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On the 2d, in the afternoon, there was a spirited action near Bethesda Church, in which the Ninth Corps was engaged, and some skirmishing took place at other points during the day, the two armies now concentrating for a more determined struggle, for the possession of Cold Harbor.
The Rebel movements threatened, as we have seen, the maintenance of unobstructed communication with White House, and opposed the advance of our forces on the left to the Chickahominy, the hither side of which Lee was endeavoring to defend. To Gen. Grant it seemed essential to hold this ground, and the struggle in this vicinity was one of the most desperate of the campaign. Destructive as had been the engagements in the Wilderness and at Spottsylvania, the mortality of the four days, from the 31st of May to the close of the 3d of June, was, perhaps, un. surpassed by that of any like period during the war. Nor were the ten days immediately following unattended with serious losses.
Between the Fifth Corps, on the Mechanicsville road, and the Sixth, which had carried a portion of the enemy's work's before Cold Harbor, the Eighteenth Corps, under Smith, had intrenched itself, closing up the line. Part of the corps was deployed along the road, on the night of the 2d, to patrol the transportation trains of the Fifth.
At five o'clock on the morning of the 3d of June, the 10th Massachusetts Light Battery fired the signal gun, which notified the waiting lines that the moment had come for a simultaneous advance to the general attack which had been ordered. Every corps in the front, promptly and cheerily responded to the call. The works in front the Second Corps were too formidable to be carried, though bravely assailed, and our forces retired at length with scrious loss. Some of the troops, coming within fifty or a hundred yards of the enemy's position, halted, and intrenched, commencing a “siege," instead of returning under a destructive fire. Even here, the Rebel sharpshooters picked off many men.
Griffin's division of the Fifth Corps, charged across an open field, in spite of a deadly artillery fire, driving the enemy from the woods, and occupying his first line of works. This position was persistently held by our forces, under a galling fire, until dark. The remainder of the corps was chiefly engaged with similar results. The Ninth Corps charged bravely up to the enemy's works, intrenching, in portions of its line, within less than a hundred yards of the Rebel works, which were found too formidable to be successfully assaulted. The infantry and artillery of this corps were warmly engaged during the entire day. The Eighteenth Corps again made a courageous and persistent attack on the Rebel lines in its front, under a terrible fire of musketry and artillery, but only gained an advanced line of rifle pits, after severe losses. The Sixth Corps continued to hold the works it had taken on the 1st, and was to-day less actively engaged.
During the night, the enemy violently assaulted different portions of our lines, but was unable to dislodge any portion of the Union army from its position, and paid dearly for the attempt. Under cover of this attack, it is probable that a withdrawal had already been commenced by those parts of the Rebel forces in front of the Fifth, Ninth and Eighteenth Corps. In the morning, at least, they were found to have retired to new ground. Lee was not yet prepared to fall back beyond the Chickahominy, but still showed a determined purpose to cover Mechanicsville and the railroads and canal, running northward and westward. Both parties might naturally claim a victory. Each had prevented his adversary from accomplishing his main purpose, and each had inflicted serious loss on the other. The prestige, however, was clearly with the Union army, which had compelled its opponent to take up a new position, and had evinced that unconquerable determination which actuated its great leader, showing conclusively that the
purpose in hand would never be abandoned. On the following evening an attack was made on the Second Corps, and on a portion of the Sixth, but was repulsed ; and though again and again renewed, each assault was attended with severe slaughter to the enemy. These conflicts were renewed, more or less, during several days following, with similar results, the Union losses being comparatively slight. Our forces were engaged in mining approaches to the Rebel lines, while neither side abandoned any part of its works.
After the succession of desperate conflicts, ending with the 3d of June, however, Gen. Grant had decided on another move. ment by the left Alank, more startling than any that had preceded. This purpose was so well concealed from the Rebel commander, that he knew nothing of it until the entire army of Grant was found, one morning, to be gone. Nor was this tardy information accompanied by any clue to the place toward which the new movement was tending. It appears, in fact, that Lee at first surmised an approach to Richmond by Malvern Hill as the design of his opponent, and lost no time in a transfer of his army to meet that false expectation, to which countenance was given by a covering advance in that direction, on the part of a small Union force.
On the evening of the 12th of June, every thing having been prepared for this change during the preceding days, a general movement to the south side of the James was commenced. The Eighteenth Corps marched directly to the White House, embarking thence on transports for Bermuda Landing, where they arrived on Tuesday, the 14th. Gen. Grant in person reached the headquarters of Gen. Butler on the same day. The Second and Fifth Corps advaneed by the way of Long Bridge, below the White Oak Swamp, across the Chickahominy, to Wilcox's Landing, on the James river. The Sixth and Ninth Corps crossed the Chickahoming at Jones' Bridge, two miles farther down the river, and moved directly south by Charles City Court House to the James. The entire movement was executed with celerity and in excellent order, no casualty of any kind having occurred during the march. The wounded had been previously removed, and the government property on the Pamunkey secured. On the 14th the troops commenced crossing the James, and arrived promptly on the south bank, while the enemy, apparently preparing for an attack on Richmond from the north side, by way of Malvern Hill, immediately moved in that direction, without dispatching any troops southward from the city toward Petersburg, now actually threatened in heavy force.
While these operations were going on near the Rebel capital, Hunter was advancing up the Shenandoah Valley, sweeping
before him the little force now left in his front. At Staunton, prior to the 13th, after a decisive victory at Piedmont, he had taken possession, and destroyed, several valuable factories and founderies engaged in furnishing supplies to the Rebel armies. The amount of property destroyed was estimated at three mil. lions of dollars. An expedition had been sent out to Waynesboro, on the railroad leading to Gordonsville, which destroyed bridges and tore up the track for miles. Over one thousand prisoners, from Imboden's and other Rebel commands, were sent backward by Buffalo Gap and Huttonsville, to be trans. ferred to Washington. On the 13th, Hunter again moved his forces, advancing rapidly toward Lynchburg, to the defense of which Lee was obliged to detach part of the troops now operating with him at Richmond.
The bold attempt to capture Petersburg, which now had a slender defense, aside from the hastily organized militia of the town, and some not very important works on the south side, not heretofore menaced, seemed on the point of success. So well assured, apparently, was the result, that the very winds were charged with the tale, and rumor proclaimed it through the land as an accomplished fact.
Early on the morning of the 9th of June, soon after midnight, a cavalry column, under Gen. Kautz, of Gillmore's corps (the Tenth), with a battery, set out for a reconnoissance south of Petersburg. After a toilsome march of twenty-five miles, by winding routes, this force reached the outer picket lines, three miles from the city, and drove the outposts within the outer intrenchments, a mile distant. After a lively contest for half an hour, these intrenchments were captured, the enemy again retiring to their inner line. The object of this dash having been accomplished, and the force being manifestly inadequate to take the place, which was now astir with preparations for defense, Kautz promptly returned again to his camp near Point of Rocks, arriving the next day. An immediate advance of Gillmore's corps, had that been possible, might, perhaps, have secured possession of the city, before sufficient reënforcements could arrive. But the position of Bermuda Hundred could not be abandoned. Without such an advance,
the alarm now given must have been injurious rather than oth_erwise.
On the 16th, the Army of the Potomac being now well up in the vicinity of City Point, and the enemy having abandoned his works in front of our lines at Bermuda Hundred, Gen. Butler ordered an advance on the Richmond and Petersburg railroad, with a view to cut the communications between the two cities. After destroying two miles of the track, however, this force (a portion of Gillmore's corps), was obliged to retire to its former position, the advance of Lee's army having now come up, on the way from its position at Cold Harbor, to the rescue of Petersburg.
Meanwhile, on the 14th, Gen. Smith, with fifteen thousand men, including Wilde's colored division, had begun to move on Petersburg on the south, and Hancock was to follow as rapidly as possible with his corps. The city of Petersburg, on the south bank of the Appomattox river, is about twelve miles south-west from City Point, at the confluence of that river with the James. The two places are connected by railway, running along the left bank of the Appomattox-part of the way at some distance from the river.
The city is about twentysix miles from Richmond, by railroad, and its position is strategically important with reference to the latter place, from the fact that three of the principal railroads running southward radiate from this point, leaving only the Danville railroad (not fully completed until since the commencement of the rebellion), as the only one southward connecting directly with Richmond, or available after the occupation of Petersburg. It was not without reason, therefore, that this place was regarded as substantially the key to the Rebel capital.
Gen. Smith appeared before the defenses of Petersburg on the morning of the 15th. The enemy's works had now been greatly strengthened, and were well manned. Smith carried a line of works at Beatty's House, the colored troops leading the assault with great intrepidity, and driving the enemy from the rifle pits. Their gallantry was specially commended by their commanding general. There was a heavy fire of Rebel artil. lery, and the main lines of the enemy were obstinately held