The Armies of the Union in May 1864

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Battle of the WildernessUlysses S. Grant was named General-in-Chief on March 9, 1864. He was one month shy of his forty-second birthday. Grant immediately began to formulate a new coordinated strategy for the field armies of the Union.

His strategy called for coordinated offensives against the Confederate armies in order to prevent them to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within southern interior lines. Grant had realized early on in the Western Theater that defeating the Confederate armies rather than capturing geographical objectives must be the goal of the Union armies.

‘Wear them down and grind them up’ were the keys to this war of attrition. With the Union’s overwhelming industrial strength and its population superiority Grant knew that the Union armies would eventually destroy the Southern Confederacy’s will to resist. The only things that stood in the way of this bloody strategy would be the political will of the Union leaders and the war weariness of the North’s civilian population.

As Grant formulated and implemented his strategy he had at his disposal a number of military formations.

In the Western Theater, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman had been promoted to overall command of all Union armies in the region. Technically, he was commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Within his division  Sherman had three different armies at his command. At the start of the campaign Sherman had 95,000 men, a number that increased to 112,000 by June. This was more than double the Confederate’s manpower.

The Army of the Tennessee had been under the command and Sherman. It now was commanded by Major General James B. McPherson, a 35-year old former engineer. His army included the corps of Maj. Gen. John A. Logan (XV Corps), Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge (XVI Corps), and Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair, Jr. (XVII Corps).

Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield‘s Army of the Ohio, consisting of his own XXIII Corps and a cavalry division commanded by Maj. Gen. George Stoneman.

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas‘s Army of the Cumberland, including the corps of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard (IV Corps), Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer (XIV Corps), Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (XX Corps), and Brig. Gen. Washington L. Elliott (Cavalry Corps).

Sherman’s goals were two-fold: the capture of the key rail junction of Atlanta and the destruction of the Confederate’s Army of Tennessee in battle. With the capture of the city, Sherman would then be in a position to eviscerate the Deep South.

The balance of the armies were in the Eastern Theater. The largest and most well-known was the Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade. Meade’s army consisted of three infantry and one cavalry corps. In addition there was one corps, the IX under Major General Ambrose Burnside, that reported directly to Grant rather than Meade.

At the start of the Overland Campaign this force totaled totaled 118,700 men and 316 guns. They were opposed by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia with 64,000 men and 274 guns. The goal of Meade’s army was to engage the Confederates in constant battle while driving them east toward Richmond.

The Army of the Potomac was to be aided by Major General Benjamin Butler‘s Army of the James. Butler’s mission was to deploy his 33,000-man army via the James River to the Virginia Peninsula and strike northwest to Richmond. The objective was not to capture the Confederate capital directly, but to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad—a critical Southern supply line—and force Lee to send reinforcements to that front, weakening him against Grant and Meade.

Butler’s army consisted of two corps, the X under Major General Q.A.Gillmore with three divisions and the XVIII under Major General W.F.Smith with three divisions. He also had at least 20 batteries of artillery and various cavalry and engineering units under his command.

Major General Franz Siegal commanded the Union Army of West Virginia. Grant commanded Siegal to invade the Shenandoah Valley and destroy Robert E. Lee’s supply lines by driving south and capturing the key city of Lynchburg. Unfortunately, Siegal was only given 10,000 men to accomplish his goals. After his defeat at the Battle of New Market on May 15th, he was relieved and replaced by Major General David Hunter.

Brigadier General George Crook was ordered by Grant to take his Kanawha Division and attack the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, Richmond’s primary link to Knoxville and the southwest, and to destroy the Confederate salt works at Saltville, Virginia. Once he had accomplished this mission he was to was to march east and join forces with Major General Franz Sigel, who meanwhile was to be driving south up the Shenandoah Valley.

Brigadier General William W. Averell was ordered to conduct a cavalry raid against Saltville but he was repulsed at the Battle of Cove Mountain, in Wythe County, Virginia. In this engagement Averell had one cavalry brigade of 2,500 while his opponent, Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones, had a force of 4,000.






The Burning of Hampton, Virginia

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

The Burning of Hampton, VirginiaNot all wholesale destruction was perpetrated by the enemy. The Confederate forces were believed to have started the fire that destroyed Richmond at the end of the war in an attempt to destroy military supplies. The city of Atlanta was burned by both sides in 1864. But the strangest case is the burning of the town of Hampton, Virginia by the Confederate Army on the night of August 7-8, 1861.

In December 1606, three ships carrying men and boys left England. Headed by Captain Christopher Newport on a mission sponsored by a proprietary company they arrived off the coast of Virginia. After a long voyage, they first landed at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay on the south shore at a place they named Cape Henry.

During the first few days of exploration, they identified the site of Old Point Comfort (which they originally named “Point Comfort”) as a strategic defensive location at the entrance to the body of water that became known as Hampton Roads. This is formed by the confluence of the ElizabethNansemond, and James rivers.

A few weeks later, on May 14, 1607, they established the first permanent English settlement in the present-day United States about 25 miles further inland from the Bay at Jamestown. However, Hampton claims to be the oldest continuously occupied English settlement in the United States. Meanwhile, Old Point Comfort became the site of several successive fortifications during the following 200 years.

Fortress Monroe is the last of a succession of defensive forts at Old Point Comfort. It began construction in 1819 on what would become the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. Work continued for nearly twenty-five years. The fort, designed by Simon Bernard, features a moat completely surrounding the inner structures. As a young first lieutenant and engineer in the U.S. Army, Robert E. Lee was stationed there from 1831 to 1834, and played a major role in the final construction of both Fort Monroe and its opposite, Fort Calhoun.

Fortress Monroe had the distinction of remaining in Union hands for the entire war. Its location made it play an important role in the Union war effort in that part of Virginia. Immediately after the firing on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln ordered the reinforcement of the fort. Fortress Monroe was to be a thorn in the side of the Confederacy throughout the war.

Across the bay was the town of Hampton. In 1861, the city had at least 500 buildings and was a center for commerce and trade before the war. But once the Union blockade went into effect Hampton began to suffer with the rest of the coastal South.

Gradually, residents began to move out of the city, not wishing to be so close to the Union base at Fortress Monroe. On May 27, 1861, Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous “contraband” decision, or “Fort Monroe Doctrine”, determining that escaping male slaves who reached Union lines would be considered contraband and not be returned to bondage. The order resulted in thousands of slaves fleeing to Union lines around Fort Monroe.

Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder commanded the Confederate forces in the immediate area. Magruder had a fear that Hampton would be used by Unionhampton-roads-map-1859 forces as winter quarters. He ordered Capt. Jefferson Curle Phillips to lead a force of 500 soldiers from Hampton and the surrounding counties into the town at about midnight on August 7, 1861.

Click to enlarge image

The Confederates fired the town with torches, burning all but 7 or 8 buildings, according to witnesses. “Perhaps twenty white people and double that number of negroes remained in the town; unaware of the fire or unable to flee, some were killed in their sleep,” according to the New York Times.

General Butler was stunned by the burning of Hampton. He stated later that he never intended Hampton as a base for winter quarters and felt that it was a “wanton act of cruelty to the resident Unionists” and completely unnecessary.

Southern responses to the incident sometimes claimed Union General Butler had torched the town, but the Charleston Mercury reported on August 14, 1861, that Confederates were responsible. The article claimed that Union troops had committed “some of the foulest desecrations of these houses and homes of our Virginia people,’ including using the parlors of some of the houses as latrines, as well as writing obscenities on the walls.

“How many soldiers actually burned their own homes, we don’t know. But they did burn one of the centers of their lives, destroying the courthouse and the churches, the businesses, the schools and the homes they had grown up with,” says J. Michael Cobb, a Civil War historian and curator of Hampton Historical Collections.

After the destruction of the town, escaping slaves used the ruins as a refuge. The built the built the Grand Contraband Camp, the first self-contained African American community in the United States. A number of modern-day Hampton streets retain their names from that community.


Ben Butler and the Occupation of New Orleans

This entry is part 10 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Benjamin ButlerNew Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy. More importantly it was the largest port and controlled the outlet of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and the wider world. In the spring of 1862 the city of New Orleans was introduced to Maj. Gen. Ben Butler and the Union Army. Their relationship would be a tumultuous one.

New Orleans was the commercial center of the Deep South. In 1840 it had the largest slave market in the South. By then slaves were being shipped to the Deep South from the Upper South and many of the slaves were sold in the slave markets of New Orleans. In 1857 fully half of the $156 million in exports came from cotton, followed by tobacco and sugar. The city boasted a U.S. Mint and a U.S. Customs House. All in all, New Orleans was a cosmopolitan city.

Benjamin Franklin Butler was a Massachusetts lawyer and politician who had a reputation as a dogged criminal defense lawyer who seized on every misstep of his opposition to gain victories for his clients. Using his skills as a lawyer, Butler compounded them into successful investments in Massachusetts businesses. Butler was a DEmocrat who regularly spoke out for the abolition of slavery. With all of these talents he soon embarked on a political career in the Massachusetts legislature. By 1858 he was elected to the State Senate.

Butler stated that “I was always a friend of southern rights but an enemy of southern wrongs”, and sought to serve in the Union army at the beginning of the war. He maneuvered a position as a brigadier general of the Massachusetts militia and set off for Washington with the first of the Massachusetts troops.

When the earlier-arriving troops were attacked in Baltimore, Butler was instrumental in negotiating with the Maryland governor to allow troops to land by sea at Annapolis and from there proceed by train to Washington. Lincoln appointed him one of the first major generals of U.S. Volunteers, ranking from May 16, 1861. He was third behind John Dix and Nathaniel Banks.

Butler was then given command of Fortress Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. On June 10, 1861, six weeks before the Battle of First Bull Run, a Union Army force under Butler’s command suffered a humiliating, albeit minor in retrospect, defeat at the Battle of Big Bethel.

More importantly, he was involved in the first declaration of escaping slaves as contraband of war. Butler declined to return to their owners fugitive slaves who had come within his lines, on the grounds that, as laborers for building fortifications and other military activities, they were contraband of war, thereby justifying granting these slaves a relative freedom, in spite of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

In April 1862, Flag Officer (later Admiral) David Farragut captured New Orleans with a combined force of naval and army units. Butler had been the commander of the army troops and had been named as the commander of the occupying force.

The population of New Orleans was many times the size of the occupying force and was largely in favor of secession. Realizing that he needed to act promptly to overawe the citizenry, Butler moved as soon as he was given an opportunity. When a local secessionist tore down the American flag from the U.S. Mint, Butler had him arrested, tried and hung for the offense. The population was shocked by Butler’s immediate response.

His most famous action was General Order No. 28. He issued it when the ladies of New Orleans expressed their Confederate sympathies by insulting Union officers and men on the streets of the city. Butler issued an order that in part read that any female who did so would “be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her trade.” 

This was in response to women in the town who were pouring buckets of their own urine on Union soldiers, and who at the time could get away with anything as respectable women. If a woman punched a soldier, he could punch her back. The order stopped all of their behavior, without arresting anyone or firing a bullet. It provoked protests both in the North and the South, and also abroad, particularly in England and France.

When a New Orleans woman openly laughed as a Union officer’s funeral possession went by, Butler had her arrested and imprisoned for ten weeks on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Like General Halleck had done in St. Louis, he imposed contributions on wealthy secessionists in New Orleans to pay for relief to the poor.

He also received an undeserved nickname as “Spoons” Butler due to the rumor that he was systematically stealing silverware from the homes that he used as his headquarters. While no proof exists that Butler was corrupt it is possible that he knew of the illegal activities of his brother Andrew, also in the army in New Orleans.

Shortly after the Second Confiscation Act became effective in September 1862 General Butler increasingly relied upon it as a means of grabbing cotton. Butler used the act to allow his brother Andrew to buy up cotton at bargain prices. The general sent expeditions into the countryside with no military purpose other than to confiscate cotton from residents assumed to be disloyal.

Despite these seemingly draconian measures, Butler understood civilians and his general rule was not too overbearing. He allowed the newspapers to publish with a minimum of censorship after several earlier confiscations by Union authorities. Historian John D. Winters wrote that most of the newspapers “were allowed to reopen later but were so rigidly controlled that all color and interest were drained away”.

When the editor of the Commercial Bulletin William Seymour asked Butler what would happen if the newspaper ignored his censorship, an angry Butler reportedly stated “I am the military governor of this state — the supreme power — you cannot disregard my order, Sir. By God, he that sins against me, sins against the Holy Ghost.” His newspaper was confiscated and he was imprisoned for three months for writing a favorable obituary of his father, who had been killed serving in the Confederate army in Virginia.

The rabidly secessionist clergy were allowed to preach with little interference from occupation authorities. However, that churches that planned a special day of prayer and fasting for the Confederacy were forbidden from doing so. Several clergymen were placed under arrest for refusing to pray for President Lincoln. The Episcopal churches were closed, and their three ministers were sent to New York City under military escort.

Butler also took aim at foreign consuls in New Orleans. He ordered the seizure of $800,000 that had been deposited in the office of the Dutch consul, imprisoned the French Champagne magnate Charles Heidsieck, and took particular aim at George Coppell of Great Britain, whom he suspended for refusal to cooperate with the Union. Instead, Butler accused Coppell of giving aid to the Confederate cause.

U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward sent Reverdy Johnson to New Orleans to investigate complaints of foreign consuls against certain Butler policies. Even when told by President Lincoln to restore a sugar shipment claimed by Europeans, Butler undermined the order. He also imposed a strict quarantine to protect against yellow fever, which had the added impact of delaying foreign commerce and bringing complaints to his headquarters from most foreign consuls.

However, his occasionally harsh measures overwhelmed the overall mildness of his rule. By the summer of 1862, Ben Butler had been transformed in “Beast” Butler, the most hated man in the South. Although Butler’s governance of New Orleans was popular in the North, some of his actions, notably those against the foreign consuls, concerned President Lincoln, who authorized his recall in December 1862.  Butler was replaced by Nathaniel Banks but was given command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina in November 1863.



Lincoln’s Democrat Generals

George B. McClellan in 1861Some historians have put forward a theory that the Union generals of the early war were lenient in prosecuting the war due to their political leanings. Abraham Lincoln in an effort to garner support for the war appointed a significant number of Democrats as major generals of volunteers at the start of the war.

The most important reason for appointing political generals was to appease important blocs of voters. President Abraham Lincoln used such appointments as a way to get the support of moderate Democrats for the war and for his administration (“War Democrats“). The first three volunteer generals Lincoln appointed, (John Adams DixNathaniel Prentice Banks and Benjamin F. Butler) were all Democrats, and therefore these three officers were the most senior major generals in the Union Army. Republicans were also appointed including Richard James Oglesby of Illinois.

John Adams Dix was a New York politician who had served in the Senate and as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan for less than two months in 1861. He is best known for the telegram that he sent to all Treasury agents in New Orleans. “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” Although the telegram was intercepted by Confederates, and was never delivered, the text found its way to the press, and Dix became one of the first heroes of the North during the Civil War.

Dix was the most senior major general of volunteers in the Union Army because his was the first appointment. He served in a variety of commands in the Eastern Theater. He is best known for the Dix-Hill Cartel for the exchange of prisoners of war.

Nathaniel Prentice Banks was a Massachusetts politician who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives as both a Member and then as Speaker. He left the House and ran for the governorship which he won. He was the second major general of volunteers to be appointed by Lincoln. During his career, Banks held commands in Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley and the Department of the Gulf.

He had the bad fortune to have to face Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley during his memorable Valley Campaign of 1862. Jackson bested Banks at Winchester and later at Cedar Mountain.In the South, Banks commanded at the Siege of Port Hudson and on the Red River Campaign.

Benjamin Butler was the third ranking major general of volunteers appointed by Lincoln. His policies regarding slaves as contraband so they could have freedom, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the war. Butler was the first Eastern Union General to declare runaway Virginia slaves “contraband of war”; refusing to return them to their masters.

Then we have the most famous of the Democrat Union generals, George B. McClellan. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in July 1861, McClellan was ordered from his post in western Virginia to take command of the Washington defenses. Based on two somewhat minor victories he was feted by the New York Herald as “…the Napoleon of the Present War.”

On May 14th, McClellan at 34 had been promoted to major general in the Regular Army, outranking everyone but Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.” He was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington.

On August 20th after consolidating a number of Union formations he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. McClellan considered himself the savior of his country. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “I seem to have become the power of the land.”

McClellan immediately went about reorganizing the Army of the Potomac as a superb fighting force. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. From July to November, the army grew from 50,000 to 168,000 men, a stupendous number for the 19th century.

McClellan was a superb logistics officer who understood the use of rail and steamboat transportation in war. However, he never seemed willing to throw his army into the fires of war. Some would say that he loved it too much to risk it in combat. Others whispered that McClellan was among the Union commanders who wished for conciliation with the South on the conditions that prevailed at the start of the war.

McClellan delivered a memorandum to Lincoln on August 2nd which was read to the Cabinet the following day. In it the general seemed to follow Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. He felt that it was necessary “to display such an overwhelming strength, as will convince all our antagonists…of the utter impossibility of resistance.”

McClellan detailed his military grand strategy calling for attacks down the Mississippi, into Missouri, through East Tennessee into Kentucky and into West Texas. Other Union forces would maintain their hold on western Virginia and Fort Monroe. He also alluded to a substantial amphibious forces for attacks along the Southern coastline.

All of this was to be in support of a massive offensive against the Confederate capital of Richmond which would be followed by a thrust deep into the Deep South. McClellan called for a massive army of 273,000 troops with 600 pieces of artillery. This force would have been 20 times the size of the army that captured Mexico City in 1847.

McClellan had two objectives with his strategy. First, he hoped to detach the bulk of the Southern people from their presumably weak loyalty to the “political leaders of the rebels.” His second objective was to convince the “governing aristocratic class” that resistance was futile. In order to be successful with the first objective there could be no more Union defeats. At the same time he felt that a lenient policy of prosecuting the war was necessary in order not to alienate the Southern population.

Part of this lenient policy required the Union Army “to crush the rebels in one campaign” according to a letter that he wrote to his wife on the same day as he wrote the memorandum to Lincoln. He ordered his troops to rigorously respect private property, including slaves, and crush any attempt at a slave insurrection. These were the same orders that he gave his troops in Western Virginia.

However, McClellan could not be moved. Throughout the late and into the fall the Army of the Potomac continued to train while McClellan engaged in a bureaucratic struggle with Winfield Scott. Eventually Scott became so worn out with the struggle that he resigned as General-in-Chief. McClellan was appointed in his place and when he did he pressed his conciliatory views on each of the Union Army’s major commanders.


The Bermuda Hundred Campaign

The Bermuda Hundred Campaign

The Bermuda Hundred Campaign consisted of a series of battles that were fought on the east side of Richmond. The Federal Army of the James, commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, was ordered to move up the Peninsula. They had two goals: threaten Richmond in order to draw off troops from Lee’s army facing the Army of the Potomac and cut the vital Richmond & Petersburg Railroad.

Benjamin Butler was a so-called political general. He was a lifelong Massachusetts Democrat. Before the war he had practiced criminal law with someGeneral Benjamin Butler distinction. He had served in the both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate. He had been a delegate to the 1860 Democratic Convention he had been a supporter of Jefferson Davis, voting for him on the first 57 ballots. During the campaign he supported John C. Breckinridge.

Butler, although a brigadier general of the state militia, had virtually no military experience. Butler had been sent from Massachusetts with the first Massachusetts volunteers in April 1861. He distinguished himself during the riots in Baltimore by negotiating an end to the rioting.

He also took command of other troops that arrived in the Baltimore area. Having no authorization to take command, he was relieved by General Winfield Scott. However, Lincoln appointed one of the first three major generals of volunteers on May 16, 1861.

Butler held a succession of command with mixed results. His initial assignment was the command of Fortress Monroe and the Department of Virginia. His administration was noted for the policy of not returning fugitive slaves to their owners on the grounds that they were contraband of war. This practice was later formalized throughout the Federal army.

He commanded forces Federal forces at the Battle of Big Bethel, a humiliating Federal defeat. The battle took place on June 10, 1861 in Hampton and York counties in eastern Virginia. It was relatively insignificant but since it was so early in the war received a great deal of attention.

Butler commanded troops in the capture of Forts Hatteras and Clark in North Carolina in August 1861. He then shifted to the Gulf coast and participated in Army-Navy operations there in 1862.

He received some notoriety with his command during the capture and occupation of New Orleans. Butler continued his practice of declaring fugitive slaves as contraband of war.

In November 1863 Butler was given command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina which was comprised of the Union-occupied parts of those two states. In May 1864 the forces under his command were designated as the Army of the James.

Butler’s force of 33,000 disembarked from naval transports at the small town of Bermuda Hundred on the James River on May 5, 1864. Opposing his force was a motley Confederate “army” of 18,000 under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Beauregard’s force was a collection of local troops, old men and young boys. In theory they were no match for Butler’s veteran troops. They had one advantage: Beauregard was a superior commander and with a great deal of skill held off Butler’s superior force by strategic use of the unique terrain of the area.

The Battle of Port Walthall Junction was the initial engagement of the campaign. On May 6th a Confederate brigade under the command of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood stopped Federal probes around Port Walthall Junction. On the next day a Federal division forced the reinforced Confederate force of two brigades to retreat from the rail junction which the Federals then captured. Total casualties for this action were 300 on the Federal side and 200 on the Confederates.

On May 9th Butler attempted an attack on Petersburg with a force of 14,000 men and 5 gunboats. He was met by a Confederate force of 4,200 from General Bushrod Johnson’s Division at Swift Creek. The Confederates attacked at Arrowfield Church but were unsuccessful. Butler’s force did not counterattack. They only tore up the railroad. The gunboats bombarded Fort Clifton in conjunction with an attack by U.S. Colored Troops who became bogged down in a marshy area. Both of these forces were driven off. The results were inconclusive and there were combined casualties of 990.

The following day Confederate General Robert Ransom’s Division conducted a reconnaissance in force against a part of Butler’s army around Chester Station. The Federals were in the process of destroying the station on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad. The Federal force of 3,400 men was attacked by a Confederate force of 2,000 of infantry. A furious rifle and artillery battle ensued until the Confederates withdrew because of the superior number of Federal troops.

General Alfred Terry reported casualties of 280 killed, wounded and missing while Confederate brigade commander Colonel Seth Barton reported a total of 249 killed, wounded and missing, including one of his regimental commanders. The Federal force returned to their entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred. This was another inconclusive engagement.

On May 12th Federal forces moved north along Proctor’s Creek against the Confederate line at Drewry’s Bluff and Fort Darling. He went into a defensive posture when the gunboats did not support his attack. The following day the Federal attacked the line on the Confederate right, capturing a line of breastworks. Butler remained cautious and did not press the attack. This allowed Beauregard to concentrate his smaller force.

On the 16th General Robert Ransom’s Division counterattacked the Federal positions on the right and routed many Federal units. A heavy fog prevented further Confederate attacks but the damage had been done. Butler once more withdrew his forces to the Bermuda Hundred entrenchments.

The Federal force sustained casualties of 422 killed, 2,380 wounded and 210 missing or captured. The Confederate had 400 killed, 2,000 wounded, 100 missing or captured. The Confederate’s achieved a tactical victory here.

Bermuda Hundred earthworksThe final engagement of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign took place on May 20th at Ware Bottom Church. Beauregard attacked the Bermuda Hundred defenses. About 10,000 men were engaged in this battle. The Federals had pushed out their lines to beyond the Ware Bottom Church. The Confederates forced the Federal lines back to their original positions of May 6th. They then constructed a new defense line named the Howlett Line and were able to contain the larger number of Federal troops.

The Howlett Line was 8 miles of rifle pits, entrenchments and artillery redoubts that ran from the Appomattox River in the south to the James River in the north. The Confederates built Battery Dantzler, an artillery position that interdicted all river traffic on the James.

With the construction of the Confederate redoubts the Bermuda Hundred Campaign essentially ended. What followed was a pattern of artillery duels and infantry skirmishing between the two armies. Beauregard was able to send troops to reinforce Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in June, the opposite of what Grant hoped that the campaign would accomplish. Grant moved William Smith’s XVIII Corps and used it to reinforce the Army of the Potomac around Cold Harbor.

In his Personal Memoirs, Grant recounted a conversation that he had with his chief engineer about Butler’s situation:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place.