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same report puts his numbers, on the 26th of June, at about 180,000, and the specific information obtained regarding their organization warrants the belief that this estimate did not exceed his actual strength. It will be observed that the evidence contained in the report shows the following organizations, viz: two hundred regiments of infantry and cavalry, including the forces of Jackson and Ewell, just arrived; eight battalions of independent troops; five battalions of artillery; twelve companies of infantry and independent cavalry, besides forty-six companies of artillery; amounting, in all, to from forty to fifty brigades. There were undoubtedly many others whose designations we did not learn. The report also shows that numerous and heavy earthworks had been completed for the defence of Richmond, and that in thirty-six of these were mounted some two hundred guns. On the 26th, the day upon which I had decided as the time for our final advance, the enemy attacked our right in strong force, and turned my attention to the protection of our communications and depots of supply. The event was a bitter confirmation of the military judgment which had been reiterated to my superiors from the inception and through the progress of the Peninsula campaign. I notified the Secretary of War in the following despatch:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE PotoMAC,
“I have just heard that our advanced cavalry pickets on the left bank of Chicka hominy are being driven in. It is probably Jackson's advanced guard. If this be true, you may not hear from me for some days, as my communications will o be cut off. The case is perhaps a difficult one, but I shall resort to desperate measures, and will do my best to out-manoeuvre, out-wit, and out-fight the enemy. Do not believe reports of disaster, and do not be discouraged if you learn that my communications are cut off, and even Yorktown in possession of the enemy. Hope for the best, and I will not deceive the hopes you formerly
placed in me. -
“Hon. E. M. STANTON,
“Camp Lincoln, June 26, 1862—2.30 p.m.
“Your despatch and that of the President received. Jackson is driving in my pickets, &c., on the other side of the Chickahominy. It is impossible to tell where re-enforcements ought to go, as I am yet unable to predict result of approaching battle. It will probably be better that they should go to Fort Monroe, and thence according to state of affairs when they arrive.
“It is not probable that I can maintain telegraphic communication more than an hour or two longer.
“G. B. McCLELLAN,
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE PotoMAC,
On the same day I received the following despatches from the Secretary of "War : “WASHINGTON, June 25, 1862–11.20 p.m. |
“Your telegram of 6.15 has just been received. The circumstances that have hitherto rendered it impossible for the government to send you any more
re-enforcements than has been done, have been so distinctly stated to you by the President that it is needless for me to repeat them.
“Every effort has been made by the President and myself to strengthen you. ECing's division has reached Falmouth, Shields's division and Ricketts's division are at Manassas. The President designs to send a part of that force to aid you as speedily as it can be done.
“E. M. STANTON, - “Secretary of War. “Major General G. B. McCLELLAN.”
“Washington, June 26, 1862–6 p.m.
“Arrangements are being made as rapidly as possible to send you five thousand (5,000) men as fast as they can be brought from Manassas to Alexandria and embarked, which can be done sooner than to wait for transportation at Fredericksburg. They will be followed by more, if needed. McDowell, Banks, and Frémont's force will be consolidated as the army of Virginia, and will operate promptly in your aid by land. Nothing will be spared to sustain you, and I have undoubting faith in your success. Keep me advised fully of your condition. - - * “EDWIN M. STANTON, “Secretary of War. “Major General G. B. McCLELLAN.”
But 5,000 of the re-enforcements spoken of in these communications came to
. army of the Potomac, and these reached us at Harrison's bar, after the seven ays.
In anticipation of a speedy advance on Richmond, to provide for the contintingency of our communications with the depot at the White House being severed by the enemy, and at the same time to be prepared for a change of the base of our operations to James river, if circumstances should render it advisable, I had made arrangements more than a week previous (on the 18th) to have transports with supplies of provisions and forage, under a convoy of gunboats, sent up James river. They reached Harrison's landing in time to be available for the army on its arrival at that point. Events soon proved this change of base to be, though most hazardous and difficult, the only prudent course.
In order to relieve the troops of the 6th corps, on the 19th of June General
Reynolds's and General Seymour's brigades, of General McCall's division, .
(Pennsylvania reserves,) were moved from Gaines's farm to a position on Beaver Dam creek, General Meade's brigade being held in reserve in front of Gaines's farm. One regiment and a battery were thrown forward to the heights overlooking Mechanicsville, and a line of pickets extended along the Chickahominy river between the Mechanicsville and Meadow bridges. As has been already stated, I received, while engaged on the 25th in directing the operations of Heintzelman's corps, information which strengthened my suspicions that Jackson was advancing with a large force upon our right and rear. On this day General Casey, at the White House, was instructed to prepare for a vigorous resistance, and defensive works were ordered at Tunstall's station. Early on the 25th General Porter was instructed to send out reconnoitring parties towards Hanover Court House to discover the position and force of the enemy, and to destroy the bridges on the Tolopotamoy as far as possible. Up to the 26th of June the operations against Richmond had been conducted along the roads leading to it from the east and northeast. The reasons (the
President's anxiety about covering Washington from Fredericksburg, McDowell's
promised co-operation, partial advance, and immediate withdrawal) which como the choice of this line of approach, and our continuance upon it, have
een attended to above. *
The superiority of the James river route, as a line of attack and supply, is too obvious to need exposition. My own opinion on that subject had been early given, and need not be repeated here. The dissipation of all hope of the cooperation by land of General McDowell's forces, deemed to be occupied in the defence of Washington, their inability to hold or defeat Jackson, disclosed an opportunity to the enemy, and a new danger to my right, and to the long line of supplies from the White House to the Chickahominy, and forced an imme diate change of base across the Peninsula. To that end, from the evening of the 26th, every energy of the army was bent. Such a change of base, in the presence of a powerful enemy, is one of the most diffieult undertakings in war. I was confident of the valor and discipline of my brave army, and knew that it could be trusted equally to retreat or advance and to fight the series of battles now inevitable, whether retreating from victories or marching through defeats; and, in short, I had no doubt whatever of its ability, even against superior numbers, to fight its way through to the James river, and get a position whence a successful advance upon Richmond would be again possible. Their superb conduct through the next seven days justified my faith. On the same day General Van Vliet, chief quartermaster of the army of the Potomac, by my orders, telegraphed to Colonel Ingalls, quartermaster at the White House, as follows: “Run the cars to the last moment, and load them with provisions and ammunition. Load every wagon you have with subsistence, and send them to Savage's station, by way of Bottom's bridge. If you are obliged to abandon White House, burn everything that you cannot get off. You must throw all our supplies up the James river as soon as possible, and accompany them yourself with all your force. It will be of vast importance to establish our depots on James river without delay if we abandon White House. I will keep you advised of every movement so long as the wires work; after that you must exerci-e your own judgment.” All these commands were obeyed. So excellent were the dispositions of the different officers in command of the troops, depots, and gunboats, and so timely the warning of the approach of the enemy, that almost everything was saved, and but a small amount of stores destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. General Stoneman's communications with the main army being cut off, he fell back upon the White House, and thence to Yorktown, when the White House was evacuated. On the 26th orders were sent to all the corps commanders on the right bank of the Chickahominy to be prepared to send as many troops as they could spare on the following day to the left bank of the river, as will be seen by the ap: pended telegrams. General Franklin received instructions to hold General Slocum's division in readiness by daybreak of the 27th, and if heavy firing should at that time be heard in the direction of General Porter, to move at once to his assistance without further orders. At noon on the 26th the approach of the enemy, who had crossed above Meadow bridge, was discovered by the advanced pickets at that point, and at 12.30 p.m. they were attacked and driven in. All the pickets were now called in, and the regiment and battery at Mechanicsville withdrawn. Meade's brigade was ordered up as a reserve in rear of the line, and shortly after Martindale's and Griffin's brigades, of Morell's division, were moved forward and deployed on the right of McCall's division, towards Shady Grove church, to cover that flank. Neither of these three brigades, however, were warmly engaged, though two of Griffin's regiments relieved a portion of Reynolds's line just at the close of the action The position of our troops was a strong one, extending along the left bank of Beaver Dam creek, the left resting on the Chickahominy, and the right in thick woods beyond the upper road from Mechanicsville to Coal Har.
bor. The lower or river road crossed the creek at Ellison's mills. Seymour's brigade held the left of the line from the Chickahominy to beyond the mill, partly in woods and partly in clear ground, and Reynolds's the right, principally in the woods and covering the upper road. The artillery occupied positions commanding the roads and the open ground across the creek. Timber had been felled, rifle-pits *. and the position generally prepare with a care that greatly contributed to the success of the day. The passage of the creek was difficult along the whole front, and impracticable for artillery, except by the two roads where the main efforts of the enemy were directed. At 3 p.m. he formed his line of battle, rapidly advanced his skirmishers, and soon attacked our whole line, making at the same time a determined attempt to force the passage of the upper road, which was successfully resisted by General Reynolds. After a severe struggle he was forced to retire with very heavy loss. A rapid artillery fire, with desultory skirmishing, was maintained along the whole front, while the enemy massed his troops for another effort at the lower road about two hours later, which was likewise repulsed by General Seymour with heavy slaughter. The firing ceased, and the enemy retired about 9 p.m., the action having iasted six hours, with entire success to our arms. But few, if any, of Jackson's troops were engaged on this day. The portion of the enemy encountered were chiefly from the troops on the right bank of the river, who crossed near Meadow bridge and at Mechanicsville. The information in my possession soon after the close of this action convinced me that Jackson was really approaching in large force. The position on Beaver Dam creek, although so successfully defended, had its right |. too much in the air, and was too far from the main army to make it available to retain it longer. I therefore determined to send the heavy guns at Hogan's and Gaines's houses over the Chickahominy during the might, with as many of the wagons of the 5th corps as possible, and to withdraw the corps itself to a position stretching around the bridges, where its flanks would be reasonably secure, and it would be within supporting distance of the main army. General Porter carried out my orders to that effect. It was not advisable at that time, even had it been practicable, to withdraw the 5th corps to the right bank of the Chickahominy. Such a movement would have exposed the rear of the army, placed as between two fires, and enabled Jackson's fresh troops to interrupt the movement to James river, by crossing the Chickahominy in the vicinity of Jones's bridge before we could reach Malvern hill with our trains. I determined then to resist Jackson with the 5th corps, re-enforced by all our disposable troops in the new position near the bridge heads, in order to cover the withdrawal of the trains and heavy guns, and to give time for the arrangements to secure the adoption of the James river as our line of supplies in lieu of the Pamunkey. The greater part of the heavy guns and wagons having been removed to the right bank of the Chickahominy, the delicate operation of withdrawing the troops from Beaver Dam creek was commenced shortly before daylight, and successfully executed. Meade's and Griffin's brigades were the first to leave the ground; Seymour's brigade covered the rear with the horse batteries of Captains Robertson and Tidball; but the withdrawal was so skilful and gradual, and the repulse of the preceding day so complete, that although the enemy followed the retreat closely, and some skirmishing occurred, he did not appear in front of the new line in force till about noon of the 27th, when we were prepared to receive him. About this time General Porter, believing that General Stoneman would be cut off from him, sent him orders to fall back on the White House, and afterwards rejoin the army as best he could. On the morning of the 27th of June, during the withdrawal of his troops from Mechanicsville to the selected position already mentioned, General Porter telegraphed as follows: “I hope to do without aid, though I request that Franklin, or some other command, be held ready to re-enforce me. The enemy are so close that I expect to be hard pressed in front. I hope to have a portion in position to cover the retreat. This is a delicate movement, but relying on the good qualities of the commanders of divisions and brigades, I expect to get back and hold the new line.” This shows how closely Porter's retreat was followed. Notwithstanding all the efforts used during the entire night to remove the heavy guns and wagons, some of the siege guns were still in position at Gaines's house after sunrise, and were finally hauled off by hand. The new position of the 5th corps was about an are of a circle, covering the approaches to the bridges which connected our right wing with the troops on the opposite side of the river. Morell's division held the left of the line in a strip of woods on the left bank of the Gaines's mill stream, resting its left flank on the descent to the Chickahominy, which was swept by our artillery on both sides of the river, and extending into open ground on the right towards New Coal Harbor. In this line General Butterfield's brigade held the extreme left, General Martindale's joined his right, and General Griffin, still further to the right, joined the left of General Sykes's division, which, partly in woods and partly in open ground, extended in the rear of Coal Harbor. Each brigade had in reserve two of its own regiments. McCall's division having been engaged on the day before, was formed in a second line in the rear of the first, Meade's brigade on the left near the Chickahominy, Reynolds's brigade on the right, covering the approaches from Coal Harbor and Despatch station to Summer's bridge, and Seymour's in reserve to the second line, still further in rear. General P. St. George Cooke, with five companies of the 5th regular cavalry, two squadrons of the 1st regular and three squadrons of the 6th Pennsylvania cavalry, (lancers,) was posted behind a hill in rear of the position, and near the Chickahominy, to aid in watching the left flank and defending the slope to the river. - The troops were all in position by noon, with the artillery on the commanding ground, and in the intervals between the divisions and brigades. Besides the division batteries, there were Robertson's and Tidball's horse batteries, from the artillery reserve; the latter posted on the right of Sykes's division, and the former on the extreme left of the line, in the valley of the Chickahominy. Shortly after noon the enemy were discovered approaching in force, and it soon became evident that the entire position was to be attacked. His skirmishers advanced rapidly, and soon the firing became heavy along our whole front. At 2 p. m., General Porter asked for re-enforcements. Slocum’s division of the 6th corps was ordered to cross to the left bank of the river, by Alexander's bridge, and proceed to his support. General Porter's first call for reinforcements, through General Barnard, did not reach me, nor his demand for more axes, through the same officer. By 3 p.m. the engagement had become so severe, and the enemy were so greatly superior in numbers, that the entire second line and reserves had been moved forward to sustain the first line against repeated and desperate assaults along our whole front. At 3.30 p.m. Slocum's division reached the field and was immediately brought into action at the weak points of our line. On the left the contest was for the strip of woods running almost at right angles to the Chickahominy, in front of Adams's house, or between that and Gaines's house. The enemy several times charged up to this wood, but were