Empire State for them as actors in one of the most brilliant achievements of the war. I am your Excellency's obedient servant,
W. A. Gorman, Brig.-Gen. Commanding.
Cincinnati Commercial narrative.
battle-ground of Fair Oaks station, Henrico County, Va.My last communication recorded the prevalence of a terrific thunder-storm. Nature's artillery rolled and clashed magnificently, as if in stately mockery of the puny efforts of martial man. There was a tropical grandeur and sublimity in the storm, seldom, if ever, paralleled in our equable northern climes. Such floods of rain, as if aerial freshets had burst their confines, and were spirting in broad jets upon us; such fiery, vivid blinding sheets of lightning, which threatened to consume the swimming earth; such awful peals upon peals of thunder, as if the sky was riving from horizon to zenith. Little did we think that storm was working a cherished opportunity for our desperate enemy. But now we must admire that shrewd sagacity which cost us both so dearly. Little did we think that splendid storm would cause so much blood and so many tears to flow. Saturday morning, May thirty-first, the storm had subsided, but a lowering canopy darkened the dreary landscape. Our camps had been saturated, and the troops had passed a restless, disagreeable night. They were as gloomy as the aspect of nature. The roads, flooded by rain, were reduced to an almost impassable condition. The officers were lounging in their marquees, disgusted with the prospect of further necessary delay to engage the enemy, and moodily resigned themselves to the miseries of the hour. Meantime the Chickahominy had swollen to its brim, and was encroaching upon the swamps. At about one o'clock P. M., the sun burst through the clouds, and we were enjoying the shade of our pleasant orchard camp, when our attention was suddenly arrested by volleys of musketry apparently not over three miles in front. It increased in rapidity and volume and seemed approaching. Soon the conviction flashed upon us that the enemy were attempting to turn our left flank. Soon an aid de-camp, plunging furiously from headquarters, ordered out the Second corps. At three, Sedgwick's division was in the road, moving eagerly but heavily to the field of battle. Above our camp the old “Grape Vine” road, which had gone into disuse these many years, had been reopened, and the First Minnesota had thrown a corduroy bridge, several thousand feet long, across the Chickahominy and the deep morasses which hemmed its brink on either side. On our side the swamp was several hundred yards wide, but the track to the bridge traversed a marshy grain-field, and on the rebel side the morass was nearly a mile in extent. Not half of it had been repaired, and it was vitally necessary to adhere to the old single track After vast toil our artillery was dragged to the river. As we stepped upon the rude bridge we comprehended the danger of the freshet. The design of the enemy was obvious. He taken advantage of the wretched roads and the flood to turn our left flank, and destroy, if possible, the corps which had passed the river at Bottom's Bridge, and was posted at Fair Oaks and Seven Pines — some six or seven miles in front of the same, doubtless presuming that it would be impossible to reenforce from the east side of the river, or at all events that we could not move artillery. Such subsequently proved to be the fact. But the enemy did not suspect the existence of our “grape-vine” bridge. But to enable you to comprehend fully the operations of the contending forces, a geographical sketch of the field, with such topographical features as are vital to the picture, will be necessary. The Chickahominy, tracing through heavy forests and swamps east of Richmond from a north-westerly to a south-easterly direction, formed the respective fronts of the two armies — the rebels occupying the western, our army the eastern banks. The line occupied by us was nearly a right line from north-west to south-east, though curving a little northerly. Our forces were stretched from a short distance above New-Bridge where our right rested, to Bottom's Bridge, which constituted our left. The line was, perhaps, ten miles long. Our centre was near Goodly Hole Swamp, about equi-distant from the extremes. But our left was finally thrown forward to a point within six miles of Richmond, a mile in front of a point locally designated the “Seven Pines,” where Casey's division was posted in an open, swampy field, behind a single line of infantry epaulements; in front there was a heavy forest and a screen of dense undergrowth. Gen. Couch's division was encamped in his rear, his right resting in front of Fair Oaks station, about six miles due east of Richmond. Gen. Keyes commanded both divisions; and Gen. Heintzelman's corps was in the rear, within supporting distance, feeling out toward the left. The Pamunkey River to White House Point, and the York River Railroad to Fair Oaks, constituted our base. You will readily perceive the merits of the rebel design. By suddenly hurling upon our weak and exposed left overwhelming masses of their best troops it was apparently quite easy to crush it before assistance could be thrown over the river. If crowned with success, the relative attitudes of the armies would be reversed. The enemy would have become the assailing party, our whole army would be put upon the defensive, and perhaps would be obliged to sacrifice its entire equipment and retreat precipitately. Gen. McClellan remarked: “It is the only smart thing that Joe Johnston has yet attempted. It was very smart.” You will observe moreover, that our right flank was utterly unable to assist the left, the overflowed swamps of the Chickahominy holding it fast in its position. The enemy moved from James River, near the lower suburbs of Richmond, in five divisions — say forty thousand men at least — with powerful