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“If we break through and advance, both our flanks will be assailed from two great water-courses in the hands of the enemy; our supplies would give out, and the enemy, equal if not superior in numbers, would, with the other advantages, beat and destroy this army. “The greatest master of the art of war has said, ‘that if you would invade a country successfully you must have one line of operations, and one army, under one general.’ But what is our condition ? The State of Wirginia is made to constitute the command, in part or wholly, of some six generals, viz: Frémont, Banks, McDowell, Wool, Burnside, and McClellan, besides the scrap over the Chesapeake, in the care of Dix. “The great battle of the war is to come off here. If we win it, the rebellion will be crushed—if we lose it, the consequences will be more horrible than I care to tell. The plan of campaign I voted for, if carried out with the means proposed, will certainly succeed. If any part of the means proposed are withheld or diverted, I deem it due to myself to say that our success will be uncertain. “It is no doubt agreeable to the commander of the 1st corps to have a separate department, and as this letter advocates his return to General McClellan's command, it is proper to state that I am not at all influenced by personal regard or dislike to any of my seniors in rank. If I were to credit all the opinions which have been poured into my ears, I must believe that, in regard to my present fine command, I owe much to General McDowell and nothing to General McClellan. But I have disregarded all such officiousness, and I have from last July to the present day supported General McClellan, and obeyed all his orders with as hearty a good will as though he had been 'my brother or the friend to whom I owed most. I shall continue to do so to the last, and so long as he is my commander. And I am not desirous to displace him, and would not if I could. He left Washington with the understanding that he was to execute a definite plan of campaign with certain prescribed means. The plan was good and the means sufficient, and without modification the enterprise was certain of success. But with the reduction of force and means, the plan is entirely changed, and is now a bad plan, with means insufficient for certain success. “Do not look upon this communication as the offspring of despondency. I never despond ; and when you see me working the hardest, you may be sure that fortune is frowning upon me. I am working now to my utmost. “Please show this letter to the President, and I should like also that Mr. Stanton should know its contents. Do me the honor to write to me as soon as you can, and believe me, with perfect respect,
“Your most obedient servant,
“Brigadier General, Commanding 4th Army Corps. “Hon. IRA. HARRIs, U. S. Senate.” o
On the 7th of April, and before the arrival of the divisions of Generals Hooker, Richardson and Casey, I received the following despatches from the President and Secretary of War : “WASHINGTON, April 6, 1862—8 p.m.
“Yours of 11 a.m. to-day received. Secretary of War informs me that the forwarding of transportation, ammunition, and Woodbury's brigade, under your orders, is not, and will not be, interfered with. You now have over one hundred thousand troops with you, independent of General Wool's command. I think you better break the enemy's line from Yorktown to Warwick river at once. This will probably use time as advantageously as
you can. / “A. LINCOLN, President. “General G. B. McCLELLAN.”
“WASHINGTON, April 6, 1862–2 p.m.
“The President directs me to say that your despatch to him has been received. General Sumner's corps is on the road to join you, and will go forward as fast as possible. Franklin's division is now on the advance towards Manassas. There is no means of transportation here to send it forward in time to be of service in your present operations. Telegraph frequently, and all in the power of the government shall be done to
sustain you as occasion may require.
“Secretary of War. “General G. B. McCLELLAN.”
By the 9th of April I had acquired a pretty good knowledge of the position and strength of the enemy's works, and the obstacles to be overcome. On that day I received the following letter from the President:
“WASHINGTON, April 9, 1862.
“My DEAR SIR: Your despatches complaining that you are not properly sustained, while they do not offend me, do pain me very much. “Blenker's division was withdrawn from you before you left here, and you know the pressure under which I did it, and, as I thought, acquiesced in it—certainly not without reluctance. “After you left I ascertained that less than 20,000 unorganized men, without a single field battery, were all you designed to be left for the defence of Washington and Manassas Junction, and part of this even was to goto General Hooker's old position. General Banks's corps, once designed for Manassas Junction, was diverted and tied up on the line of Winchester and Strasburg, and could not leave it without again exposing the upper Potomac and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. This presented, or would present, when McDowell and Sumner should be gone, a great temptation to the enemy to turn back from the Rappahannock and sack Washington. My implicit order that Washington should, by the judgment of all the commanders of army corps, be left entirely secure, had been neglected. It was precisely this that drove me to detain McDowell. “I do not forget that I was satisfied with your arrangement to leave Banks at Manassas Junction ; but when that arrangement was broken up, and nothing was substituted for it, of course I was constrained to substitute something for it myself. And allow me to ask, do you really think I should permit the line from Richmond, via Manassas Junction, to this city, to be entirely open, except what resistance could be presented by less than 20,000 unorganized troops ? This is a question which the country will not allow me to evade. o “There is a curious mystery about the number of troops now with you. When I telegraphed you on the 6th, saying you had over a hundred thousand with you, I had just obtained from the Secretary of War a statement taken, as he said, from your own returns, making 108,000 then with you and en route to you. You now say you will have but 85,000 when all en route to you shall have reached you. How can the discrepancy of 23,000 be accounted for 7 “As to General Wool's command, I understand it is doing for you precisely what a like number of your own would have to do if that command was away. o suppose the whole force which has gone forward for you is with you by this time. And if so, I think it is the précise time for you to strike a blow. By delay the enemy will relatively gain upon you—that is, he will
gain faster by fortifications and re-enforcements than you can by re-enforcements alone. And once more let me tell you, it is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. I am powerless to help this. You will do me the jus: tice to remember I always insisted that going down the bay in search of a field, instead of fighting at or near Manassas, was only shifting, and not surmounting, a difficulty; that we would find the same enemy, and the same or equal intrenchments, at either place. The country will not fail to note, is now noting, that the present hesitation to move upon an intrenched enemy is but the story of Manassas repeated. “I beg to assure you that I have never written you or spoken to you in greater kindness of feeling than now, nor with a fuller purpose to sustain you, so far as, in my most anxious judgment, I consistently can. But you must act. - “Yours, very truly,
“A. LINCOLN. “Major General McCLELLAN.”
With great deference to the opinions and wishes of his excellency the President, I most respectfully beg leave to refer to the facts which I have presented and those contained in the accompanying letter of General Keyes, with the reports of General Barnard and other officers, as furnishing a reply to the above letter. His excellency could not judge of the formidable character of the works before us as well as if he had been on the ground; and whatever might have been his desire for prompt action, (certainly no greater than mine,) I feel confident if he could have made a personal inspection of the enemy's defences, he would have forbidden me risking the safety of the army and the possible successes of the campaign on a sanguinary assault of an advantageous and formidable position, which, even if successful, could not have been followed up to any other or better result than would have been reached by the regular operations of a siege. Still less could I forego the conclusions of my most instructed judgment for the mere sake of avoiding the personal consequences intimated in the President's despatch. The following extracts from the report of the chief engineer (Brigadier General J. G. Barnard) embody the result of our reconnoissances, and give, with some degree of detail, the character and strength of the defences of Yorktown and the Warwick, and some of the obstacles which the army contended against and overcame.
Extracts from General Barnard's report.
“The accompanying drawing (map No. 2) gives with accuracy the outline and armament of the fortifications of Yorktown proper, with the detached works immediately connected with it. “The three bastioned fronts, looking towards our approaches, appear to have been earliest built, and have about fifteen feet thickness of parapet and eight feet to ten feet depth of ditch, the width varying much, but never being less at top of scarp than fifteen feet—I think generally much more. “The works extending around the town, from the western salient of fronts just mêntioned, appear to have been finished during the past winter and spring. They have formidable profiles, eighteen feet thickness of parapet, and generally ten feet depth of ditch. b 44*: water batteries had generally eighteen feet parapet, the guns in arbette.
“They were (as well as all the works mentioned) carefully constructed with well-made sod revetments.
“There were numerous traverses between the guns, and ample magazines; how sufficient in bomb-proof qualities I am unable to say. “The two first guns of the work on the heights bear upon the water as well as the land, and were of heavy calibre. “The list here with gives all the guns in position, or for which there were emplacements. The vacant emplacements were all occupied before the evacuation by siege guns, rifled 44-inch 24-pounders, and 18-pounders. “In Fort Magruder (the first exterior work) there were found one 8-inch columbiad, one 42-pounder, and one 8-inch siege howitzer; the two former in barbette. The sketch will show the emplacements for guns on field and siege carriages; making, I think, with the foregoing, twenty-two. Two of these were placed behind traverses, with embrasures covered by blindages. “The two external redoubts, with the connecting parapets, formed a re-entrant with the fronts of attack, and all the guns bore on our approaches. “It will be seen, therefore, that our approaches were swept by the fire of at least forty-nine guns, nearly all of which were heavy, and many of them the most formidable guns known. Besides that, two-thirds of the guns of the water batteries and all the guns of Gloucester bore on our right batteries, , though under disadvantageous circumstances. “The ravine behind which the left of the Yorktown fronts of attack was placed was not very difficult, as the heads formed depressions in front of their left, imperfectly seen by their fire, and from which access could be had to the ditches; but we could not be sure of the fact before the evacuation. The enemy held, by means of a slight breastwork and rifle trenches, a position in advance of the heads of these ravines as far forward as the burnt house. “The ravines which head between the Yorktown fortifications and the exterior works are deep and intricate. They were tolerably well seen, however, by the works which run westwardly from the Yorktown works, and which were too numerous and complicated to be traced on paper. t “Fort Magruder, the first lunette on our left, appears to have been built at an early period. “The external connexion between this work was first a rifle trench, probably afterwards enlarged into a parapet, with external ditch and an emplacement for four guns in or near the small redan in the centre. “Behind this they had constructed numerous epaulments, with connecting boyaus not fully arranged for infantry fires, and mainly intended probably to protect their camps and reserves against the destructive effects of our artillery. “From the ‘red redoubt these trenches and epaulments ran to the woods and rivulet which forms one head of the Warwick, and continue almost without break to connect with the works at Wynn's mill. This stream, just mentioned, whatever be its name, (the term ‘Warwick,” according to some, applying only to the tidal channel from the James river up as high as Lee's mill,) was inundated by a number of dams from near where its head is crossed by the epaulments mentioned down to Lee's mill. “Below Lee's mill the Warwick follows a tortuous course through salt marshes of two hundred yards or three hundred yards in width, from which the land rises up boldly to a height of thirty or forty feet. “The first group of works is at Wynn's mill, where there is a dam and bridge. The next is to guard another dam between Wynn's and Lee's mills; (this is the point attacked by General Smith on the 16th ultimo, and where Lieutenant Merrill was wounded; the object of the attack was merely to prevent the further construction of works and feel the strength of the position.) A work, of what strength is not known, was at the sharp angle of
the stream just above Lee's mill, and a formidable group of works was at Lee's mill, where there was also a dam and bridge. “From Lee's mill a line of works extends across Mulberry island, or is supposed to do so. “At Southal's landing is another formidable group of works, and from here, too, they extend apparently across to the James river. “These groups of field-works were connected by rifle trenches or parapets for nearly the whole distance. “They are far more extensive than may be supposed from the mention of of them I make, and every kind of obstruction which the country affords, such as abattis, marsh, inundation, &c., was skilfully used. The line is certainly one of the most extensive known to modern times. “The country on both sides of the Warwick, from near Yorktown down, is a dense forest with few clearings. It was swampy, and the roads impas. sable during the heavy rains we have constantly had, except where our own labors had corduroyed them. “If we could have broken the enemy's line across the isthmus we could have invested Yorktown, and it must, with its garrison, have soon fallen into our hands. It was not deemed practicable, considering the strength of that line and the difficulty of handling our forces, (owing to the imprac. ticable character of the country,) to do so. “If we could take Yorktown, or drive the enemy out of that place, the enemy's line was no longer tenable. This we could do by siege operations. It was deemed too hazardous to attempt the reduction of the place by assault.”
The plan of the approaches and their defences as determined upon and finally executed is exhibited on the accompanying map, (No. —.) It was, in words, to open the first parallel as near as possible to the works of the enemy, and under its protection to establish almost simultaneously batteries along the whole front, extending from York river on the right to the War. wick on the left, a cord of about one mile in length. The principal approaches were directed against the east end of the main work, which was most heavily armed and bore both on the water and land, and lay between Wormley's creek and York river. There also were placed the most of the batteries designed to act against the land front to enfilade the water batteries, and to act upon Gloucester. 1 designed at the earliest moment to open simultaneously with several batteries, and as soon as the enemy's guns, which swept the neck of land between Wormley's creek and the Warwick, were crippled and their fire kept down, to push the trenches as far forward as necessary and to assault Yorktown and the adjacent works. The approaches to the batteries, the necessary bridges, and the roads to the depots, had been vigorously pushed to completion by the troops under Generals Heintzelman and Sumner, and were available for infantry, and in some instances for artillery, on the 17th of April, when the batteries and their connexions were commenced, and labor upon them kept up night and day until finished. Some of the batteries on easy ground and concealed from the view of the enemy were early completed and armed, and held ready for any emergency, but not permitted to open, as the return fire of the enemy would interfere too much with the labor on other and more important works. The completion of the more exposed and heaviest batteries was delayed by storms, preventing the landing of guns and ammunition. It having been discovered that the enemy were receiving artillery stores at the wharf in Yorktown, on May 1 battery No. 1 was opened with effect upon the wharf and town. On the 22d of April General Franklin, with his division from General