The Assault and Siege of Petersburg
Grant began preliminary assaults against Petersburg on June 15, but without success. On June 18, the entire army made a general assault of the Confederate works, but the 44th was relegated to a support role, as the Third Brigade provided support to a column that planned to attack a Confederate fort after dark. The attackers moved quietly closer to the fort, but the inadvertent firing of a musket revealed their position, and the enemy threw a heavy fire at the column and the supports. Sergeant David Harris, a Varick resident, was wounded in the thigh. (1)
The attack was canceled, and the 44th took position in the front lines, which consisted of hastily constructed breastworks. The men worked several hours to improve the works and protect themselves from the enemy, before laying down to a few hours of sleep. The next morning, when they awoke, some of the men forgot about their dangerous environment and lifted their heads above the breastworks. Three men who did so were killed that morning, including Robert Darling, an 1862 graduate of the Normal School. Darling, a devout Christian who turned down a chaplaincy to remain with the 44th, was one of the tallest men in the company and had been recently promoted to Corporal. The presence of a Cohorn mortar gun within the regiment's lines continued to attract the enemies' fire, but without much additional harm to the regiment. (2)
Grant and his generals concluded that the enemy's position was too strong, and the army settled into a siege. It was not a traditional siege, as even the Army of the Potomac did not have enough men to completely encircle the city, and the initial Union line was primarily on the east side of the city. The 44th witnessed the July 30 Battle of the Crater from a distance. The First Division covered the entire front of the Fifth Corps that morning, and was supposed to attack the enemy if the initial assault by the Ninth Corps was successful. The explosion broke through the Confederate lines, but poor decisions by the Ninth Corps commanders failed to take advantage. The initial attack failed, and the 44th did not move. (3)
A total of 6 men were killed and 11 wounded during the two months the 44th spent in the trenches and performed picket duty. The pickets, stationed beyond the front lines, and separated from the enemy's pickets by a short distance, went out from the lines at night to relieve the previous day's pickets, and dug holes that concealed them from the enemy during the day. As the siege dragged on, the pickets and the front lines sometimes made agreements not to fire upon one another, somewhat easing the constant fear of a sharpshooter's bullet. The regiment moved several times within the lines, mainly to the left, as Grant slowly extended the Union lines to the left, toward the Weldon railroad, an important supply line for the cities of Petersburg and Richmond. (4)
1. Nash, 201; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," in Nash, 291.
2. Rufus W. Clark, "Robert Darling" essay, The Heroes of Albany. A Memorial of the Patriot-Martyrs of the City and County of Albany Who Sacrificed Their Lives During the Late War in Defence of Our Nation, 1861-1865, 652-5; Nash, 202; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 291.
3. Nash, 204; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 291-2.
4. Nash, 205; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 291.
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