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Chapter 23:

  • Operations on the Chickahominy
  • -- battle of Fair Oaks -- McDowell's corps is coming -- still stretching the right wing -- floods of the Chickahominy -- movement on old Tavern.

On the 20th of May a reconnoissance had been ordered on the south side of the Chickahominy towards James river. This was accomplished by Brig. Gen. H. M. Naglee, who crossed his brigade near Bottom's bridge and pushed forward to within two miles of James river without serious resistance or finding the enemy in force. The rest of the 4th corps, commanded by Gen. E. D. Keyes, crossed the Chickahominy on the 23d of May.

On the 24th, 25th, and 26th a very gallant reconnoissance was pushed by Gen. Naglee, with his brigade, beyond the Seven Pines, and on the 25th the 4th corps was ordered to take up and fortify a position in the vicinity of the Seven Pines. The order was at once obeyed, a strong line of rifle-pits opened, and an abatis constructed a little in the rear of the point where thenine-mile road comes into the Williamsburg road.

On the same day Gen. Heintzelman was ordered to cross with his corps (the 3d) and take a position two miles in advance of Bottom's bridge, watching the crossing of White Oak Swamp, and covering the left and the rear of the left wing of the army. Being the senior officer on that side of the river, he was placed in command of both corps and ordered to hold the Seven Pines at all hazards, but not to withdraw the troops from the crossings of White Oak Swamp unless in an emergency.

On the 28th Gen. Keyes was ordered to advance Casey's division to Fair Oaks, on the Williamsburg road, some three-quarters of a mile in front of the Seven Pines, leaving Gen. Couch's division at the line of rifle-pits. A new line of rifle-pits and a small redoubt for six field-guns were commenced, and much of the timber in front of this line was felled on the two days following. The picket-line was established, reaching from the Chickahominy to White Oak Swamp. [378]

On the 30th Gen. Heintzelman, representing that the advance had met with strong opposition in taking up their position, and that he considered the point a critical one, requested and obtained authority to make such a disposition of his troops as he saw fit to meet the emergency. He immediately advanced two brigades of Kearny's division about three-fourths of a mile in front of Savage's Station, thus placing them within supporting distance of Casey's division, which held the advance of the 4th corps.

On the 30th the troops on the south side of the Chickahominy were in position as follows: Casey's division on the right of the Williamsburg road, at right angles to it, the centre at Fair Oaks; Couch's division at the Seven Pines; Kearny's division on the railroad, from near Savage's Station towards the bridge; Hooker's division on the borders of White Oak Swamp. Constant skirmishing had been kept up between our pickets and those of the enemy. While these lines were being taken up and strengthened large bodies of Confederate troops were seen immediately to the front and right of Casey's position.

During the day and night of the 30th of May a very violent storm occurred. The rain falling in torrents rendered work on the rifle-pits and bridges impracticable, made the roads almost impassable, and threatened the destruction of the bridges over the Chickahominy.

The enemy, perceiving the unfavorable position in which we were placed, and the possibility of destroying that part of our army which was apparently cut off from the main body by the rapidly rising stream, threw an overwhelming force (grand divisions of Gens. D. H. Hill, Huger, Longstreet, and G. W. Smith) upon the position occupied by Casey's division.

It appears from the official reports of Gen. Keyes and his subordinate commanders that at ten o'clock A. M. on the 31st of May an aide-de-camp of Gen. J. E. Johnston was captured by Gen. Naglee's pickets. But little information as to the movements of the enemy was obtained from him, but his presence so near our lines excited suspicion and caused increased vigilance, and the troops were ordered by Gen. Keyes to be under arms at eleven o'clock. Between eleven and twelve o'clock it was reported to Gen. Casey that the enemy were approaching in considerable force on the Williamsburg road. At this time [379] Casey's division was disposed as follows: Naglee's brigade extending from the Williamsburg road to the Garnett field, having one regiment across the railroad; Gen. Wessells's brigade in the rifle-pits, and Gen. Palmer's in the rear of Gen. Wessells's; one battery of artillery in advance with Gen. Naglee; one battery in rear of rifle-pits to the right of the redoubt; one battery in rear of the redoubt, and another battery unharnessed in the redoubt. Gen. Couch's division, holding the second line, had Gen. Abercrombie's brigade on the right, along thenine-mile road, with two regiments and one battery across the railroad near Fair Oaks Station; Gen. Peck's brigade on the right and Gen. Devens's in the centre.

On the approach of the enemy Gen. Casey sent forward one of Gen. Palmer's regiments to support the picket-line; but this regiment gave way without making much, if any, resistance. Heavy firing at once commenced, and the pickets were driven in. Gen. Keyes ordered Gen. Couch to move Gen. Peck's brigade to occupy the ground on the left of the Williamsburg road, which had not before been occupied by our forces, and thus to support Gen. Casey's left, where the first attack was the most severe. The enemy now came on in heavy force, attacking Gen. Casey simultaneously in front and on both flanks. Gen. Keyes sent to Gen. Heintzelman for reinforcements, but the messenger was delayed, so that orders were not sent to Gens. Kearny and Hooker until nearly three o'clock, and it was nearly five P. M. when Gens. Jameson's and Berry's brigades of Gen. Kearny's division arrived on the field. Gen. Birney was ordered up the railroad, but by Gen. Kearny's order halted his brigade before arriving at the scene of action. Orders were also despatched for Gen. Hooker to move up from White Oak Swamp, and he arrived after dark at Savage's Station.

As soon as the firing was heard at headquarters orders were sent to Gen. Sumner to get his command under arms and be ready to move at a moment's warning. His corps, consisting of Gens. Richardson's and Sedgwick's divisions, was encamped on the north side of the Chickahominy some six miles above Bottom's bridge. Each division had thrown a bridge over the stream opposite to its own position.

At one o'clock Gen. Sumner moved the two divisions to their respective bridges, with instructions to halt and await further [380] orders. At two o'clock orders were sent from headquarters to cross these divisions without delay and push them rapidly to Gen. Heintzelman's support. This order was received and communicated at half-past 2, and the passage was immediately commenced. In the meantime Gen. Naglee's brigade, with the batteries of Gen. Casey's division, which Gen. Naglee directed, struggled gallantly to maintain the redoubt and rifle-pits against the overwhelming masses of the enemy. They were reinforced by a regiment from Gen. Peck's brigade. The artillery, under command of Col. G. D. Bailey, 1st N. Y. Artillery, and afterwards of Gen. Naglee, did good execution on the advancing column. The left of this position was, however, soon turned, and a sharp cross-fire opened upon the gunners and men in the rifle-pits. Col. Bailey, Maj. Van Valkenberg, and Adj. Ramsey, of the same regiment, were killed; some of the guns in the redoubt were taken, and the whole line was driven back upon the position occupied by Gen. Couch. The brigades of Gens. Wessells and Palmer, with the reinforcements which had been sent them from Gen. Couch,, had also been driven from the field with heavy loss, and the whole position occupied by Gen. Casey's division was taken by the enemy.

Previous to this time Gen. Keyes ordered Gen. Couch to advance two regiments to relieve the pressure upon Gen. Casey's right flank, In making this movement Gen. Couch discovered large masses of the enemy pushing towards our right and crossing the railroad, as well as a heavy column which had been held in reserve and which was now making its way towards Fair Oaks station. Gen. Couch at once engaged this column with two regiments; but, though reinforced by two additional regiments, he was overpowered, and the enemy pushed between him and the main body of his division. With these four regiments and one battery Gen. Couch fell back about half a mile towards the Grapevine bridge, where, hearing that Gen. Sumner had crossed, he formed line of battle facing Fair Oaks Station and prepared to hold the position.

Gens. Berry's and Jameson's brigades had by this time arrived in front of the Seven Pines. Gen. Berry was ordered to take possession of the woods on the left and push forward so as to have a flank-fire on the enemy's lines. This movement was executed brilliantly, Gen. Berry pushing his regiments forward [381] through the woods until their rifles commanded the left of the camp and works occupied by Gen. Casey's division in the morning. Their fire on the pursuing columns of the enemy was very destructive, and assisted materially in checking the pursuit in that part of the field. He held his position in these woods against several attacks of superior numbers, and after dark, being cut off by the enemy from the main body, he fell back towards White Oak Swamp, and by a circuit brought his men into our lines in good order.

Gen. Jameson, with two regiments (the other two of his brigade having been detached-one to Gen. Peck and one to Gen. Birney), moved rapidly to the front on the left of the Williamsburg road, and succeeded for a time in keeping the abatis clear of the enemy. But large numbers of the enemy pressing past the right of his line, he too was forced to retreat through the woods towards White Oak Swamp, and in that way gained camp under cover of night.

Brig.-Gen. Devens, who had held the centre of Gen. Couch's division, had made repeated and gallant efforts to regain portions of the ground lost in front, but each time was driven back, and finally withdrew behind the rifle-pits near Seven Pines.

Meantime Gen. Sumner had arrived with the advance of his corps, Gen. Sedgwick's division, at the point held by Gen. Couch with four regiments and one battery. The roads leading from the bridge were so miry that it was only by the greatest exertion Gen. Sedgwick had been able to get one of his batteries to the front.

The leading regiment (1st Minn., Col. Sully) was immediately deployed to the right of Couch to protect the flank, and the rest of the division formed in line of battle, Kirby's battery near the centre in an angle of the woods. One of Gen. Couch's regiments was sent to open communication with Gen. Heintzelman. No sooner were these dispositions made than the enemy came in strong force. and opened a heavy fire along the line. He made several charges, but was each time repulsed with great loss by the steady fire of the infantry and the splendid practice of the battery. After sustaining the enemy's fire for a considerable time Gen. Sumner ordered five regiments (the 34th N. Y., Col. Sinter; 82d N. Y., Lieut.-Col. Hudson; 15th Mass., Lieut.-Col. Kimball; 20th Mass., Col. Lee; 7th Mich., Maj. Richardson--the three [382] former of Gen. Gorman's brigade, the two latter of Gen. Dana's brigade) to advance and charge with the bayonet. This charge was executed in the most brilliant manner. Our troops, springing over two fences which were between them and the enemy, rushed upon his lines and drove him in confusion from that part of the field. Darkness now ended the battle for that day.

During the night dispositions were made for its early renewal. Gen. Couch's division, and so much of Gen. Casey's as could be collected together, with Gen. Kearny's, occupied the rifle-pits near Seven Pines. Gen. Peck, in falling back on the left, had succeeded late in the afternoon in rallying a considerable number of stragglers, and was taking them once more into the action, when he was ordered back to the entrenched camp by Gen. Kearny. Gen. Hooker brought up his division about dark, having been delayed by the heaviness of the roads and the throng of fugitives from the field, through whom the colonel of the leading regiment (Starr) reports he “was obliged to force his way with the bayonet.” This division bivouacked for the night in rear of the right of the rifle-pits on the other side of the railroad. Gen. Richardson's division also came upon the field about sunset. He had attempted the passage of the Chickahominy by the bridge opposite his own camp, but it was so far destroyed that he was forced to move Gens. Howard and Meagher's brigades, with all his artillery, around by Gen. Sedgwick's bridge, while Gen. French's brigade with the utmost difficulty crossed by the other. Gen. Sedgwick's division, with the regiments under Gen. Couch, held about the same position as when the fight ceased, and Gen. Richardson on his arrival was ordered to place his division on the left to connect with Gen. Kearny. Gen. French's brigade was posted along the railroad, and Gens. Howard's and Meagher's brigades in second and third lines. All his artillery had been left behind, it being impossible to move it forward through the deep mud as rapidly as the infantry pushed towards the field, but during the night the three batteries of the division were brought to the front.

About five o'clock on the morning of the 1st of June skirmishers and some cavalry of the enemy were discovered in front of Gen. Richardson's division. Capt. Pettit's battery (B, 1st N. Y.), having come upon the ground, threw a few shells among them, when they dispersed. There was a wide interval between [383] Gen. Richardson and Gen. Kearny. To close this Gen. Richardson's line was extended to the left and his first line moved over the railroad. Scarcely had they gained the position when the enemy, appearing in large force from the woods in front, opened a heavy fire of musketry at short range along the whole line. He approached very rapidly, with columns of attack formed on two roads which crossed the railroad. These columns were supported by infantry in line of battle on each side, cutting Gen. French's line. He threw out no skirmishers, but appeared determined to carry all before him by one crushing blow. For nearly an hour the first line of Gen. Richardson's division stood and returned the fire, the lines of the enemy being reinforced and relieved time after time, till finally Gen. Howard was ordered with his brigade to go to Gen. French's assistance. He led his men gallantly to the front, and in a few minutes the fire of the enemy ceased and his whole line fell back on that part of the field. On the opening of the firing in the morning Gen. Hooker pushed forward on the railroad with two regiments (5th and 6th N. J.), followed by Gen. Sickles's brigade. It was found impossible to move the artillery of this division from its position on account of the mud. On coming near the woods, which were held by the enemy in force, Gen. Hooker found Gen. Birney's brigade, Col. J. Hobart Ward in command, in line of battle. He sent back to hasten Gen. Sickles's brigade, but ascertained that it had been turned off to the left by Gen. Heintzelman to meet a column advancing in that direction. He at once made the attack with the two New Jersey regiments, calling upon Col. Ward to support him with Gen. Birney's brigade. This was well done, our troops advancing into the woods under a heavy fire, and pushing the enemy before them for more than an hour of hard fighting. A charge with the bayonet was then ordered by Gen. Hooker with the 5th and 6th N. J., 3d Me., and 38th and 40th N. Y., and the enemy fled in confusion, throwing down arms and even clothing in his flight. Gen. Sickles, having been ordered to the left, formed line of battle on both sides of the Williamsburg road and advanced under a sharp fire from the enemy, deployed in the woods in front of him. After a brisk interchange of musketry-fire while crossing the open ground, the Excelsior Brigade dashed into the timber with the bayonet and put the enemy to flight.

On the right the enemy opened fire after half an hour's cessation, [384] which was promptly responded to by Gen. Richardson's division. Again the most vigorous efforts were made to break our line, and again they were frustrated by the steady courage of our troops. In about an hour Gen. Richardson's whole line advanced, pouring in their fire at close range, which threw the line of the enemy back in some confusion. This was followed up by a bayonet-charge, led by Gen. French in person, with the 57th and 66th N. Y., supported by two regiments sent by Gen. Heintzelman, the 71st and 73d N. Y., which turned the confusion of the enemy into precipitate flight. One gun captured the previous day was retaken.

Our troops pushed forward as far as the lines held by them on the 31st before the attack. On the battle-field there were found many of our own and the Confederate wounded, arms, caissons, wagons, subsistence stores, and forage, abandoned by the enemy in his rout. The state of the roads and impossibility of manoeuvring artillery prevented further pursuit. On the next morning a reconnoissance was sent forward, which pressed back the pickets of the enemy to within five miles of Richmond; but again the impossibility of forcing even a few batteries forward precluded our holding permanently this position. The lines held previous to the battle were therefore resumed.

On the 31st, when the battle of Fair Oaks commenced, we had two of our bridges nearly completed; but the rising waters flooded the log-way approaches and made them almost impassable, so that it was only by the greatest efforts that Gen. Sumner crossed his corps and participated in that hard-fought engagement. The bridges became totally useless after this corps had passed, and others on a more permanent plan were commenced.

On my way to headquarters, after the battle of Fair Oaks, I attempted to cross the bridge where Gen. Sumner had taken over his corps on the day previous. At the time Gen. Sumner crossed this was the only available bridge above Bottom's bridge. I found the approach from the right bank for some four hundred yards submerged to the depth of several feet, and, on reaching the place where the bridge had been, I found a great part of it carried away, so that I could not get my horse over, and was obliged to send him to Bottom's bridge, six miles below, as the only practicable crossing.

The approaches to New and Mechanicsville bridges were [385] also overflowed, and both of them were enfiladed by the enemy's batteries established upon commanding heights on the opposite side. These batteries were supported by strong forces of the enemy, having numerous rifle-pits in their front, which would have made it necessary, even had the approaches been in the best possible condition, to have fought a sanguinary battle, with but little prospect of success, before a passage could have been secured.

The only available means, therefore, of uniting our forces at Fair Oaks for an advance on Richmond soon after the battle was to march the troops from Mechanicsville and other points on the left bank of the Chickahominy down to Bottom's bridge, and thence over the Williamsburg road to the position near Fair Oaks, a distance of about twenty-three miles. In the condition of the roads at that time this march could not have been made with artillery in less than two days, by which time the enemy would have been secure within his entrenchments around Richmond. In short, the idea of uniting the two wings of the army in time to make a vigorous pursuit of the enemy, with the prospect of overtaking him before he reached Richmond, only five miles distant from the field of battle, is simply absurd, and was, I presume, never for a moment seriously entertained by any one connected with the Army of the Potomac. An advance involving the separation of the two wings by the impassable Chickahominy would have exposed each to defeat in detail. Therefore I held the position already gained, and completed our crossings as rapidly as possible.

In the meantime the troops at Fair Oaks were directed to strengthen their positions by a strong line of entrenchments, which protected them while the bridges were being built, gave security to the trains, liberated a larger fighting force, and offered a safer retreat in the event of disaster.

On June 2 the Secretary of War telegraphed: “The indications are that Fremont or McDowell will fight Jackson to-day, and as soon as he is disposed of another large body of troops will be at your service.”

On the 3d the President telegraphed: “With these continuous rains I am very anxious about the Chickahominy — so close in your rear, and crossing your line of communication. Please look to it.” [386]

To which I replied: “Your despatch of five P. M. just received. As the Chickahominy has been almost the only obstacle in my way for several days, your excellency may rest assured that it has not been overlooked. Every effort has been made, and will continue to be, to perfect the communications across it.”

My views of the condition of our army on the 4th were explained to the President as follows:

Terrible rain-storm during the night and morning; not yet cleared off. Chickahominy flooded; bridges in bad condition. Are still hard at work at them. I have taken every possible step to insure the security of the corps on the right bank, but I cannot reinforce them here until my bridges are all safe, as my force is too small to insure my right and rear, should the enemy attack in that direction, as they may probably attempt. I have to be very cautious now. Our loss in the late battle will probably exceed (5,000) five thousand. I have not yet full returns. On account of the effect it might have on our own men and the enemy, I request that you will regard this information as confidential for a few days. I am satisfied that the loss of the enemy was very considerably greater; they were terribly punished. I mention these facts now merely to show you that the Army of the Potomac has had serious work, and that no child's play is before it.

You must make your calculations on the supposition that I have been correct from the beginning in asserting that the serious opposition was to be made here.

And to the Secretary of War on the same day:

June 4.
Please inform me at once what reinforcements, if any, I can count upon having at Fortress Monroe or White House within the next three days, and when each regiment may be expected to arrive. It is of the utmost importance that I should know this immediately. The losses in the battle of the 31st and 1st will amount to (7,000) seven thousand. Regard this as confidential for the present.

If I can have five new regiments for Fort Monroe and its dependencies, I can draw three more old regiments from there safely. I can well dispose of four more raw regiments on my communications. I can well dispose of from fifteen to twenty well-drilled regiments among the old brigades in bringing them up to their original effective strength. Recruits are especially necessary for the regular and volunteer batteries of artillery, as well as for the regular and volunteer regiments of infantry. After the losses in our last battle I trust that I will no longer [387] be regarded as an alarmist. I believe we have at least one more desperate battle to fight.

On the 5th the Secretary telegraphed me:

I will send you five (5) new regiments as fast as transportation can take them; the first to start to-morrow from Baltimore. I intend sending you a part of McDowell's force as soon as it can return from its trip to Front Royal, probably as many as you want. The order to ship the new regiments to Fort Monroe has already been given. I suppose that they may be sent directly to the fort. Please advise me if this be as you desire.

On the 7th of June I telegraphed as follows:

In reply to your despatch of two P. M. to-day, I have the honor to state that the Chickahominy river has risen so as to flood the entire bottoms to the depth of three and four feet. I am pushing forward the bridges in spite of this, and the men are working night and day, up to their waists in water, to complete them.

The whole face of the country is a perfect bog, entirely impassable for artillery, or even cavalry, except directly in the narrow roads, which renders any general movement, either of this or the rebel army, entirely out of the question until we have more favorable weather.

I am glad to learn that you are pressing forward reinforcements so vigorously.

I shall be in perfect readiness to move forward and take Richmond the moment McCall reaches here and the ground will admit the passage of artillery. I have advanced my pickets about a mile to-day, driving off the rebel pickets and securing a very advantageous position.

The rebels have several batteries established, commanding the debouches from two of our bridges, and fire upon our working parties continually; but as yet they have killed but very few — of our men.

As I did not think it probable that any reinforcements would be sent me in time for the advance on Richmond, I stated in the foregoing despatch that I should be ready to move when Gen. McCall's division joined me; but I did not intend to be understood by this that no more reinforcements were wanted, as will be seen from the following despatch:

June 10.
I have again information that Beauregard has arrived, [388] and that some of his troops are to follow him. No great reliance — perhaps none whatever-can be attached to this; but it is possible, and ought to be their policy.

I am completely checked by the weather. The roads and fields are literally impassable for artillery, almost so for infantry. The Chickahominy is in a dreadful state; we have another rainstorm on our hands.

I shall attack as soon as the weather and ground will permit; but there will be a delay, the extent of which no one can foresee, for the season is altogether abnormal.

In view of these circumstances, I present for your consideration the propriety of detaching largely from Halleck's army to strengthen this; for it would seem that Halleck has now no large organized force in front of him, while we have. If this cannot be done, or even in connection with it, allow me to suggest the movement of a heavy column from Dalton upon Atlanta. If but the one can be done it would better conform to military principles to strengthen this army. And even although the reinforcements might not arrive in season to take part in the attack upon Richmond, the moral effect would be great, and they would furnish valuable assistance in ulterior movements.

I wish to be distinctly understood that, whenever the weather permits, I will attack with whatever force I may have, although a larger force would enable me to gain much more decisive results.

I would be glad to have McCall's infantry sent forward by water at once, without waiting for his artillery and cavalry.

If Gen. Prim returns via Washington, please converse with him as to the condition of affairs here.

Our work upon the bridges continued to be pushed forward vigorously until the 20th, during which time it rained almost every day, and the exposure of the men caused much sickness.

On the 11th the Secretary of War telegraphed:

Your despatch of three-thirty (3.30) yesterday has been received. I am fully impressed with the difficulties mentioned, and which no art or skill can avoid, but only endure, and am striving to the uttermost to render you every aid in the power of the government. . . . McCall's force was reported yesterday as having embarked and on its way to join you. It is intended to send the residue of McDowell's force also to join you as speedily as possible.

Fremont had a hard fight, day before yesterday, with Jackson's force at Union Church, eight miles from Harrisonburg. He claims the victory, but was pretty badly handled. It is clear that a strong force is operating with Jackson for the purpose of [389] detaining the forces here from you. I am urging as fast as possible the new levies.

Be assured, general, that there never has been a moment when my desire has been otherwise than to aid you with my whole heart, mind, and strength, since the hour we first met; and whatever others may say for their own purposes, you have never had, and never can have, any one more truly your friend, or more anxious to support you, or more joyful than I shall be at the success which I have no doubt will soon be achieved by your arms.

On the 12th and 13th Gen. McCall's division arrived.

On the 13th of June two squadrons of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, under the command of Capt. Royall, stationed near Hanover Old Church, were attacked and overpowered by a force of the enemy's cavalry numbering about 1,500 men, with four guns. They pushed on towards our depots, but at some distance from our main body, and, though pursued very cleverly, made the circuit of the army, repassing the Chickahominy at Long bridge. The burning of two schooners laden with forage and fourteen government wagons, the destruction of some sutlers' stores, the killing of several of the guard and teamsters at Garlick's landing, some little damage done at Tunstall's Station, and a little éclat, were the precise results of this expedition.

On the 14th I telegraphed to the Secretary of War:

June 14, midnight
All quiet in every direction. The stampede of last night has passed away. Weather now very favorable. I hope two days more will make the ground practicable. I shall advance as soon as the bridges are completed and the ground fit for artillery to move. At the same time I would be glad to have whatever troops can be sent to me. I can use several new regiments to advantage.

It ought to be distinctly understood that McDowell and his troops are completely under my control. I received a telegram from him requesting that McCall's division might be placed so as to join him immediately on his arrival.

That request does not breathe the proper spirit. Whatever troops come to me must be disposed of so as to do the most good. I do not feel that, in such circumstances as those in which I am now placed, Gen. McDowell should wish the general interests to be sacrificed for the purpose of increasing his command.

If I cannot fully control all his troops I want none of them, but would prefer to fight the battle with what I have, and let others be responsible for the results. [390]

The department lines should not be allowed to interfere with me; but Gen. McD., and all other troops sent to me, should be placed completely at my disposal, to do with them as I think best. In no other way can they be of assistance to me. I therefore request that I may have entire and full control. The stake at issue is too great to allow personal considerations to be entertained; you know that I have none.

On the 20th I telegraphed to the President:

There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the enemy intends evacuating Richmond; he is daily increasing his defences. I find him everywhere in force, and every reconnoissance costs many lives, yet I am obliged to feel my way, foot by foot, at whatever cost, so great are the difficulties of the country; by to-morrow night the defensive works covering our position on this side of the Chickahominy should be completed. I am forced to this by my inferiority in numbers, so that I may bring the greatest possible numbers into action and secure the army against the consequences of unforeseen disaster.

All the information I could obtain, previous to the 24th of June, regarding the movements of Gen. Jackson led to the belief that he was at Gordonsville, where he was receiving reinforcements from Richmond via Lynchburg and Staunton; but what his purposes were did not appear until the date specified, when a young man, very intelligent but of suspicious appearance, was brought in by our scouts from the direction of Hanover Court-House. He at first stated that he was an escaped prisoner from Col. Kenley's Maryland regiment, captured at Front Royal, but finally confessed himself to be a deserter from Jackson's command, which he left near Gordonsville on the 21st. Jackson's troops were then, as he said, moving to Frederick's Hall, along the Virginia Central Railroad, for the purpose of attacking my rear on the 28th. I immediately despatched two trusty negroes to proceed along the railroad and ascertain the truth of the statement. They were unable, however, to get beyond Hanover Court-House, where they encountered the enemy's pickets, and were forced to turn back without obtaining the desired information. On that day I sent the following despatch to Secretary Stanton:

June 24.--A very peculiar case of desertion has just occurred from the enemy. The party states that he left Jackson, Whiting, [391] and Ewell (fifteen brigades) at Gordonsville on the 21st; that they were moving to Frederick's Hall, and that it was intended to attack my rear on the 28th. I would be glad to learn, at your earliest convenience, the most exact information you have as to the position and movements of Jackson, as well as the sources from which your information is derived, that I may the better compare it with what I have.

G. B. Mcclellan, Maj.-Gen.

The following is his reply:

June 25.
We have no definite information as to the numbers or position of Jackson's force. Gen. King yesterday reported a deserter's statement that Jackson's force was, nine days ago, 40,000 men. Some reports place 10,000 rebels under Jackson at Gordonsville; others, that his force is at Port Republic, Harrisonburg, and Luray. Fremont yesterday reported rumors that Western Virginia was threatened, and Gen. Kelley that Ewell was advancing to New creek, where Fremont has his depots. The last telegram from Fremont contradicts this rumor. The last telegram from Banks says the enemy's pickets are strong in advance at Luray; the people decline to give any information as to his whereabouts. Within the last two (2) days the evidence is strong that for some purpose the enemy is circulating rumors of Jackson's advance in various directions, with a view to conceal the real point of attack. Neither McDowell, who is at Manassas, nor Banks and Fremont, who are at Middletown, appear to have any accurate knowledge of the subject. A letter transmitted to the department yesterday, purported to be dated Gordonsville on the fourteenth (14th) instant, stated that the actual attack was designed for Washington and Baltimore as soon as you attacked Richmond, but that the report was to be circulated that Jackson had gone to Richmond, in order to mislead, This letter looked very much like a blind, and induces me to suspect that Jackson's real movement now is towards Richmond. It came from Alexandria, and is certainly designed, like the numerous rumors put afloat, to mislead. I think, therefore, that while the warning of the deserter to you may also be a blind, that it could not safely be disregarded. I will transmit to you any further information on this subject that may be received here.

On the 25th, our bridges and entrenchments being at last completed, an advance of our picket-line of the left was ordered, preparatory to a general forward movement.

Immediately in front of the most advanced redoubt on the [392] Williamsburg road was a large, open field; beyond that a swampy belt of timber, some five hundred yards wide, which had been disputed ground for many days. Further in advance was an open field, crossed by the Williamsburg road and the railroad, and commanded by a redoubt and rifle-pits of the enemy.

It was decided to push our lines to the other side of these moods, in order to enable us to ascertain the nature of the ground, and to place Gens. Heintzelman and Sumner in position to support the attack intended to be made on the Old Tavern, on the 26th or 27th, by Gen. Franklin, by assailing that position in the rear.

Between eight and nine o'clock on the morning of the 25th the advance was begun by Gen. Heintzelman's corps. The enemy were found to be in strong force all along the line, and contested the advance stubbornly, but by sunset our object was accomplished.

The following telegram was sent to the Secretary of War on the same day:

25th 6.15 P. M.--I have just returned from the field, and found your despatch in regard to Jackson.

Several contrabands just in give information confirming supposition that Jackson's advance is at or near Hanover Court-House, and that Beauregard arrived with strong reinforcements in Richmond yesterday.

I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at two hundred thousand, including Jackson and Beauregard. I shall have to contend against vastly superior odds if these reports be true. But this army will do all in the power of men to hold their position and repulse any attack.

I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid Army I have the honor to command, and, if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate.

But if the result of the action, which will probably occur to-morrow or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs. [393]

Since I commenced this I have received additional intelligence confirming the supposition in regard to Jackson's movements and Beauregard's arrival. I shall probably be attacked to-morrow, and now go to the other side of the Chickahominy to arrange for the defence on that side.

I feel that there is no use in my again asking for reinforcements.

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