[Correspondence of the Associated Press.]
Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, Saturday, April 2 -- The most important victory that the Army of the Potomac has ever gained in Virginia was won to-day, and the outer line of the works which we have been trying in vain for months to overcome, has at last yielded to our victorious army, and the greater portion of this army are now, to-night, within a mile and a half of the city on the southwest side.
The struggle made by the enemy to retain these works has been of the most desperate character, and for the great success attained to-day, we are indebted not only to the strategy exercised by our commanders but to the overwhelming number and bravery of the troops that did the work.
The orders for an attack on the line east and south of Petersburg, by the Sixth and Ninth Corps, were carried out punctually at daylight, the artillery having been hammering away the greater part of the night along the line held by these corps. Such a furious cannonade has very seldom been heard during the war, not even surpassed by that which was heard on the occasion of the mine explosion.
The Ninth Corps troops engaged in the action were the Second and Third division and Colonel Samuel Harriman's Brigade of the First division.
The charge was made in front of Forts Hall and Rice, on the Jerusalem road, and was so far successful that by 8 A.M. we were in possession of three fortifications, Fort Mahone being the most extensive and elaborate.
These works contained fourteen guns, some of which were at once opened on the enemy by men belonging to the infantry regiments.
Just inside and about 100 yards from Fort Mahone was another work, to which the rebels retreated, and from which they threw a most destructive fire upon our men, causing them to retire from the northern end, when the rebels made a dash, thinking to recover it entirely. But the guns on the right wing as well as the centre had been manned and shotted, and the assailants driven back.
About noon the chances seemed that we should loose it, but soon after the Provisional Brigade, under Gen. Cellis, and the Engineer Brigade, under Gen. Bonham, with Gen. Hamlin's brigade of the Sixth Corps, came on the ground, and by their timely arrival saved the gallant men in the works from capture, and again caused the enemy to retreat.
The fire which rained on the ground around the fort was of the most fearful character, and to stand and see men advance on a run through the very thickets of it, many of them torn to pieces and lost to view before they crossed half the distance, was a sight not soon to be forgotten.
From this time till late in the afternoon the struggle continued, the enemy using every effort to recover the Fort, while our men were equally determined to retain possession of what they had fought so hard and paid so dearly for. At dark the position of the contending parties was the same as during the day.
General Wilcox, with part of his division, made an attack in front of Fort McGilroy, near the Appomattox, and took part of the line, but was soon after forced to retire to his former position, owing to a lack of supports.
The loss of the Ninth Corps will reach from eight hundred to one thousand in killed and wounded and prisoners, among whom are Gen. Potter, commanding the 2d division, who is badly wounded in the groin, but not fatally, it is thought; Col. Gatchell, of the 31st Maine, severely; Maj. Bolton, 31st Maine, severely; Col. Gregg and Lt. Col. Winslow, of the 179th N.Y., wounded; Maj. Morrow, of the 205th Pa., loss of a leg; Lt. Alexander, same regiment, killed. This corps has taken 14 guns and about 200 prisoners and two battle flags, the latter by the 211th Pa. regiment.
The Sixth Corps struck the enemy's lines in front of Fort Welch, near the celebrated lead works, and carried them, with very slight loss. They at once pushed on for the South Side road, which they reached about 9 o'clock, and in a very short time several miles of it were torn up and destroyed. They then moved on down towards Petersburg, driving the rebels before them across Town run and into their inner line close to the city. The Sixth Corps in this movement took a large number of prisoners -- about 2,000 and some 20 guns.
No attack on the inner line had been made, as yet, as the position is a strong one, and will either be defended to the last, or evacuated during the night.
The Twenty-fourth Corps, holding the line north of Hatcher's run and south of the Duncan road, connecting with the Sixth Corps on the right and the Second Corps on the left, advanced at daylight also, and took the works in their front with slight loss. Over one thousand prisoners were captured here. These troops were Foster's and Turner's divisions, under Gen. Gibbons. They were supported by the colored division of the Twenty-fourth Corps, but the latter did not get into action.
The Second Corps which held the line from the run, a mile and a half east of the Boydtown road, to over a mile west of it, delayed advancing until Sheridan with the Fifth Corps got within supporting distance on the extreme left, when the entire line moved forward carrying the works almost without opposition. The enemy was found to have fallen back from this part of the line, owing to the Sixth Corps cutting them off, they having reached the South Side road early in the forenoon, and were busy tearing it up.
This of course cut the rebel army in two parts, and the two divisions caught between the Sixth and Second Corps, at once started across the Appomattox, hoping to be able to ford it and thus escape capture, but it appears that they run against Sheridan, and, putting on a bold appearance, made a show to fight.
News to this effect reaching headquarters, two divisions of the Second Corps were at once sent to flank, and, if possible, capture the entire command.
Our losses during the day cannot be given, but it is believed 2,000 will cover them. Many valuable officers are among the number, whose names, however, are not at present attainable. Our captures will sum up about 9,000 prisoners and 38 guns, including those taken by Sheridan yesterday.
The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded is not estimated, but in front of the Ninth Corps they lie on the ground very thick, for there they were mown down by the hundreds at each effort to regain the lost ground. Gen. Ransom is badly wounded and a prisoner in our hands. He was found at a house on the Boydtown road, from which it was dangerous to move him. Gen. A.P. Hill is reported killed by prisoners Monday, April 3, 5 1/2 A.M.
Petersburg is ours. The second brigade, first division Ninth Corps took possession this morning at daylight.
The correspondent of the New York Herald, writing of the fighting on Saturday, says:
But the most unexpected event of the day or of the season was the removal from command, in the presence of his troops, and in the face of the enemy, by General Sheridan, of Major General Warren, so long commanding the fifth Army Corps. His corps was taken over by General Gibbon as the ranking officer. But little has transpired as to the immediate provocation, or justification, but it is understood to have been because of General Warren's tardiness or refusal to obey orders, by charging the rebel lines.
A dispatch dated Sunday morning says:
At midnight last night Admiral Porter made a feint up the river with his gunboats, attacking the rebel fortifications on the banks with great earnestness.
The object of this attack was to create a diversion of the rebels from Petersburg, and possibly to cause the destruction of their rams, which were known to be ready for sinking the moment we should manifest a disposition to move up the river.
A LETTER FROM PETERSBURG .
A letter from Petersburg, dated Monday, contains the following:
Major Clifton K. Prentiss, commanding the Sixth Maryland Volunteers, was one of the first officers to enter the rebel works, but was unfortunately shot through the chest.
A short time afterwards we picked up a wounded rebel, who said he was Lieutenant Prentiss of the Second Maryland rebel regiment. He is a younger brother of the Major, whom he had not seen since the rebellion broke out. They are now lying in the same tent in the Fiftieth New York Engineers' camp, and are, I am glad to say, likely to do well. Major Prentiss is one of the bravest officers in the service, and his wound at this time is particularly to be regretted.
General Lee was in Petersburg up to Sunday night, superintending the withdrawal of his troops, but was careful not to say in what direction he was going. When asked by some citizens if they had better go to Richmond, he told them that that would do not good, as Richmond was also being evacuated.
The funeral of General A. P. Hill, whose death I have mentioned, was attended with military honors just previous to the evacuation, General Lee and other distinguished officers being present. He was buried in the City Cemetery on the day of his death, the circumstances not permitting the retention of his remains longer.
Colonel Pegram, of the rebel artillery service, and a brother, I believe, of the rebel General of that name, was also killed during the engagement, near the same place where Hill fell.