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its way across the swollen Chicka- |
hominy, checked the Rebel advance in that direction. Brig.-Gen. Peck, who held the left of Couch's position, had been divested of most of his regiments aforesaid, which were successively ordered up to the front by Couch or Keyes, until, at 43. P. M., he led the 102d Pennsylvania, Col. Rowley, and 93d, Col. McCarter, to the aid of our crumbling right, and was for half an hour sharply engaged with the triumphant enemy near Seven Pines, losing some ground, but encamping very near his field of conflict. Heintzelman was promptly summoned to the aid of Couch; but there was an unaccounted-for delay in the reception of the message, and some of his regiments did not rush to the front quite so impetuously as a good portion of Couch's, especially the 55th New York (De Trobriand’s Frenchmen), made tracks for the rear. It was a quarter past 3 o'clock before Heintzelman came fairly into the fight; Jamison's Maine and Berry's Michigan brigades eagerly pushing to the front. On the Rebel left, Gen. Smith’s attack was delayed by Johnston, who was there in person, until 4 P. M., listening for the sound of Longstreet's musketry, which, for some atmospheric reason, he failed to hear. It was now too late for complete success, though his men fought desperately. The Richmond and York River Railroad, near its crossing of the Nine-mile road, runs for a considerable distance on an embankment 4 or 5 feet high, forming an effective breastwork, behind which our men held stubbornly and fought
Gen. Abercrombie, with five regiments, was at Fair Oaks (the crossing aforesaid), instructed to hold the position at all hazards. Here fell Gen. C. Devens, severely wounded; while of the 61st Pennsylvania, Col. Rippey, Lt.-Col. Spear, and Maj. Smith fell dead, and 27 of the line officers were either killed or wounded; and near this point, at sunset, Gen. Jo. Johnston, the Rebel Commander-in-chief, was struck in the side by a shell and badly wounded, breaking two ribs in falling from his horse, so that he was disabled for Service for several months. Gen. G. W. Smith succeeded him in command; but he was very soon disabled by a paralytic stroke, and removed from the field. One of the last Rebel charges on this part of the field was led by Jefferson Davis in person.
Hearing vaguely of trouble on the left, McClellan, still at New Bridge, had ordered Sumner, who had Sedgwick's and Richardson's divisions, to cross to the relief of Couch; and Sedgwick, with the advance, reached the field on our right an hour and a half before sunset, just as the triumphant Rebels had turned Couch's left, interposing between him and Heintzelman (who, in coming up, had swayed to the right), with intent to sever and defeat our two corps on the south of the Chickahominy. But Sedgwick, advancing rapidly, interposed at the critical moment, and, forming in line of battle in the edge of a wood, with a large open field in his front, commenced a fire of canister from his 24 guns on the head of the enemy's advancing column, which staggered it; and then, moving forward his whole division in line of battle, he completely
swept the field, recovering much of the ground that had been lost. At nightfall, Richardson's division, having also crossed over, came up on the left of Sedgwick, connecting with Birney's brigade of IIeintzelman's corps on his left; thus making all secure in that quarter. At 6 P. M., Abercrombie, farther to our right, still desperately fighting, had been compelled to give ground, and seemed about to be enveloped by an overwhelming force; when the long-expected succor arrived. Gorman's brigade, leading Sedgwick's division, deployed into line of battle along the crest of a hill in the rear of Fair Oaks, and advanced down a gentle slope to the field where Col. Cochrane's U. S. Chasseurs and Neill's 23d Pennsylvania were fighting against heavy odds. At this moment, a furious enfilading fire of musketry was received on our right, indicating an effort to turn us on that flank, and repeat the sharp lesson of Casey's disaster. Gen. Sedgwick instantly directed Gen. Burns to deploy the 69th and 72d Pennsylvania to the right, himself holding the 71st and 106th in support of Gorman. The Itebels attacked with great fury, stampeding two or three battery teams, so that for a moment our lines
seemed to waver; but Burns's calm, full-voiced order, “Steady, men, steady s” evoked a thundering cheer, followed by volley after volley of musketry, under which the enemy advanced steadily, and were charging Kirby's battery, when he poured into their close ranks a murderous fire of canister, which sent them rapidly to the woods in their rear. Meanwhile, Dana’s brigade had come into line on Gorman’s left, and the Rebels renewed, as darkness fell, their attempt to outflank our right, extending their left farther and farther; but in vain. Gens. Sumner, Sedgwick, Dana, whose horse was killed under him, Burns, and Gorman, each exerted himself to the utmost to animate and encourage their men. Dana's wing was gradually advanced as the Rebels extended their left, and the battle swayed more and more to our right, until our line was nearly at right angles with that on which we had been fighting two hours before. And thus the fight raged on until after 8 o'clock; when the Rebels desisted and fell back, leaving us in undisputed possession of the ground whereon the final struggle was made.” Sumner's heavier artillery had been left stalled in the swamps of the Chickahominy, as his infantry hurried forward to the battle. It was extricated during the night, brought forward, and properly posted by morning; when Gen. McClellan also had arrived ; but, alas! without the corps of Fitz-John Porter and Franklin, which, could they but have come up on the New Bridge road during the night, might have converted Casey's demolition into a Rebel overthrow. It does not appear that even
* Gen. McClellan, in his elaborate report on this campaign, after relating . Gen. Sumner's arrival on the battle-field, with Sedgwick's division, says: “The leading regiment (1st Minnesota, Col. Sully) was immediately deployed to the right of Couch to protect the flank, and the rest of the division formed in line of battle; Kirby's battery near the center, in an angle of the woods. One of Gen. Couch's regiments was sent to open communication with Gen. Heintzelman. No Sooner were these dispositions made, than the enemy came on in strong force, and opened a heavy fire along the line. He made several charges, but was repulsed with great loss, by
the steady fire of the infantry and the splendid practice of the battery. After sustaining the enemy's fire for a considerable time, Gen. Sumner ordered five regiments (the 34th New York, Col. Smith, 82d New York, Lt.-Col. Hudson, 15th Massachusetts, Lt.-Col. Kimball, 20th Massachusetts, Col. Lee, 7th Michigan, Maj. Richardson, the three former of Gen. Gorman's brigade, the two latter of Gen. Dana's brigade) to advance and charge with bayonet. This charge was executed in the most brilliant manner. Our troops, springing over two fences which were between them and the enemy, rushed upon his lines, and drove him in confusion from that part of the field. Darkness now ended the battle for that day.”
McCLELLAN FAILS TO IMP Row E HIs op Po RT UNITY. 147
an attempt was made to bring them forward.” In the morning,” McClellan awaited an attack, which he says was made at 6 A. M., on the left of Sumner's corps, by Gen. Pickett, supported by Gen. Roger A. Pryor's brigade of Huger's division; to which French’s brigade, on our side, stood opposed. The fight between them was noisy, but not very bloody: due caution and
"Gen. McClellan, in his report, states that the still rising Chickahominy floated the log-way approaches to Gen. Sumner's brigade, after that officer had crossed his corps, so as to render them impassable; hence he [McClellan] was obliged to send his horse around by Bottom's Bridge, six miles below, in returning to his headquarters. He adds:
“The approaches to New and Mechanicsville bridges were also overflowed, and both of them were enfiladed by the enemy's batteries established upon commanding hights on the opposite side. These batteries were supported by strong forces of the enemy, having numerous rifle-pits in their front, which would have made it necessary, even had the approaches been in the best possible condition, to have fought a sanguinary battle, with but little prospect of success, bofore a passage could have been secured.
“The only available means, therefore, of uniting our forces at Fair Oaks, for an advance on Richmond soon after the battle, was to march the troops from Mechanicsville, and other points on the left bank of the Chickahominy, down to Bottom's Bridge, and thence over the Williamsburg road to the position near Fair Oaks, a distance of about twenty-three (23) miles. In the condition of the roads at that time, this march could not have been made with artillery in less than two days; by which time the enemy would have been secure within his intrenchments around Richmond.”
It is hard for non-military readers to appreciate admiringly the Generalship which consessedly exposes one wing of an army for two days to the entire force of its adversary, without assistance in any form from the other. If there be any military reason why Gen. McClellan should have thrown two corps across the Chickahominy on his left, within a few miles of Richmond, without simultaneously, or for five days thereafter, pushing over his right also, and seizing the commanding hights which were enfiladed by the enemy's batteries, no indications of them appear in his report; which, with reference to following up our advantage of the 1st, naively says:
“An advance involving the separation of the two wings by the impassable Chickahominy would have exposed each to defeat in detail.”
That Gen. McClellan greatly over-estimated the strength of the Rebel batteries and their supports opposite Fitz-John Porter and Franklin, and the difficulty of crossing there, is made plain by his dispatch, four days later, to the War Department, as follows:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE Porosac, ) “NEW BRIDGE, June 5, 1862. ' “Rained most of the night: has now ceased, but is not clear. The river still very high and troublesome. Enemy opened with several batteries on our bridges near here this morning; our batteries seem to have pretty much silenced them, though some firing still kept up. The rain forces us to remain in statu quo. With great difficulty, a division of infantry has been crossed this morning to support the troops on the other side, should the enemy renew attack. I felt obliged to do this, although it leaves us rather weak here. G. B. McCLELLAN, “Major-General Commanding. “Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War.”
Gen. J. G. Barnard, chief engineer, in his report of the campaign, says:
“The repulse of the Rebels at Fair Oaks should have been taken advantage of. It was one of those occasions which, if not seized, do not repeat themselves. We now know the state of disorganization and dismay in which the Rebel army retreated. We now know that it could have been followed into Richmond. Had it been so, there would have been no resistance to overcome to bring over our right wing. Although we did not then know all that we now do, it was obvious at that time that, when the Rebels struck the blow at our left wing, they did not leave any means in their hands unused to secure success. It was obvious enough that they struck with their whole force; and yet we repulsed them in disorder with three-fifths of ours. We should have followed them up at the. same time that we brought over the other twofifths.”
*June 1. ,
distance being maintained on either side. Mahone's brigade was brought up to the aid of Pryor, and Howard's to that of French ; and finally Meagher's Irish regiments went to the front, and a desultory conflict was maintained for some two or three hours, during which Gen. IIoward lost his arm and had two of his staff wounded. The Tebels at length desisted, and retreated unpursued. Their reports assert that they made no attack, but only repelled one. The Rebels remained through the day in quiet possession of Couch's and Casey's camps, sending off muskets, tents, and camp equipage to Richmond ; following themselves after nightfall. Johnston says that Smith did not renew his attack on our right, because of his discovery of strong intrenchments in that quarter, which he had not seen the night before. It is certain that he was not disturbed by any demonstration on our part, and retired wholly unmolested. Ten days later, we had not recovered the ground held by Casey's advance on the morning of May 31. Johnston reports the loss in Smith's division at 1,233, and in Longstreet's* at “about” 3,000; total, 4,233; saying nothing of any loss sustained by IIuger. Among his killed were Gen. Itobert II atton, of Tenn. ; Cols. Lomax, 3d Ala., Jones, 12th Ala., Giles, 5th S. C., and Lightfoot, 22d N. C.; while, beside himself, Gens. Thodes and Garland, with Cols. Goodwin, 9th Va., and Wade IIampton, S. C., were wounded. He also lost Gen. Petti
grew and Col. C. Davis, of S. C., and Col. Long, taken prisoners. He claims to have taken 10 guns, 6,000 muskets, and “several hundred” prisoners—an expression which the number of our wounded who fell into his hands must have fully justified. IIe probably took few others, and no officer of distinction. Gen. McClellan reports our total loss at 5,739,” whereof 890 were killed, 3,627 wounded, and 1,222 missing: some of these probably dead, and others left on the field wounded, to fall into the hands of the enemy. Among our killed were Col. G. D. Bailey, Maj. Van Walkenburg, and Adjt. Ramsey, of the 1st N. Y. artillery; Cols. J. L. Riker, 62d, and James M. Brown, 100th N. Y., Rippey, 61st, and Miller, 81st Pa. Among our wounded were Gens. Naglee, Pa., Devens, Mass., O. O. IIoward, Maine, and Wessells; Col. E. E. Cross, 5th N. H., and many other valuable officers. Considering that the bulk of the loss on either side fell on regiments which together brought less than 15,000 men into the field, the admitted loss is quite heavy. Keyes's corps numbered about 12,000 men present; of whom 4,000 were dead or wounded before 5 P. M. of the 31st. Perhaps as many had fled to the rear; yet Gen. McClellan's dispatch to the War Department, written so late as noon of the second day, in saying that “Casey's division gave way unaccountably and discreditably,” is indiscriminate and unjust. A green division of less than 7,000
* Gen. McClellan says that Hill estimates his loss at 2,500, and adds this number to the above total, making in all 6,733: but it is evident that Johnston includes Hill's loss in that of Longstreet, who was in command of both divisions.
*But in a confidential dispatch of June 4th, to the War Department, he says: “The losses in the battles of the 31st and 1st will amount to 7,000.” Though this may have been an estimate merely, it was very near the truth.
men could not fairly be expected to arrest and repel a determined advance of the entire Rebel army, whereof two choice divisions, numbering 15,000 men, were hurled directly upon them. That some of our men behaved badly is true; but the responsibility of their failure rests on the Generals by whom they were badly handled. They were sent up by brigades to confront Rebel divisions, and thus beaten in detail; and, when at last the time came for fighting with the advantage of numbers on our side, the directing, impelling will was absent. Gen. Hooker, next morning,” by Heintzelman’s order, made a reconnoissance in force, advancing to within four miles of Richmond, unresisted save by pickets. Gen. McClellan, on learning this movement, ordered Hooker to be recalled to and take position at Fair Oaks. The General commanding wrote this day to the Secretary of War: “The enemy attacked in force and with great spirit yesterday morning; but are everywhere most signally repulsed with great loss. Our troops charged frequently on both days, and uniformly broke the enemy. The result is, that our left is within four miles of Richmond. 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 offi
cers and men.” 4.
The President, on hearing of this bloody battle, placed the disposable troops at Fortress Monroe at the service of Gen. McClellan, sent five new regiments from Baltimore by water to his aid, and notified him that Mc
“I am completely checked by the weather. The roads and fields are literally impassable for artillery—almost so for infantry. The Chickahominy is in a dreadful state. We have another rain-storm on our hands. I shall attack as soon as the weather and ground will permit; but there will be a delay, the extent of which no one can foresee, for the season is altogether abnormal. In view of these circumstances, I present for your consideration the propriety of detaching largely from Halleck's army, to strengthen this ; for it would seem that Halleck has now no large organized force in front of him, while we have. If this cannot be done, or even in connection with it, allow me to suggest the movement of a heavy column from Dalton upon Atlanta. If but the one can be done, it would better conform to military principles to strengthen this army. And, even although the réenforcements might not arrive in season to take part in the attack upon Richmond, the moral effect would be great, and they would furnish valuable assistance in ulterior movements. I wish to be distinctly understood that, whenever the weather permits, I will attack with whatever force I may have, although a larger force would enable me to gain much more decided results. I would be glad to have McCall's infantry sent forward by water at once, without waiting for his artillery and cavalry.”
Secretary Stanton promptly responded:"
“Your dispatch of 3:30, yesterday, has been received. I am fully impressed with the difficulties mentioned, and which no art or skill can avoid, but only endure, and am striving to the uttermost to render you every aid in the power of the Government. Your suggestions will be immediately cornmunicated to Gen. Halleck, with a request that he shall conform to them. At last ad
* June 7.
* June 2.
* June 10, *7 June 11.