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force to endeavor to overtake the enemy's rear-guard. He found several guns abandoned, and picked up a large number of stragglers, but the condition of the roads and the state of the supplies forced him to return, after advancing a few miles. It is my opinion that the enemy opposed us here with only a portion of his army. When our cavalry first appeared there was nothing but the enemy's rear-guard in Williamsburg. Other troops were brought back during the night and the next day to hold the works as long as possible, in order to gain time for the trains, &c., already well on the way to Richmond, to make their escape. Our troops were greatly exhausted by the laborious march through the mud from their positions in front of Yorktown, and by the protracted battle through which they had just passed. Many of them were out of rations and ammunition, and one division, in its anxiety to make a prompt movement, had marched with empty haversacks. The supply trains had been forced out of the roads on the fourth and fifth to allow the troops and artillery to pass to the front, and the roads were now in such a state, after thirty-six hours' continuous rain, that it was almost impossible to pass even empty wagons over them. General Hooker's division had suffered so severely that it was in no condition to follow the enemy, even if the roads had been good. Under these circumstances, an immediate pursuit was impossible. Steps were at once taken to care for and remove the wounded, and to bring up provisions, ammunition, and forage. The condition of the roads, as has been said, rendered it next to impossible to accomplish this by land from Yorktown. A temporary depot was therefore promptly established on Queen's creek, and supplies drawn, and the wounded shipped from that place. The divisions of Franklin, Sedgwick, Porter, and Richardson were sent from Yorktown by water to the right bank of the Pamunkey, in the vicinity of West Point. The remaining divisions, the trains, and the reserve artillery moved subsequently by land. Early on the morning of the 7th General Franklin had completed the disembarcation of his division, and had placed it in a good position to cover the landing place, both his flanks and a large portion of his front being protected by water. Dana's brigade of Sedgwick's division arrived during the morning. At about 9 a. m. a large force of the enemy appeared, consisting of Whiting's division and other troops, and between 10 and 11 they attacked the part of the line held by Newton's brigade. The action continued until 3 p.m., when the enemy retired, all his attacks having been repulsed. This affair, the most important in which the division had yet been engaged, was highly creditable to General Franklin and his command. For the details I refer to his report, which is here with submitted. Our loss was 49 killed, 104 wounded, and 41 missing. Total, 194, which includes a large proportion of officers Cavalry reconnoissances were sent out from Williamsburg on the 6th and 7th, and on the 8th General Stoneman moved with an advance guard of cavalry, artillery, and infantry to open communication with General Franklin. As soon as our supplies had been received and the condition of the roads had become a little better, though still very bad, the advance of the remaining troops was begun, Smith's division moving on the 8th. On the 10th headquarters were at Roper's church, 19 miles from Williamsburg, all the divisions which had moved by land, except Hooker's, being in the vicinity of that place. We were now in direct communication with the portion of the army which had gone by water, and we began to draw supplies from them.
On account of the small number and narrowness of the roads in this neighborhood, movements were difficult and slow. On the 15th, headquarters and the divisions of Franklin, Porter, Sykes, and Smith reached Cumberland, which was made a temporary depot. Couch and Casey were then near New Kent Court House, Hooker and Kearney near Roper's church, and Richardson and Sedgwick near Eltham. On the 14th and 15th much rain fell. On the 15th and 16th the divisions of Franklin, Smith, and Porter were with great difficulty moved to White House, five miles in advance. So bad was the road that the train of one of these divisions required thirty-six hours to pass over this short distance. General Stoneman had occupied this place some days before, after several successful skirmishes, in which our cavalry proved superior to that of the enemy. The reports of these affairs are appended. About this time, with the consent of the President, two additional corps were organized, viz: the 5th provisional corps, consisting of the divisions of Porter and Sykes, and the reserve artillery, under the command of General F. J. Porter, and the 6th provisional corps, consisting of the divisions of Franklin and Smith, under the command of General W. B. Franklin. Headquarters reached White House on the 16th, and a permanent depot was at once organized there. On the 19th, headquarters and the corps of Porter and Franklin moved to Tunstall's station, five miles from White House. On the 20th more rain fell. On the 21st the position of the troops was as follows: Stoneman's advance guard, one mile from New bridge; Franklin's corps three miles from New bridge, with Porter's corps at supporting distance in its rear; Sumner's corps, on the railroad about three miles from the Chickahominy, connecting the right with the left ; Keyes's corps, on New Kent road, near Bottom's bridge, with Heintzelman's corps at supporting distance in the rear. The ford at Bottom's bridge was in our possession, and the rebuilding of the bridge, which had been destroyed by the enemy, was commenced. On the 22d, headquarters moved to Coal Harbor. On the 26th the railroad was in operation as far as the Chickahominy, and the railroad bridge across that stream nearly completed.
When, on the 20th of May, our advanced light troops reached the banks of the Chickahominy river, at Bottom's bridge, they found that this as well as the railroad bridge, about a mile above, had been destroyed by the enemy. The Chickahominy in this vicinity is about forty feet wide, fringed with a dense growth of heavy forest trees, and bordered by low marshy bottom lands, varying from half a mile to a mile in width. Our operations embraced that part of the river between Bottom's and Meadow bridges, which covered the principal approaches to Richmond from the east. Within these limits the firm ground lying above high-water mark seldom approaches near the river on either bank, and no locality was found within this section where the high ground came near the stream on both sides. It was subject to frequent, sudden, and great variations in the volume of water, and a rise of a few feet overflowed the bottom lands on both sides. At low water it could be forded at almost any point; but during high water it was above a fording stage, and could then be crossed only at the few points where bridges had been constructed. These bridges had all been destroyed by
the enemy on our approach, and it was necessary not only to reconstruct these, but to build several others.
The west bank of the river opposite the New and Mechanicsville bridges was bordered by elevated bluffs, which afforded the enemy commanding positions to fortify, establish his batteries, enfilading the approaches upon the two principal roads to Richmond on our right, and resist the reconstruction of the important bridges. This obliged us to select other less exposed points for our crossings. As the enemy was not in great force opposite Bottom's bridge on the arrival of our left at that point, and as it was important to secure a lodgment upon the right bank before he should have time to concentrate his forces and contest the passage, I forthwith ordered Casey's division to ford the river and occupy the opposite heights. This was promptly done on the 20th, and reconnoissances were at once pushed out in advance. These troops were directed to throw up defences in an advantageous position to secure our left flank. General Heintzelman's corps was thrown forward in support, and Bottom's bridge immediately rebuilt. In the mean time our centre and right were advanced to the river above, and on the 24th we carried the village of Mechanicsville, driving the enemy out with our artillery, and forcing them across the bridge, which they destroyed. General Naglee on the same day dislodged a force of the enemy from the vicinity of the “Seven Pines,” on the Bottom's bridge road, and our advance on the left secured a strong position near that place. All the information obtained from deserters, negroes, and spies, indicated that the enemy occupied in force all the approaches to Richmond from the east, and that he intended to dispute every step of our advance beyond the Chickahominy, and the passage of the stream opposite our right. That their army was superior to ours in numbers, did not admit of a doubt. Strong defences had been constructed around Richmond. Impressed by these facts with the necessity of strengthening the army for the struggle, I did not fail to urge repeatedly upon my superiors the importance of re-enforcing the army of the Potomac with every disposable man, in order to insure the success of our attack upon the rebel capital. On the 10th of May I telegraphed as follows: “CAMP At Ewell's FARM, three MILEs Beyond WILLIAMsburg, - “May 10, 1862–5 a. m.
“From the information reaching me from every source, I regard it as certain that the enemy will meet us with all his force on or near the Chickahominy. They can concentrate many more men than I have, and are collecting troops from all quarters, especially well disciplined troops from the south. Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much reduced our numbers, and will continue to do so. I shall fight the rebel army with whatever force I may have, but duty requires me to urge that every effort be made to re-enforce me without delay with all the disposable troops in Eastern Virginia, and that we concentrate all our forces, as far as possible, to fight the great battle now impending, and to make it decisive.
“It is possible that the enemy may abandon Richmond without a serious struggle; but I do not believe he will, and it would be unwise to count upon anything but a stubborn and desperate defence—a life and death contest. I see no other hope for him than to fight this battle, and we must win it. I shall fight them whatever their force may be, but I ask for every man that the department can send me. No troops should now be left unemployed. Those who entertain the opinion that the rebels will abandon Richmond without a struggle, are, in my judgment, badly advised, and do not comprehend their situation, which is one requiring desperate measures.
“I beg that the President and Secretary will maturely weigh what I say, and leave nothing undone to comply with my request. If I am not re-enforced, it is probable that I will be obliged to fight nearly double my numbers strongly
intrenched. I do not think it will be at all possible for me to bring more than (70,000) seventy thousand men upon the field of battle. “GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, “Major General, Commanding. “Hon. Edwin M. STANTON, “Secretary of War.”
On the 14th of May I sent the following telegram to the President:
“CAMP AT CUMBERLAND, May 14, 1862.
“I have more than twice telegraphed to the Secretary of War, stating that, in my opinion, the enemy were concentrating all their available force to fight this army in front of Richmond, and that such ought to be their policy. I have received no reply whatever to any of these telegraphs. I beg leave to repeat their substance to your excellency, and to ask that kind consideration which you have ever accorded to my representations and views. All my information from every source accessible to me establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from east, west, and south, and my own opinion is confirmed by that of all my commanders whom I have been able to consult. “Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much weakened my force, and will continue to do so. I cannot bring into actual battle against the enemy more than eighty thousand men at the utmost, and with them I must attack in position, probably intrenched, a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers. It is possible that Richmond may be abandoned without a serious struggle; but the enemy are actually in great strength between here and there, and it would be unwise, and even insane, for me to calculate upon anything but a stubborn and desperate resistance. If they should abandon Richmond, it may well be that it is done with the purpose of making the stand at some place in Virginia south or west of there, and we should be in condition to press them without delay. The confederate leaders must employ their utmost efforts against this army in Virginia, and they will be supported by the whole body of their military officers, among whom there may be said to be no Union feeling, as there is also very little among the higher class of citizens in the seceding States. “I have found no fighting men left in this Peninsula. All are in the ranks of the opposing foe. “Even if more troops than I now have should prove unnecessary for purposes of military occupation, our greatest display of imposing force in the capital of the rebel government will have the best moral effect. I most respectfully and earnestly urge upon your excellency that the opportunity has come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution, and I beg that you will cause this army to be re-enforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the government. I ask for every man that the War Department can send me. Any
commander of the re-enforcements whom your excellency may designate will be
acceptable to me, whatever expression I may have heretofore addressed to you on that subject. “I will fight the enemy whatever their force may be, with whatever force I may have; and I firmly believe that we shall beat them, but our triumph should be made decisive and complete. The soldiers of this army love their governernment, and will fight well in its support. You may rely upon them. They have confidence in me as their general, and in you as their President. Strong re-enforcements will at least save the lives of many of them. The greater our force the more perfect will be our combinations, and the less our loss. “For obvious reasons I beg you to give immediate consideration to this com
munication, and to inform me fully at the earliest moment of your final determination. “GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, - - “Major General. “His Excellency ABRAHAM LINcoLN, “President of the United States.”
To which, on the 18th of May, I received this reply:
“GENERAL: Your despatch to the President, asking re-enforcements, has been received and carefully considered.
“The President is not willing to uncover the capital entirely; and it is believed that even if this were prudent, it would require more time to effect a junction between your army and that of the Rappahannock by the way of the Potomac and York river, than by a land march. In order, therefore, to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest moment, General McDowell has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route. He is ordered, keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all pos. sible attack, so to operate as to put his left wing in communication with your right wing, and you are instructed to co-operate so as to establish this communication as soon as possible by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond.
“It is believed that this communication can be safely established either north or south of the Pamunkey river.
“In any event, you will be able to prevent the main body of the enemy's forces from leaving Richmond, and falling in overwhelming force upon General McDowell. He will move with between thirty-five (35) and forty thousand (40,000) men.
“A copy of the instructions to General McDowell are with this. The specific task assigned to his command has been to provide against any danger to the capital of the nation.
“At your earnest call for re-enforcements, he is sent forward to co-operate in the reduction of Richmond, but charged, in attempting this, not to uncover the city of Washington, and you will give no order, either before or after your junction, which can put him out of F. to cover this city. You and he will communicate with each other by telegraph or otherwise, as frequently as may be necessary for sufficient co-operation. When General McDowell is in position on your right, his supplies must be drawn from West Point, and you will instruct your staff officers to be prepared to supply him by that route.
“The President desires that General McDowell retain the command of the department of the Rappahannock, and of the forces with which he moves forward.
“By order of the President.
“EDWIN M. STANTON, “Secretary of War. “Major General George B. McCLELLAN, “Commanding Army of the Potomac, before Richmond.”
It will be observed that this order rendered it impossible for me to use the James river as a line of operations, and forced me to establish our depots on the Pamunkey, and to approach Richmond from the north.
I had advised, and preferred, that re-enforcements should be sent by water, for the reasons that their arrival would be more safe and certain, and that I would be left free to rest the army on the James river whenever the navigation of that stream should be opened.