General Edward Porter Alexander (Part 7)

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May 26 saw Grant again on the move under a Cavalry screen with the men armed with Spencer repeaters. Lee had just received a severe blow with the death of Gen Jeb Stuart at Yellow Tavern. The death grip of the union army was closing around the CSA. Maneuvering on his internal lines, Lee again read Grant’s mind and won the footrace. The two armies met at a nowhere crossroads just northeast of Richmond. Cold Harbor would forever demonstrate the stupidity of the mass infantry assault against entrenched enemy positions. And Lee was the master of entrenched position defense.

The country was flat as a carpenter’s dream and the rebels dug in. Grant made three assaults that did nothing but amount to a mass slaughter with zero effect. The boys in blue pinned their names on their clothing so they would not be another nameless body rotting in a field and so that their family would have some mercy in knowing their fate.

Life in the trenches was a living hell due to the hot sun burning on the men combined with the constant sniping. Any body part exposed above the parapet or a gap in the earthworks would instantly draw fire that often hit. Resupply of water, ammo and rations could only be done after sun down if it was dark enough. Alexander kept his guns double charged with canister in case of a nigh attack and one of his 12 pr Napoleons had the wheels shot up so bad from musket fire that they had to e replaced. When they tipped up the breech, out rolled 37 union minie balls that had gone done the muzzle from the days shooting. In the two weeks at Cold Harbor, Grant lost 14,000 men to Lee’s irreplaceable 4,500.

Grant again started to move. For the first time, he managed to steal a march on Lee. The federal engineers had built a pontoon bridge across the James River, It was 2100ft in length. There was even a draw in the middle for passing of ships . On June 12, the army of the Potomac hit Petersburg south of Richmond . It had stout defenses with 10 miles of trenches and a decent commander in Beauregard, but the defenders were a thin line of mostly boys and old men facing 70,000 battle tested Federals. However, they fought like tigers until Lee could be convinced that they were facing the whole Union army. The war was close to an end, but thanks to some screw ups on behalf of Grant’s command, it was to continue another 9 months Lee’s army was still dangerous and in spite of the fact that their fate was sealed, they still hit Grant hard when he let his guard down The Battle of Crater was a prime example.

Siege warfare was a new experience for the rebels, bu they made the necessary adaptations with alacrity. Grant had ordnance like nothing in Lee’s arsenal , their inventory included sixty mortars, forty-30 pr.and six-100pr. rifles. Alexander had only light artillery, but they built their parapet thicker and let the feds shoot. He requested 12pr Coehorn mortars to be fabricated by CSA Ordnance. They would prove their worth later. He also designed a cast iron hand grenade about the size of a goose egg with contact fuse and an attached strap for throwing up to 60 yards.

On June 29 Alexander was inspecting the Union lines for fresh dirt work. He saw none and suspected the Federals were planning a mine under his position. When he saw a blue coat walking straight away toward the rear from his secondary lines. He told one of the Georgia boys, ” look at that fellow! Lend me a gun and let me try him.” It was most likely to have been a .577 Enfield that he borrowed because he set the rear sight to 800 yards, took careful aim and squeezed off the shot. The man went down, probably from a leg wound and then quickly scrambled over a parapet. A cheer went up from the lines, but Alexander hoped the blue coat got a nice furlough as he himself received the next day.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The son that I referenced in Part 6 witnessed the Battle of the Crater before he and his single company of NJ Cavalry were dispatched to tear up the railroad in VA.

    By the way, I love this stuff!

    • Virgil Caine is my name and I work on the Danville train.
      Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.
      In the winter of ‘65, we were hungry, just barely alive.
      I took the train to Richmond, it fell.
      It was a time I remember oh-so-well.

      Yeah, I know Stoneman was Union, but I couldn’t resist.

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