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Grant's purpose in leaving the ill-omened neighborhood of Cold Harbor was to occupy Petersburg. It had not been anticipated that the actual capture would devolve upon the Army of the Potomac, inasmuch as General Butler had been directed to seize it in advance. Butler's expedition, however, on the 9th and 10th of June failed, with the sole effect of drawing down considerable re-enforcements to the garrison. There was still reason to hope that Grant's own flank movement would be successful, so well had it been planned, so vigorously were its first stages executed. The route chosen involved an extent of fifty miles; but, under the admirable arrangements projected by General Humphreys, as chief of staff, the Confederates were not only outmarched but outgeneraled. Strategically, the movement from Cold Harbor to the James, between the 12th and 14th of June, 1864, was distinctly the finest thing the Army of the Potomac had ever done.
Warren, with the Fifth Corps, crossed the Chickahominy at Long Bridge, covering the crossing of the other corps below (except Smith's, which had been sent back to Butler at Bermuda Hundred); while the vast trains moved at a still greater distance from the enemy. Warren then advanced from Long Bridge toward Richmond, threatening a direct attack on the city. So completely was Lee deceived that he failed at all to apprehend Grant's real object. Meanwhile, the Second Corps reached Jones's Bridge, on the Chickahominy, in the early morning of the 13th, and, pushing tirelessly forward, came into bivouac on the James River, at Wilcox's Landing, near Charles City Court House, by evening of that day. As soon as boats could be obtained Hancock began crossing his troops to Windmill Point. The operation was long and tedious, but by 4 A. M. of the 15th Hancock had got all his infantry and four of his batteries over the river.
What now was Hancock to do? By what further steps was the movement, thus far so successfully carried on, to be brought to a triumphant conclusion? Grant's plan was that Smith's corps, starting from City Point, should on this day, the 15th of June, advance rapidly upon Petersburg and seize the place, which was reported to be slimly held. Hancock, with his still powerful corps from the Army of the Potomac, was to move by a much longer route toward Petersburg, to be in readiness to support Smith, if required. But, by one of the strangest
fatalities in the whole history of the war, it came about that Grant omitted to inform Meade* of Smith's expedition. So far as Meade knew, Hancock was simply to move toward Petersburg, without any orders to attack the place or to support another force in doing so. Consequently, Hancock's instructions only required him to move toward Petersburg and take up a position "where the City Point Railroad crosses Harrison's Creek." Hancock, having no intimation that he was to do more than accomplish this march, desired to have his troops rationed before setting out, as any good general would have done, and obtained Meade's permission to that effect. This should not have required a long time, as Butler had been ordered to send sixty thousand rations to Windmill Point; but the Fates had declared that the 15th of June should be a day of blunders. First, there was a delay about the arrival of rations from City Point; and when they came up it was found that the vessel drew too much water to get to the wharf. Had Hancock received the slightest intimation that he would be needed to support Smith, he would have marched in the early morning, rations or no rations. As it was, not until half past ten did he start on his prescribed march. But this was not all. The information at headquarters about Harrison's Creek was erroneous, the maps being miles out of the way in this particular. Consequently Hancock took a road much longer than that which he would have taken if he had simply been told to go to Petersburg.
* So completely was Grant possessed with the idea that he had given Meade this information that it was almost impossible for him to believe that he had not done so. He did not, however, fail later to accept the assurances of Meade and Humphreys that they had not heard a word of the matter. In his Memoirs he frankly recognizes this omission ; but the spiteful Badeau labors to show that it was impossible that Meade and Hancock should not have known Grant's intentions. It would be interesting to know how far the few acts of personal injustice which the lieutenant general committed were due to this malign influence.
Setting out thus late, and with a false direction, Hancock conducted his column steadily through the day, but without forcing the pace, as he wished to spare his troops and knew of no reason for haste. As the afternoon advanced, random artillery firing was heard upon the left and front. Inquiry of the country people elicited the information that Kautz's division of cavalry had gone out in that direction; and Hancock saw no reason to attach special significance to the firing. Meanwhile Smith, who since morning had been reconnoitering the works of Petersburg, had no intimation that any troops were on the way to join him until, late in the afternoon, he was advised by a staff officer from Grant that the Second Corps was on the march. Upon this, Smith sent to Hancock, asking him to come up as rapidly as possible. This dispatch * 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.
* " This seems," says Grant in his Memoirs, "to be the first intimation that Hancock had received to the effect that he was to go to Petersburg, or that anything in particular was expected of 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.
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-en
* 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.