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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
Siege operations here have been at last determined on; the order, which I have not yet seen, was issued yesterday. I only know that the approaches are to be made from the front of this corps and the Ninth.
We are still without rain, and as there has been so much turning up of the dirt, the slightest wind renders the dust intolerable. It fills our tents even here at headquarters, where there is but little passing close by, making everything very dirty.
Dry, dry, dry; the leaves are as brass so far as their giving any moisture goes. The dust is intolerable; such as can only be equalled in the Sahara during a simoon. It has got so driven into the dark blue of our men’s coats that even the neatest of them look shabby. The great heat, however, has passed, but left its mark in a large increase of fever patients in our hospitals.
They say that Burnside is tunneling for a mine somewhere, but I have heard nothing particular about it as yet.
The news of the day, most welcome too, is the arrival of rain. Even in the midst of a siege, those things which add most to one’s comfort hold the first place in interest.
We are having cool weather after our rain; the nights really cold with their heavy dew. The dust, too, is already beginning to get up again. Work still goes on steadily.
The mine which General Burnside is making causes a good deal of talk and is generally much laughed at. It is an affair of his own entirely, and has nothing to do with the regular siege operations, or the engineers with it. The rebels somehow, probably from deserters, have got information of it, and the men there seem to laugh at it too, as their pickets are constantly asking after its welfare. I know nothing about it myself save that it is somewhere opposite the Taylor house, where Burnside’s lines come up very close to those of the enemy. Our engineers say that it is badly located. Neither they, Meade, nor the other corps commanders have any belief in its success.
Certain changes in the plan of operations here were decided on Friday night which will tend to hurry up the first scene in the tragedy. It was determined to adopt Burnside’s mine, which has been successfully made, and try that way of getting into the rebel lines.
Yesterday I spent the whole day with Hunt and Duane on our line, deciding where artillery to cover the assault was to be placed. Two batteries for four guns each are to be added between Ayres and Fort Hell; the works on the right, which are miserably planned, are to be rebuilt, and two large mortar batteries are to be erected for ten and eight-inch pieces.
The works preparatory to the explosion of thé mine are progressing rapidly. I have been all along our line with General Hunt today, making the final arrangements as to the placing of the guns. Saturday is now fixed on as the day of assault. The present plan is for twelve guns on the extreme right, twelve more where Ayres’s batteries arc, ten in two works between there and Fort Hell, and eight in that work; six of them siege guns. I have not yet quite decided on what batteries to place in each position; but have six batteries of the Sixth Corps placed at my disposal.
Mortar practice has got to be quite the fashion on both sides. I have not allowed any of the pieces on our front to be fired since I regained control of them, except when the enemy persevered in firing. But Burnside has blazed away pretty freely, all his artillery being subject to the division commanders.
Had a hard day’s work today, not getting to bed until half-past one at night. All my guns are in position and the officers have full and particular instructions, so that knowing my men I have every confidence that the artillery part of the affair tomorrow on this front will be well done.
So soon as it became quite dark, we began moving guns into position. It was a most favorable night, just light enough to see our own way about, without enough for the enemy to discern our movements; with a gentle breeze blowing directly from them. By midnight I had seen every gun in its place, and instructed, questioned and cross-questioned all my commanders; each one of whom I had taken to his position during the day and pointed out to him exactly what he was to do.
The mine has exploded but we are not in Petersburg. The affair proved a fiasco, a most miserable fizzle. Never before have I felt that the Army of the Potomac was disgraced; failed it has frequently, and botches its commanding generals have made of more than one piece of work, but the army itself has always come out with honour. The only comfort I have tonight is that the artillery part of the business was perfect .