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On the right the skirmishers of the Third Division, under command of Colonel Edwin R. Byles, became severely engaged with the enemy. The four twentypounder Parrotts were unanimously accepted as a full compensation for McKnight's four Napoleons, lost on the 22d of June. Inasmuch as the further developments of the morning showed that the enemy were in well-constructed works along Bailey's Creek, in full force, Hancock was instructed not to attack in front, but to seek to turn the enemy's left flank. This was at last found to rest near Fussell's Mill, and Mott's and Barlow's divisions were moved over to this point. About three o'clock in the afternoon General Grant visited the field in person. The lieutenant general satisfied himself that, while the heavy concentration of the enemy would prevent our troops from giving battle, the second object of the expedition was being even more completely accomplished than he had dared to hope. In fact, Lee had become thoroughly alarmed by the appearance of our troops in this quarter and nothing doubted that Grant was making a desperate effort to force his way directly into Richmond. An unceasing stream was pouring across the James from Petersburg to resist Hancock's advance. By the 29th of July five out of Lee's eight* divisions of infantry, with the bulk of his cavalry, were holding the roads to Richmond. Such a rapid concentration of the Confederates on the north side of the James had, as stated, early caused an abandonment of the first object of the expedition; but it manifestly increased, in a very high degree, the chances of the capture of Petersburg. Although but one infantry corps confronted this large Confederate force, Grant had the nerve to withdraw Mott's division, on the night of the 28th, and send it back to support Ord's Eighteenth Corps in the great assault which was preparing twenty miles away to the south. Mott's division was by this time nearly as large as Gibbon's and Barlow's combined, and its withdrawal left Hancock with only about eight thousand infantry and Sheridan's cavalry. His position on the 29th was therefore to be one of great peril. His line possessed no natural advantages whatever, and the troops he had left with him were but a fraction of what would have been required to hold it against a serious attack. To draw in that line would have been to invite a movement of the enemy, which could hardly have failed to disclose Hancock's weakness. Were the enemy even to suspect that weakness, they would pour down in overwhelming force and drive our troops into the river. In the situation existing it was decided that the cavalry could best support the infantry by returning to the south bank during the night, and, leaving their
* This is the way General Meade stated it at the time. There were nine divisions in the Army of Northern Virginia. I suppose the division in front of Butler was excluded.
horses there in charge of every fourth man, recross the river and act during the day as infantry. Everything was to depend upon the enemy's not obtaining even a suggestion of the weakness of the remaining column. The most precise instructions were issued regarding the crossing of the cavalry to the south bank: not a man was to enter upon the bridge after the first break of day. Every subordinate commander was required to acknowledge the receipt of these instructions, and then headquarters, worn out by the exertions of the three preceding days, sank to rest. From the sound sleep into which I had fallen I was awakened by hearing my name called from the general's tent. Running in, I found Hancock tossing on his camp bed. “Colonel,” he said, “I am anxious about the cavalry. Go to Sheridan and say to him that he must see to it that not a man goes upon the bridge after it is light.” I jumped upon an orderly's horse and galloped to Sheridan's headquarters. As I approached, the first voice that challenged me was, not the sentinel's, not a staff officer's, but the voice of the great cavalryman himself. “Who's that ?” I gave my message. “I was thinking of the same thing,” was the reply. “Forsythe, go down to the bridge, and if General Kautz has not crossed, tell him to mass his division behind the woods.” Forsythe and myself rode together toward the bridge. A division of cavalry was just entering upon it. Fifteen minutes more and the Confederates, who had all night listened to the low, rumbling sounds and the dull jarring of the bridge, and from their lookouts had been straining their eyes to catch the direction of the movement, would have seen our troops passing to the rear, and in all probability would have swooped down upon our little force and driven it into the river. As it turned out, when it became light enough for them to see, what they beheld was our dismounted cavalrymen returning from the south side, with their carbines over their shoulders, looking for all the world like honest infantry— seemingly the end of a column which had been crossing all night. The effect was complete. The Confederate leaders did not doubt that every brigade which could be taken from the Petersburg lines had been sent in haste across the James to force a passage into Richmond. This illusion, aided by the activity and audacity of our skirmish line under Miles, not only sufficed to save us from an attack which could hardly have failed to result in our destruction, but held the Confederate forces closely in place, twenty miles from Petersburg where the assault of the 3oth of July was impending. My story carries its moral. Here were the two men of the Potomac Army regarding whom it was popularly supposed that they won their successes by daring and brilliant strokes. Yet we see them lying awake at night, after great fatigues, to ponder the " chances of a possible miscarriage. In how many
critical moments of the war did the disappointment of well-laid plans, if not disastrous defeat, result because able and skillful officers deemed their duty discharged when they had given the appropriate orders ? This was not General Hancock's or General Sheridan's idea of a commander's work. They gave the right orders and then saw them executed ; and it was to this, fully as much as to their more brilliant qualities, that the successes of these two chieftains were due. It is no part of our task to tell the hideous story of the 3oth of July. Hancock's expedition to the north bank of the James River had greatly depleted the garrison of Petersburg. Here, at daybreak, Elliott's salient and the regiment holding it were thrown a hundred feet into the air and a broad avenue was laid open for the advance of the three Union corps then in position before the city, while on both sides the Confederate lines shrank back in terror from the hideous fate of their comrades. Had adequate arrangements been made, and had the troops at hand been put in with even the lowest degree of vigor, noon of that day must have seen Petersburg in our power and a third of Lee's army lopped off at a blow. But the same fatal hesitation which had been shown by Burnside at Antietam and in the Wilderness here wasted the one hour needed to enable the Confederates to recover from their shock and surprise, to bring up artillery to command