Doc. 5.-occupation of Yorktown, Va.
Gen. McClellan's despatches.
headquarters of the army of the Potomac, May 4, 9 A. M.we have the ramparts. Have guns, ammunition, camp equipage, etc. We hold the entire line of his works, which the engineers report as being very strong. I have thrown all my cavalry and horse-artillery in pursuit, supported by infantry. I move Franklin's division, and as much more as I can transport by water, up to West-Point to-day. No time shall be lost. The gunboats have gone up York River. I omitted to state that Gloucester is also in our possession. I shall push the enemy to the wall.
To Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
To Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
G. B. McClellan, Major-General.
headquarters army of the Potomac, Monday, May 5, 11.30 A. M.An inspection just made shows that the rebels abandoned, in their works at Yorktown, two three-inch rifled cannon, two four-and-a-half-inch rifled cannon, sixteen thirty-two-pounders, six forty-two-pounders, nineteen eight-inch columbiads, four nine-inch Dahlgrens, one ten-inch columbiad, one ten-inch mortar, and one eight-inch siege howitzer, with carriages and implements complete, each piece supplied with seventy-six rounds of ammunition. On the ramparts there are also four magazines, which have not yet been examined. This does not include the guns left at Gloucester Point and their other works to our left.
To Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
To Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:
G. B. McClellan, Major-General.
Colonel Astor's despatch.
Davis, Johnston and Lee were present, uniting in opinion that McClellan's disposition of his forces and artillery had made the place untenable. Magruder furiously and publicly urged fight. The fortifications were very extensive and formidable, and the force of the enemy was very large. An assault upon them before bombarding would have cost us great carnage, and might have failed. Our gunboat flotilla has passed up the river, followed by large bodies of troops in transports. Several columns are moving rapidly along York River. We hope to come up with them before they can reach West-Point. Our army is in the finest condition and best of spirits. The rebel army is much demoralized.
J. J. Astor, Colonel and A. D. C.
Philadelphia press account,
Yorktown, May 4.At twelve o'clock last night, a bright light in the direction of the enemy's water-batteries attracted attention. Suspicions that all was not right were again revived. At one o'clock A. M., a last and farewell gun was fired. From thence until daybreak all was silent. Our pickets advanced further than usual, and met no resistance. At five o'clock A. M., the pickets were relieved. Skirmishers were at once thrown out to ascertain the state of affairs, and at six o'clock A. M., General Jameson, Colonel Gove, of the Twenty-second Massachusetts, and Colonel Black, of the Sixty-second Pennsylvania, entered Yorktown. The Twenty-second Massachusetts and part of the Thirteenth New-York, were at once thrown into the works, and possession taken. The Stars and Stripes were raised on the deserted fortifications amid the unbounded enthusiasm of our soldiers. The most reliable information I have been enabled to receive shows that the evacuation was commenced on Thursday last. The last of the rebel force, consisting of General Longstreet's brigade, left the works about one o'clock this morning. Just at the first faint light of early dawn, three men were observed approaching our outer pickets with a flag of truce. They were received by Col. Black. At first it was supposed that they were sent from Yorktown officially — perhaps with a proposition for surrender — but we soon ascertained  that they had come over on their own account. They belonged to the Thirty-second Virginia regiment, which was one of the last to leave. They said that when our army arrived in front of Yorktown the rebel force under General Magruder was not more than eight thousand men. A few hours previous to this time our telegraph had been carried so far to the front as the old grist-mill, which has been used as the Headquarters of the generals of the trenches. General Jameson immediately telegraphed to General Fitz-John Porter, director of the siege, the intelligence which these deserters brought regarding the evacuation. He soon received a reply instructing him to push forward a small force to procure authoritative information as to the truth of their assertion. He took detachments from the Sixty-second Pennsylvania regiment, under Col. Black, the Twenty-second Massachusetts, under Col. Gove, with a support of two companies of the First Massachusetts, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wells, and advanced along the border of the woods, on the commanding bluff which overlooks the river. In the morning our outposts and sentinels on the works we were constructing were astonished when they missed the accustomed rebel watchmen from the walls. Our men in the trenches evinced, if possible, as much curiosity as those who were advancing towards the enemy's fortifications. Thousands of heads appeared above the top of our parallel, and every one manifested the deepest interest in the scenes which were transpiring. It was only by a stern command that the General kept the men from rushing headlong, heedless of all lurking danger, into the intrenchments. Very soon the detachments reached the ditch in front, and began to mount the parapets. General Jameson and Colonel Black mounted first. They were closely followed by Colonel Gove, Lieutenant Crawford and Captain Hassler, of the General's staff. The General jumped inside the work, which was seen to be deserted, and presently it was swarming with our soldiers. The glorious emblem of our nationality was raised above the deserted battlements, and, as its folds were kissed by the gentle breeze, the General uncovered his head and called for “three cheers for the good old Stars and Stripes.” A feeling of profound veneration arose in the hearts of all as we beheld the grand old flag waving over the deserted battlements, and planted once more on that historic ground. You may know that we all reverently uncovered, and the air resounded with our cheers. Two companies were placed on the parapets, and then we commenced an examination of the works. We soon found a Northern gentleman, who had reluctantly occupied an important position in the rebel army there, who managed to secrete himself when they were going, and from whom we received valuable information relative to the mines the rebels had laid to blow up the works. The fortifications around Yorktown itself were of the most formidable character. I have positive and reliable information that ever since the battle of Big Bethel, almost a year ago, and before it, the rebels have been hard at work fortifying the whole peninsula. The works at Big Bethel, and those at Howard's bridge — which were abandoned when we marched up here a month ago — required considerable labor. From the time of the occupation of Yorktown, about a year ago, by the rebel General Magruder, two thousand slaves have been constantly employed, principally on the fortifications in the immediate vicinity of Yorktown and across the river at Gloucester. These have been assisted by the effective rebel force, some seven thousand men, which Gen. Magruder has had under his command. They were composed chiefly of Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana troops. The fortifications of Yorktown are in the general shape of an elongated triangle, with the river for the base. In length they are five eighths of a mile. They are strong, but not neat. They might have been taken by storm with terrible loss; could have been taken by turning their right on the Warwick, after a severe battle; but have been taken without loss of any kind. One man was killed and three wounded by the explosion of a shell, attached to a torpedo in front of the works. They belonged to the Twenty-second Massachusetts. That immense connected fortification, with its numerous salient angles, on which their heaviest guns were mounted, is at once a beautiful and a wonderful work. The ditch is deep, but dry; the parapet is lofty, and would be difficult to scale. This work, with a water-battery below, commands the river on the Yorktown side. Running toward the right of the rebel lines there is a long breastwork, not pierced for guns, but having in front a ditch of the same depth as that before the fort. This breastwork connects an elegant redoubt of considerable magnitude, and another breastwork of the same description connects another redoubt beyond, still further to the left. On this redoubt there had been mounted a number of columbiads and Dahlgren naval guns, with one siege howitzer. It is now occupied by the Fortieth New-York regiment, whose banners are streaming from the walls. In front of these works there is an immense area of open ground which is completely commanded by their guns. Trees which were standing a year ago have been cut down by the rebels, to give free range to their artillery. Deep gorges and ravines are inside and about these fortifications. This natural advantage furnished good cover for their troops against artillery fire, and rendered the position difficult to assault. To the left of the Yorktown road — the enemy's right — as you approach the town, other fortifications have been constructed. On the line of the Warwick road, a few hundred yards from the Yorktown turnpike, there is a small ravine. An inconsiderable stream has been made to increase the extent of a natural swamp in front of the works at this point. This is near the spot where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, and the British laid down their arms  Further to the right of the enemy's line, along the course of the Warwick River, there are other earthworks which I have not yet had an opportunity to examine. When we arrived inside the fort we found that tents were left standing, with bedding and articles of luxury in them. On the canvas and sides of the huts were caricatures of Union soldiers. Many of the tents were cut in different places. Four large trucks for carrying heavy guns stood near the dock, with an immense quantity of lumber. The magazines were constructed in the most careful manner. This fort had been occupied by the first battalion New-Orleans artillery, the Eighth and Thirtieth Alabama regiments, the Tenth and Fourteenth Louisiana regiments, and the Thirteenth and Forty-fifth Georgia regiments. These troops were ordered to report at Howard's Grove, four miles from Richmond, and left the fort at midnight. A rear-guard was left, which at last retired in the greatest haste. The first gun on this large work, mounted on the left, looking towards the river, was an eight-inch columbiad, and next in their order were mounted a nine-inch Dahlgren, a ten-inch columbiad, three nine-inch Dalhgren guns. Directly underneath, in the water-battery, there were four eight-inch columbiads and an old forty-two-pound carronade. On the large work above, besides these I have already mentioned, there were, just about the brow of the hill, two thirty-two-pounder siege guns, three thirty-two-pounder ship-guns, taken from the Norfolk Navy-Yard, three eight-inch columbiads in one position and four in another. All these guns command the river. To the right of the river-battery, and bearing on the open space of land which I have described, there is a thirty-two-pounder ship-gun, and then, mounted on a barbette carriage, a long twenty-four-pounder seacoast gun. The next was a thirty-two-pounder, and close by another eight-inch columbiad. Still farther to the right, bearing on the land, were thirty-two-pounders, twenty-four-pounders, and an eight-inch columbiad. After a good forty-two-pounder there were four old ship carronades, which were little else than useless. There were other pieces of ordnance, some of smaller calibre, in the works farther to the right. Several of the guns were spiked, several had burst, the fragments being scattered around in the forts, and a few had been dismounted, probably by our shots. When we occupied Yorktown the whole place presented the most pitiable appearance. A few contrabands were the sole inhabitants of the town, Some of the most interesting houses had been torn down. The marble monument outside, where the British forces under Lord Cornwallis surrendered, had been knocked to pieces and carried away by individual rebel soldiers. Several of the houses had been used as hospitals, but the sick and wounded had all been removed before we entered. The ancient Nelson house, taken once from Cornwallis, and now from the rebels by our forces, is still standing. It is an extensive brick structure, and was used as a hospital. From our camps, before the evacuation, we could distinctly see the yellow flag floating from this house. The old church had been set apart as a quartermaster's depot. The alarm-bell was stationed on a house which was known as Gen. Kain's headquarters. Close by the church was the prison, and the prison — doors were open. There are a number of interesting spots which I have not time to describe. In Yorktown proper are about forty guns, ranging from twelve-pound carronades and howitzers to thirty-two-pounders of the old navy pattern, which throw a one-hundred-pound solid shot. These guns are all left — spiked, of course. The remains of two that burst are visible. The heavy gun that burst on Friday last, a deserter tells me, killed three and wounded twelve men. Ammunition is left in moderate quantities — hospital stores in profusion — no commissary stores of any moment. Tents were left standing; guns merely spiked, and the trail-ropes not even cut; the magazines not even blown up. Only the powder-house, down on the river side, at the extreme end of their works, was burned, and exploded at three A. M., with a terrific report. About fifteen houses are all that stand. Some have been burned. Nearly every house was used for a hospital, and medical stores are found in abundance. The camp inside the works was dirty and filthy, and the inclosure is filled with debris of every description. Trophies abound. The early risers secured some worthy relics. A strict guard is over the works, and stragglers are arrested. Several mines had been prepared for our troops by placing percussion-shells under ground in the railways and entrance to the fort. Torpedoes and shells, with a fuse fastened to small wires, had been also placed in redoubts. The Fifth New-York regiment (Duryea's Zouaves) had five men killed and several wounded by the explosion of a torpedo. The Thirty-eighth New-York volunteers, Col. Hobart Ward, had two men killed and four wounded by the bursting of a prepared shell. The Fortieth New-York volunteers lost one man killed and two wounded. The Seventieth regiment New-York volunteers lost two men killed. Other casualties have occurred, but I cannot send you particulars at present. Up to within a few days since the rebels intended to give battle here. Finding, however, that the heavy projectiles which we had thrown over were terribly destructive, and having reason to believe that the batteries we were building would, when they should open, soon compel them to surrender, joined with other equally suggestive circumstances, satisfied the rebel generals that their position would speedily be untenable, and that the best policy for them to pursue was to evacuate. It seems that they dreaded our gunboats quite as much as our batteries and our regiments. I have reliable information that they calculated greatly upon assistance from the Merrimac. An order was issued, seven days ago, requiring the Merrimac to report to Gen. Johnston immediately, at Yorktown. But the Merrimac had well-founded fears of the Monitor, and  she did not attempt to comply with the requirements of the order. The rebel soldiers and negroes were at work on their entrenchments until one o'clock in the morning, when their rear-guard ordered the work to cease and the march for Williamsburgh to be taken up. In the house of Mrs. Nelson, where Gen. Magruder had slept the night before the evacuation, I found several open letters lying unfolded on a table. Two were addressed to Gen. McClellan, one to the first Yankee who come, one to Abe Lincoln. One of those to Gen. McClellan reads as follows:
The retreat of the rebels appears to have been precipitate. They commenced carrying all but their guns back to Williamsburgh four days ago. Wagons have been engaged in transporting their ammunition, provisions, and camp equipage for nearly a week past. Their sick and wounded, numbering over two thousand five hundred, were sent to Richmond ten days ago. The rebel council of war was held in Mrs. Nelson's house, at Yorktown, on Tuesday and Wednesday last. Jeff. Davis and two members of his Cabinet, Gens. Lee, Magruder, and nine other generals were present. The debates were warm and exciting; but finally it was resolved to evacuate. The generals entrusted with the orders of evacuation kept it a profound secret from the officers and men.General McClellan: You will be surprised to hear of our departure at this stage of the game, leaving you in possession of this worthless town; but the fact is, McClellan, we have other engagements to attend to, and we can't wait any longer. Our boys are getting sick of this damned place, and the hospital likewise; so, good-by for a little while.Adjutant Terry, C. S. A. M.
Yorktown, 10 A. M., Sunday morning, May 4.Another skedaddle. Yorktown and the peninsula defences are ours. Evacuated by the enemy at two o'clock this morning, and entered at sunrise by the trench-detail of the Federal army. My associate rides back to the camps to send you the first brief news by the ten o'clock boat to Old Point. I remain in the enemy's recent lines to examine their formidable works, and, if possible, become the discoverer of the redoubtable “last ditch.” For three weeks these fortresses and intrenchments have checked our march to Richmond, but only that they might the more surely, cheaply, and expeditiously fall into our hands. I look around at this village of Yorktown, now a broad and frowning fortress, covering hundreds of acres, twice as large as Fortress Monroe, big enough to inclose twenty of our own elaborate works on the Potomac heights; I see a bastioned and traversed flank-work, one fourth its size, and but a hundred rods to the west; I gaze from the further angle of the latter, and a chain of rifle-pits, redoubts, gabionades, and what not, stretches toward the James River as far as the eye can reach; seeing all these, and knowing how long and bravely an army fighting under the old flag would have held them — I almost wonder at the cowardly tactics of the braggart rebels, and more than ever realize the baseness and hopelessness of their cause. Our environments were all complete. Our parallels and batteries had gone up day after day, night after night, within point-blank range of the enemy, and under unceasingly vexatious fire. Our more than a hundred siege-guns and mortars were placed and ready for the reduction of the walls opposing us. The bombardment would have commenced at sunrise to-morrow morning. The rebels knew that we were ready; they must either fight a desperate, decisive battle, or surrender ignominiously the strongest defence of Richmond. They have chosen the latter alternative; and, if we experience a certain disappointment in not being able at once, and at any loss of life, to end this weary contest, it cannot be doubted that the general Southern public, deluded into a belief that the peninsula would be held, will be exasperated beyond measure by this last exposure of their leaders. Last night I wrote a letter, which the new phase deprives of interest, detailing the latest aspects and probabilities of the siege. The symptom which has made our officers, from the outset, half distrust the promise of the rebels to fight us, has been the worrisome and vicious, rather than vigorous and systematic, manner of their firing. They have popped away at our trenches and camps in the former style, exposing every one to the chance, without much danger, of being hit by their shells. They have not seriously retarded our engineering — which has been more rapidly executed than as much work by any previous army. Right in their teeth our hardy thousands have built fifteen earthworks and thrown up parallels of miles in length. But yesterday we had a suspicious symptom. In the afternoon the ascent of Prof. Lowe's balloon, and in the evening the display of Major Myers's signal lights, gave them certain ranges, and they began to pour in all sorts of projectiles from their three principal works. (Food and forage have been so limited here that we had accepted the first hospitable invitation to mess and bed received. Owing to this fact, my residence for the past two days has been in rather an exposed location, where a friend, connected with what may be called the “scientific corps” of the army, had been directed to pitch his tent and await orders. This spot was near the junction of the cross-fire poured in last night. The shells burst in and over a ravine behind us; sometimes in a field in front. No amount of experience can render people entirely comfortable within such nocturnal surroundings. A huge cloud, hanging over the rebel works, deflected the sound to the forest, and every discharge rang and echoed with a thousand thunders.) “For what are they raising such a row to-night?” was the question under discussion. Dispute ran high whether it was to cover a retreat or to use their newly acquired  knowledge of the location of some of our camps. Just then an indiscriminate mass of ammunition-wagons, which had been bearing shells to our outworks, under cover of the night, came rolling with great tumult into our field. The mules were stampeding, frightened by the enemy's heavy fire. All thought, for a moment, that the rebels were making a sortie, and that some of our field-batteries were taking a “safer position.” Then came the discovery of the reality, and much joking, but — just as many shells. For several hours the rebels fired two-minute guns. At last we got out of patience, and opened some heavy replies. After ten minutes--at about two A. M.--not another rebel shot was heard. Then deserters came in, declaring that the rear-guard of the foe had evacuated, and was pushing for Williamsburgh. In two hours it was daylight. Lowe and General Heintzelman made a hurried balloon ascension, and confirmed the report of the deserters. Next Colonel Sam. Black, Sixty-second Pennsylvania, Colonel Gove, Twenty-second Massachusetts, and Captain Boughton, Thirteenth New-York, with their trench details, all led by General Jameson, general of the trenches, advanced as skirmishers, at their own risk, and clambered the parapets of Yorktown. Colonel Sam. Black and General Jameson were the first men in, and unfurled the Stars and Stripes upon the great waterangle, whose huge gun, now exploded, gave us so much trouble a week ago. I think the Press brigade, as usual, was the next corps to enter the rebel lines. By eight A. M. the whole army, east and west, was in hot pursuit of the retreating rebels. I learn thus much of the left wing, and am myself now writing in the Yorktown works, while Gen. Fitz-John Porter's division, from the right wing, is pouring through the gates and on beyond the fortresses, by the Williamsburgh river road. It is preceded by the McClellan dragoons and Sixth cavalry, with a large artillery force. It will not be surprising if we yet have a battle on the peninsula. It will surprise us if we do not make many prisoners, as the deserting stay-behinds report the enemy somewhat demoralized, and that many of the Irish and Kentucky soldiers have taken to the woods. One hundred thousand men have occupied the whole line opposed to us. Eight thousand staid at Yorktown alone until two o'clock this morning, then left post haste, spiking all the guns which they could not remove, and burying percussion torpedoes in the various approaches and gateways. I had scarce entered the fort second from the river when a frightful explosion took place, where a group of men were standing in the quadrangle. One of the New-York Thirty-eighth (which regiment, Col. J. H. Ward, first occupied this strong-hold) men had trodden on the spring of an infernal rebel machine. Two soldiers were killed, I think, and others wounded. Just afterward the McClellan dragoons came on, leading the van of the army. They pressed up toward the main entrance of the rebel rifle-pit, (across the Williamsburgh road,) where we had already unearthed several sunken bombs and suspected others were concealed. I thought some casualty would occur, and watched the progress of the long column. The cavalry passed in by fours, and the last company had reached the gate when — another explosion, a dead horse, and badly mutilated rider. “Send for an ambulance.” “Lay the man by the roadside.” “Attention, company! Forward by fours!” Another explosion inside the great fortress, not five minutes since-and they are even now carrying a poor groaning fellow in front of the rebel tent in which I am writing. Well, we have the works, the deserted town — a village of twenty houses — heaps of shot and shell, forty spiked guns in one work alone, and thirty-one more in the residual aggregate. Your correspondents have taken hasty outlines of the Yorktown intrenchments, and will try to send you them copied on an engineer's map of the lines, with our batteries and approaches carefully displayed. There is no humbug nor Quaker-gun business about these last-captured rebel works. Magruder has done his best with them, and has been a year in doing it. Our deathful and visible means for reducing the line have alone made the rebels abandon it without striking a blow-at no loss of life to an army which would, nevertheless, have possessed it at any loss. Unequalled by any previous rebel earthworks as are the walls of Yorktown, I do not believe their defenders could have endured three days of the general bombardment which was to have commenced so soon. Writing, as you see, in haste to push on with the rest, I will this morning give you only the outline features of Yorktown. An immense earth wall, fifteen feet at the parapet and twenty at the base, completely invests the land boundaries of the place, reaching from the river-bank below to the river-shore above. This wall is eighteen feet in height, from the bottom of a ditch eleven feet high and twelve feet wide. It has transverses, bomb-proofs, etc., well distributed throughout. It is over a mile in total length, and Yorktown is forever henceforth a fortress, lacking only casemates to make it very secure. On the water side are three batteries, mounting plenty of heavy guns, of which only a dozen or so remain. High in the village are the old works of 1781. Through the plains on the southern approach deep gorges form natural moats; and across the York River lies Gloucester Point, with a scanty rear-guard just hurrying from its supporting works, and a yellow flag still fluttering from its hospital. To conclude, for I must end and forward these hurried pages: I. Will the rebels make a stand at an interior line of peninsula defences? Deserters say they will not; that they are afraid of McDowell's advance, and are hastening to unite with their Gordonsville columns ; that the failure of Forts Jackson and St. Philip to sink our gunboats in the Mississippi has opened their eyes to the admirable shrewdness of McClellan in essaying the peninsula. Per contra. Read the curious addresses which  we find awaiting us here in various parts of the works. Here is one copied from a sand-bag on the grand parapet:
follow us, and we will give you what you won't need. Just come out A few miles. All we want is A Fair showing.Is this a delphic utterance veiling some mysterious danger in wait for us ahead, or possibly a weak invention of the enemy? Here is another which, if not specific, is at least expressive of a certain courageous mortification at the last rebel skedaddle:
One more specimen, and you will see that the “internal evidence” of rebel intentions is at least conflicting:
To the B'hoys from Lincolndom — from Dixie.Yorktown, May 2.We leave you by order of our superiors, but we do so with the consolation of meeting you soon again. Know, gentlemen, that we are more anxious to do so now than ever before. The war has just begun. You will have to contest every inch of ground with us after this. For this is the last time we obey orders to retreat without trying your mettle, let them emanate from whom they may; and ours are the feelings of every soldier from Louisiana. We are, with the compliments of the non-commissioned officers and privates of company E, First battery heavy artillery,
II. Why have the rebels not been so completely surrounded that any movement would have been utterly impossible without a battle? Perhaps because Gen. McDowell's command was ordered to Fredericksburgh, and its control taken away from Gen. McClellan, at the moment when the latter had ordered it to proceed to Urbana, on the Rappahannock, and push for the rebel rear. Perhaps because the Merrimac has prevented such boats as Commodore Goldsborough has had from sailing up the rivers. Perhaps because McClellan had landed all his force at Old Point before knowing that he was to be deprived of McDowell's corps d'armee. Perhaps because we are getting thus far bravely on to Richmond and all is as well as it could be. Probably from a combination of all these and other causes. It is not yet time, nor has any one yet the power, to write a fair and faithful history of this campaign.To Gen. McClellan and Command:The Fortieth Alabama regiment have been sitting very quiet for the last four hours, listening to our guns belching vengeance to your lines. You might as well attempt to change the run of the James River as to subjugate the Confederacy. Vale! Vale!Co. K, 40th Ala.