General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

June 15, 1864: Assault on Petersburg Begins

Petersburg_June15-18

Generals Lee and Grant were two of the finest generals in American history.  However, they both had off days, and few episodes in the Civil War cast both of these men in a poorer light than the failure of the Union attempt to seize Petersburg from June 15-18, 1864.

Grant inexplicably assigned to Butler’s Army of the James the task of spearheading the Union effort to take Petersburg.  Considering the poor performance of this army during the Bermuda Hundred campaign and the assault on Petersburg on June 9, this was a poor choice.  Smith’s corps and the cavalry of Kautz would attack over the same route followed on the June 9 attack.  Hancock’s corps of the Army of the Potomac would follow up after the initial assault.

The attack didn’t get under way until 7:oo PM with Smith then taking 3.5 miles of entrenchments from the almost unmanned Confederate defenses.  Smith then decided to wait until dawn before advancing further.  Hancock, demonstrating yet again that he was no longer the aggressive battlefield commander he had been earlier in the War, agreed with Smith’s decision to wait until dawn.

Beauregard, commanding the defenses of Petersburg, having no other troops, stripped the fortified Howlett line that kept most of Butler’s army of Confederate troops bottled up at Bermuda Hundred.  Butler could then have smashed through the Howlett line with  ease, but he did nothing.  Beauregard now had 14000 men to hold Petersburg while he awaited reinforcements from General Lee.

He now confronted three corps of 50,000 men, Burnside’s corps having come up to join Smith’s and Hancock’s.  Hancock, in temporary command of the Army of the Potomac until Meade arrived, launched a three corps attack at 5:30 PM on June 16.  Beauregard and his men hanging on just barely, constructing entrenchments behind their lines to contain Union breaches.

June 17 was a day of uncoordinated Union assaults which gave Beauregard the opportunity to construct a new defensive line around Petersburg to which he and his men withdrew on the evening of June 17-18.

Throughout the struggle for Petersburg Beauregard had frantically been asking Lee to send him reinforcements.  Lee denied all such entreaties until his son General Fitzhugh Lee and his cavalry finally confirmed that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the James and was attacking Petersburg.  At 3:00 AM on June 18, Lee dispatched two divisions to shore up the Petersburg defenses.

Beauregard now had 20,000 troops against 67,000 Federals.  The Union attacks on June 18 were repulsed with heavy loss and the siege of Petersburg began.  The Union had sustained 11000 casualties against 4000 Confederate casualties during the fighting of June 15-18, and the last opportunity to end the War quickly had vanished.

Here is an account of the fighting from June 15-18th by General Beauregard that he wrote for the North American Review in 1887: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies:  rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army.  On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.

The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War.  Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster.  After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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