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take the road assigned to him. The result was that
they did not arrive simultaneously, and instead of one
concerted attack, which would have undoubtedly resulted
in a decided victory, on the ist of June, there was a suc-
cession of heroic combats, which were at first successful
in the center, carrying even the formidable works which
the Federals had constructed at Seven Pines ; but, being
unsupported by movements on the right and the left,
this attack was repulsed by the concentration of a supe-
rior force by the enemy, after which followed attacks and
repulses on the wings and again in the center. The
Federals were driven from the south side of the York
River railroad, but they took position along the north
side, and the Confederate line was extended in a nearly
east and west direction to meet this. They still held
their right at Fair Oaks station, extended toward the
Chickahominy, and so the 31st ended without decided
results, except that the enemy had been driven back
from his original position at Seven Pines, and had taken
up a new line north of the York River railroad, and the
Confederates had taken position in front of this and were
again ready for a forward movement. McClellan sent
reinforcements from his right to his left. Both armies
rested, as best they could, in their water and mud soaked
bivouacs that night, Johnston having ordered his men,
at 7 p. m. , to sleep on their lines and be ready to renew
operations in the morning. A half hour later he was hit
by a rifle ball, and just after that badly wounded and
unhorsed by the fragment of a shell, when, disabled for
command, he was carried to the rear, and Maj.-Gen.
G. W. Smith became for the time the commander in the

It took the Confederates some time to sort themselves
in the pine forest with its dense underbrush tangled with
vines, and to get rationed and arranged for the morning.
They built blazing fires from the pine knots scattered all
about, to dry their clothing and blankets, but this lighted
the enemy in reinforcing their lines north of the railroad.
It was nearly midnight when the army was put in order
and the killed and wounded were cared for. Longstreet
summarizes the forces engaged on the 31st of May, as
18,500 Federals, consisting of Casey's, Couch's and
Kearny's divisions under Heintzelman, with Hooker's
division at hand but not engaged; and the Confederates


as consisting of D. H. Hill's division and two brigades
and two regiments of Longstreet's, a total of 14, 600. The
Federal losses were 5,031 and the Confederate 4,798;
figures showing that this contest was a stubborn one on
both sides. Longstreet sums up the day's business thus:
"Two lines of intrenchments were attacked and carried;
six pieces of artillery and several thousand small-arms
were captured and the enemy was forced back, by night,
to his third line of intrenchments, a mile and a half from
the point of its opening. ' '

The second day of the Fair Oaks battle found Confed-
erate troops under a new commander, by no means in
accord with his subordinates. Gen. G. W. Smith wished
to leave the left wing in position to meet any movement
of Federals from north of the Chickahominy, while
Longstreet was to push forward as the left of the main
attack and D. H. Hill as the right. Hill soon discovered
that the enemy along the railroad had been strongly rein-
forced and instead of attacking he withdrew his advanced
brigades to the position from which he had driven Casey
the day before. While thus engaged the Federal troops
advanced. To check these, Pickett was ordered to attack,
and a severe struggle ensued, which lasted for an hour
and a half. The Federal line was again reinforced, and
in the subsequent struggle Armistead's brigade, on Pick-
ett's left, gave way and retreated in disorder, leaving
Pickett to bear the brunt of the battle, which he did
stubbornly and successfully, the Federals in his front
not making a countercharge. At the same time Wilcox
and Pryor, on Pickett's right, but concealed from him
by a wood, were actively engaged with Hooker's troops,
which boldly pushed into the woods held by the Confed-
erates, and engaged them in a lively fight just at the time
when Hill's order came directing Wilcox to retire to the
line in his rear. This he did, but Hooker did not follow
him ; Pickett, thus left alone, asked for supports. Colston
was sent to his left and Mahone to his right, and once
more there was an hour of fierce contention without
special advantage to either side, when the fighting ceased
and Pickett removed his wounded, and at about i p. m.
retired in good order, unmolested, from the field of car-
nage. During this haphazard fighting Smith did nothing
on the left, fearing to provoke McClellan to move across
the Chickahominy in force to the assistance of his three


crops that had been engaged in the pending contest; so
the fighting came to an end, the Federals remaining in
the lines to which they had been forced back the day
before, and the Confederates collecting arms and caring
for their wounded.

About two of the afternoon of June ist, after the strife
of the day was over. Gen. R. E. Lee, accompanied by
President Davis, rode upon the field and relieved Maj.-
Gen. G. W. Smith, thus taking command of the army of
Northern Virginia, to which the President had assigned
him, and which he from that time held for nearly three
years, until the surrender of April 9, 1865. Lee at once
directed the withdrawal of the Confederate forces, the
divisions of Longstreet and Hill to their camps near the
city, leaving those of Huger and Smith to hold the
advance. This was accomplished during the night of
the 1st and the morning of the 2d. The Federal forces
did not follow them.



LEE, in his first general order to the army before
Richmond, said: "The presence of the enemy in
front of the capital, the great interests involved, and
the existence of all that is dear to us, appeal in terms
too strong to be unheard, and the general commanding
feels assured that every man has resolved to maintain the
ancient fame of the army of Northern Virginia and the
reputation of its general [Johnston], and to conquer or die
in the approaching contest." In a private letter he
wrote: "I wish -his [Johnston's] mantle had fallen upon
an abler man, or that I were able to drive our enemies
back to their homes. I have no ambition and no desire but
for the attainment of this object. " Writing in a humor-
ous vein to a young friend. General Lee described him-
self, at this supreme moment of taking high command, in
these words:

My coat is of gray, of the regulation style and pattern, and my
pants are dark blue, as is also prescribed, partly hid by my long
boots. I have the same handsome hat which surmounts my gray
head, (the latter is not prescribed in the regulations), and shields my
ugly face, which is masked by a white beard as stiff and wiry as the
teeth of a card. In fact, an uglier person you have never seen, and
so unattractive is it to our enemies that they shoot at it whenever it
is visible to them.

McClellan was busy during the first half of June in
massing four of his corps on the south of the Chickahom-
iny, near the position where Lee found them when he
took command ; while with the remainder of his army he
assiduously fortified his chosen position on the north side
of that swampy river, drawing his supplies by the York
River railroad from the stores at White House on the
Pamunkey. McCall's division, from McDowell's army,
reached him on the 13th, but Lincoln held the rest
of that corps in front of Washington, still fearing
an attack from Jackson. By the 20th, McClellan
had 115,000 men present for duty, to which Lee, at



first, could oppose but 57,000, but to these he soon added
15,000 from the Carolinas. On the 8th, while Jackson
was ambidextrously engaged with Fremont and Shields,
Lee was writing to him: "Should there be nothing requir-
ing your attention in the valley, so as to prevent your
leaving it for a few days, and you can make arrangements
to deceive the enemy and impress him with the idea of
your presence, please let me know, that you may unite at
the decisive moment with the army near Richmond."
Jackson, in reply, asked for reinforcements and the priv-
ilege of dealing further blows at his Valley opponents.
Lee promptly sent him fourteen veteran regiments, under
Lawton and Whiting, sending them off by rail on that
day ; marching them through Richmond in martial array,
with all the pomp and circumstance of war, and taking
good care to have McClellan apprised of their destination.
The story of Jackson's Valley campaign has already been
told, as well as the use he made of these reinforcements,
and how he left the Valley on the 17th of June to swell
Lee's forces at Richmond, after having amply provided
for the quiet and safety of the large Federal army that
his strategy had massed in the lower valley.

Undaunted courage, coupled with rare caution, charac-
terized the new Confederate general commanding. Desir-
ing to be fully informed in reference to the rear as well
as the front of the great host beleaguering Richmond,
Lee took his bold and ever-alert cavalry leader, J. E. B.
Stuart, into his councils, and dispatched him on the 12th
with 1, 200 veteran cavalry to reconnoiter McClellan's rear.
Starting from Richmond he followed the Brook turnpike
-northward to Ashland, then turned eastward by way of
Hanover Court House, and followed the main road down
the south side of the Pamunkey, a few miles in the rear of
McClellan's far-stretching army, crossing the York River
railroad at Tunstall's, making captures, destroying stores,
and breaking the enemy's line of communication as he
went; then, turning southward, he crossed the swollen
Chickahominy, near Providence forge, and continued to
the banks of the James at Charles City, whence he returned
by the river road to Richmond, having in forty-eight
hours, with the loss of but a single man, the brave Latan6,
whom he left in the hands of noble Virginia women for
burial, ridden entirely around the Federal army and
gathered information of incalculable value to Lee in
maturing his plans.


Jackson, by inarching and using the trains of the Vir-
ginia Central railroad, in a "ride-and-tie" way, reached
Frederickshall on the 21st, where he rested on Sunday,
the 2 2d. At midnight, after the Sabbath had passed, Jack-
son mounted his horse, and accompanied by a single
courier, rode rapidly toward Richmond for a conference
to which Lee had invited him. By impressing a
relay of horses, he reached that city after a 50-mile
ride, at i p. m., and at 3, Monday, 23d, was in
conference with the commanding general in reference
to an attack on McClellan's right. On that same
Monday, Jackson's men moved forward and on the
evening of the 25th reached Ashland, suffering greatly
from the intense summer heat of the lowlands, the chok-
ing dust of the roads, and the scarcity of water.

By June 24th, McClellan had an inkling of the ap-
proach of Jackson, and asked Stanton, his secretary of
war, what he knew of the whereabouts of this hard-to-
be-located man. This information was supplied him on
the 25th, locating Jackson anywhere from Gordonsville
to Luray, or in the mountains of West Virginia, while
Banks and Fremont, in the lower valley, were intently
watching for an attack by him from up the valley. On
this same 2Sth, McClellan telegraphed to Washington:
*'I am inclined to think that Jackson will attack my right
and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000, including
Jackson and Beauregard. I shall have to contend against
vastly superior odds if these reports be true. "

Lee's plan of attack, which he communicated to his
■division commanders in a confidential general order, was
for Jackson to move on the 25th from Ashland, and
•encamp his 16,000 men west of the Virginia Central rail-
road; at 3 a. m. on the 26th to march southeastward by
way of Old Polly Hundley's corner and across the Toto-
-potomoy, to Pole Green church, near Hundley's comer,
in the rear of McClellan's position and on the Shady
■Grove road which leads into the road following down the
Pamunkey. As Jackson crossed the railway he was to
inform Branch, on the Brook turnpike, who was guard-
ing that approach to Richmond with one of A. P. Hill's
brigades, who, when thus informed, was to cross the
Chickahominy and move down its northern bank toward
Mechanicsville. The order next stated: "As soon as the
-movements of these rear columns (Jackson's and Branch's)


are discovered, Gen. A. P. Hill, with the rest of his divi-
sion (ii,ooo men), will cross the Chickahominy near
Meadow bridge and move direct upon Mechanicsville;"
Hill's movement to be followed by Longstreet, crossing
the Mechanicsville bridge with his 9,000, followed by
D. H. Hill with his 10,000, these three to unite in a gen-
eral movement against McClellan's right flank down the
north bank of the Chickahominy. Stuart, with his cavalry,
was to lead Jackson's movement and then extend his
left, the object of Lee being to cut ofE any retreat of
McClellan toward his base of supplies, by having Stuart
and Jackson in his rear and ready to push eastward and
intercept a retreat if he should attempt one.

To repeat, Lee's 50,000 men, if marched according to
his order, would be thus disposed : A. P. Hill moving on
McClellan's right flank at Mechanicsville, supported by
Longstreet, with Jackson moving upon the rear of the
same flank, supported by D. H. Hill. Jackson's order
read: "Bearing well to his left, turning Beaver Dam
creek and taking the direction toward Cold Harbor,"
after that to "press forward toward the York River rail-
road, closing upon the enemy's rear and forcing him
down the Chickahominy. " The orders clearly indicate
that Jackson, when he was ready for action, was to give
the signal for beginning the fight. These were the
tactic arrangements on Lee's left. His right wing,
south of the Chickahominy, 30,000 strong, held the line
of fortifications extending from the front of Mechanics-
ville to Chaffin's bluff on the north bank of the James,
not far below Drewry's bluff on the south side of that
river. Holmes with 5,000 held the intrenched bluffs;
Magruder and Huger, in the fortifications east of and
before Richmond, confronted with their 25,000 men the
nearly 80,000 of the four Federal corps south of the
Chickahominy and between that and White Oak swamp,
with their intrenched advance at Fair Oaks and Seven
Pines. It took sublime courage and confidence in his
men for a commander to make such dispositions, and so
divide his forces in the face of such great odds ; iDut Lee
had that courage in an eminent degree, and knew that he
could trust the veterans of the army of Northern Virginia
to resist a defensive attack against more than double their
numbers, or to make an equally bold offensive one when
he saw fit to command it. He also knew the hesitating


disposition of McClellan, and was doubtless well informed
as to his fears in reference to a largely superior attacking
force. Magruder and Huger were instructed to impose
upon the large Federal cavalry force in their front with
constant demonstrations, and if attacked to unflinchingly
hold their intrenchments.

The intense heat and the lack of water exhausted Jack-
son's men and animals, and the reconstruction of bridges
and the removal of obstacles from the roads which Fitz
John Porter had destroyed and placed during his move-
ment on Hanover Court House, delayed Jackson's march,
so that his column did not reach Ashland until the night
of the 25 th, although his army had made 50 miles from
Gordonsville in three days. By 3 a. m. of the 26th his
advance, under Whiting, moved from Ashland on the
Ash-cake road ; by 9 a. m. it was crossing the Virginia
Central railroad, near Peake's, and by 10, Branch was
informed of Jackson's progress, some six hours later than
Lee had expected. Part of this delay was caused by the
failure of the commissary department at Richmond to
provide rations for Jackson at Ashland, as had been prom-
ised him. Jackson, in person, was pushing forward with
all possible dispatch and, as White writes in his "Life of
Lee, " with "vigor unabated and his spirit aglow with the
ardor of battle. " Keeping to the left and pressing toward
Cold Harbor, his right guarded by Stuart's horsemen,
at 3 p. m. Hood's Texans in the lead had a hot skirmish
at the Totopotomoy. There the Federals destroyed the
bridge, which had to be rebuilt before Jackson could cross
that stream; so he was unable to reach Hundley's cor-
ner, in McClellan's rear, until after dark of the 26th.
Obeying orders and bearing to the eastward, he had not
passed within sight or sound of the battle that A. P. Hill,
contrary to orders, had brought on at Mechanicsville,
forcing Lee to follow up without the aid of Jackson and
contrary to his plan of attack.

After being notified by Jackson that he had crossed the
Virginia Central railroad. Branch moved down the Chick -
ahominy by the road on its northern side, to uncover the
Meadow bridges, that A. P. Hill might cross his other
brigades and be in position to attack when he heard Jack-
son's signal guns. Branch met Porter's outposts when
crossing the Virginia Central at Atlee's, where he was
delayed by a vigorous skirmish. At 3 p. m., A. P. Hill,


although he had no sign from Jackson that he was in
position and ready to co-operate in an attack, took upon
himself the responsibility of moving on McClellan's right,
fearing, as he says in his report, that delay might "haz-
ard the failure of the whole plan." His advance was
courageous and impetuous, but exceedingly imprudent.
The issue being taken, and the Federals driven from
Mechanicsville to their intrenchments across Beaver
Dam creek, and the Mechanicsville bridge uncovered,
D. H. Hill and Longstreet, of necessity, marched to
A. P. Hill's support, and Lee, in person, pressed the
attack in front without the help of Jackson in the rear.

Beaver Dam creek, or swamp, as it is called locally,
is a short stream running from the north into the Chick-
ahominy ; it is crossed by the main road from Mechanics-
ville down the north side of the Chickahominy, by way of
Gaines' mill, to Old Cold Harbor. For about a mile from
its mouth up to this road this swamp-bordered stream is
well-nigh impassable. Above the road a dam is thrown
across it, making an extensive pond above it for the use of
Ellison's mill on the north side of the road. This slug-
gish stream deeply trenches the plateau or high ground
north of the Chickahominy. The position was admirably
chosen for defense against a movement from the west.
The highest engineering skill in the Federal army had
crowned the open, high ground with earthworks for
numerous batteries, and with intrenchments for troops
on the crest and down the slopes looking toward Beaver
Dam swamp; while the heavy timber that fringed the
stream and covered its high bainks was cut down and so
disposed as to make an almost impassable abatis in front
of the position. The Federal batteries were so placed as
to sweep all the approaches to their position, and five
brigades of riflemen, of McCall's division, filled the in-
trenchments and log breastworks provided for the defense.

By 5 in the afternoon of this 26th of June, Branch's
skirmishers had driven in those of Porter, and A. P. Hill
was ordering the brigades of Archer, Anderson and Field
into action along the road leading from Mechanicsville
northwestward to Bethesda church, to move upon the
rear of McClellan's immediate right, while Pender, support-
ed by Ripley, moved along the river road toward Ellison's
mill. The attack was fierce, but the defense was furious,
and the Confederates were forced to recoil, shattered by


the infantry and artillery fire that met them from the
Federal right. At that very time Jackson was still north
of the Totopotomoy, engaged in repairing the bridge
which the retiring Federals had destroyed.

On the morning of the 27th, Jackson was advancing
Ewell from Hundley's corner, where he had spent the
night, eastward along the Shady Grove road, in obedience
to Lee's general instructions. McClellan, advised of
Jackson's presence on the field of action, and also, doubt-
less, of his being in force on his rear, fell back from his
position on Beaver Dam creek to the central one held by
Porter's corps, a short distance down the river road to
Cold Harbor, where a second and still stronger position
had been selected and strongly fortified. This retrograde
movement, which had been brought about by Jackson
without the firing of a gun, placed McClellan 's troops, on
opposite sides of the Chickahominy, in a line extending
nearly north and south and facing westward. His right
was again behind a swampy stream, running from the
north into the Chickahominy, crossed by the road lead-
ing from Mechanicsville to Cold Harbor, with a pond and
Gaines' mill above and beside it. The topographic con-
ditions and the Federal preparations were much the same
as those at Ellison's mill.

Jackson, rightly expecting to be supplied with maps of
a locality so near to Richmond where the engineers had
had ample time to survey and map the country, had sent
his own topographical engineer and his assistants back to
the Valley to continue the work of preparing an accurate
map of that important military field ; but no maps were
furnished him except some that were imperfect and unre-
liable, and the guides sent to lead him were not well
informed as to the field of action. The same was true
in reference to other portions of Lee's command and of
General Lee himself; consequently there was a clash in
the ordered movements of troops based on unreliable
maps, and it was very difficult to secure concert of action
where so much of the country was covered with forests
and cut up by deeply trenched watercourses.

Lee promptly ordered an attack on the new Federal
position. A. P. Hill was sent along the main road from
Mechanicsville to Cold Harbor, by way of Gaines' mill,
while Longstreet was moved along a private road between
the main road and the Chickahominy, nearly parallel to


those leading to the Gaines house, which was west of the
swamp behind Gaines' mill, and the New bridge over the
Chickahominy. Jackson's guide conducted Ewell, by a
road leading to Walnut Grove church on the main river
road, west instead of east of the right flank and rear of
McClellan's new position. This brought Ewell face to
face with A. P. Hill, instead of some distance to his left,
thus paralyzing the movements of each of these division
commanders. D. H. Hill, who had been ordered to
report to Jackson, pushed forward, from Mechanics ville,
on the road leading to Bethesda church and Porter's
right rear. By 2 p. m. Jackson had D. H. Hill's division
in front of Old Cold Harbor, pressing forward upon Por-
ter's right flank and rear, through fallen timber and
tangled brushwood, which the enemy had provided as a
defense to the rear of his right flank. This forward move-
ment was opposed by sharpshooters. Lee, at Walnut
Grove church, in front of which his line of battle, under
A. P. Hill and Longstreet, was advancing toward the
enemy's position beyond Powhite swamp, had ordered
Jackson to continue his eastward course, strike Porter's
rear and threaten his communications with York river,,
expecting this closing down upon his front, flank and
rear would drive him down the Chickahominy.

Having, by strenuous efforts, got his troops in position
north of Old Cold Harbor, Jackson ordered forward
Bondurant's battery to draw the fire of the Federal guns
and thus reveal their position, which was screened by
intervening forests. The furious fire that this action
drew, furnished Jackson the information he wanted, at
about 2 :3o p. m., just as Hill was moving his division to
assault the Federals at New Cold Harbor, having already
driven Porter's skirmishers from Gaines' mill and the
immediate line of Powhite swamp. Knowing that Long-
street was on his right, Hill, with his usual impetuous
ardor, dashed across Powhite swamp and the obstructions
that had been placed behind it, and rushed against the

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 28 of 153)