Beauregard wrote, 'was clearly at the mercy of the Federal commander.'
For two more days, Grant's troops swarmed around Petersburg without making a decisive move. Early on 18 June, the first men from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia finally arrived, and Lee himself reached the town before noon. The Confederates bought time by abandoning their outer works on the 18th, leaving the first Federal attack to dissipate in a confusing complex of empty trenches.
When the blue-clad legions reformed and moved forward again, they attacked without concert - and without success. The First Maine Heavy Artillery, which Grant had extracted from a cozy post in the quiet forts around Washington and sent into the line with muskets, was butchered. More than 630 of the Maine men fell in an utterly hopeless assault. During the entire Civil War, no regiment suffered as many losses in one
For 10 months beginning in mid-June 1864, the war in Virginia swung around the pivot of Petersburg. The roads and railroads leading through Petersburg to Richmond became the Confederate capital's final lifeline. For weeks in early June the city lay virtually undefended, but the first Federal raiders suffered a repulse at the hands of old men and youngsters beyond the age limits for regular army service. During 15-18 June, uncoordinated attacks failed to break into Petersburg despite being opposed by only a tiny handful of Southern troops. Thereafter the fighting became a deadly struggle for the railroads. Grant pushed columns west, gradually closing off Confederate use of the Jerusalem Plank Road, then the Weldon Railroad, and eventually the Boydton Plank Road. If he could reach the South Side Railroad, Petersburg and Richmond would be strangled.The winter of 1864-65 closed in before Grant could accomplish that final measure.
engagement. One of the minority who survived unscathed described the experience: 'The earth was literally torn up with iron and lead. The field became a burning, seething, crashing, hissing hell, in which human courage, flesh, and bone were struggling with
The brave but hopeless charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, 18 June 1864.The Maine unit lost more men here in a single battle than any other regiment on either side during the entire war (Painting by Don Troiani, www.historicalartprints.com)
an impossibility ... In ten minutes those who were not slaughtered had returned.' The next morning a dense fog lifted to reveal a 'field of slaughter, strewn thick with the blue-coated bodies ... decomposing in the fierce rays of a Southern sun.'
While the bitter Maine veteran gazed across a field covered with his friends' bodies, major elements of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia were filing steadily into the defenses. Those sturdy troops would not be routed from their entrenchments by any kind of frontal assault. Petersburg had been saved, and for more than nine months would stand, with Richmond, as the last major Confederate citadel in Virginia.
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