telegram of 11:30 A.M. to Bragg (O. R., 40, part 2, p668) stated that Lee had just arrived. Lee advised the War Department (O. R., 40, part 2, p667): "Kershaw's and Field's division preceded me."

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168 2 Roman, 247.

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169 See supra, p398.


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