BattleOfPetersburgJune1864ChickPotomacEditor’s Note: This post was first posted at The Siege of Petersburg Online and has been crossposted here. This series of posts offer a look at Sean Chick’s new book The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.  The Battle of Petersburg was part of Grant’s First Offensive against Petersburg. Sean Michael Chick is a 33 year old New Orleans native who has been reading Civil War book since he first saw the film Glory in 1990. He earned a Masters degree in 2007 from Southeastern Louisiana University. His thesis became the basis of The Battle of Petersburg. His tentative future projects include books on Bermuda Hundred, Honey Hill, Tullahoma, and Confederate New Orleans.  In the coming weeks we’ll be offering up several pages of Chapter 3, which focuses on the first day’s fighting on June 15, 1864.    These posts will take readers up to the release of the book in mid-June 2015, 151 years after the events described within.  Also keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with Sean as the last post in the series.  Be sure to check out the bottom of each post to see links for all of the published posts in this series to date.

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THE ATTACK ON THE DIMMOCK LINE

Camp Pope Publishing

For many hours, the Union troops had been enduring artillery and sniper fire from the Dimmock Line, while Smith made his careful preparations. The 25th Massachusetts, still lying low in a cornfield, had not even fired back at their opponents. The 13th New Hampshire did manage to advance its skirmishers, who used tree stumps and logs as cover, until by 5:00 p.m. some of their men had reached the base of the Dimmock Line. The 4th and 22nd USCT managed to seize some advanced Confederate positions at 5:30 p.m. before halting for the order to attack. Then, the Union artillery opened up just after 6:20 p.m. The barrage was effective in confusing the Confederates and silencing their guns. After roughly twenty minutes, Martindale, Brooks, Ames, and Hinks moved their men.[i]

Martindale’s attack was poorly coordinated. On the extreme right flank, Colonel Griffin A. Stedman’s brigade charged the rebel lines and was thrown back. Stedman’s alignments had been thrown into disarray when Company B 12th Virginia Artillery fired at them from Archer’s Hill across the Appomattox River. The unit was led by Captain S. Taylor Martin, a former teacher and theologian. His outfit was composed of experienced artillery officers, and as such their fire was particularly deadly. Further away from the river Brigadier General George Standard, a first rate commander, made good progress against Battery 3. The position was held by Company C of the 44th Virginia Battalion, which hailed from Lunenburg County. On June 14 they had only just begun artillery practice and on June 15 they found themselves in combat. Lieutenant George E. Smith, seeing the position would be overrun, ordered a withdrawal, leaving the artillery behind. The 25th Massachusetts captured two smoothbore Napoleon artillery guns which they turned around and fired into the fleeing Rebels. Smith escaped to Battery 2 where he helped repulse Martindale’s attack on the position. With Stedman’s failure, Standard’s position was exposed to flanking fire and he dared not advance any further, sending only two regiments of skirmishers out. All told, Martindale lost about 184 men in his attack.[ii]

<Image Attack on the Dimmock Line here>

In the center, Brooks’ men rushed onward, with Marston’s brigade shouting as it moved forward. 189 men from the 13th New Hampshire Infantry scaled the dirt walls and attacked Battery 5 directly. Losses were considerable, with Lieutenant S. Millet Thompson going down with a wound. Still, the bottom of a ravine was reached. Sturdivant had his guns loaded with double canister, a powerful, shotgun-like ammunition that would shred a heavy assault line. Here, Smith’s tactics paid off.  Sturdivant did not dare fire his artillery into such a thin line so the New Hampshire troops were soon upon his gunners, quickly wounding two lieutenants. Meanwhile, the 118th New York took the ravine. Just to the south, Captain William J. Hunt led one-hundred men from the 117th New York into a breach and hit the Rebel rear. The Confederates panicked. Lieutenant Colonel James C. Councill, commander of the 26th Virginia, promptly capitulated. Sturdivant, finding himself surrounded surrendered four guns. Sturdivant openly lamented that his men were “captured by a Yankee skirmish line.”[iii] In total 227 Rebels, including sixteen officers, capitulated, including Peter V. Batte. The flag of the 26th Virginia fell into Union hands, along with five artillery pieces. Among the dead were militiamen, their civilian dress being a rarity in a war dominated by veterans. For the 13th New Hampshire, it was perhaps their finest hour in the war, with Captain George N. Julian, who led the assault, accepting the surrender of eight officers. Major Beatty of the 26th Virginia was so impressed that he gave Julian his sword and told him to carry into battle as if it were his own. Meanwhile, at Pocahontas Bridge, roughy two and a half miles west of Jordan’s Hill, Lieutenant Hoy heard loud cheering and surmised that Jordan’s Hill had fallen. He rushed north to his unit to inform them of the city’s peril and prepare them for battle.[iv]

Bell’s brigade now made a massed attack.  The 97th Pennsylvania, leading the attack, found the assault to be an easy contest, mostly because Smith’s barrage had pinned down the Confederates. Company C of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery had been particularly effective in this role. Still, some Confederates escaped the confusion and formed a line of battle near the Jordan House. They went behind partially built earthworks that had been abandoned in 1862 in favor of the Dimmock Line. Brook’s skirmishers were not strong enough to carry on an effective pursuit, and Bell’s follow up regiments arrived only slowly. Captain Nathan D. Stoodley of the 13th New Hampshire wanted to turn the captured guns on the retreating Rebels but Sturdivant refused to hand over the fuses. Sergeant John F. Gibbs, who had served in the artillery, did find some fuses, but they instead decided to fire the guns into Petersburg. Colonel Guy V. Henry’s brigade followed Bell’s brigade but did not press too far forward, although they did capture two more artillery pieces. This was a bit surprising since Henry was a young and aggressive officer. Some of this was due to the terrain, which broke up the heavy battle line as it moved towards Jordan’s Hill and led to confusion. Curtis’ brigade, which was supposed to follow and exploit any success won by Bell and Henry, could not even get passed the mass of Yankees now occupying Jordan’s Hill. Marston paused once the hill fell. His brigade took almost no losses, with the 98th New York reporting only four men wounded in the advance. This only confirmed that Smith’s reinforced skirmish line was a shrewd tactic. Unfortunately neither he nor Brooks nor Ames had planned on how to exploit the fall of Jordan’s Hill.[v]

Farther south along the line, USCT regiments moved after being told that Brooks’ attack had begun. From right to left the 1st, 22nd, and 4th USCT were in the lead, with Smith’s loose order formation ahead of a heavy battle line. Behind these regiments were the 5th and 6th USCT, arrayed in a heavy battle line. Although the 1st USCT managed to quickly storm Battery 6, the attack on Battery 7 was more  difficult. The men had to sweep over a field covered with abatis and both the 5th and 6th USCT moved too slowly. Two companies of the 5th USCT refused Holman’s order to advance in support of the 1st USCT. Holman instead took the two companies, along with two companies from the 1st USCT, on a march to hit Battery 9. At first the USCT men traded volleys with the Confederates and losses were high. Major John Cook and four companies of the 22nd USCT managed to reach the base of Battery 7. The Confederates could not depress their guns. Cook’s men slid to the north, entering a weak spot in the lines and taking Battery 7. Meanwhile the other USCT regiments wavered but then Hinks and Duncan ordered a charge. Elements of the 4th USCT surged ahead climbing up the steep entrenchments while yelling battle cries.  The first man over the top was Lieutenant William H. Appleton; he later won the Congressional Medal of Honor for this feat. Among those with Appleton was Christian Fleetwood. A free black, he was a businessman and aspiring writer who planned to immigrate to Liberia. He had escaped a lynch mob during the 1861 Baltimore riots and joined the 4th USCT when it was formed in 1863. Fleetwood recalled that his regiment “swept like a tornado over the works.”[vi] Then from the rear Cook’s men attacked. Together they overwhelmed the 46th Virginia, already in disarray due to the wounding of their commander, Colonel Randolph Harrison.  He had been shot in the neck and did not recover until October. The 1st USCT captured Battery 6. The Confederate infantry fled, leaving three artillery guns behind.

The USCT regiments did not pause. They pressed south towards Batteries 8 and 9. Under heavy fire, the 1st and 22nd USCT swept towards Battery 8.  Kiddoo, his blood up, ordered an attack against the advice of Lieutenant Colonel Elias Wright, commander of the 1st USCT. In the attack, made a swampy ravine and then uphill, the 22nd USCT nearly broke. A brave charge by the regiment’s color guard and an attack by the 1st USCT gave them heart. Battery 8 fell and with it another artillery gun. A Confederate counterattack was turned back and Kiddoo might have struck at Battery 9\ in the chaos. However, Kiddoo’s men had expended their ammunition so he had the captured gun turned on the Confederates. The 4th USCT, now reformed and aided by the 6th USCT, pushed on to Battery 9, now under attack by Holman’s four company force. At this point the 34th and 46th Virginia, as well as various artillerymen and militia, broke for the rear and abandoned Batteries 9, 10, and 11 before the attack petered out. Although the 46th Virginia lost only twenty-six men in the attack, among the wounded was the regiment’s commander. The 34th Virginia suffered more heavily, with forty men being taken prisoner. As the Virginia troops withdrew, another artillery gun was captured. In two hours of nearly constant fighting, the USCT regiments, relatively green before June 15, had carried nearly a mile of enemy trenches. They cheered their victory and yelled “Fort Pillow!”[vii] Captain John McMurray of the 6th USCT then led a picket line forward when his men found a wagon of ammunition being brought up to Battery 9. The black Wagoner reported that there were no Confederate troops along the Prince George Court House Road. The path to Petersburg was wide open.

Hinks’ men had fought well in their baptism of fire and June 15 was among the finest hours that the USCT would enjoy during the war. Captain John Adams of the 19th Massachusetts recorded that “it had been said that the negro would not fight, but here we found them dead on the field side by side with the rebels they had killed. The stock of the negro as a soldier was high in the market.” [viii] Soon word of the valor shown by Hinks’ men was spreading throughout the Army of the Potomac, still marching towards Petersburg. Private Gilman of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery said “Bully for the Neg.”[ix] Smith, who had been dismissive of them beforehand, praised them highly in his official report. He also personally thanked the USCT troops and declared that they had “no superiors as soldiers.” Rawlins, who was at City Point on June 15, now dropped his opposition to using the USCT in pitched battles. Petersburg was the first time black troops had been used in the bloody fields of Virginia and they had exceeded expectations. The battle would remain one of the proudest moments for the USCT. Unsurprisingly, their exploits were celebrated in the North. The front page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper featured a dramatic Edward Mullen engraving of USCT regiments dragging off the captured cannon from Baylor’s Farm. All in all, the stock of the USCT regiments had climbed in the army. Ironically, this triumph came on the same day that the House of Representatives failed to pass the thirteen amendment, which would have abolished slavery in its entirety.[x]

Hinks’ losses for the entire day were around 600, the most severe in the XVIII Corps.[xi] George Ulmer, a drummer boy in the 8th Maine, recalled the USCT assault that evening was “one of the grandest and most awful sights I ever saw… The men seemed to fall like blades of grass before a machine, but it did not stop them…”[xii] In addition, contests between Confederates and black soldiers were bitter affairs. While much of the 26th Virginia saw fit to surrender to Brooks’ skirmish line, the Confederates opposing Hinks’ division fought on for over two hours. Hinks’ USCT regiments went into battle yelling “Remember Fort Pillow,” which could not have encouraged the Virginians to surrender. After the initial rush, some black soldiers sauntered towards Jordan’s Hill and attacked Confederate prisoners, with at least one Southerner being bayoneted to death. The 117th New York and 13th New Hampshire drove off the USCT regiments, possibly preventing a morbid repeat of Fort Pillow in reverse. On the Confederate side, wild stories spread about USCT atrocities. One such rumor reached Major Patrick Henry Fitzhugh of the 26th Virginia. He heard that his son, Color Sergeant R. Allen Fitzhugh, had been murdered by black troops after he surrendered. Fitzhugh recklessly exposed himself through the rest of the battle. When cornered on June 17 he refused to surrender and used his sword to hack at the Union troops, crossing Federal bayonets with his saber.[xiii] He was killed, not knowing that his son was actually alive, and would survive his time in the Union’s notoriously bad prisons. It was a doubly sad loss, for Fitzhugh had been with the 26th Virginia since its inception.

It was not all horror though. Hinks reported seeing two wounded USCT privates helping a severely wounded Confederate to the rear. When the 6th USCT took Battery 9 the only Rebel they found was a dead teenager with long fair hair. The men were moved and buried the boy with great care. Regardless, the severity of the fighting between the USCT and their Virginia opponents stood in contrast to all other engagements on June 15. The reasons for the hard fighting was best summarized by the reporter Charles Carleton Coffin after the war: “They had been slaves; they stood face to face with their former masters, or with their representatives. The flag in front of them waving in the morning breeze was the emblem of oppression; the banner above them was the flag of the free.”[xiv] The fighting of June 15 only confirmed that encounters between Confederate and USCT troops would always be desperate affairs.[xv]

Over one mile of entrenchments were now in Smith’s possession, along with over 250 prisoners and sixteen cannons. Yet the sun was setting and the situation still looked dangerous to Smith. In the growing gloom of twilight, Smith made no effort to advance into the tangled ravines, hills, and woods that lay before him. Rebel skirmishers were everywhere. The moon was full, but Smith believed that this mattered very little in the woods, where his men would get confused and likely shoot each other. In addition, his men were tired and he feared that the black troops were so jubilant with victory that they might rush into an ambush. Ammunition was also running low as the 1st and 22nd USCT had been unable to press forward due to a lack of bullets. Smith was also sure that Lee was on the way. He had captured men who claimed to be from Hoke’s division, indicating that more Rebel troops had arrived at Petersburg. An attack on the city might become a massacre.

Butler informed Smith around 7:20 p.m. that no more Confederate reinforcements had arrived in Petersburg and that he ought to press on. However, one of Butler’s signal officers, Maurice Lamprey, recorded in his log book that he ordered Smith to entrench that night, adding to the confused situation. Butler spent most of his time on June 15 at the signal station so it is likely he personally gave the order. In addition, Smith’s men had suffered heavier losses than he expected. While no accurate count exists for June 15, Martindale seems to have lost 300, Brooks and Ames roughly 200, Kautz 100, and Hinks nearly 600. Smith likely lost around 1,400 men, although Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana reported the losses to be at 750. Considering their numerical advantage, these were rather high losses.[xvi] The 4th and 22nd USCT alone had suffered a combined loss of over 250 men. Myron Smith reported that the 1st USCT had lost ten officers and 146 men, mostly in the attack on the Dimmock Line. In Hinks’ division only the 5th USCT had been relatively unengaged, having lost only thirty-five men. Among them was Captain Orlando Brockway. He was mortally wounded but his wife, who was teaching former slaves to read in a nearby camp, was at his side before he died.[xvii]

[i]           B. S. De Forest, Random Sketches and Wandering Thoughts (Albany: Avery Herrick, 1866), 245; Denny, 346; Thompson, 384-85.

[ii]           Denny, 347; W. P. Derby, Bearing Arms in the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers Infantry During the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1883), 332; George W. Ward,  History of the Second Pennsylvania Veteran Heavy Artillery: (112th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers) from 1861-1866 (Philadelphia, George W. Ward, 1904), 64.

[iii]          Thompson, 390.

[iv]          Thompson, 386-89.

[v]           Isaiah Price, History of the Ninety-Seventh Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-65 (Philadelphia: Isaiah Price, 1875), 291.

[vi]          Edward G. Longacre, A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United Stares Colored Infantry, 1863-1864 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003), 91.

[vii]         Williams, A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 238.

[viii]         John G.B. Adams, Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment (Boston: Wright & Porter, 1899), 102.

[ix]           Walter S. Gilman, Life in Virginia  or Thirty Four Days in Grant’s Army In the Field (Bangor, ME: n.p., 1864), 4.

[x]           Charles A. Dana, Recollections of the Civil War: With the Leaders at Washington and in the Field in the Sixties (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1899), 220.

[xi]          Estimated from William F. Fox’s Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 and Livermore’s Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America.

[xii]         George T.  Ulmer, Adventures and Reminiscences of a Volunteer; or, A Drummer Boy from Maine. (Chicago: s.n., 1892), 45.

[xiii]         The details of Fitzhugh’s death are obscure. Alexander Wiatt places him as dying at Battery 16 on June 17, but the records show him dying on June 18 at Jordan’s Hill. If so, he was killed after being taken prisoner. He was not with the 26th Virginia when Page was killed on June 17 otherwise he would have led the regiment after Page’s death.

[xiv]         Coffin, Four Years of Fighting, 356.

[xv]          Coffin, Four Years of Fighting, 363; Howe, The Petersburg Campaign, 35.

[xvi]         Fox places the losses for ten of Smith’s regiments at 808, but most likely these were losses for those regiments over the course of the entire battle.

[xvii]        Butler, Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Vol. IV, 380; William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 (Albany:  Albany Publishing, 1889), 55; Howe, The Petersburg Campaign, 35-6; Longarce, Army of Amateurs, 152; Price, 291; Smith, From Chattanooga to Petersburg Under Generals Grant and Butler, 25, 98-9, 101; Stearns, 43; Trudeau, The Last Citidel, 41; Washington, 44;  Official Records, XL, Pt.2, 83.

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BattleOfPetersburgJune1864ChickPotomacEditor’s Note: This post was first posted at The Siege of Petersburg Online and has been crossposted here. This series of posts offer a look at Sean Chick’s new book The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.  The Battle of Petersburg was part of Grant’s First Offensive against Petersburg. Sean Michael Chick is a 33 year old New Orleans native who has been reading Civil War book since he first saw the film Glory in 1990. He earned a Masters degree in 2007 from Southeastern Louisiana University. His thesis became the basis of The Battle of Petersburg. His tentative future projects include books on Bermuda Hundred, Honey Hill, Tullahoma, and Confederate New Orleans.  In the coming weeks we’ll be offering up several pages of Chapter 3, which focuses on the first day’s fighting on June 15, 1864.    These posts will take readers up to the release of the book in mid-June 2015, 151 years after the events described within.  Also keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with Sean as the last post in the series.  Be sure to check out the bottom of each post to see links for all of the published posts in this series to date.

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SMITH’S PAUSE

As the Union regiments formed up,William Russell of the 26th Virginia observed that “we had such a small force here it made me tremble to see them.”[i] Wise had to cover miles of trenches with about 3,000 men, one-third of these being Dearing’s tired cavalry. He could expect few immediate reinforcements. The rest of Dearing’s brigade, some 800 strong, were on their way. Also, the 59th Virginia was on detached duty and would not arrive until night fall. All told, Wise would have no more than 4,500 men before nightfall. Since the line was a nearly continuous trench, Beauregard believed that it required at least 25,000 men to hold it, far fewer than he could hope to bring forward before June 17. One breach would allow an attacker to flank large chunks of the line, including the batteries which would be exposed from the rear.

Wise could not cover all the ground himself, so he divided his command. Colonel Powhatan R. Page, the gallant and popular commander of the 26th Virginia, would hold the defenses from Batteries 1 to 14. Page’s left was on low ground covered by artillery on the north side of the Appomattox. This line was held by the 46th Virginia. Batteries 5 through 12 were on high ground and covered by the 26th Virginia and 44th Virginia Battalion. On the right was the 34th Virginia. Wise personally commanded the area just south of Battery 14 all the way to Battery 23 with elements of his brigade. He believed that the rough terrain made an attack from here unlikely, so it was his weakest part of the line. Colston and Dearing covered the rest of the line to the south with the 64th Georgia as well as cavalry and most of the militia. The 64th Georgia was a well-regarded unit, even though on June 15 only six companies numbering roughly 400 troops were on hand. Made up of conscripts, teenagers, and veterans recovering from wounds, the unit had fought well at Olustee and was noted for its discipline. The roughly 400 man outfit had found itself near Petersburg, rounding up stragglers and doing picket work at the Howlett Line. The latter job was no easy matter. Private Edmond Jones told his wife, “Our duty is pretty heavy. We have to stand on duty 2 days and nights out of four days and nights. This is not the fighting however all day and then perhaps throwin up breast works all night or lie in the ditches with the Yanks a bangin at us.”[ii]

Units like the 64th Georgia were scarce, for much of Wise’s brigade was relatively  inexperienced. Worst of all, Wise’s men were spread thin; roughly one man for every four yards. Wise’s only advantage was in artillery. As far as field artillery went, part of Lieutenant Colonel E.F. Moseley’s artillery battalion was present, the rest being en route to the battlefield. The other artillery was commanded by Major Francis J. Boggs, a Pennsylvanian and Methodist minister. Boggs had distinguished himself at First Bull Run and had organized the 12th Battalion Virginia Light Artillery. Boggs had two batteries on hand and some spare guns, but not enough men to service the guns. After June 9, some infantry were pressed into artillery service. As XVIII Corps approached Wise ordered even more infantry, including many sick and wounded men to man the numerous guns that were on hand. These included heavy artillery that could not be moved but still offered Wise considerable defensive firepower. All told Wise had a combined total of twenty-five artillery guns on hand, a lopsided ratio when compared to his paucity of infantry.[iii]

The key to Wise’s defense was Batteries 4, 5, 6, and 7, which lay on Jordan’s Hill, forming a salient. Jordan’s Hill offered multiple points from which defenders could either bring fire on enemy attacks or launch a counterattack. This fortified salient gave the Confederate artillery a clear line of sight along any point north, east, or south of the hill. The salient, however, was also a liability because the position was exposed to multiple points of attack. It could only be held if the Confederates had enough troops.

The Rebel artillery on Jordan’s Hill was led by the fiery Captain Nathaniel Sturdivant, a once prominent Richmond lawyer. Although his artillery battery had been kept in the backwater, his men were well-drilled and had high morale. In January 1864 he led his battery and some cavalry on a raid on Smithfield, Virginia, where they captured 110 men and sank the gunboat Smith Briggs. Today he was in top form. His men played hell on the Union troops. Despite fire from Union skirmishers, Sturdivant kept up a steady cannonade. Many of his gunners were Petersburg residents, such as John W. Hare. His prominent family home lay on a hill just southwest of Jordan’s Hill. Desperate for experienced gunners, Sturdivant gave Lieutenant Hoy command of a two-gun battery manned by infantry convalescents from the city hospital. In addition, the position was reinforced by elements of the 26th Virginia and Company A of Major Peter V. Batte’s 44th Virginia Battalion, also known as the Petersburg City Battalion. This five company outfit, mostly made up of young teenagers from the city, was untested in combat. They were mainly used as a police force in Petersburg, which was under near constant martial law throughout 1864.[iv]

Beauregard would not be in command on June 15. He kept his headquarters at Swift Creek, on the north side of the Appomattox River. It kept him in contact with events at Petersburg, but also on the Howlett Line, where he expected an attack at any moment. For Beauregard, this was one of his few mistakes during the battle. Although shifting any troops out of the Howlett Line was risky, Beauregard already knew that Butler was incompetent. As the afternoon wore on he sent the 59th Virginia and one of Johnson’s brigades to Petersburg. For now Beauregard simply hoped that the battle of June 15 would be a repeat of the victory on June 9.

At first, everything conformed to Beauregard’s hopes. Rebel artillery batteries opened up a constant fire. Much of it overshot, which allowed Union skirmishers to advance but disrupted Union formations to the rear of the skirmish line. It also added to the sluggishness of the Federal advance as officers and men looked for cover. Major Charles E. Pruyn, commanding the 118th New York, was hit in the chest by a cannonball as his men scrambled for cover. One of Martindale’s forward regiments, the 25th Massachusetts, came under particularly heavy fire. Their commander, Captain Parkhurst, ordered the regiment forward into a cornfield. By a trick in the geography, the Confederate gunners could not get a clear shot at the field. The bluecoats, now suffering under the burning heat of the sun, proceeded to cover themselves with green cornstalks.

To the southeast, at 1:00 p.m. the 5th USCT made a probing attack on Batteries 9 and 10, taking some rifle pits. The pits did not offer enough protection, though, and the 34th Virginia drove the 5th USCT back. The 6th USCT even charged the line, only to be ordered back. The result was they were caught in the open and suffered considerable losses before finding shelter in a forest. Even there the men had to dodge cannonballs for hours. Captain Harvey Covell managed to avoid one such shot only to have another land near him. He froze in terror and saw the shell explode, but miraculously he was unharmed. In another incident, Captain John McMurray and Lieutenant Colonel Clark E. Royce were resting under a tree, and were joined by other officers and soldiers, including a white private. When McMurray saw a cannonball ricocheting down an open field towards him he ducked away, dodging the ball only to see it hit the white private in his side. The man died instantly.

Hinks’ USCT regiments were soon in attack position and expected an assault order. When none came the impatient Hinks ordered his men to lie down. There they waited, pinned for hours by sharpshooters and artillery. The 1st USCT kept some companies in a forward position, but these were still some 500 yards from the Confederate position. Some artillery was brought up to support the 1st USCT, including Battery B of 2nd USCT, led by Captain Francis C. Choate. While Lieutenant Myron Smith of the 1st USCT discussed the situation with Choate, a shell cut a tree in half and nearly crushed both officers. A second shell soon followed and Choate wisely chose to withdraw his battery as the Rebels fired at Hinks’ legions. Myron W. Smith wrote days later that “The enemy had a perfect range, and threw their shell, grape and canister right in our skirmish line and in the ranks. Almost every shot killed or wounded some one, yet there was not the least disposition shown any of the men to get away. Their only anxiety was for an order to charge.”[v] The infantry stood firm under fire, a sight that impressed many. Duncan later recalled that the time spent under constant fire was a more severe test of his inexperienced troops than the attack at Baylor’s Farm. The officers were also mostly in top form. Myron Smith, who had already shown his ability at Wilson’s Wharf when he dodged sniper shots to get a message to a gunboat, was conspicuous in conveying messages to and from Holman. Still, not all of it was valor.  Lieutenant Enoch Jackman of the 6th USCT suffered a minor wound and was brought to the rear. Instead of being in pain, he was apparently happy to avoid the coming battle without suffering a grievous laceration. In contrast, his comrade, Lieutenant Asa Jones, suffered an ankle wound that crippled him for life.[vi]

As the lines formed, Kautz’s men pressed towards Wise’s position along the Baxter Road, roughly three miles south of Jordan’s Hill. The advance was not without incident. The 3rd New York Cavalry was ambushed in a sharp skirmish that delayed Kautz’s advance. Still, Kautz drove on, with the 11th Pennsylvania beating Dearing’s patrols before reaching Wise’s men. Kautz now aligned his men to attack, hoping to repeat his near triumph on June 9. The 4th Wisconsin Artillery placed itself near some woods 200 yards from the lines and opened up a steady fire. Behind the battery was Colonel Simon Hoosick Mix’s brigade on the right, and Colonel Samuel F. Spear’s brigade on the left. They marched through vines and briars, which delayed them, before coming to an open field. Facing them was the 34th Virginia, backed by some 12 artillery pieces posted at Battery 15 and 16.

As Mix advanced his men were fired at from the flank. Kautz paused, placing his men in limbo. The Macon Georgia Artillery’s fire was inaccurate but constant, pinning Kautz’s men but doing no great harm. By 5:30 p.m., Kautz’s skirmishers were out of bullets and he decided to fall back, convinced he faced a strong defensive line. Considering the hours of fighting, losses were light. Only forty-three men were casualties, although among them was Mix. He had served with the 3rd New York Cavalry since its inception. While under cannon fire Mix was struck in the head and breast by shell fragments just before Kautz ordered a retreat. Mix’s men tried to rescue him, but he told them to save themselves. It was in keeping with his personality. Mix was a gallant officer who liked to make brave and dramatic gestures. He apparently told his men he prayed to die while leading the 3rd New York in a glorious charge. The attack of June 15 was more bungling than glorious, but Mix got his the second half of his wish. Without medical care he perished on the field.

Kautz’s attack had failed and cost him one of his most experienced officers. Strangely, Kautz failed to inform Smith of these events and a golden opportunity to press into Petersburg had been bungled, for if Kautz had tried the Juersalem Plank Road he may have had more sucess. At anyrate, Kautz seemed to think his mission was merely to distract the Confederates, and undoubtedly memories of the bungled fighting on June 9 were fresh in his mind. Chance are he once again felt abandoned by a timid infantry commander.[vii]

To the north of Kautz’s division, sharpshooters traded bullets and artillery roared as each side awaited Smith’s main assault. Confederate cannon fire was accurate enough to convince Smith that he faced a determined foe and that before he attacked he ought to scout the ground. Butler had not provided Smith with either engineers or scouts, and along with Kautz he asserted that the Dimmock Line was an unimpressive position. It is possible that after June 9 Wise and Beaurgard had ordered much needed repairs to the line. Regardless, due to these oversights by Butler, the now wary Smith felt forced to undertake a personal reconnaissance. This was made difficult because Smith was still recovering from the dysentery that he had contracted at Cold Harbor. His headquarters at Cold Harbor was sometimes under artillery fire, which rattled his nerves. Furthermore, his constitution had been weakened in his youth when he contracted malaria in Florida. Despite this chronic ailment, compounded by the and his heat-induced headaches, he pressed on. He moved about on foot as he scouted the Dimmock Line, which consumed even more daylight.

Smith found the defenses were impressive, and his engineer’s mind immediately assessed them as the best fortifications he had ever seen. Yet Smith paused for other reasons besides the impressive works before him. An oppressive heat that had draped itself over the developing battlefield was wearing on Smith and his men, while the accuracy of Confederate fire undoubtedly exacerbated Smith’s excessive caution. One ball nearly hit Smith as he met with Hinks and Holman. Perhaps the greatest demon to plague Smith’s mind came from a Union signal officer named Captain Norton, posted at Point Lookout Signal Station with Butler, who reported reinforcements entering Petersburg. This made sense to Smith, who had heard rail cars entering Petersburg all day. In addition, he had only roughly 10,000 infantry at his immediate disposal, with over one-third of these being black troops who had earlier suffered heavy losses in the confused fight at Baylor’s Farm. He knew Hancock and his vaunted II Corps was on the way and perhaps hoped that Hancock would arrive to support him at any moment. Smith would follow his orders, if practicable, but he would make sure not to repeat the mistake of Baylor’s Farm, where he had ordered an assault without hesitation.[viii]

After two hours on his feet, spent roughly from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Smith discerned that the works were lightly held and he decided to strike all along the line. Rather than trust a staff officer to talk with his commanders, he spent another two hours personally visiting Brooks and Martindale, explaining his attack plan. Smith decided that artillery would take a great toll on any traditional attack formation, so rather than moving in tightly massed lines, the first line would advance in a loose formation, a pace apart from each other. The second line would be arrayed for a heavy assault. In addition, he found a ravine on the south side of Jordan’s Hill, between Battery 6 and 7. It offered an attacking force some cover and it was here that Smith hoped to crack the Dimmock Line. Brooks, who had the most important role in the assault, assigned the job of taking Jordan’s Hill to the 92nd New York, 8th Connecticut, and 13th New Hampshire. Captain Charles M. Coit of the 8th Connecticut found that two of his companies, armed with the vaunted Sharps rifles, had exhausted their ammunition. Their place was taken by two companies of the 118th New York. Following the skirmish line was Bell’s brigade, formed in a massed battle line. All told, Smith had ten brigades of infantry ready to confront one Confederate brigade. In the lines the men were hot, tired, and becoming weary from being under fire. Lieutenant Colonel William Kreutzer of the 98th New York wrote that before the attack his was visited by the elderly Brigadier General Gilman Marston. The brigade had taken heavy losses at Cold Harbor, so Marston, a lawyer noted for his rare modesty, spent his time assuring the men that the Rebels were out-numbered and victory was certain.[ix]

Smith’s plan was first-rate, and all was ready except for the Union guns which could not open up until after 6:00 p.m. Earlier attempts to place artillery had failed due to accurate fire from the Dimmock Line. In response, Captain Frederick M. Follett, Smith’s acting artillery chief, had the horses sent to the rear for watering without consulting Smith. He might have attacked anyway, but Smith was convinced that Lee was on the way. After all, Grant had yet to steal a march on Marse Robert. Time was of the essence but Smith paused to wait for his guns. In the meantime, Martindale’s division found itself too far forward and too exposed to cannon fire from across the river. At around 4:30 p.m. part of the 148th New York was forced to surrender to the 26th Virginia when the regiment fell back. In addition some heavy skirmishing wore out part of Martindale’s division while a large ditch also blocked Martindale’s path of attack, which threw off the battle alignment when the cannons finally opened. If the Dimmock Line was to be carried, it would most likely be through the valor and skill of the other two divisions.

Smith and the XVIII Corps did have some good luck in their favor. By 4:00 p.m. Smith knew that II Corps was on its way, meaning he would not have to attack and hold Petersburg on his own, which he had expected since June 14. Also, both Colston and Boggs expected an attack further south at the Rives House along the Jerusalem Plank Road. In essence, the Confederates were expecting a repeat of the June 9 engagement. Most likely Kautz’s attack on the Baxter Road and Smith’s delay in attacking Jordan’s Hill only reinforced this belief, although as the day wore on Wise began to shift more men north towards Jordan’s Hill. When the USCT made their probe on Battery 9, the lines were readjusted and Confederate attention was once again on Jordan’s Hill. The 46th Virginia was shifted over to Battery 8, which was one of the strongest points on the line. Wise and Colston sent Lieutenant Colonel William Hood’s Virginia Battalion, a militia unit made up of local factory workers, to reinforce the 26th and 46th Virginia. They were only called out in extreme circumstances and the unit was probably the most green in Wise’s garrison. Hood himself had been captured on June 9, leaving command to Major Thomas Bond. This reshuffling of men meant the forces from Battery 1 to 9 were jumbled, with companies from different regiments intermingled, adding to the confusion. Thus the area Smith intended to strike was thinly held by no more than 1,200 disorganized men. As Smith’s men formed to attack Lieutenant Hoy left Jordan’s Hill to return to his outfit. Before going he asked Boggs to reinforce Sturdivant. As Boggs told Hoy he could not send more men, the sound of fire from Jordan’s Hill intensified. The main attack was about to begin.[x]

[i]           Howe, The Petersburg Campaign, 31.

[ii] “The Letters of Edmond Hardy Jones, Private, 64th Georgia,” accessed July 15, 2013, http://battleofolustee.org/letters/ejones.htm

[iii]          Peabody, Frank E. “Some Observations Concerning the Opposing Forces at Petersburg on June 15, 1864” Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts: Petersburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (Boston: Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, 1906)148-156; Henry A. Wise, “The Career of Wise’s Brigade.” In Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. XXV (Richmond: Southern Historical Society, 1897), 13.

[iv]          Pierre Beauregard, Battles and Leaders, Vol. IV (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956), 540; Leverette N. Case, “Personal Recollections of the Siege of Petersburg by a Confederate Officer,” in War Papers Red Before the State of Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Vol. II, (Detroit: James H. Stone & Company, 1898), 156-57.

[v]           J. F. Stearns, Memorial of Adjt. M. W. Smith (s.n., 1864), 43.

[vi]          Coffin, Four Years of Fighting, 358; John L. Cunnigham, Three Years with the Adirondack Regiment: 118th New York Volunteers Infantry (Norwood, MA: The Plimpton Press, 1920), 132; Denny, 344-45; William Eliot Furness, “The Negro as Soldier.” In Military Essays and Recollections Before the Illinois Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Vol. II (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Company, 1894), 481.

[vii]         Howe, The Petersburg Campaign, 27-28.

[viii]         Livermore, Days and Events, 359, 362; William Farrar Smith, From Chattanooga to Petersburg Under Generals Grant and Butler: A Contribution to the History of the War and a Personal Vindication (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1893), 24, 66, 79, 94-96.

[ix]          Livermore, Days and Events, 359.

[x]           Case, 154-157; Denny, 346; Mowris, 115.

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