military bridges formed the avenues of communication between the two portions of the army separated by the river. The centre, consisting of Smith's, Sedgwick's, and Richardson's divisions, stretched in line of battle from Goulden's, on the banks of the river, to a point south of the Yorktown Railroad. The left wing, consisting of Hooker's, Kearney's, and Couch's divisions, stretched from Richardson's left to a point considerably south of the Williamsburgh stage-road, on the borders of White Oak swamp. The whole line was protected by strong breastworks and redoubts. The necessary extent of the line left but few troops for supports. Casey's, now Peck's, sadly reduced division guarded Bottom Bridge, the railway-bridge, and were assigned to other similar duty. Our line of battle on the right bank of the Chickahominy, as I have informed you, pressed so close to the rebel lines that neither could advance a regiment outside of their respective breastworks without provoking battle. On Wednesday, June twenty-fifth, Gen. McClellan made the first distinctly offensive movement, by directing Gen. Hooker to take up an advanced position on Fair Oaks Farm, near the Williamsburgh road. It provoked a sharp resistance, which we overcame, and accomplished our object. It is necessary to note this fact particularly, because it bears strongly upon the question whether Gen. McClellan had then distinctly contemplated changing his base of operations to James River — a perilous thing to attempt before; more so now that we were still nearer the enemy. It was pronounced an “important achievement” by Gen. McClellan himself, because it gave him advantages over the rebel position which he had not enjoyed before. Some time during the night, however, tidings were received of a movement of Stonewall Jackson on our right wing. It was deemed hazardous to maintain the advantage of the previous day, and the line was ordered to resume its old position. Thursday afternoon the anticipated attack upon our right wing was made, and handsomely repulsed; but it was discovered that it had not been made by Jackson's command. Information was received that Jackson was sweeping down the Pamunkey, probably to capture military stores at White House, to cut off our communications with our water-base, and menace our rear. Orders were given at once to destroy all public property at White House and evacuate that point. Matters began to assume a critical appearance, and danger culminated in the disaster of Friday. It was then fully determined to “change the base of operations to James River.” It seems to me this was compulsory. The enemy had turned our right, evidently outnumbered us in great disproportion, was too strong in front for us to break through, and was in position to crush us in front and rear — and, perhaps, intended to strike on our left flank. Apparently his army was numerous enough for that grand combination. The retrograde movement was really begun Friday evening, by the transfer of headquarters from Trent's Bluff to Savage station, but the grand exodus did not commence until Saturday, and did not swell into full proportions till nightfall of that day. The history of that movement will follow in due course. The reader being supposed to be familiar with the war-map, will now follow the course pursued by the army. In order to preserve the morale of the army as far as possible, and insure supplies of ammunition and subsistence, it was determined to carry through all the wagons loaded, and the ambulance train — making a mighty caravan-vastly increased by artillery trains. There was but one narrow road to pursue. It struck almost due south from the Williamsburgh road, through White Oak swamp to the Charles City road, into which it debouched about eight miles from Turkey Bend in James River. The course then lay up the latter road towards Richmond, where it struck a little south-west by the Quaker road which terminated in New Market road, leading from Richmond. The river was but a short distance south, and Malvern Hill — a beautiful lofty bluff overlooking the river and commanding the surrounding country — being our goal. Although there was but a single road, with slight exception, it had the advantage of coursing through White Oak swamp, upon which we might rely in some degree for protection of our flanks. There was great danger that the enemy might cut us off by moving columns down the Charles City, Central, or New-Market roads, or all three, but these chances were necessarily accepted. General McClellan acted upon the supposition that the enemy would not guess his determination until he was able to defeat their movements. At all events, it was the only hopeful course, because the enemy was watching for him on the left bank of the Chickahominy. The road was a narrow funnel for such a mighty torrent of trains and men, but fortunately it was smooth and dry. In order to make the movement successfully, it was necessary to fight at the outset, because it was morally certain that our line of battle could not be withdrawn from the front without sucking the enemy after them, so that due preparations were made. The events will now be recorded in their order, with as much of the spirit of the perilous enterprise thrown into the sketch as I have time to engraft. The affair at Fair Oaks Farm was the real beginning of the dreary drama. You will find a description of it in another letter. The Mechanicsville battle was the second act, which you will now read:
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