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[377]

Chapter 15: the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula.


General McCLELLAN'S batteries would all have been ready to open on the Confederate works on the morning of the 6th of May;
1862.
but there was then no occasion for their use, for those works were abandoned. So early as the 30th of April, Jefferson Davis and two of his so-called cabinet, and Generals Johnston, Lee, and Magruder, held a council at the Nelson House,1 where, after exciting debates, it was determined to evacuate Yorktown and its dependencies. A wholesome fear of the heavy guns of the Nationals, whose missiles had already given a foretaste of their terrible power, and also an expectation that the National gun-boats would speedily ascend the two rivers flanking the Confederate Army, caused this prudent resolution. The Merrimack had been ordered to Yorktown, but it had so great a dread of the watchful little Monitor that it remained at Norfolk. Already some war-vessels, and a fleet of transports with Franklin's troops, as we have observed, were lying securely in Posquotin River, well up toward Yorktown. These considerations caused immediate action on the resolutions of the council. The sick, hospital stores, ammunition, and camp equipage were speedily sent to Richmond, and on the night of the 3d of May, the Confederate garrisons at Yorktown and Gloucester, and the troops along the line of the Warwick, fled toward Williamsburg. Early the next morning
May 4.
General McClellan telegraphed to the Secretary of War that he was in possession of the abandoned [378] post, and added: “No time shall be lost. I shall push the enemy to the wall.” 2

At that hour a vigorous pursuit of the fugitives had begun by the cavalry and horse-artillery under General Stoneman, followed along the Yorktown road by the divisions of Generals Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearney, and on the Winn's Mill road, which joins the former within two miles of Williamsburg, by the divisions of Generals W. F. Smith, Darius N. Couch, and Silas Casey. Those of Generals Israel B. Richardson, John Sedgwick, and Fitz-John Porter, were moved to the vicinity of Yorktown, to be ready to go forward as a supporting force, if required, or to follow Franklin's division, which was to be sent up the York River to West Point, to co-operate with the pursuing force on the flank of the fugitives, and to seize that terminus of the Richmond and York River railway. General Heintzelman was at first charged with the direction of the pursuit, but the General-in-Chief changed his mind, and directed General Edwin V. Sumner, his second in command, to go forward and conduct the operations of the pursuers. McClellan remained at Yorktown, to make arrangements for the dispatch of Franklin up the York.

The Confederates had, some months before, constructed a line of strong works, thirteen in number, across the gently rolling plateau on which Williamsburg stands. These were two miles in front of that city at the narrowest part of the Peninsula the right resting on a deep ravine near the James River, and the left on Queen's Creek, near the York River. The principal work was Fort

Edwin V. Sumner.

Magruder, close by the junction of the Yorktown and Winn's Mill roads. It was an earth-work with bastion front, its crest measuring nearly half a mile, surrounded by a wet ditch, and heavily armed. The others were redoubts, similar to those cast up around Washington City. At these works the retreating Confederates left a strong rear-guard to check the pursuers, while the main body should have time to place the Chickahominy River between it and the advancing Nationals. [379]

When Stoneman approached these lines he was met by Confederate cavalry, and these, with the guns of Fort Magruder and its immediate supporters, caused him to halt, fall back about four miles, and wait for the infantry. Hearing of this repulse, Hooker, who was not far in the rear of a brick church on the Yorktown road, was impatient to move forward, but the way was blocked by Smith's division. Therefore he sought and obtained leave of

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