ePub 版

soldiers of the United States Army as if they had belonged to the old Sixth Infantry. Such was the spirit in which Hancock met his new command. We know with what assiduity, patience, and good feeling, what almost pathetic eagerness to learn and imitate, the volunteers of 1861 sought to fit themselves for their part in the great struggle. Hancock's thorough and cordial acceptance of volunteers was seen, again, in his choice of staff officers throughout the war. Even after he had become a corps commander, when any captain in the service would have been proud to come at his call, he showed no disposition to prefer an officer of the regular army as such. Except Morgan, whom he inherited from Sumner and Couch, no officer of the regular army ever held an important position on his staff. Mitchell and Bingham, Batchelder and Wilson, Brownson and Livermore, Miller and Parker were good enough for him. The work which Hancock had done during the winter of 1861–62, in preparing his enthusiastic volunteers for active service, was soon to be put to the test. Smith's division formed a part of the Fourth Corps, which General Keyes took to the Peninsula of Virginia in the spring of 1862. During the long and discouraging halt before Yorktown Hancock's troops were not engaged; but at Williamsburg, where on the 5th of May our troops overtook the retreating enemy, Hancock was given his first opportunity, which he improved in such a manner as at once to make his name famous throughout the land. After several hours had been wasted in objectless and useless fighting in front of Fort Magruder, Hancock was dispatched with five regiments—three of his own, and two of Davidson's brigade—to cross Cub Dam Creek, on our extreme right, and, if possible, gain the enemy's rear. The movement was executed cautiously but promptly; and at noon Hancock occupied the redoubt upon the Confederate side which commanded the narrow mill-bridge across the creek, and sent word to headquarters of his success, nothing doubting that he would speedily be re-enforced to a degree which would make it practicable to advance into the enemy's rear, which had by inadvertence been left completely open, and thus cut off Longstreet's division. But divided counsels were the order of this day. Keyes, Sumner, and Heintzelman had all the morning been jarring with each other at the Whittaker House; McClellan was back at Yorktown; and for hours no re-enforcements were sent. At last the enemy, discerning Hancock's threatening attitude, directed against him a column under Generals Jubal Early and D. H. Hill, both afterward famous in the war. Hancock—to secure his own position, as well as to make ready for a prompt advance when he should be re-enforced—had occupied a second redoubt twelve hundred yards nearer Williamsburg, and still more directly threatening the enemy's rear. From this point he was already demonstrating against two other redoubts, when he perceived he was to be attacked by Early and Hill. Falling back in perfect order from his most advanced position, upon finding his right flank threatened, he halted his command, which, though for the first time in action, conducted itself with the greatest steadiness, and, when the enemy were within close range, received them with two clean volleys of musketry, followed up by a charge along the line. Hill was wounded, and his troops driven back in disorder. Early sought to retrieve the fortunes of the day, but was swept off the field by the steady advance of Hancock. In twenty-three minutes the affair was over. The action had been short, sharp, and decisive. The Confederates left in Hancock's hands a battle-flag and one hundred and sixty prisoners. So complete had been their discomfiture, that they made no further attempt to molest Hancock in his position. After the action was at an end re-enforcements arrived, and General Smith himself came upon the ground; but it was already late, and no attempt was made to pursue the advantage gained. When night fell, Longstreet withdrew from his untenable position, and continued his interrupted retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond. The action at Williamsburg made Hancock's reputation. He had shown enterprise, audacity, and prudence in a critical movement, with a body of troops altogether insufficient to the purpose for which it had been dispatched. In the action which resulted, he had displayed perfect command over his men, high tactical skill, and decisive energy—energy, that is, applied in exactly the right way and at exactly the right moment. He had defeated and routed a superior force of the enemy, led by two of their ablest captains. It was no fault of his that the absence of the commander in chief and the divided counsels at the Whittaker House prevented the destruction of the enemy. No wonder that McClellan telegraphed that night, “Hancock was superb.” In his report on the operations of the day, General Smith wrote: “The brilliancy of the plan of battle, the coolness of its execution, the seizing of the proper instant for changing from the defensive to the offensive, the steadiness of the troops engaged, and the completeness of the victory, are subjects to which I earnestly call the attention of the commander in chief for his just praise.” With such a striking opening of his career upon the Peninsula, it might well have been expected that, in the succession of terrific battles which took place before McClellan was finally driven away to the James River, Hancock's brigade would have found many opportunities to distinguish itself, and to exalt the fame of its commander. But, by one of those curious fortunes which mark the course of war, it came about that this excellent body of troops passed through the entire campaign without once again becoming severely engaged with the enemy. It lay under arms within sound of the terrific conflict which raged for hours on the afternoon of the 31st of May and on the morning of the 1st of June, when the corps of Keyes, Heintzelman, and later of Sumner, were wrestling with nearly the whole force of Johnston's army. During the Seven Days' Battles— while other divisions and brigades were frightfully cut up in one action, only to be engaged the next day, and the next—Hancock's command was but once called to meet the enemy, and then in a minor affair. This was on the fatal 27th of June, when Porter's corps, re-enforced by Slocum's division, was bearing the brunt of the tremendous attack of Stonewall Jackson's divisions, then just arrived from the Valley. At a critical moment the enemy made an attempt to break through Hancock's advanced position at Garnett's Farm, close down by the Chickahominy, hoping thus to cut the communications between Porter and the remaining corps of McClellan, already under orders to retreat to the James. The attacking force was commanded by General Robert Toombs. Hancock's dispositions for defense—both with his infantry, re-enforced by two regiments from the Vermont brigade, and with artillery which had been sent to him for the purpose—were of the same masterly character as at

« 上一頁繼續 »