LEE, Robert E. Autograph letter signed ("R. E. Lee"), to General P. G. T. Beauregard, Headquarters, 2 August 1864. 1 page, 4to, with 9-line autograph endorsement signed of Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard on verso.
REFORMING THE CONFEDERATE LINES AFTER THE GREAT PETERSBURG MINE EXPLOSION. Three days after the Union detonated its massive mine 400-feet underneath the rebel lines, Lee chastises his subordinates for laxness in reforming their lines: "On visiting the lines this morn I learned from Genl. Hill that he occupied last night with Genl. Heth's troops the front formerly held by Genl. Field, but that Genl. Johnson did not fill the whole space formerly held by him. I understood the arrangement to be that Genl. Heth should assume Field's position & Genl. Johnson his own, & directed Genl. Hill accordingly. Genl. Hill informs me that Genl. Johnson rested his right about the shoulder of the Front line's retrenchment & refused to extend further South. He had therefore to retain a portion of Mahone's division in the interval between Genls. Johnson & Heth till daylight this morning when he relieved it with some of Heth's troops in reserve. I request that you will direct Genl. Johnson to extend his right to the point formerly occupied by him. Should there be any doubt to this point that you send a Staff officer with one of Genl. Hills to designate it." On the verso, Beauregard's endorsement reads: "Respectfully referred to Maj. Genl. Johnson for his information and action--he will also inform then Head Quarters why the order to re-occupy the former position, i.e. to the left of Field's former position, was not complied with."
Whatever faults Lee detected in the rebel formation, they were nothing compared to the folly of the mine. The Confederates knew of the Union's big dig and constructed defensive works in anticipation of it. When it came at 4:45 a.m. on the morning of 30 July, the 320 kegs of powder blew a hole 170 feet long, some 70 feet wide and 30 feet deep, and killed nearly 300 rebel troops. Union commanders, however, failed to exploit the explosion, as the Federals dallied instead of rushing into the breach, giving Confederate General Beauregard plenty of time to organize an effective counterattack, led by General William Mahone. "The effort was a stupendous failure," Ulysses Grant wrote with characteristic bluntness (Boatner, 649), and several of the top officers connected with it were censured in an ensuing court of inquiry.