Skip to main content

tv   The Civil War Wilson Greene Civil War Petersburg  CSPAN  December 22, 2021 5:34pm-6:57pm EST

5:34 pm
streams of the house and senate floor to key congressional hearings to the white house and supreme court oral arguments and even our live interactive morning program where you hear the voices every day. download the app today. >> american history tv continues now with more from the civil war symposium. >> i'm very privileged to introduce a. wilson green. it says he's retired. i don't believe that. from a 44-year career in public history most notably as a former and founding executive director of someplace. will previously serve as historian and manager with the national park service before becoming the first president of association for the preservation of civil war studies. he's currently at work, and in
5:35 pm
his last two volumes of his trilogy which we are desperately waiting for, what's going on, they're coming? they're coming, great. i'm very happy to introduce a. wilson green. [ applause ] >> boy, is it good to look out on these faces. i've got to say it's just wonderful to be with you all and especially to be with such great colleagues. we're really fortunate that brian was able to make it because he has a two-week engagement at the boom boom room at the holiday inn in marietta, and he took time off to join us. so thank you for that, brian. i hope your flight is on time and you can get back to the 10:00 show at the holiday inn.
5:36 pm
a little surprised, though, he would take a shot at my sartorial habits because this is a fellow who wears scarfs in the middle of july and shows up apt symposiums without socks on wearing a sports coat. be it as it may thank you for those kind words and thank you for coming out. i must have not gotten the memo about the way the talks are supposed to go because we've had these thought pieces and all this great humor, and i'm going to do this great battle talk. so i hope that you still have some energy and some brain cells left because this talk on the first petersburg offensive is pretty complicated. you know, everybody's been to
5:37 pm
petersburg and you think it's the first petersburg offensive, but it involves four armies. it involves four days of combat plus a major logistical movement in order to get there, so we'll try to go through this and hopefully have a better understanding of what i think is a very complex -- is my microphone cutting in and out? okay. the famous confederate artillrist thought that, quote, the initial struggle was the most interesting point in the whole military history of the confederacy. you may not agree with alexander, but the events between june 15th and 18th, 1864, if they had gone differently at petersburg would have altered the trajectory of the civil war tremendously perhaps shortening it by months.
5:38 pm
so my talk is going to address the movements to petersburg at that time. the conduct of the combat -- of course the various theaters of the looks like they're going to get some technical help here. you don't want to miss any of my words i'm sure.
5:39 pm
i'll just keep going. and the second thing, of course, is he decided not to make his headquarters in washington -- and pursue relentless operations against the confederate opponents. now, grant would, of course, imp llt his plan in early may, sending his protégé william, t. sherman on a campaign in georgia to concentrate on his opponent, joseph johnson and the railroad hub in atlanta. and in virginia meade would focus laser like on the army of virginia under robert e. lee while two subordinate offenses
5:40 pm
would take place up the shenandoah valley and up the james river, and both of those auxiliary camp courts failed in may and benjamin butler being halted at bermuda hundred south of richmond. well, the army of the potomac, of course, crossed the river about at the same time, losing some 60,000 men in the process and inflicting a sufficient number of casualties on lee's army to eliminate it as an offensive weapon. it was primarily now only pote potent on the defense. but with butler's access to
5:41 pm
richmond blocked by confederate forces under and lee, seemingly immovable in front of the confederate capital at richmond, grant made a bold decision. he would shift his entire army south of the james river, capture petersburg 23 miles below the confederate capital, which was richmond's logistical nexus. petersburg was a much more relatively important city then as it was today. no fewer than five railroads led into what was known as the city at that time.
5:42 pm
all remained crucial to the confederate supply situation. the potomac railroad and the virginia central railroad all being interdicted by union forces, the capture of petersburg and those railroads would have rendered richmond -- in saying that the capture of petersburg would have been tantamount to the capture of richmond, so there's an awful lot at stake in this campaign. now, grant was only too aware of the risk involved in this maneuver. he has to disengage from his opponents around the harbor without lee knowing it in order
5:43 pm
to gain a head start in a much longer route to pet petersburg than lee. once lee realized that grant had departed, he would need to persuade that he was going to be approaching richmond in the same way that george mcclellan had done two years earlier in 1862. and even if all of this went to plan -- the river which was as much as 80 feet deep and as wide as 4,000 feet in some places. the army of the potomac would be spread out and vulnerable, never more so than in the process of crossing the james river. now, the movement also put
5:44 pm
butler's army in jeopardy as grant would be much farther away than the army of the james than the army of northern virginia. and lastly was contrary to what the administration expected grant -- always the lincoln administration nurtured a constant -- change of microphones. and beyond that a fear of losing washington, exposing washington to confederate forces. now let's face it by the second week of june of 1864 grant's results in virginia had not exactly been sterling. and had this operation failed i suspect that even lincoln's indulgence of his new general in chief would have been compromised, and i don't know
5:45 pm
that lincoln would have let grant have that long leash. now, that's a very complicated map and probably more complicated than you need to implicate from your seats out there, but it show you the planning grant went into in order to get this movement into to james. the first thing he did was detach phil sheraton and two thirds of the cavalry to make a raid north against the virginia central railroad. ultimately he hoped the sheraton would link up with the union forces in the coming east from the shenandoah valley, but more importantly from our purposes the raid will naturally compel lee to detach and absent lots of cavalry that would make the
5:46 pm
opportunity for grant to make a stealthy movement to the james much easier. he also arranged for a motley fleet of ferry boats to be assembled at fort monroe and move up the james river to provide transportation for his army. he then authorized butler to destroy the railroad bridge connecting petersburg with chesterfield county on the north side of the apmatics in order to prevent lee from attaching troops to the north and coming to petersburg's rescue. now, that operation did not succeed. on june 9th the so-called battle of old men and young boys prevented that railroad bridge from being destroyed. grant began his movement to the james on june 12th. there were five army corps involved in this movement. the four in the army of the potomac and baldy smith's 18th
5:47 pm
corp which had joined meade's army prior to cold harbor. each disengaged from north to south following carefully selected routes in order to expedite the movement to the james river while the 18th corp would march to white house landing on the potomac river and take water transportation to get back to the area north of the apomatics river. the other river would pose the first obstacle to this movement described by one union officer as a wide ditch partly choked with rotten logs and full of brown, tep ed, sickly looking water whose slow current would scarcely carry a straw along. now, the plan called for the army to move across the river at three different places by building pontoon bridges there. the union cavalry arrive on the
5:48 pm
morning of the 13th, scattered the thin, confederate resistance at crossing points. and by the dawn of the 13th meade's army was either south or poised to cross it. now, in order to follow that other precept of convincing lee that he was moving towards richmond north of the james river the way that mcclellan had approached richmond in 1862 meade sent two divisions of warren's fifth corp and a brigade of cavalry towards important cross roads. you can see it better than i can. there it is right there. at the intersection where of course that big battle took place on june 30th, 1862. now, a sharp flight on june 13th left modest casualties and zblen
5:49 pm
fp dale in confederate hands but reinforced the notion in lee's mind this might actually represent lee's next attempt to capture richmond. this is not to say lee was insensitive to the possibility of grant across to james, but the confederate commander's primary responsibility was what? richmond, to protect richmond. and unless he could be sure that grant would not threaten the confederate capital, lee would maintain his position on the north side counting on beauregard army to provide timely intelligence regarding any operations on the south side. now, because all of meade's pontoons and his train were required to cross the river, he put general butler in charge of the pontoon bridge across the james river. and butler would turn to his
5:50 pm
chief engineer brigadier gotfried wietsal. the river measured a little les across. but the banks on both sides required significant modification so 150 men immediately went into the forest, cut down giant cyprus trees, created avenues of approach, corduroy approaches, especially on the north bank of the river where it was very swampy, and built better approaches on the south side of the river as well. and by working around the clock by the night of june 14th and june 15th, they had built a pontoon bridge consisting of 101 boats, 2,000 feet across and as one confederate said, the greatest bridge which the world has seen since the days of zirksys.
5:51 pm
primary responsibility was what? richmond. to protect richmond. and unless he could be sure that grant would not threaten the confederate capital, lee would maintain his position on the north side, counting on beauregard's army to provide timely intelligence regarding any enemy operations on the south side. only the supply wagons that were guarded by the black division of the ninth corps encountered problems, discovering their designated crossing points down there on the chickahominy at cole's ferry was impractical and
5:52 pm
they had to move to windsor shades to try to get across, so they would be delayed. but everybody else had achieved a spectacular logistical achievement. grant had, no doubt, stolen a march on robert e. lee and now he simply had to approach petersburg, overwhelm a line of thin defenders that were supposed to be until the works around the cockade city and force lee to fight for his communications, accept a cede to richmond or abandon the confederate capital. there is the union set up for this. what about the confederate perspective? as i mentioned, lee was perfectly cognizant of the potential of grant crossing sooner or later and getting to the south side of the james.
5:53 pm
but lee was uncertain of grant's intentions. and he declined to consider butler's june 9th effort as anything more than a reconnaissance. no troops have left general grant's army, lee assured a nervous beauregard, and none could have crossed james river without being perceived. now, lee's confidence in this was derived from his own intelligence gathering abilities and on beauregard's line of scouts that were allegedly arrayed down the banks of the james river for many, many miles. but still, lee would order robert holk's division, which had been loaned to the army of northern virginia by beauregard's army prior to cold harbor, to move to the pontoon bridge that the confederates maintained at chaffen's bluff in case those generals should appear on the south side of the river.
5:54 pm
and his grand arranged and to speculate of the intention of their enemy and to respond to an inquiry earlier that afternoon by speculating that the enemy must be preparing to go south of the james. some of course the new all large body had moved south but then he could also be at harrison's landing just like two years earlier he could be resupplied for another movement against richmond south of the river. and all of those federal's boarding boats might be the regiments that had their terms of enlistment expire and headed home was thousands were doing that.
5:55 pm
we have to be guarded but that did not equate changing focus yet from richmond to petersburg so beauregard so he beseech the department was some combination of the army that attacked him. i cannot be responsible for consequences. when his appeal elicited no response, beauregard took matters into his own hands and then sent orders that was a part of his army across the james. he also sent staff officers that the absence of any hard evidence and then to convince no one in richmond and
5:56 pm
generally of any imminent disaster. so while beauregard fretted and lee was cautious grant and mead proceeded on june 14 with the offense of plan. >> investment 18 core aborted the transports and by the next day had begun a standard arrival at various points at bermuda hundred at the appomattox river and broadly landing tennis disembarkation within the meanwhile winfield scott hancock at 8:30 a.m. received orders from me to cross the river at makeshift fleet that grant had assembled all the engineers put the final touches on the pontoon
5:57 pm
bridge. before noon the first of hancock's core boarded the boat and by 1:00 o'clock p.m. on the 14th day were on the shore of the right bank this new jersey soldier who had grown disenchanted with the virginia landscape as we steam across the beautiful river our hearts were filled with new hope for we had bid in for well to the swamp of the chickahominy with a long line of graves that stretch not only across the peninsula that the hills and valleys and streams and fertile fields we were bidding farewell to the old battlefield and entering upon a new field of operations it would take can r-uppercase-letter until about don the morning of june 15 to ferry those divisions across
5:58 pm
the river about 5:00 a.m. the second was comfortably encamped on the south side. many of the nand cleansing of the james and then hancock remained on the north side communicating by signal and that this is an important point as in most military operations i don't succeed, there are a series of mistakes and misunderstandings. this is what and it was critical. hancock confirmed to mead that his core had three days of russians on hand and would not be out of food that night. so all the engineers and they ferried across the river grant boarded steamer met with butler to outline the plans for the attack angry and told
5:59 pm
butler that he would be solely responsible for the attack because he would read provision before marching toward petersburg and then stalled on the north side of the chickahominy weather on —- river, but there would be responsible for providing those rations. 60000 of them. grant says without this precaution and that the services of this core meaning hancock cannot be had for an emergency tomorrow this utterly implied he consider the participation of june 15 offensive as necessary as only an emergency but that he was unaware of hancock's actual supply situation returning to the north side sunset on the 14h
6:00 pm
and then to provide those telling him not to advance and tell the supply ships had arrived in hancock word of a those orders that his presence at petersburg was expected. ultimately the supply ship failed to arrive so at 10:30 a.m. on june 15th we released hancock to begin the track toward petersburg six hours were wasted between the second core and departure six hours might've changed history. asked for the 18th core grants orders to butler were to begin the march toward
6:01 pm
petersburg that night and launch his attack as soon as he could after daylight. grant assumed that butler would capture petersburg that morning and hancock would be available later in the day to help him hold the city should he redeem the situation and then to brigades taken and then under calvary but under general edward hanks a total of 14000 men. but smith word claim and i think justifiably that she had learned nothing of these plans until late on the 14th as his troops were beginning to disembark from their ships. obviously would take time and
6:02 pm
landed at three different points and without any divisional integrity we had to get everybody together and on their proper brigades and then to cross the appomattox river in the dark and march 5 miles towards peterburg and in short with that don's offensive was fantasy. that would plague the hancock departure. grant, butler and hancock all needed to be on the same page with a plan to work but it failed to communicate the battle plans to all subordinates with university of georgia that drives down the field to the three r nine and then fumbles.
6:03 pm
[laughter] the general in chief jeopardized the potential payoff of the brilliant march to the james. and then with the command of the department of north carolina since april 23rd it was a huge department that extended from the south from the cape fear river all the way up to the south think of the james river. . .
6:04 pm
because a portion of johnson's division was on the catch duty duty to galore guard deployed 3300 men on the how it line. at petersburg the elaborate defensive position was aligned featuring 55 artillery batteries connected by an infantry curtain that extended 10 miles answered on both flanks of the appomattox river and offended by 4000 men including a large contingent of local militia which of course would be less than one third of smith's troops approaching petersburg. no wonder, no wonder beauregard was very anxious to return 6600 men to his army. but despite the louisianians orders on the previous night he would not start date across the james until nearly noon on the
6:05 pm
15th leaving beauregard on his own for this impending clash. now once informed of his assignment smith quickly organized as well as he could but many of whom got little or no rest and starting their march across the pontoon bridges of the appomattox river. smith plans called for the calgary to lead the way dispersing any resistance between their approach and the line allowing the country to march directly against the works. according to butler defended only by a skeletal force. the federalists began their march between two and 3:00 a.m. on the 15th but the delay in crossing the bridges and not not until 5:00 a half an hour after don would smith's two light divisions joined the troops on the south side of the appomattox
6:06 pm
river. now the union calgary road ahead and encountered a stubborn confederates it is at a place called baylor's farm several miles east of the line. this is just east of the interchange with highway 36 and i-295 today. it was pretty much a lost battlefield. according to the resistance to powerful calvery smith called on hanks to show the rebels aside. the black troops lurch forward in their first combat absorbing significant casualties with a single calvary regiment supported by a chilly but eventually eventually the 4500 greatcoat held fast giving the troops a hard-earned victory accompanied by a sinister byproduct, the intimidation of baldy smith. at a most onyx list -- unexpected plates have been called upon to develop my force and make an assault and this
6:07 pm
costs me worse to cease taking anything for granted that had been asserted. grants don attack is already moot point would now face further delay. smith resumed his approach with extreme caution advancing the skirmish line and halting it every intervening ridge between baylor's farm and did a mark line. not until afternoon to the federalist approach the confederate position. smith would deploy his three divisions from the appomattox river on his right southward with hinks on the left in the calvery further to the left. all along the line the rebel canyons went forward at the new targets inflicting minor casualties but further persuading smith to butler's assurances for regard's defenses were substantial. smith opted to conduct a recognizance identified the car gets almost all afternoon with
6:08 pm
this focus on a place called battery five near the city point railroad. while this is all going on in the 15th what is general hancock doing it? he had left the south bank of the james remember about 10:30 that morning but he was traveling in an ambulance. he was not mobile and gettysburg wood was festering. he was unable to mount a horse. his men were marching under heat. he it was over 95 degrees that day and they were traversing poor roads and they had such faulty maps that one of his division francis barlow's who you see wandered up in the wrong direction got completely lost and would be out of action. it's not until 5:30 in the morning, 10:30 they start, 5:30 in the afternoon did the division begin to approach the
6:09 pm
confederate position. at that point couriers arrived from grant and smith urging hancock to support smith's impending attack. hancock is surprised by the urgency of these orders. he's under no illusion at this point that he's expected to participate in the fight and it was almost impossible to find out where smith wanted him to go. there was poor staff work and there were no maps so wartime is a lapse for this. now smith will finally be successful. he identified a routine that provided some depp allayed between battery six and seven. that's where highway 36 goes under the road and his plan was to send a reinforced skirmish
6:10 pm
line really in order to make the attack. he said my best chance of success was to form a heavy skirmish line which would not attract much artillery fire but would yet be sufficient to do the work if the enemy was not very strong. he would initiate the attack triggering responses like john martindale's division is right and the black division on his left. he further thought it would be best to degrade the confederate defenses with an artillery bombardment. he gave orders to his artillery commander to bring up the gun and began firing immediately but unbeknownst to him the artillery commander had taken the battery horses the battery horses out to be watered so he'd would take time for them to get back bring the guns into position. the artillery opens up and there's a 20 minute lombard meant and smith wants to attack. about 7:00 at night. and to make a long story short
6:11 pm
they penetrated through that ravine between battery six and seven and the entire complement of the confederate artillery and those batteries in the adjacent batteries on either side were surrendered. our brooks is right martindale scattered the defenders of batteries. for and the black troops accomplished even more. entering battery six, seven, eight, nine and finally 10. by the time darkness enveloped the landscape smith had countered two miles of the confederate line. he released 13 guns and inflicted hundreds of casualties. now the question remained what would the federalist do with his this target but this decisive victory? know when barlow's division lost all me birney's in gibbon's division of the second car were available to respond to urgent
6:12 pm
messages to assist smith but as they said poor communication, confusing geography inspired to delay their arrival until well after dark after most of the fighting had already been concluded hancock met with smith about 9:00 who had explained to hancock would have transpired them pointed out the extent of his achievement. hancock confirmed birney was available to continue the offensive although hancock outranks smith he deferred to his junior's judgment saying i desire not to interfere with his honor that he was directed to take place. smith declined to continue the attack requesting only that hancock's two division relieve brooks and hanks at the front of the segment corp. units between 11:00 and 3:00 the morning occupied the captured line.
6:13 pm
one of the enduring questions of the petersburg story is the wisdom of smith and hancock's decision that night. there were certainly bitter voices that decried the failure to press ahead and try to capture petersburg. a private in the fourth unit artillery for example remembered that gradually the fact were not to fight that night impressed upon itself the listed men was devilish the most blood curling blasphemy i ever listen to i heard that night. others knew they were to be sacrificed in the morning. many blame smith which is a staff officer believe petersburg was growing like a rotten branch and exercise sufficient courage but other critics -- into what was presumed to be a nearly defenseless city. now it's easy to condemn all the
6:14 pm
smith who is a rather unlikable character and his post-war was for verification but to did so is too simplistic but although hancock is certainly blameless for his this course slow approach from the james on june 15 he certainly could have insisted on a coordinated advance after 9:00 if such an attack was warranted. he did not. neither of the army commanders butler or meeks set foot anywhere near the scene of action nor did grant whose headquarters is city point were barely an hours ride back to the front. all three of these men could have ordered an assault and had the authority to do so if they wished. smith would cite a plethora of reasons why he didn't continue the assault that chief among
6:15 pm
them the darkness and the disorganization of his troops. smith also believed if i captured batteries three through 10 he could mountain artillery bombardment close enough to petersburg to render it indefensible and grant most of all smith expressed concern that the confederates had been reinforced and to punish troops into the darkness against an enemy of unknown strength would have been if he said simple madness and would have almost inevitably resulted in disaster and the loss of all that we had gained. although in hindsight he concluded that hancock and smith should have pressed on that night. i think they acted reasonably in the confederacy was attacked at battery strength. general beauregard arrived in petersburg at 6:00 p.m. that night traveling from his headquarters north of uptown. the attack that quickly followed in particular surprise him and
6:16 pm
in predicting this disaster for days but now the question for him was simple. should he defend petersburg by the defenses or forsake the city and hold the line. he appealed to the war department unsuccessfully all through the day for instructions of into which of those options he should exercise but never received an answer so he was on his own. and not long after that federal break through the leading elements of hopes division arrived in petersburg in the form of johnson haygood's 1400 south carolinians much to the delight of the panic-stricken citizens. he initially received instruction to extend the army's right flank but when the news of the collapse of the eastern portion of the damot line line smith met haygood to establish a
6:17 pm
perimeter behind a broken batteries. they could almost stumble into the federal line and that was to her stop it harrison's creek but with the aid of beauregard's competent chief engineer a man who's unfamiliar to most of you and one of the best engineers of the confederate army under criminal -- general harris he drew a new line behind harrison's creek conduct in the end path damot line line between batteries two and 15 and during the night the north carolinians and the brigades extended the line digging furiously to create an earth terrier. meantime beauregard made the decision to abandon the how it line and bring johnson's division to petersburg giving him around 11,000 men to meet the combined forces of smith and
6:18 pm
hancock who still outnumbered the confederates 3-1. beauregard begged him to replace johnson's troops before butler discovered the howell line was evacuated and moved west to sever the road in rovera connections between richmond and petersburg. in a predawn hours of june 16 lee ordered george pickett's division of richard anderson's first core of the army of northern virginia about 4500 men to cross the james for this purpose. the federal high command reacted on june 16 to this developing operational situation. we put tickets men on the road to river crossings at 3:00 in the morning and a few hours later he sent charles fields first core division for the south side as well but alert federal officers and 100
6:19 pm
detectives heard suspicious sound and an early daylight press corps they found that the few troops of the alabamians under bracy's brigade were the only defenders of the howell line and they quickly scattered them and although there was only a fraction of butler's men involved in this they quickly began ripping up the tracks of the richmond and petersburg railroad. meanwhile to additional union core burnside's ninth and warrants fifth began using the completed pontoon bridge and the ferry votes to cross the james with orders to extend hancock's board are same time johnson crossed the appomattox and the new confederate defensive perimeter to the hager line to hancock's deployment. throughout the day the 17th and 18th core track forward slowly and cautiously and discovered the new rebel defenses.
6:20 pm
grant ordered burnside and warned to provide flank protection for hancock while the second and 18th core spent the day identifying points for the proposed evening attack. as the federal's trolled the confederates dug so by late on the afternoon of june 16 beauregard had fashioned it into a defensive position. meanwhile at bermuda butler only committed a relative handful of his troops to the occupation and destruction of the final link that connected richmond and petersburg and as a result when pickett's leading leading brigades charge forward the federalist quickly withdrew. i think butler's failure to hold the position on the braille road was an even more egregious mistake than the previous night. when field division arrived later in the day on the 16th and the opportunity to block
6:21 pm
additional confederate troops coming from richmond to petersburg had evaporated. meanwhile south of the appomattox he launched his attack on june 16 about 6:00 p.m.. all three courts then present the left advanced. burnside demonstrated never seriously challenged in the confederates in the front. hancox was a bit more spirited -- spirit in the ran out of steam without seriously damaging beauregard's perimeter. a competitor commander recognized the hagood line was vulnerable and ordered harris to lay out a defensive even closer to petersburg. during the day on june 16 lee continued to press beauregard no fewer than four times to find out information on meade's were
6:22 pm
about 10 and 9:30 that morning beauregard notified lee of hancock's presence but here's another communication problem. he sent that message to lease headquarters are at the james butts id. we had moved its headquarters south and that message never caught up with lee not until 7:00 p.m. with beauregard mentioning the presence of the second core news to lead after two days that a portion of the army of the potomac was in petersburg. here's something i just don't understand. first of all beauregard never recognize the presence of the night for four "the fifth quarter" despite the fact that he skirmished with them and how in the world could those scouts along the james river miss the 2000 long pontoon bridge with thousands of troops on the james river. i do not have an answer for that but they didn't.
6:23 pm
so we took the last of the first core division joseph kershaw closer to the pontoon bridge but keeping ap hill's corp. north of the james in position to defend richmond against what was now a phantom force. after the fighting had died out on june 16 grant informed me that butler reported as many as 50,000 confederate troops have been spotted between malvern hill on the north side of the james. grant however committed not knowing what's in front of you i cannot give positive directions for how hard you should push in the morning. i will leave this to your judgment knowing that you will push any of damage that may be gained thus thus the general in chief continue to delegate operational decisions tim mead. first petersburg offense was george meade's gain completely not grants.
6:24 pm
he passed information on to hancock and burnside encouraging those officers to make an attack which brought an advantage over the beleaguered beauregard but hancock scored then someone leading on the 16th so the primary offensive responsibility on june 17 would belong to burnside. burnside's black division had not crossed the river so he would pass the services of his three white divisions and during the course of the day each of those divisions would venture separate assaults never achieving a nation with each other or the second and fifth corps on those flanks. the morning assault conducted by robert potter's division targeted the southern flank of beauregard's offenses centered on a high knoll occupied by something called a sham house. those of you who are familiar with this area to sham hock's knoll is just to the right side of the bag gate of fort lee en
6:25 pm
route 109. granted knitted that he wasn't sure what was going to happen but potter had moved his men up to the base of the hill during the night and it gone charged up the slope with north carolinians fleeing and decimating fulton's brigade on sham sale. potter expected his victory would be exploited by the second core on his right and reinforcements from james night core division on his left but neither of those units advanced. the terrain was too difficult to navigate and claimed with dubious ferocity that they tried to attack produce the same old story again the most spirited and gallant attack without adequate support said the
6:26 pm
massachusetts veteran. had a single corbin on the ground of position or have the divisions to support us and to be ready to dance the carnage of the days would doubtless have been prevented. orlando wilcox division spent the night to hide the second core and by 10:00 a.m. on the 17th they moved into the deep ravine behind the sham house ridge. burnside assigned his eccentric chief engineer james zhang claremore 10 to identify the most likely ground of wilcox' attack. he selected the train -- terrain north of the sham house ridge with the confederates had been debated that morning were desperately preparing a new line of work that were up yet very limited utility. wilcox men came out of their protective urbina tupac hampered by a faulty tactical alignment and greeted by waves of
6:27 pm
confederate canister. nevertheless the federalist approach this makeshift line and almost were in a position to capture the works when major morton directed the men to quote execute a half wheel to the right and you see this represented on the map. morton paid for this ill-conceived tactic with his life as all that confederate fire that their left flank and wilcox men played for safety behind hancock line. seems as though the blue coats way gray on the harvest field. fairly verily it was a harvest of death. the final night core attack of the day came from the division commanded by james lovely. he of course in the here's some chuckles at become infamous six weeks later for his role in the battle of this crater but his flaws were the evident and his previous combat experience at
6:28 pm
the river in may featured a drunk drunken and unauthorized attack and by the time his division was to pull ready to execute their assault on the 17th he was too inebriated to assume command. a supply of artificial courage which he had taken carried him beyond the counterpoise and rendered him not to combat for which he remained in there again. one of his brigade commanders had to leave the assault and a federal struck regiments just after sundown and a portion of steven elliott sc brigade collapsed the confederate offenses but by 10:00 p.m. the federalist ran out of steam and out of ammunition and a series of confederate counterattacks regain the lost ground and the fighting peter daut about midnight. all during that day colonel harris had diligently to identify a third line of defense closer to petersburg and once
6:29 pm
the combat subsided beauregard's exhausted warriors slipped out of the hagood line to 1000 yards in the rear. they are where he rebels and what was left of the evening seriously digging the earth works along the line that harris had laid out. meanwhile in bermuda pick it restored all that even lost the day before and stained content to spam the -- is the frustrating as the federal performance on june 17 must have been to grant robert e. lee severed his own anxiety that day. at daybreak he pressed beauregard to clarify the identity of his opponents predict real commander replied that he faced to korsak federalists presumably the 18th and second taint course still failing to acknowledge
6:30 pm
burnside and warren. at 11:15 or inside compounded the confusion by informing lee that warren has likely abandon the petersburg area and is headed for the piedmont to confront early only suggesting that we send them reinforcements so he could crush the yankee line but not long after beauregard changed his tune telling lee a local citizen had reported a 30,000 have crossed the river and peeled to lee to help you hold this position. one can only imagine lee's reaction to this conflicting intelligence. at 4:30 that afternoon so they told beauregard that no information about grant crossing the james river but ordered hill and kershaw to approach the pontoon bridges. then at last beauregard provided
6:31 pm
lee with unambiguous and preparation of the night core was on the ground in front of the men were the fifth and sixth for you did bearer andrew to petersburg. lee finally had information he needed to ship the rest of his armies out. he ordered kershaw to cross the river immediately and told hill to march to the pontoon bridges and deep prepared to cross at the southside. it was now a race. would need an grant succeeded overwhelming beauregard's exhausted men before the army of northern virginia would arrive? kershaw's division began its march to petersburg at 3:00 in the morning in a few hours later hill's men started tramping across the pontoon bridges at schaefer's bluff oilfields brigade left their trenches and followed and kershaw's footsteps. union forces were also on a move that morning reacting to these nighttime orders to convince support needed to advance.
6:32 pm
for course the 18th of seven benefit from north to south lurched forward prepared to engage in some places they met little resistance but most of the would-be attackers uncovered the abandon lines of the subsix line. lee told his corps commander to prepare a new attack on the harris line. the 18th and second core press forward but soon discovered that the rebel works on their front were well purported -- well-prepared and adequately manned in there'll efforts came to not. further south "the fifth quarter" never dance at all and they were stymied by a of line protection and profess that they had never received a mandatory effort -- orders to a cell. this infuriated me and snapped in order, i find it useless to a point and power demanding all four cores advance without
6:33 pm
reference to the disposition of any of the other cores. at this time and they are going to church, god love you. this time kershaw had extended the confederate right and field was moving into position while hill was in the south to get to petersburg. the federalists responded to meets frustrated preemptory attack quarters in an uneven and universally unsuccessful passion. on the far left of the line warren ran into johnson's men of kershaw's division. the brigade commanded by a former college professor remained joshua lawrence anderson charge yelling like a pack of infuriated devils reaching the confederate works before the fatal fire from the confederate line stop them cold. colonel chamberlain as we heard this morning was among the
6:34 pm
casualties and he would defy medical opinion and survive his went solidifying his place in history at the appomattox. at the the other in the line hancock's men poised for another efforts to breach focusing on high ground nor and as -- the assault commenced between 4:00 and 4:30 but in the face of serious confederate fire most of the took a few steps and then hit the ground having experienced enough of attacking to recognize an assault when i saw one. a large regiment of relatively green heavier to risk now serving as infantry were not so naïve as to underestimate their peril. nevertheless they poured out along the french courthouse road into the open field in front of the -- the merging 200 yards of the rebel line can do that.
6:35 pm
for unexplained reasons they have never directed people to do this but you can walk with your footsteps on the first main artillery. that field became a seething. they came in from the front the right and the left and as many of you know in less than 10 minutes, 632 of the 900 men who began the charge were killed or wounded the largest loss suffered in one battle by any regimen during the war. the final union of the day came from burnside's elements of whom managed north of the petersburg award in front of it considers strong point known as elliott and mike them in on the other side failed to penetrate the confederate works. these men dug and exploited the cover provided by the valiant creek setting the stage vi weeks later for the battle.
6:36 pm
lee had a right to petersburg shortly before noon and that was beauregard at the customs house downtown and observed the situation was beauregard near the high ground. mercurial creole urged him to take an offensive against expose federal left flank and lee declined and remained on the defensive in that decision of course led to the successful repulse of the many uncoordinated union attacks and ended the first petersburg offensive. the tramp that last holding the invaders at bay and saving the city of the rule of the beast. the yankees have a large force but if they keep on charging we will have them all killed in a few days. ulysses s. grant for the time being had seen enough killing although estimates vary provide best guess is 13,000 federal
6:37 pm
soldiers became casualties between june 15 and 18th. confederate casualty figures are even more murky but my guess is about 2500 to 3000 became casualties as well. about 10:00 that evening george meade sent a summary of today's actions to grant including expressing great or get i'm not able to report adding i believe every effort in my command has been made. grant immediately replied with condemnation i'm perfectly satisfied he wrote that all that has been done could be done. of course that was far from the truth. until the rival the first troops from lee's army in the morning of june 18 grants army grew as much as 5-1 despite confederate earthworks. a few weeks later so they confessed to his trusted staff
6:38 pm
officer that i should have taken petersburg that had reason to calculate the success but he didn't, but he didn't. why? i think the primary cause was a federal failure and the condition of the troops particularly needs army on the potomac. the 49 days of contingent marching and firing absolutely requires rest. he added he cannot replace officers with experience men because there's no time for rear cassation or careful selection. there could be no doubt that horrendous casualties and consequential attrition at the line and fill command level reduce the efficiency and the esprit de corps of the army potomac. with many of the best leaders and brave as fighting men lying in shallow graves are languishing in hospitals these offensive capabilities were
6:39 pm
greatly diminished. that's not to say the soldiers were too demoralized to fight for the long line of killed and wounded during the first offensive stances new testimony. but their willingness and ability to press an attack at all but then damage. there were mistakes made at the higher command levels. grant's failure to communicate its battle plan or principles involved spiritually compromised success on june 15. smith timidity in executing his assault that they allowed reinforcements to bolster beauregard beauregard and it should be undertaken in the darker risks they were not willing to undertake for the conservative mindset affected via the corps commanders who only rarely felt sufficiently comfortable about the flanks to advancing concert one another leading to the peace deal assaults that characterize the
6:40 pm
federal authorization -- operations during the succeeding three days. butler as i said fumbled the major opportunities to set road and river connections to st. petersburg and so easily surrendered his position allowing lee to funnel troops in to petersburg without interference. and at least part of the overall explanation lies with the general and chief whose fingerprints were all but in visible in these four days although delegating operational decisions was typical of grants generalship. the confederates had a great deal to do with the outcome. beauregard and is where roe army performed as well as any force during the entire war and as one put it were such fearful of incredible odds against them general beauregard with the feed of four almost without precipice.
6:41 pm
that might be overstating the case just a tad. beauregard does deserve high praise for selecting his two lines of defense timing the factors that field lines flawlessly and allocating hopes in johnson's brigade properly but there's little evidence that beauregard had any influence on the combat and credit for that resided with the officers to a limited degree the tactical improvisation when fighting on the defensive is relevant. on the negative side of beauregard's ledger his remarkable poor intelligence that was inconsistent in a situation in the front contributing to lee's indecision and hesitation to enforce his beleaguered comrade and as for lee the story often cites his failure to reinforce petersburg more as one of the worst blemishes on his record. alfero there can be no question
6:42 pm
that grant discretion e. uncertain of his enemies were about and i think lee acted reasonable given the information available to him between june 13 and 17th. as we said lee's first responsibility was the protection of richmond and without some assurance of federal army lurking on the north side of the james his decision to send anchor mental reinforcement himself was reasonable and prudent. once he had definitive information of the federal is present to petersburg he acted. i think the first petersburg offensive should be ranked among the major battles of the civil war. more than 125,000 soldiers battle for four days resulting in a in a combined casualties approaching 16,000 none that will correlate with the largest engagement of the war. grant's failure to capture
6:43 pm
petersburg would lead to eight more attempts during the next 288 days before he achieved the victory that might have been his nine months earlier. thank you very much. [applause] my mission on these talks is always to exhausted to the point where you have no embarrassing questions and expose my superficial knowledge of the subject so thank you very much and is there anything out there that anybody have? pete is going to attack me about robert e. lee eyewall bet. >> two quick questions. the first question is imagine the casualties were extraordinarily high.
6:44 pm
you are talking three to four days but take the two bloodiest days so i'd like for you to given all the hesitancy of the innotech ice also a quick question do you think world war i dominate to think in terms of how we imagined attacks on the western front when in fact the first days did not in fact characterize what followed that soldiers left on both sides so could you help us understand did not win a army is doing its flanking maneuvers to the south but were there raids and did wore for her -- warfare change on the front? >> first of all you are comparing the first petersburg offensive with the largest
6:45 pm
battle of the north american continent in the guest most battles would pale by comparison to that. i don't think 16,000 thousand casualties isn't significant to my point is who -- if you asked people in this room to list the 10 most important battles in the major battles and none would mention june 15 of 1818. my point is this is a much more consequential civil war battle than it's given credit for but relative numbers can be argued all day. secondly i take exception to your characterization of the petersburg campaign. that was not a siege. to me a siege operation implies two things. one an encirclement of one army by another where there is no escape and of course that was never true even in 1865 that was not true and secondly according to military protocol a siege
6:46 pm
involves a standard approach like they have it bitsberger fort hood and those are sieges. general made after the second petersburg offensive which occurred between june i 21 and june 24 less than a week after all of that was going on in this first event actually went to granted said look these things are not working. we should exercise official siege operations and grants that okay and that lasted for about 36 hours and then grant said no more digging trenches we are going to continue these operations. so in that regard i think petersburg is always understood as a siege of that are prior to petersburg of a lot of interest at the civil war students have. it's just depressing and there's no real tactic to try to understand and therefore who cares unless just move onto appomattox and be done with it.
6:47 pm
you said dismissing, there are nine federal offensive send so there was a lot of maneuvering at dieter spurred. was there slack time in between? absolutely and yes there were various trench raids and various calvary. send lots of actions both north and south of the james river. one thing we have to understand is the petersburg campaign in fault directly all the actions that it heard in the county so these sort of mysterious battles the first deep autumn second a bottom williamsburg road all these things that only summers has ever understood what it's all part of the petersburg store and there is lots of action going on north of the james. you could certainly argue i
6:48 pm
think without much of a stretch that the 1854 shenandoah valley campaign was also part of the petersburg store. that is a direct relation with what's going on the petersburg. if i understand your question is a combination of world war i tactics and civil war tactics, to some degree but i think that's really a stretch and i don't believe that petersburg was a precursor to world war i tactics. but thanks for chiming in. it's always good to hear from you. [laughter] >> i will go a little easier on you. you mentioned in your talk about the enlistments expiring. you have a rough number of how many troops that was and god bless them but. >> i don't have it off the top of my head but there were dozens
6:49 pm
of regiments, dozens, not scores, not several. there would be thousands of men, not tens of thousands but thousands of men. now to make an observer wonder if those ships that are leaving white house landings are heading their way eventually up the chesapeake day or up the potomac back north but there were a lot of and someone earlier mentioned i guess it was andy or someone mentioned about how many -- no, it was pete talking about the greenness of the union army at that time. he's exactly right. there were lots and lots of new soldiers whose motivation for joining the army was sometimes not as pure as the earlier volunteers were concerned and i don't think that's the explanation for the first offensive but i think it kicks
6:50 pm
in later in the petersburg campaign when these attacks just don't seem to really accomplish much. you are dealing with guys who are inexperienced and maybe not quite as ready to give up their life for the causes they were in 1863. >> sir could you share summary of thoughts on the condition of lee's army at the beginning of this time period and specifically even if he had had perfect intelligence, which is impossible but even if the scouts have been observing the james better what options did he really have in your opinion? just some of your thoughts. >> yes they mentioned very briefly although the overland campaign is almost eyes described as the failure on grants part because of all the losses that he made and the fact that sub eight's are made continue to defend richland which was grants -- grant and
6:51 pm
meet had degraded the army of northern virginia sufficiently that it was really not an offensive anymore and then you subtract a third of the infantry with jubal early going out to the shenandoah valley. the army is reduced to maybe 30,000 or 35,000 infantry. consequently lee is a potent defensive force. he is not an offensive force. he's a counterpuncher but he's not going to be able to exercise any offensive movement. he can't achieve the calculus of the war in virginia like he had done earlier in the campaign. as far as the morale of the confederate soldiers, it was very high. i have not seen any evidence of deteriorating morale in any significant percentage in the common soldier. they still believed in lee and
6:52 pm
as far as they were concerned they had kicked some yankee bot and they were doing darned well. richmond was still in their hands in you read all sorts of quotes about keep them coming, we are just going to kill them all and i will be home by the fall. their morale is still very high at this point. >> well to your point about the elon of the army at the potomac a lot of those veteran regiments there were going north were replaced by the defenders of washington to respect their military experiences sitting in a lot of ports practicing artillery but nothing else. grant them and that's one of the reasons why to -- jubal early than's. set off a lot of alarm bells in washington because they realized the defenses have been of
6:53 pm
regiments itself to petersburg. >> i agree with you and the one thing that i may be glossed over in a just want to emphasize whenever you try to dig down deeper into the story of a civil war campaign you start encountering conventional wisdom that may not be all that wise and most of you have read about this and probably read the first anti-artillery one of those units that gordon reference led him to the attack on june 18 not realizing they were going into a wheat grinder and they were inexperienced and they would charge the old veterans and the evidence to do that is nonexistent. my conclusion is the first main guys knew darned well that they were going into a very tough assignment and they did it anyway. they did it anyway and i think
6:54 pm
by petersburg some of those heavy artillery units had been hit badly by places like spotsylvania and the harris farm and maybe the degree of naïveté and they think they were still combat experience that i don't think they were naïve about it. they were brave guys in other words. all right i don't want to stand between you and dinner. thanks very much. it was great to see you all.
6:55 pm
stanford. explore american history at c-span2 or online at any time on c-span offers a variety of podcasts that has something for every listeners. weekdays "washington today" gives you the latest from the capitol. while the weekly uses our
6:56 pm
immense archive to look at how issues of the day developed over recent years. and talking wit features extensive conversations with historians about their lives and work. many are also available at podcasts. you can find them now on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. the recent pam palestinian historical park civil war symposium continues now on american history tv. >> our privilege to introduce closing speaker. after lunch we're going to do the panel discussion.demy wheree taught for 30 years and served as department chair from 2017 to 2020. he served as the earnest j. king professor of maritime history at the u.s. naval war college. he is an author and editor of


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on