Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Hancock was now, nine P.M. of the 9th of May, across the left
flank of Lee’s army, but separated from it, and also from the
remainder of Meade’s army, by the Po River. But for the
lateness of the, hour and the darkness of the night he would
have attempted to cross the river again at Wooden Bridge, thus
bringing himself on the same side with both friend and foe.

The Po at the points where Hancock’s corps crossed runs nearly
due east. just below his lower crossing–the troops crossed at
three points–it turns due south. and after passing under Wooden
Bridge soon resumes a more easterly direction. During the night
this corps built three bridges over the Po; but these were in
rear.

The position assumed by Hancock’s corps forced Lee to reinforce
his left during the night. Accordingly on the morning of the
10th, when Hancock renewed his effort to get over the Po to his
front, he found himself confronted by some of Early’s command,
which had been brought from the extreme right of the enemy
during the night. He succeeded in effecting a crossing with one
brigade, however, but finding the enemy intrenched in his front,
no more were crossed.

Hancock reconnoitred his front on the morning of the 10th, with
the view of forcing a crossing, if it was found that an
advantage could be gained. The enemy was found strongly
intrenched on the high ground overlooking the river, and
commanding the Wooden Bridge with artillery. Anderson’s left
rested on the Po, where it turns south; therefore, for Hancock
to cross over–although it would bring him to the same side of
the stream with the rest of the army–would still farther
isolate him from it. The stream would have to be crossed twice
in the face of the enemy to unite with the main body. The idea
of crossing was therefore abandoned.

Lee had weakened the other parts of his line to meet this
movement of Hancock’s, and I determined to take advantage of
it. Accordingly in the morning, orders were issued for an
attack in the afternoon on the centre by Warren’s and Wright’s
corps, Hancock to command all the attacking force. Two of his
divisions were brought to the north side of the Po. Gibbon was
placed to the right of Warren, and Birney in his rear as a
reserve. Barlow’s division was left south of the stream, and
Mott of the same corps was still to the left of Wright’s
corps. Burnside was ordered to reconnoitre his front in force,
and, if an opportunity presented, to attack with vigor. The
enemy seeing Barlow’s division isolated from the rest of the
army, came out and attacked with fury. Barlow repulsed the
assault with great slaughter, and with considerable loss to
himself. But the enemy reorganized and renewed the assault.
Birney was now moved to the high ground overlooking the river
crossings built by our troops, and covered the crossings. The
second assault was repulsed, again with severe loss to the
enemy, and Barlow was withdrawn without further molestation.
General T. G. Stevenson was killed in this move.

Between the lines, where Warren’s assault was to take place,
there was a ravine grown up with large trees and underbrush,
making it almost impenetrable by man. The slopes on both sides
were also covered with a heavy growth of timber. Warren, before
noon, reconnoitred his front twice, the first time with one and
the second with two divisions. He was repulsed on both
occasions, but gained such information of the ground as to
induce him to report recommending the assault.

Wright also reconnoitred his front and gained a considerably
advanced position from the one he started from. He then
organized a storming party, consisting of twelve regiments, and
assigned Colonel Emory Upton, of the 121st New York Volunteers,
to the command of it. About four o’clock in the afternoon the
assault was ordered, Warren’s and Wright’s corps, with Mott’s
division of Hancock’s corps, to move simultaneously. The
movement was prompt, and in a few minutes the fiercest of
struggles began. The battle-field was so densely covered with
forest that but little could be seen, by any one person, as to
the progress made. Meade and I occupied the best position we
could get, in rear of Warren.

Warren was repulsed with heavy loss, General J. C. Rice being
among the killed. He was not followed, however, by the enemy,
and was thereby enabled to reorganize his command as soon as
covered from the guns of the enemy. To the left our success was
decided, but the advantage was lost by the feeble action of
Mott. Upton with his assaulting party pushed forward and
crossed the enemy’s intrenchments. Turning to the right and
left he captured several guns and some hundreds of prisoners.
Mott was ordered to his assistance but failed utterly. So much
time was lost in trying to get up the troops which were in the
right position to reinforce, that I ordered Upton to withdraw;
but the officers and men of his command were so averse to giving
up the advantage they had gained that I withdrew the order. To
relieve them, I ordered a renewal of the assault. By this time
Hancock, who had gone with Birney’s division to relieve Barlow,
had returned, bringing the division with him. His corps was now
joined with Warren’s and Wright’s in this last assault. It was
gallantly made, many men getting up to, and over, the works of
the enemy; but they were not able to hold them. At night they
were withdrawn. Upton brought his prisoners with him, but the
guns he had captured he was obliged to abandon. Upton had
gained an important advantage, but a lack in others of the
spirit and dash possessed by him lost it to us. Before leaving
Washington I had been authorized to promote officers on the
field for special acts of gallantry. By this authority I
conferred the rank of brigadier-general upon Upton on the spot,
and this act was confirmed by the President. Upton had been
badly wounded in this fight.

Burnside on the left had got up to within a few hundred yards of
Spottsylvania Court House, completely turning Lee’s right. He
was not aware of the importance of the advantage he had gained,
and I, being with the troops where the heavy fighting was, did
not know of it at the time. He had gained his position with but
little fighting, and almost without loss. Burnside’s position
now separated him widely from Wright’s corps, the corps nearest
to him. At night he was ordered to join on to this. This
brought him back about a mile, and lost to us an important
advantage. I attach no blame to Burnside for this, but I do to
myself for not having had a staff officer with him to report to
me his position.

The enemy had not dared to come out of his line at any point to
follow up his advantage, except in the single instance of his
attack on Barlow. Then he was twice repulsed with heavy loss,
though he had an entire corps against two brigades. Barlow took
up his bridges in the presence of this force.

On the 11th there was no battle and but little firing; none
except by Mott who made a reconnoissance to ascertain if there
was a weak point in the enemy’s line.

I wrote the following letter to General Halleck:

NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA C. H.,
May 11, 1864–8.3O A.M.

MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington,
D. C.

We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result
up to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been
heavy as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time
eleven general officers killed, wounded and missing, and
probably twenty thousand men. I think the loss of the enemy
must be greater–we having taken over four thousand prisoners in
battle, whilst he has taken from us but few except a few
stragglers. I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons
for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to
fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

The arrival of reinforcements here will be very encouraging to
the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible, and
in as great numbers. My object in having them sent to Belle
Plain was to use them as an escort to our supply trains. If it
is more convenient to send them out by train to march from the
railroad to Belle Plain or Fredericksburg, send them so.

I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky, and are only kept up to
the mark by the greatest exertions on the part of their officers,
and by keeping them intrenched in every position they take.

Up to this time there is no indication of any portion of Lee’s
army being detached for the defence of Richmond.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieut.-General.

And also, I received information, through the War Department,
from General Butler that his cavalry under Kautz had cut the
railroad south of Petersburg, separating Beauregard from
Richmond, and had whipped Hill, killing, wounding and capturing
many. Also that he was intrenched, and could maintain
himself. On this same day came news from Sheridan to the effect
that he had destroyed ten miles of the railroad and telegraph
between Lee and Richmond, one and a half million rations, and
most of the medical stores for his army.

On the 8th I had directed Sheridan verbally to cut loose from
the Army of the Potomac and pass around the left of Lee’s army
and attack his cavalry and communications, which was
successfully executed in the manner I have already described.

CHAPTER LIII.

HANCOCK’S ASSAULT-LOSSES OF THE CONFEDERATES–PROMOTIONS
RECOMMENDED–DISCOMFITURE OF THE ENEMY–EWELL’S ATTACK-REDUCING
THE ARTILLERY.

In the reconnoissance made by Mott on the 11th, a salient was
discovered at the right centre. I determined that an assault
should be made at that point. (*28) Accordingly in the afternoon
Hancock was ordered to move his command by the rear of Warren and
Wright, under cover of night, to Wright’s left, and there form it
for an assault at four o’clock the next morning. The night was
dark, it rained heavily, and the road was difficult, so that it
was midnight when he reached the point where he was to halt. It
took most of the night to get the men in position for their
advance in the morning. The men got but little rest. Burnside
was ordered to attack (*29) on the left of the salient at the
same hour. I sent two of my staff officers to impress upon him
the importance of pushing forward vigorously. Hancock was
notified of this. Warren and Wright were ordered to hold
themselves in readiness to join in the assault if circumstances
made it advisable. I occupied a central position most
convenient for receiving information from all points. Hancock
put Barlow on his left, in double column, and Birney to his
right. Mott followed Birney, and Gibbon was held in reserve.

The morning of the 12th opened foggy, delaying the start more
than half an hour.

The ground over which Hancock had to pass to reach the enemy,
was ascending and heavily wooded to within two or three hundred
yards of the enemy’s intrenchments. In front of Birney there
was also a marsh to cross. But, notwithstanding all these
difficulties, the troops pushed on in quick time without firing
a gun, and when within four or five hundred yards of the enemy’s
line broke out in loud cheers, and with a rush went up to and
over the breastworks. Barlow and Birney entered almost
simultaneously. Here a desperate hand-to-hand conflict took
place. The men of the two sides were too close together to
fire, but used their guns as clubs. The hand conflict was soon
over. Hancock’s corps captured some four thousand prisoners
among them a division and a brigade commander twenty or more
guns with their horses, caissons, and ammunition, several
thousand stand of arms, and many colors. Hancock, as soon as
the hand-to-hand conflict was over, turned the guns of the enemy
against him and advanced inside the rebel lines. About six
o’clock I ordered Warren’s corps to the support of Hancock’s.
Burnside, on the left, had advanced up east of the salient to
the very parapet of the enemy. Potter, commanding one of his
divisions, got over but was not able to remain there. However,
he inflicted a heavy loss upon the enemy; but not without loss
in return.

This victory was important, and one that Lee could not afford to
leave us in full possession of. He made the most strenuous
efforts to regain the position he had lost. Troops were brought
up from his left and attacked Hancock furiously. Hancock was
forced to fall back: but he did so slowly, with his face to the
enemy, inflicting on him heavy loss, until behind the breastworks
he had captured. These he turned, facing them the other way, and
continued to hold. Wright was ordered up to reinforce Hancock,
and arrived by six o’clock. He was wounded soon after coming up
but did not relinquish the command of his corps, although the
fighting lasted until one o’clock the next morning. At eight
o’clock Warren was ordered up again, but was so slow in making
his dispositions that his orders were frequently repeated, and
with emphasis. At eleven o’clock I gave Meade written orders to
relieve Warren from his command if he failed to move promptly.
Hancock placed batteries on high ground in his rear, which he
used against the enemy, firing over the heads of his own troops.

Burnside accomplished but little on our left of a positive
nature, but negatively a great deal. He kept Lee from
reinforcing his centre from that quarter. If the 5th corps, or
rather if Warren, had been as prompt as Wright was with the 6th
corps, better results might have been obtained.

Lee massed heavily from his left flank on the broken point of
his line. Five times during the day he assaulted furiously, but
without dislodging our troops from their new position. His
losses must have been fearful. Sometimes the belligerents would
be separated by but a few feet. In one place a tree, eighteen
inches in diameter, was cut entirely down by musket balls. All
the trees between the lines were very much cut to pieces by
artillery and musketry. It was three o’clock next morning
before the fighting ceased. Some of our troops had then been
twenty hours under fire. In this engagement we did not lose a
single organization, not even a company. The enemy lost one
division with its commander, one brigade and one regiment, with
heavy losses elsewhere.(*30) Our losses were heavy, but, as
stated, no whole company was captured. At night Lee took a
position in rear of his former one, and by the following morning
he was strongly intrenched in it.

Warren’s corps was now temporarily broken up, Cutler’s division
sent to Wright, and Griffin’s to Hancock. Meade ordered his
chief of staff, General Humphreys, to remain with Warren and the
remaining division, and authorized him to give it orders in his
name.

During the day I was passing along the line from wing to wing
continuously. About the centre stood a house which proved to be
occupied by an old lady and her daughter. She showed such
unmistakable signs of being strongly Union that I stopped. She
said she had not seen a Union flag for so long a time that it
did her heart good to look upon it again. She said her husband
and son, being, Union men, had had to leave early in the war,
and were now somewhere in the Union army, if alive. She was
without food or nearly so, so I ordered rations issued to her,
and promised to find out if I could where the husband and son
were.

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