Horace Greeley.

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

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The attacking columns were to
move at day-break;' but the trem^i-
dous rains of the preceding afternoon
andtfnight had so flooded the earth
as to render the moving of artillery
exceedingly difBcolt; the infantiy
often wading through mud and wat^
two or three feet deep. Huger's
flank movement had not yet culmi-

nated, when Hill, who had for some
time waited impatiently in our im-
mediate front, gave, at 1 p. h., the
signal to his division to advance and

Casey's division was surprised as
well as largely outnumbered. Hav-
ing been scarcely two days in this
position, their defensive works were

* Kay 31.

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not of mnch accotuit ; and even their
oommander did not consider the mat-
ter serious until a vedette reported
the enemy advancing in force, about
the same moment that two shells
came hissing over their heads ; when,
dropping the axes and spades where-
with they were felling trees for abatis
and digging rifle-pits, our soldiers at
the front hurriedly stood to their
arms as our pickets came running

Genu Casey promptly sent forward
Spratt's battery of 4 3-inch rifled
guns to a position in front of his
rifle-pits, and ordered up Gen.
Kaglee's iniSemtry brigade, consisting
of the 66th and 100th New York,
11th Maine, and 104th Pennsylvania,
to its support ; while he disposed his
7 remaining regiments and 8 bat-
teries on either side of a small re-
doubt, which he had hastily con-
structed, expecting to hold his ground
until the arrival of reenforcements ;
and ordered his artillery to open on
the advancing enemy.

But the odds were too great. The
three brigades of Bhodes, Garland,
and Anderson, were immediately in
his front ; while that of Bains, by
a flank movement, was coming in oif
his left. The 104th Pennsylvania,
which he had sent forward to the
BUi^rt of his pickets, came rushing
back in confusion, and went to the
rear in disorder, having lost heavily
by the Bebel fire ; and, though mus-
ketry and artillery were doing fear^
fill execution on either side, it was
plain that we must soon be over-

Seeing that the enemy were closing
in on him on both wings, Q&u Casey
ordered (Jen. Naglee, with what re-
mained of his brigade^ to charge bay-

onets and drive them back; whidi
was done, but under a musketry fire
that mowed down our men by hun-
dreds. Here fell OoL James M.
Brown, of the 100th New York, and
CoL Davis, of the 104th Pennsylva-
nia, whose Major also was mortally
wounded; and, our flanks being
again enveloped. Bains having gained
the rear of our redoubt, and firing
thenoe on the flank of our in&ntry,
Casey's division was driven back in
disorderly retreat upon Couch, with
the loss of 6 guns. CoL G. D. Bailey,
Major Yan Yalkenburg, and Adjt.
Bamsey, of the 1st New York artil-
lery, were killed, while endeavoring
to save the guns in the redoubt;
which were the next moment seized
by Bhodes, and turned upon our fly-
ing columns. To the credit of this
shattered division be it recorded, that,
under a fearful enfilading fire from
Bains, in addition to that thundered
on their rear from Bhodes, they
brought off three-fourths of our guns.
The storm of battle now fell upon
the 93d Pennsylvania, Col. McCarter,
66th New York, Lt-CoL Thourot,
28d Pennsylvania, Col. NeiU, and
61st, CoL Bippey, of Couch's divi-
sion, who were sent forward by
Keyes to the relief of Casey, on the
right, where they fought gallantly
and lost heavily. The 7th Massa-
chusetts, CoL Bussell, and 62d New
York, OoL J. L. Biker, were after-
ward sent to reenfopce them; but
were pressed back upon Fair Oaks
by the enemy's overpowering ad-
vance, and there, uniting with the
1st U. S. Chasseurs, CoL John Coch-
rane, and Slst Pennsylvania, OoL
WilUams, held tiieir ground until
the advance of Gen. Sumner's c(»rp6,
which had with great difficulty made

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its way across the swoHen Ohicka-
hominy, checked liie Bebel advance
in that direction.

Brig.-Gen. Peck, who held the left
of Conch's position, had been diyested
of most of his regiments aforesaid,
which were successively ordered np
to the front by Conch or Keyes,
nntil, at 4^ p.m., he led the 102d
Pennsylvania, CoL Rowley, and 93d,
CoL McCaiJer, to the aid of onr
cmmbling right, and was for half an
hour sharply engaged with the tri-
umphant enemy near Seven Rnes,
losing some ground, but encamping
very near his field of conflict.

Heintzelman was promptly sum-
moned to the aid of Couch; but there
was an unaccounted-for delay in the
reception of the message, and some
of his regiments did not rush to
the front quite so impetuously as a
good portion of Couch's, especially
the 65th New York (De Trobriand's
Frenchmen), made tracks for the
rear. It waa a quarter past 8 o'clock
before Heintzelman came fairly into
the fight; Jamison's Maine and
Berry's Michigan brigades eagerly
poshing to the front.

On the Bebel left, Gen. Smith's
attack was delayed by Johnston,
who was there in person, until 4
p. M., listening for the sound of Long-
street's musketry, which, for some
atmospheric reason, he failed to hear.
It was now too late for complete suc-
cess, though his men fought desper-
ately. The Kichmond and York
Biver Bailroad, near its crossing of
the Kine-mile road, runs for a con-
siderable distance on an embank-
ment 4 or 5 feet high, forming an
effective breastwork, behind which
our men held stubbornly and fought

VOL. n. — 10

Gen. Abercrombie, with five r^-
ments, was at Fair Oaks (the cross-
ing afbresaid), instructed to hold the
position at all hazards. Here feU
Gen. C.y Devens, severely wounded ;
while of the 61st Pennsylvania, CoL
Eippey, Lt.-Col. Spear, and Maj.
Smith fell dead, and 27 of the line
officers were either killed or wound-
ed; and near this point, at sunset.
Gen. Jo. Johnston, the Bebel Com-
mander-in-chief, was struck in the
side by a shell and badly wounded,
breaking two ribs in fitUing from his
horse, so that he was disabled for
service for several months. Q^n. G.
W. Smith succeeded him in com-
mand; but he was very soon disabled
by a paralytic stroke, and removed
from liie field. Oneof the last Bebel
charges on this part of the field was
led by Jefierson Davis in person.

Hearing vaguely of trouble on ihe
left, McClellan, still at New Bridge,
had ordered Sumner, who had Sedg-
wick's and Bichardson's divisions, to
cross to the relief of Couch; and
Sedgwick, with the advance, reached
the field on our right an hour and a
half before sunset, just as the trium-
phant Bebels had turned Couch's
left, interposing between him and
Heintzelman (who, in coming up,
had swayed to the right), with in-
tent to sever and defeat our two corps
on the south of the Chickahominy«
But Sedgwick, advancing rapidly,
interposed at the critical moment,
and, forming in line of battle in the
edge of a wood, with a large open
field in his front, commenced a fire
of canister from his 24 guns on the
head of the enemy's advancing
column, which staggered •it; and
then, moving forward his whole divi-
sion in line of battle, he completely

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Bwept the field, recovering much of
the ground that had been lost At
zdghtfall, Bichardfion's division, hav-
ing also croBsed over, came up on the
left of Sedgwick, connecting with
Bimej's brigade of neintzelman's
corps on his left; thus making all
secure in that quarter.

At 6 p. H., Abercrombie, farther
to our right, still desperatelj fight-
ing, had been compelled to give
ground, and seemed about to be en-
veloped by an overwhelming force ;
when the long-expected succor ar-
rived. Gorman's brigade, leading
Sedgwick's division, deployed into
line of battle along ihe crest of a hill
in the rear of Fair Oaks, and ad-
vanced down a gentle slope to the
field where CoL Cochrane's TT. S.
Chasseurs and Neill's 23d Pennsyl-
vania were fighting against heavy
odds. At this moment, a furious
enfilading fire of musketry was re-
ceived on our right, indicating an
effort to turn us on that fiank, and
repeat the sharp lesson of Casey's
disaster. Gen. Sedgwick instantly
directed Gen. Bums to deploy the
69th and 72d Pennsylvania to the
right, himself holding the 71st and
106th in support of Gorman. The
Bebels attacked with great fury,
stampeding two or three battery
teams, so that for a moment our lines

seemed to waver ; but Bums's calm,
ftdl-voiced order, "Steady, men,
steady 1" evoked a thundering cheer,
followed by volley after volley of
musketry, imder which the enemy
advanced steadily, and were charg-
ing Kirby's battery, when he poured
into their close ranks a murderous
fire .of canister, which sent them
rapidly to the woods in their rear.

Meanwhile, Dana's brigade had
come into line on Gorman's left, and
the Bebels renewed, as darkness fell,
their attempt to outflank our right,
extending their left farther and
farther; but in vain. Gens. Sumner,
Sedgwick, Dana, tirhose horse was
killed under him. Bums, and Gor-
man, each exerted himself to the
utmost to animate and encourage
their men. Dana's wing was grad-
ually advanced as the Bebeb ex-
tended their left, and the battle
swayed more and more to our right,
until our line was nearly at right
angles with that on which we had
been fighting two hours before. And
thus the fight raged on until after 8
o'clock; when iiie Bebels desisted
and fell back, leaving us in undis-
puted possession of the ground
whereon the final struggle was made.*

Sumner's heavier artillery had been
left stalled in the swamps of the
Chickahominy, as his infantry hur-

*Qen. McOlellan, in his elaborate report on
this ounpaign, after relating Gen. Sumner*8
arriyal on the batUe-field, with Sedgwick's divi-
sion, sajs:

''The leading regiment (Ist Minnesota, CoL
Bnllj) was immediately deployed to the right of
Ckmch to protect the flank, and the rest of the
division formed in line of battle; Kirby's battery
near the oenter, in an angle of the woods. One
of Gen. Couch's regiments was sent to open
communication with Gen. Heintzehnan. No
sooner weA these dispositions made, than the
enemy came on in strong force, and opened a
heayy fire along the line. He made several
duffgM, but was repulsed with great lotSi by

the steady fire of the infantry and the splendid
practice of the battery. After sustaining the
enemy's fire for a considerable time, Qen. Sum-
ner ordered five regiments (the 34th New Yori[,
CoL Smith, 82d New Tork, Lt-CoL Hudson,
15th Massachusetts, Lt-CoL Kimball, 20th Mas-
sachusetts, CoL Lee, 7th Michigan, M4 Rich-
ardson, the three former of Qen. Gk)rman's bri-
gade, the two latter of Gen. Dana's brigade) to
advance and charge with bayonet This charge
was executed in t£e most brilliant manner. Onr
troops, springing over two fences which were
between them and the enemy, rushed upon his
lines, and drove him in concision from that part
ofthefleld. Darkness now ended the battle ftr
that day."

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Tied forward to the battle. It was
extricated during the night, brought
forward, and properly posted by
morning ; when Gen. McClellan also
had arrived ; but, alas I without the
corps of Fitz-John Porter and Frank-
lin, which, could they but have come
up on the New Bridge road during
the night, might have converted
Casey's demolition into a Rebel over-
throw. It does not appear that even

an attempt was made to bring them

In the morning," McOlellan await-
ed an attack, which he says was made
at 6 A. H., on the left of Sumner's
corps, by Gen. Pickett, supported by
Gen. Roger A. Fryer's brigade of
Huger's division ; to which French's
brigade, on our side, stood opposed.
The fight between them was noisy,
but not very bloody: due caution and

* G^en. McCleOaD, in his report, states that the
8t01 rising Chickahominj floated the log-waj
i^iproaches to Gen. Sumner's brigade, after that
(rfBcer had crossed his corps, so as' to render
^m impassable; hence he [McClellan] was
obliged to send his horse aroun^ hj Bottom's
Bridge, six miles below, in returning to his
beadqoaiters. He adds:

*'The approaches to New and Mechaniosyille
bridges were also overflowed, and both of them
were enfiladed by the enemy's batteries estab-
lished upon commanding bights on the oppo-
site side. These blitteries were supported by
itrong forces of the enemy, having numerous
lifle-pitB in their fh>nt, which would have made
it necessary, even had the approaches been in
the best possible condition, to have fought a san-
guinary battle, with but Uttle prospect of suo-
oesB, before a passage could have been secured.

"The only available means, therefore, of
imiting oar forces at Fair Oaks, for an advance
on Bichmond soon after the battle, was to march
the troops from Mechanicsville, and other points
on the left bank of the Chidcahominy, down to
Bottom's Bridge^ and thence over the Williams-
burg road to Uie position near Fair Oaks, a dis-
tance of about twenty-three (23) miles. In the
conditicxi 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 intrenohments
around Richmond."

It is hard for non-militaiy readers to appre-
ciate admiringly the Generalship which con-
fessedly exposes one wing of an army for two
dsyi to the entire force of its adversary, with-
out aasiBtance in any form from the other. If
there be any military reason why Gen. McOlel-
lan shoukl have thrown two corps across the
ChidKahaininy on his left, within a few mOes of
Ridmiond, without simultaneously, or for flve
dajB thereafter, pushing over his right also, and
seizing the commanding bights which were en-
ffladed by the enemy's batteries, no indications
of them appear in his report; which, with re-
fermoe to fdlowing up our adrantage of the 1st,
sacrety says:

** An advance involving the separation of the
two wings by the impassable Ohickahominy
would have exposed each to defeat in detail.'*

That Gen. HcOlellan greatly over-estimated the
strength of the Rebel batteries and their sup*
ports opposite Fitz-John Porter and Franklin,
and the difficulty of crossing there, is made plain
by his dispatch, four days later, to the War De-
partment^ as fbUows : .

" Hbadqttabtbrs Aeict or thb Fotoicao^ )
" Nbw Bbidgb, June 5, 1862. f

" Rained most of the night; has now oeasecL
but is not clear. The river still very high ana
troublesome. Enemy op^ed with several bat-
teries on our bridges near here this morning ;
our batteries seem to have pretty much si-
lenced them, though some firing still kept up.
The rain forces us to remain in statu gyo. With
great difficulty, a division of infantry has been
crossed this morning to support the troops on
the other side, should the enemy renew attadc
I felt obliged to do this, although it leaves us
rather weak here. G. B. MoOlillan,

" Magor- General Commanding,

" Hon. B. M. Stanton, Secretary of Wa^:^

Gen. J. G. Barnard, chief engineer, in his re-
port of the campaign says:

"The repulse of the Rebels at Fair Oaks
should have been taken advantage of. It was
one of those occasions which, if not seized, do
not repeat themselves. We now itnot(7 the state
of disorganization and dismay in which the
Rebel army retreated. We now know that it
could have been followed into Richmond. Had
it been so, there would have been no resistance
to overcome to bring over our risht wing. Al-
though we did not then know aJl tiiat we now
do, it was obvious at that time that, when the
Rebels strudc the blow at our left wing, they
did not leave any means in their hands unused
to secure success. It was obvious enough that
they struck with their whole force ; and yet ws
repulsed them in disorder with three-fifths of
oiu^ We sliould have followed them up at the
same time that we brought over the other tfn>>

, "JiTOi*.

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dbtance being maintained on either
side. Mahone's brigade was brought
up to the aid of Pryor, and Howard's
to that of French ; and finally
Heagher's Irish regiments went to
the fircmt, and a desultory conflict was
maintained for some two or three
hours, during which Gen. Howard
lost his arm and had two of his staff
woxmded. The Eebels at length
desisted, and retreated unpursued.
Their reports assert that they made
uo attack, but only repelled one.

The Rebels remained through the
day in quiet possession of Couch's
and Casey's camps, sending off mus-
kets, tents, and camp equipage to
Bichmoud ; following themselves
after nightfalL Johnston says that
Smith did not renew his attack on
our right, because of his discovery of
strong intrenchments in that quarter,
which he had not seen the night be-
fore. It is certain that he was not
disturbed by any demonstration on
our part, and retired wholly unmo-
lested. Ten days later, we had not
recovered the groxmd held by Casey's
advance on the morning of May 31.

Johnston reports the loss in
Smith's division at 1,233, and in
Longstreet's " at "about" 8,000;
total, 4,238 ; saying nothing of any
loss sustained by Huger. Among
his killed were Gen. Eobert Hatton,
of Tenn. ; Cols. Lomax, 8d Ala.,
Jones, 12th Ala., Giles, 5th S. C,
and lightfoot, 22d N. C. ; while, be-
side himself. Gens. Bhodes and Gar-
land, with Cols. Goodwin, 9th Va.,
and "Wade Hampton, S. C, were
wounded. He also lost G^n. Petti-

grew and Col. C. Davis, of B. C,
and Col. Long, taken prisoners He
claims to have taken 10 guns, 6,000
muskets, and " several hundred "
prisoners — an expression which the
nimiber of our wounded who fell
into his hands must have fully justi-
fied. He probably took few others,
and no officer of distinction.

Gen. McClellan reports our total
loss at 5,739," whereof 890 were
killed, 3,627 wounded, and 1,222
missing : some of these probably
dead, and others left on the field
wounded, to fall into the hands of
the enemy. Among our killed were
CoL G. D. Bailey, Maj. Van Valken-
burg, and Adjt. Ramsey, of the 1st
N. T. artillery ; Cols. J. L. Riker,
62d, and James M. Brown, 100th
N. T., Eippey, 6l8t, and Miller, Slst
Pa. Among gur wotmded were
Gens. Naglee, Pa., Devens, Mass.,
O. O. Howard, Maine, and Wessells ;
Col. E. E. Cross, 6th K. H., and
many other valuable officers.

Conffldering that the bulk of the
loss on either side fell on regiments
which together brought less than
15,000 men into the field, the admit-
ted loss is quite heavy. Eeyee's
corps numbered about 12,000 men
present ; of whom 4,000 were dead or
wounded before 5 p. m. of the Slst.
Periiaps as many had fled to the
rear ; yet Gen^ McClellan's dispatch
to the HVar Department, written so
late as noon of the second day, in
saying that "Casey's division gave
way unaccountably and discredit-
ably," is indiscriminate and unjust.
A green division of less than 7,000

I ^ G«n. ICcOlellan saya that Hill estimates his
loss at 2,500, and adds this number to the abore
total, making in all 6,t33 : but it is erident that
Johnston includes Hill's loss in that of Long-
•treet) who was in command of both dinsions.

^ Bat in a confidential dispatdi of June 4th,
to the War Department, he sajs : " The loaees
in the battles of the Slst and Ist wOl amount to
t,000.'* Though tills maj- hare been an esti*
mate mer^, it waa very near th^ truths

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men conld not &irl j be expeoied to
anreet and repel a detennined ad-
yanoe of the entire Bebel army,
whereof two dioiee diviflions, num-
bering 16,000 men, were hnrled
directlj npon them. That some of
onr men beha^ced badly is tme ; bnt
the responsibility of their failnre rests
on the Generals by whom they were
badly handled. They were sent np
by brigades to confront Bebel divi-
sions, and thus beaten in detail ; and,
when at last the time came for fight-
ing with the advantage of numbers
on onr side, the directing, impelling
will was absent.

Gen. Hooker, next morning," by
Heintzelman's order, made a recon-
noissance in force, advancing to with-
in fonr miles of Bichmond, unresisted
save by pickets. Gen. McClellan,
on learning this movement, ordered
Hooker to be recalled to and take
position at Fair Oaks. The General
commanding wrote this day to the
Secretary of War:

** The enem^r attacked in foroe and with
great spirit yesterday morning ; but are eve-
rywhere most signally repulsed with great
loss. Onr troops charged frecmently on
both days, and uniformly broke tne enemy.
The result is, that our left is within four
miles of Richmond. I only wait for the
rirer to &I1 to cross with the rest of the
foroe and make a general attack. Should I
Ibd them holding firm in a very strong po-
sition, I may wait for what troops I can
bring up from Fortress Monroe. But the
morale of my troops is now such that I can
Tenture much. I do not fear for odds
against me. The victory is complete; and
i£ credit is due to the gallantry of our offi-
cers and men.^

The President, on hearing of this
bloody battle, placed the disposable
trodps at Portress Monroe at the ser-
vice of Gen. McClellan, sent five new
raiments from Baltimore by water
to his aid, and notified him tiiat Mo-

Call's division of McDowell's corps
should follow as speedily as might
be. Gen. McClellan responded :"

"I am glad to learn that you are pressing
forward r^enforcements so vigorously. I
shall be in perfect readiness to move for-
ward and take Richmond the moment
McGall reaches here, and the ground will
admit the passage of artillery. I have ad-
vanced my pickets about a mile to-day ;
driving off the Bebel pickets, and securing
a very advantageous position.*'

He soon afterward" telegraphed :

** I am completely checked by the weatb-
er. The roads and fields are literally im-
passable for artillery — almost so for infan^
try. Ilie Ohickahominy is in a dreadful
state. We have anothw rain-storm on <mr
hands. I shall attack as soon as the
weather and ground will pennit ; but there
wni be a delay, the extent of which no
one can foresee, for the season is alto-
getiier abnormaL In view of these cir-
cumstances, I pq^ient for your considera-
tion the propri^y of detaching largely from
Halleck^s army, to strengthen this; for it
would seem that Halleck has now no large
organized foroe in front of him, while w#
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 princi-
ples to strengthen this army. Ana, even
although the r^nforcements might not ar-
rive in season to take part in the attack
upon Richmond, the moral effect would be
great, and they would furnish valuable as-
sistance in ulterior movements. I wish to
be distinctly understood that, whenever the
weather permits, I will attack with what-
ever force I may have, although a larger
force would enable me to gain much more
decided results. I would be glad to have
McOall's infantry sent forward by water at
once,^ without waiting for his artillery and

Secretary Stanton promptly re-


"Your diroatch of 8:80, 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.
Your suggestions wiU be immediately com-
municate to Gen. Halleck, with a request
that he shall conform to them. At last ad-

^ Junes.

''June 7.

? June 10.

'^ June 11,

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vice, lie contemplated sending a oolamn to
operate with Mitohel against Ohattanooga,
and thence npon East Tennessee. Baell re-
ports Kentucky and Tennessee to be in a
critical condition, demanding immediate at-
tention. Halleck says the main body of
Beanregard^s forces is with him at Okolo-
na. McOairs force was reported yesterday
as having embarked, and on its way to join
Ton. It is intendea to send the residue of
MoDoweirs force fdso to join you as speed-
ily 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 badly handled.

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