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through their representatives, were steadily advancing towards a practical solution of certain difficult questions, which were earnestly and ably discuss
ed, and which, as we shall see, were iu due time disposed of. The second ses sion of the Thirty-seventh Congress was closed on the 17th of July, 1862.
THE SEVEN DAYS' BATTLES: RETREAT FROM THE PENINSULA.
McClellan's hopes and expectations — Obstacles in the way— Rebel activity under Lee — Stuait's cavalry raid
— Boldly planned and executed — Jackson's flank movement — McClellan daily expecting a battle — Advance movement — Oak Grove — Critical state of affairs — Repulse of rebels at Mechanicsville — Alternatives before McClellan — His choice, change of base, prudent, if not bold — Position of Porter and his men
— Necessity of fighting the enemy — Attacked by the rebel army in large force — No reinforcements from south bank of the river — Porter nearly cut to pieces — Saved by opportune help and darkness — Rebel exultation — The Chickahominy crossed and bridges burned during the night—MoClellan's skill in masking his plans — Crossing the White Oak Swamp by the different corps — Lee sets out in pursuit—MagrudeT repulsed at Savage Station — Jackson stopped by our batteries at White Oak Swamp — Battle at Glenda.* or Turkey Bridge — Severe and bloody contest—Our troops withdrawn during the night—Lee determines on a general engagement —McClellan's position at Malvern Hill — The rebels completely defeated in this battle —Our troops reach Harrison's Bar on the James River — Heavy losses — McClellan's generalship — Southern views and feelings — McClellan's Fourth of July words of promise and encouragement.
In a previous chapter (see p. 167), we have given an account of the battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks, which was fought on the 31st of May and 1st of June. It was marked by great loss of life on both sides, but yielded little if any advantage, either to the rebels or to our array advancing to
the capture of Richmond. McClellan seems to have meditated an immediate movement upon the enemy. Writing to the secretary of war, the day after the battle, he said, "I only wait for the river to fall, to cross with the rest of the force, and make a general attack. Should I find them holding firm in a very strong position. I may wait for what troops I can bring up from Fortress Monroe. But the morale of
my troops is now such that I can venture much. I do not fear for odds against me. The victory is complete, and all credit is due to the gallantry of our officers and men."
It soon became evident, however, that these eager aspirations of McClellan were doomed to disappointment. The roads and the ground generally were totally unfit for active movements; the water in the Chickahominy continued so high that he could not transport the whole of his army across the river; bridges had to be built; encampments and entrenchments had to be formed in the swampy woods; and above all, probably, there was considerable uncertainty as to being able to maintain, in safety, the necessary connection with
his basis of supplies at the White House. Added to this, the midsummer sun, with its intense heat, told severely upon the health of the troops, and inflamed the pestilential influences of crowded camps and noxious marshes into active and virulent diseases; and during the long weeks of inactivity in what was called the siege of Richmond, | not only thousands sickened of fever and died, but the very name of the Chickahominy, with its deadly swamps, became, to the country at large, associated with suffering in its most dreaded forms.
The rebels, meanwhile, were strengthening their forces in and about Rich
j mond, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, who had succeeded
j Johnston, and whose name became somewhat famous in the further efforts and struggles of the rebellion. They also entertained hopes and expectations of
I speedily assuming the offensive, and crushing McClellan and his entire
| army.* A bold and dashing expedi
! tion was set on foot, for the purpose of penetrating the Union lines and making a full and thorough reconnaissance of the position and strength of our army# It was successfully carried out, and among other -things it helped to demonstrate the danger, just now alluded to,
* In a dispatch from Secretary Stanton, June 11th, he used the following strong language, to encourage and cheer McClellan in the difficult position in which he was placed :—" Be assured, general, that there never has been a moment when my desire has been otherwise than to aid you with my whole heart, mind and stiength, since the hour we first met; and whatever others may say for their own purposes, you have never had, and never can have, any one more truly your friend, or more anxious to support you, or more joyful than I shall be at the success which I have no doubt will soon achieved by your arms"
of the position of McClellan with regard to his supplies.
The expedition was undertaken by Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, with some 1,500 cavalry, selected especially for this ser- . vice. Leaving Richmond on the 12th of June, Stuart took the Charlottesville turnpike, bivouacked for the
night at Ashland, and at the dawn of day cautiously approached and penetrated the Union lines. Near Hanover Court House a small force of our cavalry was met with, and speedily put to flight; and the rebels, having excited alarm and wonder by their appearance, dashed forward and destroyed all that they could from Ashland to Tunstall's Station on the York River Railroad. Stores of various kinds were seized and burned, and some prisoners and horses were secured. A train of cars coming up at the station was fired into, but it made its escape with trifling loss. Having sent a detachment to destroy whatever could be found at the landing on the Pamunkey, Stuart assembled his force at New Kent Court House, and halted till midnight. Not daring to venture a return by way of Hanover Court House, Stuart took a road by which he was not likely to be pursued, and making his way across the Chickahominy, near Forge Bridge, within five miles of our pickets, he succeeded, on the 15th of June, in reaching safely the rebel lines near White Oak Swamp. About 165 prisoners were taken, together with some 300 mules and horses, etc. Stuart had thus passed entirely round and in the rear of our army, having accomplished a cavalry raid which not only astonished the army and poople by its audacity, but also set the example for future exploits of a similar character.
The condition of affairs was fast becoming such that it was felt on all hands that something must be done; Richmond must be captured, or if that were not possible, the Army of the Potomac must be extricated from its present dangerous embarrassment. The enemy were gaining in strength, and Lee determined to avail himself of the services of Jackson, who had obtained distinguished success in the Shenandoah Valley. He resolved to do this, too, so secretly and quietly that the first announcement of Jackson's withdrawal from the valley should be the blow struck upon the Army of the Potomac. Accordingly, on the 17th of June, his force being now about 25,000 men, Jackson began his march, and so skilfully was it managed that no one of our generals knew of his approach till he was within striking distance of the I right wing of the army. Lee intended, by this movement, to open the way for crossing the Chickahominy to join Jackson's column, and then to sweep down on the north side of the river, toward the York, and lay hold of McClellan's communications with the White House.
The commanding general, expecting again the co-operation of McDowell, was looking forward to a battle which might occur on any day. The bridges had now been built in sufficient numbers to connect readily the two wings of the army; our lines had been pushed forward, defensive works had been erected to secure safety in case of a repulse; and there was an earnest wish in the army
generally to be led into action. On the 18th of June, McClellan wrote to th(! president, "A general engagement may take place at any hour. . . . We await only a favorable condition of the earth and sky, and the completion of some necessary preliminaries." A week later, he said, "the action will occur to-morrow, or within a short time," etc.
On the 25th of June, Heintselman holding the advance before Fair Oaks, was ordered to push forward his pickets, and drive the enemy from the woods in his front, and in this way to relieve his men from an un
, , . . . , 18C2.
wholesome position m the swampy ground, and to bring them to an open, clear space beyond. The movement was preliminary to the general action which McClellan had now resolved upon. Hooker's division bore j the brunt of this encounter, and found their advance was sharply contested in the woods. McClellan came upon the field, about noon, and personally directed this movement at Oak Grove, which in the course of the afternoon was entirely successful.
Apprehending the possible approach of Jackson with his force, and warned of danger by the successful raid of Stuart in his rear, McClellan had already been contemplating a change of base from his present position to the James River, and had, with a view of future events, ordered a number of transports with stores and supplies to the James River. Being assured of Jackson's arrival at or near Hanover Court House, and divming Lee's plan and purpose in concentrating on the north bank of the Chickahominy, he hastened at once to Ch. XIX,]
the cam^ of Fitz John Porter, who was in command of the light witg of the army, and a part of whose corps held the strongly entrenched position of Bv-aver Dam Creek.
During the afternoon of the 26th of June, the rebels crossed in several columns, in the vicinity of Mechanicsville and Meadow Bridge, and attacked McCall. who was in position at Beaver Dam Creek. Our troops were concealed by earth works, commanding the Mechanicsville road, on which
the rebel divisions under Lonsrstreet were advancing; and when the enemy had approached within short range, they opened a very destructive fire of artillery and musketry in the faces and on the flanks of the foe, driving them back in great confusion. The slaughter was terrible, the rebels having lost between three and four thousand, while the Union loss was inconsiderable. Another effort was made by the enemy in the morning, but without success; Jackson, meanwhile, having passed Beaver Dam Creek above, turned the position, and, of course, rendered it untenable for our troops.*
It now became a question requiring immediate decision on the part of McClellan, what was to be done; whether to cross with his entire army and fight the rebels on the north bank of the Chickahominy, or to concentrate his troops on the south bank and march
* It is a carious question why McDowell, who was remaining inactive at Fredericksburg, did not make a demonstration along the Richmond road. Had he done so, of which Lee was afraid, Jackson's flank march would have been entirely impracticable. The authorities at Washington, with their insane terror in regard to rebel assaults upon the city, will, if over the history of the rebellion is fully wri ten, have much to answer for.
direct upon Richmond, or to transfer the right wing to the south bank and make a change of base to the James River. The first course just named was too full of risk, and in case of repulse the entire army would be destroyed. Some critics, like Mr. Swinton, are of opinion that the second of these alternatives was both bold and brilliant, in fact too much so for McClellan.* and that it might have been tried with good prospect of success. The last, the change of base, was judicious, and though attended with serious difficulty and danger, was probably the safest under all the circumstances. The distance from Fair Oaks to the James River was about seventeen miles, and there was only a single road by which baggage and stores could be moved; but the activity and steadiness of our troops were such, that the purpose of the commanding general was nearly completed before it was at all comprehended by the rebels. The wagons and heavy guns were withdrawn during the night of the 26th of June, and united with the train which was to set out the next evening for the James River. At the same time Stoneman proceeded with a flying column to the White House, which depot, all the stores along the railroad having been re-shipped or destroyed, was evacuated. Stoneman having successfully accomplished his work, fell back upon Yorktown. The
* "Army of the Potomac," p. 147. Mr. Swinton also quotes from the report of Magruder, who says : "I considered the situation of our army as extremely critical and perilou*. The larger part of it was on the opposite side of the Chickahominy, the bridges had been all destroyed, but one was rebuilt, and there were but 25,000 men between his — McClellan's—army of 100,000 men and Richmond."
ALTERNATIVES FOR McCLELLAN.
rear guard of McCall's division, con. Bisting of Seymour's brigade, was attacked by the enemy, who, being sharply repulsed, did not attempt further to molest the movement of our men.
Under the circumstances, with the rebels threatening various parts of the centre and left, it was felt to be impossible for Porter to cross to the south bank of the Chickahominy by daylight. Jackson had turned the position of the right wing at Beaver Dam Creek, and McClellan deemed it absolutely necessary to engage him with Porter's corps and with whatever reinforcements could be sent from the south bank. The enemy were so close upon Porter that there was no alternative. He must be met and repulsed; for, in any event, the abandonment of Porter's position at that time would have placed the right flank and rear of our army at the mercy of the foe. It was a case of necessity to fight the rebels where our men stood, and to hold the position, at any cost, until night (this was the 27th of June), and in the meantime to perfect the arrangements for the change of base to the James River.
The position now occupied by Porter, between Coal Harbor and the Chickahominy, was well chosen, and his force was so arranged as to make an effective resistence to the attacks of the enemy. About two P.m., on the 27th
1§63 June, A- EGN, w^tn tne ac*vance of Lee's column, began
the attack. Jackson, who was to form
the rebel left, had not yet come up, and
Longstreet awaited his arrival before
going into action. Hill's attack, though
furious and persistent, was met with the
greatest firmness on the part of our men, and after several hours' desperate efforts he was compelled to retire in the greatest disorder and with heavy loss. Longstreet now began an attack on the left of the Union position, and Jackson's corps having come up, a general advance from right to left was made at six o'clock. Porter had called for reinforcements, and had received in response only Slocum's division, making his entire force about 35,000 men.*
The assault now made was fierce and tremendous. Our right held its ground, and repulsed the enemy with great steadiness and bravery. Our left showed equal valor, but being worn down by fighting nearly all day, and furiously charged upon by Hood's Texan troops, it gave way; confusion and derangement ensued, and great disorder from the commingled cavalry and infantry 5 Jackson carried the height on the left by a rush, capturing 14 pieces of artil lery; and defeat, if not destruction, seemed to have fallen with crushing weight upon Porter and his men. Happily two brigades, sent across the river by Sumner, appeared just in time, and under the influence of their visorous and spirited help, the stragglers were stopped, and the troops finally rallied and were reformed. The darkness fast coming on prevented Lee from pushing his advantage. He did not yet
* Swinton, speaking of the position of matters at the time, says that Magruder's "great show and movement and clatter," kept all our commanders occupied, and they declared that, no troops could be spared "And thus it happened that' while on the north sk!o of the Chickahominy 30.000 Union troops were being assailed by 70,000 Confederates, 25,000 Confederates on the south side held in check 60,000 Union troops."— "Army of the Potomac," p. 151.