War of the Rebellion: Serial 080 Page 0094 OPERATIONS IN SE. VA. AND N. C. Chapter LII.

Search Civil War Official Records

Question. Were the obstructions in front of the first line of works of a character to admit the passage of a horseman or a piece of artillery after the whole corps had passed?

Answer. They would not admit of the passage of either because the parapet of the rifle-pits had never been dug away. I was compelled to remove abatis on our own front, under fire, to get my command through by the flank.

TESTIMONY OF GENERAL WILLCOX.

Brigadier General O. B. WILLCOX, U. S. Volunteers, being duly sworn, says to questions by JUDGE-ADVOCATE:

Question. Were you in a position to see the operations of the assault before Petersburg on the 30th of July, and in what capacity?

Answer. I commanded the Third Division of the Ninth Army Corps. At the time of the explosion of the mine I was at Roemer's battery, just in rear of my Second Brigade, and in good position to observe the assault.

Question. Do you regard the attack as a failure?

Answer. I do.

Question. State some of the causes of it.

Answer. The first and most obvious cause was the failure of the First Division to go forward when there was no firing, for the fire of the enemy was suspended for fifteen to twenty minutes. In the next place I think that the troops that went in support of the leading division should have gone in almost simultaneously with it, and should have gone t the right and left avoiding the crater, but going near it, and then bearing down the enemy's works to the right and left so as to gave prevented the enemy bringing flank and reserve fires to bear on the advancing columns. The order of attack stated that my division should wait until the First Division had cleared the enemy's works. For that reason of courser the three divisions could not have gone in simultaneously. It was the published order that prevented it in part. The attention of the enemy was not attracted to any other point than the crater. I consider that the third reason. Almost as soon as the enemy's first astonishment was over they concentrated an almost circular fire around the crater. Their field batteries came out in position on different points on the Jerusalem plank road and on Cemetery Hill. They kept up a flank and reverse fire; and a battery in the grove of trees on our right was so situated, the line of the rebel works taking a direction a little re-entering, that almost as soon as they opened fire at all they began to fire nearly in rear of the crater. I would say that at the meeting in General Burnside's tent, where Generals Ord and Meade were present, I supposed it was intended that the two divisions, following the leading division, should move to the right and left, and that the duty of the Ninth Corps was to clear the ground to enable the Eighteenth Corps to move forward. If that plan had been carried out I think it would have been successful, but I do not think that the temporary occupation of Cemetery Hill by a small force would have insured the success of that attack. I think that ultimately they would have been driven out unless we had a large force (two corps at least) to fight a battle at those works. Now, to go back to the interview which General Burnside had with his division commanders where General Meade himself, that unless it should be a complete surprise it would be a failure; and the written order which was published to the commanders did not substantially, give the order of attack as it was understood at this interview - I mean General Burnside's order of attack. At the time the matter was talked over I certainly understood that I was to move down and clear the enemy's works on the left, and then move up toward the Jerusalem plank road. The order stated that I would bear to the left and take a position on the Jerusalem plank road.

Question. What preparations were made and what orders were given to pass troops over the parapet and through the enemy's works?

Answer. None but the written orders before the Court. The abatis, what was left of it when my division passed over, was no obstacle whatever.