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Chapter 3:

In Virginia, Gen. George B. McClellan had been placed in command of the great army which he had fully organized, and his headquarters had been established at Fort Monroe early in April, preparatory to his advance upon Richmond by way of the James river and the peninsula. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederate army for the defense of Richmond, with headquarters at Yorktown, April 17th. Holding Yorktown and the line which ran across the peninsula to the Warwick, until the 4th of May, Johnston retired from Williamsburg. His army, about 53,000 strong, was opposed by McClellan's splendidly equipped and organized army, estimated by General Johnston at 133,000. It was Johnston's intention to fall back slowly on the defenses of Richmond, and then, being joined by the division of Huger from Norfolk, and other reinforcements which he expected the Confederate government would order to his army, to give McClellan battle in front of those defenses on more equal terms.

Johnston's army at that time was composed of the divisions of Magruder (commanded by D. R. Jones), Longstreet, D. H. Hill and G. W. Smith. Magruder and Smith had passed beyond Williamsburg on the march to Richmond, and Hill, encumbered with the trains and baggage, was also moving beyond that point, on the afternoon of the 4th, when Longstreet's rear [44] guard was attacked, in front of Williamsburg, by the Federal advance. This attack was met and checked by two brigades under Brigadier-General McLaws (Semmes' and Kershaw's), with Manly's battery. In this brief history, the writer is confined, by the plan of the work, to the part taken in each action by the troops of South Carolina. The grateful task of speaking of troops from other States is resigned with the understanding that ample justice will be done them by writers who have been selected to record the history of their courage, skill and devotion as soldiers of the Confederacy.

In this affair of the afternoon of the 4th of May, Kershaw's brigade, the Second, Third, Seventh and Eighth South Carolina, bore a part, and though but little blood was spilled, the gallant conduct of the brigade received the notice and commendation of General McLaws, who, in reporting the action, said: ‘I call attention to the promptness with which General Kershaw placed his men in the various positions assigned him, and the readiness with which he seized on the advantage offered by the ground as he advanced to the front. . . . His command obeyed his orders with an alacrity and skill creditable to the gallant and obedient soldiers composing it.’ The result of the combat was, that McLaws checked the Federal advance, captured several prisoners, one piece of artillery, three caissons, and disabled a battery, and lost not exceeding 15 men killed, wounded and missing. A part of Stuart's cavalry was also engaged, and that officer complimented the conduct of the Hampton legion cavalry in high terms, for ‘a brilliant dash upon the enemy's cavalry in front of Fort Magruder. . . . Disinterested officers, spectators, speak in the most glowing terms of that portion of my brigade.’

It was evident to General Johnston that the safety of his trains required that a more decided opposition be offered to the Federal advance, and Longstreet's division was put in position to meet it on the following morning. [45] The battle which followed, accordingly, on the 5th, fulfilled the general's expectations, and was a bloody engagement, continuing at intervals from early morning until near dark, the two divisions (Longstreet's under Anderson and D. H. Hill's) repelling the assaults of thirty-three regiments of infantry, six batteries of artillery, and three regiments of cavalry.

The battle in front of Williamsburg was fought in terrible weather, the whole country flooded by the rains, the roads almost impassable for artillery, and the troops ‘wading in mud and slush,’ as General Hill expressed it. On the morning of the 5th, Longstreet held the forts and line in front of Williamsburg. Anderson's South Carolina brigade, commanded by Col. Micah Jenkins, was stationed in Fort Magruder, and in the redoubts and breastworks to the right and left of the fort. This brigade was composed of the Palmetto sharpshooters, Lieut.-Col. Joseph Walker; Fourth battalion, Maj. C. S. Mattison; Fifth, Col. John R. Giles, and Sixth, Col. John Bratton, Lieut.-Col. J. M. Steedman.

The position at Fort Magruder was the center of Longstreet's line and was the point at which the battle .opened at 6 o'clock in the morning. Major Mattison, commanding the pickets in front of Fort Magruder, was sharply engaged, and being reinforced by a battalion of the sharpshooters, had quite a picket battle before retiring to the fort. The attack on Fort Magruder and on the redoubts and breastworks to the right and left of it, was at once opened with artillery and infantry, and the superiority of the Federal artillery and small-arms put Jenkins' command at great disadvantage. But the artillery in the fort and the redoubts was so well directed, the gallant gunners stood so heroically to their guns, and were so firmly supported by the Carolina infantry, that the Federal columns could not assault the line, and were driven back and compelled by noon to change the point of attack further to the Confederate left. Meanwhile, [46] Longstreet was assailing the Federal left, and gaining ground with the remainder of his division, supported by reinforcements from Hill's, called back from their march beyond Williamsburg. In the afternoon, General Hill brought his whole division on the field, and reinforcing the center, commanded by Anderson, and leading the left in person, a final advance was made which ended the fighting by sunset, the Confederates occupying the field, the Federals being repulsed from right to left.

In the defense of the center and left, Anderson's brigade, under Jenkins, bore a conspicuous part. In Fort Magruder, the Richmond howitzers and the Fayette artillery lost so many men by the fire of the enemy, that details were made by Colonel Jenkins from the infantry to relieve the men at the guns. By concentrating the artillery fire on particular batteries in succession, and by volley firing at the gunners,

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