- Historic Sites
"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
I have learned nothing additional today about yesterday’s failure, being busy with the month’s returns, and getting everything straight once more. Tomorrow I shall try to get up to headquarters and hear what I can there. The President is at City Point today, whither Grant has gone to consult with him. Did he come down to enter Petersburg in triumph, or, hearing of the fizzle, has he come to insist that “the Army of the Potomac shall do something?” I really could not blame his requiring almost anything to wipe out the disgrace of yesterday; but I much doubt his ability to comprehend the greatness of it. Our loss is now estimated at 2,300.
Everything has continued quiet since the failure of Saturday last. Lee has made no attempt to return the compliment. As is always the case after a failure, the camps are full of rumors of a chanee in the command of this army. Many are inclined to throw the blame of the failure on Meade. I do not myself think that he is free; but cannot see what fault can be laid at this door, which is not equally close to Grant’s. The whole planning of the mine was Burnside’s; he actually ranks Meade, and indeed was his commander at one time in this very army. Both these circumstances made it delicate to interfere … to any extent until Burnside had failed. So soon as this became certain, however, Meade ought to have stepped in and directed everything. So, too, Grant being Meade’s commander, and equally present, should have acted when Meade failed to do so. Everyone I have talked to believes that it could have been made a success in spite of Burnside’s miscarriage.
From General Hunt I have learned certain facts which account for the whole thing; but make Burnside’s capabilities—for I suppose he has more than the average—perfectly inexplicable to me. Hunt considered the silencing of the guns in the enemy’s reentrant a matter of the first importance, and to make sure of it had erected a very strong battery of fourteen siege guns behind a small wood near the Taylor house; all of which guns would bear on the battery of the enemy’s when the wood was cleared away. To be sure that this was done, he sent a note to Burnside, by Warner, late in the afternoon reminding him of it.
Twice again during the night he sent Warner down to see if it was done, and, if not, to remind Burnside of it.
The last time Burnside replied that as the matter of the first importance now was to keep the enemy ignorant of any special movement on our side, he would not cut the trees down until the mine was exploded, when a strong party of axemen should be there, who could get them all down in a few minutes. The consequence was, as might have been expected, that the trees were not cut at all, and this great battery was unable to fire at all in that direction. How easy it would have been for Burnside to send an officer out to listen if the chopping could be heard even so far off as his own lines!—when I know he would not have heard a sound.
But another thing Hunt told me is still more wonderful. Burnside made no arrangement for his column to get out of his own works! Nor did any of his subordinates think of it. The obstructions in front of them at this point had been made as strong as possible on account of their nearness to the enemy; and no arrangements having been made to remove them, the men could not get through without breaking ranks, or march by the flank. Where was the common sense of the division and brigade officers who commanded the assaulting column, that they did not themselves see that such a matter was provided for? Surely such a lot of fools did not deserve to succeed.
Siege Warfare; the Election of 1864
After the failure of the attack at the crater, siege warfare was resumed. Grant made a number of attempts to extend his left around Lee’s right flank, without any success except that these maneuvers compelled Lee to make constant extensions of his undermanned line. Meanwhile, Major General Philip Sheridan scored decisive victories in the Shenandoah Valley, giving encouragement to the battle-weary Union troops at Petersburg. The fall dragged on, President Lincoln won re-election—it might be noted that Colonel Wainwright refused to vote for him—and the bloody year of 1864 ended with the armies still fixed in front of Petersburg .
Our receipts are now considerably more than our losses, so there is every prospect of the regiment soon being full to the maximum allowed by law, which it has never yet been. The men coming to me are a fine lot generally; farmers’ sons and others from northern New York and some from Canada who are attracted by the high bounties. We have not had such men enlisting since the first furor of patriotism.
Grant’s visit to the Valley seems to have worked wonders. Since yesterday noon we have been all jubilant over dispatches telling of a really complete victory gained by Sheridan over Early, in which after a pretty hard fight, he appears to have sent him kiting through Winchester and up the Valley. The fight was on Monday, and at three P.M. yesterday Sheridan is reported at Cedar Creek.