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the enemy's approach and to allow opportunity for the construction of breastworks. The movement thus accomplished had placed Hancock well out on the left of the Union army and in a somewhat advanced position. He was therefore exposed to attack by the enemy hurrying down from Spottsylvania. This, however, was exactly what Meade desired. He hoped that Hancock would get an opportunity to severely punish one or two Confederate divisions which might be too enterprising in meeting the Union advance. But Lee gave little thought to Hancock's movement, having set his own troops in motion to get behind the North Anna.
The other corps having come up abreast of Hancock or in support of him by the 22d, and Lee having concentrated his army at Hanover Junction, fifteen or eighteen miles away, Grant, on the morning of the 23d, moved forward to the North Anna, determined to force the passage. At five o'clock in the morning the Second Corps set out, Birney in the lead, and about midday arrived at the river at Chesterfield, where there was a substantial bridge. Long lines of the enemy's jaded troops coming in from their forced march could be seen on the opposite bank forming simultaneously with ours. They had, however, artillery already in position, while on our bank of the river they still held a small earthwork which protected the bridge. Hancock's advance pushed the enemy backward until their skirmishers were all driven across. He then determined to carry the bridgehead, which was held by troops from Kershaw's division. Two of Birney's brigades, commanded by Colonel Thomas W. Egan, of New York, and Colonel Byron R. Pierce, of Michigan, were formed for attack; and at half past six charged across the fields from nearly opposite directions, converging upon the earthwork. The two brigades advanced in splendid style over open ground, vying with each other in gallantry of bearing and rapidity of movement, and carried the intrenchments without a halt. The Confederates were driven pellmell across the river and the bridge was seized, some prisoners being captured.
The enemy made resolute efforts to burn the bridge when they retreated, and at intervals during the night renewed the attempt, but were beaten off. They succeeded, however, in partially destroying the railroad bridge. In the morning Birney's division crossed; and after two pontoon bridges had been thrown over, Barlow's and Gibbon's divisions followed. Tyler's heavy artillery remained on the north bank, to hold the captured bridgehead and to connect the Second Corps with the Fifth, which had crossed the river above and, after a severe fight with A. P. Hill, had established itself firmly on the south bank. It seemed that, the Union army being in position across the river, both above and below the point which Lee held on the 23d, that officer must either retreat or fight a general battle. Such, however, was not the case. Lee's army, in fact, occupied a very peculiar position—one which, so far as I know, was nowhere duplicated during the war. The Confederates held the bank of the river for about three quarters of a mile, and then drew back their wings, each at a sharp angle. Their lines were heavily intrenched, and were protected from enfilade by the great natural strength of the ground and by repeated traverses. Why Lee, seeing that the Union army was divided, did not emerge from one or the other side and attack either Hancock or Warren with the greater part of his force has never been explained. Perhaps he hoped that the Army of the Potomac would commit itself to another grand assault and throw away a large part of its remaining preponderance of numbers. Grant, however, was not disposed to make an attack upon a position so formidable; and the two armies remained through the 24th, 25th, and 26th without a serious collision, though Gibbon's skirmishers were once driven in and a smart action took place.
Finding himself held as in a vice on the North Anna, Grant determined upon a yet further movement to the left, to cross the Pamunkey River near Hanover town, more than thirty miles away. The Sixth Corps, in advance, set out on the evening of the 26th of May, moving by the roads nearest the enemy. The Fifth and Ninth Corps were to move by an inside route and cross the Pamunkey four miles below Hanover town. The Second, which had during the 26th been tearing up the railroad toward Milford, took the route at 10 A. M. of the 27th, following the Sixth. At ten o'clock that night the corps bivouacked three miles from the Pamunkey. The long march over the dusty roads had made great demands upon the troops; but these were bravely met in the expectation that the strategy of Grant would at last gain an opportunity to close the campaign with one victorious battle, in open country, outside intrenchments.
The next day, the 28th, the corps crossed the Pamunkey, the most important tributary of the York, and went into position between the Fifth and Sixth, in front of Hanover town, which is about seventeen miles from Richmond. Between Hanover town and Richmond flows Totopotomoy Creek, which presents much the same characteristics as the Chickahominy, so well known to the Army of the Potomac through its experiences of 1862, having but little slope, with a broad expanse of low bottom lands on one side or the other, more commonly on both, heavily timbered, and certain to become an impassable swamp after a rain. From Hanover town a good road runs southwest, through Hawes's shop, Pole Green Church (on the Totopotomoy), and Huntley's Corners, toward Richmond. Lee had, by forced marches, again got in between Grant and Richmond, and the contest was to be renewed on the same terms as before.
On the 29th Barlow moved out for a reconnoissance of the Totopotomoy, and after dispersing some cavalry, reached Swift Creek, a tributary of the Totopotomoy, where he found breastworks fully manned. As Barlow reported that the enemy could not easily be dislodged, Birney and Gibbon were brought forward, and formed on his right and left respectively. The other corps were by this time well up. On the 30th, Brooke's brigade, supported by Owen's, moved against the enemy's line of skirmish pits and carried them in handsome style. These were immediately converted into cover for our own men. The Confederate position was found to be exceedingly strong, its front covered by the course of the Totopotomoy, much of the ground being marsh. The artillery was brought up and a great part of it placed along the ridge.
After a hot duel at unusually short range, Colonel Tidball succeeded in silencing the enemy; but as no opening appeared which promised success in an assault, General Hancock was directed not to press matters, it being understood that other corps were to attempt to turn the enemy's position. At a little after seven in the evening, however, General Hancock was informed by General Meade that Warren, on the extreme left, at Bethesda Church, had been violently attacked; and he was directed "as soon as