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[230] officers, leaving two companies under the command of corporals.

After a brisk encounter of about an hour I ordered my whole line to move forward, which they did with a shout, the enemy giving way before us, bearing with them most of their killed and wounded. We drove them through the open fields and swamp, wading in many places nearly to our waists in mud and water, and establishing our line of pickets as previously indicated by the Commanding General, but not without quite a serious loss.

The officers and men under my command deserve the highest praise for their attention to and prompt obedience to orders.

I have the honor to remain,

Very respectfully your ob't servant,

Robert Cowdin, Colonel Commanding First Reg't Mass. Vols.


A National account.

camp on Fair Oaks battle-field, Va., Thursday, June 26, 1862.
To enable you to comprehend the action, I will report its history circumstantially. It was fought on Fair Oaks Farm, nearly a mile in front of the battle-field of Fair Oaks. The latter derives its title from the railway station. But Fair Oaks Homestead is a mile south of the station, and south of the Williamsburgh stage-road. The fight, in military parlance, was an “affair.” I am almost tempted to denominate it the Battle of Casualties. Wherefore? Six hundred and forty brave men were killed and wounded — and we gained a barren victory. Its true result was a reconnaissance of some value, which might have been better made, (it seems to me,) by a single courageous man. The operation was intended to be highly important, but under the present circumstances its real value is obscured in a sea of uncertain speculation.

Knowledge of the situation is necessary to an understanding of the affair. You will bear in mind that Gen. Porter's batteries, on the east bank of the river, command several important rebel batteries on this side including those on James Garnet's farm and at Old Tavern. By referring to your maps, you will discover that the Williamsburgh stage-road, and the Richmond and York River Railroad, run almost parallel at Fair Oaks station. The deviations will not affect the general description. By running a line due south from Fair Oaks station, you will intersect the Williamsburgh road at Hooker's camp. Given the enemy's line of intrenchments, a mile, or perhaps more, in advance, and you have the figure of an irregular parallelogram of which the east end is occupied by Hooker's command, the west by the enemy. In front of Hooker there is a wide field and entanglement, which is our territory; a belt of timber and thicket, perhaps five hundred yards wide, which has been bloodily debated now some twenty-five days; still further beyond, another broad field, intersected by the stage-road and railroad, and commanded by rebel rifle-pits, and a redoubt near the railroad.

For reasons best understood by himself, Gen. McClellan thought it desirable to advance our lines at this point — to the other side of the woods — at the risk of a general engagement. (You will also observe that it is the point in our lines nearest Richmond on its direct lines of communication.) Gen. Heintzelman was accordingly ordered to push Hooker's division into the disputed territory, and hold a line near the enemy's esplanade. Porter's batteries, meantime, had opened a furious bombardment upon the enemy at Garnet's farm and Old Tavern, fixing their attention rather closely to those points. Generals Sickles's and Grover's brigades deployed right and left, and moved into the forest in line of battle, Grover being commander on the actual field of battle, with orders to report to Gen. Hooker, who posted himself on the edge of the timber to watch the whole line. The Nineteenth Massachusetts, Col. Hinks, (of Sumner's corps,) was thrown out in line to protect the right flank, and Kearney's division was advanced to protect the left, General Robinson's brigade joining Grover's. Hooker's Third brigade, commanded by Col. Carr, Second New-York volunteers, (not Second New-York State Militia,) was ordered to remain behind the intrenchments in support.

Our force advanced cautiously, but with great difficulty, through the heavy swamps and thickets, skirmishers in front, until the rebel pickets were ousted. A brisk engagement opened immediately with their supports. They were speedily forced back, but rallied upon strong reenforcements, and the battle became general. It was impossible to distinguish anything but smoke and mounted officers dashing back and forth along the line. The furious tumult within the woody recesses was a sufficient assurance of hot strife. The firing on both sides was very heavy, and it was as easy to distinguish the respective volleys as it is to distinguish between two human voices — our own being sharp and ringing, those of the enemy dull and heavy, like the reports of shot-guns. Our men were armed with Spring-field and Enfield guns, the enemy with Harper's Ferry muskets, which their officers prefer. I was impressed that the enemy were most numerous. Gen. Grover was so satisfied of the fact that he notified Gen. Hooker. He begun to think that it would have been wiser had he brought Colonel Wyman's Sixteenth Massachusetts regiment into battle. He had left him in reserve on the edge of the wood, consoling him with the remark that his regiment “had won glory enough at Fair Oaks.” Sickles commanded not only his brigade, but each of his regiments, leading and inspiring each with his own fiery ardor.

The first reports of picket alarms had hardly subsided before ambulances, loaded with wounded, began to debouch from the forest, and it was not a great while before a long procession of bloody forms upon stretchers followed them. A half-hour or more, perhaps, after the first attack, the fire extended across Hooker's entire line, to Hinks's flanking regiment, which was as hotly engaged as its neighbors. The fire gradually increased in intensity, indicating the arrival of new


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Joseph Hooker (8)
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