previous next
[334]

Chapter 20:

  • Advance from Williamsburg
  • -- Franklin's movement -- alarm of prisoners in Williamsburg -- plan of the campaign -- orders to move towards north of Richmond -- fatal to the campaign -- movements on this line.


It became clear that we had been opposed by only a portion of the Confederate army, at first by a single rear-guard, which was subsequently considerably reinforced by troops brought back during the first night and the next day to hold the works as long as possible and enable their trains to escape. Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's divisions, more than half their army, were engaged. Their losses were heavy, and we captured eight guns and many caissons and wagons, which the deep mud prevented them from carrying off.

Wilcox's Confederate brigade, having received no orders, found itself at half-past 10 P. M. of the 5th entirely alone, and moved back beyond Williamsburg, being the last to leave the field. It has been stated that G. W. Smith had been ordered to move at half-past 2 A. M. of the 5th and take a position north of Barhamsrille. He moved at the hour designated, just as a heavy rain commenced. The roads soon became axle-deep in mud, and extraordinary efforts were required to get the wagons along. Late in the afternoon, when the head of the column had nearly reached Barhamsville, Smith received an order from Gen. Johnston to suspend the movement, as a heavy attack had been made on the fortifications at Williamsburg, in which Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's divisions had been engaged. On the two following days Gen. Johnston, learning of Franklin's disembarkation at Brick House, concentrated the greater part of his army near Barhamsville.

It has already been stated that Franklin's division was disembarked on the 3d of May to take part in the approaching assault of Yorktown. Gen. Franklin passed the night of the 3d at general headquarters, his division remaining at Cheeseman's landing. As soon as the evacuation was known I instructed him to re-embark his division immediately and bring it by water to [335] Yorktown, where he would receive further orders. He at once returned to it and commenced the work, which he carried on with all possible speed, completing it about one o'clock on the 5th. The embarkation was much delayed by the atrocious weather; by the facts that all the ordinary means for loading and unloading were fully occupied with putting supplies ashore for the rest of the army, so that Gen. Franklin was obliged to improvise his own means; that forage and provision for several days had to be reloaded; but most of all by the difficulty of re-embarking the artillery, all the carriages of which had to be unlimbered and floated out on rafts and then hoisted upon the transports. Gen. Franklin's letter explains this subject in detail, and I need only say that the delay was unavoidable and that Gen. Franklin did not lose an unnecessary moment in carrying his order into effect:

Hartford, Feb. 8, 1884.
Gen. G. B. McClellan, New York:
my dear general: It so happens that I have just had a correspondence with Howard about the West Point landing in May, 1862, and, as it covers the greater part of the ground indicated in your letter of the 5th inst., I enclose it with this.

The long time taken to re-embark my division at Poquosin, or Cheeseman's creek, was due--

1st. To the weather, which, you will remember, was atrocious;

2d. To the fact that such landing facilities as were at hand were fully occupied with getting supplies ashore for the army at Yorktown, leaving me to my own crude devices for getting things aboard; and,

3d. To the absolute necessity there was for unlimbering all artillery vehicles, in order to pack them in the limited deck-space of the transports that were available.

This loading the artillery was the great cause of delay. Getting the carriages on to the transports was a tedious and exasperatingly slow process. They had to be floated on rafts from the shore to the transports and then lifted several feet to the deck. I do not now remember how the horses were got aboard, but I know that everything was done as quickly as it could be done.

Then, too, the provisions and forage for several days had to be reloaded in the infantry transports — a tedious process under the circumstances. Towing the artillery transports was a very slow process. These transports mere each made of two canal barges placed about as far apart as the width of beam of a single [336] barge, the whole space being decked over, thus. They had been

Diagram.

so arranged for the landing that it was contemplated I was to make when I first arrived. They made excellent transports for a short run in smooth water, but they would not steer and were heart-breaking to tow. So we finally started for Yorktown, when another unlooked — for delay occurred by the grounding of many of the transports, which were of all draughts of water. I stayed by until I saw that all would get off, and then started for Yorktown, where I met you in the afternoon and received my instructions. Of course, after arriving at West Point, the landing was slow, although not nearly so slow as the loading. The infantry and artillery were got off during the night, and a line was formed which was rectified and strengthened after daylight. I returned to my headquarters boat to hurry off the transports, which were very slow in moving, and while I was engaged in this business an attack was made on Newton's brigade. I hurried ashore and found that a sharp attack had been made, by Hampton's brigade, I think. They drove Newton out of the woods at first, but the brigade soon retook its position, driving the enemy back; and as the gunboats were in position to shell the woods in front of our line, a few shots from them drove the enemy off and ended the fight. Both lines, however, remained within musket-shot of each other until well on in the afternoon, when the transports returned, bringing Sedgwick's division, I think it was. As my orders only directed me to hold my position, and as my right flank was necessarily in the air and ought to have been turned by the enemy, I was in no condition to have advanced into the interior, and, in fact, under your orders I had no business to make the attempt.

Truly your friend,


The flotilla experienced great difficulty in reaching Yorktown, which it effected about four o'clock on the 5th. Meanwhile Gen. Franklin, when the greatest difficulties had been overcome, preceded it, and must have reached Yorktown before one o'clock, where he received his final instructions from me.

When the flotilla arrived Gen. Franklin visited Com. Missroom on his flagship and informed him that he was ready to start. The commodore replied that he would not consent to go up the river on a night as dark as that approaching (it was then raining in torrents), and the joint expedition, therefore, [337] waited until next morning. The commodore was entirely correct in this decision to await the morning, for I have not the slightest doubt that the result of an effort to move on such a night would have been the loss of many transports and lives, and the disorganization of the whole expedition.

The flotilla started at daybreak of the 6th; the infantry transports arrived off West Point about noon, and the landing commenced at once. The artillery transports did not arrive until nearly night, and were unloaded without wharves during the night and early in the morning of the 7th. The process of landing was necessarily slow, but not so much so as that of loading up.

At about seven A. M. of the 7th the pickets of Newton's brigade, forming the left of the line, were driven in, but soon regained the ground.

Skirmishing continued for a couple of hours, when a sharp attack was made by Whiting's division; this was repulsed, and everything then became quiet, our people having regained their original positions, and at some points having made considerable advances.

Franklin's orders were simply to hold his position until reinforced sufficiently to justify an advance. That this was a wise decision is shown by the fact that G. W. Smith witnessed the disembarkation, and, refraining from opposing it, suggested to Gen. Johnston to take measures to cut him off if he advanced beyond the protection of the gunboats. G. W. Smith's entire division, much stronger than Franklin's, was in his front, and soon after the greater part of the Confederate army, ready to overwhelm Franklin had he advanced.

By the time Sedgwick's division was in position to support him, the morning of the 8th, the enemy's rear had passed on towards Richmond; but Franklin's movement had fully served its purpose in clearing our front to the banks of the Chickahominy.

On my way into Williamsburg on the morning of the 6th I passed a cluster of barracks, and, seeing some men lying in them, I dismounted to see who they were. They were filled with our own and the enemy's wounded. The first man I spoke to was one of ours. I asked him who the men around him were. “Oh! that's a secesh; that is one of our men; that's a secesh,” and so [338] on. In reply to my question as to how they had been treated by the enemy he said: “Just like their own men.” Here were these poor fellows lying together in perfect amity who had met in mortal combat the day before.

The College and other large buildings in Williamsburg were crowded with wounded, almost all Confederates. While in one of the larger hospitals one of my aides came to me and said that a wounded Confederate desired to speak to me. I went there and found a wounded private soldier belonging to a Virginia regiment, an intelligent, honest-looking man, who said that he had been deputed by his comrades to beg me to spare their lives. I told him that I did not understand him, whereupon he repeated his petition, and I again said that I could not imagine what he meant. He then said that they had been told that we Northern men had come down there to destroy and slay, and that our intention was to kill all the prisoners, wounded and unwounded alike; but that they had been told that I had treated kindly the prisoners I had taken in West Virginia the year before, and thought that perhaps I might be induced to spare their lives. I then relieved his mind by telling him that, although I was perhaps the most brutal among the Northern generals, I would treat them precisely as I did my own wounded.

The poor fellows stretched on the floor around him followed the conversation with keen interest, and I saw by the expression of their faces that they felt much relieved when my final answer came. I was told, after the battle of Fair Oaks, that when the Confederates were for a time in possession of the camp of Casey's division Gen. Roger Pryor went around among the wounded, giving them whiskey and water, and that he told them it was a repayment of the kindness with which their wounded were treated at Williamsburg.

During the forenoon of the 6th Confederate surgeons came in (as before stated), under a flag of truce, to offer their services in tending their own wounded. I entertained them as well as could be done without baggage or supplies, and found them to be very agreeable gentlemen. Their services were not needed.

Having gained possession of Williamsburg, the first thing to be done was to get up supplies for the troops, to care for the wounded, to hasten supports to Franklin by water, and to force the pursuit by land in order to open direct communication with [339] Franklin, or to bring the enemy to battle if he halted south of the mouth of the Pamunkey. The frightful condition of the roads rendered the supply question very difficult, but by repairing the nearest landings on the York river, and by the energy of the quartermaster's department, that task was soon accomplished.

So great were the difficulties of land-transportation that even the headquarters wagons did not reach Williamsburg until the forenoon of the 9th, up to which time I was absolutely without baggage of any kind. Sedgwick's division reached Franklin during the 7th; one brigade of Porter's division got off from Yorktown by water on the afternoon of the 7th, the rest on the 8th, without cavalry or artillery; two brigades of Richardson's division got off on the 11th, the remaining brigade on the 12th. The regular infantry, Duane's engineer battalion, and the light batteries of the reserve artillery marched from Yorktown on the 8th.

Immediately upon our arrival in Williamsburg Gen. Averill was sent forward with a cavalry force to push the enemy's rear-guard. He found several guns abandoned, and captured a number of stragglers. But the roads were so bad and his supplies so scanty that he was obliged to return after marching a few miles. On the next day, the 7th, Stoneman moved with the advanced guard, consisting of the cavalry, horse-batteries, and two regiments of infantry, the 2d R. I. and the 98th Penn.

At ten A. M. his artillery and cavalry had reached a point only two and a half to three miles from Williamsburg; the infantry had not yet joined him. At half-past 1 P. M. he had come up with the enemy's rear-guard, at about six miles from Williamsburg, and while here he heard heavy firing in the direction of Franklin's position. Stoneman's infantry joined him here, coming up at the double-quick.

He encamped for the night at a church about ten miles from Williamsburg, having been delayed by the condition of the roads and the necessity of procuring and cooking meat for the infantry, who were almost in a famished condition.

At nine A. M. of the 8th he had reached a point fourteen miles from Williamsburg. At half-past 3 P. M. he reached with his main body Hockaday's Springs, about six miles and a half from Franklin's position, and there learned that his advanced guard had communicated with Franklin's pickets. [340]

Stoneman learned here that a Confederate force of ten regiments of infantry, one battery, and some cavalry had encamped the night before at Hockaday's Springs, and left that morning via Diascund Bridge, and that the enemy were in full retreat upon the Chickahominy. He sent cavalry in pursuit to harass the enemy until dark. This detachment found the enemy at dark strongly posted at New Kent Court-House, and, in accordance with instructions, then returned to the main body of the advanced guard.

On the 9th Stoneman occupied and held the junction of the West Point and Williamsburg roads, about three miles from New Kent Court-House. The occupation of this place occurred as the result of a brisk skirmish in which a portion of the 6th U. S. Cavalry, under Maj. Williams, and Robinson's battery took part; one squadron of the 6th, under the personal command of Maj. Williams, made two very handsome charges.

On the 10th Stoneman sent Farnsworth's 8th Ill. Cavalry some six miles beyond New Kent Court-House, and with his main body moved to Cumberland, leaving New Kent Court-House occupied by two New Jersey regiments and four guns from Franklin's division.

On the 11th he sent Maj. Williams with six companies of cavalry to occupy the railroad-crossing at White House and scout the surrounding country. He was again delayed on the 11th by the necessity of awaiting provisions from Franklin. Stoneman says: “The men have had no sugar or coffee since leaving Williamsburg, and but a very limited amount of hard bread and pork. We have lived principally on fresh meat, sometimes without salt, for the past week; but I have not heard a complaint or murmur.”

D. R. Jones's division constituted the rear-guard of the enemy. It consisted of ten regiments of infantry, sixteen pieces of artillery, and the 1st Va. Cavalry. The rear of the rear-guard consisted of one regiment of infantry, three pieces of artillery, and three squadrons, with which they would check us at every difficult place and then leave. Owing to the peculiar nature of the country, admirably adapted for the operations of an active and vigorous rear-guard, which we had in our front, we could get but one chance to attack him and make it tell — this at Slatesville, from which he was driven with loss. Three miles [341] from Slatesville, at New Kent Court-House, the whole division was drawn up in line of battle: and I thought it expedient to retain with me the New Jersey brigade (two regiments and four guns) and Farnsworth's cavalry.

As soon as a reasonable amount of supplies were received and the roads improved somewhat I resumed the movement by land from Williamsburg. Smith's division marched on the afternoon of the 8th, Couch, Casey, and Kearny on the morning of the 9th. The reserves came up to Williamsburg on the morning of the same day. During the night of the 9th headquarters were four miles in front of Williamsburg with the regulars, the other four divisions just mentioned in advance, Hooker still at Williamsburg.

On the evening of the 10th headquarters were at Roper's Church, nineteen miles beyond Williamsburg, in easy communication with Franklin; the regulars, Smith, Couch, Casey, and Kearny near headquarters. We now began to draw supplies from Elthan.

Headquarters remained at Roper's Church until the morning of the 13th, while the troops were moving in such a manner that at the close of that day the disposition was as follows: headquarters, with the divisions of Porter, Franklin, Sykes (regulars), and the artillery reserves, at Cumberland, now a temporary depot; Couch and Casey at New Kent Court-House; Hooker and Kearny near Roper's Church; Richardson and Sedgwick near Elthan. Gen. Van Alen was left, with a small force, as military governor of Yorktown; Col. Campbell with his regiment, the 5th Pa. Cavalry, at Williamsburg.

On the 14th and 15th it rained heavily and continuously, and somewhat on the 16th. On the 15th and 16th the divisions of Porter, Franklin, and Smith were with great difficulty advanced to White House. The roads were so bad, narrow, and infrequent as to render the movements of large masses very slow and difficult; so much so that in the movement to White House on the 15th and 16th it required forty-eight hours to move two divisions and their trains five miles.

On the 16th headquarters advanced to White House; and on that day and the next Sykes and the reserve artillery moved up to the same point with no little difficulty, and a permanent depot was established. The weather changed on the night of the 16th, so that the 17th and 18th were clear, warm days. [342]

The 17th and 18th were occupied, while the roads were drying, in closing up all the troops and trains, with the final preparations to advance, and in numerous and extensive reconnoissances pushed in all directions.

It was at this moment, May 18, 1862, that, in consequence of my earnest representations, the President authorized me to organize two provisional army corps, the 5th and 6th, which soon became permanent corps, and the organization of the Army of the Potomac was now as follows:

2dCorps-Gen. Sumner. Consisting of the divisions Sedgwick and Richardson.
3dCorps-Gen. Heintzelman. Consisting of the divisions Kearny and Hooker.
4thCorps-Gen. Keyes. Consisting of the divisions Couch and Casey.
5thCorps-Gen. Fitz-John Porter. Consisting of the divisions Morell Sykes, and Hunt's reserve artillery.
6thCorps-Gen. Franklin. Consisting of the divisions W. F. Smith and Slocum.

The organization of the cavalry remained unchanged, and, as no new regiments were assigned to the Army of the Potomac except Col. Campbell's, which remained at Williamsburg, we suffered very much during the subsequent operations from the glaring deficiency of the cavalry force in point of numbers.

On the 18th of May headquarters were at White House; the advanced guard held the country nearly to the Chickahominy and well to the north of the railway. The 5th and 6th corps were at White House; the 2d, 3d, and 4th corps were near New Kent Court-House.

The enemy had withdrawn across the Chickahominy, having his main force between New bridge and Richmond. Bottom's, Long, and Jones's bridges were merely watched by small cavalry patrols, and there were no indications even of this with regard to the last two.

The necessity of following the enemy until he was fairly across the Chickahominy, and the question of supplies, had naturally brought the Army of the Potomac into the positions just described, for the James river was not open until the 12th, when the Merrimac was destroyed.

The question was now to be decided as to the ultimate line of operations of the army. [343]

Two courses were to be considered: first, to abandon the line of the York, cross the Chickahominy in the lower part of its course, gain the James, and adopt that as the line of supply; second, to use the railroad from West Point to Richmond as the line of supply, which would oblige us to cross the Chickahominy somewhere north of White Oak Swamp. The army was perfectly placed to adopt either course.

Masking the movement by the advanced guard, the army could easily have crossed the Chickahominy by Jones's bridge, and at Coles's ferry and Barret's ferry by pontoon bridges, while the advanced guard, and probably one or two corps, could have followed the movement by Long bridge and under cover of the White Oak Swamp, and the army would have been concentrated at Malvern Hill, ready either to advance upon Richmond by the roads near the left bank of the James, or to cross that river and place itself between Richmond and Petersburg.

With all the aid of the gunboats and water-transportation I am sure that I could have occupied Petersburg and placed the army in position between that place and Richmond, so that the enemy would have been obliged to abandon his capital or to come out to attack in a position of my own choosing, where, with the whole army concentrated, success would not have been doubtful and Richmond would have been the prize of victory.

Moreover, the water line of transportation would have insured the prompt and safe arrival of the 1st corps, or such other reinforcements as might have been sent to me.

It is needless to state that the army was well placed to follow the second line of operations indicated.

Up to the 18th my repeated and urgent demands for reinforcements by water had been met in such a way as to render it probable that if the 1st corps were ordered up to my support at all, the overland route would be selected by the authorities in Washington. Among other despatches calling for reinforcements I sent the following:

camp at Cumberland, May 14, 1862.
I have more than twice telegraphed to the Secretary of War, stating that, in my opinion, the enemy were concentrating all their available force to fight this army in front of Richmond, and [344] that such ought to be their policy. I have received no reply whatever to any of these telegrams. I beg leave to repeat their substance to your excellency, and to ask that kind consideration which you have ever accorded to my representations and views. All my information from every source accessible to me establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from east, west, and south, and my own opinion is confirmed by that of all my commanders whom I have been able to consult.

Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much weakened my force, and will continue to do so. I cannot bring into actual battle against the enemy more than 80,000 men at the utmost, and with them I must attack in position, probably entrenched, a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers. It is possible that Richmond may be abandoned without a serious struggle; but the enemy are actually in great strength between here and there, and it would be unwise, and even insane, for me to calculate upon anything but a stubborn and desperate resistance. If they should abandon Richmond it may well be that it is done with the purpose of making the stand at some place in Virginia south or west of there, and we should be in condition to press them without delay. The Confederate leaders must employ their utmost efforts against this army in Virginia, and they will be supported by the whole body of their military officers, among whom there may be said to be no Union feeling, as there is also very little among the higher class of citizens in the seceding States.

I have found no fighting men left in this Peninsula. All are in the ranks of the opposing foe.

Even if more troops than I now have should prove unnecessary for purposes of military occupation, our greatest display of imposing force in the capital of the rebel government will have the best moral effect. I most respectfully and earnestly urge upon your excellency that the opportunity has come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution, and I beg that you will cause this army to be reinforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the government. I ask for every man that the War Department can send me. Sent by water they will soon reach me. Any commander of the reinforcements whom your excellency may designate will be acceptable to me, whatever expression I may have heretofore addressed to you on that subject.

I will fight the enemy, whatever their force may be, with whatever force I may have; and I firmly believe that we shall beat them, but our triumph should be made decisive and complete. The soldiers of this army love their government, and will fight well in its support. You may rely upon them. They have confidence [345] in me as their general, and in you as their President. Strong reinforcements will at least save the lives of many of them. The greater our force the more perfect will be our combinations and the less our loss.

For obvious reasons I beg you to give immediate consideration to this communication, and to inform me fully at the earliest moment of your final determination.

Geo. B. Mcclellan, Major-General. His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

To which, on the 18th of May, I received this reply:

Washington, May-18, 2 P. M.
general: Your despatch to the President, asking reinforcements, has been received and carefully considered.

The President is not willing to uncover the capital entirely; and it is believed that, even if this were prudent, it would require more time to effect a junction between your army and that of the Rappahannock by the way of the Potomac and York river than by a land march. In order, therefore, to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest moment, Gen. McDowell has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route.

He is ordered, keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all possible attack, so to operate as to put his left wing in communication with your right wing, and you are instructed to co-operate so as to establish this communication as soon as possible, by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond.

It is believed that this communication can be safely established either north or south of the Pamunkey river.

In any event you will be able to prevent the main body of the enemy's forces from leaving Richmond and falling in overwhelming force upon Gen. McDowell. He will move with between thirty-five (35) and forty thousand (40,000) men.

A copy of the instructions to Gen. McDowell are with this. The specific task assigned to his command has been to provide against any danger to the capital of the nation.

At your earnest call for reinforcements he is sent forward to co-operate in the reduction of Richmond, but charged, in attempting this, not to uncover the city of Washington, and you will give no order, either before or after your junction, which can put him out of position to cover this city. You and he will communicate with each other, by telegraph or otherwise, as frequently [346] as may be necessary for sufficient co-operation. When Gen. McDowell is in position on your right his supplies must be drawn from West Point, and you will instruct your staff-officers to be prepared to supply him by that route.

The President desires that Gen. McDowell retain the command of the Department of the Rappahannock and of the forces with which he moves forward.

By order of the President.


This order rendered it impossible for me to use the James river as a line of operations, forced me to establish our depots on the Pamunkey, and to approach Richmond from the north.

Herein lay the failure of the campaign.

The order obliged me to extend and expose my right in order to secure the junction. As it was impossible to get at Richmond and the enemy's army covering it without crossing the Chickahominy, I was obliged to divide the Army of the Potomac into two parts, separated by that stream. As the order for Gen. McDowell's advance was soon suspended, I incurred great risk, of which the enemy finally took advantage and frustrated the plan of campaign.

Had Gen. McDowell joined me by water I could have approached Richmond by the James, and thus have avoided the delays and losses incurred in bridging the Chickahominy, and could have had the army united in one body instead of being necessarily divided by that stream.

McDowell's movement by water would not have jeopardized Washington in the slightest degree. There mere troops enough without him to hold the works against anything that the enemy could have sent against them, and the more they sent the easier would my task have been in front of Richmond. But Jackson's movement was merely a feint, and if McDowell had joined me on the James the enemy would have drawn in every available man from every quarter to make head against me. A little of the nerve at Washington which the Romans displayed during the campaign against Hannibal would have settled the fate of Richmond in very few weeks.

The following telegram was received at headquarters, Army of the Potomac, May 24, 1862: [347]

headquarters Department of Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, May 22, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. G. B. McClellan:
I have received the orders of the President to move with the army under my command and co-operate with yours in the reduction of Richmond, and also a copy of his instructions to you in relation to that co-operation. Maj.-Gen. Shields will join me to-day.

As far (soon) as the necessary preparations for the march can be completed, which I think will be by the twenty-fourth (24th) inst., we shall set forth as (in) the general direction ordered. There is in front of us to impede our advance the secession Army of the Rappahannock, so called, under the command of Joseph R. Anderson, of the Tredegar Iron-Works.

His force is from 12,000 to 15,000 men, mostly South Carolina and Georgia troops. We shall engage this force on our first day's march, as they are within from six to eight miles of us, posted on and to the right and left of the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, and in a position of considerable strength. It is my purpose to try and turn this position by throwing a force on their left flank, and cut off their opportunity of receiving any reinforcements from the direction of Gordonsville, and at the same time endeavor to save the railroad bridges. If this can be done another channel of supply can be had for the forces going against Richmond that cannot fail to give great relief to the quartermaster's and commissary departments of your army, and thus facilitate your operations. We cannot rely on this at first, because they now occupy the line, and, I am told, are prepared to destroy the bridges if they are forced to fall back. I beg to ask to what extent can I rely on co-operation from you in my present movement in the way of your cutting off the retreat of the enemy upon Richmond, where they would add 12,000 to the forces against you, and in saving the railroad bridge across the Pamunkey, and to what point on the Pamunkey can you extend your right to join me, and to what point can you cause supplies to be placed for my command, and by what date can I count on finding them ready for me? I shall require subsistence for thirty-eight thousand (38,000) men, and forage for eleven thousand (11,000) animals.

Irwin McDowell, Maj.-Gen.

The following is a copy of the instructions to Gen. McDowell:

War Department, Washington, May 17, 1862.
general: Upon being joined by Gen. Shields's division [348] you will move upon Richmond by the general route of the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, co-operating with the forces under Gen. McClellan, now threatening Richmond from the line of the Pamunkey and York rivers.

While seeking to establish as soon as possible a communication between your left wing and the right wing of Gen. McClellan, you will hold yourself always in such position as to cover the capital of the nation against a sudden dash of any large body of the rebel forces.

Gen. McClellan will be furnished with a copy of these instructions, and will be directed to hold himself in readiness to establish communication with your left wing, and to prevent the main body of the enemy's army from leaving Richmond and throwing itself upon your column before a junction of the two armies is effected.

A copy of his instructions in regard to the employment of your force is annexed.

By order of the President.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. Gen. Mcdowell, Commanding Department of Rappahannock.

Having some doubts, from the wording of the foregoing orders, as to the extent of my authority over the troops of Gen. McDowell, and as to the time when I might anticipate his arrival, on the 21st of May I sent this despatch to President Lincoln:

May 21, 1862, 11 P. M.
Your despatch of yesterday respecting our situation and the batteries of Fort Darling was received while I was absent with the advance where I have been all this day. I have communicated personally with Capt. Goldsborough, and by letter with Capt. Smith. The vessels can do nothing without co-operation on land, which I will not be in condition to afford for several days. Circumstances must determine the propriety of a land-attack.

It rained again last night, and rain on this soil soon makes the roads incredibly bad for army transportation. I personally crossed the Chickahominy to-day at Bottom's bridge ford, and went a mile beyond, the enemy being about half a mile in front. I have three regiments on the other bank guarding the rebuilding of the bridge. Keyes's corps is on the New Kent road, near Bottom's bridge. Heintzelman is on the same road, within supporting distance. Sumner is on the railroad, connecting right with left. Stoneman, with advanced guard, is within one mile of New bridge. Franklin, with two divisions, is about two miles [349] this side of Stoneman. Porter's division, with the reserves of infantry and artillery, is within supporting distance. Headquarters will probably be at Cold Harbor to-morrow, one mile this side of Franklin. All the bridges over the Chickahominy are destroyed. The enemy are in force on every road leading to Richmond, within a mile or two west of the stream. Their main body is on the road from New bridge, encamped along it for four or five miles, spreading over the open ground on both sides. Johnson's headquarters are about two miles beyond the bridge.

All accounts report their numbers as greatly exceeding our own. The position of the rebel forces, the declaration of the Confederate authorities, the resolutions of the Virginia legislature, the action of the city government, the conduct of the citizens, and all other sources of information accessible to me, give positive assurance that our approach to Richmond involves a desperate battle between the opposing armies.

All our divisions are moving towards the foe. I shall advance steadily and carefully, and attack them according to my best judgment, and in such manner as to employ my greatest force.

I regret the state of things as to Gen. McDowell's command. We must beat the enemy in front of Richmond. One division added to this army for that effort would do more to protect Washington than his whole force can possibly do anywhere else in the field. The rebels are concentrating from all points for the two battles at Richmond and Corinth. I would still, most respectfully, suggest the policy of our concentrating here by movements on water. I have heard nothing as to the probabilities of the contemplated junction of McDowell's force with mine. I have no idea when he can start, what are his means of transportation, or when he may be expected to reach this vicinity. I fear there is little hope that he can join me overland in time for the coming battle. Delays on my part will be dangerous. I fear sickness and demoralization. This region is unhealthy for Northern men, and, unless kept moving, I fear that our soldiers may become discouraged. At present our numbers are weakening from disease, but our men remain in good heart.

I regret also the configuration of the Department of the Rappahannock. It includes a portion even of the city of Richmond. I think that my own department should embrace the entire field of military operations designed for the capture and occupation of that city.

Again, I agree with your excellency that one bad general is better than two good ones.

I am not sure that I fully comprehend your orders of the 17th instant addressed to myself and Gen. McDowell. If a junction is effected before me occupy Richmond it must necessarily be east of the railroad to Fredericksburg and within my [350] department. This fact, my superior rank, and the express language of the sixty-second Article of War will place his command under my orders, unless it is otherwise specially directed by your excellency; and I consider that he will be under my command, except that I am not to detach any portion of his forces, or give any orders which can put him out of position to cover Washington. If I err in my construction I desire to be at once set right. Frankness compels me to say, anxious as I am for an increase of force, that the march of McDowell's column upon Richmond by the shortest route will, in my opinion, uncover Washington, as to any interposition by it, as completely as its movement by water. The enemy cannot advance by Fredericksburg on Washington.

Should they attempt a movement which to me seems utterly improbable, their route would be by Gordonsville and Manassas. I desire that the extent of my authority over McDowell may be clearly defined, lest misunderstandings and conflicting views may produce some of those injurious results which a divided command has so often caused. I would respectfully suggest that this danger can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing Gen. McDowell under my orders in the ordinary way, and holding me strictly responsible for the closest observance of your instructions. I hope, Mr. President, that it is not necessary for me to assure you that your instructions would be observed in the utmost good faith, and that I have no personal feelings which could influence me to disregard them in any particular.

I believe that there is a great struggle before this army, but I am neither dismayed nor discouraged. I wish to strengthen its force as much as I can, but in any event I shall fight it with all the skill, caution, and determination that I possess, and I trust that the result may either obtain for me the permanent confidence of my government or that it may close my career.

George B. McClellan, Maj.-Gen. Commanding. His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

On the 24th I received the following reply:

May 24, 1862 (from Washington, May 24th).
I left Gen. McDowell's camp at dark last evening. Shields's command is there, but it is so worn that he cannot move before Monday morning, the twenty-sixth (26th). We have so thinned our line to get troops for other places that it was broken yesterday at Front Royal, with a probable loss to us of one (1) regiment infantry, two (2) companies cavalry, putting Gen. Banks in some peril. [351]

The enemy's forces, under Gen. Anderson, now opposing Gen. McDowell's advance have, as their line of supply and retreat, the road to Richmond.

If, in conjunction with McDowell's movement against Anderson, you could send a force from your right to cut off the enemy's supplies from Richmond, preserve the railroad bridges across the two (2) forks of the Pamunkey, and intercept the enemy's retreat, you will prevent the army now opposed to you from receiving an accession of numbers of nearly fifteen thousand (15,000) men; and if you succeed in saving the bridges you will secure a line of railroad for supplies in addition to the one you now have. Can you not do this almost as well as not while you are building the Chickahominy bridges? McDowell and Shields both say they can, and positively will, move Monday morning. I wish you to move cautiously and safely.

You will have command of McDowell, after he joins you, precisely as you indicated in your long despatch to us of the twenty-first (21st).

A. Lincoln, President.

This information, that McDowell's corps would march for Fredericksburg on the following Monday (the 26th), and that he would be under my command, as indicated in my telegram of the 21st, was cheering news, and I now felt confident that we would on his arrival be sufficiently strong to overpower the large army confronting us.

At a later hour on the same day I received the following:

May 24, 1862 (from Washington, 4 P. M.)
In consequence of Gen. Banks's critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry, and we are trying to throw Gen. Fremont's force and part of Gen. McDowell's in their rear.


From which it will be seen that I could not expect Gen. McDowell to join me in time to participate in immediate operations in front of Richmond, and on the same evening I replied to the President that I would make my calculations accordingly.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (23)
Washington (United States) (12)
Yorktown (Virginia, United States) (10)
West Point (Virginia, United States) (5)
Tunstall (Virginia, United States) (5)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (4)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (3)
Pamunkey (Virginia, United States) (3)
New Bridge (Pennsylvania, United States) (3)
Cumberland, Va. (Virginia, United States) (3)
York (Virginia, United States) (2)
United States (United States) (2)
Long Bridge (Pennsylvania, United States) (2)
Gordonsville (Virginia, United States) (2)
Barhamsville (Virginia, United States) (2)
White Oak Swamp (Virginia, United States) (1)
West Virginia (West Virginia, United States) (1)
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Port Republic (Virginia, United States) (1)
New Kent (Virginia, United States) (1)
Malvern Hill (Virginia, United States) (1)
Jackson (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Hartford (Connecticut, United States) (1)
Harper's Ferry (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Hampton (Virginia, United States) (1)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
Front Royal (Virginia, United States) (1)
Drewry's Bluff (Virginia, United States) (1)
Chickahominy (Virginia, United States) (1)
Brick House (South Carolina, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
8th (5)
May 24th, 1862 AD (3)
May 18th (3)
16th (3)
7th (3)
5th (3)
11th (2)
9th (2)
February 8th, 1884 AD (1)
May 22nd, 1862 AD (1)
May 21st, 1862 AD (1)
May 18th, 1862 AD (1)
May 17th, 1862 AD (1)
May 14th, 1862 AD (1)
May, 1862 AD (1)
May 24th (1)
May 21st (1)
May 3rd (1)
24th (1)
17th (1)
15th (1)
14th (1)
13th (1)
12th (1)
10th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: