On the twenty-eighth Hood attacked the extreme right, now commanded by General O.O. Howard in succession to McPherson, whose Army of the Tennessee again did most distinguished service, especially Logan's Fifteenth Corps near Ezra Church. The Confederates were again defeated with the heavier loss. After this the siege continued all through the month of August.
While Hood was trying to keep Sherman off Atlanta Grant was trying to make a breach at Petersburg. Grant gave Meade "minute orders on the 24th [of July] how I wanted the assault conducted," and Meade elaborated the actual plan with admirable skill except in one particular that of the generals concerned. Burnside was ordered to use his corps for the assault, and he chose Ledlie's division to lead. The mine was on an enormous scale, designed to hold eight tons of powder, though it was only charged with four, and was approached by a gallery five hundred feet long. On the twentyninth Grant brought every available man into proper support of Burnside, whose other three divisions were to form the immediate support of Ledlie's grand forlorn hope.
In the early morning of the thirtieth the mine blew up with an earthquaking shock; the enemy round it ran helterskelter to the rear; a crater like that of a volcano was formed; and a hundred and sixty pieces of artillery opened a furious fire on every square inch near it. Ledlie's division rushed forward and occupied the crater. But there the whole maneuver stopped short; for everything hinged on Ledlie's movements; and Ledlie was hiding, well out of danger, instead of "carrying on." After a pause Confederate reinforcements came up and drove the leaderless division back. "The effort," said Grant, "was a stupendous failure"; and it cost him nearly four thousand men, mostly captured.
August was a sad month for the loyal North. It was then, as we have seen, that Lincoln had to warn Grant about the way in which his orders were being falsified in Washington. It was then that Sherman asked for reinforcements, so as to be up to strength before and after the taking of Atlanta. And it was then that Halleck warned Grant to be ready to send some of his best men north if there should be serious resistance to the draft. Nor was this all. Thurlow Weed, the great election agent, told Lincoln that the Government would be defeated; which meant, of course, that the compromised and compromising Peace Party would probably be at the helm in time to wreck the Union. With so many of the best men dead or at the front the whole tone of political society had been considerably lowered--to the corresponding advantage of all those meaner elements that fish in troubled waters when the dregs are well stirred up. There were sinister signs in the big cities, in the press, and in financial circles. The Union dollar once sank to thirty-nine cents. To make matters worse, there was a good deal of well-founded discontent among the selfsacrificing loyalists, both at the home and fighting fronts, because the Government apparently allowed disloyal and evasive citizens to live as parasites on the Union's body politic. The blood tax and money tax alike fell far too heavily on the patriots; while many a parasite grew rich in unshamed safety.
Mobile was won in August. But the people's eyes were mostly fixed upon the land. So a much greater effect was produced by Sherman's laconic dispatch of the second of September announcing the fall of Atlanta. The Confederates, despairing of holding it to any good purpose, had blown up everything they could not move and then retreated. This thrilling news heartened the whole loyal North, and, as Lincoln at once sent word to Sherman, "entitled those who had participated to the applause and thanks of the nation." Grant fired a salute of shotted guns from every battery bearing on the enemy, who were correspondingly depressed. For every one could now see that if the Union put forth its full strength the shrunken forces of the South could not prevent the Northern vice from crushing them to death.
September also saw the turning of the tide on the still more conspicuous scene of action in Virginia. Grant had sent Sheridan to the Valley, and had just completed a tour of personal inspection there, when Sheridan, finding Early's Confederates divided, swooped down on the exposed main body at Opequan Creek and won a brilliant victory which raised the hopes of the loyal North a good deal higher still.
Exactly a month later, on the nineteenth of October, Early made a desperate attempt to turn the tables on the Federals in the Valley by attacking them suddenly, on their exposed left flank, while Sheridan was absent at Washington. (We must remember that Grant had to concert action personally with his sub-commanders, as his orders were so often "queered" when seen at Washington by autocratic Stanton and bureaucratic Halleck.) The troops attacked broke up and were driven in on their supports in wild confusion. Then the supports gave way; and a Confederate victory seemed to be assured.
But Sheridan was on his way. He had left the scene of his previous victory at Opequan Creek, near Winchester, and was now riding to the rescue of his army at Cedar Creek, twenty miles south. "Sheridan's Ride," so widely known in song and story, was enough to shake the nerves of any but a very fit commander. The flotsam and jetsam of defeat swirled round him as he rode. Yet, with unerring eye, he picked out the few that could influence the rest and set them at work to rally, reform, and return. Inspired by his example many a straggler who had run for miles presently "found himself" again and got back in time to redeem his reputation.