Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

The signal service was used on the march. The men composing
this corps were assigned to specified commands. When movements
were made, they would go in advance, or on the flanks, and seize
upon high points of ground giving a commanding view of the
country, if cleared, or would climb tall trees on the highest
points if not cleared, and would denote, by signals, the
positions of different parts of our own army, and often the
movements of the enemy. They would also take off the signals of
the enemy and transmit them. It would sometimes take too long a
time to make translations of intercepted dispatches for us to
receive any benefit from them. But sometimes they gave useful
information.

On the afternoon of the 7th I received news from Washington
announcing that Sherman had probably attacked Johnston that day,
and that Butler had reached City Point safely and taken it by
surprise on the 5th. I had given orders for a movement by the
left flank, fearing that Lee might move rapidly to Richmond to
crush Butler before I could get there.

My order for this movement was as follows:

HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE U. S.,
May 7, 1864, 6.30 A.M.

MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE,
Commanding A. P.

Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take
position at Spottsylvania C. H. with one army corps, at Todd’s
Tavern with one, and another near the intersection of the Piney
Branch and Spottsylvania road with the road from Alsop’s to Old
Court House. If this move is made the trains should be thrown
forward early in the morning to the Ny River.

I think it would be advisable in making the change to leave
Hancock where he is until Warren passes him. He could then
follow and become the right of the new line. Burnside will move
to Piney Branch Church. Sedgwick can move along the pike to
Chancellorsville and on to his destination. Burnside will move
on the plank road to the intersection of it with the Orange and
Fredericksburg plank road, then follow Sedgwick to his place of
destination.

All vehicles should be got out of hearing of the enemy before
the troops move, and then move off quietly.

It is more than probable that the enemy concentrate for a heavy
attack on Hancock this afternoon. In case they do we must be
prepared to resist them, and follow up any success we may gain,
with our whole force. Such a result would necessarily modify
these instructions.

All the hospitals should be moved to-day to Chancellorsville.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieut.-General.

During the 7th Sheridan had a fight with the rebel cavalry at
Todd’s Tavern, but routed them, thus opening the way for the
troops that were to go by that route at night. Soon after dark
Warren withdrew from the front of the enemy, and was soon
followed by Sedgwick. Warren’s march carried him immediately
behind the works where Hancock’s command lay on the Brock
Road. With my staff and a small escort of cavalry I preceded
the troops. Meade with his staff accompanied me. The greatest
enthusiasm was manifested by Hancock’s men as we passed by. No
doubt it was inspired by the fact that the movement was south.
It indicated to them that they had passed through the “beginning
of the end” in the battle just fought. The cheering was so lusty
that the enemy must have taken it for a night attack. At all
events it drew from him a furious fusillade of artillery and
musketry, plainly heard but not felt by us.

Meade and I rode in advance. We had passed but a little way
beyond our left when the road forked. We looked to see, if we
could, which road Sheridan had taken with his cavalry during the
day. It seemed to be the right-hand one, and accordingly we took
it. We had not gone far, however, when Colonel C. B. Comstock,
of my staff, with the instinct of the engineer, suspecting that
we were on a road that would lead us into the lines of the
enemy, if he, too, should be moving, dashed by at a rapid gallop
and all alone. In a few minutes he returned and reported that
Lee was moving, and that the road we were on would bring us into
his lines in a short distance. We returned to the forks of the
road, left a man to indicate the right road to the head of
Warren’s column when it should come up, and continued our
journey to Todd’s Tavern, where we arrived after midnight.

My object in moving to Spottsylvania was two-fold: first, I did
not want Lee to get back to Richmond in time to attempt to crush
Butler before I could get there; second, I wanted to get between
his army and Richmond if possible; and, if not, to draw him into
the open field. But Lee, by accident, beat us to
Spottsylvania. Our wagon trains had been ordered easterly of
the roads the troops were to march upon before the movement
commenced. Lee interpreted this as a semi-retreat of the Army
of the Potomac to Fredericksburg, and so informed his
government. Accordingly he ordered Longstreet’s corps–now
commanded by Anderson–to move in the morning (the 8th) to
Spottsylvania. But the woods being still on fire, Anderson
could not go into bivouac, and marched directly on to his
destination that night. By this accident Lee got possession of
Spottsylvania. It is impossible to say now what would have been
the result if Lee’s orders had been obeyed as given; but it is
certain that we would have been in Spottsylvania, and between
him and his capital. My belief is that there would have been a
race between the two armies to see which could reach Richmond
first, and the Army of the Potomac would have had the shorter
line. Thus, twice since crossing the Rapidan we came near
closing the campaign, so far as battles were concerned, from the
Rapidan to the James River or Richmond. The first failure was
caused by our not following up the success gained over Hill’s
corps on the morning of the 6th, as before described: the
second, when fires caused by that battle drove Anderson to make
a march during the night of the 7th-8th which he was ordered to
commence on the morning of the 8th. But accident often decides
the fate of battle.

Sheridan’s cavalry had had considerable fighting during the
afternoon of the 7th, lasting at Todd’s Tavern until after
night, with the field his at the close. He issued the necessary
orders for seizing Spottsylvania and holding the bridge over the
Po River, which Lee’s troops would have to cross to get to
Spottsylvania. But Meade changed Sheridan’s orders to
Merritt–who was holding the bridge–on his arrival at Todd’s
Tavern, and thereby left the road free for Anderson when he came
up. Wilson, who was ordered to seize the town, did so, with his
division of cavalry; but he could not hold it against the
Confederate corps which had not been detained at the crossing of
the Po, as it would have been but for the unfortunate change in
Merritt’s orders. Had he been permitted to execute the orders
Sheridan gave him, he would have been guarding with two brigades
of cavalry the bridge over the Po River which Anderson had to
cross, and must have detained him long enough to enable Warren
to reinforce Wilson and hold the town.

Anderson soon intrenched himself–if indeed the intrenchments
were not already made–immediately across Warren’s front. Warren
was not aware of his presence, but probably supposed it was the
cavalry which Merritt had engaged earlier in the day. He
assaulted at once, but was repulsed. He soon organized his men,
as they were not pursued by the enemy, and made a second attack,
this time with his whole corps. This time he succeeded in
gaining a position immediately in the enemy’s front, where he
intrenched. His right and left divisions–the former
Crawford’s, the latter Wadsworth’s, now commanded by
Cutler–drove the enemy back some distance.

At this time my headquarters had been advanced to Piney Branch
Church. I was anxious to crush Anderson before Lee could get a
force to his support. To this end Sedgwick who was at Piney
Branch Church, was ordered to Warren’s support. Hancock, who
was at Todd’s Tavern, was notified of Warren’s engagement, and
was directed to be in readiness to come up. Burnside, who was
with the wagon trains at Aldrich’s on our extreme left, received
the same instructions. Sedgwick was slow in getting up for some
reason–probably unavoidable, because he was never at fault when
serious work was to be done–so that it was near night before the
combined forces were ready to attack. Even then all of
Sedgwick’s command did not get into the engagement. Warren led
the last assault, one division at a time, and of course it
failed.

Warren’s difficulty was twofold: when he received an order to
do anything, it would at once occur to his mind how all the
balance of the army should be engaged so as properly to
co-operate with him. His ideas were generally good, but he
would forget that the person giving him orders had thought of
others at the time he had of him. In like manner, when he did
get ready to execute an order, after giving most intelligent
instructions to division commanders, he would go in with one
division, holding the others in reserve until he could
superintend their movements in person also, forgetting that
division commanders could execute an order without his
presence. His difficulty was constitutional and beyond his
control. He was an officer of superior ability, quick
perceptions, and personal courage to accomplish anything that
could be done with a small command.

Lee had ordered Hill’s corps–now commanded by Early–to move by
the very road we had marched upon. This shows that even early in
the morning of the 8th Lee had not yet become acquainted with my
move, but still thought that the Army of the Potomac had gone to
Fredericksburg. Indeed, he informed the authorities at Richmond
he had possession of Spottsylvania and was on my flank. Anderson
was in possession of Spottsylvania, through no foresight of Lee,
however. Early only found that he had been following us when he
ran against Hancock at Todd’s Tavern. His coming detained
Hancock from the battle-field of Spottsylvania for that day; but
he, in like manner, kept Early back and forced him to move by
another route.

Had I ordered the movement for the night of the 7th by my left
flank, it would have put Hancock in the lead. It would also
have given us an hour or earlier start. It took all that time
for Warren to get the head of his column to the left of Hancock
after he had got his troops out of their line confronting the
enemy. This hour, and Hancock’s capacity to use his whole force
when necessary, would, no doubt, have enabled him to crush
Anderson before he could be reinforced. But the movement made
was tactical. It kept the troops in mass against a possible
assault by the enemy. Our left occupied its intrenchments while
the two corps to the right passed. If an attack had been made by
the enemy he would have found the 2d corps in position,
fortified, and, practically, the 5th and 6th corps in position
as reserves, until his entire front was passed. By a left flank
movement the army would have been scattered while still passing
the front of the enemy, and before the extreme right had got by
it would have been very much exposed. Then, too, I had not yet
learned the special qualifications of the different corps
commanders. At that time my judgment was that Warren was the
man I would suggest to succeed Meade should anything happen to
that gallant soldier to take him from the field. As I have
before said, Warren was a gallant soldier, an able man; and he
was beside thoroughly imbued with the solemnity and importance
of the duty he had to perform.

CHAPTER LII.

BATTLE OF SPOTTSYLVANIA–HANCOCK’S POSITION–ASSAULT OF WARREN’S
AND WRIGHT’S CORPS–UPTON PROMOTED ON THE FIELD–GOOD NEWS FROM
BUTLER AND SHERIDAN.

The Mattapony River is formed by the junction of the Mat, the
Ta, the Po and the Ny rivers, the last being the northernmost of
the four. It takes its rise about a mile south and a little east
of the Wilderness Tavern. The Po rises south-west of the place,
but farther away. Spottsylvania is on the ridge dividing these
two streams, and where they are but a few miles apart. The
Brock Road reaches Spottsylvania without crossing either of
these streams. Lee’s army coming up by the Catharpin Road, had
to cross the Po at Wooden Bridge. Warren and Hancock came by
the Brock Road. Sedgwick crossed the Ny at Catharpin Furnace.
Burnside coming by Aldrich’s to Gates’s house, had to cross the
Ny near the enemy. He found pickets at the bridge, but they
were soon driven off by a brigade of Willcox’s division, and the
stream was crossed. This brigade was furiously attacked; but the
remainder of the division coming up, they were enabled to hold
their position, and soon fortified it.

About the time I received the news of this attack, word came
from Hancock that Early had left his front. He had been forced
over to the Catharpin Road, crossing the Po at Corbin’s and
again at Wooden Bridge. These are the bridges Sheridan had
given orders to his cavalry to occupy on the 8th, while one
division should occupy Spottsylvania. These movements of the
enemy gave me the idea that Lee was about to make the attempt to
get to, or towards, Fredericksburg to cut off my supplies. I
made arrangements to attack his right and get between him and
Richmond if he should try to execute this design. If he had any
such intention it was abandoned as soon as Burnside was
established south of the Ny.

The Po and the Ny are narrow little streams, but deep, with
abrupt banks, and bordered by heavily wooded and marshy
bottoms–at the time we were there–and difficult to cross
except where bridged. The country about was generally heavily
timbered, but with occasional clearings. It was a much better
country to conduct a defensive campaign in than an offensive one.

By noon of the 9th the position of the two armies was as
follows: Lee occupied a semicircle facing north, north-west and
north-east, inclosing the town. Anderson was on his left
extending to the Po, Ewell came next, then Early. Warren
occupied our right, covering the Brock and other roads
converging at Spottsylvania; Sedgwick was to his left and
Burnside on our extreme left. Hancock was yet back at Todd’s
Tavern, but as soon as it was known that Early had left
Hancock’s front the latter was ordered up to Warren’s right. He
formed a line with three divisions on the hill overlooking the Po
early in the afternoon, and was ordered to cross the Po and get
on the enemy’s flank. The fourth division of Hancock’s corps,
Mott commanding, was left at Todd’s when the corps first came
up; but in the afternoon it was brought up and placed to the
left of Sedgwick’s–now Wright’s–6th corps. In the morning
General Sedgwick had been killed near the right of his
intrenchments by rebel sharpshooters. His loss was a severe one
to the Army of the Potomac and to the Nation. General H. G.
Wright succeeded him in the command of his corps.

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