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[84] to increase their strength; but this work was chiefly carried on in those localities where they knew the Federals to be watching them with their spyglasses, and anxiously following their slightest movements. The opportunity for attacking Lee, while he was weakened by the absence of Whiting, thus passed by, and by degrees people became familiarized with the idea that siege operations might be advantageously substituted for a pitched battle. Many officers in the army of the Potomac imagined that by turning up large quantities of earth, and burning a great deal of powder, they would be able to escape that ordeal of terrible suspense when skill and prudence are equally powerless to decide the fate of the battle, and when torrents of blood must be shed to wrest victory from the hands of the enemy. This kind of tactics had just been applied in the West, where it had resulted in the evacuation of Corinth by the Confederates, and the general question now was whether, when the final charge was made, they should step upon the top of a parapet defended with the energy of despair or upon the ruins of a deserted city. Consequently, while wishing for a more decided success, the latter alternative was but too readily acquiesced in; and the desire to spare the army a fearful sacrifice of life having made, such an alternative appear probable, everybody felt disposed to wait patiently for this issue.

A movement, however, took place on the 25th of June which, although of no great importance, interrupted at last this long inaction. In order to make himself master of the approaches to the plateau of Old Tavern, McClellan, still manoeuvring as if conducting the operation of a siege, became desirous of extending his left wing. To this effect, he despatched Hooker's division on the road from Williamsburg to Richmond, beyond the positions occupied by Casey on the morning of the 31st of May. Hooker had just dislodged the Confederates from a small wood called Oak Grove, lying across the road, after a desperate engagement, when an order, wrongly construed, rendered it necessary for him to fall back. This error, however, was soon detected and rectified. McClellan, hastening to the scene of action, personally assumed the direction of the battle, pushing forward the divisions of Kearny and Couch, with a portion of those of Casey and Richardson. Hooker, being thus sustained, re-entered Oak Grove

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