General George W. Getty’s Report on the Assault on the Petersburg Defenses April 2nd, 1865
After the Union victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1st, 1865, Federal forces were in place to cut the South Side Railroad, the last railroad supply line into the besieged city of Petersburg, Virginia. Petersburg had been under siege since mid June of 1864, and during that time, Union forces had been extending the line farther west and southwest of the city, cutting Confederate supply lines and lengthening the siege line, forcing the Rebel defenders to stretch their resources more and more to cover the line. Now with the road junction at Five Forks in Union hands, and the South Side Railroad nearly so, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant decided to order a general assault on April 2nd along the Petersburg line to break the siege and take Petersburg.
The Union 6th Corps, under the command of Major General Horatio G. Wright, was ordered to attack the Confederate lines on the southwest of Petersburg, in front of Union Forts Fisher, Welch, and Gregg. Wright’s 1st Division, under Brigadier General Frank Wheaton, was on the assaulting column’s right flank; the 2nd Division, under Brevet Major General George W. Getty, was in the center, and the 3rd Division, under Brigadier General Truman Seymour, was on the left flank.
Getty’s division consisted of three brigades. The 1st Brigade was on the division’s right flank. It consisted of the 62nd New York, and the 93rd, 98th, 102nd, and 139th Pennsylvania infantry regiments. The 3rd Brigade, under Colonel Thomas W. Hyde, was deployed in the center, and was made up of the 1st Maine Veteran Infantry, portions of the 43rd, 49th, and 77th New York infantries, the 122nd New York, and the 61st Pennsylvania infantry regiments. Brevet Major General Lewis A. Grant’s all Vermont brigade was on the left flank. This brigade consisted of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Vermont Infantries, plus the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery, which had been converted to infantry. The attack column was stacked several regiments deep with the idea of punching through the Confederate line with a narrowly focused attack.
At 3:00 a.m. on April 2nd, Union artillery opened up a bombardment ahead of the general assault. At 4:40 a.m. the 6th Corps attacked. Getty’s troops made it into the Confederate works, where the fighting became hand to hand. The Federals finally breached the Petersburg Confederate lines, with Getty’s division being the first U.S. troops to do so, at about 5:00 a.m. The Siege of Petersburg was over; Confederate forces evacuated both Petersburg and Richmond and the Union Army occupied both on April 3rd.
General Getty filed this after action report on the assault on Petersburg, as well as his division’s actions during the Appomattox Campaign that immediately followed and culminating with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9th:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, SIXTH CORPS,
April 17, 1865.
MAJOR: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the Second Division in the assault on the enemy’s works on the morning of the 2d instant and in the subsequent operations which resulted in the surrender of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia:
Leaving the pickets, re-enforced by the division sharpshooters, under Bvt. Maj. William H. Terrell, and the garrison of the forts, consisting of a detachment from the Sixty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, in Fort Urmston, and the Sixty-second New York in Forts Tracy and Keene, the command moved from camp, without knapsacks, shortly after midnight preceding the 2d, filed through the breast-works and abatis by openings made for the purpose, on the right and left of Fort Welch, and were massed in columns of regiments, each brigade forming a column immediately in rear of the intrenched picket-line captured from the enemy on the 25th of March, and since held by our pickets. From this point, directly in front of Fort Welch, a ravine led straight up to the enemy’s works, a distance of 600 yards. The ground, gently ascending, was partly open and partly obstructed by stumps and branches of trees. Grant’s (Vermont) brigade (Second) rested its left on this ravine, and was made the directing column; Hyde’s brigade (Third) was placed in the center; and Warner’s (First) on the right. The First Division was in echelon in support on the right of the division, and the Third, in similar order, on the left. Axmen to cut away the abatis were placed in the front lines. It was strongly impressed upon commanders to force their way through all opposition and obstructions into the enemy’s works, and the works once carried, the troops were to be halted and reformed in readiness for any emergency. About 2 a.m., while the troops were moving into position, the pickets commenced firing to cover, it is said, the movement. The enemy’s pickets replied vigorously, and a number of brave officers and men were killed or wounded. The loss was heaviest in Hyde’s brigade (Third), in which two regimental commanders–Lieut. Col. E. D. Holt, Forty-ninth New York, and Lieut. Col. J. W. Crosby, Sixty-first Pennsylvania–were mortally wounded. Bvt. Maj. Gen. L. A. Grant, commanding Second Brigade, was slightly wounded in the head, but, although compelled to retire for a time, resumed command at night-fall.
At 4 a.m. the gun, the signal to advance, was fired from Fort Fisher. Owing, however, to the heavy cannonading on the Ninth Corps line, the signal was imperfectly understood, but at
the command the men rose to their feet, leaped over the rifle-pits, and moved forward. The lines, being massed close together, advanced successively, each moving forward as the preceding gained a distance of 100 yards. For several moments nothing was heard but the tramp and rustle of the advancing columns; but just as the enemy’s picket-line was gained the silence was broken by a scattering volley. The troops instantly responded with a ringing cheer and pushed on in the face of the enemy’s fire, which was now spitting along the whole line. The artillery on our left also opened, throwing case-shot, grape, and canister, most of which fell in rear of our troops. Although considerable confusion was caused by the character of the ground and the darkness of the night, resolute men from every regiment in the division rushed gallantly forward, forced aside the abatis and swarmed over the works, capturing nearly all the enemy behind them. It is impossible to determine to whom is due the honor of first entering the works, or what regiment first planted its flag upon them, but that this honor is due to the troops and colors of the Second Division there can be no doubt. The position of the division in front of the corps, having the shortest line to the enemy’s works, and carrying those works in the first charge without repulse, renders it physically impossible that it should be otherwise.
Simultaneously with the assault just described, Lieut. Col. Charles A. Milliken, division officer of the day, in compliance with instructions previously given him, advanced the picket-line, which was on the right of the main attack, seized the enemy’s line of picket pits, and captured therein between 400 and 500 prisoners. From this point a farther advance was made, and two forts, with three guns each, taken, one of which, known as Fort McGraw, was soon after relinquished to a strong column of the enemy, the pickets and sharpshooters having expended their ammunition. The enemy being afterward forced back by the main advance on Petersburg, the pickets and sharpshooters were withdrawn and rejoined the command about 9 p.m.
The troops, after breaking through the enemy’s works, pressed forward with the greatest dash and enthusiasm, and without order or formation, until at length they were halted with great difficulty and the lines reformed at a point on the Boydton plank road over a mile from the rebel lines. The division was then moved by the left flank, and put in position in one line–Warner on the right, Hyde in the center, and Grant’s (Vermont) brigade, now commanded by Bvt. Col. Charles Mundee, assistant adjutant-general, on the left, with the left near the captured works, and the line extending therefrom at right angles and facing westward, or toward Hatcher’s Run. A few skirmishers of the Third Division joined the left with the breast-works, and two brigades of the First Division were moving up in support of the right flank, when, the formation being completed, the line was advanced. The enemy resisted stoutly from a fort a few hundred yards in front of our left and fired several rounds of canister, but being soon outflanked and enveloped, the work was taken, with several guns and a number of prisoners, and no further resistance was made. For over two miles the line moved forward over a wooded and difficult country, capturing flags, guns, and prisoners at every step. In the eagerness of the advance many prisoners and captures were sent to the rear and turned over without proper receipts or credit being obtained for them.
Having advanced nearly to Hatcher’s Run, opposite the front of the Army of the James, and the enemy having disappeared, the line was halted, reformed, and closed in to the left. The two brigades of the First Division and the Third Division soon after came up and the troops rested. About 9 a.m., it having been decided to advance on Petersburg, the troops were put in motion for that point, retracing their steps and marching in parallel columns. After passing the scene of the morning assault, the division was formed in two lines, on the left of the Twenty-fourth Corps, with the right of the division on the Boydton plank road, Mundee’s (Vermont) brigade on the right, Warner’s in the center, and Hyde’s on the left, with his left refused–and advanced under shell fire about half a mile, when a temporary halt was made. This point is about two miles from the inner lines about Petersburg. Much annoyance was experienced from the fire of a battery on the Cox road, on our left, which, frequently changing its position, completely enfiladed our lines. The shelling from front and right was also severe. Allen’s (Rhode Island) battery and Harn’s battery, which were attached to the division, were brought up and replied to the enemy’s fire. At my suggestion General Wheaton, commanding First Division, moved his division up to extend and support the left; but observing the enemy moving guns and troops on the Cox road and endeavoring to form, I advanced the command at once, without waiting for the First Division, in order to attack before he was ready. This advance was made about noon.
The troops moved forward with great spirit, although under a very heavy fire of shell and a desultory musketry. The batteries, Harn’s and Allen’s, advanced in fine style with the infantry, and kept up a hot fire, and the enemy were forced rapidly back. The force maneuvering on the Cox road retired before our advance, to avoid being cut off from Petersburg, until a last stand was made at Edge Hill, Lees headquarters, where the battery, being deserted by its support and the horses killed, was captured after a brave resistance. The enemy now took refuge behind the inner works about Petersburg. The division, much fatigued and scattered by the rapid advances and hard work of the day, was in no shape to assault the works. Accordingly the troops were collected and reformed, and posted in two lines, with the left on the Appomattox; intrenchments were erected and pickets thrown out. A desultory artillery firing closed the day’s work.
The enemy having evacuated Petersburg and retreated during the night of the 2d, the following day the troops advanced westward in pursuit by the Namozine (or River) road, the Second Division in advance, and bivouacked on Whipponock Creek, after a march of fourteen miles. On the 4th advanced across Winticomack Creek, twelve miles; on the 5th, to near Jetersville Station, sixteen miles, and camped in two lines on the right of the Third Division, with the First Division massed in support on our right, the lines extending nearly east and west, and facing north toward Amelia Court-House, where the enemy was reported in force.
At 6 a.m. on the 6th the line was advanced by the right of regiments to the front nearly three miles toward Amelia Court-House, when the enemy being found to have retreated the troops retraced their steps, and, marching by the camp of the night preceding, crossed the Danville railroad at Jetersville Station and followed a road leading to Rice’s Station on the South Side Railroad.
The division being in rear did not participate in the struggle at Sailor’s Creek, although brought up and formed in line on the double-quick. After crossing the creek the division was placed in the advance, and soon after night-fall moved forward about two miles, when the troops were encamped for the night. The Second Vermont Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Tracy, deployed as skirmishers, pushed forward nearly two miles farther, until the enemy’s rear guard was encountered, when a slight skirmish ensued without result.
On the 7th the command moved to Farmville, via Rice’s Station, crossed the Appomattox, and bivouacked on the north side, making a march of fourteen miles.
On the 8th moved to New Store on the Appomattox Court-House plank road, fifteen miles; and on the 9th moved ten miles to the scene of the surrender of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia. Having rested during the 10th, on the 11th the command retraced their steps, marching through Farmville and Rice’s Station to the present camp near Burkeville Junction, which was reached on the afternoon of the 13th.
In these operations the officers and men of the division displayed their usual gallantry, so conspicuous during the campaigns of the last year. Recommendations of those who particularly distinguished themselves will be forwarded at the earliest practicable moment.
Accompanying are reports of brigade commanders, lists of casualties, &c.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. W. GETTY,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Division.
Bvt. Maj. C. H. WHITTELSEY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Sixth Army Corps.
Getty listed his casualties as 40 killed, 339 wounded, and 16 missing or captured for a total of 395.
For another account of this assault as recalled by Getty’s aide, Lieutenant Charles H. Anson, follow this link.
Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign (The U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles) edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan S. Rafuse.
The Last Citadel: Petersburg, June 1864 – April 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XLVI, Part 1.
Out of the Storm: The End of the Civil War, April-June 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau.
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