word of the result of his mission. This was done, and word was sent to me through Adjt. Currier, of the Eleventh regiment. Up to this moment there had been a brisk musketry fire kept up on every part of the field, but its swelling volumes in the direction of Patterson satisfied me from the beginning of the engagement that the enemy had accumulated a heavy force in his front. Grover had already anticipated it, and had moved the main portion of the First Massachusetts regiment to receive it, while first, the Seventy-second New-York regiment, of Taylor's brigade, and soon after the Seventieth New-York regiment, of the same brigade, were ordered to strengthen Patterson. Col. Averill, of the Third Pennsylvania cavalry, had, with great kindness and gallantry, tendered me his services, while Lieut. McAllister, of the engineers, volunteered to make a reconnaissance of such of the enemy's works as were hidden from view, preparatory to carrying them by assault, should a suitable opportunity present itself for that object. For this service I am under many obligations to that accomplished officer. From the earliest moment of the attack, it was an object of deep solicitude to establish a connection with the troops in my immediate neighbor-hood on the Yorktown road, and as that had been accomplished, and as I saw no signs of their advance, at twenty minutes past eleven A. M. I addressed the subjoined note to the Assistant Adjutant-General, Third corps, under the impression that his Chief was still there. It was as follows: “I have had a hard contest all the morning, but do not despair of success. My men are hard at work, but a good deal exhausted. It is reported to me that my communication with you by the Yorktown road is clear of the enemy. Batteries, cavalry, and infantry can take post by the side of mine to whip the enemy.” This found General Heintzelman absent, but it was returned opened, and on the envelope endorsed, “Opened and read,” by the senior officer on that field. A cavalry man took over the note, and returned with it, by the Yorktown road, after an absence of twenty minutes. To return, it was now after one o'clock, and the battle had swollen into one of gigantic proportions. The left had been reinforced with the Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth New-York regiments--the only remaining ones of my reserve — under Col. Taylor, and all were engaged; yet its fortunes would ebb and flow despite the most determined courage and valor of my devoted officers and men. Three times the enemy approached within eighty yards of the road which was the centre of my operations, and as often were they thrown back with violence and slaughter. Every time his advance was made with fresh troops, and each succeeding one seemed to be in greater force and determination. The Eleventh Massachusetts and the Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania regiments were ordered to the left — the support of the batteries and the Second New-Hampshire regiment were withdrawn from their advanced position in front, to take post where they could look after the front and left at the same time. The orders to the Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania regiment did not reach it, and it remained on the right. At this juncture word was received from Col. Taylor that the regiments of his command longest engaged were falling short of ammunition, and when he was informed that the supply-train was not yet up, a portion of his command presented an obstinate front to the advance of the enemy, with no other cartridges than were gathered from the boxes of the fallen. Again the enemy were reinforced by the arrival of Longstreet's division. His troops had passed through Williamsburgh, on their retreat from Yorktown, and were recalled to strengthen the rebel forces before Williamsburgh. No sooner had they joined, than it was known that they were again moving to drive in our left; after a violent and protracted struggle they were again repulsed with great loss. Simultaneous with the movement, an attempt was made to drive in our front, and seize the batteries, by the troops from Fort Magruder, aided by reenforcements from the redoubts on the left. The withdrawal of the supports invited this attack, and it was at this time that four of our guns were captured. They could have been saved, but only at the risk of losing the day. Whatever of dishonor, if any, is attached to their loss belongs to the Brigadier-General commanding the division, and not to his chief of artillery, or to the officers and men serving with the batteries — for truer men never stepped upon the field of battle. While this was going on in front, Capt. Smith, by a skilful disposition of his battery, held complete command of the road, which subsequently, by a few well-directed shots, was turned to good account. The foregoing furnishes a faithful narrative of the disposition of my command throughout this eventful day. Between four and five o'clock, Gen. Kearney, with all his characteristic gallantry, arrived on the ground at the head of his division, and after having secured their positions, my division was withdrawn from the contest, and held as a reserve until dark, when the battle ended, after a prolonged and severe conflict against three times my number, directed by the most accomplished General of the rebel army, Major-Gen. J. E. Johnston, assisted by Gens. Longstreet, Pryor, Gohlson and Pickett, with commands selected from the best troops in their army. The list of killed and wounded attests the character of the contest. The killed of the enemy must have been double my own; of the wounded we cannot estimate. Eight hundred were left in hospitals at Williamsburgh, and others were distributed among the private houses in the city, while all the available tenement, in the vicinity of the field of battle are filled with them. Three hundred prisoners were taken. I have omitted to mention the arrival, early in the afternoon, of Brig.-Gen. Heintzelman, commanding the Third army corps, with his staff,
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.