Recently I have been researching various Civil War frontal assaults to help put the decisive April 2, 1865 storming of the Petersburg lines into perspective for my upcoming book Dawn of Victory. I encountered an interesting piece written August 15, 1864, by Ohioan Henry Otis Dwight, while in the trenches outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Harper’s Magazine published his article later that October and it paints a more somber picture of an attack against a fixed fortification than that supposedly experienced the following year by the Sixth Corps in Virginia. Yet the Vermont Phoenix still decided to reprint Dwight’s description of combat in the April 28, 1865 issue which featured its own correspondent’s account of the Breakthrough at Petersburg. Perhaps the editor hoped to remind a jubilant public flush with victory of the true face of battle.
One reads in the papers of the assaults on earthworks, of the repulses, and yet one does not know what is contained in these words—“Assault repulsed.” You make up your mind to assault the enemy’s works. You have formed a line of battle, with second and third lines behind you for support. You march forth filled with the determination to accomplish the object, yet feeling the magnitude of the undertaking. Two hundred yards brings you to the picket line, and here the operation commences. You dash across the open space between the two lines, you lose a few men and the enemy’s pickets, after making as much noise as possible, run back to their main works.