Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

COLD HARBOR, VA., June 7, 1864.
10.30 A.M.

GEN. R. E. LEE,
Commanding Army of N. Va.

I regret that your note of seven P.M. yesterday should have been
received at the nearest corps headquarters, to where it was
delivered, after the hour which had been given for the removal
of the dead and wounded had expired; 10.45 P.M. was the hour at
which it was received at corps headquarters, and between eleven
and twelve it reached my headquarters. As a consequence, it was
not understood by.the troops of this army that there was a
cessation of hostilities for the purpose of collecting the dead
and wounded, and none were collected. Two officers and six men
of the 8th and 25th North Carolina Regts., who were out in
search of the bodies of officers of their respective regiments,
were captured and brought into our lines, owing to this want of
understanding. I regret this, but will state that as soon as I
learned the fact, I directed that they should not be held as
prisoners, but must be returned to their commands. These
officers and men having been carelessly brought through our
lines to the rear have not determined whether they will be sent
back the way they came, or whether they will be sent by some
other route.

Regretting that all my efforts for alleviating the sufferings of
wounded men left upon the battle-field have been rendered
nugatory, I remain, &c.,

U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was
ever made. I might say the same thing of the assault of the 22d
of May, 1863, at Vicksburg. At Cold Harbor no advantage
whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we
sustained. Indeed, the advantages other than those of relative
losses, were on the Confederate side. Before that, the Army of
Northern Virginia seemed to have acquired a wholesome regard for
the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities generally of the
Army of the Potomac. They no longer wanted to fight them “one
Confederate to five Yanks.” Indeed, they seemed to have given
up any idea of gaining any advantage of their antagonist in the
open field. They had come to much prefer breastworks in their
front to the Army of the Potomac. This charge seemed to revive
their hopes temporarily; but it was of short duration. The
effect upon the Army of the Potomac was the reverse. When we
reached the James River, however, all effects of the battle of
Cold Harbor seemed to have disappeared.

There was more justification for the assault at Vicksburg. We
were in a Southern climate, at the beginning of the hot
season. The Army of the Tennessee had won five successive
victories over the garrison of Vicksburg in the three preceding
weeks. They had driven a portion of that army from Port Gibson
with considerable loss, after having flanked them out of their
stronghold at Grand Gulf. They had attacked another portion of
the same army at Raymond, more than fifty miles farther in the
interior of the State, and driven them back into Jackson with
great loss in killed, wounded, captured and missing, besides
loss of large and small arms: they had captured the capital of
the State of Mississippi, with a large amount of materials of
war and manufactures. Only a few days before, they had beaten
the enemy then penned up in the town first at Champion’s Hill,
next at Big Black River Bridge, inflicting upon him a loss of
fifteen thousand or more men (including those cut off from
returning) besides large losses in arms and ammunition. The
Army of the Tennessee had come to believe that they could beat
their antagonist under any circumstances. There was no telling
how long a regular siege might last. As I have stated, it was
the beginning of the hot season in a Southern climate. There
was no telling what the casualties might be among Northern
troops working and living in trenches, drinking surface water
filtered through rich vegetation, under a tropical sun. If
Vicksburg could have been carried in May, it would not only have
saved the army the risk it ran of a greater danger than from the
bullets of the enemy, but it would have given us a splendid
army, well equipped and officered, to operate elsewhere with.
These are reasons justifying the assault. The only benefit we
gained–and it was a slight one for so great a sacrifice–was
that the men worked cheerfully in the trenches after that, being
satisfied with digging the enemy out. Had the assault not been
made, I have no doubt that the majority of those engaged in the
siege of Vicksburg would have believed that had we assaulted it
would have proven successful, and would have saved life, health
and comfort.

CHAPTER LVI.

LEFT FLANK MOVEMENT ACROSS THE CHICKAHOMINY AND JAMES–GENERAL
LEE–VISIT TO BUTLER–THE MOVEMENT ON PETERSBURG–THE INVESTMENT
OF PETERSBURG.

Lee’s position was now so near Richmond, and the intervening
swamps of the Chickahominy so great an obstacle to the movement
of troops in the face of an enemy, that I determined to make my
next left flank move carry the Army of the Potomac south of the
James River. (*34) Preparations for this were promptly
commenced. The move was a hazardous one to make: the
Chickahominy River, with its marshy and heavily timbered
approaches, had to be crossed; all the bridges over it east of
Lee were destroyed; the enemy had a shorter line and better
roads to travel on to confront me in crossing; more than fifty
miles intervened between me and Butler, by the roads I should
have to travel, with both the James and the Chickahominy
unbridged to cross; and last, the Army of the Potomac had to be
got out of a position but a few hundred yards from the enemy at
the widest place. Lee, if he did not choose to follow me,
might, with his shorter distance to travel and his bridges over
the Chickahominy and the James, move rapidly on Butler and crush
him before the army with me could come to his relief. Then too
he might spare troops enough to send against Hunter who was
approaching Lynchburg, living upon the country he passed
through, and without ammunition further than what he carried
with him.

But the move had to be made, and I relied upon Lee’s not seeing
my danger as I saw it. Besides we had armies on both sides of
the James River and not far from the Confederate capital. I
knew that its safety would be a matter of the first
consideration with the executive, legislative and judicial
branches of the so-called Confederate government, if it was not
with the military commanders. But I took all the precaution I
knew of to guard against all dangers.

Sheridan was sent with two divisions, to communicate with Hunter
and to break up the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River
Canal, on the 7th of June, taking instructions to Hunter to come
back with him (*35). Hunter was also informed by way of
Washington and the Valley that Sheridan was on the way to meet
him. The canal and Central Road, and the regions penetrated by
them, were of vast importance to the enemy, furnishing and
carrying a large per cent. of all the supplies for the Army of
Northern Virginia and the people of Richmond. Before Sheridan
got off on the 7th news was received from Hunter reporting his
advance to Staunton and successful engagement with the enemy
near that place on the 5th, in which the Confederate commander,
W. S. Jones, was killed. On the 4th of June the enemy having
withdrawn his left corps, Burnside on our right was moved up
between Warren and Smith. On the 5th Birney returned to
Hancock, which extended his left now to the Chickahominy, and
Warren was withdrawn to Cold Harbor. Wright was directed to
send two divisions to the left to extend down the banks of that
stream to Bottom’s Bridge. The cavalry extended still farther
east to Jones’s Bridge.

On the 7th Abercrombie–who was in command at White House, and
who had been in command at our base of supplies in all the
changes made from the start–was ordered to take up the iron
from the York River Railroad and put it on boats, and to be in
readiness to move by water to City Point.

On the 8th Meade was directed to fortify a line down the bank
overlooking the Chickahominy, under cover of which the army
could move.

On the 9th Abercrombie was directed to send all organized troops
arriving at White House, without debarking from their transports,
to report to Butler. Halleck was at this time instructed to send
all reinforcements to City Point.

On the 11th I wrote:

COLD HARBOR, VA., June 11, 1864.

MAJOR-GEN. B. F. BUTLER,
Commanding Department of Va. and N. C.

The movement to transfer this army to the south side of the
James River will commence after dark to-morrow night. Col.
Comstock, of my staff, was sent specially to ascertain what was
necessary to make your position secure in the interval during
which the enemy might use most of his force against you, and
also, to ascertain what point on the river we should reach to
effect a crossing if it should not be practicable to reach this
side of the river at Bermuda Hundred. Colonel Comstock has not
yet returned, so that I cannot make instructions as definite as
I would wish, but the time between this and Sunday night being
so short in which to get word to you, I must do the best I
can. Colonel Dent goes to the Chickahominy to take to you the
18th corps. The corps will leave its position in the trenches
as early in the evening, tomorrow, as possible, and make a
forced march to Cole’s Landing or Ferry, where it should reach
by ten A.M. the following morning. This corps numbers now
15,300 men. They take with them neither wagons nor artillery;
these latter marching with the balance of the army to the James
River. The remainder of the army will cross the Chickahominy at
Long Bridge and at Jones’s, and strike the river at the most
practicable crossing below City Point.

I directed several days ago that all reinforcements for the army
should be sent to you. I am not advised of the number that may
have gone, but suppose you have received from six to ten
thousand. General Smith will also reach you as soon as the
enemy could, going by the way of Richmond.

The balance of the force will not be more than one day behind,
unless detained by the whole of Lee’s army, in which case you
will be strong enough.

I wish you would direct the proper staff officers, your
chief-engineer and your chief-quartermaster, to commence at once
the collection of all the means in their reach for crossing the
army on its arrival. If there is a point below City Point where
a pontoon bridge can be thrown, have it laid.

Expecting the arrival of the 18th corps by Monday night, if you
deem it practicable from the force you have to seize and hold
Petersburg, you may prepare to start, on the arrival of troops
to hold your present lines. I do not want Petersburg visited,
however, unless it is held, nor an attempt to take it, unless
you feel a reasonable degree of confidence of success. If you
should go there, I think troops should take nothing with them
except what they can carry, depending upon supplies being sent
after the place is secured. If Colonel Dent should not succeed
in securing the requisite amount of transportation for the 18th
corps before reaching you, please have the balance supplied.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieut.-General.

P. S.–On reflection I will send the 18th corps by way of White
House. The distance which they will have to march will be
enough shorter to enable them to reach you about the same time,
and the uncertainty of navigation on the Chickahominy will be
avoided.

U. S. GRANT.

COLD HARBOR, VA., June 11,1864.

MAJOR-GENERAL G. G. MEADE,
Commanding Army of the Potomac.

Colonel Comstock, who visited the James River for the purpose of
ascertaining the best point below Bermuda Hundred to which to
march the army has not yet returned. It is now getting so late,
however, that all preparations may be made for the move to-morrow
night without waiting longer.

The movement will be made as heretofore agreed upon, that is,
the 18th corps make a rapid march with the infantry alone, their
wagons and artillery accompanying the balance of the army to
Cole’s Landing or Ferry, and there embark for City Point, losing
no time for rest until they reach the latter point.

The 5th corps will seize Long Bridge and move out on the Long
Bridge Road to its junction with Quaker Road, or until stopped
by the enemy.

The other three corps will follow in such order as you may
direct, one of them crossing at Long Bridge, and two at Jones’s
Bridge. After the crossing is effected, the most practicable
roads will be taken to reach about Fort Powhattan. Of course,
this is supposing the enemy makes no opposition to our
advance. The 5th corps, after securing the passage of the
balance of the army, will join or follow in rear of the corps
which crosses the same bridge with themselves. The wagon trains
should be kept well east of the troops, and if a crossing can be
found, or made lower down than Jones’s they should take it.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieut.-General.

P. S.–In view of the long march to reach Cole’s Landing, and
the uncertainty of being able to embark a large number of men
there, the direction of the 18th corps may be changed to White
House. They should be directed to load up transports, and start
them as fast as loaded without waiting for the whole corps or
even whole divisions to go together.

U. S. GRANT.

About this time word was received (through the Richmond papers
of the 11th) that Crook and Averell had united and were moving
east. This, with the news of Hunter’s successful engagement
near Staunton, was no doubt known to Lee before it was to me.
Then Sheridan leaving with two divisions of cavalry, looked
indeed threatening, both to Lee’s communications and supplies.
Much of his cavalry was sent after Sheridan, and Early with
Ewell’s entire corps was sent to the Valley. Supplies were
growing scarce in Richmond, and the sources from which to draw
them were in our hands. People from outside began to pour into
Richmond to help eat up the little on hand. Consternation
reigned there.

On the 12th Smith was ordered to move at night to White House,
not to stop until he reached there, and to take boats at once
for City Point, leaving his trains and artillery to move by land.

Soon after dark some of the cavalry at Long Bridge effected a
crossing by wading and floundering through the water and mud,
leaving their horses behind, and drove away the cavalry
pickets. A pontoon bridge was speedily thrown across, over
which the remainder of the army soon passed and pushed out for a
mile or two to watch and detain any advance that might be made
from the other side. Warren followed the cavalry, and by the
morning of the 13th had his whole corps over. Hancock followed
Warren. Burnside took the road to Jones’s Bridge, followed by
Wright. Ferrero’s division, with the wagon train, moved farther
east, by Window Shades and Cole’s Ferry, our rear being covered
by cavalry.

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