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Chapter 8: Seven days campaign. The pursuit

The day after the battle, Saturday, the 28th, was given to the care of the wounded, the burial of the dead, and the collection of the scattered troops. During the night McClellan had begun his retreat to the James, ordering Keyes, with the 4th corps, to cross White Oak Swamp and take position to cover the passage of his trains, which were put in motion early on the 28th. On the 28th, also, the troops which had fought under Porter on the 27th were sent forward across White Oak Swamp.

On the Confederate side it was not yet clear what the enemy would do. Ewell's and Jackson's divisions had not been seriously engaged, and Ewell's was sent down the Chickahominy about seven miles to Despatch Station, to see if they showed any disposition to cross the stream and retreat down the Peninsula. Stuart's cavalry followed the railroad toward White House. Bottom's bridge was found burned, and the next morning White House was also burned and evacuated. On Sunday morning, the 29th, the enemy's intrenchments opposite Magruder and Huger were found abandoned, and his camps and depots were being burned. It was then apparent that his destination was the James River, and Lee, no longer hesitating, issued orders to his whole army for a vigorous pursuit. His best chance, that of destroying Porter's corps, had been lost; but his adversary was on foot in [134] the woods, encumbered with enormous trains which he would try to defend, and there should be opportunities to overwhelm him in detail, and unprotected by breastworks.

Magruder, immediately behind the enemy on the Williamsburg road, was ordered to pursue down that road. Huger, on the Charles City road, was ordered down that road. From the battle-field of the 27th, A. P. Hill and Longstreet were ordered to cross the Chickahominy at New Bridge, and passing in rear of Magruder and Huger to move by the Darbytown, the next road to the right. Ewell from Despatch Station was to rejoin Jackson. Jackson, with the largest force, was directed to pursue by the shortest and most direct route. He was to cross the Chickahominy over the Grapevine bridge, across which Porter had retreated, and which he had partially torn up, and to press directly upon McClellan's rear with his whole force. This comprised his own three brigades under Winder, Ewell's three, D. H. Hill's five, Whiting's two, and Lawton's one, — in all 14 brigades, nearly 25,000 strong.

Looking back upon the course of events, it is interesting to inquire wherein lay the weakness of this order, apparently so simple and obvious in its execution. Yet the pursuit, from this moment, was bootless and a failure. It did capture a few guns and prisoners, but it paid for them in blood a price far beyond their value. There were two ways in which Lee might have pursued. One is that just set forth. The recommendation of that method is that it seemed to reach the enemy with his largest forces by the shortest roads. But, per contra, is the consideration that on the shortest roads will be found the enemy's most formidable rear-guards and obstructions. With energetic lieutenants these may be overcome; but the chance exists whether the proper leaders will be at the right places. The alternate course would have been to leave the direct pursuit over the obstructed roads, and against the enemy's rear-guards, to but two divisions, — those of Magruder and Huger, — while Lee himself with Jackson, Longstreet, and A. P. Hill, moving swiftly around the rear by good roads, and reenforced by Holmes, put the bulk of his army, flushed with its recent victory, directly across McClellan's path near Malvern Hill. [135]

Not only would it count for a great deal that all the divisions should be under the personal eye of the commander, but there was strong probability that Lee might be able to force upon McClellan the disadvantage of having to take the offensive. On this occasion, as it turned out, Jackson was still under his ‘spell,’ and did nothing. Lee, having gone with Longstreet and A. P. Hill, lost touch of all three, — Jackson, Magruder, and Huger, — and entirely failed to get any service from them for the two critical days, the 29th and 30th.

The orders for the pursuit were given soon after sunrise on Sunday, the 29th. Magruder had not entirely absorbed Lee's confidence that McClellan did not have in him the risking of a counterstroke. He knew that there were on the south side fully 60,000 Federals, and that between them and Richmond there were now but 25,000 Confederates. His official report thus describes the situation: —

I received repeated instructions during Saturday night from Gen. Lee's headquarters enjoining upon my command the utmost vigilance, directing the men to sleep on their arms, and to be prepared for whatever might occur. These orders were promptly communicated by me to the different commanders of my forces, and were also transmitted to Gen. Huger on my right. I passed the night without sleep and in superintendence of their execution. Had McClellan massed his whole force in column and advanced against any point in our line . . . though the head of his column would have suffered greatly, its momentum would have insured him success. His failure to do so is the best evidence that our wise commander fully understood the character of his opponent.

Our relief was therefore great when intelligence reached us almost simultaneously from Col. Chilton and one of my staff, that the enemy, whose presence had been ascertained as late as 3.30 A. M., had evacuated his works and was retreating.

Col. Chilton, who rode into my camp on Sunday morning, hurried me off to see Gen. Lee on the Nine Mile road, and I gave, while riding with him, the necessary orders to put in motion my whole command, which extended over a distance of some miles, directing Gen. Griffith's brigade, which was nearest to the road, to advance at once from the centre, and ordering Gen. Jones's division, in advancing, to incline toward Fair Oaks Station, as I had been informed that Maj.-Gen. Jackson had crossed, or was crossing, the Grapevine bridge, and would operate down the Chickahominy. Having overtaken Gen. Lee, we rode together down the Nine Mile road, and the general informed me of the [136] plans which he had adopted for the pursuit of the enemy. They were as follows: Longstreet's division was to have crossed the New Bridge and to take position on our extreme right, so as to intercept the enemy in his attempt to reach James River; Huger's division to march down the Williamsburg road on my right flank, and Maj.-Gen. Jackson's division, which he stated had crossed or was crossing the Grapevine bridge, over the Chickahominy River, was to operate down that river on its right bank, while my own command would press him vigorously in front.

At Fair Oaks Station . . . Gen. Lee, having repeated his instructions, left the ground. . . .

‘I also despatched a staff-officer toward Grapevine Bridge, some three miles off, to ascertain the position of Maj.-Gen. Jackson's troops, which I had supposed from the statements above given had already crossed. . . . In the meantime, Maj. Bryan, the staff-officer who had been sent to Maj.-Gen. Jackson, returned with his [Jackson's] engineer, Lt. Boswell, who reported that Maj.-Gen. Jackson was compelled to rebuild the bridge, which would be completed in about two hours. Maj. Bryan reported that Maj.-Gen. Jackson had crossed but a small portion of his infantry, not more than three companies, over the broken bridge.’

It is plain from this narrative that Lee's orders to Jackson to pursue by the Grapevine bridge road, above referred to, contemplated immediate performance on Jackson's part, and were given at an early hour on Sunday, the 29th. The name Grapevine, applied to this bridge, was taken from a ford of the Chickahominy well known in the neighborhood, and reached by a country road which crossed the swamp by the ford. In building a bridge the Federals utilized the road, and built the bridge near it, but without disturbing the ford, which was practicable at this time, the river being low, even while waiting to repair the bridge.

Meanwhile, too, New Bridge and another bridge, three-quarters of a mile above it, were opened by Lee's order on Saturday, the 28th. The extra distance, which would have been involved in marching from the battle-field to Savage Station by the New Bridge, instead of by the Grapevine route, was only about three miles. But this was Sunday, and Jackson gave it strict observance. The greater part of his troops remained in camp all day and until after midnight Sunday night. Then they made a start at, or before, 2.30 A. M. His official report entirely ignores the receipt of any orders from Gen. Lee, but says: — [137]

‘The 28th and 29th were occupied in disposing of the dead and wounded and repairing Grapevine bridge over the Chickahominy, which McClellan's forces had used in their retreat and destroyed in their rear. During the night of the 29th we commenced crossing the Chickahominy, and on the following morning arrived at Savage Station.’

Lee, in his official report, written as before told, eight months later, accepts the excuse of Grapevine bridge, as follows:—

Jackson's route led to the flank and rear of Savage Station, but he was delayed by the necessity of reconstructing Grapevine bridge. Late in the afternoon, Magruder attacked the enemy with one of his three divisions [two brigades each], and two regiments of another. A severe action ensued, and continued about two hours, when it was terminated by night. The troops displayed great gallantry, and inflicted heavy loss upon the enemy; but, owing to the lateness of the hour and the small force employed, the result was not decisive, and the enemy continued his retreat under cover of darkness, leaving several hundred prisoners, with his dead and wounded, in our hands.’

This was the insignificant outcome of the day, and in his reference to Jackson's delay and to the lateness of the hour and the small force engaged, one may easily read that he had hoped to have had a very different story.

After giving Magruder his orders, but unfortunately without waiting to see that Jackson failed to arrive, Lee had gone over to the Charles City road, where Huger was advancing, and thence he passed on to the Darbytown road to join A. P. Hill and Longstreet. Soon after being left alone, finding that Jackson was not near, Magruder became alarmed at a demonstration of the enemy's rear-guard, and sent such urgent calls for aid to Huger that the latter halted two of his four brigades, and marched back with them to Seven Pines. This lost for his division the cream of the day. Here he discovered the needlessness of Magruder's alarm, and, getting urgent messages from Lee, he returned to the Charles City road, marched down it until he found the enemy's pickets, late in the afternoon, and went into bivouac.

Lee was much disappointed that evening at the lack of results, and wrote Magruder the following note:1— [138]

‘General, I regret much that you have made so little progress to-day in the pursuit of the enemy. In order to reap the fruits of our victory the pursuit should be most vigorous. I must urge you then again to press on his rear, rapidly and steadily. We must lose no more time or he will escape us entirely.’

This note had also a postscript which will be quoted presently in another connection.

Magruder had only brought into action two brigades,— Kershaw's and Semmes's, —and a half of Barksdale's. The force engaged against him had been Sumner's corps, and Smith's division of Franklin's. Heintzelman's corps had also been present in the morning, but in the afternoon it had crossed White Oak Swamp at Brackett's Ford. The remaining nine Federal brigades were, doubtless, too heavy a task for Magruder with only six, but had Jackson with his 14 brigades been present in the morning, the enemy should have been routed. Doubtless Magruder should have employed twice the force he did engage, and taken chances. His two and a half brigades were overmatched, though they fought until dark, losing over 400 men, and capturing prisoners from each of the three divisions opposed to them. They reported next morning 400 dead left by the enemy on the field, but such reports are always overestimated.

Jackson arrived in person at Magruder's headquarters near Savage Station at 3.30 A. M. on Monday, the 30th, and informed Magruder that his troops would be up soon after daylight.

During the night, the entire Federal force had crossed the White Oak Swamp and McClellan had accomplished one-half his retreat safely. He had had only about 16 miles to traverse, and his trains were now upon the last half of it, with his army well concentrated to protect his flank. With one more day his column would be so shortened that no exposed flank would be left, and his whole army could be united in the rear of the train.

This was, therefore, the critical day. Serious blows had threatened the Federals on the 26th at Beaver Dam, on the 27th at Gaines Mill, and on the 29th at Savage Station; but all had been escaped by bad handling on the part of the Confederates. Now a final opportunity was offered to repair all shortcomings, and every condition seemed favorable. Holmes's division, 6000 [139] strong, with six batteries, had been brought from south of the James River, and was at New Market at 10 A. M. on the 30th. Longstreet, with his own and A. P. Hill's divisions, had bivouacked on the Darbytown road, the night before, and this morning they moved into the Long Bridge road, and soon found the enemy's line covering Charles City cross-roads at Frazer's Farm or Glendale, and extending down the Quaker road toward Malvern Hill. These three divisions, 14 brigades, numbered about 23,000 men.

In addition to these, Lee, early on the 30th, had withdrawn Magruder's six brigades, now about 12,000 strong, from Savage Station, and brought them down the Darbytown road within striking distance by 2 P. M., and had halted them at that hour near Timberlake's store.

Huger's four brigades, about 9000 men, were advancing down the Charles City road, and were expected to open the action on this part of the field at an early hour. Either his guns or Jackson's would be the signal for Longstreet and A. P. Hill to take up the battle.

Meanwhile, Jackson, only four miles off in an air line, but all of 15 miles by the public roads, — the only ones generally known, — was confidently expected to make up for his non-appearance of the day before by an early and very vigorous one this morning, assaulting the enemy's rear-guard with his 14 brigades, 25,000 strong, and emulating the reputation he had made in the Valley. Thus, with 44,000 men, all close at hand upon the enemy's flank, and Stonewall Jackson with 25,000 in his rear, fortune seemed at last about to smile broadly for once upon the Confederate cause. Unknown to us, another circumstance was rarely in our favor. The Federal army was temporarily without a head. On the 29th, 30th, and July 1, McClellan, on each day, left his army without placing any one in command during his absence, while he did engineer's duty, examining the localities toward which he was marching. Had the Confederates accomplished their reasonable expectations, the criticism of McClellan would have been very severe.

On the Confederate side, Lee, with Longstreet and Hill, in a field of broom-grass and small pines, waited impatiently for the signal. [140]

He was so close in rear of his line of battle that men and horses among the couriers and staff, were wounded by random shots. For quite a time, too, President Davis and his staff were present, in conference with the generals, while missiles grew more frequent, and wounded men began to come in from the front.

For hours we stood there waiting — waiting for something which never happened. Every minute that we waited was priceless time thrown away. Twelve o'clock came and the precious day was half gone. One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock followed. Even four o'clock drew near, and now, whatever was started, would be cut short by night. Our great opportunity was practically over, and we had not yet pulled a trigger. We had waited for either Huger or Jackson or both to begin, and neither had begun. As Beauregard, at Bull Run, had sent word to Ewell to begin, and then had gone to the centre and waited; as Johnston, at Seven Pines, had given orders to Hill and Longstreet about beginning, and then gone to the left and waited; so now, Lee, having given orders beforehand to both Jackson and Huger, had passed on to the right and was waiting; and in every case the opportunity passed unimproved.

Briefly, this is what had happened, beginning with the extreme right column under Holmes, which, with Magruder's column, was to support Longstreet's right: —

The river road from New Market to Harrison's Landing passed under and around Malvern Heights, between them and the river. From a point on this road, perhaps a mile and a half from the river, across low, flat ground, one could see a considerable expanse of the Malvern Heights, 1000 yards off across the meadows on the left; and over these heights were passing many of the 5000 wagons composing McClellan's trains. No target is more attractive to an artillerist than his enemy's wagon train, and six rifle guns of Holmes's were sent down in the meadows to fire upon these wagons. Lee also saw the position, and approved the attack, and directed Holmes to bring up his whole division to support the guns. But no sooner did the six guns open than they were replied to by 30 of the heaviest rifles of the Federal Artillery Reserve, which, escorted by only about 1500 infantry [141] under Fitz-John Porter, had just arrived on Malvern Heights to occupy the position. The fierce fire of this great battery was quickly aided by the fire of heavy guns from the gunboats in the James— lying in Turkey Bend, and directing their fire by wigwag signals between their mastheads — and the Federals on the Heights. The six guns were quickly wrecked. Two caissons were exploded, and so many horses killed that the guns were with difficulty withdrawn. No fire is so appalling to unseasoned troops as that of heavy artillery received in a thick wood where every shot cuts limbs and smashes trees around them, even though the actual damage from it may be trifling. Holmes's whole division, concealed in the woods in the vicinity of the six guns engaged, was now exposed to such a fire, converging from opposite quarters. There was but one thing to do, and that was to get away. Some commands, especially among the infantry, behaved well, and withdrew in perfect order; some were thrown into confusion, and among some cavalry commands and light artillery a stampede took place. Two guns which had not been engaged were entangled in the woods and abandoned, and many men were run over and injured. Altogether, the confusion was so great that Lee directed Magruder's six brigades to march to Holmes's support, though they could have done no good, as there was nothing for them to attack or defend.

Thus, Holmes and Magruder, 18,000 men, were diverted from the real work of the day. This was just about to begin when this side issue of the cannonade of Malvern Hill was ventured upon. The total casualties in Holmes's division (including 15 wounded among the six guns) were two killed and 49 wounded, besides some injured in the stampede.

Let us next turn to Huger's division. On Sunday, the 29th, the division made but a very short distance down the Charles City road for two reasons. Two of its brigades were called back, and had some miles of extra marching and countermarching in the hot sun by Magruder's false alarm when he found that he was not supported by the proximity of Jackson, as has been already told.

The other two brigades thought it imprudent to pass any road on their left leading across White Oak Swamp, until it had been [142] reconnoitred, as it was known that a large force of the enemy was still on the other side.

At the first of these cross-roads, a force of the enemy was discovered attempting to cross to the south side. It was driven back, and the resulting skirmish consumed the day.

It seems strange that Lee, though at no great distance on the next day (the 30th), should have still failed to see Huger, and either to bring him to the battle, which was waiting for his arrival, or to order it to proceed without him. But there is no intimation in the reports, of any communication; nor, in Huger's proceedings, of any consciousness that important action was waiting upon him.

At another swamp crossing, called Fisher's, Huger's column, Monday morning, discovered that the enemy's forces on the opposite side had been withdrawn. Wright's brigade was then ordered to investigate. He crossed the swamp with his brigade and got into the deserted camps of the enemy on the north side, picking up a few prisoners and finding some abandoned stores.

By 2.30 P. M. he had made his way entirely across to the main road where Jackson, as is yet to be told, with his 14 brigades, was standing at bay at the main crossing, called the White Oak Bridge. Jackson seems to have taken no special interest in Wright's arrival, though it proved that at least one unobstructed crossing of the swamp was within three miles. Jackson ordered Wright to return along the edge of the swamp, to look for crossings as he went, and if he found one, to try and force it; but he sent neither staff-officer to bring back a report, or reenforcements to aid if any favorable point should be found. Apparently, he was satisfied to remain where he was and to do only what he was doing — nothing. Wright started back, and at one and a half miles came to Brackett's Ford, a well-known road, across which a large part of the Federal forces had crossed during the night, and which they had then obstructed by cutting down trees and destroying a small bridge. Pushing two companies of skirmishers through the swamp, Wright captured the enemy's picket force on the south side, but saw, beyond the picket, a force of the enemy with artillery, too strong for his brigade; so he withdrew. Continuing his march along the edge [143] of the swamp another mile and a half, he found a cow trail which led him across it about three-fourths of a mile below his crossing of the morning, and here he encamped. The occupation of Huger's other brigades during the day is given as follows in his official report:—

‘The troops bivouacked in their position while it was dark, and resumed the march at daylight (Monday, June 30). Mahone advanced cautiously, captured many prisoners, and killed some cavalry scouts, one bearing an order to Kearny to retire and keep a strong battery of artillery with his rear-guard. After passing Fisher's house, we found the road obstructed by trees felled all across it. Gen. Mahone found it best to cut a road around the obstructions. For such work we were deficient in tools. The column was delayed while the work was going on, and it was evening before we got through and drove off the workmen who were still cutting down other trees. As we advanced through the woods and came to an open field on high ground (P. Williams on map), a powerful battery of rifled guns opened on us. Gen. Mahone disposed his troops and advanced a battery of artillery, Moorman's, and a sharp artillery fire was kept up for some time. The enemy's fire was very severe and we had many men killed and wounded. List of casualties sent herewith (25 killed, 53 wounded, total 78). I went to the front and examined the position. I withdrew most of our guns, and only kept up a moderate fire. On our left the White Oak Swamp approached very near. The right appeared to be good ground, and I determined to turn the battery by moving a column of infantry to my right. It was now dark.’

It seems incredible that this division, within four miles of Lee, could have been allowed to spend the whole day in a mere contest of axemen, wherein the Federals, with the most axes, had only to cut down, and the Confederates, with the fewest, to cut up and remove. The result could scarcely have been doubtful. Our army at this time compared with an organized and disciplined army about as a confederacy would compare with a nation. Each division was an allied but independent command, rather than a part of a single army.

This will be even more evident in the story of Jackson's column, now to be told. His command had always before acted alone and independently. Lee's instructions to him were very brief and general, in supreme confidence that the Jackson of the Valley would win even brighter laurels on the Chickahominy. The shortest route was assigned to him and the largest force was [144] given him. Lee then took himself off to the farthest flank, as if generously to leave to Jackson the opportunity of the most brilliant victory of the war.

His failure is not so much a military as a psychological phenomenon. He did not try and fail. He simply made no effort. The story embraces two days. He spent the 29th in camp in disregard of Lee's instructions, and he spent the 30th in equal idleness at White Oak Swamp. His 25,000 infantry practically did not fire a shot in the two days.

Here is the story: It has already been related that early Sunday morning, Lee, coming from Jackson's direction, told Magruder that Jackson had been ordered to pursue, and was even then supposed to be crossing the Chickahominy. Magruder was also ordered to attack the enemy, and he and his lieutenants soon sent messengers to establish communication with Jackson. Later, Magruder received a severe shock in the following note from Gen. Jones, commanding one of his three divisions, of two brigades each:—

My line is formed to the left and somewhat to the front of Gen. Cobb. . . . I do not think it prudent for me to attack with my small force, unless there be a simultaneous attack all along our lines. I will keep a good lookout on my left. I had hoped that Jackson would have cooperated with me on my left, but he sends me word that he cannot, as he has other important duty to perform.2

Respectfully, D. R. Jones, Brig.-Gen.

This note, taken in connection with the withdrawal of the two brigades which Huger had sent, depressed Magruder very much. Later in the evening he received some encouragement. Maj. Taylor of Lee's staff, bearing a message, arrived, hunting for Jackson. Upon being told that Jackson had been ‘ordered elsewhere,’ as Magruder loosely quoted his message to Jones, Taylor did not hesitate to say that there must be some mistake. As he did not know the country, and Magruder had upon his staff a Chaplain Allen who did know it, the message for Jackson [145] was intrusted to Allen, and Taylor returned to Lee. But Lee's note that night to Magruder, already quoted (p. 138), contained a postscript, as follows:—

‘P. S. Since the above was written I learn from Maj. Taylor that you are under the impression that Gen. Jackson has been ordered not to support you. On the contrary, he has been directed to do so, and to push the pursuit vigorously.’

It scarcely needs the corroboration of Lee's word to know that, upon his discovery of McClellan's retreat, and his putting the rest of his army in motion with orders to press the enemy, he must have given similar orders to Jackson; and his statement to Magruder, that Jackson was even then crossing at Grapevine bridge, and his sending Taylor later with a message to Jackson, show that he believed his orders were being executed.

The explanation of Jackson's message to Jones is clear in the light of his regard for the Sabbath and from the particular expression used. He mentions no physical obstacle nor any other demand upon his troops, who, indeed, are all resting quietly in their camps, but the ‘important duty’to be performed seems to concern himself rather than his command, and to be entirely personal in character. Evidently, Jackson excused not only himself, but his troops also, because it was Sunday. He certainly considered attendance upon divine service an ‘important duty’ of the first magnitude. He confidently believed that marked regard for the Sabbath would often be followed by God's favor upon one's secular enterprises. If so, why not upon a battle or a campaign? We have seen even Lincoln share the same belief when he stopped the advance of McDowell from Fredericksburg on Sunday, and thus broke up McClellan's campaign, as has been told. (See p. 101.)

The rebuilding of Grapevine bridge was not a serious matter. Lee clearly anticipated no delay there whatever. Jackson's engineer, early Sunday morning, reported that it would be finished in two hours. There was a ford close by, and other bridges within a few miles, but most of Jackson's troops spent the entire day in camp.

His early start next morning would seem to promise more vigor [146] in the performance for that day, but its history does not bear out the promise. It was but seven miles from the bivouacs which his men left about 2.30 A. M. to White Oak Bridge where they went into bivouac at night. No obstacle to a swift march existed, but the earliest arrival noted in the reports is at 9.30 A. M. by Col. Crutchfield of the Artillery. Jackson himself puts it later.

White Oak Swamp rises between the Charles City and the Williamsburg road near where the Confederate lines crossed them, five miles from Richmond. The course of the stream is southeast, almost parallel to that of the Charles City road for about six miles. Then it turns and runs directly toward the Chickahominy some three miles away. Just above this bend was Brackett's Ford, and about a mile below it was the main road crossing at which Jackson arrived about 9.30 A. M., Monday. The stream itself was a small creek, averaging 10 to 15 feet wide and six inches deep, with sandy bottom. The swamp was merely a flat area densely grown up in trees and bushes, more or less wet in places, but generally with firm footing. Small farms and settlements were scattered along its edges, and residents and cattle had many paths in and through it. It was widest near its source, where the country was flatter. Near the bridge the country was rolling and the swamp grew narrow. Four crossings above the bridge were well known to the natives, —Chapman's (or Goodman's), Jourdan's, Fisher's, and Brackett's,—and one below called Carter's; but besides these were many less-known paths.

The road crossing was held by Franklin, who thus describes the operations of the day in his official report:—

About noon I was directed by the commanding general to assume command at the position guarding the crossing of the swamp, and repaired there at once. I found that a terrific cannonade had been opened by the enemy upon the divisions of Gen. Smith and Gen. Richardson and the brigade of Gen. Naglee. The two latter had been placed under my command by the commanding general. The casualties in Richardson's division were quite numerous, but I have received no report of the action from him. In Gen. Smith's division and in Gen. Naglee's brigade the number lost was insignificant.

The enemy kept up the firing during the whole day and crossed some infantry below our position, but he made no very serious attempt to cross during the day, and contented himself with the cannonading and the firing [147] of his sharp-shooters. Nightfall having arrived, and the wagons having all disappeared, I took the responsibility of moving my command to the James River by a road to the left which had not been much used, and arrived at headquarters safely about daylight.

The infantry referred to by Franklin as having crossed were only D. H. Hill's skirmish-line. No effort was made to cross anything more. Jackson's own account of the day is as follows: —

About noon we reached White Oak Swamp, and here the enemy made a determined effort to retard our advance, and thereby prevent an immediate junction between Gen. Longstreet and myself. We found the bridge destroyed and the ordinary place of crossing commanded by their batteries on the opposite side and all approach to it barred by detachments of sharp-shooters concealed in a dense wood close by. A battery of 28 guns from Hill's and Whiting's artillery was placed by Col. Crutchfield in a favorable position for driving off or silencing the opposing artillery. About 2 P. M. it opened suddenly upon the enemy. He fired a few shots in reply, and then withdrew from that position, abandoning part of his artillery. Capt. Wooding was immediately ordered near the bridge to shell the sharp-shooters from the woods, which was accomplished, and Munford's cavalry crossed the creek, but was soon compelled to retire. It was soon seen that the enemy occupied such a position beyond a thick intervening wood on the right of the road as enabled him to command the crossing. Capt. Wooding's batteries turned in the new direction. The fire so opened on both sides was kept up until dark. We bivouacked that night near the swamp.

‘A heavy cannonading in front announced the engagement of Gen. Longstreet at Frazier's Farm and made me anxious to press forward, but the marshy character of the soil, the destruction of the bridge over the marsh and creek, and the strong position of the enemy for defending the passage prevented my advancing until the following morning. During the night the Federals retired.’

Considered as an excuse for Jackson's inaction during the whole day this report is simply farcical.

It appears from subordinate reports that the long delay between the arrival of the head of Jackson's column and the opening of his 28 guns was caused by cutting a road to enable the guns to be kept concealed while getting position. Concealment here was of little value, and the time thus lost by the artillery, and the sending across of Munford's cavalry at the road crossing, illustrate the prominent feature of Jackson's conduct during the whole Seven Days, — to wit: a reluctance to bring his infantry into action. Here infantry alone could accomplish anything, [148] but only cavalry and artillery were called upon. He could have crossed a brigade of infantry as easily as Munford's cavalry, and that brigade could have been the entering wedge which would split apart the Federal defence and let in the 13 brigades which followed. The bridge, whose destruction is mentioned, was not necessary to a crossing. It was only a high-water bridge with a ford by it which was preferably used except in freshets. Now the floor of the bridge, made of poles, had been thrown into the ford, but Munford's cavalry got through without trouble, and infantry could have swarmed across.

The cannonade, which was kept up during all the rest of the day, was not only a delusion, but a useless burning both of daylight and ammunition, for it was all random fire. The Federal and Confederate artillery could not see each other at all. They could scarcely even see the high-floating smoke clouds of each other's guns. They fired by sound, at a distance of threequar-ters of a mile, across a tall dense wood, until they exhausted their ammunition. One Federal battery reported the expenditure of 1600 rounds. The noise was terrific, and some firing was kept up until nine o'clock at night, but the casualties on each side were naturally but trifling. Only one Confederate battery, Rhett's, mentions any, and it reported but two killed and five wounded.

No reconnoissance was made for other crossings, even of Brackett's, over which much of the Federal force had passed, until Wright's brigade arrived and was sent back, as has been told. Meanwhile, two other crossings available for infantry were discovered within a very short distance below, and were both at once reported to Jackson by the officers discovering them —Col. Munford, commanding his cavalry, and Gen. Hampton, commanding the 3d brigade of Jackson's division. I have in possession letters from Munford to Hampton, and from Hampton to myself, giving the following details.

I have already quoted from Jackson's report that his cavalry, sent across the creek at first, was forced to retire. Col. Munford in a letter to Gen. Hampton, dated Mar. 23, 1901, writes:—

At the battle of White Oak Swamp, after Col. Crutchfield's artillery had disabled one gun, and driven the cannoneers from the battery which commanded the crossing at the old bridge at White Oak Swamp, Gen. [149] Jackson directed me to cross the creek, with my regiment, at the ford, and to secure the guns in front of us. The enemy's sharp-shooters were stationed in rear of the building overlooking the ford; and as soon as we neared the abandoned battery of the enemy, these sharp-shooters, and another battery stationed in the road at the edge of the woods, and commanding the road and the ford over which we had passed, opened a furious fire upon us, and I was forced to move a quarter of a mile lower down the creek, where I found a cow path which led me over the swamp. But en route, I found where Gen. Franklin's troops had been located, having now changed front. They had left a long line of knapsacks and blankets, from which I allowed my men to take what they pleased; and among their things were many late newspapers from Washington, which I despatched by a courier to Gen. Jackson, giving him full information of what I had seen and how and where I had crossed.

Thirty-nine years is too long a time to attempt to say what I wrote him, but I know that I thought, all the time, that he could have crossed his infantry where we recrossed. I had seen his infantry cross far worse places, and I expected that he would attempt it.

We remained near where we recrossed all day, with a vidette on the other side of the swamp. He put his sharp-shooters in on the right of the ford, and made no attempt to cross where we recrossed.

Why, I never understood.

Yours sincerely, Thomas T. Munford.

All the crossings so far described were paths already marked by use of men and cattle, but another opportunity was discovered and brought to Jackson's notice by Hampton, who was an expert woodsman and hunter. While the infantry stood idly by and the useless cannonade went on, nothing was more natural to Hampton than a personal reconnaissance in front. He found a crossing and the flank of the enemy's infantry line. He returned and reported it to Jackson. In the last year of his life he wrote out the story as given below. He has only omitted from it, modestly, the fact that, when he reported to Jackson his discovery, he begged permission to take his brigade across immediately and attack it. This request was at first put off by the order to go and build a bridge. After the bridge was reported finished, the whole matter was silently ignored, as his narrative describes.

Hampton's narrative is as follows: —

We left the Chickahominy on Monday morning, June 30, though my impression is that the Grapevine bridge could have been used on Sunday, and [150] at any rate there was a good ford of the stream not far below the bridge, near the road followed by the retreating enemy. Early on the morning of Monday we reached the White Oak crossing, my brigade being in advance; and about the same time the 2d Va. Cav. under Col. Munford came up. This regiment had accompanied Gen. Jackson from the Valley covering his advance.

We found a large hospital tent on the brow of the hill overlooking the crossing of the small stream over which a little bridge of poles had been made. The enemy had pulled off the poles and thrown them in the stream above the bridge, and a battery of four guns on the opposite hill commanded the causeway and the ford of the stream. Gen. Jackson ran up some guns and soon silenced those of the enemy, disabling one of them. The battery was withdrawn, and Gen. Jackson, accompanied by the regiment of cavalry, crossed with a view, I suppose, of capturing the disabled gun, or of ascertaining the position of the enemy—none of whom were in sight except those manning the gun. In a few minutes the General returned alone, while Munford took his regiment a short distance down the stream, where he crossed without difficulty. As there were no further hostile demonstrations where we were, I placed my brigade in a pine forest on the left of the road leading to the ford, directing the men to lie down; and, desiring to ascertain the character of the ground in front of us, I rode to the edge of the swamp, accompanied by Capt. Rawlins Lowndes, and my son Wade, who was serving on my staff at that time. The swamp was comparatively open, the ground not at all boggy, and we soon struck the stream.

This was very shallow, with a clear sandy bottom, and not more than 10 or 15 feet wide. Crossing this, we soon came in sight of the open land opposite our position.

We could see a very wide and deep ravine in which was a line of Federals lying down in line of battle, and evidently expecting, if any attack was made upon them, it would be from the open field below the ford of the stream. In this event their position would have been very strong.

Withdrawing without attracting their notice, I returned across the swamp and gave to Gen. Jackson all the facts stated above.

He asked if I could make a bridge across the stream, to which I replied that I could make one for the infantry, but not for artillery, as cutting a road would disclose our position. He directed me to make the bridge. Ordering a detail of my men to cut some poles where they were standing and to carry them into the swamp, a bridge was made in a few minutes. I then again reconnoitred the position of the enemy whom I found perfectly quiet — unsuspecting. On my return to our side of the swamp, I found Gen. Jackson seated on a fallen pine alongside of the road that led down to the ford, and seating myself by him, I reported the completion of the bridge and the exposed position of the enemy. He drew his cap [151] down over his eyes which were closed, and after listening to me for some minutes, he rose without speaking, and the next morning we found Franklin with the rest of the Federal troops concentrated on Malvern Hill.

While we were waiting at the White Oak crossing we heard the noise of Longstreet's battle at Frazier's Farm, and Capt. or Maj. Fairfax of Longstreet's staff came with a message from the general to Gen. Jackson. Though I heard this message, I cannot recall it. . . . In speaking to Gen. Lee in 1868 on this subject he expressed the greatest surprise at my account of this matter, and he said that he never had understood why the delay had occurred. . . .

Gen. Jackson was too great a soldier, and I was too much attached to him, for me to venture to criticise his actions or his plans, but it seems to me that everything which throws light on the plans of our great chief, Gen. Lee, should go down in history. I believe that if Franklin, who opposed us at White Oak, could have been defeated, the Federal army would have been destroyed. . . .

Yours truly,

Much comment suggests itself, but little is needed: Who that fought with Lee can picture to himself without emotion what might have happened had the Jackson of the Valley had the opportunity presented to him which Gen. Hampton has described as offered in vain to the Jackson of the Chickahominy.

Franklin, commanding the Federal force here opposed to Jackson, wrote of this occasion as follows (battles and leaders, II., 381): —

Jackson seems to have been ignorant of what Gen. Lee expected of him, and badly informed about Brackett's Ford. When he found how strenuous was our defence at the bridge, he should have turned his attention to Brackett's Ford, also. A force could have been as quietly gathered there as at the bridge; a strong infantry movement at the ford would have easily overrun our small force there, placing our right at Glendale, held by Slocum's division, in great jeopardy, and turning our force at the bridge by getting between it and Glendale. In fact, it is likely that we should have been defeated that day, had Gen. Jackson done what his great reputation seems to have made it imperative he should have done.

D. H. Hill (who was Jackson's brother-in-law), writing in the Century of this occasion many years after the war, says: —

Our cavalry (Munford's regiment) returned by the lower ford and pronounced it perfectly practicable for infantry; but Jackson did not advance. Why was this? It was the critical day for both commanders, [152] but especially for McClellan. With consummate skill he had crossed his vast train of 5000 wagons, and his immense parks of artillery, safely over White Oak Swamp, but he was more exposed now than at any time in his flank march. Three columns of attack were converging on him and a strong corps was pressing upon his rear. Escape seemed impossible for him, but he did escape. . . . Gen. Lee, through no fault in his plans, was to see his splendid prize slip through his hands. Longstreet and A. P. Hill struck the enemy at Frazier's Farm (or Glendale) at 3 P. M., and both being always ready for a fight, immediately attacked. . . . There were five divisions within sound of the firing and within supporting distance, but not one of them moved. . . . Maj. Dabney, in his life of Jackson, thus comments on the inaction of that affair: “On this occasion it would appear, if the vast interests dependent upon Gen. Jackson's cooperation with the proposed attack upon the centre were considered, that he came short of the efficiency in action for which he was elsewhere noted.”

After showing how the crossing of White Oak might have been effected, Dabney adds: “The list of casualties might have been longer than that presented on the 30th, of one cannoneer wounded, but how much shorter would have been the bloody list filled up the next day at Malvern Hill? This temporary eclipse of Jackson's genius was probably to be explained by physical causes. The labor of the previous days, the sleeplessness, the wear of gigantic cares, with the drenching of the comfortless night, had sunk the elasticity of his will and the quickness of his invention, for the nonce, below their wonted tension.”

D. H. Hill does not comment upon this explanation, but it will not bear examination. For two days Jackson and his command had been quietly in camp; and his lapse from duty, while culminating only on June 29 and 30, in fact dated from the very first of the Seven Days. Hill submits his own explanation of the matter as follows:—

‘I think that an important factor in this inaction was Jackson's pity for his own corps, worn out by long and exhausting marches, and reduced in numbers by its numerous sanguinary battles. He thought that the garrison of Richmond ought now to bear the brunt of the fighting. ’3

This last expression is but another form of a rumor which, to my knowledge, had private circulation at the time among the staff-officers of some of the leading generals. It was reported that Jackson had said that ‘he did not intend that his men should do all the fighting.’ [153]

Jackson's troops (his own and Ewell's divisions) had had a sharp campaign in the Valley, but the rest of the army at Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Seven Pines had suffered just as many hardships, and done even more severe fighting, as the casualties will attest. There were no arrears to be made up. The total killed and wounded of Jackson's six brigades in the Valley campaign from Kernstown (March 23) to Port Republic (June 9) were but 2311. Three brigades—Rodes's, Garland's, and G. B. Anderson's of D. H. Hill's division—had had killed and wounded the first day at Seven Pines 2621. During the Seven Days they lost 2277 more, while Jackson's six brigades lost but 1152.

It is only natural and right that every division commander should feel both pity and affection for his own men, but to manifest either by shirking battle is no real kindness to them, apart from the tremendous consequences to the army and the nation.

We may now return to Lee, Longstreet, and A. P. Hill at Frazier's Farm or Glendale, where we left them waiting vainly for the sounds of battle from Huger and Jackson. Between three and four o'clock the enemy, aware of their proximity, unwisely increased the fire of one of their batteries. Longstreet ordered Jenkins, second to none in either courage or ambition, to charge it. Jenkins charged the battery and got possession, but was attacked by the infantry in support. This brought on the battle at once, though not in the best shape; for, instead of one simultaneous attack by the whole force, more time was wasted, and the brigades came in in piecemeal. A very desperate fight ensued, and lasted until long after dark, with varying fortunes. There were present but the two Confederate divisions, 12 brigades, which had borne the brunt of the 27th at Gaines Mill, and had lost 4300 men out of 22,000 engaged. They were taking the aggressive against Kearny's, McCall's, and Hooker's divisions (about 25,000 men), carefully posted, with some protection and obstructions.

A fourth division, Sedgwick's, was in reserve in a second line behind McCall, and a fifth, Slocum's, was near on the right, each over 8000 strong. Almost the whole of these 40,000 troops took part in the battle. Within an hour's march were Richardson's and Smith's divisions and Naglee's brigade, 23,000 more, which [154] could have been called in if needed. It goes without saying that while the Confederates might have more or less success, at the beginning, depending upon the cooperation of their brigades, only the approach of night could prevent their being finally repulsed and driven from the field, with losses proportionate to the persistence of their attacks.

No more desperate encounter took place in the war; and nowhere else, to my knowledge, so much actual personal fighting with bayonet and butt of gun. Randol's battery, over which it began, was taken and retaken several times. Once, when in possession of the 11th Ala. regiment of Wilcox's brigade, it was charged by McCall's Pa. Reserves, and after a desperate bayonet fight each side fell back to adjacent woods, leaving the guns deserted, but under fire from both sides. Wilcox's report gives illustrations of the character of the fighting:—

Capt. W. C. Y. Parker had two successive encounters with Federal officers, both of whom he felled with his sword, and, beset by others of the enemy, he was severely wounded, having received two bayonet wounds in the breast and one in his side, and a musket ball breaking his left thigh.

Lt. Michie had a hand-to-hand collision with an officer, and having just dealt a severe blow upon his adversary, he fell, cut over the head with a sabre-bayonet from behind, and had afterward three bayonet wounds in the face and two in the breast, —all severe wounds which he survived, however, for three days.’

A little later, Field's brigade of Hill's division, in a countercharge, again had bayonet fighting, and drove McCall's line back for a half-mile, and held the ground until the captured guns were carried safely to the rear. Severe fighting continued to take place until after dark. The enemy became so aggressive that Lee felt it necessary to send for Magruder's six brigades which had been unwisely marched to reenforce Holmes, and which had lost distance and time by confusion of roads and guides. These unfortunate troops, which had been marching all day, were now marched and countermarched until long after midnight, so that they were thoroughly exhausted when they reached the field, and were put in front of those who had been equally worn out in the desperate fighting. Meanwhile a ruse which had been practised seems to have been successful in bringing [155] the pressure of the enemy's fresh battalions to an end. A. P. Hill thus describes it: —

‘About dark the enemy were pressing us hard along our whole line, and my last reserve, Gen. J. R. Anderson, with his Ga. brigade, was directed to advance cautiously, and be careful not to fire on our friends. His brigade was formed in line, two regiments on each side of the road, and, obeying my instructions to the letter, received the fire of the enemy at 70 paces before engaging themselves. Heavy reenforcements to the enemy were brought up at this time, and it seemed that a tremendous effort was being made to turn the fortunes of the battle. The volume of fire that, approaching, rolled along the line, was terrific. Seeing some troops of Wilcox's brigade, with the assistance of Lt. Chamberlayne and other members of my staff, they were rapidly formed, and being directed to cheer long and loudly moved again to the fight. This seemed to end the contest, and in less than five minutes all firing ceased and the enemy retired.’

In this battle the losses of Longstreet's division were about 2600 and in A. P. Hill's about 1700; total 4300. The Federal losses are not given separately, but were, doubtless, not very unequal. McCall was captured, riding into our lines by mistake, and we also secured 18 guns, besides some prisoners, and the gleanings of the field in small-arms.

Lee, an example for all time of restraint in expressing personal feeling, wrote in his report of this battle: —

‘Could the other commands have cooperated in this action, the result would have proved most disastrous to the enemy.’

I have often thought that in his retrospect of the war no one day of the whole four years would seem to him more unfortunate than June 30, 1862. It was, undoubtedly, the opportunity of his life, for the Confederacy was then in its prime, with more men available than ever before or after. And at no other period would the moral or the physical effect of a victory have been so great as upon this occasion.

1 O. R. 13, 687.

2 13 W. R., 675, incorrectly dated June 28. On the 28th the retreat of the enemy was not known, and there were no orders to attack, or for Jackson to cross the Chickahominy. The situation is that of the 29th. The italics are mine.

3 The italics are mine.

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