E have stated that the army of the Potomac, by changing its base of operations a few weeks sooner, might have accomplished important results.
But even if it had been entirely free to execute this movement, the configuration of the James
would have compelled it to move away from Richmond
, to rest upon that part of the river which the navy could reach without danger.
This manoeuvre, which had been in preparation by McClellan
for several days, would not have assumed the character of a retreat if it had not been undertaken the day after a bloody defeat.
But on the evening of the 27th of June it had become a necessity.
It alone, in fact, afforded the Federals
the means of escaping a serious disaster.
A few words, regarding the situation of the two armies, will enable the reader to appreciate the difficult position in which they found themselves, the resources they still possessed for getting out of it, and the rare ability with which General McClellan
knew how to use them.
The Chickahominy, after running parallel to the James River
and the Pamunky
, at nearly an equal distance from these two streams, empties into the former about fifty kilometres below Richmond
The James in its numerous windings alternately approaches and recedes from this water-course.
In the elbow called Turkey Bend
, which lies twenty-three kilometres in a direct line from Richmond
, the river, which is both wide and deep, waters the base of a large hillock, that rises on the left bank in a succession of bare slopes above the forest.
From this eminence, named Malvern Hill
by the early English settlers, to the confluence of White Oak Swamp
and the Chickahominy
below Bottom's Bridge, there is only a distance of twelve kilometres, but the tract which separates them is singularly difficult.