Desperate fighting before Petersburg for four hours, a mine sprung in front of the city, terrible explosion, the battle still raging at last accounts.
An account of the Petersburg fighting from Harper's Weekly, August. 13, 1864.
THE MILITARY SITUATION.
Our military record this week is chiefly concerned with General Grant's unsuccessful assault on Petersburg, Saturday, July 30.
For six weeks preparations had been making for a grand assault on the enemy's lines. The point to be gained was Cermetery Hill, a commanding position both in regard to the other rebel fortifications and the town of Petersburgitself. This hill, on the east side of Petersburg, was about 800 yards distant from our lines. It was approached by regular lines, according to the usual process of a siege. The resistance to be overcome was great, the position being made as strong as possible both by nature and art. In order to break the centre of the rebel lines at this point, a battery of the rebels occupying a salient point was undermined. The mine was 400 feet long, with two galleries constructed from the main passage-way, and was charged with eight tons of powder. To divert Lee's attention to the north side of the James, operations were conducted on a large scale threatening Richmond from General Foster's position at Deep Bottom, three miles from Malvern Hill. General Foster had held a position here for some weeks, his flanks being protected by gun-boats. A bridge stretched across the James at this point to Jones's Neck. Thursday night, the 21st, a second bridge was thrown across, at Strawberry Plains, just below Deep Bottom, and the next morning a few regiments of the Nineteenth Corps crossed to hold the head of the bridge. The enemy became alarmed, and there was considerable skirmishing from the 23d to the 26th, when Grant threw over Hancock's corps and three divisions of cavalry—two under Sheridan and one under Kautz. To make his threat in this direction more formidable, he sent across, on Friday, 400 wagons of the Sixth Corps. This led Lee to plant a force of from 15,000 to 20,000 north of the James. That night the Second Corps recrossed the river, and were ready to co-operate in the assault on Saturday.
Our lines on Saturday morning at 1 o'clock were disposed to suit the contemplated movement. The Ninth Corps held the centre, with the Eighteenth massed in the rear. Warren's (Fifth) corps held the left in support. The signal for the assault was to be the explosion of the mine, at 3 1/2 o'clock, when a cannonade was to be opened from every cannon along the line, and the Ninth Corps was to charge through the gap laid open by the explosion.
If the mine had been exploded at the time set, the disposition and movements of our troops would have been covered in darkness ; but there was a delay, and it was not till after light, at 4 o'clock and 40 minutes, that the signal was given, and the enemy was partially forewarned. The explosion was terrific; the battery (6 guns) was blown up, and a North Carolina regiment, acting as garrison, was buried in the chasm. Then the artillery opened all along the line and the charge was made, Ledlie's Division ofBurnside's Corps in the advance. The Second Brigade, Colonel Marshall, led the Division, followed by the First, Colonel W. F. Bartlett, and then by the Third, Colonel Gould. The Fourth Division of the Corps, all negroes, pushed on in the rear of these three brigades. The Fourteenth New York Artillery were the first to enter the breach; seizing two of the rebel guns left in the ruins, these were turned against the enemy. The three assailing columns then pushed up toward the crest of the hill, but were driven back. Then the colored troops pressed up and broke. The rebel artillery slackened, and the enemy made a charge and were themselves repulsed. The assault was then given up.
The loss was very severe considering the troops engaged. The entire loss will probably reach to between 2000 and 3000. General Bartlett and staff were captured, also Colonel Wild.
The rebels lost heavily, in the explosion and in the charge ; we captured about 500.