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Chapter 20:

In A previous chapter the retreat of our army from Centreville has been described, and reference has been made to the anticipation of the commanding general, J. E. Johnston, that the enemy would soon advance to attack that position. Since the close of the war we have gained information not at that time to us attainable, which shows that, as early as January 31, 1862, the commanding general of the enemy's forces presented to his President an argument against that line of operations, setting forth the advantages of a movement by water transports down the Chesapeake into the Rappahannock; that in the following February, by the direction of President Lincoln, General McClellan held a council with twelve of the generals of that army, who decided in favor of the movement by way of Annapolis, and thence to the Rappahannock, to which their President gave his assent. When General McClellan, then in the city of Washington, heard that our army had retired, he ordered a general movement of his troops toward the position we had lately occupied. A detachment was sent to make reconnaissance as far as the line of the Rappahannock, by which it was ascertained that our troops had passed beyond that river. His account of this movement was given in the following report:

Fairfax Court-House, March 11, 1862, 8:30 P. M.
I have just returned from a ride of more than forty miles. Have examined Centreville, Union Mills, Blackburn's Ford, etc. The rebels have left all their positions, and, from the information obtained during our ride to-day, I am satisfied that they have fallen behind the Rapidan, holding Fredericksburg and Gordonsville. Their movement from here was very sudden. They left many wagons, some caissons, clothing, ammunition, personal baggage, etc. Their winter-quarters were admirably constructed, many not yet quite finished. The works at Centreville are formidable; more so than at Manassas. Except the turnpike, the roads are horrible. The country entirely stripped of forage and provisions. Having fully consulted with General McDowell, I propose occupying [67] Manassas with a portion of Banks's command, and then at once throwing all forces I can concentrate upon the line agreed upon last week. The Monitor justifies this course. I telegraphed this morning to have the transports brought to Washington, to start from there. I presume you will approve this course. Circumstances may keep me out here some little time longer.1

Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
G. B. Mcclellan, Major-General.

The reference to the Monitor is to be explained by the condition previously made in connection with the proposition of going to Fortress Monroe, that the Merrimac, our Virginia, should first be neutralized. The order to bring the ‘transports’ to Washington was due to the fact that they had not dared to run by our batteries on the Potomac, and intended to avoid them by going to Annapolis for embarkation. The withdrawal of our batteries from the banks of the Potomac had removed the objection to going down that river, and the withdrawal of our forces across the Rappahannock was fatal to the program of landing on that river, and marching to Richmond before our forces could be in position to resist an attack on the capital. Notwithstanding the assurance given that the destruction of railroads and bridges proved that our army could not intend to advance, apprehension was still entertained of an attack upon Washington.

As soon as we ascertained that the enemy was concentrating his forces at Fortress Monroe, to advance upon our capital by that line of approach, all our disposable force was ordered to the Peninsula, between the James and York Rivers, to the support of General John B. Magruder, who, with a force of seven to eight thousand men, had, by availing himself of the Warwick River, a small stream which runs through a low, marshy country, from near Yorktown to the James River, constructed an entrenched line across the Peninsula, and with equal skill and intrepidity had thus far successfully checked every at tempt to break it, though the enemy was vastly superior in numbers to the troops under General Magruder's command. Having a force entirely inadequate to occupy and defend the whole line, over thirteen miles long, he built dams in the Warwick River, so as to form pools across which the enemy, without bridges, could not pass, and posted detachments at each dam to prevent the use of them by attacking columns of the enemy. To defend the left of his line, where the stream became too small to present a serious obstacle to the passage of troops, redoubts were constructed, with curtains connecting them.

Between Yorktown and Gloucester Point, on the opposite shore, the [68] York River is contracted to less than a mile in width, and General Magruder had constructed batteries at both places which, by their crossfire, presented a formidable obstacle to the ascent of ordinary vessels. The fortifications at Norfolk and the navy-yard, together with batteries at Sewell's Point and Craney Island, in conjunction with the navy, offered means of defense against any attempt to land troops on the south side of James River. After the first trial of strength with our Virginia, there had been an evident disinclination on the part of the enemy's vessels to encounter her, so that, as long as she floated, the deep water of the roads and mouth of James River was not likely to be invaded by ships of war.

As a second line of defense, a system of detached works had been constructed by General Magruder near to Williamsburg, where the width of the Peninsula, available for the passage of troops, was only three or four miles. The advantage thus secured to his forces, if they should be compelled to retreat, will be readily appreciated. I am not aware that torpedoes had been placed in York River to prevent the entrance of the enemy's vessels; indeed, at that time, but little progress had been made in the development of that means of harbor and river defense. General Rains, as will be seen hereafter, had matured his invention of sensitive fuse primers for sub-terra shells, and proposed their use for floating torpedoes. Subsequently he did much to advance knowledge in regard to making torpedoes efficient against the enemy's vessels.

Such was the condition of the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James Rivers when General McClellan embarked the mass of the army he commanded in northern Virginia and proceeded to Fortress Monroe, and when the greater part of our army, under the command of General J. E. Johnston, was directed to move for the purpose of counteracting this new plan of the enemy.

Early in April General McClellan had landed about one hundred thousand men at or near Fortress Monroe.2 At this time General Magruder occupied the lower Peninsula with his force of seven or eight thousand men. Marshes, creeks, and dense wood gave to that position such advantage that, in his report made at a subsequent period, he expressed the belief that with twenty or twenty-five thousand men he could have held it against any supposable attack. When McClellan advanced with his immense army, Magruder fell back to the line of Warwick River, which has been imperfectly described, and there checked the enemy; the vast army of invasion, repulsed in several assaults by the [69] most heroic conduct of our troops, commenced a siege by regular approaches. After the first advance of the enemy, General Magruder was reenforced by some troops from the south side of James River and General Wilcox's brigade, which had been previously detached from the army under General Johnston. On April 9th General Magruder's command, thus reenforced, amounted to about twelve thousand. On that day General Early joined with his division from the army of Northern Virginia. It had gone by rail to Richmond and thence down the York and James Rivers in vessels towed by tugs—except the trains and artillery, which moved by land. This division had about eight thousand officers and men for duty. General Magruder's force was thus increased to about twenty thousand. This was the first detachment from the army of Northern Virginia which arrived on the Peninsula.

General McClellan, in a cipher dispatch of April 7th, two days previous, informed Secretary Stanton that prisoners stated that General J. E. Wharton (no doubt, Johnston) had the day before arrived in Yorktown with strong reenforcements, and adds: ‘It seems clear that I shall have the whole force of the enemy on my hands, probably not less than one hundred thousand men, and possibly more. . . . When my present command all joins, I shall have about eighty-five thousand men for duty, from which a large force must be taken for guards, escort, etc.’ After some remarks about the strength of our entrenchments, and his conviction that the great battle which would decide the existing contest would be fought there, he urges as necessary for his success that there should be an attack on the rear of Gloucester Point, and adds: ‘My present strength will not admit of a detachment for this purpose without materially impairing the efficiency of this column. Commodore Goldsborough thinks the—work too strong for his available vessels, unless I can turn Gloucester.’3

In the cipher dispatch of April 7th to President Lincoln, General McClellan acknowledges a telegram of the previous day, and adds, ‘In reply, I have the honor to state that my entire force for duty only amounts to about eighty-five thousand men.’4 He then mentions the fact that General Wool's command is not under his orders.

Subsequent correspondence clearly shows that General McClellan would not risk making a detachment from his army to turn the position at Gloucester Point, and that the navy would not attempt to operate against the battery at that place. He therefore urgently pressed for reenforcements to act on the north side of York River. [70]

General Magruder had, up to and after the time of receiving the reenforcements before mentioned, worked day and night in constructing and strengthening his defenses. His small force had been assisted in this work by a considerable body of negro laborers, and an active participant and competent judge, General Early, thus wrote of his conduct:

The assuming and maintaining this line by Magruder, with his small force, in the face of such overwhelming odds, was one of the boldest exploits ever performed by a military commander; and he had so manoeuvred his troops, by displaying them rapidly at different points, as to produce the impression on his opponent that he had a large army.

As soon as it was definitely ascertained that General McClellan, with his main army, was on the Peninsula, General J. E. Johnston was assigned to the command of the Department of the Peninsula and Norfolk, and directed to proceed thither to examine the condition of affairs there. After spending a day on General Magruder's defensive line, he returned to Richmond and recommended the abandonment of the Peninsula, urging that we take a defensive position nearer to Richmond. The question was postponed, and an appointment made for its discussion, to which I proposed to invite the Secretary of War, General Randolph, and General Lee, then stationed in Richmond and in general charge of army operations. General Johnston asked that he might invite General Longstreet and General G. W. Smith to be present, to which I assented.

At this meeting General Johnston announced his plan to be, the withdrawal of General Magruder's troops from the Peninsula, and of General Huger's from Norfolk, to be united with the main body of the army of Northern Virginia, and the withdrawal of the troops from South Carolina and Georgia, his belief being that General Magruder's line was indefensible with the forces we could concentrate there; that the batteries at Gloucester Point could not be maintained; that the enemy would turn the position at Yorktown by ascending the York River, if the defensive line there should possibly be maintained. To this plan the Secretary of War objected, because the navy yard at Norfolk offered our best if not our only opportunity to construct in any short time gunboats for coastwise and harbor defense. General Lee, always bold in his views and unusually sagacious in penetrating the designs of the enemy, insisted that the Peninsula offered great advantages to a smaller force in resisting a numerically superior assailant, and, in the comprehensive view which he usually took of the necessities of other places than the one where he chanced to be, objected to withdrawing the troops from South Carolina and Georgia, as involving the probable capture of Charleston and Savannah. By recent service in that section he was well informed as to [71] the condition of those important ports. General G. W. Smith, as well as I remember, was in full accord with General Johnston, and General Longstreet partially so.

After hearing fully the views of the several officers named, I decided to resist the enemy on the Peninsula, and, with the aid of the navy, to hold Norfolk and keep the command of the James River as long as possible. Arrangements were made, with such force as our means permitted, to occupy the country north of Richmond, and the Shenandoah Valley, and, with the rest of General Johnston's command, to make a junction with General Magruder to resist the enemy's forces on the Peninsula. Though General J. E. Johnston did not agree with this decision, he did not ask to be relieved, and I had no wish to separate him from the troops with whom he was so intimately acquainted, and whose confidence I believed he deservedly possessed.

To recur to General Magruder: soon after the landing of the enemy, skirmishes commenced with our forces, and the first vigorous attempt was made to break the line at Lee's Mills, where there were some newly constructed defenses. The enemy was so signally repulsed that he described them as very strong works, and thereafter commenced the construction of parallels and regular approaches, having an exaggerated idea as well of the number of our troops as of the strength of our works at that time. General Magruder, in his report, notices a serious attempt to break his line of the Warwick at Dam No. 1, about the center of the line, and its weakest point. Opening with a heavy bombardment at nine in the morning, which continued until three in the afternoon, heavy masses of infantry then commenced to deploy, and, with musketry fire, were thrown forward to storm our six-pounder battery, which had been effectively used, and was the only artillery we had there in position. A portion of the column charged across the dam, but Brigadier General Howell Cobb met the attack with great firmness, the enemy was driven with the bayonet from some of our rifle pits of which he had gained possession, and the assaulting column recoiled with loss from the steady fire of our troops.

The enemy's skirmishers pressed closely in front of the redoubts on the left of our line, and with their long-range rifles had a decided advantage over our men, armed with smooth-bore muskets. In addition to the rifle pits they dug, they were covered by a dwelling house and a large peach orchard which extended to within a few hundred yards of our works. On April 11th General Magruder ordered sorties to be made from all the main points of his line. General Wilcox sent out a detachment from Wynne's Mill which encountered the advance of the enemy [72] in his front and drove it back to the main line. Later in the day General Early sent out from Redoubt No. 5 Colonel Ward's Florida regiment and the Second Mississippi Battalion, under Colonel Taylor. They drove the sharpshooters from their rifle pits and pursued them to the main road from Warwick Court House, encountered a battery posted at an earthwork, and compelled it precipitately to retire. On the approach of a large force of the enemy's infantry, Colonel Ward returned to our works, after having set fire to the dwelling house above mentioned. These affairs developed the fact that the enemy was in strong force, in front of both Wynne's Mill and Redoubts Nos. 4 and 5. On the next night General Early sent out Colonel Terry's Virginia regiment to cut down the peach orchard and burn the rest of the houses which had afforded shelter to the assailants; on the succeeding night Colonel Mc-Rae, with his North Carolina regiment, went further to the front and felled the cedars along the main road which partially hid the enemy's movements, and subsequently our men were not annoyed by the sharpshooters. About the middle of April a further reenforcement of two divisions from the army of Northern Virginia was added to our forces on the Peninsula, which amounted, when General Johnston assumed command, to something over fifty thousand.

The work of strengthening the defenses was still continued. On April 16th an assault was made on our line, to the right of Yorktown, which was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, and such serious discomfiture that henceforward his plan seemed to be to rely upon bombardment, for which numerous batteries were prepared.

The views of the enemy, as revealed by the testimony before the committee on the conduct of the war, were that he could gain possession of Gloucester Point only by reenforcements operating on the north side of York River, or by the previous reduction of Yorktown. In addition to the answer given by General McClellan, I quote from the testimony of General Keyes. He said, ‘The possession of Gloucester Point by the enemy retarded the taking of Yorktown, and it also enabled the enemy to close the river at that point,’ and added, ‘Gloucester must have fallen upon our getting possession of Yorktown, and the York River would then have been open.’5

With the knowledge possessed by us, General McClellan certainly might have sent a detachment from his army which, after crossing the York River, could have turned the position at Gloucester Point and have overcome our small garrison at that place; this is but one of the [73] frequent examples of war in which the immunity of one army is derived from the mistakes of the other.

An opinion has existed among some of our best-informed officers that Franklin's division was kept on transports for the purpose of landing on the north side of York River to capture our battery at Gloucester Point, and thus open the way to turn our position by ascending the York River. Upon the authority of Swinton, the fairest and most careful of the Northern writers on the war, it appears that Franklin's division had disembarked before the evacuation of Yorktown; upon the authority of the Prince de Joinville, serving on the staff of General McClellan, it appears that his commanding general was not willing to entrust that service to a single division, and plaintively describes the effect produced by the refusal of President Lincoln to send McDowell's corps to reenforce McClellan. He writes thus:

The news was received by the Federal army with dissatisfaction, although the majority could not then foresee the deplorable consequences of an act performed, it must be supposed, with no evil intention, but with inconceivable recklessness. . . . It was the mainspring removed from a great work already begun. It deranged everything. Among the divisions of the corps of McDowell, there was one—that of Franklin—which was regretted more than all the rest. . . . He [the commander in chief] held it in great esteem, and earnestly demanded its restoration. It was sent back to him without any explanation, in the same manner as it had been withheld. This splendid division, eleven thousand strong, arrived, and for a moment the commander thought of intrusting to it alone the storming of Gloucester, but the idea was abandoned.

On April 28th General J. E. Johnston wrote to Flag Officer Tatnall, commanding the naval forces in the James River, requesting him, if practicable, to proceed with the Virginia to York River for the purpose of destroying the enemy's transports, to which Commodore Tatnall replied that it could be done only in daylight, when he would be exposed to the fire of the forts, and would have to contend with the squadron of men-of-war stationed below them, and that, if this should be safely done, according to the information derived from the pilots, it would not be possible for the Virginia to reach the enemy's transports at Poquosin, while the withdrawal of the Virginia would be to abandon the defense of Norfolk, and to remove the obstacles she opposed to ‘the enemy's operations in the James River.’6

Meanwhile, the brilliant movements of the intrepid Jackson created such apprehension of an attack upon Washington city by the army of the Shenandoah that President Lincoln refused the repeated requests of [74] General McClellan to send him McDowell's corps to operate on the north side of the York River against our battery at Gloucester Point.

On the 28th of the following June, Lincoln, noticing what he regarded as ungenerous complaint, wrote to General McClellan; ‘If you have had a drawn battle or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington. We protected Washington, and the enemy concentrated on you.’7

The month of April was cold and rainy, and our men poorly provided with shelter, and with only the plainest rations; yet, under all these discomforts, they steadily labored to perfect the defenses, and when they were not on the front line, were constantly employed in making traverses and epaulments in the rear. Whether General McClellan, under the pressure from Washington, would have made an early assault,8 or have adhered to the policy of regular approaches, and, relying on his superiority in artillery, have waited to batter our earthworks in breach, and whether all which had been done, or which it was practicable under the circumstances to do, to strengthen the main line would have made it sufficiently strong to resist the threatened bombardment, is questionable; how soon that bombardment would have commenced is now indeterminate. A telegram from President Lincoln to General McClellan is suggestive on this point. It reads thus:

Washington, May 1, 1862.
Your call for Parrott guns from Washington alarms me—chiefly because it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to be done?9

By the following telegram sent by me to General J. E. Johnston, commanding at Yorktown, the contents of that which I had received from him, and of which I am not now possessed, will be readily inferred:

Accepting your conclusion that you must soon retire, arrangements are commenced for the abandonment of the navy-yard and removal of public property both from Norfolk and Peninsula. Your announcement to-day that you would withdraw to-morrow night takes us by surprise, and must involve enormous losses, including unfinished gunboats. Will the safety of your army allow more time?


My next step was to request the Secretary of War, General Randolph, and the Secretary of the Navy, Mallory, to proceed to Yorktown and Norfolk to see whether the evacuation could not be postponed, and to make all practicable arrangements to remove the machinery, material, ordnance, and supplies for future use. At the suggestion of the Secretary of War, I agreed that he should first go with the Secretary of the Navy to Norfolk and thence pass over to Yorktown.

On the next morning they left for Norfolk. General Randolph, in his testimony before a joint special committee of the Confederate Congress, said:

A few hours after we arrived in Norfolk, an officer from General Johnston's army made his appearance, with an order for General Huger to evacuate Norfolk immediately. . . . As that would have involved heavy losses in stores, munitions, and arms, I took the responsibility of giving General Huger a written order to delay the evacuation until he could remove such stores, munitions, and arms as could be carried off. . . . Mr. Mallory was with me and gave similar instructions to the commandant of the navy-yard. . . . The evacuation was delayed for about a week. . . . When the council of war met [the conference with the President heretofore referred to], it was supposed that, if the enemy assaulted our army at the Warwick River line, we should defeat them; but that, if instead of assaulting they made regular approaches to either flank of the line and took advantage of their great superiority of heavy artillery, the probability would be that one flank or both of the army would be uncovered, and thus the enemy, ascending the York and James Rivers in transports, could turn the flank of the army and compel it to retreat. . . . They made regular approaches, mounted the largest-sized guns, such as we could not compete with, and made the position of Yorktown untenable. Nearly all of our heavy rifled guns burst during the siege. The remainder of the heavy guns were in the water-batteries. . . .

The permanent occupation of Norfolk after our army withdrew from the lower Peninsula and the enemy possessed it was so obviously impossible as not to require explanation; while the enemy was engaged in the pursuit of our retreating columns, it was deemed justifiable to delay the evacuation of Norfolk for the purposes indicated in the above answer of the Secretary of War. The result justified the decision.

The order for the withdrawal of the army from the line of the Warwick River on the night of April 2d was delayed until the next night because, as I have been informed, some of the troops were not ready to move. Heavy cannonading, on the nights of both the 2d and 3d, concealed the fact of the purpose to withdraw, and the evacuation was made so successfully, as appears by the testimony before the United States congressional committee on the conduct of the war, that the enemy was surprised the next morning to find the lines unoccupied.

The loss of public property, as was anticipated, was great, the [76] steam-boats expected for its transportation not having arrived before the evacuation was made. From a narrative by General Early I make the following extract:

A very valuable part of the property so lost, and which we stood much in need of, consisted of a very large number of picks and spades, many of them entirely new. All of our heavy guns, including some recently arrived and not mounted, together with a good deal of ammunition piled up on the wharf, had to be left behind.

The land transportation was quite deficient. General Magruder's troops had scarcely any, and others of the more recent organizations were in a like condition; as no supplies had been accumulated at Williamsburg, this want of transportation would necessarily involve want of rations in the event of delays on the retreat.

At Williamsburg, about twelve miles from Yorktown, General Magruder, as has been mentioned, had constructed a line of detached works. The largest of these, Fort Magruder, was constructed at a point a short distance beyond where the Lee's Mill and Yorktown roads united— where the enemy in his pursuit first encountered our retiring forces, and was promptly repulsed. General Magruder, whose arduous service and long exposure on the Peninsula has been noticed, was compelled by illness to leave his division. His absence at this moment was the more to be regretted, as it appears that the positions of the redoubts he had constructed were not all known to the commanding general. Some of them, being unoccupied, were seized by the enemy, and held subsequently to our disadvantage. General McClellan, in his official report from ‘bivouac in front of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862,’ says, ‘General Hancock has taken two redoubts and repulsed Early's rebel brigade by a real charge of the bayonet, taking one colonel and one hundred and fifty other prisoners.’ As this is selected for the brilliant event in the affair before Williamsburg, I will extract fully from General Early's report:

Lynchburg, June 9, 1862.
In accordance with orders received the evening before, my brigade was in readiness to take up the line of march from its camp west of Williamsburg toward Richmond on the 5th of May. . . . I was directed by Major-General D. H. Hill not to move my infantry, and in a short time I was ordered by him to march back, and report with my regiments to Major-General Longstreet at Williamsburg. . . . Between three and four o'clock, P. M., I was ordered by General Longstreet to move to the support of Brigadier-General Anderson of his division, at or near Fort Magruder. . . . Before my command had proceeded far toward its destination, I received an order from General Longstreet to send him two regiments. . . . With the remainder of my command, being my brigade proper, I proceeded, as near as practicable, to the position designated by General [77] Longstreet on the left and rear of Fort Magruder. . . . In a short time Major-General Hill arrived, and, having ascertained that the enemy had a battery in front of us, he informed me that he wished me to attack and capture the battery with my brigade, but before doing so he must see General Longstreet on the subject. . . . General Hill being on the right and accompanying the brigade, I placed myself on the left with the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment for the purpose of directing its movements, as I was satisfied from the sound of the enemy's gun that this regiment would come directly on the battery. . . . In an open field, in view of Fort Magruder, at the end farthest from the fort, the enemy had taken position with a battery of six pieces. . . . supported by a brigade of infantry under the command of Brigadier-General Hancock. In this field were two or three redoubts, previously built by our troops, of one, at least, of which the enemy had possession, his artillery being posted in front of it, near some farmhouses, and supported by a body of infantry, the balance of the infantry being in the redoubt, and in the edge of the woods close by. The Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, as I had anticipated, came directly upon the battery. . . . This regiment, without pausing or wavering, charged upon the enemy under a heavy fire, and drove back his guns and the infantry supporting them to the cover of the redoubt. . . . I sent orders to the other regiments to advance; these orders were anticipated by Colonel McRae of the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, who was on the extreme right of my brigade, and marched down to the support of the Twenty-fourth, traversing the whole front that should have been occupied by the other two regiments.

General Early, having received a severe wound soon after the Twentyfourth Virginia Regiment charged the battery, was compelled by exhaustion from loss of blood and intense pain to leave the field just as the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, led by its gallant colonel, charged on the enemy's artillery and infantry. Of that charge General Early writes:

This North Carolina Regiment, in conjunction with the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, made an attack upon the vastly superior forces of the enemy, which for its gallantry is unsurpassed in the annals of warfare: their conduct was such as to elicit from the enemy himself the highest praise.

This refers to the chivalric remark made by General Hancock to Dr. Cullen, left in charge of our wounded, viz., ‘The Fifth North Carolina and Twenty-fourth Virginia deserve to have the word immortal inscribed on their banners.’ Colonel McRae, who succeeded to the command after General Early retired, states in his report that he sent to General Hill for reenforcements in order to advance, and in reply received an order to retire; that his men were holding the enemy to his shelter in such way that they were not at all suffering, but when he commenced retiring, the enemy rose and fired upon his men, doing the greatest damage that was done. Some of them obliqued too far to the right in going back, and met a regiment of the enemy concealed in the woods, and were thus captured. General Early writes: ‘The two regiments that united in the assault were not repulsed at all. They drove [78] the enemy to the cover of the redoubt and the shelter of the woods near it, where he was held at bay by my two regiments, which had suffered comparatively little at that time.’ He confidently expresses the opinion that, had his attack been supported promptly and vigorously, the enemy's force there engaged would have been captured, as it had crossed over to that point on a narrow mill dam, and had only that way to escape.

The claim of the enemy to have achieved a victory at Williamsburg is refuted by the fact that our troops remained in possession of the field during the night, and retired the next morning to follow up the retreat, which was interrupted only by the necessity of checking the enemy until our trains could proceed far enough to be out of danger. The fact of our wounded being left at Williamsburg was only due to our want of ambulances in which to remove them.

Though General McClellan at this time estimated our force as ‘probably greater a good deal’ than his own, the fact is that it was numerically less than half the number he had for duty. Severe exposure and fatigue must, by sickness, have diminished our force more than it was increased by absentees returning to duty after the middle of April, so that at the end of the month the number was probably less than fifty thousand present for duty. General McClellan's report on April 30, 1862, as shown by the certified statement, gives the aggregate present for duty at one hundred twelve thousand, three hundred ninety-two.10

When the Confederates evacuated Yorktown, General Franklin's division had just been disembarked from the transports. It was reembarked, and started on the morning of the 6th up the York River.11

After the battle of Williamsburg our army continued its retreat up the Peninsula. Here, for the first time, sub-terra shells were employed to check a marching column. The event is thus described by General Rains, the inventor:

On the day we left Williamsburg, after the battle, we worked hard to get our artillery and some we had captured over the sloughs about four miles distant. On account of the tortuous course of the road, we could not bring a single gun to bear upon the enemy who were pursuing us, and shelling the road as they advanced. Fortunately, we found in a mud-hole a broken-down ammunition-wagon containing five loaded shells. Four of these, armed with a sensitive fuse-primer, were planted in our rear, near some trees cut down as obstructions to the road. A body of the enemy's cavalry came upon these sub-terra shells, and they exploded with terrific effect.

The force behind halted for three days, and finally turned off from the road, doubtless under the apprehension that it was mined throughout. Thus our [79] rear was relieved of the enemy. No soldier will march over mined land, and a corps of sappers, each man having two ten-inch shells, two primers, and a mule to carry them, could stop any army.

Accounts published contemporaneously in the North represent the terror inspired by these shells, extravagantly describe the number of them, and speak of the necessity of leaving the road to avoid them.

The morning after the battle of the 5th, at Williamsburg, Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's divisions, being those there engaged, followed in the line of retreat, Stuart's cavalry moving after them. They marched that day about twelve miles. In the meantime Franklin's division had gone up the York River, and landed a short distance below West Point, on the south side of York River, and moved into a thick wood in the direction of the New Kent road, thus threatening the flank of our line of march. Two brigades of General G. W. Smith's division, Hampton's and Hood's, were detached under the command of General Whiting to dislodge the enemy, which they did after a short conflict, driving him through the wood to the protection of his gunboats in York River.

On the next morning the rear divisions joined those in advance at Barhamsville, and the retreat of the whole army was resumed—Smith's and Magruder's divisions moving by the New Kent Court House to the Baltimore crossroads, and Longstreet's and Hill's to the Long Bridge, where the whole army remained in line facing to the east for five days.

The retreat had been successfully conducted. In the principal action, that at Williamsburg, our force, after General Hill's division had been brought back to the support of General Longstreet, did not exceed, and probably was not equal to, one-half that of the enemy. Yet, as has been seen, the position was held as long as was necessary for the removal of our trains, and our troops slept upon the field of battle. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeded our own, which was about twelve hundred; General Hooker, commanding one division of the Federal army, in his testimony stated the loss in his division to have been seventeen hundred.12

Among the gallant and much regretted of those lost by us was Colonel Ward of Florida, whose conduct at Yorktown has been previously noticed, and of whom General Early, in his report of the battle of Williamsburg, says:

On the list of the killed in the Second Florida Regiment is found the name of its colonel, George T. Ward, as true a gentleman and as gallant a soldier as has drawn a sword in this war, and whose conduct under fire it was my fortune to [80]

Map: operations in Georgia and Tennesse.

[81] [82] witness on another occasion. His loss to his regiment, to his State, and to the Confederacy can not be easily compensated.

Colonel Ward, with his regiment, had been detached from General Early's command in the early part of the action. I regret that I have not access to the report of General Longstreet, where, no doubt, may also be found due notice of Colonel Christopher Mott, whom I knew personally. In his youth he served in the regiment I commanded during the war with Mexico. He was brave, cheerful, prompt, and equal to every trial to which he was subjected, giving early promise of high soldierly capacity. He afterward held various places of honor and trust in civil life, and there were many in Mississippi who, like myself, deeply lamented his death in the height of his usefulness.

General Huger, commanding at Norfolk, and Captain Lee, commanding the navy-yard, by the authority of the Secretaries of War and Navy, delayed the evacuation of both, as stated by General Randolph, Secretary of War, for about a week after General Johnston sent orders to General Huger to leave immediately. While he was employed in removing the valuable stores and machinery, as we learn from the work of the Comte de Paris, President Lincoln and his Secretary of War arrived at Fortress Monroe, and on May 8th an expedition against Norfolk by the troops under General Wool was contemplated. He writes:

Being apprised by the columns of smoke which rose on the horizon that the propitious moment had arrived, Wool proposed to the President to undertake an expedition against Norfolk. Max Weber's brigade was speedily embarked, and, to protect his descent, Commodore Goldsborough's fleet was ordered to escort it. But the Confederate batteries, not yet having been abandoned, fired a few shots in reply, while the Virginia, which, since the wounding of the brave Buchanan, had been commanded by Commodore Tatnall, showed her formidable shell, and the expedition was countermanded. Two more days were consumed in waiting. Finally, on the morning of the 10th, Weber disembarked east of Sewell's Point. This time the enemy's artillery was silent. There was found an intrenched camp mounting a few guns, but absolutely deserted. General Wool reached the city of Norfolk, which had been given up to its peaceful inhabitants the day previous, and hastened to place a military governor there.13

Reposing on these cheaply won laurels, the expedition returned to Fortress Monroe, leaving Brigadier General Viele, with some troops brought from the north side of the river, to hold the place. The navy yard and workshops had been set on fire before our troops withdrew, so as to leave little to the enemy save the glory of capturing an undefended town. The troops at Fortress Monroe were numerically superior to the command of General Huger, and could have been readily combined, [83] with the forces at and about Roanoke Island, for a forward movement on the south side of the James River. In view of this probability, General Huger, with the main part of his force, was halted for a time at Petersburg, but, as soon as it was ascertained that no preparations were being made by the enemy for that campaign, so palpably advantageous to him, General Huger's troops were moved to the north side of the James River to make a junction with the army of General Johnston.

Previously, detachments had been sent from the force withdrawn from Norfolk to strengthen the command of Brigadier General J. R. Anderson, who was placed in observation before General McDowell, then at Fredericksburg, threatening to advance with a force four or five times as great as that under General Anderson, and another detachment had been sent to the aid of Brigadier General Branch, who, with his brigade, had recently been brought up from North Carolina and sent forward to Gordonsville, for the like purpose as that for which General Anderson was placed near Fredericksburg.

1 See Report on the Conduct of the War, Part I, pp. 10-12, 309-311.

2 See Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 319. Letter of President Lincoln to General McClellan, April 6, 1862.

3 Report on the Conduct of the War, Part I, p. 320.

4 Ibid., p. 321.

5 Report on the Conduct of the War, Part I, pp. 601, 602.

6 Life of Commodore Tatnall, pp. 166, 167.

7 Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 340.

8 0n April 6, 1862, President Lincoln wrote to General McClellan as follows: ‘You now have over one hundred thousand troops with you, independent of General Wool's command. I think you had better break the enemy's line from Yorktown to Warwick River at once. They will probably use time as advantageously as you can.’—Report on the Conduct of the War, pp. 319, 320.

9 Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 324.

10 Report on the Conduct of the War, pp. 323, 324.

11 Army of the Potomac, Swinton, p. 117.

12 Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 579.

13 History of the Civil War in America, Comte de Paris, Vol. II, p. 30.

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