« AnteriorContinuar »
of the Conduct of the War.
Part I., pp. 346, 347.
have carried the line of Magruder by assault at any Chap. XX. time during the early days of April. From the mass of testimony to this effect before us we will take only two or three expressions, of the highest authority. General A. S. Webb says: “That the Warwick line could have been readily broken within a week after the army's arrival before it, we now "The Penknow." General Heintzelman says, in his evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War: “I think if I had been permitted, when I first landed on the Peninsula, to advance, I could have isolated the troops in Yorktown, and the place would have committee fallen in a few days; but my orders were very stringent not to make any demonstration."
General Barnard, McClellan's chief of engineers, says in his final report of the campaign that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted:
There is reason to believe that they were not held by strong force when our army appeared before them, and we know that they were far from complete. Our troops toiled a month in the trenches, or lay in the swamps of the Warwick. We lost few men by the siege, but disease took a fearful hold of the army, and toil and hardship, unrelieved by the excitement of combat, impaired the morale. We did not carry with us from Yorktown so good an army as we took there.
The testimony of the enemy is the same. Johnston, so soon as he came to examine it, regarded the position of Magruder as clearly untenable; saw that McClellan could not be defeated there; that the line was too long to be successfully defended; that the back-water was as much a protection to one side as the other; that there was a considerable unfortified space between Yorktown and the head of the stream open to attack; and that the posi
W. R. Vol. XI., Part I.,
pp. 129, 130.
CHAP. XX. tion could at any time be turned by way of York
River. Every one seemed to see it except General McClellan. He went on sending dispatches every day to Washington for heavier guns and more men, digging a colossal system of earthworks for gradual approach upon one side of an intrenched camp of no strategic value whatever, the rear of which was entirely open; preparing with infinite labor and loss the capture of a place without a prisoner, the effect of which at the best would be merely to push an army back upon its reserves.
Even so late as the 16th of April, an opportunity to break Magruder's line was clearly presented to McClellan and rejected. He had ordered General W. F. Smith to reconnoiter a position known as Dam No. 1, between Lee's and Wynn's Mills, where there was a crossing covered by a one-gun battery of the enemy. For this purpose Smith pushed Brooks's Vermont brigade with Mott's battery somewhat close to the dam, carrying on a sharp fire. From this point he examined at his leisure, and in fact controlled, the position opposite, finding it feebly defended. A young officer of Brooks's staff, Lieutenant E. M. Noyes, crossed the river below the dam, where the water was only waist deep, and approached within fifty yards of the enemy's works. Returning after this daring feat, he repeated his observations to General Smith and to General Mc
Clellan, who had arrived on the ground and had "The Pon- ordered Smith to bring up his entire division to
hold the advanced position occupied by Brooks's brigade. Smith, who perceived the importance of Noyes's intelligence, obtained permission to send a party across the stream to see if the enemy's works
had been sufficiently denuded to enable a column Chap. XX. to effect a lodgment. Four companies of the Third Vermont, numbering two hundred men, under Captain F.C. Harrington, were ordered to cross the river to ascertain "the true state of affairs.” They dashed through the stream, and in a few moments gained the enemy's rifle-pits, where they maintained themselves with the utmost gallantry for half an hour. The enemy was thrown into great confusion by this bold and utterly unexpected movement. There were still several hours of daylight left, and another attempt was made to cross at the same point with a force no larger than Harrington's, assisted by a diversion of an equal force at the dam above. But the enemy being now thoroughly aroused and concentrated, the crossing was not made. It appears from General Smith's report that no attempt to mass the troops of the division for an assault was made; the only intention seemed to be “to secure to us the enemy's works if we found them abandoned !” He adds: “The moment I found resistance serious, and the numbers opposed great, I acted in obedience to the warning instructions of the general-in-chief, and withdrew the small number of troops exposed from under fire." "Thus," says General Webb, “a fair opportunity to break the Warwick line was missed."
The importance of this incident may be best appreciated by reading General Magruder's account of it. He calls it a serious attempt to break his line at the weakest part. If, instead of two hundred men, Smith had felt authorized to push over his entire division, the Peninsular Campaign might have had a very different termination.
W. R. Vol. XI., Part I.,
W. R. Vol. XI., Part I.,