previous next
[384] miles distant during most of the battle, and did not arrive near the field until near its close. A sudden change of commanders conducting the pursuit seems to have produced some confusion and misapprehension. When Kearney arrived on the field he ranked Hooker; and all day long there was uncertainty as to who was in command, each general appearing to fight as he considered best.1 In consequence of this there was great confusion in the advance. The troops of different commands became mixed, and much delay ensued. So much was a head needed, and so tardy were re-enforcements, that while Hooker was heavily engaged, at noon, Governor Sprague and the Prince de Joinville rode in great haste to Yorktown, to urge McClellan to go immediately to the front. “I suppose those in front can attend to that little matter,” was his short reply; but he was finally induced to mount his horse at two o'clock, and at five, when Kearney and Hancock were about giving the blow that won the victory, he approached the battle-field, ascertained that more than “a skirmish with the rebel rear-guard” was in progress, and gave some orders. The fighting soon afterward ceased, and he countermanded his order on leaving Yorktown for the divisions of Sedgwick and Richardson to advance, and directed them to accompany Franklin to West Point.

At ten o'clock that night, when Longstreet had commenced his flight from Williamsburg with such haste as to leave nearly eight hundred of his wounded men to become prisoners, and was following the more advanced of Johnston's army, in a rapid march toward the Chickahominy, McClellan telegraphed to the War Department, from “Bivouac in front of Williamsburg,” that the Confederates were before him in force, probably greater than his own, and strongly intrenched. He assured the Secretary, however, that he should “run the risk of holding them in check there.” 2 Experts on both sides (among them several of McClellan's Generals) declared their belief that,. had the fugitives been promptly and vigorously pursued the next morning, the National army might easily have followed them right into Richmond;3 but the Commanding General, in his report, made fifteen months afterward, declared that the mud was too adhesive to allow him to follow the retreating forces along the roads which the latter traveled with such celerity. They were safely encamped under the shelter of the fortifications around Richmond before he was ready to move forward from Williamsburg.

On the morning after the battle

May 6, 1862,
the National troops took possession of Williamsburg, and General McClellan, from the house of Mr. Vest, Johnston's late Headquarters, telegraphed to the Secretary of War a brief account of the events of the previous day, and concluded with the prediction that was so terribly fulfilled--“We have other ”

1 Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, i. 20.

2 According to the Confederate official reports, the entire body of troops under Johnston, then below the Chickahominy, did not exceed 30,000 in number, while McClellan's “present and fit for duty” (within a distance of twelve miles of the battle-field) was about 100,000. The commanding General seems to have been singularly uninformed or misinformed concerning the country before him, during this campaign. He refused to receive information from the loyal negroes, preferring to take the testimony of Confederate prisoners. He officially declared that information concerning the forces and position of the enemy “was vague and untrustworthy,” and when he commenced his march up the Peninsula, he did not know, he says, whether “so-called Mulberry Island was a real island,” or which was “the true course of the Warwick River across the Peninsula,” or that the Confederates had fortifications along that stream. See McClellan's Report, page 74.

3 See Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, i. 20.

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

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

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 6th, 1862 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: