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Hancock received while he was still about four miles from Smith's left, the day being then nearly gone. Birney's head of column was just passing a cross road, by which it was sent on to Petersburg. Gibbon followed. Unfortunately, Barlow's division, which was moving with the trains, had got out of the way,” owing to another error of the map, and could not be brought up for a considerable time. When Hancock at last reached the neighborhood of Petersburg he found that Smith had captured several of the enemy's redoubts with many guns and prisoners, but was still far from reaching the city itself. Hancock was ignorant of the topography of the country, much of which was covered with dense woods. There was no time to make a reconnoissance during the few minutes of daylight remaining. He accordingly deferred to Smith upon the point of deciding whether another attack should be made, offering to put in his two divisions at any point which that officer might indicate. Smith, who believed that Petersburg had been heavily re-enforced during the afternoon, contented himself with asking Hancock to relieve his troops in the front line of the captured works. This relief was effected by eleven o'clock at night. Such is the story of June 15th. To Hancock it always remained a very gloomy day. He bitterly felt the imputations which ignorance or malice led certain persons in high places, as well as some irresponsible critics, to cast upon him. Stung by reflections on his conduct, he wrote a letter reciting the occurrences and requesting an investigation. This letter Meade forwarded to Grant, with an indorsement which closes as follows: “I do not see that any censure can be attached to General Hancock and his corps.” The subject can not be better concluded than in the words of the lieutenant general : “The reputation of the Second Corps and its commander is so high, both with the public and in the army, that an investigation could not add to it. It can not be tarnished by newspaper articles or scribblers. No official dispatch has ever been sent from these headquarters which by any construction could cast blame on the Second Corps or its commander for the part they have played in this campaign.” Unfortunately, the misunderstandings and mistakes of the 15th were carried into the 16th, permitting the Confederates to strengthen and finally to confirm their hold upon Petersburg, which the excellent strategy of Grant had for twenty-four hours placed fairly at the mercy of the Potomac Army. It is difficult to say how much of the failure to seize the opportunity offered was due to the fact that the fatigues and excitements of the past forty days had brought about a partial disability from Hancock's Gettysburg wound in the thigh. That devoted officer, who never spared himself, whether in camp, on the march, or in battle, was now suffering intense pain, due to six weeks of almost continuous labor in the saddle, compelling him frequently to seek rest in an ambulance or on the ground when otherwise he would have been galloping over the field or leading the march of his foremost division. Another fact that seriously interfered with the operations of the Second Corps on the morning of June 16th was Hancock's complete ignorance of the position at Petersburg. Until late in the afternoon of the 15th he had not had an intimation that any responsibility respecting the capture of the place was to devolve upon him ; he had never served in the region in which Petersburg is situated; the only map furnished him had proved grossly wrong. Finally, it must in fairness be confessed that topographical insight was not one of Hancock's strong points. On a field over which he could cast his rapid and searching glance no man surpassed—few soldiers, living or dead, ever equaled —the commander of the Second Corps in the promptitude and directness with which he made appropriate dispositions, whether for attack or defense, however sharp and sudden the emergency. But of that peculiar form of genius which enables some men, even in a strange country, to know intuitively the direction of roads, “the lay of the land,” the course of streams, the trend of ranges, Hancock possessed little. For one or another reason it came about that Hancock's orders to his division commanders, about midnight, to govern their actions in the early morning of June 16th, threw upon them much responsibility—not more responsibility than is appropriate to
him. Otherwise he would have been there by four o'clock in the afternoon.” (Vol. ii, 295.) In fact, however, Hancock had a few minutes before received a dispatch from the lieutenant general himself informing him of Smith's expected attack, and was already taking measures to proceed to General Smith's support when he received the latter's message. * There was a long correspondence on this subject between Hancock and Barlow, Hancock being in these matters exceedingly punctilious; but I see no good in ventilating a controversy on such a point between two such soldiers.
the leader of five or seven thousand men, but rather
more than Hancock's habits as a corps commander had usually assigned them. These orders were addressed in the following terms to Generals Gibbon and Birney, Barlow's division not yet having got into place after its misdirection of the preceding afternoon : “If there are any points on your front commanding your position now occupied by the enemy, the commanding general directs that they may be taken at or before daylight, preferably before, as it is desirable to prevent the enemy from holding any points between us and the Appomattox. It is thought there are one or two such points.” These orders were delivered to the division commanders between one and two o'clock. In his narrative, Morgan severely criticises Birney for his failure to seize the high ground about the Avery House on his front. Morgan states that he rode out after daylight from Birney's division toward the Avery House without finding any pickets from that division, until he came close to the enemy who were hurrying down from Petersburg to throw themselves into certain redoubts opposite our left, which had been abandoned in consequence of Smith's capture of other portions of the line the night before. No vigorous effort appears to have been made at daylight to carry out Hancock's instructions to seize all commanding points in front. It was between seven and eight o'clock before Birney's troops fairly got to work. By this time much ground, particularly that around the Hare and Avery Houses, which should have been within our picket line, and could have been had for nothing at daybreak, was occupied by the enemy who proceeded to man the abandoned works and to connect and strengthen them. At eight o'clock Egan led his brigade in a brilliant assault upon one of the Confederate redoubts, capturing it in the very style displayed on the North Anna. Birney was unable to carry his success far, and was obliged to leave the enemy in possession of ground which was to be taken later at great cost of life. Barlow's division was now up on our extreme left, and the Ninth Corps was reported close behind upon the road. General Hancock received