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line immediately after the explosion of the mine, began to receive a spirited response. The enemy's men went back to their guns. They gathered on the crest, and soon brought to bear upon our troops a fire in front from the Cemetery hill and an enfilading and cross fire from their guns in battery. Our own artillery could not altogether silence or overcome this fire in flank. Our men in the crater were checked, felt the enemy's fire, sought cover, began to intrench. The movement up and down the enemy's lines had been disapproved and the advance movement could not now be made except with extreme difficulty.
In the mean time, General Potter was doing all that a brave man could to put his division into the action, where it could accomplish the most decisive results. General Griffin's brigade had been massed between the railroad and the advanced line, and in anticipation of the attack, General Griffin was ordered to deploy a line of skirmishers to the right of the crater. In case General Ledlie moved forward successfully, General Griffin was to advance his skirmishers to the right and follow with the main body about parallel with General Ledlie's line of advance. These directions were carefully followed. General Griffin pressed forward and struck the enemy's line immediately to the right of the crater. He found that the point at which he entered was difficult of penetration. The line was defended by chevaux de frise of pointed stakes, traverses and other appliances, and he was obliged to fight his way along hand to hand. He succeeded, however, in securing about two hundred yards of rifle pits. He advanced even beyond these towards the crest for two hundred yards further, but was there checked. A part of the second brigade under Colonel Z. R. Bliss of the 7th Rhode Island followed the first and, becoming engaged with the enemy, afforded very important aid to General Griffin in his movement. Two regiments passed into the crater, turned to the right and swept down the line for a considerable distance. One of General Potter's regiments even
reached a point within twenty or thirty yards of the enemy's battery on the right.
General Willcox on his part directed his column to the left and his second brigade succeeded in occupying about one hundred yards of the enemy's rifle pits in that direction. The greater part of the division, however, followed General Ledlie's troops and became mingled with them amid the confusion that was beginning to prevail. The result which General Burnside had feared now became manifest. The men began to shelter themselves from the fire of the foe instead of pushing boldly forward and overcoming it. Each division had been accompanied by a regiment equipped as engineers, and their intrenching tools came into requisition for protection against the enemy. General Burnside, following General Meade's directions, had urged upon his division commanders the necessity of making for the crest. But in the crowded state of the crater almost any kind of movement became exceedingly difficult. Still the attempt was made. Some of our men struggled through the melee and climbed the crater's side. They stood upon the further edge. There they encountered a severe and destructive fire of shrapnel and canister from a battery which the enemy had posted on the crest.
Such was the condition of things at forty minutes past five o'clock. General Burnside reported to General Meade, that the enemy's first line and the breach were occupied, and that he should "endeavor to push forward to the crest as rapidly as possible." About the same time General Meade intercepted a despatch from Lieutenant Colonel Loring to General Burnside to the effect, that General Ledlie's troops could not be induced to advance. He immediately directed General Burnside to push forward "all his troops to the crest at once," and to call upon General Ord "to move forward his troops at once." The order was short and peremptory. But how could it be executed? General Ord's command-according to General Meade's own order-was massed in the rear of the Ninth Corps. The crater and the space between that and our lines was
General Ord found that he could do
already filled with men. nothing then, while the troops that had already gone forward and the wounded returning choked the passage, through which he was expected to move.
At six o'clock, General Meade sent an order to General Burnside to push his "men forward at all hazards, white and black," and "not to lose time in making formations, but rush for the crest." At the same hour, he ordered General Ord directly to move forward his "corps rapidly to the crest of the hill, independently of General Burnside's troops and make a lodgement there." General Ord made an attempt to obey this order. General Turner, commanding a division then attached to General Ord's corps, at half past six began his movement. His order was to "to follow Potter's division and move out to the right." He gradually drew his troops out of the lines from the rear, got them to the front by the covered way leading to our advanced line, and sent them forward. At seven o'clock the head of his "column reached the point at which our assaulting column had passed through our lines." He received a second order from General Ord to move out to the right. He found it very difficult so to do owing to the peculiarly broken character of the ground to be passed over. He succeeded after much effort in pushing forward his first brigade, which pressed up to the enemy's lines and occupied a position upon General Potter's right. General Turner's design was to move his first brigade down the enemy's lines while the second brigade marched out of the trenches in support. The second brigade was accordingly formed for that purpose, and the third brigade was massed for attack in case any favorable opportunity should offer or the exigency should demand.*
While these movements were making in the rear, General Potter was endeavoring to remedy the disordered state of affairs in the crater. He felt convinced that there were too many men in that exposed situation, and he knew that their
*General Turner's testimony, Attack on Petersburg, pp. 133, 134, 135.
movements were hampered by their crowded condition. He thought that a diversion should be made upon the right or left. General Burnside, receiving the direct order of General Meade to push forward to the crest, at once transmitted it to General Potter. General Potter in his turn was pressing his division forward and attempted to gain the crest. It was impossible. The enemy's fire was very severe, and told fearfully among our troops. The mortar batteries had now secured the range of our position and were dropping shells into the crater with great accuracy and execution. To send more men in seemed like sending them to certain destruction.
But General Meade's order of six o'clock contemplated no discretion on the part of the commander of the Ninth Corps. Nothing could be more clear. Nothing could be more imperative. "Our chance is now; push your men forward, white and black." Such were the terms. They could not be evaded. General Burnside accordingly directed General Ferrero to put in his division. Lieutenant Colonel Loring, who was standing by General Ferrero at the time the order was received, took the liberty as the senior staff-officer present to countermand the order, until he could consult General Burnside in regard to the matter. But General Burnside had no option but to obey. The order was accordingly repeated, and General Ferrero's division advanced to the attack.
The colored troops charged forward cheering and with great enthusiasm and gallantry. Colonel J. K. Sigfried, commanding the first brigade, led the attacking column. The command moved out in rear of Colonel Humphrey's brigade of the third division, Colonel Sigfried, passing Colonel Humphrey by the flank, crossed the field immediately in front, went down into the crater and attempted to go through. The passage was exceedingly difficult, but, after great exertions, the. brigade made its way through the crowded masses in a somewhat broken and disorganized condition, and advanced towards the crest. The 43d United States colored troops moved over the lip of the crater towards the right, made an attack upon the
enemy's line of intrenchments and won the chief success of the day-capturing a number of prisoners and a stand of rebel colors, and recapturing a stand of national colors. The other regiments of the brigade were unable to get up on account of white troops in advance of them crowding the line.* The second brigade under the command of Colonel H. G. Thomas, followed the first with equal enthusiasm. The men rushed forward, descended into the crater and attempted to pass through. Colonel Thomas's intention was to go to the right and attack the enemy's rifle pits. He partially succeeded in doing so. But his brigade was much broken up when it came under the enemy's fire. The gallant brigade commander endeavored in person to rally his command and at last formed a storming column of portions of the 29th, 28th, 23d and 19th regiments. These troops made a spirited attack, but lost heavily in officers and became somewhat disheartened. Lieutenant Colonel Bross of the 29th, with the colors in his hand led the charge, was the first man to leap upon the enemy's works, and was instantly killed. Lieutenant Pennell seized the colors, but was shot down riddled through and through. Major Theodore H. Rockwood of the 19th sprang upon the parapet and fell while cheering on his regiment to the attack.f The conduct of these officers and their associates was indeed magnificent. No troops were ever better led to an assault. Had they been allowed the advance at the outset, before the enemy had recovered from his first surprise, General Grant's belief, that their charge "would have been a success," would doubtless have been verified. But it was now too late. The fire to which they were exposed was very hot and very destructive. It came from front and flank. It poured into the faces of the men. It enfiladed their lines. The enemy's rage against the colored troops had its bloody opportunity.
While these movements were making in front, despatches were passing between Generals Burnside and Meade which did
*Colonel Sigfried's Report. Colonel Thomas's Report.