« AnteriorContinuar »
No. 1, on the Warwick, which was to have been converted into a real attack if successful at the outset. Though gallantly made, it failed; our advance being driven back across the stream with the loss of 100 men. The Rebels lost about 75 men, including Col. R. M. McKinney, 15th North Carolina, killed.
Gen. McClellan had been thirty days in front of Yorktown, and was intending to open the siege in due form by the fire of breaching batteries on the morning of May 6th; but he found, two days earlier, that Magruder had abandoned his works, including Yorktown, during the preceding night, retreating up the Peninsula." The pursuit of the flying Rebels was prompt and energetic. It was led by Gen. George D. Stoneman, with 4 regiments and a squadron of cavalry, and 4 batteries of horse-artillery, followed, on the Yorktown road to Williamsburg, by Hooker's and Kearny's divisions, and on the Winn's Mill road by those of W. F. Smith, Couch, and Casey. Gen. McClellan remained at Yorktown to supervise the embarkation of Gen. Franklin's and other troops for West Point.
33 Gen. John G. Barnard, Gen. McClellan's chief engineer through the Peninsula campaign, in a report to his commander at the close of that campaign, says:
"At the time the Army of the Potomac landed on the Peninsula, the Rebel cause was at its lowest ebb. Its armies were demoralized by the defeats of Port Royal, Mill Spring, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Roanoke Island, and Pea Ridge; and reduced by sickness, loss in battle, expirations of period of service, etc.; while the conscription law was not yet even passed. It seemed as if it needed but one vigorous gripe to end forever this Rebellion, so nearly throttled. How, then, happened it, that the day of the initiation of the campaign of this magnificent Army of the Potomac was the day of the resuscitation of the Rebel cause, which seemed to grow pari passu with the slow progress of its operations?
"However I may be committed to any expression of professional opinion to the contrary
Fort Magruder, just in front of Williamsburg, at the junction of several roads, commanded, with its 13 adjuncts, substantially all the roads leading farther up the Peninsula. Though not calculated to stand a siege, it was a large and strong earthwork, with a wet ditch nine feet wide. Here Stoneman was stopped by a sharp and accurate cannonading, which compelled him to recoil and await the arrival of infantry. Gen. Sumner, with Smith's division, came up at 5:30 P. M. A heavy rain soon set in, and continued through the night, making the roads nearly impassable. The several commands, marching on different roads, had interfered with and obstructed each other's progress at the junction of those roads as they concentered upon Williamsburg. Gen. Hooker, advancing" on the direct road from Yorktown to Williamsburg, was stopped, five or six miles out, by finding Gen. Smith's division in his way, and compelled to wait some hours. Impatient at this delay, he sought and obtained of Gen. Heintzelman permission to move over to the Hampton road on his left, on (I certainly did suggest it), my opinion now is that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted. There is reason to believe that they were not held in strong force when our army appeared before them; and we know that they were far from complete. The prestige of power, the morale, were on our side. It was due to ourselves to confirm and sustain it. We should probably have succeeded. But, if we had failed, it may well be doubted whether the shock of an unsuccessful assault would be more demoralizing than the labors of a siege.
"Our troops toiled a month in the trenches, or lay in the swamps of Warwick. We lost few men by the siege; but disease took a fearful hold of the army; and toil and hardship, unredeemed by the excitement of combat, impaired their morale. We did not carry with us from Yorktown so good an army as we took there. Of the bitter fruits of that month gained by the enemy, we have tasted to our heart's content." 34 May 4.
THE FIGHTING AT WILLIAMSBURG.
which he advanced through the rain | from Fort Magruder, Webber's batand deep mud and the dense dark- tery, which at once drew the fire of ness till nearly midnight, when his the Rebel batteries, whereby 4 of his troops were halted in the road, and cannoniers were shot down and the rested as they might until dawn; rest driven off before we had fired a then they pressed on until, emerg- gun; but their places were soon sup ing from a forest, they came in sight, plied, and Bramhall's battery brought about 5:30 A. M., of the Rebel works into action on the right of Webber's; before Williamsburg; Fort Magruder when, between them, Fort Magruder in the center, at the junction of the was silenced before 9 A. M. Patter Yorktown and Hampton roads, with son's brigade, composed of the 6th, its cordon of 13 redoubts, extending 7th, and 8th New Jersey, was formed clear across the Peninsula, hence behind these batteries as their supwidening quite rapidly and perma- port, and was soon desperately ennently just above the town. The gaged with the Rebel infantry and ground had of course been chosen to sharp-shooters, who were found ungive the greatest advantage to its comfortably numerous; so that the defenders: the forest felled for a 1st Massachusetts, 72d and 70th breadth of nearly half a mile, to ob- New York were sent to their aid, struct the advance of our infantry; and, though fighting gallantly, found while a belt of open, level land, 600 themselves still overmatched. Meanor 700 yards wide, dotted all over while, our skirmishers on the right with rifle-pits, intervened between having reached the Yorktown road, this tangled abatis and the fort and the 11th Massachusetts and 26th redoubts. Williamsburg lay in plain Pennsylvania were sent down that sight of Hooker's position, two miles road to press the enemy and estabdistant. After a careful survey of lish a connection with Heintzelthe ground, knowing that there were man's corps, supposed to be estab30,000 of our troops within two miles, lished upon it; Hooker, at 11:20 and the main body of our army with- A. M., sending a pressing message to in twelve, Hooker decided to attack, Heintzelman for assistance, and not in order to hold the Rebel force en- finding him. By 1 P. M., Hooker gaged until the rest of our army had sent in the 73d and 74th New could come up. Accordingly, send- York, his last regiments; and, though ing the 1st Massachusetts into the his force was fighting gallantly, with felled timber on the left, and the 2d varying success, he was losing men New Hampshire into that on the fast, yet making no headway. Three right, with directions to skirmish up times he had repulsed Rebel charges to the further edge of the abatis, and upon his center, each made with ordering the 11th Massachusetts and fresh troops in increasing numbers 26th Pennsylvania to form on the and with more resolute purpose. right of the 2d New Hampshire and Soon, word came from the regiments advance as skirmishers until they thus engaged that their ammunition reached the Yorktown road, he threw was giving out, while no supply-train forward into the cleared field on the had yet come up; and it was found right of the road, barely 700 yards necessary to glean the cartridges
from the boxes of our fallen heroes, | Berry's brigade to the left of the while our most advanced regiments Williamsburg road, and Birney's to were drawn back to a position whence the right, leading forward two comthey could guard our left, yet form a panies of the 2d Michigan to beat portion of our front. back the enemy's skirmishers, now annoying our batteries; while Maj. Wainwright, Hooker's chief of artillery, collected his gunners and reopened a fire from his remaining pieces; whereupon the 5th New Jersey, though fearfully cut up, rallied promptly to their support. Our musketry fire was renewed along the whole line, and our regiments began to gain ground.
Gen. Longstreet's division of the Rebel main army-which army, under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston as commander-in-chief, had hastened ere this to the 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, after a protracted struggle, was repulsed with mutual slaughter; but a simultaneous attack on our front, from the direction of Fort Magruder, was successful 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 substantially the whole Rebel army, with every advantage of a chosen and skillfully fortified position on their side. No division ever fought better; and, though its General estimates the Rebel killed as double his own, he is doubtless mistaken.
Gen. Heintzelman and staff, but no troops, had arrived early in the afternoon. At 4:30 P. M., Gen. Kearny arrived, with his division, and pressed to the front; allowing Hooker's thinned regiments to withdraw from the fight and be held as a reserve. Kearny, under Gen. Heintzelman's orders, at once deployed
Gen. McClellan, in his report, says:
"It is my opinion that the enemy opposed us here with only a portion of his army. When our cavalry first appeared, there was nothing but the enemy's rear-guard in Williamsburg: |
Finding that the heavy timber in his front defied all direct approach, Gen. Kearny ordered Col. Hobart Ward, with the 38th New York, to charge down the road and take the rifle-pits on the center of the abatis by their flank; which was gallantly done, the regiment losing 9 of its 19 officers during the brief hour of its engagement. The success of its charge not being perfect, the left wing of Col. Riley's 40th New York (Mozart) charged up to the open space, and, taking the rifle-pits in reverse, 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 regiments 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 Gen. although troops were brought back during the night and the next day, to hold the works as long as possible, in order to gain time for the trains, etc., already well on their way to Richmond, to make their escape."
MCCLELLAN AT WILLIAMSBURG.
McClellan with the direction of the | ing of Franklin's division to West
"History will not be believed when it is
Gen. Sumner explains that, before these applications reached him, he had dispatched Gen. Hancock, with his brigade, to the extreme right; so that he had but about 3,000 infantry left, while cavalry was useless in that wooded and unknown region; hence, he was unable to give the assistance required.
Gen. Hancock duly accomplished
Gen. McClellan, in his Report, says that he first heard, at 1 P. M., that every thing was not progressing favorably, when:
lay, to ride to the front, reaching Hancock's position about 5 P. M. 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, at 10 P. M., dispatched to Washington the following account of this bloody affair, which proves that he was still quite in the dark respecting it:
"After arranging for movement up York river, I was urgently 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 taking one Colonel and 150 prisoners, killbrigade by a real charge with the bayonet, ing at least two Colonels and as many Lt.Colonels, and many privates. His conduct was brilliant in the extreme. I do not know our exact loss, but fear Hooker has lost considerably on our left. I learn from prisonRichmond. I shall run the risk of at least ers that they intend disputing every step to holding them in check here, while I resume the original plan. My entire force is, undoubtedly, considerably inferior 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 Rebels were at that moment evacuating Williamsburg in such haste as to leave all their severely wounded, 700 or 800 in number, to become prisongades to support that part of the line. Gen. Naglee, with his brigade, received similar orders. I then directed our center to advance to the further edge of the woods mentioned above, which was done, and attempted to open communication with Gen. Heintzelman, but was prevented by the marshy state of the ground in the direction in which the attempt was made. Before Gens. Smith and Naglee could reach the field of Gen. Hancock's operations, although they moved with great rapidity, he had been confronted by a superior force. Feigning to re-. treat slowly, he awaited their onset, and then turned upon them: after some terrific volleys of musketry, he charged them with the bayonet,
"Completing the necessary arrangements, I returned to my camp without delay, 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 5 P M., in time to take a rapid survey of the ground. I soon learned that there was no direct communication between our center and the left under Gen. Heintzelman. The center was chiefly in the nearer edge of the woods situated between us and the enemy. As heavy firing was heard in the direction of Gen. Han-routing and dispersing their whole force, killing, cock's command, I immediately ordered Gen. wounding, and capturing from 500 to 600 men; Smith to proceed with his two remaining bri- he himself losing only 31 men."
ers, he must have written a very different dispatch; and it is not probable that they would have carried off, over the drenched and miry roads, more cannon than they could boast on the morning before the battle."
Gen. Hooker reports a loss in this engagement of 338 killed, 902 wounded, and 335 missing, who of course were prisoners. Gen. McClellan makes our total loss during the day 456 killed, 1,400 wounded, and 372 missing; total, 2,228." Many of those prisoners, knowing that we had an overwhelming force just at hand, confidently looked for recapture during the night, and were sorely chagrined to find themselves deliberately marching toward a Rebel prison next day.
While the battle at Williamsburg was raging, Gen. Franklin's division,
* On waking, next morning, to find the Rebels vanished and his forces in quiet possession of Williamsburg, Gen. McClellan forwarded the following more cheerful dispatches:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF, VA, ROTOMAC, "WILLIAMSBURG, May 6. "Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
"I have the pleasure to announce the occupa tion of this place as the result of the hard-fought action of yesterday. The effect of Hancock's brilliant engagement yesterday afternoon was to turn the left of their line of works.
strongly reenforced, and the enemy abandoned the entire position during the night, leaving all his sick and wounded in our hands. His loss yesterday was very 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 that I cannot move artillery nor supplies. I shall therefore push the other movement most energetically. The conduct of our men has been excellent, with scarcely an exception. The enemy's works are very extensive 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 food on account of the roads. Very few wagons have yet come up. Am I authorized to follow the example of other Generals, and direct names of battles to be
which had been kept on board the transports which brought it from Alexandria two or three weeks before, had been preparing to move from Yorktown up York river to West Point; where its 1st brigade, under Gen. Newton, landed unopposed 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 Gen. 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 night, one of our vedettes was shot through the heart, from the wood that fringed the plain whereon our troops were en
placed on the colors of regiments? We have other battles to fight before reaching Richmond. "G. B. MCCLELLAN, "Maj. Gen. Commanding." "HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, "WILLIAMSBURG, May 6. "Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
"Every hour proves our victory more complete. The enemy's loss is great, especially in officers. I have just heard of five more of their guns captured. Prisoners are constantly arriving. G. B. MCCLELLAN, "Maj.-Gen. Commanding."
38 No official account of the Rebel losses in this engagement is at hand; but the Richmond Dispatch of May 8th has a bulletin, professedly based on an official dispatch from Gen. Johnston, which, claiming 11 cannon and 623 prisoners captured, admits a Rebel loss of but 220; yet names Gen. Anderson, of North Carolina, Col. Mott, of Mississippi, Col. Ward, 4th Florida, and Col. Wm. H. Palmer, 1st Virginia, as among the killed; and Gen. Early, Gen. Rains, Col. Kemper, 7th Virginia, Col. Corse, 17th Virginia, and Col. Garland, 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 terribly, though we
have no account of the extent of the casualties." These items indicate a total loss of certainly not less than 1,000. * May 6.