‘You Must Not Be Surprised If Calamity Befalls Us’ – Lee Begins to See the End

February 7, 1865 (Tuesday)

Charge of the Fifth Corps
Charge of the Fifth Corps

Come the dawn, everything was quiet in Gouverneur Warren’s front. His Fifth Corps had met with repulse and confusion the night previous, but he was slowly regaining order. “The ignorance I am under of the exact moral condition of Warren’s corps, and his losses from stragglers,” wrote General Meade to General Grant that morning, “has restrained me from giving him positive orders to attack; but I have directed him to push out strong reconnaissances and his knowledge of the state of his command [will allow him to decide] whether to attack or not.”

Though the fight had been considerably not in favor of the Federals, Grant wasn’t dismayed. What he wanted more than anything was to extend the entrenchments. “We should hold permanently out to Hatcher’s Run,” he relayed, “fortifying as you think best, but destroying no works already made.” The ground gained should be kept and the troops should dig in.

The weather was yet again abysmal, and Grant thought it best that Meade move the troops to where he thought they should establish a more permanent line. He wanted to further attacks by Warren, “unless promising great advantages to us.” Grant was planning a trip to Washington, having been summonsed to appear before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. However, he didn’t want to leave the front until Meade’s troops were entrenched. Since he wanted to leave the next day, it was heavily implied to Meade that he should dig in immediately. “I hardly think it will be by to-morrow,” came Meade’s response, “as I have some works to erect before I can unmass the forces on the left.”

This was certainly not helped by Meade’s desire to attack. Wishing to bolster the Fifth Corps’ morale, prior to receiving Grant’s order not to strike, Meade sent forward one of Warren’s divisions to attack the Rebels. Through the driving rain, it took hours, but by 5:30pm, Warren could report that “we have regained most of the ground we held yesterday, and drawn the artillery fire from the enemy’s works, and we can hold the south side of Hatcher’s Run toward Dabney’s Mill so long as may be required.”

Meade was thrilled with this. At least this three-day foray wasn’t a complete debacle. With that space given, Meade planned to move the Fifth Corps to a better position. This would extend Grant’s left south in what would later be called ‘the line to Hatcher’s Run’. This wasn’t exactly what Grant hoped for, but was a definitely improvement.

Caring for the wounded after the battle.
Caring for the wounded after the battle.

For General Lee, things were only getting worse. The day following, he wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon, explaining the action. Grant and the Army of the Potomac were not the worst of his army’s enemies.

“All the disposable force of the right wing of the army has been operating against the enemy beyond Hatcher’s Run since Sunday. Yesterday [the 7th, this date], the most inclement day of the winter, they had to be retained in line of battle, having been in the same condition the two previous days and nights. I regret to be obliged to state that under these circumstances, heightened by assaults and fire of the enemy, some of the men had been without meat for three days, and all were suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail, and sleet.

“I have directed Colonel Cole, chief commissary, who reports that he has not a pound of meat at his disposal, to visit Richmond and see if nothing can be done. If some change is not made and the commissary department reorganized, I apprehend dire results. The physical strength of the men, if their courage survives, must fail under this treatment. Our cavalry has to be dispersed for want of forage. Fitz Lee’s and Lomax’s divisions are scattered because supplies cannot be transported where their services are required. I had to bring William H. F. Lee’s division forty miles Sunday night to get him in position.

“Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers, you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.”


Map showing no man's land.
Map showing no man’s land.

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol 46, Part 2, p447-448, 456-457, 1209-1210; The Last Citadel by Noah Andre Trudeau; The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 2 by Edwin Bearss. []


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