previous next

Chapter 7:


Alexandria was selected as the point of departure, and the embarkation began on the 17th of March. The removal of a large body of troops, including cavalry and artillery, with armaments and supplies, was of necessity a slow work; and more than a fortnight elapsed before the whole force was transported. General McClellan reached Fortress Monroe on the 2d of April. He had in [170] all between fifty and sixty thousand men with him; and others were to follow as fast as means of transportation could be supplied.

It should here be borne in mind, as a matter of mere justice to General McClellan, that for the successful execution of his projected expedition he had required that the whole of the four corps under his command should be employed, with the addition of ten thousand men drawn from the forces in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe,--that position and its dependencies being regarded as amply protected by the naval force in its neighborhood. Before he left Washington, an order had been issued by the War Department, placing Fortress Monroe and its dependencies under his control, and authorizing him to draw from the troops under General Wool a division of about ten thousand men. And, in addition to the land-forces, the co-operation of the navy was deemed essential in order to reduce or silence the strong batteries which the Confederates had erected at Yorktown and Gloucester.

But he had hardly landed upon the Peninsula when he was doomed to taste the bitterness of disappointed hope, and by another experience to have the conviction forced upon him that the Administration was unfaithful to him. During the night of the 3d of April, he received a telegram from the Adjutant-General of the army, stating that, by the President's order, he was deprived of all control over General Wool and the troops under his command, and forbidden, without that officer's sanction, to detach any portion of his force. No causes [171] were assigned, or have ever been assigned, for this order, which was in violation of a deliberate and official engagement, and left the general in command of a most important military movement without any base of operations under his own control,--a situation without parallel, it is believed, in military history.

Nor was this all. The terrible Merrimac lay, “hushed in grim repose,” in the James River; and no one knew when she might reappear or in how formidable a guise. Admiral Goldsborough, then in command of the United States squadron in Hampton Roads, felt, and with justice, that it was his paramount duty to watch the Merrimac; and he, consequently, did not venture to detach for the assistance of the army a suitable force to attack the water-batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester. This was contrary to what General McClellan had been led to expect, and a serious derangement of his plans.

In fact, it should be remembered that during the operations against Yorktown the navy was not able to lend the army any material assistance till after the siege-guns had partially silenced the enemy's water-batteries.

But the heaviest blow was yet to come. On the 4th of April the following telegram was received:--

Adjutant-General's office, April 4, 1862,
By direction of the President, General McDowell's army corps has been detached from the force under your [172] immediate command, and the general is ordered to report to the Secretary of War. Letter by mail.

L. Thomas, Adjutant-General. General McClellan.

This fell with crushing weight upon General McClellan's hopes. Its effect upon him cannot be better described than in his own simple language,--the force of which could not be increased by any attempt at rhetorical embellishment:--

The President having promised, in our interview following his order of March 31, withdrawing Blenker's division of ten thousand men from my command, that nothing of the sort should be repeated,--that I might rest assured that the campaign should proceed, with no further deductions from the force upon which its operations had been planned,--I may confess to having been shocked at this order, which, with that of the 31st ultimo and that of the 3d, removed nearly sixty thousand men from my command, and reduced my force by more than one-third, after its task had been assigned, its operations planned, its fighting begun. To me the blow was most discouraging. It frustrated all my plans for impending operations. It fell when I was too deeply committed to withdraw. It left me incapable of continuing operations which had been begun. It compelled the adoption of another, a different and a less effective, plan of campaign. It made rapid and brilliant operations impossible. It was a fatal error.

General McClellan's plan had been, if the works at Yorktown and Williamsburg offered a serious resistance, that General McDowell's corps should land [173] on the left bank of the York, or on the Severn, so as to move upon Gloucester and West Point, in order to take in reverse whatever force the enemy might have on the Peninsula and compel him to abandon his positions. But, since McDowell's corps was withheld, this plan, of course, became impossible, and there was no choice left but to attack the enemy's positions directly in front. And a grave question now rose,--whether these positions should be assaulted or invested. The problem presented was not easy of solution.

From the moment of landing upon the Peninsula, it became obvious that the difficulties in the advance to Richmond were sufficient to task all the resources of the general in command, even if he had been furnished with the entire force promised him,--which he had not been. The nature of the country is very unfavorable to an invading army, and to the same extent favorable to a force which stands upon the defensive. It is a low, flat region, little elevated above the level of the sea, thinly inhabited, and scourged with malaria for many weeks of the year. It is covered with marshy forests; and the roads which traverse it hardly deserve the name. It is everywhere veined with streams and water-courses, which flow lazily along their level beds, and, by the copious rains which fall there, are easily swollen into broad and shallow lakes. The earth was constantly saturated with moisture, and the mud was deep, pitiless, and universal. After a rain, the so-called roads became utterly impracticable for any kind of wheeled vehicle. The [174] wagons stuck hopelessly fast in the tenacious mire; and to transport them it became necessary to construct corduroy roads,--a slow and toilsome process.

And, strange to say, though this was the earliest-settled portion of the whole country and full of historical interest, serious difficulties were encountered from the want of accurate topographical knowledge of the region before them. The common maps were found to be so incorrect as to be of little or no value. Reconnoissances, frequently made at great risk, proved the only trustworthy sources of information.

The progress of our army would have been slow had natural difficulties alone been in their path; but they found themselves met by a foe whose courage and energy they were too brave themselves not to respect. Among the Confederates there were unity of purpose and concerted action towards a common end. They knew that time was on their side, and their great object was to gain time and delay our progress as much as possible. Since leaving Manassas, they had been diligently at work, without the loss of an hour, in strengthening all available points by skilfully constructed works. It was found that Warwick River was controlled by the Confederate gunboats for some distance from its mouth,--that the fords had been destroyed by dams, the approaches to which were generally through dense forests and deep swamps and defended by extensive and formidable works,--and that Yorktown was strongly fortified, armed and garrisoned, and connected with the defences of the Warwick [175] by forts and intrenchments, the ground in front of which was swept by the guns of Yorktown.

After close personal reconnoissance, and after careful reflection and consultation, General McClellan determined not to attempt to carry the lines of Yorktown by immediate assault, but to assail it by the regular operations of a siege. As this decision has been severely criticized by writers who conduct campaigns in their studies and judge of military movements and military men by the light of subsequent events, it may be well to pause for a moment and consider briefly the grounds of his determination.

He had with him at that time-General Franklin's division not having then arrived — but a little over fifty thousand men. The number of the Confederate forces was not known; but General Johnston had reached Yorktown on the 6th of April with heavy reinforcements, and it was believed that the whole force of the enemy was, or soon would be, not less than a hundred thousand men. Our troops were admirable troops, as their subsequent conduct abundantly showed; but they were comparatively new; and nothing tries the temper and nerve of the soldier so much as the assault of a strongly-defended place.

General Barnard, Chief Engineer of the army, whose position entitled his opinion to the highest consideration, expressed his judgment that the works could not with any reasonable degree of certainty be carried by assault. There are copious extracts from his Report embodied in that of [176] General McClellan. The details are too technical to be fully understood by the general readers but a single sentence will serve to show what our assaulting force must have been prepared to meet:--

It will be seen, therefore, that our approaches were swept by the fire of at least forty-nine guns, nearly all of which were heavy, and many of them the most formidable guns known. Besides that, two-thirds of the guns of the water-batteries, and all the guns of Gloucester, bore on our right batteries, though under disadvantageous circumstances.

It is true that General Barnard has since changed his mind, and given it as his opinion that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted; but it is clear that General McClellan had an opposite judgment given at the time and on the spot and under the gravest official responsibility.1 [177]

General McClellan, on the 7th of April, sent a long telegram to the Secretary of War, in which he explained the reasons why an instant assault was [178] not to be made, prominent among which was the limited amount of force as yet under his control. This was replied to by the President, in a letter dated April 9, in which he restates the grounds on which Blenker's division had been kept back, and shows that his mind was still not free from apprehensions as to the safety of Washington! The concluding paragraphs are as follow:--

I suppose the whole force which has gone forward for you is with you by this time. And, if so, I think it is the precise time for you to strike a blow. By delay the enemy will relatively gain upon you; that is, he will gain faster by fortifications and reinforcements than you can by reinforcements alone. And once more let me tell you, it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the justice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting, and not surmounting, a difficulty,--that we would find the same enemy and the same or equal intrenchments at either place. The country will not fail to note — is now noting — that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated.

I beg to assure you that I have never written you or spoken to you in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as, in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act.

Yours, very truly,


To these considerations General McClellan replies [179] in his Report, in a few words, which are here quoted, as they can hardly be improved:--

His Excellency could not judge of the formidable character of the works before us as well as if he had been on the ground; and, whatever might have been his desire for prompt action (certainly no greater than mine), I feel confident, if he could have made a personal inspection of the enemy's defences, he would have forbidden me risking the safety of the army and the possible successes of the campaign on a sanguinary assault of an advantageous and formidable position, which, even if successful, could not have been followed up to any other or better result than would have been reached by the regular operations of a siege. Still less could I forego the conclusions of my most instructed judgment for the mere sake of avoiding the personal consequences intimated in the President's despatch.

The investment of Yorktown, as it proved, cost a month of valuable time,--which certainly was no inconsiderable gain to the enemy; but, on the other band, it cost us no loss of life. We got it at last without bloodshed. But suppose General McClellan had assaulted it early in April, as now he is blamed by many for not having done, and, after the frightful carnage which must have been the result of such an attempt,--after thousands of the flower of our population had been mowed down by a tempest of iron hail, as grass falls before the mower's scythe,--the attack had been at last unsuccessful, as was the Duke of Wellington's upon Burgos: what would have been the public feeling,--bearing in mind always that the judgment of the Chief Engineer, [180] General Barnard, was against an assault? Would. not such a storm of indignation have been raised against General McClellan as would have compelled his sacrifice at the hands of an Administration not inclined — perhaps not able — to resist that sweeping power of public opinion which moves and rages with more than “the force of winds and waters pent” ?2

On the 22d of April, while the siege of Yorktown was going on, General Franklin's division, forming part of General McDowell's corps, arrived, and reported to General McClellan. These troops were kept on board the transports, and not employed for some days. It was General McClellan's purpose to act on Gloucester by disembarking this division on the north bank of the York River, under the protection of the gunboats, but subsequent events rendered the movement unnecessary.

Our batteries would have been ready to open upon Yorktown on the morning of the 6th of May at latest; but in the nights of the 3d and 4th of May, that position and the Confederate lines of the [181] Warwick River were evacuated. This work was doubtless commenced some days before, and was conducted with skill and energy. On the 3d, with a view of masking their retreat, the fire of their batteries was unusually severe.

The Confederates left behind them all their heavy guns, eighty in number, each piece supplied with seventy-six rounds of ammunition. A large amount of warlike stores of every description was also abandoned or destroyed. The evacuation is said to have been the result of a council of war at which President Davis and Generals Lee and Johnston were present, and to have been very distasteful to General Magruder, the officer in command, who did not like to retire from his works without a fight.


The battle of Williamsburg.

After the evacuation of Yorktown, the next important point before the Federal army was the city of Williamsburg, the Colonial capital of Virginia. It is about ten miles from Yorktown, and is on the narrowest part of the peninsula between the James and York Rivers, being about three miles from the former; and five and a quarter from the latter.

On the 4th of May, immediately after the evacuation of Yorktown, a portion of the army was put in motion to pursue the flying foe, and General Franklin's division was ordered to move by water to the vicinity of West Point, to cut off the enemy's retreat in that direction. General Stoneman led [182] the advance upon Williamsburg with the entire cavalry force and four batteries of horse-artillery, as fast as the muddy condition of the roads would permit, and, on reaching a space where the roads from Yorktown and Warwick Court-House debouch upon the isthmus, he found a large Confederate force in a strongly-defended position. After sustaining and repelling a cavalry charge of the enemy, and gallantly returning with his batteries the fire of their artillery, as he had no infantry to carry the works, he withdrew his command and fell back to a clearing about half a mile distant.

By this time night was falling. The Federal infantry had come up slowly, retarded by the bad state of the roads, and it was completely dark before they arrived in full force; and, though General Sumner, who had come up and assumed the command, desired to make an attempt to carry the works that night, it was impossible to do so, owing to the late hour and the darkness. The troops bivouacked in the woods, and, unfortunately, a heavy rain set in, and continued for thirty hours, converting the country into a vast lake and the roads into channels of liquid mud. The battle of the next day cannot be better described than in the clear and graphic language of the Prince de Joinville, besides which his account contains the criticism of a candid and intelligent observer upon a defect in the organization of our armies, which is the more worthy of our consideration because offered in so kindly a spirit. [183]

Next day the battle began again, but, of course, in circumstances unfavorable to the Federals. The two roads leading to Williamsburg were crowded with troops. Upon that to the left from Lee's Mill were the divisions of Hooker and Kearney, belonging to Heintzelman's corps; but they were separated from each other by an enormous multitude of wagons loaded down with baggage and for the most part fast in the mud. Upon that to the right, two other divisions were moving forward with still greater difficulty. Such was the condition of the ground that the cannon sank over the axle into the mud. This medley of men and baggage thrown pellmell into narrow and flooded roads had fallen into considerable disorder. In the United States there is no such thing as a corps of the general staff: The American system of “every man for himself” individually applied by the officers and soldiers of each corps to one another, is also applied by the corps themselves to their reciprocal relations. There is no special branch of the service whose duty it is to regulate, centralize, and direct the movements of the army. In such a case as this of which we are speaking, we should have seen the general staff officers of a French army taking care that nothing should impede the advance of the troops, stopping a file of wagons here and ordering it out of the road to clear the way, sending on a detail of men there to repair the roadway or to draw a cannon out of the mire, in order to communicate to every corps-commander the orders of the general-in-chief.

Here, nothing of the sort is done. The functions of the adjutant-general are limited to the transmission of the orders of the general. He has nothing to do with seeing that they are executed. The general has no one to bear his orders but aides-de-camp, who have the best intentions in the world, and are excellent at repeating mechanically a verbal order, but to whom nobody pays much attention if they undertake to exercise any initiative [184] whatever. Down to the present moment, although this want of a general staff had been often felt, its consequences had not been serious. We had the telegraph, which followed the army everywhere and kept up communications between the different corps: the generals could converse together and inform each other of any thing that it was important to know. But, once on the march, this resource was lost to us, and so farewell to our communications!

The want of a general staff was not less severely felt in obtaining and transmitting the information necessary at the moment of an impending action. No one knew the country; the maps were so defective that they were useless. Little was known about the fortified battle-field on which the army was about to be engaged. Yet this battle-field had been seen and reconnoitred the day before by the troops which had taken part in Stoneman's skirmish. Enough was surely known of it for us to combine a plan of attack and assign to every commander his own part in the work. No! this was not so. Every one kept his observations to himself,--not from ill will, but because it was nobody's special duty to do this general work. It was a defect in the organization; and, with the best elements in the world, an army which is not organized cannot expect great success. It is fortunate if it escape great disaster.

Thanks to this constitutional defect of the Federal armies, Hooker's division, which led the column on the left-hand road, and had received, the day before, a general order to march upon Williamsburg, came out on the morning of the 5th upon the scene of Stoneman's cavalry-fight, without the least knowledge of what it was to meet there. Received, as soon as it appeared, with a steady fire from the hostile works, it deployed resolutely in the abatis and went into action. But it came up little by little and alone,--whilst the defence was carried on by [185] from fifteen to twenty thousand men strongly intrenched. The odds were too great.

Hooker, who is an admirable soldier, held his own for some time; but he had to give way and fall back, leaving in the woods and in these terrible abatis some two thousand of his men killed and wounded, with several of his guns which he could not bring off. The enemy followed him as he fell back. The division of General Kearney, having passed the crowded road, and marching upon the guns at the pas de course, re-established the battle. The fight had now rolled from the edges of the plain into the forest; and it was sharp, for the enemy was strongly reinforced. The Federals fought not less firmly, encouraged by their chiefs, looker, Heintzelman, and Kearney. Kearney in especial, who lost an arm in Mexico, and fought with the French at the Muzaia and at Solferino, had displayed the finest courage.3 All his [186] aides had fallen around him, and, left alone, he had electrified his men by his intrepidity. During all this time the part of the army massed on the road to the right remained passive. A single division only had come up, and the generals in command could not resolve to throw it into the engagement without seeing its supports. These supports were delayed by the swollen streams, the encumbered roads, the shattered wagons sticking in the mud.

But all the while the sound of Hooker's musketry was in our ears. His division was cut up and falling back. His guns had been heard at first in front, then on one side, and they were receding still. The balls and the shells began to whistle and shatter the trees over the fresh division, as it stood immovable and expectant.

It was now three o'clock, and the generals resolved to act. One division passed through the woods to flank the regiments which were driving Hooker, while to the extreme right a brigade passed the creek on an old mill-bridge, which the enemy had failed to secure, and debouched upon the flank of the Williamsburg works. The Confederates did not expect this attack, which, if successful, must sweep every thing before it. They despatched two brigades, which advanced resolutely through the corn-fields to drive back the Federals. The latter coolly allowed their foes to come up, and received them with a tremendous fire of artillery. The Confederates, [187] unshaken, pushed on within thirty yards of the cannon's mouth, shouting, “Bull Run! Bull Run!” as the Swiss used to shout, “Granson! Granson!” There, however, they wavered, and the Federal General Hancock, seizing the moment, cried to his soldiers, as he waved his cap, “Now, gentlemen the bayonet!” and charged with his brigade. The enemy could not withstand the shock, broke and fled, strewing the field with his dead. At this very moment General McClellan, who had been detained at Yorktown, appeared on the field. It was dusk: the night was coming on, the rain still falling in torrents. On three sides of the plateau on which the general was, the cannon and the musketry were rattling uninterruptedly. The success of Hancock had been decisive, and the reserves brought up by the general-in-chief, charging upon the field, settled the affair. Then it was that I saw General McClellan, passing in front of the Sixth Cavalry, give his hand to Major Williams, with a few words on his brilliant charge of the day before. The regiment did not hear what he said; but it knew what he meant, and from every heart went up one of those masculine, terrible shouts which are only to be heard on tho field of battle.4 These shouts, taken up along the whole [188] line, struck terror to the enemy. We saw them come upon the parapets and look out in silence and motionless upon the scene. Then the firing died away, and night fell on the combat which in America is called “ the battle of Williamsburg.”

Our loss in the battle of Williamsburg--the greater part of which was sustained by General Hooker's division — was as follows: Killed, four hundred and fifty-six; wounded, fourteen hundred; missing, three hundred and seventy-two: total, two thousand two hundred and twenty-eight. The engagement had been fought under the disadvantage on our part of not knowing the numbers of the enemy or the strength of his positions; and we became involved in a serious battle, with a large force powerfully intrenched, when we had expected to do no more than attack the rear-guard of a retreating army. This explains the want of concert among the officers on the field, and the failure to send support, in all cases, to the place and at the time when most needed. General McClellan, during the forenoon of the day, was at Yorktown, engaged in making arrangements for the forwarding of General Franklin's division to West Point, and in consultation with the naval commanders, as well as with the other duties incident to his position. It [189] was not until about one o'clock that he heard from his aides that every thing was not going on favorably in front,--upon which he hurried up as rapidly as possible, arriving there between four and five in the afternoon.

General Keyes, in his examination before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, says, “The battle of Williamsburg was gained by our side, but at a very great loss in Hooker's division and considerable loss in Hancock's and Peck's brigades. The victory, for the reasons I have stated, was nothing like as decisive as it should have been, nor gained so early in the day. In fact, the victory was not what, in military language, is generally called a perfect victory, because we were not able to sleep in the enemy's camp except in part.” 5 [190]

However imperfect the victory may have been, the battle had been entirely satisfactory so far as the courage and conduct of the men were concerned. They had behaved admirably, regulars and volunteers alike, and given to their commanding officer abundant proof that he might depend alike upon their bravery and their steadiness,--their power to attack and their power to resist attack. That the operations of the army and the course of its commander had thus far been approved by the public sentiment of the country may be inferred from the following resolutions, offered by Mr. Lovejoy, and unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives, on the 5th of May:--

Resolved, That it is with feelings of profound gratitude to Almighty God that the House of Representatives, from time to time, hear of the triumphs of the Union armies in the great struggle for the supremacy of the Constitution and the integrity of the Union.

Resolved, That we receive with profound satisfaction intelligence of the recent victories achieved by the armies of the Potomac, associated from their localities with those of the Revolution, and that the sincere thanks of the House are hereby tendered to Major-General George B. McClellan--for the display of those high military qualities which secure important results with but little sacrifice to human life.

On the morning after the battle, finding the enemy's position abandoned, we occupied Fort Magruder and the town of Williamsburg, which was filled with the enemy's wounded, to whose [191] assistance eighteen of their surgeons were sent by General Johnston. Our troops were greatly exhausted by their toilsome march through the mud from their positions in front of Yorktown, and by the protracted battle they had fought; and the roads were in such a state, after thirty-six hours of continuous rain, that it was almost impossible to pass even empty wagons over them. Under these circumstances, an immediate pursuit of the enemy was out of the question.

The divisions of Franklin, Sedgwick, Porter, and Richardson were sent from Yorktown, by water, to the right bank of the Pamunkey, in the vicinity of West Point. Early on the morning of May 7, General Franklin had completed the disembarkation of his division. Between ten and eleven o'clock he was assailed by a large force of the enemy, but, after a spirited engagement of three or four hours, the Confederates retired, all their attacks having been repulsed. The gunboats were very efficient, and contributed materially to the success of the day.

As soon as supplies had been received, and the condition of the roads had somewhat improved, the army turned its face towards Richmond, moving slowly along the left bank of the Pamunkey, one of the two affluents forming the York River, and navigable from its junction with the latter river as far as White House. The Headquarters of the army reached this place on the 16th of May. So bad were the roads that the train of one division [192] took thirty-six hours to get to White House from Cumberland, a distance of only five miles.6 [193]

At White House the Pamunkey ceases to be navigable. The York River Railroad, which runs from Richmond to West Point, crosses the river here by a bridge which the enemy had destroyed, Some of the rails also had been removed from the track, and the rolling stock had been carried off; but the rails were soon relaid, and new cars and locomotives took the place of those that had been taken away. A great depot was established at White House, under the protection of the gunboats. The army began its march to Richmond, following the [194] line of the railroad, upon which it was dependent for its daily supplies. On the 20th of May, our advanced light troops reached the banks of Chickahominy River, about eight miles from Richmond.

Meanwhile, important events had been going on in the Southern Confederacy. The abandonment of Yorktown without waiting for an assault was the result of a determination on the part of the Southern leaders to transfer the scene of struggle and resistance from the Peninsula to the neighbor-hood of Richmond. The same policy which counselled a withdrawal from Yorktown required the giving up of Norfolk; for General Huger and his garrison of eighteen thousand men were wanted elsewhere. Orders were, accordingly, given him to evacuate the place, which he did early in May, after destroying a large amount of public property; and on the 10th of May Norfolk was taken possession of by our troops under General Wool.

But a more painful sacrifice yet was, exacted at the hands of the Confederates,--the sacrifice of the Merrimac, which had done them such substantial service, and of whose achievements they were so justly proud. About four o'clock on the morning of the 11th of May, a brilliant light was seen from Fortress Monroe, in the direction of Craney Island; and at half-past 4 an explosion was heard which shook the earth far and wide. This was caused by the blowing up of the Merrimac, which had been abandoned by her officers and crew and sot on fire. The reasons for destroying her were simply these: she was wholly unfitted for ocean navigation, and [195] must have gone down in the first storm she met; and her draught of water was such that she could not get far enough up the James River to be out of the reach of the Federal navy, to which the river was now opened, and which at any cost would have avenged upon the Merrimac the loss of the Cumberland and Congress. She must either be destroyed or fall into our hands. This now seems obvious enough; but the sacrifice of the Merrimac — the Virginia, as they called her — was a bitter draught for the Southern people to swallow. It wounded them in their sectional pride, where the Southern mind has always been so sensitive. The newspapers were loud and general in lamenting and denouncing it; and even the court of inquiry which was summoned to investigate the subject reported that her destruction was unnecessary at the time and place at which it was effected. But, for all this, the sacrifice of the Merrimac was a necessary result of the policy of defence which, after great deliberation, was adopted; and that the policy was sound, subsequent events have proved beyond a doubt. It may be not without profit to pause here a moment, and consider in what spirit and with what measures the Confederate States prepared themselves for the conflict before them.

The whole military resources of the Confederates at that time were under the control of three men, President Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Joseph E. Johnston,--all of them trained soldiers, and one of them also a trained statesman. There was entire confidence and perfect harmony of action [196] between them. That fatal apple of discord, the Presidency, never made ally one of them the rival of any other. They acted together for one object; and that was success in the military contest. They resolved to transfer the scene of decisive conflict from the Peninsula to the neighbor-hood of Richmond; and that this was a wise determination is shown by a glance at the map. The Peninsula has York River on one side and James River on the other; these rivers must sooner or later have been commanded by our gunboats, and then their forces would have been turned and defeated. The surrender of Norfolk was a source of mortification; but it was a judicious step. The garrison was wanted at Richmond much more than at Norfolk; and as the Confederates had no navy, and their entire coast was or soon would be blockaded, the possession of Norfolk, though it gratified their pride, was of no substantial advantage to them.

The loss of the Merrimac was a more painful sacrifice still: it was indeed a blow upon the naked heart; but it was a judicious, nay, an inevitable, step, and, as such, it was at last acquiesced in.

In the political contests which have ended in the present civil war, it was often said by Northern writers and speakers that the South was an oligarchy, and that though their political forms were democratic their institutions were aristocratic. The remark is, to some extent, true. In the Southern States the mass of the people have always been content to follow the lead of a comparatively few persons who have practised politics as a profession. [197] This relation between the many and the few, what-ever objections may be urged to it in time of peace, is no disadvantange in the conduct of a war.

The Confederate Congress had passed in April a very strong and sweeping conscription-law, which included every able-bodied man between eighteen and thirty-five, and it was everywhere enforced by a powerful public sentiment: so that early in June their army began to be steadily recruited from this source. The work upon the defences around Richmond, which had been planned some time before, was prosecuted as rapidly as possible.

The destruction of the Merrimac opened the James River to our gunboats, but not until the Confederates had had time to protect Richmond against a naval attack. On the 15th of May, a fleet of five of our gunboats, under Captain John Rodgers, steamed up the James, running aground several times, but meeting no artificial impediments till they came to Ward's Bluff, about eight miles from Richmond, where they encountered a heavy battery, called Fort Darling, and two separate barriers, formed of piles, steamers, and sail-vessels. The stream was here very narrow, being only twice as wide as the Galena, the leading gunboat, was long. The banks of the river were lined with rifle-pits, from which sharpshooters annoyed the men at the guns and rendered a removal of the obstructions impossible. The battery was on a bluff one hundred and fifty feet high, bristling with guns of long range and heavy calibre, the shot from which fell with crushinng weight; upon our [198] gallant little fleet. A rifled hundred-pound Parrott gun on board one of the gunboats, the Naugatuck, burst during the fight, and disabled the vessel. The great height of the bluff put it out of the range of many of our guns; and after a fight of between three and four hours, in which officers and men fully sustained the high character of the American navy, Commodore Rodgers gave the signal to discontinue the action.

One word more, in conclusion, upon the Merrimac, or Virginia, and the lessons her career teaches. Her first appearance upon the stage of the world was on the 8th day of March, and the drama closed with the flames of her funeral pyre on the morning of the 11th of May; and certainly never was there any mortal craft that within the short space of two months played a more important part or led a more eventful life. She was originally a United States steam screw frigate of fifty guns, and, being at Gosport when the rebellion broke out, was, like many of her consorts, partly burned and sunk when it became certain that Norfolk must fall into the hands of the seceding State of Virginia. After a while the Confederates fished her up, and it was found that the bottom of the hull, the boilers, and the essential parts of the engine were little injured. It was proposed to make this wreck the nucleus of a casemated vessel with inclined iron-plated sides and submerged ends. This ingenious suggestion was carried out with skill and energy. The peculiar feature of the Merrimac was that her ends and the caves of her casemate were submerged. [199] The inclined roof; covered with railroad-iron, was pierced with port-holes for ten guns of very heavy calibre. The inclination of her plates, and their thickness and form, were determined by actual experiment. Her bow was armed with a strong projecting prow or beak of steel. When completed, she looked something like the roof of a house floating upon the water.

On the morning of the 8th of March, this strange, uncouth fabric is seen paddling along the calm waters of Hampton Roads, like some huge animal of the turtle-kind, making not more than five knots an hour. There the Cumberland and the Congress, two old-fashioned wooden frigates, were lying at anchor; and not far from them were the Minnesota and Roanoke, screw frigates, and the St. Lawrence, an old sailing-frigate. The Merrimac crawls by the Congress, delivering a broadside as she passes, and makes straight for the Cumberland. The sailors on board the latter vessel greet her with jokes and laughter; but the officers note with surprise and uneasiness that the shot of their heaviest broadsides rattle off the roof of the ominous craft like so many India-rubber balls, without making the slightest impression upon her iron ribs. In a few moments she crashes into the Cumberland, head on, drives her projecting prow into the starboard bow below the water-line, and knocks a hole in her side as big asa hogshead. The gallant frigate reels and shivers in every limb under the death-stroke, settles by the head, and begins at once to sink, carrying with her two hundred of her [200] dauntless crew, before they had fairly recovered from the surprise of the portentous shock.

The Merrimac next approaches the Congress; but she has probably broken or displaced her prow in running into the Cumberland, and she attacks the Congress, therefore, by shot and shells. But before her tremendous armament the Congress proves as powerless as was the Cumberland before her beak. Her colors are hauled down; she is run ashore, and set on fire by the Merrimac's battery.

Of the other three vessels which have been mentioned, the Minnesota was the only one which could have been of any service; and she, unfortunately, ran aground. The Merrimac, after firing a few shots at her, deeming her a sure prey for the next day, turns aside to shell the camp and batteries at Newport News,--but with very little effect. In the night the gallant little Monitor arrives,--as opportunely as one of Homer's gods coming down from Olympus to share in a mortal fray,--attacks the Merrimac the next morning, and, after a contest resembling a fight between a swordfish and a whale, drives away her gigantic adversary, baffled and disabled, thus rendering us a service cheaply estimated at her weight in gold.

On the 11th of April, the Merrimac again appears in Hampton Roads, attended by five small vessels. As soon as she is discerned, a large fleet of transports and sailing-vessels in the upper roads scuds away to a place of safety, like a flock of “tame villatic fowl” that seeks a sheltering covert when the hawk is seen in the air. Aided by her [201] attendant spirits, she captures three sailing-vessels under the eye of our own fleet, among which was the Monitor herself. After this, the Merrimac slowly moves to and fro across the mouth of Elizabeth River, seemingly inviting a champion to come out and try conclusions with her; but her defiance is not accepted, and she retires with her prizes, unmolested. To make the sting of our mortification a little sharper, all this was done under the bows of two foreign frigates,--one French and one English.

Thus, the destruction of two frigates and the capture of three small vessels make up the list of the Merrimac's material triumphs and trophies; but these were by no means all the services she rendered the Confederates, nor all the harm she did to us. In the first place, she controlled the James River so long as she lived. This rendered it impossible for us to make use of that river as the base of our operations; and this was the best base for a movement upon Richmond, and that one which, unquestionably, we should have adopted but for her presence. And, in the second place, the necessity of watching the Merrimac rendered it impossible to detach from the squadron at Hampton Roads a suitable force to attack the enemy's water-batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester; and this delayed the army before the lines of Yorktown, and gave the Confederates--what they so much wanted — time. Thus the whole current of the Peninsular campaign was turned aside, and the course of the war itself materially influenced, by this single vessel. Never [202] was there a greater apparent disproportion between cause and effect.

And the lesson which the Merrimac teaches is, that in war no chance should be thrown away, no advantage should be foregone; that counsel never should be taken of distrust and despondency; that the game of war is never wholly lost and never wholly won, and that in desperate straits there is nothing that ingenuity can suggest which is not worth trying. A sudden and unexpected charge by Kellermann, at the head of eight hundred cavalry, turned the adverse tide of battle at Marengo into a victory. The little fort of Bard, in the valley of Aosta, a few weeks earlier, checked, and, had not the garrison been over-confident and under-vigilant, would have turned back, the whole French army.7 And the Merrimac may have saved the city of Richmond from capture.

It is curious to reflect, after all the inventions by which the force and destructiveness of projectiles have been increased, that in the Merrimac we came back to the point from which naval architecture, as applied to war, started. The Merrimac's beak was nothing more nor less than the rostrum of a Roman galley, enlarged and strengthened.

During the march from Yorktown to the banks of the Chickahominy, besides the weighty cares and heavy responsibilities of a commanding general at the bead of a great expedition, the mind of General [203] McClellan was constantly burdened with a conviction that his troops were not numerous enough for the work in hand, and that reinforcements were essential to success. He had carried with him to the Peninsula about eighty-five thousand men, and Franklin's division, which had subsequently joined him, amounted to ten thousand more; but some of his troops had been killed or disabled in battle, some had died from disease, and garrisons had been left at Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Gloucester, so that now he could not confidently rely upon more than eighty thousand men. But time, which was thinning his ranks, was swelling those of the enemy; and the task before him was that of taking a city strongly defended, before which was an army larger than his own. On the 10th of May, from a camp three miles from Williamsburg, he sent a brief telegram to the Secretary of War, setting forth his position, and urging the necessity of reinforcing him without delay with all the disposable troops in Eastern Virginia. He assures the Secretary that the rebels will not abandon Richmond without a struggle, and adds that unless he is reinforced it is probable he shall be obliged to fight nearly double his numbers, strongly intrenched.

On the 14th of May, he sent a telegram to the President in the same strain, stating that the time had come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution, and entreating him that he would cause the Army of the Peninsula to be reinforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the Government. To this, on the 18th, an answer [204] was received from the Secretary of War, the material portions of which are as follows :--

The President is not willing to uncover the capital entirely; and it is believed that, even if this were prudent, it would require more time to effect a junction between your army and that of the Rappahannock, by the way of the Potomac and York Rivers, than by a land march. In order, therefore, to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest moment, General McDowell has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route. He is ordered, keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all possible attack, so to operate as to put his left wing in communication with your right wing; and you are instructed to co-operate so as to establish this communication as soon as possible, by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond.

* * * * *

When General McDowell is in position on your right, his supplies must be drawn from West Point; and you will instruct your staff officers to be prepared to supply him by that route.

The President desires that General McDowell retain the command of the Department of the Rappahannock, and of the forces with which he moves forward.

It will be borne in mind that General McClellan wished and had advised that reinforcements should be sent to him by water, as their arrival would have been more certain. Now that the James River was open, they might have been sent by that route, in which event our left flank would have rested upon that river and been protected by it. Richmond could have been approached by the James, and we should have escaped the losses and delays incurred [205] by bridging the Chickahominy, and should have had the army massed in one body instead of being necessarily divided by that stream. This judicious military plan, which in all probability would have resulted in the capture of Richmond, could not be carried out, because to the President's distempered fancy Washington was not safe unless it was covered by McDowell's division in a direct line between that city and Richmond. Under the circumstances of the case, an attack upon Washington by a Confederate force strong enough to carry its defences was about as probable an event as an inundation of the city by an overflow of the Potomac.

By these orders it will be also noticed that General McClellan was commanded to extend his right wing to the north of Richmond, in order to establish the communication between himself and General McDowell. This was running a great risk in case General McDowell should not come, because it exposed our right in a way that no prudent officer would have done; and, as General McDowell did not come, the enemy did not fail to take advantage of the opportunity thus afforded them.

The Secretary's communication of the 18th was accompanied by a copy of the instructions which had been sent to General McDowell on the previous day, of which the following is the substance:--

War Department, Washington, May 17, 1862.
General:--Upon being joined by General Shields's division, you will move upon Richmond by the general route of the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, co-operating [206] with the forces under General McClellan, now threatening Richmond from the line of the Pamunkey and York Rivers.

While seeking to establish as soon as possible a communication between your left wing and the right wing of General McClellan, you will hold yourself always in such position as to cover the capital of the nation against a sudden dash of any large body of the rebel forces.


General McDowell had with him forty thousand men and ninety pieces of artillery.

On the 21st of May, General McClellan sent another despatch, of some length, to the President. He explains to him the position of the army, and earnestly and respectfully expresses his regret at the delay of McDowell's advance. He tells the President frankly that the march of McDowell's column upon Richmond by the shortest land route will uncover Washington as completely as its movement by water; that the enemy cannot advance by Fredericksburg, and that if they attempt a movement, which to him seems utterly improbable, their route would be by Gordonsville and Manassas. In conclusion, he desires that the extent of his authority over General McDowell may be clearly defined, and suggests that the dangers of a divided command can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing General McDowell under his orders in the usual way.

On the 24th he received from the President a reply to the above, in which he suggests a plan of military movement against General Anderson in concert with General McDowell, assures him that [207] McDowell's division, strengthened by Shields's command, would begin to move on Monday, the 26th, and tells him that McDowell, after joining him, would be under his command.

This, of course, was highly satisfactory, as it gave General McClellan assurance that he would soon be reinforced by at least fifty thousand men, and thus be made sufficiently strong to overpower the large army confronting him. But his astonishment, his agony of disappointment, may well be imagined when all these confident expectations were broken to pieces by the crushing despatch received at a later hour of the same day, which ran thus:--

May 24, 1862, From Washington, 4 P. M.
In consequence of General Banks's critical position, I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry; and we are trying, to throw General Fremont's force, and part of General McDowell's, in their rear.


It is necessary to go back a little and state the events which occasioned this last despatch.

It will be remembered that the State of Virginia, contrary to sound military maxims, and certainly for reasons other than military, had been parcelled out into five separate commands. General Fremont was west of the mountains, General Banks was in the Valley of the Shenandoah, General McDowell [208] was on the Rappahannock, and General Wool was at Fortress Monroe. During the preceding autumn and winter the Confederate General Jackson had been at or near Winchester with a body of raw troops, which he had been engaged in drilling and disciplining. The campaign opened in the valley early in March. On the 23d of that month a battle was fought near Winchester between General Shields and General Jackson, in which the latter was defeated. This battle, by revealing the presence of a considerable force of the enemy in that region, was probably the reason why McDowell's corps was not sent to the Peninsula with McClellan. After the battle of Winchester, Jackson had retreated up the valley to Harrisonburg, and then struck off to the west. On the 8th of May, he fought a battle of not very decisive results with the Federal forces under Milroy and Schenck, at a place called McDowell, near Bull Pasture Mountain. From this point he marched to Harrisonburg, thence to New Market, where a junction was effected with Ewell's division, which had come from Elk Run Valley. Their united forces amounted. to at least fifteen thousand men.

About the middle of May, an order was issued from the War Department at Washington for General Shields to move with his command from the Valley of the Shenandoah and join General McDowell at Fredericksburg. This left General Banks with only five or six thousand men at Strasburg. The Government was warned of the danger of leaving him with so small a force when so active [209] and vigilant an officer as Jackson was in the valley; but it was all to no purpose. It is a mistake to suppose that General Jackson had been planning and executing movements of his own, and upon his own responsibility, all this time: he had been under the control of the commander-in-chief at Richmond, and all his marches and battles had reference to one sole object,--the defence of that city. The Confederate authorities knew how important it was for General McClellan that he should be reinforced by General McDowell, and they also knew that it was an apprehension for the safety of Washington that had thus far prevented the junction; and they, of course, reasoned that by keeping up and increasing this alarm they might postpone indefinitely a combination of forces which would be fatal to them. The time had come, now that General Banks was left so exposed, when a decisive blow might be struck towards the end; and the opportunity, was not neglected.

After the battle at McDowell. General Jackson had contrived to conceal his movements from the observation of our forces. General Banks, as has been said, was at Strasburg. At Front Royal, twelve miles in advance, Colonel Kenley was stationed, with a Maryland regiment and a few companies,--about twelve hundred in all, rank and file. On Friday, the 23d, at noon, this little handful of men was suddenly and unexpectedly assailed by General Jackson at the head of a force at least ten times as large as its own. Though taken by surprise, and with such immense odds against him, [210] Colonel Kenley and his men fought gallantly and obstinately for three or four hours, and thus retarded the Confederate advance; but they were at last overpowered by superior numbers, and nearly all cut to pieces or taken prisoners.

The startling news reached General Banks at nightfall, and, after a little reflection, he determined to move upon Winchester as rapidly as possible. Accordingly, at a very early hour the next morning he began his march. His column was attacked in flank while on the way, and a portion of tie rearguard turned back to Strasburg. At four o'clock in the afternoon the advance-guard arrived at Winchester. The whole force General Banks had with him was less than five thousand men, while that of the enemy was fifteen thousand at least. At Winchester General Banks determined to try the strength of the Confederates by actual collision; and preparations were made accordingly during the night. The engagement began early the next morning, and held the enemy in check for five hours. Our soldiers fought well, and were well handled; but it was in vain to contend against such odds, and orders were given to withdraw. The pursuit by the enemy was prompt and vigorous, and the retreat rapid and without serious loss. A halt of two hours and a half was made at Martinsburg; and the rear-guard finally reached the Potomac at sunset on the 25th. This was forty-eight hours after the first news of the attack on Front Royal. It was a march of fifty-three miles, thirty-five of which were performed in one day. The [211] river was crossed the next day; “and,” says General Banks, in his official report, “there never were more grateful hearts in the same number of men than when, at mid-day on the 26th, we stood on the opposite shore.”

General Banks throughout these two disastrous days behaved with energy and self-possession; and there is nothing disparaging to his military reputation in the fact that he retreated, because he did it in good order against a force three or four times as great as his own, saving all his guns, and losing only fifty-five wagons out of five hundred.

On the part of the enemy it must be admitted that this expedition, as a move upon the great chess-board of war, demands the highest praise. It was admirably planned and skilfully and successfully executed. The loss of men on our side was not great; that of army and medical stores was more considerable; but the indirect, the moral, advantages it secured to the enemy were of infinitely greater moment. To drive General Banks from Strasburg across the, Potomac was in itself a play not worth the candle; but the real object of the expedition was to prevent General McDowell's division from being sent to reinforce General McClellan; and it unfortunately succeeded.

When news of the attack on Colonel Kenley's command at Front Royal, on the 23d, reached General Geary, who was at Rectortown with a force charged with the protection of the Manassas Gap Railroad, he immediately hogan to move to [212] Manassas Junction. His troops, alarmed by exaggerated reports of the fate of the regiment at Front Royal, burnt their tents and destroyed a quantity of arms. The contagion of panic spread to Catlett's Station, where was General Duryea with four regiments. He hastened to Centreville, and telegraphed to Washington for help. The rumors were swelled and magnified on their way to the capital: the authorities there were thrown into a most unnecessary fright, and telegraphic despatches, pale with the hue of fear, were sent on the wings of lightning all over the land. Of these the following is a specimen:--

Washington, May 25, 1862.
To the Governor of Massachusetts.
Intelligence from various quarters leaves no doubt that the enemy, in great force, are marching on Washington. You will please organize and forward immediately all the militia and volunteer force in your State.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

It was under the influence of the apprehensions occasioned by the report of General Jackson's movements that the President had telegraphed to General McClellan, on the 24th of May, as we have before stated, that General McDowell's division would not join him. On the same day, an order was sent by the President to General McDowell, directing him to lay aside at present the movement on Richmond, and put twenty thousand men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, in order to [213] capture the force of Jackson and Ewell, either in co-operation with General Fremont, or alone. General McDowell's clear military judgment saw at once the injudiciousness of this order, which turned him from a point where he was greatly needed to a quarter where he could be of no use; and he instantly telegraphed back to the President's order the following reply, addressed to the Secretary of War:--

The President's order has been received, and is in process of execution. This is a crushing blow to us.

To this the President responded as follows, still on the same 24th of May:--

I am highly gratified by your alacrity in obeying my orders. The change was as painful to me as it can possibly be to you or to any one. Every thing now depends upon the celerity and vigor of your movements.

To this General McDowell made a reply in writing, of which the principal and material portion is as follows :--

Headquarters, Department of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, May 24, 1862.
His Excellency the President:--
I obeyed your order immediately, for it was positive and urgent; and perhaps, as a subordinate, there I ought to stop; but I trust I may be allowed to say something in relation to the subject, especially in view of your remark that every thing depends upon the celerity and vigor of my movements. I beg to say that co-operation between General Fremont and myself, to cut off Jackson and Ewell, is not to be counted upon, even if it is not a practical [214] impossibility; next, that I am entirely beyond helping-distance of General Banks, and no celerity or vigor will be available as far as he is concerned; next, that by a glance at the map it will be seen that the line of retreat of the enemy's forces up the valley is shorter than mine to go against him. It will take a week or ten days for the force to get to the valley by the route which will give it food and forage, and by that time the enemy will have retreated. I shall gain nothing for you there, and lose much for you here. It is, therefore, not only on personal grounds that I have a heavy heart in the matter, but I feel that it throws us all back, and from Richmond north we shall have all our large mass paralyzed, and shall have to repeat what we have just accomplished.


It will be observed that on the 24th of May the President directed General McDowell to march to the Shenandoah, to cut off the retreating division of Jackson, and that on the next day the Secretary of War telegraphed the Governor of Massachusetts that the “enemy, in great force,” meaning of course Jackson's command, were marching on Washington. This difference of opinion between two high functionaries as to an enemy's movements is rather a curious fact, and only to be explained on the ground that they were acting independently and without consultation or conference.

What generous mind will refuse to sympathize with General McDowell's suffering and sadness of spirit in obeying an order which he perceives to be most unwise at the very moment he prepares to execute it!

The silent and incommunicative Jackson — a man [215] who never let his left hand know what his right hand was doing, who rarely spoke and rarely smiled — would have been amused if he had known into what a fright he had thrown the authorities at Washington and no small portion of the Northern people. He had no more idea of going to Washington than of going to Boston: such a diversion of his force would have been an act of madness. Having done all that he desired and proposed to do, his next thought was to get back again; and he accordingly began his retreat up the Valley of the Shenandoah, which he conducted bravely and skilfully. He had a great advantage in his perfect knowledge of the country he was traversing. He contrived to slip through the Federal forces which were pressing upon him from the west and the east. On the 8th of June, he fought a battle with General Fremont, at Cross Keys, on the left bank of the Shenandoah, by which he secured the passage of his army over the bridge at Port Republic, a few miles distant, and the next day engaged a portion of General Shields's command near the latter place. After a hard fight, our forces fell back, and General Jackson continued his retreat, to secure which had been his object in both engagements.

Thus ended General Jackson's memorable campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah, which had begun on the 11th of March, in which that officer gave evidence of the highest military qualities — vigor, celerity, skill in masking his designs from the enemy, and ability in handling his men — and [216] fully vindicated his title to the enthusiastic admiration with which he was regarded by his people during the remainder of his brief career.

It may be added that, had all the military threads that united at Richmond been held in the hand of General McClellan, as they should have been, he would never have left General Banks exposed with so small a command at an indefensible point. That this statement is not matter of opinion merely may be seen by a careful reading of General McClellan's instructions to General Banks of March 16, to General Wadsworth of the same date, and his letter of April 1 to the Adjutant-General,--all which appear in full in his Report.

We now return to Richmond, where we left General McClellan with the President's second despatch fallen like a stone upon his heart. It was already certain that General McDowell's movements to join him were suspended, and for an indefinite period; and there was nothing for him to do but to address himself to the work before him with such means as he could command, and doubtless with a sadness of spirit like that of the Roman gladiators when they saluted the emperor, “Morituri te salutamus.”

The disposition of our forces around Richmond was controlled by two elements, one artificial and one natural,--the former being the Richmond & York River Railroad, and the latter the Chickahominy River. The railroad ran in a direction nearly easterly from Richmond to White House, at which latter place was our depot of supplies. It is difficult for a civilian to form an adequate notion of [217] the immense amount of these supplies which must be furnished every day for the support of an army of seventy thousand men, including forage for horses, cavalry and artillery. The communication between such an army and its base of supplies cannot be for a moment interrupted or even endangered. It was therefore a point of paramount importance to guard this railroad from flank movements on both sides. The Chickahominy River flows in a southeasterly direction, and is crossed both by the Richmond & York River Railroad and the Virginia Central Railroad, which runs northerly,--the river and the portions of the two railroads south of it forming an isosceles triangle, with the apex towards the east. Place the right hand on a table with the palm down, the fingers close together, and the thumb stretched back as far as possible; let the thumb represent the course of the Virginia Central Road, and the forefinger that of the Richmond & York. Richmond will then be in the hollow at the bottom of the thumb, and a line drawn from the ball of the thumb to the first joint of the forefinger will indicate the course of the Chickahominy

In order to keep the railroad entirely secure, the course of the river made it necessary to divide our forces and place part of them on one side of the stream and part on the other. This is not usually deemed a prudent disposition of an army; but there was an imperative necessity for it in this case. Besides, General McClellan had been directed to extend his right wing so as to form a junction with General McDowell; and the order for [218] his co-operation being simply suspended, not revoked, General McClellan was not at liberty to abandon the northern approach.

On the 25th of May he received a telegraphic despatch from the President, at considerable length, detailing the enemy's movements as far as they were known up to its date, stating that twenty thousand of McDowell's forces were moving back to Front Royal, that one more of his brigades was ordered to Harper's Ferry through Washington, and that the rest of his forces were to remain for the present at Fredericksburg, adding that if McDowell's force was beyond their reach they (in Washington) should be entirely helpless. At a later hour on the same day, the President sent him another despatch, indicating apprehensions for the safety of Washington, saying, “I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington.” 8 [219]

On the 26th of May, news came that a considerable force of the enemy was in the neighborhood [220] of Hanover Court-House, to the right and rear of our army, and thus threatening our communications; and General Fitz-John Porter's division was ordered to march the next morning at daybreak to dislodge them. They set off in a heavy storm, came up with the enemy in the course of the day, attacked and defeated him, and took and destroyed his camp at Hanover Court-House. The bridges of the Virginia Central Railroad and the Fredericksburg [221] & Richmond Railroad, both over, the South Ann, were destroyed, as well as a considerable amount of Confederate property at Hanover Court-House and Ashland. General McClellan was much gratified at the way in which this brilliant movement was executed by General Porter, and he deemed its results valuable, because it was thus rendered impossible for the enemy to communicate by rail with Fredericksburg, or with Jackson except by the very circuitous route of Lynchburg. More important still, by the clearing of our right flank and rear, the road was left entirely open for the advance of McDowell, had he been permitted to join the Army of the Potomac. His advanced guard was at this time at Bowling Green, only about fifteen or twenty miles distant from that of Porter: so near did we come to seizing the golden opportunity which Fortune never offers a second time! McDowell's withdrawal towards Front Royal was, as General McClellan observes in his Report, “a serious and fatal error.” He was sent to a point where he could do no good, and diverted from a point where his presence was greatly needed and could not have failed to secure important results.

As our army was massed on both sides of the Chickahominy, it was necessary to maintain easy communication between them; and this compelled the building of several bridges, some of which were new, and others were reconstructions of those which the enemy had destroyed. Our troops were very efficient in work of this kind, but they had great difficulties to struggle against. The Chickahominy [222] in this region is a narrow and shallow stream, fringed with a dense growth of heavy forest-trees, and bordered by low marshy bottom-lands, varying from half a mile to a mile in width. A heavy rain would swell the narrow rivulet into a broad and shallow flood, and the work of days would be swept away in a single night. When the waters were low, a child might ford it; when they were high, a horse and his rider might be drowned in it. The labors of our engineers were

Quench'd in a boggy syrtis, neither sea
Nor good dry land.

The elements, too, seemed to have conspired against us. So rainy a season had never been known within the memory of man: the pitiless floods fell upon us without intermission. The petulant and rebel stream seemed to take a perverse pleasure in breaking the fetters with which patriot hands essayed to bind it. And then these rains turned the wretched narrow roads of the Peninsula into tracks of impassable and heart-breaking mire in which horses sank to their knees and wagons stuck hopelessly fast.9 [223]

During all this time our troops were busily employed, besides building bridges, in intrenching themselves, throwing up redoubts, digging rifle-pits, and felling timber in the line of the batteries.


The battle of Fair Oaks.

On the 30th of May, two corps were on the south side of the Chickahominy,--that of Keyes, comprising the divisions of Couch and Casey, and Heintzelman's, comprising those of Hooker and Kearney. Casey's division, numbering about five thousand, was at Fair Oaks, a station on the York River Railroad. A redoubt and rifle-pit had been constructed, and there was also an abatis in front of them. Couch's division, about eight thousand strong, was at Seven Pines, three-quarters of a mile in the rear; while the two divisions of Heintzelman's corps, in all about sixteen thousand, were still farther back. The right flank of Kearney was on the railroad, and the left of Hooker on White Oak Swamp.

During the day and night of May 30, there had been a violent storm, with heavy torrents of rain. [224] The Confederates, presuming that a rapid rise in the river would follow, resolved to seize the opportunity, throw their whole force upon our left wing, south of the Chickahominy, and cut it to pieces before aid could come from the other side. They supposed that they should have to deal with no other troops than those of Keyes, not being aware of the presence of Heintzelman's corps. Their dispositions were skilfully made. Longstreet and Hill, with thirty-two thousand men, were to advance along the Williamsburg road; luger, with sixteen thousand, was to move down the Charles City road, which runs southeast from Richmond, to attack our left flank; and Smith, with the same number, was to march north, along the Nine-Mile road, so as to turn our right flank and cover the Confederate left. Had these plans all been successfully executed, we could hardly have escaped an overwhelming defeat.

The columns started at daybreak on the 31st, and Hill, Longstreet, and Smith were in position to begin the attack at eight o'clock; but Huger did not appear at the appointed time and place. Hour after hour rolled away, and brought no tidings of him: his artillery had been immovably fixed in the mud, and the passage of his troops arrested. At noon, Hill and Longstreet resolved to make the attack without waiting for him. Accordingly, at about one o'clock they fell in overwhelming mass upon Casey's division. Some of his troops,thus suddenly assailed by greatly superior numbers, broke and fled in disorder; but the larger part stood their [225] ground manfully, and were nobly sustained by their officers. But it was impossible to resist the force that was hurled against them. Slowly, inch by inch, they gave way; and it was not until after three o'clock that they fell back through Couch's line of battle to the rear, too much exhausted, and their ranks too much thinned, to take further part in the contest as a body.

At four o'clock we had lost nearly a mile of ground, fifteen of our guns had been captured, and the enemy were in possession of Casey's camp. Couch's division was now assailed. His troops stood firm, and the repeated assaults of the enemy were steadily met,--our left being protected by the impenetrable morasses of the White Oak Swamp. Two of Heintzelman's brigades appeared on the field, with the gallant Kearney at their head. The movements of the troops were now directed by General McClellan in person. But a new element of danger intervened. General Couch discovered large masses of the enemy pushing towards our right and crossing the railroad, as well as a heavy column which had been held in reserve and was now making its way towards Fair Oaks Station. This was part of Smith's division, which had come by the Nine-Mile road to attack our right flank. General Couch at once engaged this column with four regiments; but he was overpowered, and the enemy pushed between him and the main body of his division. Our position was now critical; for, if the enemy had succeeded in getting in our rear, we must have been [226] defeated with great loss. “But,” says the Prince de Joinville,--

But exactly at this moment (six o'clock P. M.), new actors come upon the stage. Sumner, who has at last passed the river with Sedgwick's division on the bridge built by his troops, and who, with a soldier's instinct, has marched straight to the cannon through the woods, suddenly appears upon the flank of the hostile column which is trying to cut off Heintzelman and Keyes. He plants in a clearing a battery which he has succeeded in bringing up. His guns are not rifled guns, the rage of the hour, and fit only to be fired in cool blood, and at long range in an open country: they are real fighting guns, old twelve-pound howitzers carrying either a round projectile, which ricochets and rolls, or a good dose of grape. The simple and rapid fire of these pieces makes terrible havoc in the hostile ranks. In vain Johnston sends up his best troops against this battery, the flower of South Carolina, including the Hampton Legion; in vain does he come upon the field in person: nothing can shake the Federal ranks. When night falls, it was the Federals who, bayonet in hand, and gallantly led by Sumner himself, charged furiously upon the foe, and drove him before them, with fearful slaughter, as far as Fair Oaks Station.

Orders had been sent from Headquarters to General Sumner, at two o'clock, to move his division across the river. Two bridges had been built by his men, one opposite General Sedgwick's division, and one opposite General Richardson's,--both corduroy bridges. But the latter was already destroyed by the flood, and the former much injured. The roads, too, were deep and muddy; and it was not [227] until six o'clock, and after great exertions, that General Sedgwick's division, with a single battery (Kirby's), was able to reach the field and exert a favorable influence upon the fortunes of the day.

The opportune arrival of General Sumner was not our only piece of good fortune; for about sunset the Confederate commander-in-chief, General J. E. Johnston, who had accompanied Smith's corps and directed the enemy's movements since four or five o'clock, was struck from his horse, severely wounded, by the fragment of a shell. In consequence of this, utter confusion prevailed for a time upon the Confederate left.

The next morning, at an early hour, the battle was renewed, the enemy making an attack upon General Richardson's division, which had not taken part in the engagement of the previous day, and which was now posted in front. They met it firmly, and returned with effect the enemy's fire, until General Howard's brigade was ordered to the front, when the enemy's line fell back. Other attacks, in other parts of the field, were repulsed; and finally our line advanced with the bayonet, and the enemy retreated, having gained about half a mile of ground in two days fighting.

In these severely contested battles our loss was five thousand seven hundred and thirty-seven, and that of the enemy six thousand seven hundred and eighty. three: we also lost ten pieces of artillery.10 [228]

The battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, as the Confederates call it, has some points of resemblance to that of Waterloo, and, like that, shows how much military movements are controlled by fortune or accident. At Waterloo, Bonaparte's attack upon the British lines was delayed some hours by the rain, and consequent state of the roads. At Fair Oaks, the muddy roads held fast Huger's division, and caused the assault to be postponed four or five [229] hours. Huger took no part in the battle, contrary to the plans which had been agreed upon: Grouchy did not appear at Waterloo, as was expected. Sumner's arrival upon the field at six is paralleled by that of Blucher at Waterloo at about the same hour.

So much for the points of resemblance between the two battles; but in other respects that of Fair Oaks illustrates the power of fortune over war. Had Huger's corps attacked us on the left flank at the same time that Hill and Longstreet did in front, we could hardly have escaped destruction. Thus the rain which swelled the stream and occasioned the attack also prevented it from being successful, by making impassable the road over which Huger was directed to move. We had also another piece of good fortune. Smith's corps, it will be remembered, was moved along the Nine-Mile road, to be ready to be employed against our right flank. General Johnston, the commander-in-chief, was with this corps, and, of course, directed its movements. He says in his official report that he accompanied this corps, so that he might be on a part of the field where he could observe and be ready to meet any counter-movement which might be made against his centre or left, and then adds, “Owing to some peculiar condition of the atmosphere, the sound of the musketry did not reach us. I consequently deferred giving the signal for General Smith's advance till four o'clock.” Thus the advance of Smith's corps was delayed two hours; and precious hours they were to us, because they enabled Sumner to get to the field and save us from being cut to pieces. [230]

General Sumner had crossed the river by the upper of the two bridges which he had built, called the Grape-vine bridge; the lower, called the Sunderland bridge, having been carried away. But before the next morning the Grape-vine bridge was also carried away by the rising flood. “This bridge,” says the Prince de Joinville, “saved that day the whole Federal army from destruction.”

Such are the momentous consequences in war which flow from causes so seemingly trivial as the state of the atmosphere, the rising or falling of a petty stream, a sudden tempest of rain, or the condition of a road over which artillery must be moved. These things should teach civilian critics a wise self-distrust, and a tenderness of judgment towards generals who have had the misfortune not to succeed in winning a battle or taking a fortress.

General McClellan has been blamed for not having followed up the enemy after the battle of Fair Oaks, and, among others, by General Barnard, who says, in his Report, “The repulse of the rebels at Fair Oaks should have been taken advantage of. It was one of those ‘occasions’ which, if not seized, do not repeat themselves. We now know the state of disorganization and dismay in which the rebel army retreated. We now know it could have been followed into Richmond.” The italics are General Barnard's own. Without repeating the obvious remark that General McClellan should be judged by what was known then, and not by what we know now, it may be stated that there is nothing to justify the assertion that the rebel army retreated [231] in “disorganization” and “dismay,” and that when General Barnard says, “we know it could have been followed into Richmond,” he claims the authority of omniscience. The reasons why the enemy were not pursued are amply and satisfactorily stated in General McClellan's Report. The Grape-vine and Sunderland bridges had been carried away. The approaches to New and Mechanicsville bridges, higher up the stream, were overflowed; and both of them were enfiladed by batteries of the enemy. To have advanced upon Richmond, the troops must have been marched from various points on the left banks of the Chickahominy to Bottom's Bridge, and over the Williamsburg road to Fair Oaks, upwards of twenty miles,--a march which, as the roads then were, could not have been made in less than two days. “In short,” as General McClellan says,--

The idea of uniting the two wings of the army in time to make a vigorous pursuit of the enemy, with the prospect of overtaking him before he reached Richmond, only five miles distant from the field of battle, is simply absurd, and was, I presume, never for a moment seriously entertained by any one connected with the Army of the Potomac.11

1 This second, or retrospective, Report of General Barnard was made in January, 1863, at a time when General McClellan was living in retirement and out of favor with the Administration. The Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War copy several of its paragraphs into their Report on the Army of the Potomac; and the whole of it may be found at page 394 of their Proceedings, Part First, appended to General Barnard's testimony. The Report of the Committee has been translated into French, and published, with notes, by Colonel Lecomte, an accomplished Swiss officer who served on General McClellan's staff during the Peninsular campaign. One of General Barnard's paragraphs which the Committee copy is as follows:--“However I may be committed to any expression of professional opinion to the contrary (I certainly did suggest it), my opinion now is that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted. There is reason to believe that they were not held in strong force when our army appeared before them; and we know that they were far from complete. The prestige of power, the morale, were on our side. It was due to ourselves to confirm and sustain it. We should probably have succeeded. But, if we had failed, it may be well doubted whether the shock of an unsuccessful assault would be more demoralizing than the labors of a siege.”

Upon the above, Colonel Lecomte remarks, “We are the more astonished at this retrospective confidence of General Barnard, because, on the spot, the engineer officers who were associated with him, and he himself, we believe, repeatedly expressed very different opinions.”

General Barnard further says, “The siege having been determined upon, we should have opened our batteries upon the place as fast as they were completed. The effect on our troops would have been inspiring. It would have lightened the siege and shortened our labors; and, besides, we should have had the credit of driving the enemy from Yorktown by force of arms,--whereas, as it was, we only induced him to evacuate for prudential reasons.”

Upon which Colonel Lecomte remarks, “This is not certain. On the contrary, nothing discourages an army and inspirits the enemy more than a fire of artillery that begins feebly, without taking into account that in this way the calibre of the pieces is revealed. And as to the ‘credit’ of taking Yorktown by force of arms, this slight advantage might also have been doubtful; because, unless we ,had inflicted heavy loss upon the enemy and taken many prisoners at the very moment of evacuation (which was hardly to be expected), they might have pretended that they repulsed us, and only evacuated the place, later, for prudential reasons.”

2 “Many of Lord Wellington's proceedings might be called rash, and others timid and slow, if taken separately: yet, when viewed as parts of a great plan for delivering the whole Peninsula, they will be found discreet or daring, as the circumstances warranted. Nor is there any portion of his campaigns that requires this wide-based consideration more than his early sieges, which, being instituted contrary to the rules of art, and unsuccessful,--or, when successful, attended with a mournful slaughter,--have given occasion for questioning his great military qualities, which were, however, then most signally displayed.” --Napier.

3 The general acceded to his urgent request, and immediately ordered up Kearney's division to his aid. He could not have sent a better man. Kearney was of that chivalrous character so often to be met with in the French army. tie had lost an arm in the Mexican War, and he afterwards joined the French army as a volunteer aide-de-camp in the Italian campaign, greatly distinguishing himself at both Solferino and Magenta. Kearney brought up his men at the double quick to support Hooker, although the execrable state of the roads somewhat retarded him; but he eventually reached the hard-pressed division. It was a fine sight to see Kearney lead on his men, eager for the fight as they were. He seemed to be ubiquitous,--now leading on his centre, now ordering up a battery, in another moment charging at the head of his troops. His striking, manly form was prominent wherever the fight was thickest, setting a noble example to his soldiers. The opposing troops were soon intermingled in a regular melee, and both sides fought desperately. Owing to the state of the ground, our cavalry was not serviceable, much to the regret of its officers: it was also very difficult for the artillery to manoeuvre. The struggle, which had commenced at the verge of a wood, was gradually drawn into the forest itself, and here, under the cracking branches of venerable trees, amidst the roar of the artillery, many desperate hand-to-hand encounters took place, such as have seldom been witnessed in other wars. --Estvan's War-Pictures from the South, p. 277.

The author of the above work was a Prussian officer, serving in the Confederate army.

4 Suddenly a shout of a thousand voices broke upon the air, like the rushing of a mighty wind from the wood. What did this portend? There was little time left for us to speculate. Charge after charge was made upon our men, and the news then spread that General McClellan, with the main body of his army, had arrived on the field of battle. This explained the loud cheers from the wood. Our men could no longer stand their ground. McClellan, in person, led on his troops into the midst of the fire. Magruder now, finding that the battle was lost, ordered a retreat to be sounded, and directed Hill's division, which had just come up, to cover the movement. All the wounded and a great portion of the baggage were left in the enemy's hands. The shades of night put an end to the fight; a heavy rain, too, began to fall; and these circumstances, fortunately, prevented the enemy from completely over-whelming us. Tired and worn out, our troops returned to Williamsburg, where the excitement had become intense. --Estvan's War-Pictures from the South, p. 279.

5 Upon the battle of Williamsburg, General Barnard says, “We fought, we lost several thousand men, and we gained nothing. If we had not fought, the next day a battle would, in all probability, have been unnecessary. But, if it had been necessary, we should have had time to have brought up our resources, reconnoitred the position, and delivered our attack in such a way that some result would have flowed from it.”

Upon this Colonel Lecomte remarks, “We gained there at least the credit of having carried a position by force of arms, which General Barnard regrets so much we did not do at Yorktown. But this is not the only contradiction into which the honorable general falls. He would not have feared, for instance, assaults, however fruitless, upon the strongly-fortified line of Yorktown and Warwick, and he is inconsolable at the losses caused by success.”

6

Nothing could be more picturesque than this military march along the banks of a fine stream through a magnificent country arrayed in all the wealth of spring vegetation. The winding course of the Pamunkey, through a valley in which meadows of the brightest green alternated with wooded hills, offered a perpetual scene of enchantment to our eyes. Flowers bloomed everywhere, especially on the river-banks, which abounded in magnolias, Virginia jessamines, azaleas, and blue lupines. Humming-birds, snakes, and strange birds of every hue sported in the branches and about the trunks of the trees. Occasionally we passed a stately habitation which recalled the old mansions of rural France, with its large windows in the roof,--around it a handsome garden, and behind it the slave-cabins.

As the army was descried in the distance, the inhabitants would hang out a white flag. One of the provost-marshal's horsemen would dismount at the door, and, reassured by his presence, the ladies, in their long muslin dresses, surrounded by a troop of little negresses with frizzled hair and bare legs, would come out upon the veranda and watch the passage of the troops; They were often accompanied by old men with strongly-marked faces, long white locks, and broad-brimmed hats,--never by young men. All the men capable of bearing arms had been carried off, willy-nilly, by the Government, to join in the general defence.

So from point to point we moved along the river. The gunboats went first and explored the country before us; then came the topographical officers, moving through the woods with an escort of cavalry, reconnoitring the country, and sketching by the eye and the compass provisional maps, which were photographed at Headquarters for the use of the generals. The next day, with the help of these maps, the army would get into motion, mingled in masses with its immense team of wagons. About one-fourth of each regiment was occupied in escorting the materiel of the corps, piled up — provisions, ammunition, tents, and furniture — on wagons, at the rate of ten to a battalion. But for the absence of women, we might have been taken for an armed emigration rather than for soldiers on the march.

On May 16, we reached White House, a fine building, once the property of Washington, and now of his descendants, the Lee family. The head of this family, General Lee, was one of the chief officers of the Confederate Army; one of his nephews was in the Federal ranks. General McClellan, always careful to insist upon respect for private property, stationed sentinels around the residence of the hostile general, forbade any one to enter it, and would not enter it himself. He planted his tent in a neighboring meadow. This respect for Southern property has been made a reproach to the general in Congress: the opinion of the army did not take this direction; it endorsed the delicate feeling of its leader. This feeling was pushed so far that when a general's servants found one day, in an abandoned house, a basket of champagne, the general sent it back again conspicuously the next by an aide-de-camp. We may smile at this puritanical austerity, to which we are not accustomed in Europe. For my own part, I admit that I always admired it.

7 See the account in Alison's “History of the French Revolution,” chap. XXX.

8 Upon the President's first despatch of May 25, in which he says that apprehensions for the safety of Washington, and nothing else, prevented McDowell's being sent to the Peninsula, Colonel Lecomte remarks, “We have full faith in the sincerity of the frank and honest language of the President; but the Report” (that of the Congressional Committee, which quotes a part of the President's despatch)

perverts entirely the facts relative to Jackson's campaign, and the insane terror it inspired in Washington, which was the true cause of the failure on the Peninsula. On quitting Washington, before having been deprived of a part of his command, General McClellan had given the most exact and judicious instructions for the defence of the capital. He had pointed out Manassas and Front Royal as points forming a good advanced line, and had ordered Banks to intrench himself there. He had distinctly forbidden him to advance farther into Virginia. But as soon as General McClellan's back was turned, they wished to make Banks a rival of him, and, supposing that the Army of the Potomac would attract all the force of the enemy, it was thought that Banks might gather some cheap laurels if he were sent into the upper Valley of the Shenandoah. The Aulic Council at Washington thought they might in this way strike a master-stroke, and cause Richmond to fall before McClellan had time to appear before it. If the Confederates had not been in so much hurry, if they had let Banks advance farther, this brave general would have run great risk of being captured with all his force. Banks having miraculously escaped, it was enough to hold Harper's Ferry strongly on one side, and Centreville on the other, to cover Washington. Jackson might have moved between Warrenton Junction and Winchester; he might have pushed cavalry detachments into Western Maryland; but he could have attempted no serious enterprise.

Instead of this, it was thought that a good trick might be played upon Jackson, and that he might be “bagged,” to use an American expression. To form a notion of this plan of the campaign, manufactured at Washington, and the confusion which attended its execution, one should read the series of telegrams by which the President informs General McClellan of the progress of this wise manoeuvre. Generals McDowell, Banks, Sigel, and Fremont, each coming from his own position, and all preserving their independent commands, arrived one after another, to be beaten in detail, or to let Jackson escape before their eyes without a fight. But the most unfortunate result was that the corps of McDowell, divided, weakened by forced marches, and transported to another theatre of war, could not take the part which had been assigned to it. For the second time, and definitively, it was detained far from the army of General McClellan, to which for the second time it thus caused great mischief, as a few brief explanations will show.

After the destruction of the Merrimac, and the taking of Norfolk by the Federals, which opened the James River, Commodore Goldsborough had proposed to General McClellan to take the James River as a base of operations and have it flank his left wing. This change of base, had it then been carried out, would have made the attack upon Richmond easier, through the aid of the gunboats. General McClellan abandoned this obvious advantage, because he had been ordered to extend his right wing towards McDowell, who was coming from Fredericksburg to reinforce the army of the Peninsula as soon as it had reached Richmond. General McClellan expected General McDowell by the railroad from Fredericksburg to Richmond, and had already sent troops in that direction to effect a junction,--when, instead of this reinforcement, he received a telegraphic order to burn the railroad-bridges over the branches of the Pamunkey, and thus to render all communication with McDowell impossible, the latter's outposts having been at that time but twenty-one miles distant from those of McClellan. But this was the period of Banks's defeat; and such was the terror at Washington that they thought the whole Confederate army was marching to the North and that the capital was to be saved by destroying the bridges. The alarm was so great that it was even proposed to General McClellan to re-embark his army and bring it within the lines of Alexandria.

9 “Unfortunately, every thing dragged with us. The roads were long in drying, the bridges were long in building. ‘Never have we seen so rainy a season,’ said the oldest inhabitant. ‘Never did we see bridges so difficult to build,’ said the engineers. The abominable river laughed at all their efforts. Too narrow for a bridge of boats, too deep and too muddy for piers, here a simple brook some ten yards wide, flowing between two plains of quicksand, in which the horses sank up to the girths, and which offered no bearings,--there divided into a thousand tiny rivulets spread over a surface of three hundred yards, and traversing one of those wooded morasses which are peculiar to tropical countries,--changing its level and its bed from day to day, the river, in its capricious and uncertain sway, annulled and undid to-day the labors of yesterday, carried on under a burning sun and often under the fire of the enemy. And so went by days upon days,--precious, irrecoverable days.” --Prince de Joinville.

10 At the time the battle of Fair Oaks began, General McClellan was confined to his bed by illness. This fact does not appear in his Report, but is stated by him in his evidence before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War. But that committee say in their Report (p. 22), speaking of the second day's fight, “General McClellan was with the main part of the army on the left bank of the Chickahominy. After the fighting was over, he came across to the right bank of the river.” This statement is as untrue as it is unjust. General McClellan, enfeebled as he was by illness, immediately got on horseback when he heard the cannon which opened the battle of the 31st, was employed during the remainder of the day in receiving reports and giving orders, spent a portion of the night in conferring with his officers, and early the next morning went over to the right bank of the river, while the fight of June 1st was raging. Colonel Lecomte remarks upon the statement of the committee, that it is “, contradicted by many ocular witnesses, and, among others, by one of his aides who was with him the whole day. General McClellan, says this officer, though severely ill with dysentery, had passed the greater part of the night in seeking his generals and conferring with them. About half-past 7 in the morning he left the headquarters of General Sumner, and between eight and nine arrived at the place where the latter was engaged. The fight was then at its height: we were in a clearing, and were fighting along the edge of a wood, two hundred metres” (about six hundred and fifty feet) “from the spot where the general himself (Sumner) was directing the battle.”

11 General Barnard, in his testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, says, By the rise of the Chickahominy the two bridges built by General Sumner became impracticable by the night of the 31st. The bridges at Bottom's Bridge with difficulty were preserved from destruction; but the rising water overflowed the adjacent road, and soon these bridges became useless for wagons or horses. Fortunately, the railroad bridge had been repaired; and by this alone the left wing of the army was supplied. By means of planks laid between the rails, infantry, and, with some risk, horses, could pass. This, for several days, was the only communication between the two wings of the army. --Report on the Conduct of the War, vol. i . p. 401.

The case in defence of General McClellan can hardly be more strongly put than by this statement; but how is it to be reconciled with General Barnard's subsequently-expressed opinion?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Yorktown (Virginia, United States) (32)
Washington (United States) (25)
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (11)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (9)
Norfolk (Virginia, United States) (7)
Gloucester, Va. (Virginia, United States) (7)
Front Royal (Virginia, United States) (7)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (7)
Winchester, Va. (Virginia, United States) (6)
West Point (Virginia, United States) (6)
Tunstall (Virginia, United States) (5)
Fortress Monroe (Virginia, United States) (5)
Chickahominy (Virginia, United States) (5)
York (Virginia, United States) (4)
Waterloo, Va. (Virginia, United States) (4)
United States (United States) (4)
Strasburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (4)
Hampton Roads (Virginia, United States) (4)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (3)
Pamunkey (Virginia, United States) (3)
Harper's Ferry (West Virginia, United States) (3)
Warwick (Virginia, United States) (2)
Seven Pines (West Virginia, United States) (2)
Port Republic (Virginia, United States) (2)
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (2)
Harrisonburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Centreville (Virginia, United States) (2)
Bull Run, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
White Oak Swamp (Virginia, United States) (1)
Two Bridges (Utah, United States) (1)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Solferino (Italy) (1)
Shenandoah Valley (Ohio, United States) (1)
Shenandoah (United States) (1)
Rochambeau Village (Virginia, United States) (1)
Rectortown (Virginia, United States) (1)
Oldhouse Landing (Virginia, United States) (1)
New Market (Virginia, United States) (1)
New Bridge (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Mexico (Mexico, Mexico) (1)
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (1)
Martinsburg (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Marengo, Iowa (Iowa, United States) (1)
Manassas, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Lynchburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
Headquarters (Washington, United States) (1)
Gosport (Virginia, United States) (1)
Gordonsville (Virginia, United States) (1)
France (France) (1)
Europe (1)
Elizabeth (Virginia, United States) (1)
Drewry's Bluff (Virginia, United States) (1)
Cumberland, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Cross Keys (Virginia, United States) (1)
Craney Island (Virginia, United States) (1)
Charles City (Virginia, United States) (1)
Bull Pasture Mountain (Utah, United States) (1)
Bowling Green (Indiana, United States) (1)
Ashland (Virginia, United States) (1)
Alexandria (Virginia, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 24th (3)
23rd (3)
May 24th, 1862 AD (2)
May 30th (2)
May 25th (2)
May 16th (2)
May 11th (2)
May 10th (2)
May 4th (2)
May (2)
April (2)
March 8th (2)
31st (2)
26th (2)
January, 1863 AD (1)
May 25th, 1862 AD (1)
May 17th, 1862 AD (1)
April 4th, 1862 AD (1)
June 8th (1)
June 1st (1)
June (1)
May 26th (1)
May 21st (1)
May 20th (1)
May 15th (1)
May 14th (1)
May 8th (1)
May 7th (1)
May 6th (1)
May 5th (1)
May 3rd (1)
April 22nd (1)
April 11th (1)
April 9th (1)
April 7th (1)
April 6th (1)
April 4th (1)
April 3rd (1)
April 2nd (1)
April 1st (1)
March 31st (1)
March 17th (1)
March 16th (1)
March 11th (1)
March (1)
25th (1)
24th (1)
18th (1)
3rd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: