previous next

[24]

Recognizing at first glance the importance of the position so fortunately maintained by Hancock, McClellan saw at once that all the Confederate defenses were turned, and that the troops assembled around him would suffice to make them fall. Besides, the obstruction of the road over which he had just passed had convinced him that the two divisions whose embarkation he had suspended at the moment of his departure, to forward them to the scene of action, would not arrive in time if the battle was renewed. He therefore ordered them back to the transports which were to convey them to West Point. He was not, however, without some uneasiness regarding the issue of the next day's fight; for with such young soldiers a panic was always to be feared; and having desired to take the offensive, he thought the enemy might try to forestall him by an early morning attack. But Johnston, who had only halted for the purpose of covering his retreat, and who was aware of his great numerical inferiority to the Federals, saw that a longer stay in front of Williamsburg with Hancock on his flank might compromise the very existence of the troops who had been in action the day before. During the night he ordered Longstreet to evacuate all the positions he had so vigorously defended, and hastily resumed his march in the direction of Richmond with all his troops. This was a wise decision; for at Williamsburg he could have made but a short resistance, the Federals having it always in their power to land troops higher up York River and menace his line of retreat. Besides, it never had been his intention to prolong the struggle in the peninsula. It was only through necessity, and in order to resist the persistent attacks of Hooker, that he had been finally induced to impart the proportions of a pitched battle to a simple affair of the rear-guard. This battle was a first ordeal to most of the troops engaged on both sides; it showed how much the spirit of the two armies had been improved since the beginning of the war. Early's brigade, which, while charging Hancock's troops, cried out to them ironically, ‘Bull Run,’ learnt to its own cost that it had committed an anachronism. Differing widely from the encounter of which the Manassas plateau had been the scene the preceding year, this bloody and undecided battle, continued during an entire day on a narrow space of ground, marks, in fact, the real commencement of

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Hancock (3)
McClellan (1)
Longstreet (1)
Joseph E. Johnston (1)
Hooker (1)
Early (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: