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"So Ends The Great Rebel Army…”
To Union Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, Lincoln was a weak President, Grant an uninspired commander, Lee a slippery foe. His outspoken diary, never published before, memorably describes the Civil War’s final year
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
We might say that we slept under fire last night, for odd shots were constantly coming over our way. So soon as it was light, we found that the enemy had abandoned the rest of this line of works to our left around the Avery house with their main force, leaving only a strong skirmish line, which fell back fighting as we advanced. Lee was putting up an inner line of works, and not having them finished this morning, fought us pretty stiffly all the way back. His batteries were within the new line, but he had a double skirmish line out, and strong bodies of infantry in all the bit of wood we had to pass through.
At three the attack was made, Hart and Bigelow shoving their guns up by hand directly behind the troops, and opening immediately. The fire along the whole line was tremendous on both sides, the battle being in many instances within long canister range of each other. I cannot say that our men went in well, or at all as if they meant to carry the works. In five minutes they were coming back. Finding several hundred men of the fourth division who had come back behind the ridge on which the batteries were, I rode down there, and tried to get them forward again.
Very foolishly, I cried out that I would lead them myself; and in the excitement of the moment I should have done it on horseback I believe, had the men gone, but not over some two dozen would budge. Had they gone I should probably have made no more entries here. In some fifteen or twenty minutes the whole attack had proved a failure, though it was some time longer before all our men got back out of the valley.
All the batteries of my brigade have been engaged throughout the day, firing a total of near 4,000 rounds. During the attack I was on top of the knoll where Hart and Bigelow were, mounted, until our men began to fall back. A piece of a laid-up shell passed through my pants and drawers directly under the right knee, cutting as square at its entrance as if done by a pair of scissors.
How it went where it did I cannot sec, the holes looking as if the shot must have gone directly through the leg.
This has been a day of rest; that is, so far as remaining under a constant fire of musketry, and an occasional outpouring of artillery can be called rest. As to getting the men up to assaulting point, I do not believe it possible; never has the Army of the Potomac been so demoralized as at this time.
General Hunt was here today and visited all our line. When we went out to Bigelow’s battery we found it very hot; the bullets from the rebel line whizzed about our ears at the rate of at least thirty a minute. I do not remember ever being more scared, and we crept up to the guns almost on our hands and knees. Yet this is the same ground on which two days ago I rode about mounted, when there was a hundred times as much firing. Could there be a stronger proof that courage is merely a non-realization of the danger one is in owing to excitement, responsibility, or something of the sort?
The weather has been waxing warmer the last two days, and today has been really a piper. Fortunately I have next to nothing to do, but try to keep cool and kill time. The men in the trenches, though, must suffer very much from this great heat.
Everything remains stationary in front of Petersburg. I see no prospect of our being any more expeditious in reducing this place than McClellan was, in front of Yorktown. We have already lost three or four times as many men as he did there, and have done nearly if not quite as much digging. Yet operations have not begun here; it is neither a siege nor an investment as yet, nor do I hear of anything being determined on. I fear that the truth is that all the fight is gone out of our men. Grant has used the army up, and will now have to wait until its morale is restored before he can do anything.
I have said nothing about War Department orders this month, having enough else to fill up; nor as to Banks’s incompetency on the Red River. In looking over the orders I find nothing of moment, save one in which the President commutes the death punishment of all deserters to imprisonment during the war. Poor, weak, well meaning Lincoln!
The Fourth of July passed without any very great observance by the Army. Having some of my Christmas box still on hand, we made quite a spread for us. The “pièce de résistance” was salmon and green peas, both of which were canned somewhere in France at least a year ago. Still, they were as fine and delicate as when first put up; quite equal to any I have ever eaten. ‘Tis singular that our people cannot learn to can these things as well as the French; or rather it would be were not the French the best cooks in the world, while the Americans are the worst. Our sutler brought us some champagne, but it was of the poorest Jersey brand. I could not drink a glass of it myself.
Speaking of drinks, General Burnside would appear to like them as well as his staff. I was over there one day to call on some of them, when happening to enter his camp near the general’s tent, I found him sitting in front of it in his shirt sleeves, alongside of a great pile of boxes labelled ale, cider, and whiskey. The general insisted on my taking some, so I drank a pint of cider with ice, which was most excellent.