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On the Trail of Grant and Lee by Frederick Trevor Hill
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Moreover, Butler, who was supposed to threaten Richmond while Grant fought Lee, had made a sorry mess of that part of the program. In fact he had maneuvered in such a ridiculous fashion that he and about 35, troops were soon cooped up by a far smaller force of Confederates who held them as a cork holds the contents of a bottle; and last, but not least, the Army of Potomac lay badly mutilated before the impassable intrenchments of Lee.
On the Trail of Grant and Lee by Frederick Trevor Hill
In one particular, however, Grant's expectations bade fair to be realized, for Sherman was steadily pushing his way through Georgia, driving Johnston before him, and inflicting terrible damage upon the country through which he passed. As Grant watched this triumphant advance he silently resolved upon another move.
The north or front door of Richmond was closed and firmly barred.
There was nothing to be gained by further battering at that portal. But the southern or rear door had not yet been thoroughly tried and upon that he concluded to make a determined assault.
To do this it would be necessary to renew his movement around his opponent's right flank by crossing the formidable James River—a difficult feat at any time, but double difficult at that moment, owing to the fact that Butler's "bottled" force might be crushed by a Confederate attack while the hazardous passage of the river was being effected. Nevertheless, he decided to risk this bold stroke, and during the night of June 12, , about ten days after the repulse at Cold Harbor, the great movement was begun. Meanwhile Lee, confident that he had completely checked his opponent, but disappointed that he had not forced him to retreat, determined to drive him away by carrying the war into the North and threatening the Federal capital.
That he should have been able to attempt this in the midst of a campaign deliberately planned to destroy him, affords some of the indication of the brilliant generalship he had displayed. But it does not fully reflect his masterful daring. At the outset of the campaign the Union forces had outnumbered him two to one and its losses had been offset by reenforcements, while every man that had fallen in the Confederate ranks had left an empty space.
It is highly probable, therefore, that at the moment he resolved to turn the tables on his adversary and transform the campaign against Richmond into a campaign against Washington, he had not much more than one man to his opponent's three. Nevertheless, in the face of these overwhelming numbers, he maintained a bold front towards Grant and detached General Jubal Early with 20, men to the Shenandoah Valley, with orders to clear that region of Union troops, cross the Potomac River and then march straight on Washington.
It was at this moment that Grant began creeping cautiously away toward the rear door of Richmond. To keep a vigilant enemy in entire ignorance of such a tremendous move was, of course, impossible, but the system and discipline which he had instilled into his army almost accomplished the feat. Indeed, so rapidly and silently did the troops move, so perfect were the arrangements for transporting their baggage and supplies, so completely were the details of the whole undertaking ordered and systematized, that over a hundred thousand men, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, with their horses, hospital and wagon trains, and all the paraphernalia of a vast army virtually faded away, and when Lee gazed from his intrenchments on June 13, , there was no sign of his opponent and he did not discover where he had gone for fully four days.
In the meantime, Grant had thrown his entire army across the James River and was advancing, horse and foot, on Petersburg, the key to the approach to Richmond from the south, and Butler, whose troops had been extricated from their difficulties, was ordered to seize it. Petersburg was at that moment wholly unprepared to resist a strong attack. Indeed, there were only a handful of men guarding the fortification, the capture of which would case the fall of Richmond, but Butler was not the man to take advantage of this great opportunity.
On the contrary, he delayed his advance and otherwise displayed such wretched judgment that the Confederates had time to rush reenforcements to the rescue, and when Grant arrived on the scene the intrenchments were strongly occupied. Notwithstanding this the Union commander ordered a vigorous assault, and for three days the troops were hurled against the breastworks without result.
The last attack was made on June 18, , but by this time 10, Union soldiers had been sacrificed and Lee had arrived in person with strong support. Grant accordingly, abandoning his efforts to carry the place by storm, began to close in upon it for a grimly sullen siege. Meanwhile, General Early, to whom Lee had entrusted his counter-move, was sweeping away the Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley with resistless fury, and suddenly, to the intense surprise and mortification of the whole North, advanced upon Washington, threatening it with capture.
Washington was almost as completely unprepared for resistance as Petersburg had been, its defenses being manned by only a small force mainly composed of raw recruits and invalid soldiers, while outside the city there was but one body of troops near enough to oppose the Confederate advance.
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