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SEARCH FOR A PICKET "LINE.
command encamped in a large clover-field, on the old Custis estate, at present in the possession of Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, of the rebel cavalry service. On every side were magnificent fields of grain, into which the jaded horses and lank cattle were turned loose.
Here for the first time the men began to find negroes scattered around on the plantations, whom, owing to their rapid flight, the rebels had not driven before them. Several of these contrabands were appropriated by the officers, and remaining with the regiment through its various campaigns, came home with their new “Masters." Among this number was a comical specimen of the race, who, on being approached as he stood huddled together with a squad of fifty or more, and asked by Sergeant Windchip if he “would not like to see the north,” replied, “God bless you, massa, don't care if I do.” Then turning to his fellow contrabands, he took a most affectionate as well as droll adieu—the tears coursing down his ancient cheeks—broke away from the sobbing “brothers and sisters” and “fell into line.”
Upon reaching the White House, which was merely a landing on the river, the left wing of the Regiment was detailed for picket duty, along with a detachment under command of the Lieut-Col. of the Seventy-seventh New York. The orders were to proceed as far as a certain Court House, and connect with Gen. Brooks' pickets on the left. After marching some two miles and a half, on what was supposed to be the right road, they were suddenly brought to a halt by rebel cavalrymen, who fled rapidly on
being fired at. A few moments reconnoitring served to convince the Lieutenant-Colonel that the picket lines did not extend in that locality. So deploying his men in a wheat-field, he returned to head quarters to ascertain its whereabouts. They remained here until near dark, when an Aid came out and ordered them into camp. The laugh over this fruitless search of eight hours after our picket line became intensified, when it was afterwards ascertained that the force had proceeded full a mile beyond our outer or cavalry pickets.
The band serenaded Gen. McClellan one evening, when he sent an Aid to extend his compliments to the regiment. There was a perfect forest of masts here; government transports constantly arriving and departing, and on every side was seen the ceaseless activity which marks an active campaign.
Gen. Franklin soon reached this point and assumed charge of the 6th corps, to which Gen. Smith's Division was assigned. Prior to that time it had been in Gen. Keyes' corps and comprised a portion of the left wing of the army. But this change brought the Division on the extreme right. Monday, 19th, the Brigade moved up the river six miles, and halted on the farm of an Æsculapian rebel, whom his contrabands described as suddenly seized with the gout on our approach. The boys designated this place as “Camp Onion,” owing to the quantities of this odoriferous vegetable which were hawked through the encampment. Saturday, May 21st, the march was resumed, the division proceeding to within eleven miles of Richmond.
BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE.
BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE.
Two days later Gen. Stoneman pushed forward with cavalry and artillery, on a bold reconnoissance toward the rebel capital. Gen. Davidson's Brigade followed, as a support, the rest of the Division remaining behind. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the General fell in with the enemy—“Howell Cobb's Brigade”—who retreated after a few shots had been exchanged. Stoneman again moved forward, halting for the night just east of Beaver Dam Creek, and the Brigade, crossing over, took up position on an elevated spot, and slept on their arms. This creek is a narrow, muddy stream, emptying into the Chickahominy.
A part of the Thirty-third were employed on picket duty until the next morning, being stationed in close proximity to the rebels. At daybreak the infantry pushed on towards Mechanicsville; General Stoneman with the cavalry proceeding further to the right. Three companies of the Thirty-third acted as the advance guard, and were deployed as skirmishers. When within two hundred yards of Mechanicsville, the rebels, who had fallen back during
33RD SKIRMISHERS BETWEEN TWO FIRES.
the night, were discovered drawn up in the principal street, and in a neighboring grove. The skirmishers immediatedly opened upon them, when taking refuge in buildings and behind walls, they returned the fire.
The whole Brigade now moved up on both sides of the road, and two sections of Wheeler's battery were got into position, and commenced tossing shell into the village. This placed the skirmishers between two fires, and for a time, they were nearly as much exposed to our own as the rebels. One had his canteen perforated by a piece of shell thrown from the Union battery, another had a part of his shoe taken away. The firing of the rebel cannoniers, at first slow, became very rapid and accurate as the battle progressed. One solid shot passed be tween Major Platner and Captain Guion, as they stood conversing together. A second whizzed close by the head of Colonel Taylor's horse, and a third striking the roll of blankets strapped on behind a horseman, threw them high into the air. Every one held their breath for a moment, supposing that it was the rider himself, but he escaped unharmed.
The guns were afterwards removed to the right of the skirmishers, and a section of flying artillery posted on the left. A heavy fire was now concentrated on the buildings in which the confederates had concealed themselves, soon causing an exodus on their part, and the whole force commenced falling back in the direction of Richmond. Seeing this, Gen. Davidson ordered a charge, when the Thirty