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House, about five miles above, on the river, at the head of navigation, with a connection, by the York River Railroad, with Richmond, had been abandoned by the rebels a few days before, on the approach of General Stoneman, who took possession of the place. It thenceforward was used as a permanent base for the landing of supplies during the campaign,—supplies, which, we may here mention, to the disgrace of those concerned, were furnished with a lavishness and prodigality hard to explain or excuse.
On the morning of Monday, the 19th of May, our army directed its course westward towards Richmond, the capture of which was so eagerly and, in measure, unreasonably longed for at the North, and the defence of which was so fixedly resolved upon by the rebels who held it under their sway. It was too important to their interests lightly to yield it; and hence men like Jeff. Davis, Gen. Joe Johnson, and Stonewall Jackson, gave all their ability and all their energy to devise ways and means for repelling the advancing forces under McClellan.
"Recent disaster," it is true, as Davis said, "has spread gloom over the land, and sorrow sits at the hearthstones of our countrymen; but a people, conscious of rectitude and faithfully relying on their Father in heaven, may be cast down, but cannot be dismayed." Fort Pulaiki had been lost. New Orleans was captured. Norfolk and Yorktown had been abandoned. The Merrimac had been destroyed by their own hands. In almost every direction gloom and despondency seemed to preponderate;
but Davis and his aiders and abettors were not disposed to yield an inch. Davis declared "that if, in the course of events, Richmond should fall—the necessity for which he did not see or anticipate—that would be no reason for withdrawing the army from Virginia. • The war could still be successfully maintained on Virginia soil for twenty years."
The left wing of the army, formed of the corps of Keyes and Heintzelman, led the way, as above stated, on the 19th of May, toward the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge; the centre, Sumner's corps, followed the line of the railroad; and the right, consisting of Franklin's and Porter's corps, pursued a course to the northwest. Stoneman, with his cavalry, was in the advance. The bridge over the Chickahominy was partly destroyed, but there was no resistance made to the crossing of Stoneman, who reconnoitred the country above, preparatory to the right wing's advance. On the 20th, the centre and left were at the Chickahominy, near the railroad bridge, and the next day the right encamped at Coal Harbor, where McClellan established head-quarters, about three miles from the river, at New Bridge.
On the 25th of May, Keyes' and Heintzelman's corps had crossed the river, while on the right an important reconnaissance, followed by the capture of the place, had been pushed to Mechanicsville, a village near the Chickahominy, five miles west of Coal Harbor, and about the same distance from Richmond. The corps of Keyes on the left held the advance beyond the Chicka. hominy, being encamped on both sides of the railroad, in the vicinity of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, and the corps of Heintzelman was in their, rear also along the railroad, in the neighborhood of Savage's Station.
In the advance in this quarter, Casey held the front, with his division, about 4,000 men, nearly all raw troops. His force was stationed, the last week in May, in the immediate presence of the enemy, within six miles of Richmond, his pickets extending to within five miles of that city. Couch s division of Keyes' corps was next behind on the railroad. A line of pickets was extended across the narrow angle made by the railroad and the river, the general lines of the left and right wings of the army to the vicinity of New Bridge, the distance across between railroad and river being about three miles. To secure the communication between the two wings, a large number of the troops skilled in such labors, were actively engaged in building bridges across the Chickahominy, which separated the two portions of the army. The labors in this service were excessive, and pursued under peculiar difficulties, from the uncertain nature of the stream, liable to sudden increase from rains, and always embarrassing from the swamps and quicksands in which the structure must be built. The weather was bad, the roads muddy in proportion, and the water was, for the season, unusually high in the river.*
* McClellan, in his report, says: "In view of the peculiar character of the Chickahominy, and the liability of the bottom lands to sudden inundations, it became necessary to construct, between Bottom's Bridge and Mechanicsville, eleven new bridges, all long and difficult, with extensive log-way approaches."
Everything, however, was pushed on diligently, and only the completion of the bridges was waited for in order to secure a perfect co-operation of the whole army, and thus bring the enemy to a decisive engagement. A general order was issued by McClellan, on the 25th of May, requiring the- troops beyond the Chickahominy to hold themselves in readiness for battle at a moment's notice. Just on the eve, however, of the approaching great contest near Richmond, McClellan received information respecting a rebel force in the vicinity of Hanover Court House, which might seriously endanger our communications, or interfere with McDowell's expected, and anxiously looked for junction. By the commanding general's direction, Fitz John Porter set out, early on the morning of the 27th of May, to dislodge or defeat this force, said to consist of North Carolina troops from Newbern, under the rebel General Branch. Near Hanover Court House Porter drove the rebels, who, having been reinforced, made an attack on the rear of our force. Porter then faced about and routed them completely.* The rebel force was estimated at 8,000, of which more than 200 were killed and between 700 and 800 made prisoners. Our loss was reported at 53 killed and 300 wounded and missing. McClellan spoke in the highest terms of Porter's success, as not only having dispersed Branch's division, but more especially as clearing and entirely relieving the right flank of the army.
* The railroad bridge over the South Anna was destroyed by our men on the 27th of May. This was on the direct line of communication between Fredericks burg and Richmond.
Cii. xrv.] Mcdowell Withdrawn From Mcolellan.
McClellan had felt all along, very keenly, the being deprived of McDowell's support, (see p. 138), and he was now hoping every day to have that general's aid and co-operation in view of the direct assault to be made upon Richmond.* The government, on the 17th of May, ordered McDowell, with Shields's division taken from Banks, to move toward Richmond and join McClellan; at the same time he was to keep careful watch, and be ready to meet any sudden dash or attack upon Washington. The rebel General Johnston and his advisers seemed to understand the position of affairs very well, and they knew that it was of the utmost importance to them that McDowell should be kept at a distance from Richmond. With great shrewdness, they resolved to dispatch Jackson for the purpose of making a bold and rapid raid upon Banks, being assured, apparently, that this would so frighten the authorities at Washington that McDowell's further advance would be immediately stopped, and McClellan's calculations, based upon his co-operation, rendered void.
The rebel plan was well laid. On the 24th of May, McDowell was ordered to hasten to the help or rescue of Banks. He obeyed of course; the same
* The Prince de JoinviUe's remarks on the grievous mistake in preventing McDowell's advance are worth quoting:—" It needed only an effort of the will ; the two armies were united, and the poftession of Richmond certain! Alas, this effort was not made. . . . the fatal error was on the point of being committed. Not only did Dot the two armies unite, but the order came from Washington to bum the bridges which had been seized. This was the clearest way of saying to the Army of the Potomac and to its chief that in no case could they count on th« support of the armies of Upper Virgin!*."
day he wrote: "the president's order has been received, and is in process of execution. This is a crushing blow to us" Mr. Lincoln sent him word that "every thing now depended on the celerity and vigor of his movements," to which McDowell answered, plainly expressing his doubt as to the success of the proposed movement.
President Lincoln, in virtue of his office, was commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States • and though he had no acquaintance with military or naval science, yet he was full of anxious care on the subject. He wa9 eager in urging forward matters, and was greatly distressed in regard to military movements in Virginia, just at this time. There was a sort of terror hanging over him and others at Washington, lest the capital should be suddenly assaulted 'and taken by the rebels, and notwithstanding his deep regard and respect for McClellan, he did not trust to the judgment of the commanding-general, and his positive assurance that, if McDowell came at once to his assistance, Richmond was sure to fall. On the 25th of May, Mr. Lincoln sent to McClellan, saying: "I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond, or give up the job, and come to the defence of Washington." McClellan gave every assurance of his readiness and determination to go forward, greatly vexed and disappointed though he wa9 at McDowell's withdrawal. He was making all his preparations to fight the enemy with such force as he had, and the bitter struggle was now at hand.
Hardly had Porter and his brave band returned from Hanover Court House, when the right bank of the Chickahominy became famous for the hard-fought battle of the Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks, so called because of the localities at two important stages of the conflict, its beginning and its end. On I the rebel side were the divisions of Hill, Longstreet, Huger and Smith; and on ours, were the corps of Keyes and Heintzelman, with a portion of that of Sumner. Johnston, well aware of the critical position of affairs, and anxious to strike a blow which should be felt, took note of the advance of Casey's division (see p. 164) at and beyond Seven Pines; and probably supposing that the corps of Keyes, to which it belonged, was the only one which had yet crossed the Chickahominy, he thought by massing his forces in one furious onset, to break the Union lines, and destroy this section of the army before a junction could be made, by the completion of the bridges, with the troops on the other side of the stream. On the night of the 30th of May, there was one of the most violent summer ramstorms known to the country. Torrents of rain drenched the earth, and the lightning and thunder were fearfully grand. From their beds of mud, and the peltings of the storm, our men rose to fight the battle of the 31st of May.
In this state of things, the roads converted into mud, the swamps flooded, and the river threatened with an unusual rise, it appeared to be a comparatively easy thing for the rebels to destroy the exposed wing of the divided army. Accordingly, orders were given
by Johnston to his several division commanders, to move to the assault at daybreak, on the day appointed. With every facility of communication with Richmond, and with the various divisions occupying the roads commanding the Union position, had the rebel plan of attack been effectively carried out, backed, as it was, by a greatly superior force, it could hardly have failed of entire success. The heavy rains, however, which aided their purpose in one way, hindered it in another. If reinforcements could not be readily brought across the river to the Union lines, neither could the enemy take the field as earty as was intended. The divisions of Smith, Hill, and Longstreet, however, were in position to commence operations by eight A.m. Huger, entangled with his artillery in the mud and swamps, was not at hand, and Longstreet, who had the direction of operations on the right, was unwilling to go into action without his co-operation; hence the attack was deferred till early in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Keyes had not been unobservant or inactive. Expecting an attack at any moment, he watched earnestly the indications of hostile movements brought to him on the morning of May 31st. Cars had been heard coming out from Richmond, and an aid of Johnston's had been taken prisoner by our pickets. About eleven A.m., a body of the enemy was reported approaching. Casey prepared for immediate action; and at one o'clock was assaulted by the rebels with tremendous force and^-energy. They endeavored to crush his division utterly before help Ch. XIV.J
could be brought, and the troops fell back upon the second line, held by Couch's division. Couch tried hard to regain the lost position; but without success; and he was driven back towards Fair Oaks.
Our troops, with rare exceptions, behaved excellently well, and a sort of line of battle being formed across the woods, perpendicularly to the road and the railroad, assault after assault was steadily resisted. Our left was protected by the morasses of the White Oak Swamp, but our right ran the risk of being: surrounded. A strong column of the enemy advanced against the right, and if it had succeeded in getting between Bottom's Bridge and our troops who held beyond Savage's Station, the left wing would have been lost. But at this moment, six P.m., Sumner, who had been ordered by McClellan to be ready to move to the scene of action, appeared, and effectually put a stop to rebel progress. Instead of merely preparing to move, this brave commander advanced directly, and saved an hour of time. He succeeded in crossing the river, and marched upon Fair Oaks, where he found Couch with his men. The rebels made a fierce assault upon Sumner's command; but they were repulsed, and fled, thus closing the contest for that day. Night put an end to the battle; but dispositions were made for its early renewal on Sunday morning, June 1st. Before sunrise, the rebels were pressing forward the attack. They appeared in large force from the woods in front, opened a heavy fire of musketry at short range along the whole linf and seemed determined to carry
all before them by one sweeping blow. The attack was met by our troops with steadiness and unflinching determination. Notwithstanding the fierce on slaughts of the enemy, renewed again and again, our men stood nobly to their posts. Led on by brave and experienced officers, and freely using the bayonet, toward midday they finally and entirely repulsed the rebel force. These fled in confusion and haste; but unhappily, if we may rely on McClellan's opinion, the state of the roads prevented any effective pursuit on our part. All that was accomplished at the time was the re-occupying the lines held previous to the battle.
The losses on both sides were very heavy. McClellan reported a total loss of 5,737; a few days afterwards he reported that the number would be at least 7,000. The total rebel loss was, according to their reports, nearly 7,000. Pollard's statement for the rebels is: ""We had taken ten pieces of artillery and 6,000 muskets, besides other spoils; our total loss was more than 4,000 ; that of the enemy is stated in their own newspapers to have exceeded 10,000, an estimate which is no doubt short of the truth."*
* Prince de Joinville's remarks on the battle of Seven Pines may here be quoted: "Such is the history of this singular battle, which although complicated by incidents superior to human will, must not be taken otherwise than as a type of American battles. The conflict was a bloody one, for the North had lost 5,000 men, the South at least 8,000; but the results were barren on one side as on the other. Although the losses of the enemy were much greater than those of the Federals, the result was especially distressing to the latter. They had lost a rare opportunity of striking a decisive blow. These occasions did not return, and therefore, in the circumstances in which they were placed, the result was against them."
BA1TLE OF SEVEN PINES.