Although you had on the day previous shown me General Lee's letter, suggesting that I would have charge of the expedition, it was there for the first made know to me that you designed the attack to be made at night, and showed me some sketches of Coggins Point, a sort of peninsula, around which the James River sweeps, diminishing its width to about 1,000 yards, and directly opposite to which is Harrison's Landing. Beyond this landing were large encampments of the enemy, his shipping extending above and below for a distance of 2 miles.
No time could be lost; so, in company with General Pendleton and some of his field officers. I proceeded to examine the ground and select positions for the guns and observe the enemy. This reconnaissance occupied us until about 9 o'clock, and caused a delay in the advance of the artillery. On our return we met the advance guns and ordered them to be halted, and at the suggestion of General Pendleton I determined to report to you that an attack could not be made that night, chiefly because the night was far advanced, the darkness intense, and that many of the officers who would command batteries had not examined the ground, the roads, nor the shipping they designed to fire on, and many pieces of artillery were far in the rear.
I found you at the Merchant's Hope Church, where you had posted the two brigades of infantry. In company with General Pendleton I explained to you the necessity of delaying the attack. You expressed apprehensions of a failure if not made at once, believing our position and forces would be discovered by the enemy on the morrow, and then, announcing that the expedition was under my command, informed me you would return to Petersburg.
The balance of the night was mostly passed in placing the different batteries in the shelter of the woods to prevent them being seen by reconnaissances from the balloons of the enemy. Thus it was 4 a. m. before the men or horses got any rest.
The better to secure success I found it necessary to order the particular part that each command was to perform was to perform, and directed that the officers of artillery who were to command guns should be sent to pass over the intricate roads, the difficult grounds, and examine the sites selected for the batteries, and erect stakes to direct the fire of their guns at night according to the position of the enemy. The ground not admitting the advantageous use of all the guns, some seventy in number, it was deemed best to leave the lighter ones behind.
All being in readiness, and finding the enemy had not discovered us from their reconnaissance in their balloon, at 4 p. m. Colonel Brown Colonel Coleman followed to Coggins Point with eight 12-pounder howitzers; Major Nelson, with eight guns, to a position on his left, higher up the bank of the river; Colonel Cutts, with eleven long-range guns, still above Major Nelson, and Captains Dabney and Milledge were, each with two siege guns, to take position one-fourth of a mile below the dwelling of Mr. Ruffin, making forty-three guns in all.
As night approached thousands of lights from the shipping and their tents disclosed the objects for attack. The guns were silently conducted over the difficult grounds and winding roads, and before 12 [o'clock] all the guns were in position (except two siege guns, under charge of Captain Milledge) awaiting action. Silence as profound as the darkness of the night reigned in the enemy's camps. At a signal the thunder of over forty guns startled them from their midnight slumbers. From the screams, scenes of wild confusion must have followed, as sail