Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

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forward into the cleared field on the
right of the road, barely 700 yards



from Fort Magruder, Webber's bat-
tery, which at once drew the fire of
the Eebel batteries, whereby 4 of his
cannoni^*s were shot down and the
rest driven off before we had fired a
gun ; but their places were soon sup'
plied, and Bramhall's battery brought
into action on the right oi Webbar's ;
when, between them, Fort Magruder
was silenced before 9 a. m. Patter*
son's brigade, composed of the 6th,
7th, and 8th New Jersey, was formed
behind these batteries as their sup-
port, and was soon desperately en-
gaged with the Bebel infantry and
sharp-shooters, who were found un-
comfortably nxunerous; so that the
1st Massachusetts, 72d and 70th
New York were sent to their aid,
and, though fighting gallantly, found
themselves still overmatched. Mean-
while, our skirmishers on the right
having reached the Yorktown road,
the 11th Massachusetts and 26th
Pennsylvania were sent down that
road to press the enemy and estab-
lish a connection widi Heintzel-
man's corps, supposed to be estab-
lished upon it; Hooker, at 11:20
A. M., sending a pressing message to
Heintzelman for assistance, and not
finding him. By 1 p. m., Hooker
had sent in the 73d and 74th New
York, his last r^ments ; and, though
his force was fighting gallantly, with
varying success, he was lodng men
fast, yet making no headway. Three
times he had repulsed Bebel charges
upon his center, each made with
finish troops in increasing numbers
and with more resolute purpose.
Soon, word came from the regiments
thus engaged that their ammunition
was giving out, while no supply-train
had yet come up ; and it was found
necessary to glean the cartridges



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124



THE AMERICAN CONFLIOT.



from the boxes of our fallen heroes,
while our most advanced raiments
were drawn back toapositibn whence
the J coold guard onr left, yet form a
portion of onr front.

Oen. Longstreef s division of the
Bebel main army — ^which army,
under G^n. Joseph E. Johnston as
commander-in-chief, had hastened ere
this to iiie defense of Richmond from
the side of the Peninsula — ^had passed
through Williamsburg on the retreat,
when it was recalled to aid in the
defense.** Having now arrived on
the field, a fresh attempt was made
to drive in our left, which, afi;er a
protracted struggle, was repulsed
with mutual slaughter; but a simul-
taneous attack on our front, from the
direction of Fort Magruder, was suc-
cessfid to the extent of capturing 4
of our guns and making 200 or 300
prisoners.

Thus, for nine hours, — ^from 7:30
A. M. to 4:30 p. M., — ^Hooker's single
division was pitted against substan-
tially lie whole Eebel army, with
every advantage* of a chosen and
akillfrdly fortified position on their
side. No division ever fought better ;
and, though its General estimates iiie
Eebel killed as double his own, he is
doubtless mistaken.

Gen. Heintzelman and staff", but
no troops, had arrived early in the
afternoon. At 4:80 p. h.. Gen.
Kearny arrived, with his division,
and pressed to the front; allowing
Hooker^s thinned raiments to with-
draw from the fight and be held as a
reserve. Kearny, under Gen. Heint-
zelman's orders, at once deployed



Berry's brigade to the left of the
Williamsburg road, and Bimey's to
the right, leading forward two com-
panies of the 2d Michigan to beat
back the enemy's skirmishers, now
annoying our batteries ; while Maj.
Wainwright, Hooker's chief of artil-
lery, coUected his gunners and
reopened a fire from his remaining
pieces; whereupon the 6th New
Jersey, though fearfully cut up, ral-
lied promptly to their support. Our
musketry fire was renewed along the
whole line, and our raiments began
to gain ground.

Finding that the heavy timber in
his front defied all direct approach^
Gen. Kearny ordered Col. Hobart
Ward, with the 88th New York, to
charge down iiie road and take the
rifie-pits on the center of iiie abatis
by their fiank; which was gallantly
done, the regiment losing 9 of its 19
ofScers during the brief hour of its
engagement. The success of its
charge not being perfect, the left
wing of CoL Kiley's 40th New York
(Mozart) charged up to the open
space, and, taking the rifie-pits in re-
verse, drove out their occupants and
held the ground. By this time. Gen.
Jameson had brought up the rear
brigade of the division ; whereby,
under a severe fire, a second line was
established, and two columns of r^-
ments made disposable for further
operations, when thick darkness
closed in, and our soldiers rested, in
rain and mire, on the field they had
barely won.

Gen. Heintzelman, who had at
Yorktown been charged by Qesu



* Gen. MoClellaD, in his report, sajs :

** It is my ofdnion that the enemy oppoeed us

here with only a portion of his army. When

our cavahy first appeared, there was nothing

but the enemy's rear-guard in WiUiamsburg:



although troops were brought back during the
night and the next day, to bold the worirs as
long as possible, in order to gain time for the
trains, etc^ abeady weU on tl^ir way to Rich*
mood, to make their esoKM.**



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HoOLBLLAK AT WILLIAMSBUBG.



125



H eClellan witb the direction of the
pnTBuit, had this day been supereeded
hy an order which placed Gen. 8nm-
ner in command at the front. To
Snnmer, accordingly, Hooker had
senty at different times throughout
the afternoon, pressing applications
for aid, but had received none ; and
Hooker says in his rep<»rt :

^ History will not be belieyed when it is
t<^ that the noble officers and men of mj
^vision were permitted to carry on this
unequal straggle froAi morning until night
mudded, in lUie presence of more than
80,000 of their comrades with arms in their
h^ds. Nevertheless, it is true.'*

Gen. Sumner explains that, before
these applications reached him, he
had dispatched Gten. Hancock, with
his brigade, to the extreme right ; so
that he had but about 8,000 infentry
left, while cayahy was useless in that
wooded and unknown region ; hence,
he was unable to give the assistance
required.

Gren. Hancock duly accomplished
the flanking movement assigned him,
and, by a brilliant bayonet charge,
carried the Eebel works on our
right, with a loss of less than 50
menl" Soon, Gen. McClellan — after
whom the Prince De Joinville and
Gov. Sprague, of Ehode Island, had
ridden post haste to Yorktown, where
he was superintending the dispatch-



ing of Pranklin^s division to "West
Point — ^was induced, after some de-
lay, to ride to the front, reaching
Hancock's position about 6 p. h.
Before dark, several other divisions
had arrived on the ground ; that of
Gen. Couch, or a part of it, in season
to claim the honor of having been
engaged in the battle.

Gen. McClellan, ^ 10 p. m., dis-
patched to Washington the following
account of this bloody aflEedr, which
proves that he was still quite in the
dark respecting it :

^* After arranging for movement np York
river, I was nrgenSy sent for here. I find
Joe Johnston in front of me in strong force,
probably greater, a good deal, than my own,
and very strongly intrenched. Hancock has
taken two redoubts, and repulsed Early's
brigade by a real charge with the bayonet,
taking one Colonel and 150 prisoners, kill-
ing at least two Colonels and as many Lt.-
Oolonels, and many privates. His conduct
was brilliant in the extreme. I do not know
our exact loss, but fear Hooker has lost con-
siderably on our left. I learn from prison-
ers that they intend disputing every step to
Richmond. I shall run the risk of at least
holdinff them in check here, while I resume
the original plan. My entire foree is, un-
doubtedly, eoneideraibly ir^erior to that of
the Rebels, who still fight well; but I will
do all I can with the force at my disposal."

Had he supposed that the Bebels

were at that moment evacuating

Williamsburg in such haste as to

leave all their severely wounded, 700

or 800 in number, to become prison-



* Qen. McCIeUaa, in his Report, says that he
first heard, at 1 P. IL, that every thing was not
progressing favorably, when:

''Completing the necessary airangements, I
retamed to my camp without delav, rode rapidly
to the front, a distance of some fourteen miles,
through roads much obstructed by troops and
wagons, and reached the field between 4 and 6
p jf., in time to take a rapid survey of the
groand I soon learned that there was no
direot communication between our center and
the left under Gen. Heintsselman. The center
was chiefiy in the nearer edge of the woods situ-
ated between us and the enemy. As heavy
firing was heard in tiie direction of Gen. Han-
codrs command, I immediately ordered Gen.
Smith to ivooeed with Us two remaining bri-



gades to support that part of the line. Gen.
Kaglee, with his brigade, received similar or-
ders. I then directed our center to advance
to the farther edge of the woods mentioned
above, which was done, and attempted to open
communication with Gen. Heintzelman, but was
prevented b^ the marshy state of the ground
in the direction in which the attempt was made.
Before Gtens. Smith and Naglee could reach the
field of Gen. Hanoodc's operations, although they
moved with great rapidity, he had been con-
fh)nted by a superior force. Feigning to re-
treat slowly, he awaited their onset, and then
turned upon them : after some terrific volleys of
muslcetry, he charged them with the bayonet,
routing and dispersing their whole force, killing,
woundiuff, and capturing from 600 to 600 men;
he himseu losing only 31 men."



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136



THB AlCSBIOAK OOHFLIOT.



ers, he must haye written a very dif-
fa*ent dispatch ; and it is not proba-
ble that they would have carried off,
over the drenched and mirj roads,
more cannon than they conld boast
on the morning before the battle.*^

Oen. Hooker reports a loss in
this engagement of 838 killed, 902
wounded, and 336 missing, who of
course were prisoners. Gen. McClel-
lan makes our Total loss during the
day 466 killed, 1,400 wounded, and
872 missing; total, 2,228." Many of
those prisoners, knowing that we had-
an overwhelming force just at hand,
confidently looked for recapture dur-
ing the night, and were sorely char
grined to find themselves delib^tely
marching toward a Bebel prison next
day.

While the battle at Williamsburg
was raging, Gen. Franklin's division,



which had been kept cm board the
transports which brought it from
Alexandria two or three weeks be*
fore, had been preparing to move
from Torktown up York river to
West Point ; where its 1st brigade,
under Gen. Newton, landed imc^
posed next day.** It debarked on a
spacious, open plain on the west side
of the York and its south-western
affluent, the Pamunkey; no enemy
appearing till next day. Meantime,
Gen. Dana had arrived with a part
of G^n. Sedgwick's division, but not
debarked. Our gunboats took quiet
possession of the little village at the
Point, and hoisted our flag over it ;
no white man appearing to greet
their arrival. During the jiight, one
of our vedettes was shot through the
heart, from the wood that fringed the
plain whereon our troops were en-



*' Oa waking, next morning, to find the Reb-
els vanished and his forces in qniet possession
of Williamsburg, Gen. McClellan forwarded the
following more cheerful dispatches :

"HSADQUABTBRS ABITT OF THH POTOMAC, )
** WlLLLLMBBURG, Va., May 6. )
•* Hon. K M. Stakton, Secretary of War :

"I have the pleasure to announce the occupa-
tioQ of this place as the result of the hard-fought
action of jresterdaj. The eflfbct of Hancock's
brilliant engagement yesterday afternoon was to
turn the left of their Ime of works. He was
strongly reenforoed, and the enemy abandoned
the entire position during the night, leaving all
his sick and woimded in our hands. His loss
yesterday was rery severe. We have some 300
uninjured prisoners, and more than a thousand
wounded. Their loss in killed is heavy. The
victory is complete.

'* I have sent cavalry in pursuit ; but the roads
are in such condition Uiat I cannot move artil-
lery nor supplies. I shall therefore pusb the
other movement most energetically. The con-
duct of our men has been excellent, with scarcely
an exception. The enemy's works are very ex-
tensive and exceedingly strong, both in respect
to their position and the works themselves. Our
loss was heavy in Hooker's division, but very
little on other parts of the field. Hancock's
success was gained with a loss of not over 20
killed and wounded. Weather good to-day, but
great difficulty in getting up fo^ on account of
Uie roads. Very few wagons have yet come up.
Am I auth<»ized to fc^w the example of other
Generals, and direct names of btttlei to be



plao^ on the colors of regiments? We have
other battles to fight before reaching Richmond.
" G. B. MoOlbllan,
"Mty.'Gen. Ck>mmanding."

" Hbadquabtebs Aritt of thb Potohao, )
"WiLUAMSBUBQ, May 6. )
" Hon, R M. Stanton, Secretary of War:

** Every hour proves our victory more com-
plete, llie enemy's loss is great, especially in
officers. I have just heard of five more of tibeir
gpins captured. Prisoners are constantly arriv-
ing. G. B. MoClbllan,
" Mi^.-Gen. Commanding.'*

" No official account of the Rebel losses in
this engagement is at hand; but the IHchmtmd
Diapakh of ICay 8th has a bulletin, professedly
based on an official dispatch from Gen. John-
ston, which, claiming 11 cannon and 623 pris-
oners captured, admits a Rebel loss of but 220;
yet names Gen. Anderson, of North Carolina,
CoL Mott, of Mississippi, Co^ Ward, 4th Fk>r-
ida, and CoL Wm. H. Palmer, 1st Yirginia, as
among the killed; and Gen. Early, Gen. Rains,
CoL Kemper, Tth yirginia^ CoL Corae, 17th
Yirginia, and CoL Gariand, of Lynchburg, as
wounded; adding: **The 1st Virginia was badly
cut up. Out of 200 men in the fight, some 80
or 90 are reported killed or wounded. CoL
Kemper's regiment suffered torriUy, though we
have no aoooont of tlie extant of the oaaualtiea.''
These items indicate a total loss of oertsinly not
less than 1,000. *Maj 6.



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KOBFOLK EYACUATBD BT THB BEBELS.



127



eamped, though no hostile force had
appeared. Kext morning, however,
a regiment or two of the enemy was
descried and shelled from onr gun-
boats; whereupon G^en. Dana, by
order of Gten. Slocum, hastened the
landing of his men and horses ; while
the 16th, 81st, and 82d New York,
with the 96th and 96th Pennsylvania,
were pushed forward into the woods
in our front, with orders to drive out
the few Rebel scouts who were sup-
posed to be skulking there. They
soon found themselves engaged witji
a for laiger force than ^ey had
expected, whereof Gen. Whiting's
Texan division and Wade Hampton's
8auth Carolina Legion formed a part ;
and who, with every advantage of
position and knowledge of the
ground, drove our men out in haste
ajQid disorder. Twice the attempt
was renewed, with similar results;
but at length, our batterS^ having
been landed and posted, they, with the
aid of the gunboats, easily silenced
the single Bebd battery of small
howitzers, which, from an elevated
clearing in the woodsj had assisted to
repel the advance of our infantry ;
and now that infantry pushed once
more into the woods, and found no
enemy to contest their possession.
We lost in this affair 194 men, mainly
of the 31st and 82d New York, in-
eluding two Captains and two lieu-'
tenants: while theBebel loss was tri-
fling.

Gen. Stoneman, with the advance
of our main army, moved from Wil-
liamsburg on the 8th to open com-
munication with G^. Franklin, fol-
bwed by Smith's division on the
direct road to Bichmond. Bain fell
fi^uently ; the roads were horrible ;



so that Gten, McClellan's head-
quarters only reached White House
on the 16th, Tunstall's Station on
the 19th, and Coal Harbor on the
22d. Our advanced light troops had
reached the Chickahominy at Bot-
tom's Bridge two days before.



The movement of our grand army
up the Peninsula, in connection with
Bumside's successes and captures in
North Carolina,** had rendered the
possession pf Norfolk by the Bebels
no longer tenable. To hold it by
any force less than an army would be
simply exposing that force to capture
or destruction at the pleasure of our
strategists. Otea. Wool, commanding
at Fortress Monroe, having organized
an expedition designed to reduce lliat
important city, led it thither on the
lOfli ; finding the bridge over Tan-
ner's creek on fire, but no enemy to
dispute possession of Norfolk, which
was quietly surrendered by its Mayor.
The Navy Yard and Portsmouth
were in like manner repossessed;
the Bebels, ere they left, destroying
every thing that would bum, partially
blowing up the Dry Dock, and com-
pletely destroying their famous iron-
clad known to us as the Merrimac^'
They left about 200 cannon, in-
cluding 39 of large caliber at Craney
Island, and those in the Se well's
Point batteries, which, though spik-
ed, were valuable; 29 pieces were
found mounted on strong earthworks
two miles from Norfolk, but deserted.
In fact, it had been decided, at a
council held at Norfolk some days
before, that no attempt should be
made to defend that city. The Mer-
rimac,' though she never fully re-
covered from the effects of her strug-



* See pages 73-81.



'Ma7ll,6A.]C



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128



THB AHBBfOAlir OONFLICT.



gle with the Monitor, had comedown
the river and shown fight when our
vessels first undertook to shell out
the Eebel batteries at Sewell's Point,
three days before her self-destruct
tion." Two unfinished iron-clads
were among the vessels fired by the
Bebels ere fiieyleft.



The serious difference between the
Administration and Gen. McClellan
respecting the strength of his aarmy,
and the detachment therefrom of
McDowell's and other forces for ser-
vice elsewhere, now demands our de-
liberate consideration. Gten. McClel-
lan, upon first assuming command^'
of the Army of the Potomac, had ad-
dressed to the President a memoran-
dum, wherein, in addition to the
armies required to make *^ a strong
movemeni to

drive the ri,"

to hold I '^ a

movemeni ato

Easteni 1 re-

ly the pat ^ da,

"to protect and reopen the Balti-
more and Ohio Railroad," to "gar-



rison Baltimore and Fortress Mon-
roe," and leave 20,000 "for the
defense of "Washington," he required
for his "main army of operations"
226,000 infantry, 26,600 cavalry,
7,600 engineer troops, and 15,000
artillery men, with 600 field gons ;
in all, 273,000 'men. Even this
mighty army was deemed by him in-
sufficient, unless aided by a strong
naval force/*

Kearly three months later, in a
letter to the Secretary of War, he so
modified this demand as to evince a
willingness to begin (tensive opera-
tions with a total effective force on
tiie Potomac and in Maryland — ^bnt
not including the garrison of Fortress
Monroe— of 208,000 mm and 488
guns; but to secure this, he calcu-
lated^ would require an aggregate of
240,000 men on his muster-roUs, in-
cluding the sick and. absent, while he
had but 168,318, with 228 field guns,
present, and 6 more batteries on the
way from New York. Thus his
army, which by Decwnber 1st had
been swelled nearly to 200,000, and
for the three months succeeding



* Com. Tatnnll, in his official report of the loss
of the Merrimac, lays the blame entirelj on his
pilots, who on the 7th assured him that they
oonld take her to withhi 40 miles of Richmond
if her draft were lessened to 18 feet ; but» after
five or six hours had been devoted to this work,
and she had thus been disabled fbr aotion, they,
for the first time, declared that, as the winds
had for two days been westerly, the water in the
James was too low, so that she could not now
be run above the Jamestown fiats, up to which
point each shore was oocnpied by our armies.
He had now no alternative bat to fire her, land
his crew, and make the best of his way to Suf-
folk. A Court of Inquiry, presided over by Capt
French Forrest, after an investigation protracted
firom May 22d to June 11th, decided that her
destruction was unnecessary, and that shemig^t,
after being lightened to a draft of 20 ibet 6
inches^ have been taken up Jaoiet river to Hog



Island. Part of the blame, however, was laid
on the hasty retreat fh»n Norfolk of the military
under Gen. Huger.

« August 4, 186L

*• He says :

"Its general Une of operations should be so
directed that water transportatiofn can be availed
df^ from point to point, by means of the ocean
and the rivers emptying into it An essential
feature of the plan of operations will be the
employment of a strong naval force, to protect
the movements of a fleet of transports intended
to convey a considerable body of troope from
point to point of the enemy's sea-coast, thus
either creatiiu^ diversions, and rendering it neces-
sary to delia(£ largely ftx>m their main body in
order to protect such of their cities as may be
threatened, or else landing and forming eetab-
lishtnents on their coast, at any favorable places
that opportunity might otkr. This naval force
should also cooperate with the main anny, in its
efforts to seize the important sea-board towns of
the Rebels.''— Jfi;CM2afi'# CiffioMMmorfmOtmL



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gle with the Monitor, had e^
the river and shown fir'
vessels first nnderto^'
the Bebel batteriep
three days bef
tion/' Two
were amo-
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WASHIKaTON CITY TO BB OOTBRBD.







ftTesraged about 85M),000 men,^ wad
at no time large enongh, according
to liis computation, to justify a deter-
mined offensiire, aince he persisted in
(xmiputing the Bebel army confront-
ing him at no lees than ^150,000
strong, well drilled and equipped,
Mj commanded and strongly in-
trenched."**

Now, the movement first contem-
plated, by way of the Rappahannock
and Urbana — still more, that ulti-
mately decided on by way of Fortress
Monroe and the P^iinsula — ^involyed
a division of this army, and the reser-
vation of a considerable part of it for
the protection of Washington, as also
the securing of Maryland and the
Baltimore and Ohio Riilroad from
desolating raids down the Shenan-
A>ah Valley. President Lincoln
had reluctantly given his assent to
this circumlittoral advance, on these
^[preflsed conditions :

^Exsounvs Mansion, Wabhinotqn, )

."March 8, 1862. f

^PftxamsNT^s GxNKBAX Wab Osdib, No. 8 :

" Ordered, That no change of the base of
cperations of the Armj of the Potomao
flhaU be made without leaving in and abont
Washington snch a force aa, in the opinion
cf the General-in-Chief and the commanders
of army corps, shall leave said city entirely



"That no more than two army corps
^boot 50,000 troops) of said Army of the
Potomac shall be moved en route for a new
baee of operations until the navigation of
the Potomac, from Washington to the
Obeaapeake Bay, shall be treed from the
coemy's batteries, and other obstraotlons,
or until the President shall hereafter give
exprMs permission.

"That any movement as aforesaid, en
remU for a new base of operations, which
mnr be ordered by the General-in-Ohie^
and which may be intended to move npon
the Chesapeake Bay, shall begin to move
upon the bay as early as the 18th of March
insUnt; and the 6eneral-in-0hief shall be
reaponaible that it so moves as early as that
day.



" Ordered^ That the army and navy co-
operate in an immediate effort to capture
the enemy ^s batteries npcm the Potomao
between Washington and the Chesapeake
Bay. Abbahax Linooui.

"L. Thomas, Adjutant- OeneraV^

Oen. HcGlellan's diiefof spies had
b J this tune reduced the force of the
Rebels in Northern Virginia** to
115,600 men, with 800 field and 26
to 80 siege-gnns — qnite a formidable
army, if its leader should conclude,
after Qten. McClellan's embarking
the bulk of his forces fbr Fortress
Monroe, to make a rush upon Wash-
ington firom behind the Bappahan-
nock. Five days later. Secretary
Stanton wrote, as we have already



Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 17 of 113)