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Chapter 22:

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. [361] 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

army leaves a wide swath in its rear, and cannot move without leaving the marks of its passage.

On the 20th it again rained heavily. On the evening of the 21st the army was posted as follows:

The advanced guard within a mile of New bridge; the 6th corps three miles from New bridge, with the 5th corps at supporting distance in its rear; the ad corps on the railway, about three miles from the Chickahominy, connecting the right [362] with the left; the 4th corps on the New Kent road, near Bottom's bridge, having three regiments across the stream covering the rebuilding of the bridge; the 3d corps within easy supporting distance of the 4th corps.

On the 22d headquarters were advanced to Cold Harbor, and on the 26th the railway was in operation as far as the Chickahominy, and the railway bridge across the stream nearly completed.

The Chickahominy river rises some fifteen miles to the northward of Richmond, and unites with the James about forty miles below that city. Our operations embraced the part of the river between Meadow's and Bottom's bridges, covering the approaches to Richmond from the east. In this vicinity the river, in its ordinary stage, is about forty feet wide, fringed with a dense growth of heavy forest trees, and bordered by low, marshy bottom-lands varying from half a mile to a mile in width.

Within the limits above-mentioned the firm ground lying above high-water mark seldom approaches the river on either bank, and no place was found, within this section, where the high ground came near the stream on both banks.

It was subject to frequent, sudden, and great variations in the volume of water, and a single violent rain-storm of brief duration would cause a rise of water which overflowed the bottomlands on both sides, and for many days made the river absolutely impassable without bridges.

When our light troops approached the river on the 20th of May it was found that all the bridges had been destroyed by the enemy on our approach, except that at Mechanicsville, and it became necessary not only to rebuild the old bridges, but also to construct several additional ones. The west bank of the river, opposite New, Mechanicsville, and Meadow bridges, was bordered by high bluffs, which afforded the enemy commanding positions on which to establish his batteries, to enfilade the approaches by the principal roads leading to Richmond on our right, and to prevent the reconstruction of these important bridges. We were thus obliged to select other less exposed points for our crossings.

Had the 1st corps effected its promised junction we might have turned the head-waters of the Chickahominy and attacked Richmond from the north and northwest, while we preserved our [363] line of supply from West Point; but with the force actually at my disposal such an attempt would simply have exposed the Army of the Potomac to destruction in detail, and the total loss of its communications. It is hardly necessary to say that the country in which we operated could supply nothing for the wants of the army, and that were our communications with the depots cut and held by the enemy nothing but starvation awaited us.

When we arrived opposite Bottom's bridge on the 20th the enemy was there in only small force, and, as it was of the utmost importance to secure a lodgment on the right bank before he could concentrate his forces and resist the passage of the stream, I ordered Casey's division of the 4th corps to ford the river at once and occupy the heights on the further bank. This was promptly done, and reconnoissances were immediately pushed forward, while instant steps were taken to rebuild the bridge. The troops were directed to throw up defences to secure our left flank, and the 3d corps was moved up in support.

Meanwhile our centre and right were advanced to the river, and on the 24th Mechanicsville was carried, the enemy being driven out by our artillery and forced across the bridge, which they destroyed. Gen. Naglee, of Casey's division of the 4th corps, on the same day dislodged a force of the enemy from the vicinity of Seven Pines, and the advance of our left secured a strong position near that place. All the information obtained from negroes, deserters, prisoners, and spies indicated that the enemy occupied in force all the approaches to Richmond from the east, and that he intended to dispute every step of our advance beyond the Chickahominy on our left, and to resist the passage of the stream opposite our right. That their army was superior to ours in numbers seemed certain. Strong entrenchments had been constructed around the city, Up to this time I had every reason to expect that McDowell would commence his march from Fredericksburg on the morning of the 26th, and it was only during the evening of the 24th that I received from the President the telegram, already given, announcing the suspension of his movement.

So far, then, as immediate operations were concerned, it only remained for me to make the best use of the forces at my disposal, and to avail myself of all possible artificial auxiliaries, to compensate as far as possible for the inadequacy of numbers. [364] I concurred fully with the President in his injunction, contained in his telegram of the 24th, that it was necessary, with my limited force, to move “cautiously and safely,”

In view of the peculiar character of the Chickahominy, and the liability to sudden inundations, it became necessary to construct eleven bridges, all long and difficult, with extensive logway approaches, and often built under fire.

It will be remembered that the order for the co-operation of McDowell was only suspended, not revoked; and, therefore, I could not abandon the northern approach and my communications with West Point. To cover these communications, and be prepared to effect the junction with the 1st corps when it advanced it was necessary to retain a portion of the army on the left bank of the Chickahominy, and I could not make any serious movement with the forces on the right bank until the communications between the two parts of the army were firmly and securely established by strong and sufficiently numerous bridges.

As the entrenchments around Richmond were strong and heavily garrisoned, it would have been an act of madness and folly had I temporarily abandoned my communications and thrown the entire army across the stream, trusting to the chances of carrying the place by assault before the troops had exhausted the supplies carried with them.

I was not responsible for the fact that I was obliged to select a faulty and dangerous plan as the least objectionable of those from which I could choose.

On the 24th a very spirited and successful reconnoissance took place near New bridge, which first brought Lieut. (afterwards Gen.) Custer to my notice. His commanding officers commended him highly for his conduct, and I sent for him to thank him. He was then a slim, long-haired boy, carelessly dressed. I thanked him for his gallantry, and asked what I could do for him. He replied very modestly that he had nothing to ask, and evidently did not suppose that he had done anything to deserve extraordinary reward. I then asked if he would like to serve on my personal staff as an aide-de-camp. Upon this he brightened up and assured me that he would regard such service as the most gratifying he could perform; and I at once gave the necessary orders. He continued on my staff until I was relieved from the command. [365]

In those days Custer was simply a reckless, gallant boy, undeterred by fatigue, unconscious of fear; but his head was always clear in danger, and he always brought me clear and intelligible reports of what he saw when under the heaviest fire. I became much attached to him. In the later days of the war, when he commanded cavalry troops, he displayed a degree of prudence and good sense, in conducting the most dangerous expeditions, that surprised many who thought they knew him well.

In the battle of the Rosebud, against the Sioux, where he lost his life and the whole of his immediate command was destroyed, no one survived to tell the story of the disaster. On that fatal day he simply repeated the tactics that he had so often successfully used against large bodies of Indians; and it is probable that he was deceived as to the strength and fighting capacity of his opponents, and that, from his want of knowledge of the details of the ground where the tragedy occurred, he was suddenly surrounded by overwhelming masses of well-armed warriors, against whom the heroic efforts of his command wasted themselves in vain.

Those who accused him of reckless rashness would, perhaps, have been the first to accuse him of timidity if he had not attacked, and thus allowed the enemy to escape unhurt. He died as he had lived, a gallant soldier; and his whole career was such as to force me to believe that he had good reasons for acting as he did.

With the exception of the 25th, it rained heavily every day from the 22d to the battle of Fair Oaks, and during the day and night of the 30th an unusually violent storm occurred, accompanied by torrents of rain. The valley of the Chickahominy was flooded more than ever; all work on the bridges was suspended, and they became well-nigh impracticable.

The enemy seized the occasion and determined to attack the part of the army that had crossed the Chickahominy, when it would be very difficult or impossible to support it. Exposure and fatigue had brought upon me a violent attack of illness, which confined me to my bed on the 30th and the morning of the 31st. I left my bed to go to the field of battle as soon as I was satisfied of the importance of the crisis. Two corps, the 3d and the 4th, were across the Chickahominy, three on the left bank. [366]

The 4th corps was in position near Fair Oaks and Seven Pines. Kearny's division of the 3d corps was on and near the railroad in advance of Savage's Station. Hooker's division was on the left, near White Oak Swamp. The 2d corps was on the left bank of the Chickahominy, at and near the Grapevine bridge, in position to support either wing of the army.

The 5th and the 6th corps were also on the left bank, between Mechanicsville and New bridge.

Having been informed late on the 24th that McDowell's advance was suspended, I caused work upon the bridges to be commenced immediately and pushed forward with the greatest vigor; but heavy rains continued to fall from day to day, which flooded the valley and raised the water to a greater height than had been known for twenty years.

The bridges first made, together with their approaches, which were not arranged for such unprecedented high water, were carried away or rendered impassable. It thus became necessary, with immense labor, to build others much larger, more elevated and stable. Our men worked in the mater, exposed to the fire of the enemy from the opposite bank.

On the 25th of May I received the following telegram:

Your despatch received. Gen. Banks was at Strasburg with about six thousand (6,000) men, Shields having been taken from him to swell a column for McDowell to aid you at Richmond, and the rest of his force scattered at various places. On the 23d a rebel force of from 7,000 to 10,000 fell upon one regiment and two companies guarding the bridge at Front Royal, destroying it entirely; crossed the Shenandoah, and on the 24th--yesterday — pushed on to get north of Banks on the road to Winchester. Gen. Banks ran a race with them, beating them into Winchester yesterday evening. This morning a battle ensued between the two forces, in which Gen. Banks was beaten back into full retreat towards Martinsburg, and probably is broken up into a total rout. Geary, on the Manassas Gap Railroad, just now reports that Jackson is now near Front Royal with 10,000 troops, following up and supporting, as I understand, the force now pursuing Banks. Also, that another force of 10,000 is near Orleans, following on in the same direction. Stripped bare, as we are here, I will do all we can to prevent them crossing the Potomac at Harper's Ferry or above. McDowell has about 20,000 of his forces moving back to the vicinity of Front Royal, and Fremont, who was at Franklin, is moving to Harrisonburg; both these movements intended to get in the enemy's rear. [367]

One more of McDowell's brigades is ordered through here to Harper's Ferry; the rest of his forces remain for the present at Fredericksburg. We are sending such regiments and dribs from here and Baltimore as we can spare to Harper's Ferry, supplying their places in some sort, calling in militia from the adjacent States. We also have eighteen cannon on the road to Harper's Ferry, of which arm there is not a single one at that point. This is now our situation.

If McDowell's force was now beyond our reach we should be entirely helpless. Apprehensions of something like this, and no unwillingness to sustain you, has always been my reason for withholding McDowell's forces from you.

Please understand this, and do the best you can with the forces you have.

A. Lincoln, President.

On the 25th the following was also received:

The enemy is moving north in sufficient force to drive Gen. Banks before him; precisely in what force we cannot tell. He is also threatening Leesburg, and Geary on the Manassas Gap Railroad, from both north and south; in precisely what force we cannot tell. I think the movement is a general and concerted one, such as would not be if he was acting upon the purpose of a very desperate defence of Richmond. I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington. Let me hear from you instantly.

A. Lincoln, President.

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:

We have Gen. Banks's official report. He has saved his [368] army and baggage, and has made a safe retreat to the river, and is probably safe at Williamsport. He reports the attacking force at fifteen thousand (15,000).

A. Lincoln, President.

Also the following:

Can you not cut the Aquia Creek Railroad? Also, what impression have you as to entrenched works for you to contend with in front of Richmond? Can you get near enough to throw shells into the city?

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 [369] 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.

Washington, May 26, 1862.
Gen. McClellan:
Following despatch received late last night:

I have just examined a lieutenant, three sergeants, and a corporal who came in from the army as deserters this morning. They are, with the exception of one Frenchman, from the North, pressed into service. They are all men of fine intelligence. The lieutenant and the sergeants, who came from the same battery, are positive the army has fallen back to Richmond. The first order was to go at 1.30 P. M. to Hanover Junction, they having heard of McClellan's right wing being at Hanover Court-House and having destroyed the railroad to Gordonsville at that place, which made them fear for their communications.

This was suddenly revoked, and an order was read on parade directing the command back to Richmond to take part in the great battle now about to take place there. Two other men thought that the force was going to join Jackson, who was going to get in the rear of my army, and was going into Maryland. This was only surmise; the order for Richmond was written and published. My advance is eight miles beyond Fredericksburg. I hope soon to be able to tell you more precisely where the enemy is. One thing is certain: that, whether they left here to join Jackson or not, they have not done so yet, and that all the grand masses Geary reports must have come from some other place than here. They left here by stealth, and with dread of being attacked. They went at night, and for a distance by railroad. They thought I had sixty thousand men.--(Signed) Irwin McDowell.

E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

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. [370]

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. [371]

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 [372] 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:

May 28, 2 P. M.
Porter's action of yesterday was truly a glorious victory; too much credit cannot be given to his magnificent division and its accomplished leader. The rout of the rebels was complete; not a defeat, but a complete rout. Prisoners are constantly coming in; two companies have this moment arrived with excellent arms.

There is no doubt that the enemy are concentrating everything on Richmond. I will do my best to cut off Jackson, but am doubtful whether I can.

It is the policy and duty of the government to send me by water all the well-drilled troops available. I am confident that Washington is in no danger. Engines and cars in large numbers have been sent up to bring down Jackson's command.

I may not be able to cut them off, but will try; we have cut all but the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad. The real issue is in the battle about to be fought in front of Richmond. All our available troops should be collected here — not raw regiments, but the well-drilled troops. It cannot be ignored that a desperate battle is before us; if any regiments of good troops remain unemployed it will be an irreparable fault committed.

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. [373]

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:

Washington May 28, 1862.
I am very glad of Gen. F. J. Porter's victory; still, if it was a total rout of the enemy, I am puzzled to know why the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad was not seized again, as, you say you have all the railroads but the Richmond and Fredericksburg. I am puzzled to see how lacking that, you can have any, except the scrap from Richmond to West Point. The scrap of the Virginia Central from Richmond to Hanover Junction, without more, is simply nothing. That the whole of the enemy is concentrating on Richmond I think cannot be certainly known to you or me. Saxton, at Harper's Ferry, informs us that large forces, supposed to be Jackson's and Ewell's, forced his advance from Charlestown to-day. Gen. King telegraphs us from Fredericksburg that contrabands give certain information that 15,000 left Hanover Junction Monday morning to reinforce Jackson. I am painfully impressed with the importance of the struggle before you, and shall aid you all I can consistently with my view of due regard to all points.


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: [375]

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. [376]

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.

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