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each time driven back with heavy loss. The regulars, of Sykes's division, on the right, also repulsed several strong attacks. But our own loss under the tremendous fire of such greatly superior numbers was very severe, and the troops, most of whom had been under arms more than two days, were rapidly becoming exhausted by the masses of fresh men constantly brought against them. When General Slocum's division arrived on the ground it increased General Porter's force to some 35,000, who were probably contending against about 70,000 of the enemy. The line was severely pressed in several points, and as its being pierced at any one would have been fatal, it was unavoidable for General Porter, who was required to hold his position until night, to divide Slocum's division, and send parts of it, even single regiments, to the points most threatened. About 5 p.m., General Porter having reported his position as critical, French's and Meagher's brigades, of Richardson's division, (3d corps,) were ordered to cross to his support. The enemy attacked again in great force at 6 p.m., but failed to break our lines, though our loss was very heavy. About 7 p.m. they threw fresh troops against General Porter with still greater fury, and finally gained the woods held by our left. This reverse, aided by the confusion that followed an unsuccessful charge by five companies of the 5th cavalry, and followed as it was by more determined assaults on the remainder of our lines, now outflanked, caused a general retreat from our position to the hill in rear overlooking the bridge. French's and Meagher's brigades now appeared, driving before them the stragglers who were thronging towards the bridge. These brigades advanced boldly to the front, and by their example, as well as by the steadiness of their bearings, reanimated our own troops and warned the enemy that re-enforcements had arrived. It was now dusk. The enemy, already repulsed several times with terrible slaughter, and hearing the shouts of the fresh troops, failed to follow up their advantage. This gave an opportunity to rally our men behind the brigades of Generals French and Meagher, and they again advanced up the hill ready to repulse another attack. During the night our thin and exhausted regiments were all withdrawn in safety, and by the following morning all had reached the other side of the stream. The regular infantry formed the rear guard, and about 6 o'clock on the morning of the 28th crossed the river, destroying the bridge behind them. Our loss in this battle in killed, wounded, and missing, was very heavy, especially in officers, many of whom were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners while gallantly leading on their men or rallying them to renewed exertions. It is impossible to arrive at the exact numbers lost in this desperate engagement, owing to the series of battles which followed each other in quick succession, and in which the whole army was engaged. No general returns were made until after we had arrived at Harrison's landing, when the losses during the whole seven days were estimated together. Although we were finally forced from our first line after the enemy had been repeatedly driven back, yet the objects, sought for had been obtained. The enemy was held at bay. Our siege guns and material were saved, and the right wing had now joined the main body of the army. - The number of guns captured by the enemy at this battle was 22, three of which were lost by being run off the bridge during the final withdrawal. Great credit is due for the efficiency and bravery with which this important arm of the service (the artillery) was fought, and it was not until the last successful charge of the enemy that the cannoneers were driven from their pieces or struck down, and the guns captured. Deidrich's, Knierim's, and Grimm's batteries took position during the engagement in the front of General Smith's line on the right bank of the stream, and with a battery of siege guns, served by the 1st Connecticut artillery, helped to drive back the enemy in front of General Porter.
So threatening were the movements of the enemy on both banks of the Chickahominy, that it was impossible to decide until the afternoon where the real attack would be made. Large forces of infantry were seen during the day near the old tavern, on Franklin's right, and threatening demonstrations were frequently made along the entire line on this side of the river, which rendered it necessary to hold a considerable force in position to meet them.
On the 26th a circular was sent to the corps commanders, on the right bank of the river, asking them how many of their troops could be spared to re-enforce General Porter, after retaining sufficient to hold their positions for twenty-four hours.
To this the following replies were received:
“HEADQUARTERS THIRD Corps, “June 26–4 p. m. “I think I can hold the intrenchments with four brigades for twenty-four hours. That would leave two brigades disposable for service on the other side of the river, but the men are so tired and worn out that I fear they would not be in a condition to fight after making a march of any distance. # # +: - “S. P. HEINTZELMAN,
“Brigadier General. “General R. B. MARCY.”
Telegrams from General Heintzelman, on the 25th and 26th, had indicated that the enemy was in large force in front of Generals Hooker and Kearney, and on the Charles City road, (Longstreet, Hill, and Huger,) and General Heintzelman expressed the opinion, on the night of the 25th, that he could not hold his advanced position without re-enforcements.
General Keyes telegraphed :
“As to how many men will be able to hold this position for twenty-four hours, I must answer, all I have, if the enemy is as strong as ever in front, it
having at all times appeared to me that our forces on this flank are small enough.”
On the morning of the 27th, the following despatch was sent to General Sumner :
“HEADQUARTERs ARMY of the PotoMAC,
“General Smith just reports that six or eight regiments have moved down to the woods in front of General Summer.
“R. B. MARCY,
“General E. V. SUMNER,
At 11 o'clock a. m. General Sumner telegraphed, as follows:
At 2.45 p.m.; o
“Sharp musketry firing in front of Burns; we are replying with artillery and infantry. The man on the lookout reports some troops drawn up in line of battle about opposite my right and Smith's left; the number cannot be made out.”
In accordance with orders given on the night of the 26th, General Slocum's division commenced crossing the river to support General Porter soon after daybreak on the morning of the 27th; but as the firing in front of General Porter ceased, the movement was suspended. At 2 p.m. General Porter called for re-enforcements. I ordered them at once, and at 3.25 p.m. sent him the following:
“Slocum is now crossing Alexander's bridge with his whole command; enemy has commenced an infantry attack on Smith's left; I have ordered down Sumner's and Heintzelman's reserves, and you can count on the whole of Slocum's. Go on as you have begun.”
During the day the following despatches were received, which will show the condition of affairs on the right bank of the Chickahominy:
“JUNE 27, 1862.
“General Smith thinks the enemy are massing heavy columns in the clearings to the right of James Garnett's house, and on the other side of the river opposite it. Three regiments are reported to be moving from Summer's to Smith's front. The arrangements are very good, made by Smith. “W. B. FRANKLIN,
“Brigadier General. “Colonel A. W. Colburn,
“Assistant Adjutant General.” Afterwards he telegraphed:
“The enemy has begun an attack on Smith's left with infantry. I know no details.”
Afterwards the following:
“The enemy has opened on Smith from a battery of three pieces to the right of the White House. Our shells are bursting well, and Smith thinks Sumner will soon have a cross fire upon them that will silence them.”
Afterwards (at 5.50 p.m.) the following was sent to General Keyes:
“Please send one brigade of Couch's division to these headquarters, without a moment's delay. A staff officer will be here to direct the brigade where to go.”
Subsequently the following was sent to Generals Sumner and Franklin:
“Is there any sign of the enemy being in force in your front? Can you spare any more force to be sent to General Porter Answer at once.”
At 5.15 p.m. the following was received from General Franklin :
“I do not think it prudent to take any more troops from here at present.”
General Sumner replied as follows:
“If the general desires to trust the defence of my position to my front line alone, I can send French with three regiments, and Meagher with his brigade,
to the right; everything is so uncertain, that I think it would be hazardous to do it.”
These two brigades were sent to re-enforce General Porter, as has been observed.
At 5.25 p.m. I sent the following to General Franklin:
“Porter is hard pressed; it is not a question of prudence, but of possibilities. Can you possibly maintain your position until dark with two brigades? I have ordered eight regiments of Sumner's to support Porter; one brigade of Couch's to this place.
“Heintzelman's reserve to go in rear of Sumner. If possible, send a brigade to support Porter. It should follow the regiments ordered from Sumner.”
At 7.35 p.m. the following was sent to General Sumner:
“If it is possible, send another brigade to re-enforce General Smith; it is said three heavy columns of infantry are moving on him.”
From the foregoing despatches it will be seen that all disposable troops were sent from the right bank of the river to re-enforce General Porter, and that the corps commanders were left with smaller forces to hold their positions than they deemed adequate. To have done more, even though Porter's reverse had been prevented, would have had the still more disastrous result of imperilling the whole movement across the Peninsula. The operations of this day proved the numerical superiority of the enemy, and made it evident that while he had a large army on the left bank of the Chickahominy, which had already turned our right, and was in position to intercept the communications with our depot at the White House, he was also in large force between our army and Richmond; I therefore effected a junction of our forces. This might probably have been executed on either side of the Chickahominy; and if the concentration had been effected on the left bank, it is possible we might, with our entire force, have defeated the enemy there; but at that time they held the roads leading to the White House, so that it would have been impossible to have sent forward supply trains in advance of the army in that direction, and the guarding of those trains would have seriously embarrassed our operations in the battle; we would have been compelled to fight, if concentrated on that bank of the river. Moreover, we would at once have been followed by the enemy's forces upon the Richmond side of the river operating upon our rear; and if, in the chances of war, we had been ourselves defeated in the effort, we would have been forced to fall back to the White House, and probably to Fort Monroe; and, as both our flanks and rear would then have been entirely exposed, our entire supply train, if not the greater part of the army itself, might have been lost. The movements of the enemy showed that they expected this, and, as they themselves acknowledged, they were prepared to cut off our retreat in that direction. I therefore concentrated all our forces on the right bank of the river. During the night of the 26th and morning of the 27th, all our wagons, heavy guns, &c., were gathered there. It may be asked, why, after the concentration of our forces on the right bank of the Chickahominy, with a large part of the enemy drawn away from Richmond upon the opposite side, I did not, instead of striking for James river, fifteen miles below that place, at once march directly on Richmond. It will be remembered that at this juncture the enemy was on our rear, and there was every reason to believe that he would sever our communications with the supply depot at the White House. We had on hand but a limited amount of rations, and if we had advanced directly on Richmond, it would have required considerable time to carry the strong works around that place, during which our men would have been destitute of food; and even if Richmond had fallen before our arms, the enemy could still have occupied our supply communications between that place and
the gunboats, and turned the disaster into victory. If, on the other hand, the enemy had concentrated all his forces at Richmond during the progress of our attack, and we had been defeated, we must in all probability have lost our trains before reaching the flotilla. The battles which continued day after day in the progress of our flank movement to the James river, with the exception of the one at Gaines's mill, were successes to our arms, and the closing engagement at Malvern hill was the most decisive of all. On the evening of the 27th of June I assembled the corps commanders at my headquarters, and informed them of my plan, its reasons, and my choice of route and method of execution. General Keyes was directed to move his corps, with its artillery and baggage, across the White Oak swamp bridge, and to seize strong positions on the opposite side of the swamp, to cover the passage of the other troops and trains. This was executed on the 28th by noon. Before daybreak on the 28th I went to Savage's station, and remained there during the day and night, directing the withdrawal of the trains and supplies of the army. Orders were given to the different commanders to load their wagons with ammunition and provisions, and the necessary baggage of the officers and men, and to destroy all property which could not be transported with the army. Orders were also given to leave with those of the sick and wounded who could not be transported, a proper complement of surgeons and attendants, with a bountiful supply of rations and medical stores. The large herd of 2,500 beef-cattle was, by the chief commissary, Colonel Clarke, transferred to the James river without loss. On the morning of the 28th, while General Franklin was withdrawing his command from Golding's farm, the enemy opened upon General Smith's division from Garnett's hill, from the valley above, and from Gaines's hill on the opposite side of the Chickahominy; and shortly afterwards two Georgia regiments attempted to carry the works about to be vacated, but this attack was repulsed by the 23d New York and the 49th Pennsylvania volunteers on picket, and a section of Mott's battery. Porter's corps was moved across White Oak swamp during the day and night, and took up positions covering the roads leading from Richmond towards White Oak swamp and Long bridge. McCall's division was ordered, on the night of the 28th, to move across the swamp and take a proper position to assist in covering the remaining troops and trains. During the same night the corps of Sumner and Heintzelman, and the division of Smith, were ordered to an interior line, the left resting on Keyes's old intrenchments, and curving to the right, so as to cover Savage's station. General Slocum's division, of Franklin's corps, was ordered to Savage's station, in reserve. They were ordered to hold this position until dark of the 29th, in order to cover the withdrawal of the trains, and then to fall back across the swamp and unite with the remainder of the army. On the 28th I sent the following to the Secretary of War:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE POToMAC,
“I now know the full history of the day. On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks. On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible. I believe it will prove to be the most desperate battle of the war. The sad remnants of my men behave as men. Those