- White House -- the Chickahominy river -- bridges -- battle of Hanover Court -- House -- Porter's victory -- neglect at Washington -- McDowell's retention useless.
White House was a very fine plantation belonging to Mrs. Gen. Lee. It was the residence of Mrs. Custis when she was married to Washington. The ceremony took place in St. Peter's Church, a lonely old building beautifully placed on a commanding hill. I observed within it a tablet commemorating a death which took place in 1690. Finding one's self alone within that historic building, it was a natural impulse to invoke the aid of God to enable me to serve the country as unselfishly and truly as did the great man who had often worshipped there. The residence at White House was not the original building of the time of Washington — that had been destroyed by fire; but the existing one was constructed on the same foundations. I neither occupied it myself nor permitted any others to do so, but placed a guard to preserve it. For this natural act of respect for the memory of the greatest man our country has produced I was most violently attacked and maligned by the extreme radicals. I am willing that posterity shall judge between them and myself. On the 19th headquarters and the 5th and 6th corps advanced to Tunstall's Station, six miles from White House. The rain recommenced on this day, and through it I rode to Bottom's bridge and made a short reconnoissance. The enemy were there, but not in great force. The advanced guard was near New bridge. The camp at Tunstall's was the most beautiful we occupied during the campaign. Headquarters were on the summit of a hill, commanding a superb view in all directions. The country was highly cultivated, being covered with fine plantations. Towards Richmond large masses of troops were bivouacked, while towards the Pamunkey there were no signs of an army. The contrast between war and peace was vivid and most impressive.  At night when the countless bivouac-fires were lighted the scene was grand and brilliant beyond description. But he must have been devoid of feeling who could regard this magnificent spectacle without a sentiment of most sincere regret that human madness and folly should have made it necessary to march armies through this fair and peaceful land. The Army of the Potomac was mainly composed of good men, who took up arms from the noblest motives; and I doubt whether any troops ever did so little needless damage in a hostile country. But at best a large little needless damage in a hostile country. But at best a large
|McClellan at White House|
On the 25th the following was also received:
To which I replied as follows:
Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond. The object of the movement is probably to prevent reinforcements being sent to me. All the information obtained from balloons, deserters, prisoners, and contrabands agrees in the statement that the mass of the rebel troops are still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond, ready to defend it. I have no knowledge of Banks's position and force, nor what there is at Manassas; therefore cannot form a definite opinion as to the force against him. I have two corps across Chickahominy, within six mile of Richmond; the others on this side at other crossings within same distance, and ready to cross when bridges are completed.On the 26th I received the following:
Also the following:
On the same day I sent the following:
Have cut the Virginia Central Road in three places between Hanover Court-House and the Chickahominy. Will try to cut the other. I do not think Richmond entrenchments formidable; but am not certain. Hope very soon to be within shelling distance. Have railroad in operation from White House to Chickahominy. Hope to have Chickahominy bridge repaired to-night. Nothing of interest to-day.The interruption of the railroad here referred to was effected by the command of Brig.-Gen. Stoneman, and was intended to prevent the enemy from drawing supplies by that route or from sending reinforcements to Anderson or Jackson. At ten A. M. I telegraphed to the President:
I am glad to know affairs are not so. bad as might have been. I would earnestly call your attention to my instructions to Gen. Banks of March 16, to Gen. Wadsworth of same date, and to my letter of April 1 to the adjutant-general. I cannot but think that a prompt return to the principles there laid down would relieve all probability of danger. I will forward copies by mail. I beg to urge the importance of Manassas and Front Royal in contradistinction to Fredericksburg.On the same day I received intelligence that a very considerable force of the enemy was in the vicinity of Hanover Court-House, to the right and rear of our army, thus threatening our communications, and in a position either to reinforce  Jackson or to impede McDowell's junction, should he finally move to unite with us. On the same day I also received information from Gen. McDowell, through the Secretary of War, that the enemy had fallen back from Fredericksburg towards Richmond, and that Gen. McDowell's advance was eight miles south of the Rappahannock.
It was thus imperative to dislodge or defeat this force, independently even of the wishes of the President as expressed in his telegram of the 26th. I entrusted this task to Brig.-Gen. Fitz-John Porter, commanding the 5th corps, with orders to move at daybreak on the 27th.  Through a heavy rain and over bad roads that officer moved his command as follows: Brig.-Gen. W. H. Emory led the advance with the 5th and 6th regiments U. S. Cavalry and Benson's horse-battery of the 2d U. S. Artillery, taking the road from New bridge via Mechanicsville to Hanover Court-House. Gen. Morell's division, composed of the brigades of Martindale, Butterfield, and McQuade, with Berdan's regiment of sharpshooters and three batteries under Capt. Charles Griffin, 5th U. S. Artillery, followed on the same road. Col. G. K. Warren, commanding a provisional brigade composed of the 5th and 13th N. Y., the 1st Conn. Artillery acting as infantry, the 6th Penn. Cavalry, and Weeden's R. I. Battery, moved from his station at Old Church by a road running to Hanover Court-House, parallel to the Pamunkey. After a fatiguing march of fourteen miles through the mud and rain, Gen. Emory at noon reached a point about two miles from Hanover Court-House, where the road forks to Ashland, and found a portion of the enemy formed in line across the Hanover Court-House road. Gen. Emory had, before this, been joined by the 25th N. Y. (of Martindale's brigade) and Berdan's sharpshooters; these regiments were deployed with a section of Benson's battery, and advanced slowly towards the enemy until reinforced by Gen. Butterfield with four regiments of his brigade, when the enemy was charged and quickly routed, one of his guns being captured by the 17th N. Y., under Col. Lansing, after having been disabled by the fire of Benson's battery. The firing here lasted about an hour. The cavalry and Benson's battery were immediately ordered in pursuit, followed by Morell's infantry and artillery, with the exception of Martindale's brigade. Warren's brigade, having been delayed by repairing bridges, etc., now arrived, too late to participate in this affair; a portion of this command was sent to the Pamunkey to destroy bridges, and captured quite a number of prisoners; the remainder followed Morell's division. In the meantime Gen. Martindale, with the few remaining regiments of his brigade and a section of artillery, advanced on the Ashland road, and found a force of the enemy's infantry, cavalry, and artillery in position near Beake's Station on the Virginia Central Railroad; he soon forced them to retire towards Ashland.  The 25th N. Y. having been ordered to rejoin him, Gen. Martindale was directed to form his brigade and move up the railroad to rejoin the rest of the command at Hanover Court-House. He sent one regiment up the railroad, but remained with the 2d Me., afterwards joined by the 25th N. Y., to guard the rear of the main column. The enemy soon returned to attack Gen. Martindale, who at once formed the 2d Me., 25th N. Y., and a portion of the 44th N. Y., with one section of Martin's battery, on the New bridge road, facing his own position of the morning, and then held his ground for an hour against large odds until reinforced. Gen. Porter was at Hanover Court-House, near the head of his column, when he learned that the rear had been attacked by a large force. He at once faced the whole column about, recalled the cavalry sent in pursuit towards Ashland, moved the 13th and 14th N. Y. and Griffin's battery direct to Martindale's assistance, pushed the 9th Mass. and 62d Penn., of McQuade's brigade, through the woods on the right (our original left), and attacked the flank of the enemy, while Butterfield, with the 83d Penn. and 16th Mich., hastened towards the scene of action by the railroad and through the woods, further to the right, and completed the rout of the enemy. During the remainder of this and the following day our cavalry was active in the pursuit, taking a number of prisoners. Capt. Harrison, of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, with a single company, brought in as prisoners two entire companies of infantry with their arms and ammunition. A part of Rush's lancers also captured an entire company with their arms. The immediate results of these affairs were some 200 of the enemy's dead buried by our troops, 730 prisoners sent to the rear, one 12-pound howitzer, one caisson, a large number of small arms, and 2 railroad trains captured. Our loss amounted to 53 killed, 344 wounded and missing. Their camp at Hanover Court-House was taken and destroyed. Having reason to believe that Gen. Anderson, with a strong force, was still at Ashland, I ordered Gen. Sykes's division of regulars to move on the 28th from New bridge towards Hanover Court-House, to be in position to support Gen. Porter. They reached a point within three miles of Hanover Court-House, and  remained there until the evening of the 29th, when they returned to their original camp. On the 28th Gen. Stoneman's command of cavalry, horse-artillery, and two regiments of infantry were also placed under Gen. Porter's orders. On the same day I visited Hanover Court-House, whence I sent the following despatch to the Secretary of War:
Having ascertained the state of affairs, instructions were given for the operations of the following day. On the 28th a party under Maj. Williams, 6th U. S. Cavalry, destroyed the common road bridges over the Pamunkey, and Virginia Central Railroad bridge over the South Anna. On the 29th he destroyed the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad bridge over the South Anna, and the turnpike bridge over the same stream. On the same day, and mainly to cover the movement of Maj. Williams, Gen. Emory moved a column of cavalry towards Ashland from Hanover Court-House. The advance of this column, under Capt. Chambliss, 5th U. S. Cavalry, entered Ashland, driving out a party of the enemy, destroyed the railroad bridge over Stony creek, broke up the railroad and telegraph.  Another column of all arms, under Col. Warren, was sent on the same day by the direct road to Ashland, and entered it shortly after Gen. Emory's column had retired, capturing a small party there. Gen. Stoneman on the same day moved on Ashland by Leach's Station, covering well the movements of the other columns. The objects of the expedition having been accomplished, and it being certain that the 1st corps would not join us at once, Gen. Porter withdrew his command to their camps with the main army on the evening of the 29th. On the night of the 27th and 28th I sent the following despatch to the Secretary of War:
Porter has gained two complete victories over superior forces, yet I feel obliged to move in the morning with reinforcements to secure the complete destruction of the rebels in that quarter. In doing so I run some risk here, but I cannot help it. The enemy are even in greater force than I had supposed. I will do all that quick movements can accomplish, but you must send me all the troops you can, and leave to me full latitude as to choice of commanders. It is absolutely necessary to destroy the rebels near Hanover Court-House before I can advance.In reply to which I received the following from the President:
 In regard to this telegram of the President it may be remarked that it would have been dangerous and foolish in the extreme to leave Porter at Ashland and Hanover Court-House to hold the railways. I knew that McDowell would not advance for some time, if at all. I could not reinforce Porter sufficiently to enable him to remain in his advanced position without drawing so largely from the main army as to endanger its safety and reduce it to inaction. Moreover, there was no object in running this risk. I had broken the direct line of communication between Richmond and Jackson; had cleared the front of Fredericksburg, so that McDowell could advance unopposed, and had relieved my own right flank and rear from immediate danger. At 6 P. M. of the 29th I telegraphed the Secretary of War:
Gen. Porter has gained information that Gen. Anderson left his position in vicinity of Fredericksburg at four A. M. Sunday with the following troops: 1st S. C., Col. Hamilton; one battalion S. C. Rifles, 34th and 38th N. C., 45th Ga., 12th, 13th, and 14th S. C., 3d La., two batteries of four guns each-namely, Letcher's Va. and McIntosh's S. C. batteries. Gen. Anderson and his command passed Ashland yesterday evening en route for Richmond, leaving men behind to destroy bridges over the telegraph road which they travelled. This information is reliable. It is also positively certain that Branch's command was from Gordonsville, bound for Richmond, whither they have now gone. It may be regarded as positive, I think, that there is no rebel force between Fredericksburg and Junction.The following was also sent on the same day by Gen. Marcy:
A detachment from Gen. F. J. Porter's command, under Maj. Williams, 6th Cavalry, destroyed the South Anna railroad bridge at about nine A. M. to-day; a large quantity of Confederate public property was also destroyed at Ashland this morning.In reply to which the following was received from the President:
Your despatch as to the South Anna and Ashland being seized by our forces this morning is received. Understanding these points to be on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, I heartily congratulate the country, and thank Gen. McClellan and his army for their seizure.On the 30th I sent the following to Secretary Stanton: 
From the tone of your despatches and the President's I do not think that you at all appreciate the value and magnitude of Porter's victory. It has entirely relieved my right flank, which was seriously threatened; routed and demoralized a considerable portion of the rebel forces; taken over 750 prisoners; killed and wounded large numbers; one gun, many small arms, and much baggage taken. It was one of the handsomest things in the war, both in itself and in its results. Porter has returned, and my army is again well in hand. Another day will make the probable field of battle passable for artillery. It is quite certain that there is nothing in front of McDowell at Fredericksburg. I regard the burning of South Anna bridges as the least important result of Porter's movement.The results of this brilliant operation of Gen. Porter were the dispersal of Gen. Branch's division and the clearing of our right flank and rear. It was rendered impossible for the enemy to communicate by rail with Fredericksburg, or with Jackson via Gordonsville, except by the very circuitous route of Lynchburg, and the road was left entirely open for the advance of McDowell had he been permitted to join the Army of the Potomac. His withdrawal towards Front Royal was, in my judgment, a serious and fatal error; he could do no good in that direction, while, had he been permitted to carry out the orders of May 17, the united forces would have driven the enemy within the immediate entrenchments of Richmond before Jackson could have returned to its succor, and probably would have gained possession promptly of that place. It is very clear that the arrangements I directed in March and on the 1st of April for the defence of Washington and the Shenandoah would have proved ample to check Jackson without delaying the advance of McDowell. The total disregard of these instructions led to the actual condition of affairs. On the 25th of May McDowell's advance was eight miles beyond Fredericksburg. If he had marched on the 26th, as first ordered, he would have found no enemy in his front until he reached the South Anna, on the 27th or early on the 28th. For his telegram of the 25th shows that they had hastily fallen back during the night of the 24th and 25th, and Porter found them at Hanover Court-House and Ashland on the 27th; so that, as things were, Porter's division alone would have insured McDowell's junction with the Army of the Potomac without the slightest difficulty.  Had McDowell advanced, however, my own movements would naturally have been modified. I would have placed the 3d corps in position to hold Bottom's bridge and the railroad bridge, and to guard our left and communications with West Point. The 4th corps would have been placed near New Cold Harbor, with one division a couple of miles to the westward to watch the crossings of the Chickahominy from Grapevine bridge to Beaver Dam creek, ready to support either the 4th or the 2d corps, as might be necessary. The 2d corps near Mechanicsville, to hold the crossing opposite thereto and that at Meadow bridge, and prepared to move instantly to the support of the 5th and 6th corps. The 6th corps through Atlee's Station to the Fredericksburg and Richmond turnpike, to occupy the Virginia Central Railroad and Winston's bridge, and, leaving a sufficient force to hold that point, to move either direct upon the line of the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad south of Ashland, or to support the 5th corps in the direction of Hanover Court-House, as circumstances might have required. The 5th corps would have followed the line of march which Morell's division pursued on the 27th, sending a detached brigade direct from Old Church to Hanover Court-House; and having reached the Central Railroad and the Fredericksburg turnpike about four miles south of Hanover Court-House, the mass of the corps would either have moved on Hanover Court-House or in conjunction with the 6th corps on Ashland, as the movements of the enemy might have required. Thus our old positions would have been securely held, McDowell's junction would have been secured in spite of any movements of the enemy, and the chances would have been in favor of our destroying any force of the enemy between the Chickahominy and the South Anna. The moment these objects mere accomplished the 5th and 6th corps would have returned to the vicinity of Mechanicsville. It would then have been easy for McDowell to advance by the Fredericksburg turnpike far enough to turn the batteries covering the Mechanicsville crossings, so that the two armies could unite on the right bank of the Chickahominy, and the capture of Richmond could have been accomplished long before Jackson could return to reinforce the garrison.