General Grant, meanwhile, in his eagerness for the coveted prize so long denied him, resolved to tempt Fortune by a double throw, and not to stake his all upon the venture of a single cast. To this end, he dispatched, on the evening of the 26th, Hancock's corps and two divisions of horse under Sheridan to the north side of the James, with instructions to the former to move up rapidly next day to Chaffin's and prevent reinforcements crossing from the south, while Sheridan, making a wide sweep to the right, was to attempt from the north a surprise of the thinly-garrisoned fortifications of Richmond. Meade was to spring the mine and assault from Burnside's front on the same day, General Grant stating in the telegraphic order, with
HIS HABITUAL RELIANCE ON SHEER WEIGHT OF NUMBERS,
"Your two remaining corps, with the Eighteenth, make you relatively stronger against the enemy at Petersburg than we have been since the first day."* But the cautious Meade replied that he could not advise an assault in the absence of the Second corps,† while the rough treatment experienced by Sheridan indicated that the Confederate capital was secure against surprise.
But although the movement north of the James was not, as commonly represented, a skilful feint which deceived Lee, but a real attempt to surprise Richmond,‡ which he thwarted by concentrating heavily on his left, yet to parry the stroke the Confederate commander had been compelled so to denude the Petersburg front that there was left for its defence but four brigades of Bushrod Johnson's division and the divisions of Hoke and Mahone, which together with the artillery made up a force of little over 13,000 effective men.§
The conjuncture was still bright with success to the Federals, and it being now decided to spring the mine before daylight of the 30th, Hancock's movement was treated as a feint, and that officer
.* Report on the Conduct of the War (1866), vol.i, p.45.
† "I cannot advise an assault with the Second corps absent. * * * It is not the numbers of the enemy, which oppose our taking Petersburg; it is their artillery and their works, which can be held by reduced numbers against direct assault."—Meade's telegram to Grant, July 26th, 1864.
‡ General Grant's testimony, "failing on the north bank of the river to surprise the enemy as we expected or hoped to do." Report on the Conduct of the War (1865), vol. i, p. 169.
§ This estimate is based on the morning report of the Army of Northern Virginia, June 30th, 1864. It is, perhaps, excessive by a few hundreds. General Grant's information as to the Confederate force at Petersburg was entirely accurate. Report on the Conduct of the War (1865), vol.i, p.170.