150 years ago, the Army of the Potomac began its shift southward, marching for the James and, ultimately, to Petersburg beyond. . . .Late on June 12, the 48th Pennsylvania abandoned its position near Cold Harbor, marched through Burhamville and headed for Turnstall's Station and the Chickahominy River beyond. They crossed the Chickahominy on pontoons two days later. On June 16, the regiment crossed the James River "bright and early" and, about 4:00 p.m., arrived in front of the Petersburg defenses. On their way to the front, the tired and dusty Schuylkill County soldiers passed the scene of an earlier engagement, with the dead still covering the fields. For these veteran troops, this ghastly sight was nothing, except for the color of the slain. A number of black U.S.C.T. soldiers had been killed in the assault. "These were the first dead colored troops the boys of the Forty-eighth had seen and their stiff forms eloquently answered the query as to whether the colored troops would fight or not," recorded Oliver Bosbyshell.
|The pontoon bridge across the James River consisted of over 100 pontoons and spanned 700 yards across the river. The 48th marches across this bridge on the morning of June 16. [New York Public Library]|
The following two days--June 17-18--the regiment would attack the Confederate defenses at Petersburg and suffer heavily for it. Having already lost well more than 200 soldiers over the past six weeks in its march south from the Rapidan, through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, across the North Anna, and at Cold Harbor, another 65 were destined to fall. Their attacks would, however, place them very near to yet another Confederate defensive line, nearer to Petersburg, an angle in the trenches known as Elliot's Salient. And it would be on June 23 when Colonel Pleasants overheard one of his soldiers say that if only they could run a mine under it, they could blow that damned fort out of existence.
The digging of the Petersburg Mine--the 48th's greatest accomplishment--would commence two days later. . .
|Roads South From Richmond To Petersburg: June 12-June 16, 1864|