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Williamsburg; and, after a short contest, the enemy was driven from the field. During the night Porter's beaten divisions crossed the Chickahominy and took up the route for the James. Hancock was withdrawn to his former position at Golding's, intrusted with the duty of covering the retreat. Late in the day, as he was retiring under orders, another, but comparatively slight, attack was made by the adventurous enemy, which was easily thrown off, only one of Hancock's regiments being engaged.* On the 29th, Hancock's troops were in support of Sumner, at Savage Station, and on the 30th took their share of the tremendous shelling which was inflicted upon Smith's division at White Oak Swamp. Immediately after this they were sent forward to the James River, and were thus out of reach at the great battle of Malvern Hills, on the ist of July.
But while, as related, Hancock's brigade had borne far less than its proportional share of the fighting on the Peninsula, the reputation of its commander had steadily advanced, as the result of his prompt execution of orders, the discipline his troops had exhibited in camp and upon the march, and his own fine bearing and intelligent action during the successive exigencies of the campaign. Franklin's corps was one of the last to arrive at Centreville for
* In this attack Colonel L. Q. C. Lamar, afterward Secretary of the Interior and a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, fell a prisoner into Hancock's hands.
the re-enforcement of Pope's army, in August; so that again Hancock's command failed to be engaged with the enemy in actions which are now of the highest historical interest. Still again, in the Antietam campaign, Hancock's brigade was destined to be kept out of the fight in a truly remarkable degree. At Crampton's Pass, on the 14th of September, it only exchanged artillery fire with the enemy, and at Antietam, on the 17th, it supported a powerful battery of many guns on the right of the Union line, without entering further into the action. Franklin had, indeed, on coming up about noon, been desirous of throwing in his powerful corps at the Dunker Church, to retrieve the fortunes of the day.; but Sumner, who had been profoundly shocked by the losses of his own divisions, especially Sedgwick's, forbade the movement.
It has been said that Hancock's brigade was engaged at Antietam only in support of artillery. After Sumner's refusal to allow Franklin to deliver an attack at the Dunker Church—the scene of Sedgwick's terrible repulse—the Sixth Corps remained inactive during the afternoon of the 17th of September. For Hancock personally, however, much was yet in store. At noon of that momentous day —the bloodiest single day in the annals of the great war-tidings were brought to headquarters that the gallant Richardson, commanding the First Division of Sumner's Second Corps, had fallen in the battle
around Piper's House. At once Hancock was sent for in haste, and from McClellan's own lips received the order to proceed with all dispatch to Richardson's line, and assume command of that division. Though scarcely another brigade commander had been so little engaged in action since the army took the field in April, there had not been a moment's hesitation in selecting the officer who should succeed to the vacant division when the news arrived of Richardson's mortal wound; nor on Hancock's part was there the slightest doubt or fear upon receiving that sudden and unexpected promotion on the field of battle. It is generally more or less of an experiment to advance even a capable and efficient brigadier to the charge of a division. The natural range of his powers may be found to have been exceeded. Even should he in time grow up to the position, it is most likely that the new command will be exercised at first with too much either of timidity or of rashness, with somewhat less than a full grasp of the situation, with comparative feebleness of authority and influence over the unfamiliar body. No such painful interval of self-distrust, or of real inadequacy to new and larger responsibilities, marked Hancock's successive promotions. The very day he was advanced from captain and quartermaster to brigadier-general, he was, in every sense, a general officer, confident of his powers, rejoicing in the exercise of his functions, and thoroughly master of
himself, his place, his staff, and his troops. An hour after he rode down the line, at Antietam, to take up the sword that had fallen from Richardson's dying hand, no one could have told—he himself hardly knew—that he had not commanded a division for years. So thoroughly had he prepared himself for promotion during his service with his brigade, so sure was he of his powers, that he stepped forward to the higher command upon the field of battle, amid its wreck and disaster, without a moment of hesitation or of doubt, and at once became the leader of the division, as fully and perfectly as Sumner in his time had been, as Richardson but just now had been. The staff knew it; the troops felt it. Every officer in his place, and every man in the ranks was aware, before the sun went down, that he belonged to Hancock's Division.
The body of troops to which Hancock had been sent was one worthy of any commander. It was the division which Sumner had organized and drilled during the winter of 1861–62, and which still showed in its every part the impress of the powerful hand which had first shaped and molded it. When Sumner was appointed to the Second Corps, Richardson took his division and led it with great credit during the campaign on the Peninsula. It passed through its baptism of fire at Fair Oaks on Sunday morning, where it lost eight hundred and thirty-eight men in a close, fierce, but victorious contest. Two of its
brigades - French's and Meagher's - crossed the Chickahominy to the support of Porter late in the afternoon of the 27th of June; and it was behind their undaunted line that Porter's badly shattered troops were re-formed. The division had been engaged at Allen's Farm on the morning of the 29th, and later in the day had taken an important part in the brief but sharp action at Savage Station. It had helped to hold the bridge with Franklin at White Oak Swamp on the 30th; and on the ist of July, two of its brigades—Caldwell's and Meagher's —had gone to the support of Porter and Couch on the Heights of Malvern, and had contributed largely to the final repulse of the enemy on that ever-memorable day. At Antietam, it had been brought by Sumner across the creek, on the morning of which we write, and had been directed straight on Piper's house, where it became engaged in a sanguinary contest which resulted in driving the enemy out of the famous Sunken Road. It had lost eleven hundred and sixty-five men, of whom-although the fighting had been close, and charges and countercharges had been made-only sixteen were among the “missing." It had lost, besides its gallant commander, many valuable officers, the casualties of the Irish Brigade of Meagher being especially heavy. The division had in this action captured four hundred prisoners and nine Confederate flags.
Such had been the experience of the body of