General Hunter immediately took up the offensive and moving up the Shenandoah Valley, met the enemy on the 5th of June at Piedmont, and after a battle of ten hours routed and defeated him, capturing on the field of battle 1,500 men, 3 pieces of artillery, and 300 stand of small-arms. On the 8th of the same month he formed a junction with Crook and Averell at Staunton, from which place he moved direct on Lynchburg, via Lexington, which place he reached and invested on the 16th day of June. Up to this time he was very successful, and but for the difficulty of taking with him sufficient ordnance stores over so long a march through a hostile country, he would no doubt have captured that (to the enemy) important point. The destruction of the enemy's supplies and manufactories was very great. To meet this movement under General Hunter, General Lee sent a force, perhaps equal to a corps, a part of which reached Lynchburg a short time before Hunter. After some skirmishing on the 17th and 18th, General Hunter, owing to a want of ammunition to give battle, retired from before the place. Unfortunately, this want of ammunition left him no choice of route for his return but way of Kanawha. This lost ot us he use of his troops for several weeks from the defense of the North. Had General hunter moved by way of Charlottesville, instead of Lexington, as his instructions contemplated, he would have been in a position to have covered the Shenandoah Valley against the enemy, should the force he met have seemed to endanger it. If it did not, he would have been within easy distance of the James River Canal, on the amain line of communication between Lynchburg and the force sent for its defense. I have never taken exception to the operations of General Hunter, and I am not now disposed to find fault with him, for have no doubt he acted within what he conceived to be the spirit of his instructions and the interests of the service. The promptitude of his movements and his gallantry should entitle him to the commendation of his country.*
To return to the Army of the Potomac: The Second Corps commenced crossing the James River on the morning of the 14th by ferryboats at Wilcox's Landing. The laying of the pontoon bridge was completed about midnight of the 14th, and the crossing of the balance of the army was rapidly pushed forward by both bridge and ferry. After the crossing had commenced I proceeded by a steamer to Bermuda Hundred to give the necessary orders for the immediate capture of Petersburg. The instructions to General Butler were verbal, and were for him to send General Smith immediately, that night, with all the troops he could give him without sacrificing the position he then held. I told him that I would return at once to the Army of the Potomac, hasten its crossing, and throw it forward to Petersburg by divisions as rapidly as it could be done; that we could re-enforce our armies more rapidly there than the enemy could bring troops against us. General Smith got off as directed, and confronted the enemy's pickets near Petersburg before daylight next morning, but, for some reason that I never been able to satisfactorily understand, did not get ready to assault his main lines until near sundown. Then, with a part of his command only, he made the assault, and carried the lines northeast of Petersburg from the Appomattox River, for a distance of over two miles and a half, capturing fifteen pieces of artillery and 300 prisoners. This was about 7 p. m. Between the line thus captured and Petersburg there were no other works, and there was no evidence that
*For subordinate reports of Sigel's and Hunter's operations, see Vol. XXXVII, Part I.