reserves in front of and to the right of Fair Oaks, to attack Casey. The latter was encamped on marshy soil, difficult under favorable conditions for the manoeuvring of artillery, but, since the rain, so rotten and treacherous that it would have been almost impossible for him to extricate his pieces, had there been no flushed enemy pushing upon him. It is uniformly stated that he had posted but one line of pickets, without the customary supports. I cannot ascertain definitely if that was true. Between twelve and one o'clock, the pickets were driven in quietly, but the camp failed to take the alarm, and the enemy rushed in upon the heels of the guard. Casey's troops, taken completely by surprise, were thrown into utter confusion. Both he and his field staff exerted themselves bravely to form a line of resistance, but in vain. A few men would rally to a centre, but terrified at the furious yells and terrific volleys of the swiftly advancing enemy, they would break as soon as formed, and fly frantically over the field. The whole division were soon flying before the remorseless enemy like frightened sheep. Scores of them were slaughtered and captured. Some dashed into the forests, instinctively seeking cover. The scene beggared description, and there was no hope that the shameful tide would be staid. Many were struck down by bullets, others, exhausted by sinking into the swamps or stupefied by terror, fell an easy prey to their eager pursuers. It was a pitiful spectacle. But there is palliation for their shameful conduct. They were the greenest troops in the army, commanded by a superannuated general, and too many of their field and line-officers exhibited gross cowardice. The enemy now had full possession of Casey's camp and was pushing forward rapidly, supposing the main object had been accomplished. The tumult had aroused Couch's division, and he was prepared for resistance, but the fugitives, seeking refuge from destruction, broke through his lines and shook them severely. But the inspiring efforts of Keyes, Couch, Peck and Devens, restored their confidence, and they waited the shock firmly. It came soon and vehemently, and raged along the whole line, but fiercest in front of Fair Oaks, where Abercrombie with five regiments — composing Graham's old brigade — was posted with order to hold the position at all hazard. The enemy evidently aimed to get possession of the railroad and Bottom's Bridge, which they supposed were our only lines of retreat. Abercrombie made a gallant stand, and the remainder of Couch's force held the enemy in check, although compelled to recede slowly and take up new lines of defence. The enemy fought his troops with surprising rapidity, and constantly hurried in reenforcements. The slaughter on both sides was heavy. On our side the gallant Gen. Devens, who so distinguished himself at the Ball's Bluff blunder, fell desperately wounded while urging his hard-pushed lines to stand fast; Col. Rippey, Lieut.-Col. Spear, and Major Smith, all of the Sixty-first Pennsylvania, were struck dead, and twenty-seven line-officers of the same regiment, were killed or wounded, leaving the ranks disorganized and in confusion, and every other regiment in action was being terribly cut up. On the right the gallant John Cochrane and Neill were holding their brave regiments sternly to their work, but still they were compelled to yield their ground foot by foot, and they were well-nigh desperate. Meantime, Heintzelman had sent forward Kearney to recover Casey's lost ground, and a desperate fight was going on at the extreme left. The enemy had been successfully held in front of Couch's old entrenched camp until Kearney's division arrived, when he staid the torrent of battle. One after another his gallant regiments pushed forward, and pressed back the fiery rebels with more daring than their own. Here the Fifty-fifth New-York won new laurels, and Poe's Second Michigan was bathed in blood. Five hundred of them charged across the open field against ten times their number, and stopped them in midcareer, losing seventeen brave fellows in that one desperate essay. At six o'clock, Heintzelman telegraphed Gen. McClellan that “the left is holding its own, and Birney is advancing up the railroad.” Sedgwick's and Richardson's divisions had crossed the river, the men plunging through mud to their knees, Sumner cheering them onward by words of encouragement. But unfortunately, the single passage of the swamps was blockaded by apparently immovable masses of artillery. Our second bridge had been swept away. It was next to desperation itself to drag heavy field-pieces through those wretched deeps. Yet the men worked like heroes, until it was apparent that the infantry must move up, and leave the artillery to the slender chances of extrication after the enemy had been repelled. Lieut. Kirby, commanding company I, First United States artillery, determined not to lose his chances of battle, made a final desperate effort, and by literally carrying his guns to firmer ground, succeeded at last in getting across; and an hour later, he was dealing destruction upon the foe. His was a gallant effort, worthy of all praise. The column now swept swiftly forward, the men exhibiting splendid spirit — an earnest of the laurels they were so soon to gather. They moved from the swamp to high bluffs in front, and wheeled to the right a mile or two, striking an elevated field in front of Fair Oaks, where Abercrombie was in extremity. They got there in the nick of time. He was almost enveloped by an overwhelming force. At about six o'clock, the head of Sedgwick's column — Gorman's brigade — deployed into line of battle in the rear of Fair Oaks, upon the crest of a hill which was in the centre of an open field, a farm-house (Adams's) bisecting his line, which stretched from the north-west on a line which, if prolonged in a south-easterly direction, would have cut the railroad at an acute angle on his left. The hill sloped gently toward the station. Col. Sully's First Minnesota and the Second New-York, Lieut.-Colonel Hudson, composed the right wing on one side of the house, the Thirty-fourth
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
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.