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Chapter 5

  • Take command on the Peninsula.
  • -- General Magruder's defensive preparations. -- inform War Department of intention to abandon Yorktown. -- battle of Williamsburg. -- affair near Eltham. -- no further interruption to the march. -- army withdrawn across the Chickahominy. -- disposition of the Confederate forces in Virginia at this time. -- advance of General McClellan. -- reported movement of McDowell. -- battle of seven Pines.

I assumed my new command on the 17th. The arrival of Smith's and Longstreet's divisions increased the army on the Peninsula to about fifty-three thousand men, including three thousand sick. It was opposed to a hundred and thirty-three thousand Federal soldiers.1 Magruder's division formed the Confederate right wing, Longstreet's the centre, D. H. Hill's the left, and Smith's the reserve. The fieldworks at Gloucester Point and Yorktown, on the left flank, and Mulberry Point, on the right, were occupied by eight thousand men.

In this position we had nothing to do but to finish the works begun, between Yorktown and the head of the inundations, and observe the enemy's operations. They were limited to a little skirmishing at long range, and daily cannonading, generally directed at Magruder's left, or Longstreet's right, and the construction of a long line of batteries in [118] front of Yorktown, and beyond the range of our old-fashioned ship-guns. These batteries, our scouts reported, were for about one hundred of the heaviest Parrott guns, and above thirty mortars. A battery on the shore, three miles (pilot's distance) below Yorktown, received the first guns mounted. Shots of the first volley, fired to get the range of the Confederate works, fell in the camp of the reserve, a mile and a half beyond the village.

It was evident that the enemy was pursuing the course predicted, and preparing to demolish our batteries on York River. The greater range of his guns would have enabled him to do it without exposure, and at the same time to inflict great loss upon our garrisons. I could see no other object in holding the position than that of delaying the enemy's progress, to gain time in which arms might be received and troops organized. But, as the additional day or two to be gained by enduring a cannonade would have been dearly bought in blood, I determined to remain in the position only so long as it could be done without exposing our troops to the powerful artillery which, I doubted not, would soon be brought to bear upon them.

Finding, on the 27th, that the Federal batteries would be ready for action in five or six days, I informed the War Department of the fact, and of my intention to abandon Yorktown and the Warwick, before the fire of that artillery should be opened upon our troops. The suggestion made in the conference in the President's office was also repeated: to form a powerful army near Richmond, of all the available forces of the Confederacy, to fall upon McClellan's [119] army when it should come within reach. Major. General Huger was instructed, at the same time, to prepare to evacuate Norfolk, and Captain S. S. Lee, commanding the navy-yard at Gosport, to remove to a place of safety as much of the valuable property it contained as he could.

On Saturday, the 3d of May, the army was ordered to fall back, on information that the Federal batteries would be ready for service in a day or two; Longstreet's and Magruder's divisions by the Warwick road, through Williamsburg, and G. W. Smith's and D. H. Hill's by that from Yorktown-the movement to begin at midnight, and the rear-guard, of cavalry, to follow at daybreak. Information of this was sent to Commodore Tatnall, commanding the iron-clad Virginia, and Captain Lee, at the navy-yard, and instructions were sent to Major-General Huger to march to Richmond.

The four divisions were assembled at Williamsburg about noon of the 4th. Magruder's division, temporarily commanded by Brigadier-General D. R. Jones, was ordered to move on in the afternoon, by the “New Kent road,” and to turn off at the “Burnt Ordinary,” toward the Diascund Bridge; to be followed, at two o'clock next morning, by G. W. Smith's, which was to keep the New Kent road. The baggage was to move next, in rear of which D. H. Hill's and Longstreet's divisions were to march.2 About four o'clock P. M., the cavalry rear-guard, on the Yorktown road, was driven in, and rapidly followed by the enemy. Brigadier-General McLaws [120] was sent with the two brigades nearest, Kershaw's and Semmes's, to support the rear-guard. He met the enemy near and beyond Fort Magruder, made his dispositions with prompt skill and courage, and quickly drove the Federal troops from the field, taking a piece of artillery. At sunset a rearguard of two brigades of Longstreet's division-Anderson's and Pryor's, commanded by General Anderson-occupied Fort Magruder and four of the little redoubts on its right, and two of those on the left.

At daybreak on the 5th, Smith's division and the baggage-train marched in a heavy rain and deep mud. An hour or two later, the enemy appeared again in front of Fort Magruder, and opened a light cannonade, and a brisk fire of skirmishers upon Anderson's brigade. Both gradually increased, and at ten o'clock Wilcox's and A. P. Hill's brigades were sent to the assistance of the troops engaged, and, as the Federal force on the field continued to increase, Pickett's and Colston's brigades also reenforced ours.

At noon the fighting was reported by Longstreet and Stuart to be so sharp, that D. H. Hill's division, which had marched several miles, was ordered back to Williamsburg, and I returned myself; for at ten o'clock, when the action had lasted more than four hours, there seemed to be so little vigor in the enemy's conduct, that I became convinced that it was a mere demonstration, intended to delay our march — that the Federal army might pass us by water-and had ridden forward to join the leading troops. At three o'clock General Longstreet reported that the enemy was threatening to turn his left. I therefore directed [121] General Hill to move toward Longstreet's left, and rode to the field myself, to take command whenever more than Longstreet's division should be engaged on the Confederate side.

Until ten o'clock the fighting had been limited to the fire of artillery and skirmishers upon Fort Magruder, returned by the eight field-pieces belonging to General R. H. Anderson's command. That officer, observing that a division3 of Federal troops had entered the wood a thousand yards to the right of Fort Magruder, placed Wilcox's brigade before it; being further reinforced by A. P. Hill's and Pickett's brigades, he determined to attack the Federal division, and formed the newly-arrived brigades and a part of Pryor's from the redoubts in rear, on Wilcox's right, and ordered all to advance. This was done with such regularity and vigor that the Federal troops were driven back, after a spirited contest of several hours, into the open fields in rear, west and southwest of the point where the Warwick road enters this open ground — the southeastern part of that in which Williamsburg stands. The contest was just leaving the wood and entering the open ground when I first saw it. Here Colston's brigade joined the Confederate, and Kearney's division the Federal troops engaged. But in the open ground the Confederates were more rapidly successful than in the earlier part of the affair, and drove the enemy into the forest on the east of the scene of conflict. When the combatants were near it, I cautioned General Longstreet against permitting his division to attempt to enter the forest, but to be content to hold the open field, [122] as the enemy was in force in front as well as to the left of Fort Magruder.

About five o'clock General Early sent an officer to report that a battery, that had been firing upon Fort Magruder and the troops near it, was near in his front, and asked permission to attack it. The message was delivered to General Longstreet in my presence, and he referred it to me. I authorized the attempt, but enjoined caution in it. Early's brigade advanced in two equal detachments, commanded, one by Major-General Hill, and the other by himself. They were separated in a thick wood, and General Early, in issuing from it, found a redoubt near and in front of him. He attempted an assault, in which he was severely wounded, after which his two regiments were quickly defeated, with a loss of nearly four hundred men.

In the mean time Longstreet had driven the enemy before him, out of the open ground, which there extends a mile from the position of our rear-guard, where it began.

This terminated what deserved to be called an action; although firing of field-pieces and skirmishing were continued until after sunset, without attempt, on the Federal part, to recover the lost ground. The remainder of the afternoon and the evening were devoted to burying the dead and providing for the comfort of our wounded, who, with many of those of the Federal army, who had been captured, were placed in hospitals and private residences in Williamsburg. Longstreet's and Hill's divisions slept on the field.

The Confederate loss was about twelve hundred [123] killed and wounded. The proportion of the former was unusually small; but it included Colonel Mott, Nineteenth Mississippi, and Colonel Ward, Second Florida regiment. The Confederate officers, who saw the ground upon which the dead and wounded of both parties lay, supposed that of the enemy to be from three to five times greater than ours. General Hooker, on oath before the committee on the conduct of the war, said that his division alone lost seventeen hundred men. About four hundred unwounded prisoners, ten colors, and twelve field-pieces, were taken from the enemy. We had the means of bringing off but five of these guns. The carriages of five were cut to pieces with an axe, and two were left in another part of the field uninjured, because the captors had no axe.

Five Confederate guns without equipments, found at the College Creek wharf, where they had probably passed the winter, had been hauled to Williamsburg that morning, by Major Barbour's orders. As we had no more spare horses and harness than those appropriated to five of the captured guns, these pieces were necessarily left in the road where we found them.

Longstreet reported nine thousand men of his division engaged with Hooker's and Kearney's divisions on the right. General Sumner, the ranking Federal officer on the field, stated that two-thirds of Smith's division and Peck's brigade were also engaged; and General Couch complimented his division, in orders, for its conduct in the battle. As the Federal army, except Franklin's division, had marched [124] but nine miles to the field the day before, by two roads, one cannot understand why four, or even six divisions, if necessary, were not brought into action. The smallness of the force engaged on this occasion greatly strengthened my suspicion that the army itself was moving up York River in transports.

We fought for no other purpose than to hold the ground long enough to enable our baggage-trains to get out of the way of the troops. This object was accomplished without difficulty. There was no time during the day when the slightest uncertainty appeared. I rode from the field a little before dark, because the action, except desultory firing of skirmishers, had ceased nearly two hours before. The occupation of a redoubt beyond our left by a Federal brigade did not affect us, otherwise than by the loss of some four hundred men by the two Confederate regiments that attacked it — an attack due to the fact that its existence was unknown to us, until General Early, issuing from a wood, came upon it suddenly.

The army had no ambulances, and the wagons had moved on in the morning. We were compelled, therefore, to leave all the wounded unable to march. At eleven o'clock at night, when all had been cared for, Dr. Cullen, General Longstreet's chief surgeon, reported that the number was about four hundred.

In the Federal reports, a victory is claimed at Williamsburg. The proofs against that claim are: That what deserves to be called fighting, ceased two hours before dark, yet the Confederates held the field until the next morning, when they resumed their march. [125]

That they fought only to protect their trains and artillery, and accomplished that object.

That, although they marched but twelve miles the day after the action, the rear-guard saw no indications of pursuit; unless the appearance of a scouting-party, once, may be so called.

That they inflicted a loss twice as great as that they suffered.

And in the ten days following the battle they marched but thirty-seven miles from the field, and then moved to the neighborhood of Richmond, only because the Federal gun-boats had possession of James River.

It is true that they left four hundred wounded in Williamsburg, because they had no means of transporting them; but an equal number of un-wounded Federal soldiers was brought of, with colors and cannon — the best evidences of successful fighting, except that already mentioned-sleeping on the field of battle.

Magruder's division, then commanded by Brigadier-General D. R. Jones in consequence of the illness of the major-general, passed the night of the 5th at Diascund Bridge; that of Major-General Smith at Barhamsville, twelve miles from New Kent Court-House; those of Longstreet and D. H. Hill, with the cavalry, at Williamsburg, as has been said.

In Federal dispatches of the 6th many prisoners are claimed to have been taken. The Confederate officers were conscious of no other losses of the kind than the captures made by Hancock, from the Fifth North Carolina and Twenty-fourth Virginia regiments. The cavalry rear-guard, following all the byroads [126] and paths parallel to the main road, found no lurkers or stragglers from Longstreet's and Hill's divisions.

The day after the action those troops marched at daybreak, and Stuart's at sunrise, and encamped soon after noon at the Burnt Ordinary, twelve miles from Williamsburg; Smith's and Magruder's divisions were stationary; Colonel Fitzhugh Lee, who was observing York River with his regiment of cavalry, reported a Federal fleet of vessels-of-war and transports, passing up toward West Point.

In the evening Major-General Smith sent me intelligence, to the Burnt Ordinary, that a large body of United States troops had landed at Eltham's, and nearly opposite to West Point, on the southern shore of York River. Early next morning the army was concentrated near Barhamsville. In the mean time General Smith had ascertained that the enemy was occupying a thick wood between the New Kent road and Etham's Landing. The security of our march required that he should be dislodged, and General Smith was intrusted with this service. He performed it very handsomely with Hampton's and Hood's brigades, under Whiting, driving the enemy, in about two hours, a mile and a half through the wood, to the protection of their vessels-of-war. General Smith's two brigades sustained a trifling loss in killed and wounded. If statements published in Northern newspapers are accurate, their loss was ten times as great as ours.

The way being thus cleared, the march was resumed. Smith's and Magruder's divisions followed the road by New Kent Court-House, and [127] Longstreet's and Hill's that by the Long Bridges. In these marches the right column reached the Baltimore Cross-roads, nineteen miles from Barhamsville, and the left the Long Bridges. The army remained five days in this position, in line facing to the east, Longstreet's right covering the Long Bridges, and Magruder's left the York River Railroad; it was easily and regularly supplied by the railroad, and could no longer be turned by water.

It will be remembered that in reporting to the Government, on the 27th of April, my intention to withdraw the army from the Peninsula, I repeated the suggestion made to the President in Richmond twelve days before, to concentrate all his available forces before McClellan's army. In making the suggestion on this second occasion, I had no doubt of its adoption, for the Federal forces on the Peninsula were to ours at least in the ratio of five to two; the expediency, even necessity, of this concentration, was much greater at that time than in June, when the measure was adopted, for the ratio had been reduced then to about eleven to seven. In my correspondence with the Administration in May, this suggestion was repeated more than once, but was never noticed in the replies to my letters.

Intelligence of the destruction of the iron-clad Virginia was received on the 14th. I had predicted that its gallant commander, Commodore Tatnall, would never permit the vessel to fall into the hands of the enemy. The possession of James River by the naval forces of the United States, consequent upon this event, and their attack upon the Confederate battery at Drury's Bluff, suggested the necessity of [128] being ready to meet an advance upon Richmond up the river, as well as from the direction of West Point. The Confederate forces were, in consequence, ordered to cross the Chickahominy on the 15th. And Colonel Goode Bryan, with his regiment of Georgia riflemen, was sent to aid in the defense of Drury's Bluff; by occupying the wooded bluff on the north side of the river, and immediately below the battery. On this height his rifles could easily have commanded the decks of vessels in the river below. On the l7th, the army encamped about three miles from Richmond, in front of the line of redoubts constructed in 1861. Hill's division in the centre, formed across the Williamsburg road; Longstreet's on the right, covering the river road; Magruder's on the left, crossing the Nine-miles road; and Smith's in reserve, behind Hill's left and Magruder's right.

Generals Jackson and Ewell, the former commanding as senior officer, were then opposing General Banks, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, still under my direction. The President had placed Brigadier-General J. R. Anderson, with nine thousand men, in observation of General McDowell, who was at Fredericksburg with forty-two thousand men; Brigadier-General Branch, with four or five thousand, at Gordonsville; and had halted Huger's division at Petersburg, when on its way to Richmond, under my orders. That division, estimated by the Secretary of War and General Lee at eighteen thousand a month before, was then reduced to nine thousand by detachments to Branch and J. R. Anderson.

On leaving the Rapidan, I had requested Generals Jackson and Ewell to send their letters to me [129] through the Adjutant-General's office. These papers must have been acted upon in Richmond, for none were forwarded to me until the army had reached the neighborhood of the Chickahominy. Then, one from General Jackson, written soon after his return from McDowell, was delivered to me. In it he described the position of the Federal army, near Strasburg, and asked instructions. These were given at once, and were to advance and attack, unless he found the enemy too strongly intrenched.

Instead of moving directly on Strasburg, General Jackson took the road by Front Royal, to turn the Federal army. His movement was so prompt as to surprise the enemy completely. Ewell, who was leading, captured most of the troops at Front Royal, and pressed on to Winchester, by the direct road, with his troops, while Jackson, turning across to that from Strasburg, struck the main Federal column in flank, and drove a large part of it back toward Strasburg. The pursuit was pressed to Winchester, but the Federal troops continued their flight into Maryland. Two thousand prisoners were taken in this pursuit.

After reaching the Chickahominy, General McClellan's troops advanced very slowly. Sumner's, Franklin's, and Porter's corps, were on and above the railroad, and Heintzelman's and Keyes's below it, and on the Williamsburg road. The last two, after crossing the stream, at Bottom's Bridge, on the 22d, were stationary, apparently, for several days, constructing a line of intrenchments two miles in advance of the bridge. They then advanced, step by step, forming four lines, each of a division, in advancing. [130] I hoped that their advance would give us an opportunity to make a successful attack upon these two corps, by increasing the interval between them and the larger portion of their army remaining beyond the Chickahominy.

On the 24th their leading troops encountered Hatton's Tennessee brigade, of Smith's division, within three miles of Seven Pines, and were driven back by it, after a sharp skirmish. It was proposed that we should prepare to hold the position then occupied by Hatton's brigade, to stop the advance of the enemy there. But it seemed to me more judicious to await a better opportunity, which the further advance of the Federal troops would certainly give, by increasing the interval between them and the three corps beyond the Chickahominy.

On the same day, Federal troops drove our cavalry out of Mechanicsville and occupied the village. This extension to the west by the Federal right made me apprehend the separation of the detachments near Fredericksburg and Gordonsville, from the army, and induced me to order them to fall back and unite where the Fredericksburg road crosses the Chickahominy. Near Hanover Court-House, on the 27th, Branch's brigade was attacked by Porter's corps, and suffered severely in the encounter. It was united with Anderson's on the same day, however, at the point designated for their junction. There a division was formed of these troops, to the command of which General A. P. Hill, just promoted, was assigned.

In the afternoon a party of cavalry left near Fredericksburg by General Anderson, to observe McDowell's [131] movements, reported that his troops were marching southward. As the expediency of the junction of this large corps with the principal army was manifest, the object of the march could not be doubted. Accordingly, I determined to attack that army before it could receive so great an accession.

For this object, Huger's division, now reduced to three brigades,4 was called to the army from Petersburg. A. P. Hill's division was ordered to march by the left bank of the Chickahominy to Meadow's Bridge, and to remain on that side of the stream. General Smith was directed to place his division on the left of Magruder's — on the Mechanicsville turnpike — that he, the second officer of the army in rank, might be in position to command on the left. Longstreet's division was placed on the left of that of D. H. Hill, and Huger's in rear of the interval between the two last-named.

It was intended that Major-General Smith, with his own division and that of A. P. Hill, should move against the extreme right of the Federal army, and that Magruder's and Huger's, crossing by the New Bridge, should form between the left wing and the Chickahominy, while Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's divisions, their left thrown forward, assailed the right flank of the two corps on the Williamsburg road, and on the Richmond side of the stream. I supposed that the bridges and fords of the little river would furnish means of sufficient communication between the two parts of the Confederate army.

At night, when the major-generals were with me to receive instructions for the expected battle, [132] General Stuart, who had a small body of cavalry observing McDowell's corps, reported that the troops that had been marching southward from Fredericksburg had returned. This indicated, of course, that the intention of uniting the two Federal armies was no longer entertained.

As the expediency to us of an immediate general engagement depended on the probability of so great an accession to McClellan's force as McDowell could bring, this intelligence induced me to abandon the intention of attacking, and made me fall back upon my first design — that of assailing Heintzelman's and Keyes's corps as soon as, by advancing, they should sufficiently increase the interval between themselves and the three corps beyond the Chickahominy. Such an opportunity was soon offered.

On the morning of the 30th, armed reconnaissances were made under General D. H. Hill's direction — on the Charles City road by Brigadier-General Rhodes, and on the Williamsburg road by Brigadier-General Garland. No enemy was found by General Rhodes; but General Garland encountered Federal outposts more than two miles west of Seven Pines, in such strength as indicated the presence of a corps at least. This fact was reported to me by General Hill soon after noon. He was informed, in reply, that he would lead an attack upon this enemy next morning.

An hour or two later, orders were given for the concentration of twenty-three of our twenty-seven brigades against McClellan's left wing--about two-fifths of his army. The four others were observing the river, from the New Bridge up to Meadow [133] Bridge. Longstreet and Huger were directed to conduct their brigades to D. H. Hill's position, as early as they could next morning; and Smith to march with his to the point of meeting of the New Bridge and Nine-miles roads, near which Magruder had five brigades.

Longstreet, as ranking officer of the three divisions to be united near Hill's camp, was instructed, verbally, to form his own and Hill's division in two lines crossing the Williamsburg road at right angles, and to advance to the attack in that order; while Huger's division should march along the Charles City road by the right flank, to fall upon the enemy's left flank as soon as our troops became engaged with them in front. It was understood that abatis, or earthworks, that might be encountered, should be turned. General Smith was to engage any troops that might cross the Chickahominy to assist Heintzelman's and Keyes's corps; or, if none came, he was to fall upon the right flanks of those troops engaged with Longstreet. The accident of location prevented the assignment of this officer to the command of the principal attack, to which he was entitled by his rank. As his division was on the left of all those to be engaged, it was apprehended that its transfer to the right might cause a serious loss of time.

The rain began to fall violently in the afternoon, and continued all night; and, in the morning, the little streams near our camps were so much swollen as to make it seem probable that the Chickahominy was overflowing its banks, and cutting the communication between the two parts of the Federal army.

Being confident that Longstreet and Hill, with [134] their forces united, would be successful in the earlier part of the action against an enemy formed in several lines, with wide intervals between them, I left the immediate control, on the Williamsburg road, to them, under general instructions, and placed myself on the left, where I could soonest learn the approach of Federal reenforcements from beyond the Chickahominy. From this point scouts and reconnoitering parties were sent forward to detect such movements, should they be made.

An unexpected delay in the forward movement on the right disappointed me greatly, and led to interchanges of messages between General Longstreet and myself for several hours.

Although the condition of the ground and little streams had delayed the troops in their movements, those of Smith and Longstreet were in position quite early enough. But the soldiers from Norfolk, who had seen garrison service only, and were unaccustomed to the incidents of a campaign, were unnecessarily stopped in their march by a swollen rivulet, which, unfortunately, flowed between them and their destination.

After waiting in vain for this division until two o'clock, Longstreet put his own and Hill's in motion toward the enemy, in order of battle, the latter forming the first line, with the centre on the Williamsburg road; three of Longstreet's brigades constituting the second line, two advancing on the Charles City road on the right, and one along the York River Railroad on the left.

At three o'clock the Federal advanced troops were encountered. They were a long line of [135] skirmishers supported by five or six regiments of infantry, covered by abatis. The ardor and greatly superior numbers of the Confederates soon overcame their resistance, and drove them back to the main position of the first line of Keyes's corps-Casey's division. It occupied a line of rifle-pits, strengthened by a redoubt, and covered by abatis. Here the resistance was obstinate; for the Federal troops, commanded by an officer of tried courage, fought as soldiers usually do under good leaders, and time and vigorous efforts were required to drive them from their position. But the resolution of Garland's and George B. Anderson's brigades, that pressed forward on the left through an open field, under a destructive fire; the admirable service of Carter's and Bondurant's batteries, and a skillfully combined attack upon the Federal left, under General Hill's direction, by Rodes's brigade in front, and that of Rains in flank, were finally successful, and the enemy abandoned their intrenchments. Just then reinforcements were received from their second line, and they turned to recover their lost position. But to no purpose — they were driven back, fighting, upon their second line-Couch's division at Seven Pines. R. II. Anderson's brigade, transferred by Longstreet to the first line, after the capture of Casey's position, bore a prominent part in the last contest.

Keyes's corps, united in this second position, was assailed with such spirit by the Confederate troops that, although reenforced by Kearney's division of Heintzelman's corps, it was broken, divided, and driven from its ground — the greater part along the [136] Williamsburg road, to General Heintzelman's intrenched line, two miles from Bottom's Bridge, and two brigades to the southeast into White-oak Swamp.

General Hill pursued the enemy toward Bottom's Bridge, more than a mile; then, night being near, he gathered his troops and re-formed them, facing to the east, as they had been fighting. The line thus formed crossed the Williamsburg road at right angles. The left, however, was thrown back to face Sumner's corps at Fair Oaks. In an hour or two Longstreet's and Huger's division, whom it had not been necessary to bring into action, came into this line under General Longstreet's orders.

When the action began on the right, the musketry was not heard at my position on the Nine-miles road, from the unfavorable condition of the air to sound. I supposed, therefore, that the fight had not begun, and that we were hearing an artillery duel. However, a staff-officer was sent to ascertain the fact. He returned at four o'clock, with intelligence that our infantry as well as artillery had been engaged for an hour, and that our troops were pressing forward with vigor. As no approach of Federal troops from the other side of the Chickahominy had been discovered or was suspected, I hoped strongly that the bridges were impassable. It seemed to me idle, therefore, to keep General Smith longer out of action, for a contingency so remote as the coming of reenforcements from the Federal right. He was desired, therefore, to direct his division against the right flank of Longstreet's adversaries. I thought it [137] prudent, however, to leave Magruder's division in reserve. It was under arms, near.

General Smith moved promptly along the Nine-miles road. His leading regiment, the Sixth North Carolina, soon became engaged with the Federal skirmishers and their reserves, and in a few minutes drove them off entirely. On my way to Longstreet's left, to combine the action of the two bodies of Confederate troops, I passed the head of General Smith's column near Fair Oaks, and saw the camp of a body of infantry of the strength of three or four regiments, apparently in the northern angle between the York River Railroad and the Nine-miles road, and the rear of a body of infantry moving in quick time from that point toward the Chickahominy, by the road to the Grape-vine Ford. A few minutes after this, a battery, at the point where this infantry had disappeared, opened its fire upon the head of the Confederate column. A regiment sent against it was received with a volley of musketry, as well as canister, and recoiled. The leading brigade, commanded by Colonel Law, then advanced, and so much strength was developed by the enemy, that General Smith formed his other brigades and brought them into battle on the left of Law's. An obstinate contest began, and was maintained on equal terms; although the Confederates engaged superior numbers in a position of their own choosing.

I had passed the railroad some little distance with Hood's brigade, when the action commenced, and stopped to see its termination. But, being confident that the Federal troops opposing ours were [138] those whose camps I had just seen, and therefore not more than a brigade, I did not doubt that General Smith was quite strong enough to cope with them. General Hood was desired to go forward, therefore, and, connecting his right with Longstreet's left, to fill upon the right flank of his enemy. The direction of the firing was then (near five o'clock) decidedly to the right of Seven Pines. It was probably at Casey's intrenched position.

The firing at Fair Oaks soon increased, and I rode back to that field-still unconvinced, however, that General Smith was fighting more than a brigade, and thinking it injudicious to engage Magruder's division yet, as it was the only reserve. While waiting the conclusion of this struggle, my intercourse with Longstreet was maintained through staff-officers. The most favorable accounts of his progress were from time to time received from them.

The contest on the left was continued with equal determination by the two parties, each holding the ground on which it had begun to fight.

This condition of affairs existed on the left at half-past 6 o'clock, and the firing on the right seemed then to be about Seven Pines. It was evident, therefore, that the battle would not be terminated that day. So I announced to my staff-officers that each regiment must sleep where it might be standing when the contest ceased for the night, to be ready to renew it at dawn next morning.

About seven o'clock I received a slight wound in the right shoulder from a musket-shot, and, a few moments after, was unhorsed by a heavy fragment of shell which struck my breast. Those around had [139] me borne from the field in an ambulance; not, however, before the President, who was with General Lee, not far in the rear, had heard of the accident, and visited me, manifesting great concern, as he continued to do until I was out of danger.

The firing ceased, terminated by darkness only, before I had been carried a mile from the field.

As next in rank, Major-General G. W. Smith succeeded to the command of the army.

His division remained in the immediate presence of the enemy during the night, its right resting on the railroad, where it joined Longstreet's left. Magruder's division was within supporting distance.

Next morning, Brigadier-General Pickett, whose brigade was near the left of Longstreet's and Hill's line, learned that a strong body of Federal troops was before him and near. He moved forward and attacked it, driving it from that ground. Very soon, being reinforced apparently, the Federals (several brigades) assumed the offensive, and attacked him. In the mean time General Hill had sent two regiments of Colston's brigade to him. Although largely outnumbered, Pickett met this attack with great resolution, and after a brisk but short action repulsed the enemy, who disappeared, to molest him no more. I have seen no Confederate officer who was conscious of any other serious fighting, by the troops of those armies, on Sunday. A strong proof of that fact is, that during the day Hill had almost seven thousand small-arms gathered from the field, which was covered by his line of troops, and much other military property; proof, also, that the Confederates were not even threatened. [140]

About noon General Lee was assigned to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, by the President; and at night the troops were ordered by him to return to their camps near Richmond, which they did soon after daybreak, Monday.

The operations of the Confederate troops in this battle were very much retarded by the dense woods and thickets that covered the ground, and by the deep mud and broad ponds of rain-water, in many places more than knee-deep, through which they had to struggle.

The loss in Longstreet's and Hill's divisions was about three thousand;5 among the killed were Colonels Lomax, Jones, and Moore, of Alabama. About five-sixths of the loss was in the latter division, upon which the weight of the fighting on the right fell. The officers of those troops, who followed the enemy over all the ground on which they fought, and saw the dead and wounded of both parties on the field, were confident that the Federal loss was more than three times as great as ours. It was published in Northern papers as from ten to twelve thousand.

General Smith reported a loss of twelve hundred and thirty-three in his division, including Brigadier-General Hatton, of Tennessee, killed; and General Sumner's was twelve hundred and twenty-three, according to General McClellan's report.

Three hundred and fifty prisoners,6 ten pieces of artillery, six thousand seven hundred muskets and [141] rifles in excellent condition, a garrison-flag and four regimental colors, medical, commissary, quartermaster's and ordnance stores, tents, and sutlers' property, were captured and secured.

Tie troops in position to renew the battle on Sunday were, at Fair Oaks, on the Federal side, two divisions and a brigade; one of the divisions, Richardson's, had not been engaged, having come upon the field about, or after, nightfall. On the Confederate side, ten brigades in Smith's and Magruder's divisions, six of which were fresh, not having fired a shot. On the Williamsburg road four Federal divisions, three of which had fought and been thoroughly beaten-one, Casey's, almost destroyed. On the Confederate side, thirteen brigades, but five of which had been engaged on Saturday-when they defeated the three Federal divisions that were brought against them successively. After nightfall, Saturday, the two bodies of Federal troops were completely separated from the two corps of their right, beyond the Chickahominy, by the swollen stream, which had swept away their bridges, and Sumner's corps at Fair Oaks was six miles from those of Heintzelman and Keyes, which were near Bottom's Bridge; but the Confederate forces were united7 on the front and left flank of Sumner's corps. Such advantage of position and superiority of numbers would have enabled them to defeat that corps had the engagement been renewed on Sunday morning, before any aid could have come from Heintzelman, after which his troops, in the condition to which the action of the day before had reduced them, could not have made effectual resistance. [142]

I was eager to fight on the 31st, from the belief that the flood in the Chickahominy would be at its height that day, and the two parts of the Federal army completely separated by it: it was too soon, however. We should have gained the advantage fully by a day's delay. This would also have given us an accession of about eight thousand men that arrived from the south next morning, under Major-General Holmes and Brigadier-General Ripley; they had been ordered to Richmond without my knowledge, nor was I informed of their approach.8 After this battle of Seven Pines-or Fair Oaks, as the Northern people prefer to call it-General McClellan made no step forward, but employed his troops industriously in intrenching themselves.

I had repeatedly suggested to the Administration the formation of a great army to repel McClellan's invasion, by assembling all the Confederate forces, available for the object, near Richmond. As soon as I had lost the command of the Army of Virginia by wounds in battle, my suggestion was adopted. In that way, the largest Confederate army that ever fought, was formed in the month of June, by strengthening the forces near Richmond with troops from North and South Carolina and Georgia. But, while the Confederate Government was forming this great army, the Federal general was, with equal industry, employed in making defensive arrangements; so that in the “seven days fighting” his intrenchments so covered the operation of “change of base,” that it was attended with little loss, considering the close proximity and repeated engagements of two [143] such armies. Had ours been so strengthened in time to attack that of the United States when it reached the Chickahominy, and before being intrenched, results might and ought to have been decisive; still, that army, as led by its distinguished commander, compelled the Federal general to abandon his plan of operations, and reduced him to the defensive, and carried back the war to Northern Virginia.

No action of the war has been so little understood as that of Seven Pines; the Southern people have felt no interest in it, because, being unfinished in consequence of the disabling of the commander, they saw no advantage derived from it; and the Federal commanders claimed the victory because the Confederate forces did not renew the battle on Sunday, and fell back to their camps on Monday.

General Sumner stated to the committee on the conduct of the war, that he had, in the battle of Fair Oaks, five or six thousand men in Sedgwick's division, part of Couch's, and a battery, and that, after the firing had continued some time, six regiments which he had in hand on the left of the battery charged directly into the woods; the enemy then fled, and the battle was over for that day.

General Heintzelman, before the same committee, claimed the victory at Seven Pines, upon no other ground that I can perceive,than the withdrawal of the Confederates to their camps on Monday, although his statement shows clearly that all his troops and Keyes's9 that fought there were defeated, and driven back six or seven miles to the shelter of intrenchments previously prepared by his forethought; and [144] that they remained Sunday under the protection of these intrenchments while Hill was gathering the arms scattered in woods and thickets, more than two miles in extent.

The proofs against these claims are, that General McClellan, who had been advancing, although cautiously, up to the time of this battle, made no step forward after it, but employed his troops industriously in intrenching themselves, and that both of his subordinates — the commanders at Fair Oaks and on the Williamsburg road-stood on the defensive the day after the battle, while the Confederate right covered all the ground on which it fought the day before, and had leisure and confidence enough to devote much of the day to gathering the valuable military property, including arms, won the day before; and Smith's division, prolonging the line beyond the railroad and Fair Oaks, was confronting Sumner's corps.

General Sumner's extravagant statement, that six of his regiments charged and put to flight Smith's whole division, needs no comment. His estimate of his force on Saturday is not more accurate. According to it, there were in Sedgwick's division, which constituted half of his corps, less than five thousand men; consequently, his corps must have had in it less than ten thousand; and McClellan's army, of which that corps was a fifth, less than fifty thousand. As that army numbered a hundred and fifteen thousand men a month before, its number could not have been less than one hundred thousand, nor that of Sumner's corps less than twenty thousand; nor his force on Saturday, at Fair Oaks, less than thirteen or fourteen thousand. [145]

General Sumner's corps was united at Fair Oaks Saturday evening. If he had driven Smith's division from the field in flight, it is not to be imagined that with at least twenty thousand men on the flank of the remaining Confederate troops, Longstreet's and Hill's, he would have failed to attack and destroy them on Sunday; for, being ranking officer, he could have united Heintzelman's and Keyes's corps to his own, and attacked the Confederates both in front and flank.

The claims of the same officers to decided successes on Sunday are disproved by what immediately precedes, and the reports of Generals Hill and Pickett. The chances of success on that day were all in favor of the Confederates. The numbers of the opposing forces were nearly equal. But three of the six Federal divisions had, successively, been thoroughly beaten the day before by five Confederate brigades.

The authors of Alfriend's “Life of Jefferson Davis,” and some other biographers, represent, to my disparagement, that the army with which General Lee fought in “the seven days” was only that which I had commanded. It is very far from the truth. General Lee did not attack the enemy until the 26th of June, because he was employed, from the 1st until then, in forming a great army, by bringing, to that which I had commanded, fifteen thousand10 men from North Carolina, under Major-General Holmes,11 [146] twenty-two thousand from South Carolina and Georgia, and above sixteen thousand from “the Valley” in the divisions of Jackson and Ewell, which the victories of Cross Keys and Port Republic had rendered disposable.

1 Franklin's division, of twelve thousand men, was kept on board of transports, in readiness to move up York River.

2 This order of march was based on the idea that a part of the Federal army might pass us by the river.

3 Hooker's.

4 One had been transferred to Drury's Bluff by the Government.

5 Longstreet's report. General McClellan adds Hill's loss, twenty-five hundred, to the sum, of which it already made five-sixths, thus counting it twice-making the total six thousand seven hundred and thirty-three, instead of four thousand two hundred and thirty-three.

6 See General D. H. Hill's report.

7 See map.

8 Such information would have induced me to postpone the attack.

9 Kearney's division; Hooker's was not engaged.

10 General Holmes told me in General Lee's presence, just before the fight began on the 31st, that he had that force ready to join me when the President should give the order. I have also the written testimony of Colonel Archer Anderson, then of General Holmes's staff, that he brought that number into General Lee's army.

11 General Ripley gave me this number. He brought the first brigade--five thousand men. General Lawton told me that his was six thousand, General Drayton that his was seven thousand; there was another brigade, of which I do not know the strength.

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