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MILITARY INCIDENTS OF THE FIRST PERIOD.
Before taking up the history of the embarcation and Peninsula campaign, I should remark that during the fall and winter of 1861–62, while the army of the Potomac was in position in front of Washington, reconnoissances were made from time to time, and skirmishes frequently occurred, which were of great importance in the education of the troops, accustoming them to the presence of the enemy, and giving them confidence under fire. There were many instances of individual gallantry displayed in these affairs; the reports of them will be found among the documents which accompany this report.
One of the most brilliant of these affairs was that which took place at Drainsville on December 20, 1861, when the 3d brigade of McCall's division, under Brigadier General E. O. C. Ord, with Easton's battery, routed and pursued four regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and a battery of six pieces.
The operations of Brigadier General F. W. Lander on the o Potomac, during the months of January and February, 1862, frustrated the attempts of General Jackson against the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, Cumberland, &c., and obliged him to fall back to Winchester. His constitution was impaired by the hardships he had experienced, and on the 2d March the fearless General Lander expired, a victim to the excessive fatigue of the campaign.
The council composed of the four corps commanders, organized by the President of the United States, at its meeting on the 13th of March, adopted Fort Monroe as the base of operations for the movement of the army of the Potomac upon Richmond. For the prompt and successful execution of the projected operation, it was regarded by all as necessary that the whole of the four corps should be employed, with at least the addition of ten thousand men drawn from the forces in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe, that position and its dependencies being regarded as amply protected by the naval force in its neighborhood, and the advance of the main army up the Peninsula, so that it could be safely left with a small garrison.
In addition to the land forces, the co-operation of the navy was desired in the projected attack upon the batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester, as well as in controlling the York and James rivers for the protection of our flanks, and the use of the transports bringing supplies to the army. With these expectations, and for reasons stated elsewhere in this report, my original plan of moving by Urbana and West Point was abandoned, and the line with Fort Monroe as a base adopted. In the arrangements for the transportation of the army to the Peninsula by water, the vessels were originally ordered to rendezvous mainly at Annapolis; but upon the evacuation of Manassas and the batteries of the lower Potomac by the enemy, it became more convenient to embark the troops and material at Alexandria, and orders
to that effect were at once given.
In making the preliminary arrangements for the movement it was determined that the first corps, General McDowell's, should move as a unit first, and effect a landing either at the Sand-box, some four miles south of Yorktown, in order to turn all the enemy's defences at Ship point, Howard's bridge, Big Bethel, &c., or else, should existing circumstances render it preferable, land on the Gloucester side of York river and move on West Point.
The transports, however, arrived slowly and few at a time. In order, therefore, to expedite matters, I decided to embark the army by divisions, as transports arrived, keeping army corps together as much as possible, and to collect the troops at Fort Monroe. In determining the order of embarcation, convenience and expedition were especially consulted, except that the first corps was to be embarked last, as I intended to move it in mass to its point of disembarcation, and to land it on either bank of the York, as might then be determined.
On the 17th of March Hamilton's division, of the 3d corps, embarked at Alexandria and proceeded to Fort Monroe, with the following orders:
“WASHINGTON, D.C., March 17, 1862. “You will, on your arrival at Fort Monroe, report to General Wool and request him to assign you ground for encamping your division. You will remain at Fort Monroe until further orders from General McClellan. Should General Wool require the services of your division in repelling an attack, you will obey his orders and use every effort to carry out his views. * “R. B. MARCY, “Chief of Staff. “General C. S. HAMILTON, “Commanding Division.”
On the 22d of March, as soon as transportation was ready, General FitzJohn Porter's division, of the same corps, embarked. . General Heintzelman was ordered to accompany it, under the following instructions:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of THE POTOMAC, “Seminary, March 22, 1862. “GENERAL: Upon the disembarcation of Porter's division at Fort Monroe, I have to request that you will move your two divisions, Porter's and Hamilton's, some three or four miles out from the fort to find good camping places, where wood and water can be readily obtained, and where your positions will be good in a defensive point of view. You may find it advisable to place one division on or near the road leading to Yorktown from Newport News—the other upon that leading to Yorktown direct from Fort Monroe. If you find that the nature of the country will permit easy communication and mutual support between the two divisions, it will be best to place one on each road. It will be best to remain pretty near the fort for the present, in order to give the impression that our object is to attack Norfolk rather than Yorktown. You will do well, however, to push strong reconnoissances well to the front to ascertain the position of the enemy and his pickets. I will, as soon as possible, re-enforce you by the 3d division of your corps, and it is probable that a part or the whole of the 4th corps will also move from Fort Monroe. This will probably be determined before your disembarcation is completed, and you will be informed accordingly. “My desire would be to make no important move in advance until we are fully prepared to follow it up and give the enemy no time to recover. “The quartermaster of your corps will receive detailed instructions in regard to land transportation from General Van Vliet. “It will be advisable to mobilize your corps with the least possible delay, and have it prepared for an advance. I have directed extra clothing, ammunition, &c., to be sent to Fort Monroe, so that all deficiencies may be supplied without delay. “Please report to me frequently and fully the condition of things on the new field of operations, and whatever intelligence you gain as to the enemy. “Engage guides in sufficient numbers at once, and endeavor to send out spies. “I am very truly yours, “GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
“Major General, Commanding. “Brigadier General S. P. HEINTZELMAN, “Commanding 3d Corps.”
The remaining divisions embarked as rapidly as transports could be suplied. p On the 1st of April I embarked with the headquarters on the steamer Commodore, and reached Fort Monroe on the afternoon of the 2d. In consequence of the delay in the arrival of the horse transports at Alexandria, but a small portion of the cavalry had arrived, and the artillery reserve had not yet completed its disembarcation. I found there the 3d Pennsylvania cavalry and the 5th regular cavalry; the 2d regular cavalry and a portion of the 1st had arrived, but not disembarked. So few wagons had arrived that it was not possible to move Casey's division at all for several days, while the other divisions were obliged to move with scant supplies. As to the force and position of the enemy the information then in our possession was vague and untrustworthy. Much of it was obtained from the staff officers of General Wool, and was simply to the effect that Yorktown was surrounded by a continuous line of earthworks, with strong water batteries on the York river, and garrisoned by not less than 15,000 troops, under command of General J. B. Magruder. Maps, which had been prepared by the topographical engineers under General Wool's command, were furnished me, in which the Warwick river was represented as flowing parallel to, but not crossing, the road from Newport News to Williamsburg, making the so-called Mulberry island a real island ; and we had no information as to the true course of the Warwick across the Peninsula, nor of the formidable line of works which it covered. Information which I had collected during the winter placed General Magruder's command at from 15,000 to 20,000 men, independently of General Huger's force at Norfolk, estimated at about 15,000. It was also known that there were strong defensive works at or near Williamsburg. Knowing that General Huger could easily spare some troops to re-enforce Yorktown, that he had indeed done so, and that Johnston's army of Manassas could be brought rapidly by the James and York rivers to the same point, I proposed to invest that town without delay. The accompanying map of Colonel Cram, U. S. topographical engineers, attached to General Wool's staff, given to me as the result of several months' labor, indicated the feasibility of the design. It was also an object of primary importance to reach the vicinity of Yorktown before the enemy was re-enforced sufficiently to enable him to hold in force his works at Big Bethel, Howard's bridge, Ship point, &c., on the direct road to Yorktown and Young's mills, on the road from Newport News. This was the more urgent, as it was now evident that some days must elapse before the first corps could arrive. Everything possible was done to hasten the disembarcation of the cavalry, artillery and wagons in the harbor; and on the 3d the orders of march were given for the following day. There were at Fort Monroe and in its vicinity on the 3d, ready to move, two divisions of the 3d corps, two divisions of the 4th corps, and one division of the 2d corps, and Sykes's brigade of regular infantry, together
with Hunt's artillery reserve and the regiments of cavalry before named, in all about 58,000 men and 100 guns, besides the division of artillery. Richardson's and Hoqker's divisions of the 2d and 3d corps had not arrived, and Casey's division of the 4th corps was unable to move for want of wagons. Before I left Washington an order had been issued by the War Department placing Fort Monroe and its dependencies under my control, and authorizing me to draw from the troops under General Wool a division of about 10,000 men, which was to be assigned to the 1st corps. During the night of the 3d I received a telegram from the Adjutant General of the army, stating that, by the President's order, I was deprived of all control over General Wool and the troops under his command, and forbidden to detach any of his troops without his sanction. This order left me without any base of operations under my own control, and to this day I am ignorant of the causes which led to it. On my arrival at Fort Monroe the James river was declared by the naval authorities closed to the operations of their vessels by the combined influence of the enemy's batteries on its banks and the confederate steamers Merrimack, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Teazer. Flag-Officer Goldsborough, then in command of the United States squadron in Hampton roads, regarded it (and no doubt justly) as his highest and most imperative duty to watch and neutralize the Merrimack; and as he designed using his most powerful vessels in a contest with her, he did not feel able to detach to the assistance of the army a suitable force to attack the water batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester. All this was contrary to what had been previously stated to me, and materially affected my plans. At no time during the operations against Yorktown was the navy prepared to lend us any material assistance in its reduction until after our land batteries had partially silenced the works. I had hoped, let me say, by rapid movements, to drive before me or capture the enemy on the Peninsula, open the James river, and press on to . Richmond before he should be materially re-enforced from other portions of the territory. As the narrative proceeds the causes will be developed which frustrated these apparently well-grounded expectations. I determined then to move the two divisions of the 4th corps by the Newport News and Williamsburg road, to take up a position between Yorktown and Williamsburg, while the two divisions of the 3d corps moved direct from Fort Monroe upon Yorktown ; the reserves moving so as to support either corps as might prove necessary. I designed, should the works at Yorktown and Williamsburg offer a serious resistance, to land the 1st corps, re-enforced if necessary, on the left bank of the York or on the Severn, to move it on Gloucester and West Point, in order to take in reverse whatever force the enemy might have on the Peninsula, and compel him to abandon his positions. In the commencement of the movement from Fort Monroe, serious difficulties were encountered from the want of precise topographical information as to the country in advance. Correct local maps were not to be found, and the country, though known in its general feature, we found to be inaccurately described in essential particulars in the only maps and geographical memoirs or papers to which access could be had. Erroneous courses to streams and roads were frequently given, and no dependence could be placed on the information thus derived. This difficulty has been found to exist with respect to most portions of the State of Virginia, through which my military operations have extended. Reconnoissances, frequently under fire proved the only trustworthy sources of information. Negroes, however truthful their reports, possessed or were able to communicate very little accurate and no comprehensive topographical information. On the 3d the following orders were given for the movement of the 4th :
“Porter's and Hamilton's divisions and Averill's cavalry of the 3d corps, and Sedgwick's division of the 2d corps, under Brigadier General Heintzelman, commanding 3d corps, will move to-morrow in the following order: Porter's division with Averill's cavalry at 6 a.m., over the Newmarket and New bridges to Big Bethel and Howard's bridge. This division will send forward to the batteries where the Ship Point road intersects the main Yorktown road a sufficient force to hold that point, and cut off the garrison of the Ship Point batteries. The whole division may be used for this purpose if necessary, and if possible the batteries should be occupied by our troops to-morrow. The portion of the division not necessary for this purpose will encamp at Boward's bridge.
“Hamilton's division will march at 7 a.m. by the New bridge road to Big Bethel, and will encamp on Howard's creek.
“Sedgwick's division will march at 8 a.m. by the Newmarket bridge, taking the direct road to Big Bethel, and will also encamp at Howard's bridge.
& 4 Bigadier General Keyes, commanding 4th corps, will move with Smith's and Couch's divisions at 6 a.m., (Smith's division in advance,) by the James river road. The 5th regular cavalry, temporarily assigned to this corps, will move with Smith's division, which will encamp at Young's mills, throwing forward at least one brigade to the road from Big Bethel to Warwick. Couch's division will encamp at Fisher's creek.
“The reserve cavalry, artillery and infantry will move at 8.30 a. m., by the Newmarket bridge, to Big Bethel, where it will encamp. On the march it will keep in rear of Sedgwick's division.”
The following is an extract from the order issued on the 4th for the march of the 5th: “The following movements of the army will be carried out to-morrow (5th:) “General Keyes will move forward Smith's division at 6 a.m., via War. wick Court House and the road leading near the old ship yard, to the “Halfway House' on the Yorktown and Williamsburg road. “General Couch's division will march at 6 a.m., to close up on General Smith's division at the “Halfway House.’ “General Keyes's command will occupy and hold the narrow dividing ridge near the “Halfway House,” so as to prevent the escape of the garrison at Yorktown by land, and prevent re-enforcements being thrown in. “General Heintzelman will move forward General Porter's two rear brigades at 6 a.m., upon the advanced guard, when the entire division will advance to a point about two and three-quarters miles from Yorktown, where the road turns abruptly to the north, and where a road comes in from Warwick Court House. “General Hamilton's division will move at 6 a.m., and follow General Porter's division, camping as near it as possible. “General Sedgwick's division will march at 5 a.m., as far as the Warwick road, which enters the main Yorktown road near Doctor Powers's house, and will await further orders. “The reserve will march at 6 a.m., upon the main Yorktown road, halting for further orders at Doctor Powers's house; the infantry leading, the artillery following next, and the cavalry in rear. “General Sedgwick's division will, for the present, act with the reserve, and he will receive orders from headquarters.”