Chapter 21: private letters.
[May 6 to May 18, 1862.
I telegraphed you this morning that we had gained a battle.
Every hour its importance is proved to be greater.
On Sunday I sent Stoneman
in pursuit with the cavalry and four batteries of horse-artillery.
He was supported by the divisions of Hooker
, and Kearny
, most of which arrived on the ground only yesterday.
Unfortunately I did not go with the advance myself, being obliged to remain to get Franklin
started up the river for West Point
Yesterday I received pressing private messages from Smith
and others begging me to go to the front.
I started with half a dozen aides and some fifteen orderlies, and found things in a bad state.
was engaged with a vastly inferior force some two miles from any support.
fought nearly all day without assistance, and the mass of the troops were crowded together where they were useless.
I found everybody discouraged, officers and men; our troops in wrong positions, on the wrong side of the woods; no system, no co-operation, no orders given, roads blocked up. As soon as I came upon the field the men cheered like fiends, and I saw at once that I could save the day. I immediately reinforced Hancock
and arranged to support Hooker
, advanced the whole line across the woods, filled up the gaps, and got everything in hand for whatever might occur.
The result was that the enemy saw that he was gone if he remained in his position, and scampered during the night.
His works were very strong, but his loss was very heavy.
The roads are in such condition that it is impossible to pursue except with a few cavalry.
It is with the utmost difficulty that I can feed the men, many of whom have had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours and more.
I had no dinner yesterday, no supper; a cracker for breakfast, and no dinner yet. I have no baggage; was out in the rain all day and until late at night; slept
in my clothes and boots, and could not even wash my face and hands.
I, however, expect my ambulance up pretty soon, when I hope for better things.
I have been through the hospitals, where are many of our own men and of the rebels.
One Virginian sent for me this morning and told me that I was the only general from whom they expected any humanity.
I corrected this mistake.
This is a beautiful little town; several very old houses and churches, pretty gardens.
I have taken possession of a very fine house which Joe Johnston
occupied as his headquarters.
It has a lovely flower-garden and conservatory.
If you were here I should be much inclined to spend some weeks here.
G. W. was one of the whipped community, also Joe Johnston
, Cadmus Wilcox
, A. P. Hill
, D. H. Hill
, Jeb Stuart, Early (badly wounded) ; and many others that we know.
We have all their mounded; eight guns so far. In short, we have given them a tremendous thrashing, and I am not at all ashamed of the conduct of the Army of the Potomac.
Telegram--Williamsburg, May 6, 1862
, 11 P. M.--The battle of Williamsburg
has proved a brilliant victory.
None of your friends injured, though our loss considerable.
That of the enemy severe.
army is doing very well.
was superb yesterday.
. . . Am very tired; had but little sleep last night, and have not had my clothes off; besides, was pretty well wet last night.
I have not a particle of baggage with me; nothing but a buffalo-robe and horse-blanket, not even a hair-brush or tooth-brush
. . . .
Monday, 1 P. M. (8th).
. . . I hope to get Smith
's division off this afternoon, followed by others in the morning.
is some fifteen miles in advance, and will, I hope, communicate with Franklin
to-night, although I am not yet sure that the enemy may not still be between the two.
I shall start to-morrow morning and overtake Smith
I have ordered up headquarters and the accompanying paraphernalia at once, so I hope to get within a few miles of my tooth-brush
in a day or two.
It is not very pleasant, this going entirely without baggage, but it could not be helped.
I find that the results of my operations are beginning to
The rebels are evacuating Norfolk
, I learn.
Your two letters of Sunday and Monday reached me last night.
It would have been easy for me to have sacrificed 10,000 lives in taking Yorktown
, and I presume the world would have thought it more brilliant.
I am content with what I have done.
The battle of Williamsburg
was more bloody.
Had I reached the field-three hours earlier I could have gained far greater results and have saved a thousand lives.
It is, perhaps, well as it is, for officers and men feel that I saved the day . . . .
I don't know where the next battle will occur; I presume on the line of the Chickahominy
, or it may be to-morrow in effecting a junction with Franklin
It may suit the views of the masses better, as being more bloody.
I hope not, and will make it as little so as possible. . . .
. . . I have moved four divisions already.
The reserves have arrived.
My wagons have arrived, and in an hour or two I will move myself. . . . I rather think that we have a very severe battle to fight before reaching Richmond
, but the men are just in the humor for it. . . . Carpet-bag
has at last arrived.
Camp no. 1, May 9, 8.30 P. M.
We are fairly started on the march again; my camp is only about four miles from Williamsburg
The road was so much blocked up with wagons that I did not start till late.
, and Kearny
are all in front of me, the regulars close by. To-morrow headquarters start at five A. M., and will pass all but Smith
, encamping with or just in rear of him. I hope to see Franklin
to-morrow night and learn more of the enemy. . . . The secesh prisoners strongly protested against being obliged to remove the torpedoes at Yorktown
, but without avail, for they had to do it. I think they may be more careful next time.
I heard this afternoon from Stoneman
that they (secesh) had murdered some of our men after they were taken prisoners.
I have given orders to hold all their people we have responsible for it. If it is confirmed to-morrow I will send a flag to Joe Johnston
and quietly inform him that I will hang two of his officers for every one of our men thus murdered; and I will carry the threat into execution.
I will pay them in their own coin, if they wish to carry on war in that manner.
hope there is some mistake about the murders, for I do not wish to make reprisals.
It is a sad business at best. . .
May 10, Saturday, 11.45 P. M., camp 19 miles from Williamsburg.
. . . Am encamped now at an old wooden church, and am in easy communication with Franklin
, etc. Fitz
came over to see me this afternoon, and I go over to see him and Franklin
To-morrow being Sunday, I give the men a rest, merely closing up some of the troops in rear.
I begin to find some Union sentiment in this country. . . . I expect to fight a very severe battle on the Chickahominy
, but feel no doubt as to the result.
I saw the effect of my presence the other day in front of Williamsburg
The men behaved superbly, and will do better, if possible, next time.
To-morrow I will get up supplies, reorganize, arrange details, and get ready for the great fight, feeling that I shall lose nothing by respecting Sunday as far as I can. Secesh is gathering all he can in front of me. So much the better.
I have implicit confidence in my men, and they have in me. What more can I ask? . . .
Sunday, 8 A. M. (same letter as last) .
. . As I told you last night, I am giving my men some rest to-day.
They need it much, for they have for some time been living on long marches, short rations, and rainy bivouacs. . . . My cavalry were within six miles of the upper Chickahominy
is in our possession, the result of my movements . . . .
May 12, Monday
P. M. (same letter
-).--. . While I write the 2d Dragoons' band is serenading, and about fifty others are playing tattoo at various distances — a grand sound in this lovely moonlight night.
My camp is at an old frame church in a grove.
I differ from most of the generals in preferring a tent to a house.
I hope not to sleep in a house again until I see you. . . . Are you satisfied now with my bloodless victories?
Even the Abolitionists seem to be coming round; judging, at least, from the very handsome resolutions offered by Mr. Lovejoy
in the House
I look upon that resolution as one of the most complimentary I know of, and that, too, offered by my bitterest persecutors.
But the union of civic merit with military success is what pleases me most; to have it recognized that I have saved the lives of my
men and won success by my own efforts is to me the height of glory.
I hope that the result in front of Richmond
will cause still greater satisfaction to the country.
I still hope that the God who has been so good to me will continue to smile upon our cause, and enable me to bring this war to a speedy close, so that I may at last have the rest I want so much. . . . I do need rest.
You know I have had but little in my life.
But the will of God be done!
What is given me to do I will try to do with all my might. . . . I think one more battle here will finish the work.
I expect a great one, but feel that confidence in my men and that trust in God which makes me very sanguine as to the result.
They will fight me in front of Richmond
, I am confident.
Defeat there is certain destruction to them, and I think will prove the ruin of their wretched cause.
They are concentrating everything for the last death-struggle.
My government, alas!
is not giving me any aid. But I will do the best I can with what I have, and trust to God's mercy and the courage of my men for the result. . . . We march in the morning to Cumberland
, gradually drawing nearer to Richmond
Another wet, horrid day!
It rained a little yesterday morning, more in the afternoon, much during the night, and has been amusing itself in the same manner very persistently all day. I had expected to move headquarters to White House
to-day; but this weather has put the roads in such condition that I cannot do more than get Franklin
Headquarters cavalry and Hunt
will move there to-morrow; perhaps one or two other divisions as well, We had quite a visitation yesterday in the shape of Secretary Seward
, Gideon Welles
, Mr. Bates
, F. Seward
, Mrs. Goldsborough
and one of her daughters, Mrs. F. Seward
, and some other ladies whose names I did not catch.
I went on board their boat; then had some ambulances harnessed up and took them around camps.
We are just about twenty-five miles from Richmond
here, the advance considerably nearer.
I don't yet know what to make of the rebels.
I do not see how they can possibly abandon Virginia
without a battle; nor do I understand why they abandoned and destroyed Norfolk
and the Merrimac
, unless they also intended to abandon all of Virginia
There is a puzzle there somewhere which will soon be
solved. . . . I am heartily tired of this life I am leading — always some little absurd thing being done by those gentry in Washington
I am every day more and more tired of public life, and earnestly pray that I may soon be able to throw down my sword and live once more as a private gentleman. . . . I confess I find it difficult to judge whether the war will soon be at an end or not. I think that the blows the rebels are now receiving and have lately received ought to break them up; but one can do no more than speculate.
Yes, I can imagine peace and quietness reigning once more in this land of ours.
It is just that
I am fighting for! . . . Still raining hard and dismally; an awful time for the men; the only comfort is that they all have plenty to eat.
9 P. M. (same day).
. . . Have received to-day the official copy of the resolutions of the House
I learn that the Abolitionists begin to think that I am not such a wretch after all, or else that it is best to say so.
It was all a humbug about my being struck by a piece of a shell at Williamsburg
That reminds me of a joke some of the youngsters played upon — at Yorktown
They sent him to see an immense “shell” that had fallen in our headquarters camp.
He found a large oyster-shell . . . .
I send you a photograph which I have just received from Gen. Blume
, chief of artillery
in the Prussian army.
I knew him abroad, and the old gentleman writes to me occasionally.
Telegram--May 16, 1862
, White House
.--Have just arrived over horrid roads.
No further movement possible until they improve.
This house is where Washington
's courtship took place and where he resided when first married.
I do not permit it to be occupied by any one, nor the grounds around.
It is a beautiful spot directly on the banks of the Pamunkey
All well and in fine spirits.
Hope to get our baggage up by water, otherwise will fare badly to-night.
. . I rode over a horrid road to this place this morning; spent some time at Washington's house, or at least his wife's, and afterwards rode to the front, visiting in the course of my ride the old church (St. Peter
's) where he was married.
It is an old brick church with a rather pretentious
tower, more remarkable for its situation than for anything else The situation is very fine, on a commanding hill.
A tablet in the interior records the death of some one in 1690.
As I happened to be there alone for a few moments, I could not help kneeling at the chancel and praying that I might serve my country as truly as he did . . . .
May 17, 8.30 A. M. (same letter).
. . . We have a change in the weather.
It is clear and very hot, so I presume the roads will improve much to-day.
I am pushing on the advanced guard and reconnoissances in various directions.
We gain some ground every day; but our progress has been slow on account of the execrable nature of the roads, as well as their extreme narrowness and fewness in number, making it a very difficult matter to move large masses of men with any rapidity or convenience.
I expect to have our advanced parties near enough to Bottom's bridge to-day to ascertain whether the enemy is there in much force or not, and by to-morrow or next day to obtain similar information about the other bridges-all of which, by the bye, are burned, I believe.
But the river is fordable, so the difficulty is not insuperable by any means.
It is very difficult to divine whether secesh will fight a great battle in front of Richmond
or not; I still think they ought to, but there are some circumstances which look somewhat as if they would evacuate.
Time only will show, and the trial cannot be long deferred.
I am very sorry that we could not have advanced more rapidly; my only consolation is that it has been impossible.
Just think of its requiring forty-eight hours to move two divisions with their trains five miles! Nothing could be much worse than that.
The fastest way to move is never to move in wet weather.
. . . I am now at this present moment involved in a great many different orders for parties to move out at daybreak on reconnoissances. . .
May 18, Sunday, 6 P. M., White House.
. . . We leave here in the morning.
march at four and eight A. M., headquarters at seven.
We will go to Tunstall
's, or perhaps a little beyond it, and will now soon close up on the Chickahominy
and find out what secesh is doing.
I think he will fight us there, or between that and Richmond
; and if he is badly
thrashed (as I trust he will be), incline to believe that he will begin to cry peccavi
and say that he has enough of it, especially if Halleck
beats him at Corinth
. . . .
Midnight (same letter).
. . . I start early in the morning. . . . Those hounds in Washington
are after me again.