Saturday, July 30th.
During last night the Second Corps, which had returned from the extreme right of our lines where it had been sent to make a demonstration as a feint, as we were told, came in on our right and rear and lay in a railroad cut with its right resting near the right of the Fifth Corps, and its left extending nearly parallel but slightly diagonally to the rear of that corps. Early in the morning a Regular Army Sergeant named Charles Miller, with two brass twelve-pounders from some Regular battery, reported to me and I placed his section between my Nos. 5 and 6, where there were two platforms and embrasures for lighter guns. As soon as I saw the vast inverted cone of earth, fire and smoke caused by the gigantic explosion, I gave the order “commence firing, No. I fire!” and before the noise of the explosion, or even the trembling of the earth, had reached us, No. 1 had sent a thirty-three pound shell into a two-gun battery facing us, smashing through the parapet and opening the way for a shell from No. 2, which, aimed by Corporal O’Connor as a columbiad for want of a tunnion sight, sent its shell under the muzzle of an old-fashioned barbette gun doing duty as a field-piece, and dismounted it before it could fire a shot in our direction. Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 followed in rapid succession, and the order “fire at will” brought on an almost continuous roar. There was a rebel camp in plain sight over near “Fort Damnation,” and when the first shell from my No. 6 dropped among the tents and exploded, it was amusing to see the “Johnnies” turning out in consternation and very few clothes, and skedaddling to cover. Although the platforms in our fort were large and well built, the recoil of these guns was so great that at every discharge, with muzzles depressed and trails in the air, they would run backward and down the inclines leading to the platforms, and to overcome this tendency to roll out of action, I was obliged to have two men on the trail handspike of each gun, and a man on each side to drop an armful of wood, stick by stick, under the wheels to take up as much as was possible of the recoil.
After the firing of troops and artillery immediately in front of the Crater had perceptibly slackened, and it was evident that our charging columns were not being pushed through the enemy’s works as had been planned, and while, having practically completed the work General Warren had given me to do, I was firing slowly and giving my guns an opportunity to cool off, for they were so hot that one could hardly bear his hand on them, General Bartlett, an officer with a wooden leg, who commanded some troops on our right and from his position could see what was going on at the Crater, came into “Fort Hell” and told me that a force of the enemy was forming at a point in the rear of the Crater, with the intention, apparently, of charging our forces which were inextricably mixed up in that fearful excavation, and wanted to know if I could not break up the formation. I could not see the troops of which he spoke, they being concealed from me by a little knoll and some rebel earthworks, but taking his estimate of the distance at fifteen hundred yards, I cut the time-fuses of three or four shells for that range for my Nos. 1 and 2, and gave the guns the requisite elevation, while the General stumped back to his command to note the result of the experiment. In a few moments he sent a staff officer to say that I had the direction and distance very accurately, but that my shells were exploding in the air and a little short. Thereupon I cut the fuses of four or five other shells so as to give them an additional half second of time, and before I had exhausted the new supply, the General sent another staff officer to say that my last shells had dropped right into the bunch and had scattered it like a flock of sheep, and that I needn’t waste any more ammunition on his account.
Not very long after this incident, General Warren came into the fort, and seeing that with the one hundred and ninety-six rounds which my battery had fired that morning we had leveled many yards of the enemy’s breastworks in our front, and had dismounted or silenced every gun in front of his corps except one which did not bear our way, the extremely heavy traverse of which defied all our efforts, inquired whether I had seen any large body of troops in those breastworks or their vicinity, and upon my telling him that there seemed to be nothing but a heavy picket line in front of us, he called one of his staff officers and sent him to General Meade with the request, as I understood it, that he be permitted to attack with his corps, by swinging it, by brigade or division, to the right, and passing through the breach in the enemy’s works with a brigade or division front. After a while the officer returned and reported that General Meade declined to grant General Warren’s request.
Some time afterwards General Hancock came into the Fort in company with General Warren, and after some conversation the two officers sent a united request, in substance, that Warren be permitted to make the move which he had himself suggested earlier in the day, and that Han-cock’s corps should swing into the lines vacated by Warren’s corps, so that if Warren was successful Hancock could follow him up, while if Warren was unsuccessful he could fall back on Hancock. This united request was also refused, and the staff officer reported that General Meade had said that those officers knew the plan of operations for the day and that it would be adhered to, and, in substance, that when he desired those corps to move he would give the necessary orders. I do not pretend to have quoted the language accurately, but I know that the message from General Meade as reported was somewhat brusque and emphatic, and that General Hancock indulged in some terse and vigorous English. I cannot give the exact hour of the day when either of the requests above mentioned was sent to General Meade, for I had been up all night and took little note of time, but I know that the firing had practically ceased on both sides, and that it was not until some hours afterwards that the main body of the enemy’s troops, which had been lured off to their left a day or two before by Hancock’s corps, came filing back into such of their works in our front as still remained and afforded them shelter. I shall always feel that had the request of General Warren been granted this morning, when a wide door had been opened in his front and there was but a small force to dispute his passage through, Lee’s right would have been pierced, Petersburg been taken and the war ended.
The picket lines in front of “Fort Hell” were very near together,—not more than fifteen or twenty yards apart, I should think. The men on these lines were usually relieved in the night time, and each occupied a little “gopher hole,” from which, through an aperture between rocks and logs arranged for his protection, he would occasionally take a shot at some exposed adversary. During our cannonade one of these chaps on the rebel line had given us some trouble by firing through the embrasures and splintering the spokes of the wheels of our gun carriages, but he was a bad marksman and injured none of the men, though he chipped a piece out of the buckle of my sword belt and gave me a little pain in the center for a moment. I could not depress any of the guns enough to reach him, even if the game had been worth the candle, but determining to quiet him, I placed two infantry soldiers on either side of an embrasure, where they were hidden by the sand bags which formed the crest of the works, with instructions to locate the point where the fellow’s musket came through, and then one of them to return his fire and the other to wait a few seconds until he might be expected to be peeping through for an observation, and then fire. Finding after a few failures that the man had evidently gotten on to the scheme, I placed a third infantry man a short distance from one of the others, and this arrangement seemed to be quite outside of the picket’s calculations, for after the third man had fired but once we heard nothing more from that “gopher hole.”
Along towards night confidence seemed to be in a measure restored between the picket lines in our front, the men frequently hailing each other and carrying on more or less conversation, and the “Johnnies” taunting our men with the inquiry, “Why didn’t you ‘Yanks’ take these works to-day? There wasn’t a hundred men in them.” Private Short-sleeves of my company, actually slipped out through an embrasure and went over to the picket line and exchanged a quantity of hardtack for several plugs of very black and repulsive-looking tobacco.