The Peninsular campaign.
Fort Monroe--parade of the 3d Pennsylvania Artillerv.
From a photograph.|
In the following pages I purpose to give a brief sketch of the Peninsular campaign
As it is impossible, within the limits available, to describe even the most important battles, I shall confine myself to strategical considerations.
But even this requires a rapid review of the circumstances under which, from a small assemblage of unorganized citizens, utterly ignorant of war and almost of the use of arms, was evolved that mighty Army of the Potomac, which, unshaken alike in victory and defeat, during a long series of arduous campaigns against an army most ably commanded and the equal in heroism of any that ever met the shock of battle, proved itself worthy to bear on its bayonets the honor and fate of the nation.
In July, 1861, after having secured solidly for the Union
that part of western Virginia
north of the Kanawha
and west of the mountains, I was suddenly called to Washington
on the day succeeding the first battle of Bull Run
Reaching the capital on the 26th, I found myself assigned to the command of that city and of the troops gathered around it.
All was chaos and despondency; the city was filled with intoxicated stragglers, and an attack was expected.
The troops numbered less than fifty thousand, many of whom were so demoralized and undisciplined that they could not be relied upon even for defensive purposes.
Moreover, the term of service of a large part had already expired, or was on the point of
doing so. On the Maryland
side of the Potomac
no troops were posted on the roads leading into the city, nor were there any intrenchments.
On the Virginia
side the condition of affairs was better in these respects, but far from satisfactory.
Sufficient and fit material of war did not exist.
The situation was difficult and fraught with danger.
The first and most pressing demand was the immediate safety of the capital and the Government
This was secured by enforcing the most rigid discipline, by organizing permanent brigades under regular officers, and by placing the troops in good defensive positions, far enough to the front to afford room for manoeuvring and to enable the brigades to support each other.
The contingency of the enemy's crossing the Potomac
above the city was foreseen and promptly provided for. Had he attempted this “about three months after the battle of Manassas
,” he would, upon reaching “the rear of Washington
,” have found it covered by respectable works, amply garrisoned, with a sufficient disposable force to move upon his rear and force him to “a decisive engagement.”
It would have been the greatest possible good fortune for us if he had made this movement at the time in question, or even some weeks earlier.
It was only for a very few days after the battle of Bull Run
that the movement was practicable, and every day added to its difficulty.
Two things were at once clear: first, that a large and thoroughly organized army was necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion; second, that Washington
must be so strongly fortified as to set at rest any reasonable apprehensions of its being carried by a sudden attack, in order that the active army might be free to move with the maximum strength and on any line of operations without regard to the safety of the capital.
These two herculean tasks were entered upon without delay or hesitation.
They were carried to a successful conclusion, without regard to that impatient and unceasing clamor — inevitable among a people unaccustomed to war — which finally forced the hand of the general charged with their execution.
He regarded their completion as essential to the salvation of his country, and determined to accomplish them, even if sacrificed in the endeavor.
Nor has he, even at this distant day, and after much bitter experience, any regret that he persisted in his determination.
was surrounded by a line of strong detached works, armed with garrison artillery, and secure against assault.
Intermediate points were occupied by smaller works, battery epaulements, infantry intrenchments, etc. The result was a line of defenses which could easily be held by a comparatively small garrison against any assault, and could be reduced only by the slow operations of a regular siege, requiring much time and material, and affording full opportunity to bring all the resources of the country to its relief.
At no time during the war was the enemy able to undertake the siege of Washington
, nor, if respectably garrisoned, could it ever have been in danger from an assault.
The maximum garrison necessary to hold the place against a siege from any and every quarter was 34,000 troops, with 40 field-guns; this included the requisite reserves.
With regard to the formation of the Army of the Potomac, it must suffice to say that everything was to be created from the very foundation.
Raw men and officers were to be disciplined and instructed.
The regular army was too small to furnish more than a portion of the general officers
, and a very small portion of the staff, so that the staff-departments and staff-officers were to be fashioned mainly out of the intelligent and enthusiastic, but perfectly
View of Alexandria from the camp of the 40th New York Volunteers.
From a sketch made in November, 1861.|
raw, material furnished.
Artillery, small-arms, and ammunition were to be fabricated, or purchased from abroad; wagons, ambulances, bridge trains, camp equipage, hospital stores, and all the vast impedimenta
and material indispensable for an army in the field, were to be manufactured.
So great was the difficulty of procuring small-arms that the armament of the infantry was not satisfactorily completed until the winter, and a large part of the field-batteries were not ready for service until the spring of 1862.
As soon as possible divisions were organized, the formation being essentially completed in November.
On the 1st of November, upon the retirement of General Winfield Scott
, I succeeded to the command of all the armies, except the Department of Virginia, which comprised the country within sixty miles of Fort Monroe
Upon assuming the general command, I found that the West
was far behind the East
in its state of preparation, and much of my time and large quantities of material were consumed in pushing the organization of the Western
Meanwhile the various coast expeditions were employed in seizing important points of the enemy's sea-board, to facilitate the prevention of blockade-running, and to cut or threaten the lines of communication near the coast, with reference to subsequent operations.
The plan of campaign which I adopted for the spring of 1862 was to push forward the armies of Generals Halleck
to occupy Memphis
, and Knoxville
, and the line of the Memphis and Danville Railroad, so as to deprive the enemy of that important line, and force him to adopt the circuitous routes by Augusta
, and Charleston
It was also
intended to seize Washington, North Carolina
, at the earliest practicable moment, and to open the Mississippi
by effecting a junction between Generals Halleck
This movement of the Western
armies was to be followed by that of the Army of the Potomac from Urbana
, on the lower Rappahannock
[see map, next page], to West Point
, intending, if we failed to gain Richmond
by a rapid march, to cross the James
and attack the city in rear, with the James
as a line of supply.
So long as Mr. Cameron
was Secretary of War
I received the cordial support of that department; but when he resigned, the whole state of affairs changed.
I had never met Mr. Stanton
before reaching Washington
, in 1861.
He at once sought me and professed the utmost personal affection, the expression of which was exceeded only by the bitterness of his denunciation of the Government
and its policy.
I was unaware of his appointment as Secretary of War
until after it had been made, whereupon he called to ascertain whether I desired him to accept, saying that to do so would involve a total sacrifice of his personal interests, and that the only inducement would be the desire to assist me in my work.
Having no reason to doubt his sincerity, I desired him to accept, whereupon he consented, and with great effusion exclaimed: “Now we two will save the country.”
On the next day the President
came to my house to explain why he had appointed Mr. Stanton
without consulting me; his reason being that he supposed Stanton
to be a great friend of mine, and that the appointment would naturally be satisfactory, and that he feared that if I had known it beforehand it would be said that I had dragooned him into it.
The more serious difficulties of my position began with Mr. Stanton
's accession to the War Office.
It at once became very difficult to approach
Map of the Virginia campaigns.|
him, even for the transaction of ordinary current business, and our personal relations at once ceased.
The impatience of the Executive
immediately became extreme, and I can attribute it only to the influence of the new Secretary
, who did many things to break up the free and confidential intercourse that had heretofore existed between the President
The Government soon manifested great impatience in regard to the opening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the destruction of the Confederate batteries on the Potomac
The first object could be permanently attained only by occupying the Shenandoah Valley with a force strong enough to resist any attack by the Confederate army then at Manassas
; the second only by
Quartermaster's dock, Fort Monroe.
From a sketch made in 1862.|
a general advance of the Army of the Potomac, driving the enemy back of the Rapidan
My own view was that the movement of the Army of the Potomac from Urbana
would accomplish both of these objects, by forcing the enemy to abandon all his positions and fall back on Richmond
I was therefore unwilling to interfere with this plan by a premature advance, the effect of which must be either to commit us to the overland route, or to minimize the advantages of the Urbana
I wished to hold the enemy at Manassas
to the last moment — if possible until the advance from Urbana
had actually commenced, for neither the reopening of the railroad nor the destruction of the batteries was worth the danger involved.
The positive order of the President
, probably issued under the pressure of the Secretary of War
, forced me to undertake the opening of the railway.
For this purpose I went to Harper's Ferry
in February, intending to throw over a force sufficient to occupy Winchester
To do this it was necessary to have a reliable bridge across the Potomac
— to insure supplies and prompt reenforcements.
The pontoon-bridge, thrown as a preliminary, could not be absolutely trusted on a river so liable to heavy freshets; therefore it was determined to construct a canal-boat bridge.
It was discovered, however, when the attempt was made, that the lift-lock from the canal to the river was too narrow for the boats by some four or five inches, and I therefore decided to rebuild the railroad bridge, and content myself with occupying Charlestown
until its completion, postponing to the same time the advance to Winchester
I had fully explained my intentions to the President
before leaving Washington
, providing for precisely such a contingency.
While at Harper's Ferry
I learned that the President
was dissatisfied with my action, and on reaching Washington
I laid a full explanation before the Secretary
, with which he expressed himself entirely satisfied, and told me that the President
was already so, and that it was unnecessary for me to communicate with him on the subject.
I then proceeded with the preparations necessary to force the evacuation of the Potomac
On the very day appointed for the division commanders to come to headquarters to receive their final orders, the President
sent for me. I then learned that he had received
no explanation of the Harper's Ferry
affair, and that the Secretary
was not authorized to make the statement already referred to; but after my repetition of it the President
became fully satisfied with my course.
He then, however, said that there was another “very ugly matter” which he desired to talk about, and that was the mov ement by the lower Chesapeake
He said that it had been suggested that I proposed this movement with the “traitorous” purpose of leaving Washington
uncovered and exposed to attack.
I very promptly objected to the coupling of any such adjective with my purposes, whereon he disclaimed any intention of conveying the idea that he expressed his own opinion, as he merely repeated the suggestions of others.
I then explained the purpose and effect of fortifying Washington
, and, as I thought, removed his apprehensions, but informed him that the division commanders were to be at headquarters that morning, and suggested that my plans should be laid before them that they might give their opinion as to whether the capital would be endangered; I also said that in order to leave them perfectly untrammeled I would not attend the meeting.
Accordingly they met on the 8th of March and approved my plans.
On the same day was issued, without my knowledge, the order forming army corps and assigning the senior general officers
to their command.2
My own views were that, as the command of army corps involved great responsibility and demanded ability of a high order, it was safer to postpone their formation until trial in the field had shown which general officers could best perform those vital functions.
An incompetent division commander could not often jeopardize the safety of an army; while an unfit corps commander could easily lose a battle and frustrate the best-conceived plan of campaign.
Of the four corps commanders, one only had commanded so much as a regiment in the field prior to the Bull Run
On the next day intelligence arrived that the enemy was abandoning his positions.
I crossed to the Virginia
side to receive information more promptly and decide upon what should be done.
During the night I determined to advance the whole army, to take advantage of any opportunity to strike the enemy, to break up the permanent camps, give the troops a little experience on the march and in bivouac, get rid of extra baggage, and test the working of the staff-departments.
If this were done at all, it must be done promptly, and by moving the troops by divisions, without waiting to form the army corps.
Accordingly, I telegraphed to the Secretary
, explaining the state of the case and asking authority to postpone the army corps formation until the completion of the movement.
The reply was an abrupt and unrea sonable refusal.
I again telegraphed, explaining the situation and throwing the responsibility upon the Secretary
, whereupon he gave way.
Meanwhile, as far back as the 27th of February, orders had been given for collecting the transportation necessary to carry out the Urbana
This conclusion had been reached after full discussion.
On the 27th of January had been issued the President
's General War Order No. 1
, directing a general movement of the land and naval forces against the enemy on the 22d of February.
On the 31st of January was issued the President
's Special War Order No. 1
, directing the Army of the Potomac to advance to the attack of Manassas
on the 22d of February.
The President, however, permitted me to state my objections to this order, which I did, at length, in a letter of February 3d, to the Secretary of War
As the President
's order was not insisted upon, although never formally revoked, it is to be assumed that my letter produced, for a time at least, the desired effect.
had been abandoned by the enemy
Map of the Peninsular campaign.|
and he had withdrawn behind the Rapidan
, the Urbana
movement lost much of its promise, as the enemy was now in position to reach Richmond
before we could do so. The alternative remained of making Fort Monroe
and its vicinity the base of operations.
The plan first adopted was to commence the movement with the First Corps as a unit, to land north of Gloucester
and move thence on West Point
; or, should circumstances render it advisable, to land a little below Yorktown
to turn the defenses between that place and Fort Monroe
The Navy Department were confident that we could rely upon their vessels to neutralize the Merrimac
and aid materially in reducing the batteries on the York River
either by joining in the attack or by running by them and gaining their rear.
As transports arrived very slowly, especially those for horses, and the great impatience of the Government
grew apace, it became necessary to embark divisions as fast as vessels arrived, and I decided to land them at Fort Monroe
, holding the First Corps to the last, still intending to move it in mass to turn Gloucester
On the 17th of March the leading division embarked at Alexandria
The campaign was undertaken with the intention of taking some 145,000 troops, to be increased by a division of 10,000 drawn from the troops in the vicinity of Fort Monroe
, giving a total of 155,000.
Strenuous efforts were made to induce the President
to take away Blenker
's German division of 10,000 men. Of his own volition he at first declined, but the day before I left Washington
he yielded to the non-military pressure and reluctantly gave the order, thus reducing the expected force to 145,000.
While at Fairfax Court House, on the 12th of March, I learned that there had appeared in the daily papers the order relieving me from the general command of all the armies and confining my authority to the Department of the Potomac.
I had received no previous intimation of the intention of the Government
in this respect.
Thus, when I embarked for Fort Monroe
on the 1st of April, my command extended from Philadelphia
, from the Alleghanies
, including the Shenandoah
, to the Atlantic
; for an order had been issued a few days previous placing Fort Monroe
and the Department of Virginia, under my command, and authorizing me to with — draw from the troops therein ten thousand, to form a division to be added to the First Corps.
The fortifications of Washington
were at this time completed and armed.
I had already given instructions for the refortification of Manassas
, the reopening of the Manassas Gap Railroad, the protection of its bridges by block-houses, the intrenchment of a position for a brigade at or near the railroad crossing of the Shenandoah
, and an intrenched post at Chester Gap
I left about 42,000 troops for the immediate defense of Washington
, and more than 35,000 for the Shenandoah Valley--an abundance to insure the safety of Washington
and to check any attempt to recover the lower Shenandoah
and threaten Maryland
Beyond this force, the reserves of the Northern States
were all available.
On my arrival at Fort Monroe
on the 2d of April, I found five divisions of infantry, Sykes
's brigade of regulars, two regiments of cavalry, and a portion of the reserve artillery disembarked.
Another cavalry regiment and a part of a fourth had arrived, but were still on shipboard; comparatively few wagons had come.
On the same day came a telegram stating that the Department of Virginia was withdrawn from my control, and forbidding me to form the division of ten thousand men without General Wool
I was thus deprived of the command of the base of operations, and the ultimate strength of the army was reduced to 135,000--another serious departure from the plan of campaign.
Of the troops disembarked, only four divisions, the regulars, the majority of the reserve artillery, and a part of the cavalry, could be moved, in consequence of the lack of transportation.
's division was
Headquarters of General Heintzelman, commanding the Third Army Corps at Howe's saw-mill, before Yorktown [see map, P. 188]. from a sketch made at the time.|
unable to leave Newport News until the 16th, from the impossibility of supplying it with wagons.
The best information obtainable represented the Confederate
troops around Yorktown
as numbering at least fifteen thousand, with about an equal force at Norfolk
; and it was clear that the army lately at Manassas
, now mostly near Gordonsville
, was in position to be thrown promptly to the Peninsula
It was represented that Yorktown
was surrounded by strong earth-works, and that the Warwick River
, instead of stretching across the Peninsula
,--as proved to be the case,--came down to Lee's Mills from the North
, running parallel with and not crossing the road from Newport News to Williamsburg
It was also known that there were intrenched positions of more or less strength at Young's Mills
, on the Newport News road, and at Big Bethel, Howard's Bridge, and Ship's Point
, on or near the Hampton
road, and at Williamsburg
[see map, p. 188].
On my arrival at Fort Monroe
, I learned, in an interview with Flag--Officer Goldsborough
, that he could not protect the James
as a line of supply, and that he could furnish no vessels to take an active part in the reduction of the batteries at York
or to run by and gain their rear.
He could only aid in the final attack after our land batteries had essentially silenced their fire.
I thus found myself with 53,000 men in condition to move, faced by the conditions of the problem just stated.
Information was received that Yorktown
was already being reenforced from Norfolk
, and it was apprehended that the main Confederate army would promptly follow the same course.
I therefore determined to move at once with the force in hand, and endeavor to seize a point — near the Halfway House
— between Yorktown
, where the Peninsula
is reduced to a narrow neck, and thus cut off the retreat of the Yorktown
garrison and prevent the arrival of reenforcements.
The advance commenced on the morning of the 4th of April, and was arranged to turn successively the intrenchments on the two roads; the result being that, on the afternoon of the 5th, the Third Corps was engaged with the enemy's outposts in front of Yorktown
and under the artillery fire of the place.
The Fourth Corps came upon Lee's Mills and found it covered by the unfordable line of the Warwick
, and reported the position so strong as to render it impossible to execute its orders to assault [see map, p. 188]. Thus, all things were brought to a stand-still, and the intended movement on the Halfway House
could not be carried out., Just at this moment came a telegram, dated the 4th, informing me that the First Corps was withdrawn from my command.
Thus, when too deeply committed to recede, I found that another reduction of about 43,000, including several cavalry regiments withheld from me, diminished my paper force to 92,000, instead of the 155,000 on which the plans of the campaign had been founded, and with which it was intended to operate.
The number of men left behind, sick and from other causes incident to such a movement, reduced the total for duty to some 85,000, from which must be deducted all camp, depot, and train guards, escorts, and non-combatants, such as cooks, servants, orderlies, and extra-duty men in the various staff-departments, which reduced the numbers actually available for battle to some 67,000 or 68,000.
The order withdrawing the First Corps also broke up the Department of the Potomac, forming out of it the Department of the Shenandoah, under General Banks
, and the Department of the Rappahannock, under General McDowell
, the latter including Washington
I thus lost all control of the depots at Washington
, as I had already been deprived of the control of the base at Fort Monroe
and of the ground subsequently occupied by the depot at White House
The only territory remaining under my command was the paltry triangle between the departments of the Rappahannock
; even that was yet to be won from the enemy.
I was thus relieved from the duty of providing for the safety of Washington
, and deprived of all control over the troops in that vicinity.
Instead of one directing head controlling operations which should have been inseparable, the region from the Alleghanies
to the sea was parceled out among four independent commanders.
On the 3d of April, at the very moment of all others when it was most necessary to push recruiting most vigorously, to make good the inevitable losses in battle and by disease, an order was issued from the War Department discontinuing all recruiting for the volunteers and breaking up all their recruiting stations.
Instead of a regular and permanent system of recruiting, whether by voluntary enlistment or by draft, a spasmodic system of large drafts was thereafter resorted to, and, to a great extent, the system of forming new regiments.
The results were wasteful and pernicious.
There were enough, or nearly enough, organizations in the field, and these should have been constantly maintained at the full strength by a regular and constant influx of recruits, who, by association with their veteran comrades, would soon
View from Union mortar battery no. 4, looking toward Yorktown.--Gloucester point on the right.
From a sketch made April 16, 1862.|
have become efficient.
The new regiments required much time to become useful, and endured very heavy and unnecessary losses from disease and in battle owing to the inexperience of the officers and men. A course more in accordance with the best-established military principles and the uniform experience of war would have saved the country millions of treasure and thousands of valuable lives.
Then, on the 5th of April, I found myself with 53,000 men in hand, giving less than 42,000 for battle, after deducting extra-duty men and other non-combatants.
In our front was an intrenched line, apparently too strong for assault, and which I had now no means of turning, either by land or water.
I now learned that 85,000 would be the maximum force at my disposal, giving only some 67,000 for battle.
Of the three divisions yet to join, Casey
's reached the front only on the 17th, Richardson
's on the 16th, and Hooker
's commenced arriving at Ship Point
on the 10th.
Whatever may have been said afterward, no one at the time — so far as my knowledge extended — thought an assault practicable without certain preliminary siege operations.
At all events, my personal experience in this kind of work was greater than that of any officer under my command; and after personal reconnoissances more appropriate to a lieutenant of engineers than to the commanding general
, I could neither discover nor hear of any point where an assault promised any chance of success.
We were thus obliged to resort to siege operations in order to silence the enemy's artillery fire, and open the way to an assault.
All the batteries would have been ready to open fire on the 5th, or, at latest, on the morning of the 6th of May, and it was determined to assault at various points the moment the heavy batteries had performed their allotted task; the navy was prepared to participate in the attack as soon as the main batteries were
silenced; the Galena
, under that most gallant and able officer, John Rodgers
, was to take part in the attack, and would undoubtedly have run the batteries at the earliest possible moment; but during the night of the 3d and 4th of May the enemy evacuated his positions, regarding them as untenable under the impending storm of heavy projectiles.
Meanwhile, on the 22d of April, Franklin
's division of McDowell
's corps had joined me by water, in consequence of my urgent calls for reenforcements.
The moment the evacuation of Yorktown
was known, the order was given for the advance of all the disposable cavalry and horse batteries, supported by infantry divisions, and every possible effort was made to expedite the movement of a column by water upon West Point
, to force the evacuation of the lines at Williamsburg
, and, if possible, cut off a portion of the enemy's force and trains.
The heavy storms which had prevailed recommenced on the afternoon of the 4th, and not only impeded the advance of troops by land, but delayed the movement by water so much that it was not until the morning of the 7th that the leading division — Franklin
's — disembarked near West Point
and took up a suitable position to hold its own and cover the landing of reenforcements.
This division was attacked not long after it landed, but easily repulsed the enemy.
Meanwhile the enemy's rear-guard held the Williamsburg lines
against our advance, except where Hancock
broke through, until the night of the 5th, when they retired [see map, p. 188].
The army was now divided: a part at the mouth of the Pamunkey
, a part at Williamsburg
, and a part at Yorktown
prepared to ascend the York River
The problem was to reunite them without giving the enemy the opportunity of striking either fraction with his whole force.
This was accomplished on the 10th, when all the divisions were in communication, and the movement of concentration continued as rapidly as circumstances permitted, so that on the 15th the headquarters and the divisions of Franklin
, and Smith
reached Cumberland Landing
being near New Kent Court
Clark's House, near Howe's saw-mill, Yorktown, General hospital of the Third Corps.
From a sketch made April 11, 1862.|
View of main street, Yorktown, the Union troops marching in. From a sketch made May 4, 1862.|
near Roper's Church, and Richardson
On the 15th and 16th, in the face of dreadful weather and terrible roads, the divisions of Franklin
, and Smith
were advanced to White House
, and a depot established.
On the 18th the Fifth and Sixth Corps were formed, so that the organization of the Army of the Potomac was now as follows: Second Corps, Sumner
— Divisions, Sedgwick
; Third Corps, Heintzelman
— Divisions, Kearny
; Fourth Corps, Keyes
— Divisions, Couch
; Fifth Corps, F. J. Porter
— Divisions, Morell
and the Reserve Artillery; Sixth Corps, Franklin
— Divisions, Smith
The cavalry organization remained unchanged, and we were sadly deficient in that important arm, as many of the regiments belonging to the Army of the Potomac were among those which had been retained near Washington
The question now arose as to the line of operations to be followed: that of the James
on the one hand, and, on the other, the line from White House
as a base, crossing the upper Chickahominy
The army was admirably placed for adopting either, and my decision was to take that of the James
, operating on either bank as might prove advisable, but always preferring the southern.
I had urgently asked for reenforcements to come by water, as they would thus be equally available for either line of operations.
The destruction of the Merrimac
on the 11th of May had opened the James River
to us, and it was only after that date that it became available.
My plan, however, was changed by orders from Washington
A telegram of the 18th from the Secretary of War
informed me that McDowell
would advance from Fredericksburg
, and directed me to extend the right of the Army of the Potomac to the north of Richmond
, in order to establish communication with him. The same order required me to supply his troops from our depots at White House
Herein lay the failure of the campaign, as it necessitated the division of the army by the Chickahominy
, and caused great delay in constructing practicable bridges across that stream; while if I had
been able to cross to the James
, reenforcements would have reached me by water rapidly and safely, the army would have been united and in no danger of having its flank turned, or its line of supply interrupted, and the attack could have been much more rapidly pushed.
I now proceeded to do all in my power to insure success on the new line of operations thus imposed upon me. On the 20th of May our light troops reached the Chickahominy
at Bottom's Bridge, which they found destroyed.
I at once ordered Casey
's division to ford the stream and occupy
1.--Union water-battery in front of Yorktown.
3.--Confederate water-battery, called battery Magruder, Yorktown.
2.--exploded gun, Confederate fortifications at Yorktown.
4.--an angle of the Confederate fortifications at Yorktown. |
the heights beyond, thus securing a lodgment on the right bank.
was moved up in support of Keyes
By the 24th, Mechanicsville
was carried, so that the enemy was now all together on the other side of the river.
was near the railroad, on the left bank of the stream; Porter
were on the same bank near Mechanicsville
it is now time to give a brief description of the Chickahominy
This river rises some fifteen miles north-westward of Richmond
, and unites with the James
about forty miles below that city.
Our operations were on the part between Meadow
and Bottom's bridges, covering the approaches to Richmond
from the east.
Here the river at its ordinary stage is some forty feet wide,
fringed with a dense growth of heavy forest-trees, and bordered by low marshy lands, varying from half a mile to a mile in width.
Within the limits above mentioned the firm ground, above high-water mark, seldom approaches the river on either bank, and in no place did the high ground come near the stream on both Banks
It was subject to frequent, sudden, and great variations in the volume of water, and a single violent storm of brief duration sufficed to cause an overflow of the Bottom
-lands for many days, rendering the river absolutely impassable without long and strong bridges.
When we reached the river it was found that all the bridges, except that at Mechanicsville
, had been destroyed.
The right bank, opposite New
, Mechanicsville, and Meadow bridges
, was bordered by high bluffs, affording the enemy commanding positions for his batteries, enfilading the approaches, and preventing the rebuilding of important bridges.
We were thus obliged to select other less exposed points for our crossings.
effect the promised junction, we could turn the head-waters of the Chickahominy
, and attack Richmond
from the north and north-west, still preserving our line of supply from White House
But with the force actually available such an attempt would expose the army to the loss of its communications and to destruction in detail; for we had an able and savage antagonist, prompt to take advantage of any error on our part.
The country furnished no supplies, so that we could not afford a separation from our depots.
All the information obtained showed that Richmond
was intrenched, that the enemy occupied in force all the approaches from the east, that he intended to dispute every step of our advance, and that his army was numerically superior.
Early on the 24th of May I received a telegram from the President
, informing me that McDowell
would certainly march on the 26th, suggesting that I should detach a force to the right to cut off the retreat of the Confederate
force in front of Fredericksburg
, and desiring me to march cautiously and safely.
On the same day another dispatch came, informing me that, in consequence of Stonewall Jackson
's advance down the Shenandoah
, the movement of McDowell
Next day the President
again telegraphed that the movement against General Banks
seemed so General and connected as to show that the enemy could not intend a very desperate defense of Richmond
; that he thought the time was near when I “must either attack Richmond
or give up the job, and come back to the defense of Washington
I replied that all my information agreed that the mass of the enemy was still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond
, ready to defend it, and that the object of Jackson
's movement was probably to prevent reenforcements being sent to me. On the 26th General Stoneman
, with my advanced guard, cut the Virginia Central railroad in three places.
On the same day I learned that a very considerable force of the enemy was in the vicinity of Hanover Court House, to our right and rear, threatening our communications, and in position to reenforce Jackson
or oppose McDowell
, whose advance was then eight miles south of Fredericksburg
I ordered General F. J. Porter
to move next morning to dislodge them.
He took with him his own old division, Warren
's provisional brigade and Emory
's cavalry brigade.
in the vicinity of Hanover Court House were entirely successful, and resulted in completely clearing our flank, cutting the railroads in several places, destroying bridges, inflicting a severe loss upon the enemy, and fully opening the way for the advance of McDowell
As there was no indication of its immediate approach, and the position at Hanover Court House was too much exposed to be permanently held, General Porter
's command was withdrawn on the evening of the 29th, and returned to its old position with the main army.
The campaign had taken its present position in consequence of the assurance that I should be joined by McDowell
As it was now clear that I could not count with certainty upon that force, I had to do the best I could with the means at hand.
the first necessity was to establish secure communications between the two parts of the army, necessarily separated
St. Peter's Church, near New Kent Court House.|
Factory. Record Office — Court House.
Ruins of Jail.
New Kent Court House. From a sketch made May 19, 1862. |
by the Chickahominy
could be attacked only by troops on the right bank.
As the expectation of the advance of McDowell
was still held out, and that only by the land route, I could not yet transfer the base to the James
, but was obliged to retain it on the Pamunkey
, and therefore to keep on the left bank a force sufficient to protect our communications and cover the junction of McDowell
It was still permissible to believe that sufficient attention would be paid to the simplest principle of war to push McDowell
rapidly on Jackson
's heels, when he made his inevitable return march to join the main Confederate Army and attack our right flank.
The failure of McDowell
to reach me at or before the critical moment was due to the orders he received from Washington
The bridges over the Chickahominy
first built were swept away by the floods, and it became necessary to construct others
Section of the encampment of the Army of the Potomac near White House, Va. Process Reproduction of a photograph.
“we were now [middle of May] encamped [near White House] on the old Custis place, at present owned by General Fitzhugh Lee of the rebel cavalry service.
On every side of us were immense fields of wheat, which, but for the presence of armies, promised an abundant harvest. . . . it was marvelous that such quiet could exist where a hundred thousand men were crowded together, yet almost absolute stillness reigned throughout the vast camp during the whole of this pleasant Sabbath.”--from George T. Stevens's Three years in the Sixth Corps.
the picture represents the space occupied by about one brigade.--Editors. |
more solid and with long log approaches, a slow and difficult task, generally carried on by men working in the water and under fire.
The work was pushed as rapidly as possible, and on the 30th of May the Corps
were on the right bank of the Chickahominy
, the most advanced positions being somewhat strengthened by intrenchments; Sumner
's Corps was on the left bank, some six miles above Bottom's Bridge; Porter
's and Franklin
's Corps were on the left bank opposite the enemy's left.
During the day and night of the 30th torrents of rain fell, inundating the whole country and threatening the destruction of our bridges.
well aware of our difficulties, our active enemy, on the 31st of May, made a violent attack upon Casey
's division, followed by an equally formidable one on Couch
, thus commencing the battle of Fair Oaks
or Seven Pines
came up in support, and during the afternoon Sumner
crossed the river with great difficulty, and rendered such efficient service that the enemy was checked.
In the morning his renewed attacks were easily repulsed, and the ground occupied at the beginning of the battle was more than recovered; he had failed in the purpose of the attack.
The ground was now so thoroughly soaked by the rain, and the bridges were so much injured, that it was impracticable to pursue the enemy or to move either Porter
to the support of the other Corps on the south bank.
Our efforts were at once concentrated upon the restoration of the old and the building of new bridges.
on the 1st of June the Department of Virginia, including Fort Monroe
, was placed under my command.
On the 2d the Secretary
telegraphed that as soon as Jackson
was disposed of in the Shenandoah
, another large body of troops would be at my service; on the 5th, that he intended sending a part of General McDowell
's force as soon as it could return from front Royal (in the Shenandoah Valley, near Manassas Gap, and about one hundred and fifteen miles north-west of Richmond
), probably as many as I wanted; on the 11th, that McCall
's force had embarked to join me on the day preceding, and that it was intended to send the residue of General McDowell
's force to join me as speedily as possible, and that it was clear that a strong force was operating with Jackson
for the purpose of preventing the forces there from joining me.
on the 26th the Secretary
telegraphed that the forces of McDowell
, and Fremont
would be consolidated as the Army of Virginia, and would operate promptly in my aid by land.
fortunately for the Army of the Potomac, however, I entertained serious doubts of the aid promised by the land route, so that, on the 18th, I ordered a number of transports, with supplies of all kinds, to be sent up the James
, under convoy of the gun-boats, so that I might be free to cut loose from the Pamunkey
and move over to the James
, should circumstances enable me or render it desirable to do so.
the battle of Fair Oaks
was followed by storms of great severity, continuing until the 20th of June, and adding vastly to the difficulties of our position, greatly retarding the construction of the bridges and of the defensive works regarded as necessary to cover us in the event of a repulse, and making the ground too difficult for the free movements of troops.
on the 19th Franklin
's corps T was transferred to the south side of the Chickahominy
Ruins of the White House, which was burned June 28, during the “change of base.”
Corps, reinforced by McCall
's division (which, with a few additional regiments, had arrived on the 12th and 13th), being left alone on the north side.
this dangerous distribution was necessary in order to concentrate sufficient force on the south side to attack Richmond
with any hope of success; and, as I was still told that McDowell
would arrive by the overland route, I could not yet change the base to the James
it was not until the 25th that the condition of the ground and the completion of the bridges and intrenchments left me free to attack.
On that day the first step was taken, in throwing forward the left of our picket-line, in face of a strong opposition, to gain ground enough to enable Sumner
to support the attack to be made next day by Franklin
on the rear of old Tavern.
The successful issue of this attack would, it was supposed, drive the enemy from his positions on the heights overlooking Mechanicsville
, and probably enable us to force him back into his main line of works.
We would then be in position to reconnoiter the lines carefully, determine the points of attack, and take up a New base and line of supply if expedient.
during the night of the 24th information arrived confirming the anticipation that Jackson
was moving to attack our right and rear, but I persisted in the operation intended for the 25th, partly to develop the strength of the
enemy opposite our left and center, and with the design of attacking old Tavern on the 26th, if Jackson
's advance was so much delayed that Porter
's Corps would not be endangered.
late in the afternoon of the 25th, Jackson
's advance was confirmed, and it was rendered probable that he would attack next day. All hope of the advance of McDowell
's Corps in season to be of any service had disappeared; the dangerous position of the Army had been faithfully held to the last moment.
After deducting the garrisons in rear, the railroad guards, non-combatants, and extra-duty men, there were not more than 75,000 men for battle.
The enemy, with a force larger than this, the strong defenses of Richmond
close at hand in his rear, was free to strike on either flank.
I decided then to carry into effect the long-considered plan of abandoning the Pamunkey
and taking up the line of the James
the necessary orders were given for the defense of the depots at the White House
to the last moment and its final destruction and abandonment; it was also ordered that all possible stores should be pushed to the front while communications were open.
the ground to the James
had already been reconnoitered with reference to this movement.
during the night of the 26th Porter
's siege-guns and wagon-trains were brought over to the south side of the Chickahominy
During the afternoon of that day his Corps had been attacked in its position on Beaver Dam Creek
, near Mechanicsville
, and the enemy repulsed with heavy losses on their part.
It was now clear that Jackson
's Corps had taken little or no part in this attack, and that his blow would fall farther to the rear.
I therefore ordered the Fifth Corps to fall back and take position nearer the bridges, where the flanks would be more secure.
This was skillfully effected early on the 27th, and it was decided that this Corps should hold its position until night.
All the Corps
commanders on the south side were on the 26th directed to be prepared to send as many troops as they could spare in support of Porter
on the next day. All of them thought the enemy so strong in their respective fronts as to require all their force to hold their positions.3
shortly after noon on the 27th the attack commenced upon Porter
's Corps, in its New position near Gaines's Mill
, and the contest continued all day with great vigor.
the movements of the enemy were so threatening at many points on our center and left as to indicate the presence of large numbers of troops, and for a long time created great uncertainty as to the real point of his main attack.
's first call for reinforcement and a supply of axes failed to reach me; but, upon receiving a Second call, I ordered Slocum
's division to cross to his support.
The head of the division reached the field at 3:30 and immediately went into action.
At about 5 P. M. General Porter
reported his position as critical, and the brigades of French and Meagher
— of Richardson
's division — were ordered to reenforce him, although the fearless commander of the Second Corps, General Sumner
, thought it hazardous to remove them from his own threatened front.
I then ordered the reserve of Heintzelman
to move in support of Sumner
, and a brigade of Keyes
's Corps to headquarters for such use as might be required.
's division, left alone when Slocum
crossed to the aid of Porter
, was so seriously threatened that I called on Sumner
's Corps to send a brigade to its support.
French and Meagher
reached the field before dusk, just after Porter
had been forced by superior numbers to fall back to an interior position nearer the bridges, and, by their steady attitude, checked all further progress of the enemy and completed the attainment of the purpose in view, which was to hold the left bank of the river until dark, so that the movement to the James
might be safely commenced.
The siege-guns, material, and trains on the left bank were all safe, and the right wing was in close connection with the rest of the Army.
The losses were heavy, but the object justified them, or rather made them necessary.
At about 6 o'clock next morning the rear-guard of regulars crossed to the south side and the bridges were destroyed.
I now bent all my energies to the transfer of the Army to the James
, fully realizing the very delicate nature of a flank march, with heavy trains, by a single road, in face of an active enemy, but confident that I had the Army well in hand and that it would not fail me in the emergency.
I thought that the enemy would not anticipate that movement, but would assume that all my efforts would be directed to cover and regain the old depots; and the event proved the correctness of this supposition.
It seemed certain that I could gain one or two days for the movement of the trains, while he remained uncertain as to my intentions; and that was all I required with such troops as those of the Army of the Potomac.
during the night of the 27th I assembled the Corps
commanders at headquarters, informed them of my intentions, and gave them their orders.
's Corps was ordered to move at once, with its trains, across White Oak Swamp
, and occupy positions on the farther side, to cover the passage of the remainder of the Army.
By noon of the 28th this first step was accomplished.
During the 28th Sumner
, and Franklin
held essentially their old positions; the trains converged steadily to the White Oak Swamp
and crossed as rapidly as possible, and during this day and the succeeding night Porter
followed the movement of Keyes
's Corps and took position to support it.
early on the 28th, when Franklin
's Corps was drawing in its right to take a more concentrated position, the enemy opened a sharp artillery fire.and made at one point a spirited attack with two Georgia
regiments, which were repulsed by the two regiments on picket.
's and Heintzelman
's Corps and Smith
's division of Franklin
's were now ordered to abandon their intrenchments, so as to occupy, on the morning of the 29th, a New position in rear, shorter than the old and covering the crossing of the Swamp
This New line
could easily be held during the day, and these troops were ordered to remain there until dark, to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the trains, and then cross the Swamp
and occupy the positions about to be abandoned by Keyes
's and Porter
's division had been ordered to Savage's Station in reserve, and, during the morning, was ordered across the Swamp
to relieve Keyes
This was a critical day; for the crossing of the Swamp
by the trains must be accomplished before its close, and their protection against attack from Richmond
must be assured, as well as communication with the gun-boats.
a sharp cavalry skirmish on the Quaker
road indicated that the enemy was alive to our movement, and might at any moment strike in force to
intercept the march to the James
The difficulty was not at all with the movement of the troops, but with the immense trains that were to be moved virtually by a single road, and required the whole Army for their protection.
With the exception of the cavalry affair on the Quaker
road, we were not troubled during this day south of the Swamp
, but there was severe fighting north of it. Sumner
's Corps evacuated their works at daylight and fell back to Allen
's farm, nearly two miles west of Savage's Station, Heintzelman
being on their left.
was furiously attacked three times, but each time drove the enemy back with much loss.
soon afterward Franklin
, having only one division with him, ascertained that the enemy had repaired some of the Chickahominy bridges
and was advancing on Savage's Station, whereupon he posted his division at that point and informed Sumner
, who moved his Corps to the same place, arriving a little after noon. About 4 P. M. Sumner
--three divisions in all — were sharply attacked, mainly by the Williamsburg
road; the fighting continued until between 8 and 9 P. M., the enemy being at all times thoroughly repulsed, and finally driven from the field.
Meanwhile, through a misunderstanding of his orders, and being convinced that the troops of Sumner
at Savage's Station were ample for the purpose in view, Heintzelman
withdrew his troops during the afternoon, crossed the Swamp
at Brackett's Ford, and reached the Charles City
road with the rear of his column at 10 P. M.
reached the position of Keyes
's Corps early in the afternoon, and, as soon as the latter was thus relieved, it was ordered forward to the James
Near Malvern Hill
, which it reached, with all its artillery and trains, early on the 30th.
was ordered to follow this movement and prolong the line of Keyes
's Corps to our right.
The trains were pushed on in rear of these Corps and massed under cover of the gun-boats as fast as they reached the James
, at Haxall
As soon as the fighting ceased with the final repulse of the enemy, Sumner
were ordered to cross the Swamp
; this was effected during the night, the rear-guard crossing and destroying the Bridge
at 5 A. M. On the 30th.
All the troops and trains were now between the Swamp
and the James
, and the first critical episode of the movement was successfully accomplished.
the various Corps were next pushed forward to establish connection with Keyes
, and hold the different roads by which the enemy could advance from Richmond
and strike our line of march.
I determined to hold the positions now taken until the trains had all reached a place of safety, and then concentrate the Army near the James
, where it could enjoy a brief rest after the fatiguing battles and marches through which it was passing, and then renew the advance on Richmond
, with Smith
's division of his own Corps, Richardson
's of the Second, and Naglee
's brigade were charged with the defense of the White Oak Swamp crossing
held the ground thence to the Charles City
from that road to the long Bridge road; McCall
on his left; Hooker
thence to the Quaker
's farm, in rear
The Orleans Princes and Suite at dinner.4 from a photograph. |
The Fifth Corps was at Malvern Hill
, the Fourth at Turkey Bridge.
The trains moved on during this day, and at 4 P. M. The last reached Malvern Hill
and kept on to Haxall
's, so that the most difficult part
of the task was accomplished, and it only remained for the troops to hold their ground until nightfall, and then continue the march to the positions selected near Malvern Hill
the fighting on this day (June 30th) was very severe, and extended along the whole line.
It first broke out between 12 and 1, on General Franklin
's command, in the shape of a fierce artillery fire, which was kept up through the day and inflicted serious losses.
The enemy's infantry made several attempts to cross near the old Bridge and below, but was in every case thrown back.
held his position until after dark, and during the night fell back to Malvern
At half-past 2 Slocum
's left was attacked in vain on the Charles City
At about 3 McCall
was attacked, and, after 5 o'clock, under the pressure of heavy masses, he was forced back; but Hooker
came up from the left, and Sedgwick
from the rear, and the two together not only stopped the enemy, but drove him off the field.
at about 4 P. M. Heavy attacks commenced on Kearny
's left, and three ineffectual assaults were made.
The firing continued until after dark.
About midnight Sumner
's and Heintzelman
's Corps and McCall
's division withdrew from the positions they had so gallantly held, and commenced their march to Malvern
, which they reached unmolested soon after daybreak.
Just after the rear of the trains reached Malvern
, about 4 P. M., the enemy attacked Porter
's Corps, but were promptly shaken off.
thus, on the morning of July 1st, the Army was concentrated at Malvern
, with the trains at Haxall
's, in rear.
The supplies which had been sent from White House
on the 18th were at hand in the James
after consultation with Commodore Rodgers
, I decided that Harrison
's Landing was a better position for the resting-place of the Army, because the channel passed so close to City point
as to enable the enemy to prevent the passage of transports if we remained at Malvern
It was, however, necessary to accept battle where we were, in order to give ample time for the trains to reach Harrison
's, as well as to give the enemy a blow that would check his farther pursuit.
accordingly, the Army was carefully posted on the admirable position of Malvern Hill
, with the right thrown back below Haxall
's. The left was the natural point of attack, and there the troops were massed and the reserve artillery placed, while full preparations were made to frustrate any attempt to turn our right.
Early in the forenoon the Army was concentrated and ready for battle, in a position of unusual strength--one which, with such troops as held it, could justly be regarded as impregnable.
It was, then, with perfect confidence that I awaited the impending battle.
the enemy began feeling the position between 9 and 10 A. M., and at 3 P. M. Made a sharp attack upon Couch
's division, which remained lying on the ground until the enemy were within close range, when they rose and delivered a volley which shattered and drove back their assailants in disorder.
At 4 P. M. The firing ceased for a while, and the lull was availed of to rectify the position and make every preparation for the approaching renewal of the attack.
It came at 6 P. M., opened by the fire of all their artillery and followed by desperate charges of infantry advancing at a run. They were always repulsed with the infliction of fearful loss, and in several instances our infantry awaited their approach within a few yards, poured in a single volley, and then dashed forward with the bayonet.
At 7 P. M. The enemy was accumulating fresh troops, and the brigades of Meagher
were sent from Sumner
's and Heintzelman
's Corps to reenforce Porter
; fresh batteries were moved forward from the reserve artillery and the ammunition was replenished.
the enemy then repeated his attacks in the most desperate style until dark, but the battle ended with his complete repulse, with very heavy losses, and without his even for one moment gaining a foothold in our position.
His frightful losses were in vain.
I doubt whether, in the annals of War, there was ever a more persistent and gallant attack, or a more cool and effective resistance.
although the result of this bloody battle was a complete victory on our part, it was necessary, for the reasons already given, to continue the movement to Harrison
's, whither the trains had been pushed during the night of the 30th of June and the day of the 1st of July.
Immediately after the final repulse the orders were given for the withdrawal of the Army.
The movement was covered by Keyes
So complete was the enemy's discomfiture, and so excellent the conduct of the rear-guard, that the last of the trains reached Harrison
's after dark on the 3d, without loss and unmolested by the enemy.
this movement was now successfully accomplished, and the Army of the Potomac was at last in a position on its true line of operations, with its trains intact, no guns lost save those taken in battle, when the artillerists had proved their heroism and devotion by standing to their guns until the enemy's infantry were in the midst of them.
during the “Seven days” the Army of the Potomac consisted of 143 regiments of infantry, 55 batteries, and less than 8 regiments of cavalry, all told.
The opposing Confederate Army consisted of 187 regiments of infantry, 79
batteries, and 14 regiments of cavalry.
The losses of the two armies from June 25th to July 2d were:5
| ||killed.||wounded.||missing.|| total.|
|Confederate Army||2,823||13,703||3,223 ||19,749|
|Army of the Potomac||1,734||8,062||6,053 ||15,849|
losses in killed and wounded alone were greater than the total losses of the Army of the Potomac in killed, wounded, and missing.
no praise can be too great for the officers and men who passed through these Seven days of battle, enduring fatigue without a murmur, successfully meeting and repelling every attack made upon them, always in the right place at the right time, and emerging from the fiery ordeal a compact Army of veterans, equal to any task that brave and disciplined men can be called upon to undertake.
They needed now only a few days of well-earned repose, a renewal of ammunition and supplies, and reenforcements to fill the gaps made in their ranks by so many desperate encounters, to be prepared to advance again, with entire confidence, to meet their worthy antagonists in other battles.
It was, however, decided by the authorities at Washington
, against my earnest remonstrances, to abandon the position on the James
, and the campaign.
The Army of the Potomac was accordingly withdrawn, and it was not until two years later that it again found itself under its last commander at substantially the same point on the bank of the James
It was as evident in 1862 as in 1865 that there was the true defense of Washington
, and that it was on the banks of the James
that the fate of the Union
was to be decided.
Confederate battery at Mathias point, or Budd's Ferry, on the Potomac [see article, P. 143, and map, P. 164]. from a sketch made in February, 1862.|
map of the fight at Big Bethel, June 10, 1861 [see P. 148]--of the siege of Yorktown, April 5 to May 4, 1862 [see P. 171]--and of the battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862 [see pp. 172 and 193].|