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BATTLE OF GAINES' FARM.
however, taken the initiatory step in this pro. gramme, by calling Jackson to his assistance, than Gen. McClellan, as appears from the above letter to the President, divined his whole strategy.
On the afternoon of Thursday, June 26th, the enemy fell upon Gen. McCall's Division at Mechanicsville. Reynolds and Seymour's Brigades bore the brunt of the attack. The battle continued until sundown, when the rebels were handsomely repulsed. At midnight the force fell back, in accordance with orders, to “Gaines' Farm,” where was fought the bloody engagement of Friday, June 27th, resulting in a Federal loss of 9,000 killed, wounded and missing. Smith's Division, it will be remembered, was now located nearly opposite from Gaines' Farm, or Mill.
While the battle was progressing, on Thursday, at Mechanicsville, the enemy stationed on the opposite side of the river opened a furious cannonade on Gen. Smith, to divert attention. The tents of the Thirtythird were considerably damaged with shot and shell, and the horses of the Major and Quartermaster killed, in addition to several other animals. Very fortunately the men had just completed a formidable breastwork directly in front of the encampment, and taking refuge behind this, none of them were killed.
The contrabands, of whom a considerable number now accompanied the Regiment, were terribly frightened, and scampered away rapidly. Two of them sought refuge behind a pile of cracker-boxes, but
they had hardly gained this shelter before a bursting shell scattered the boxes and contents in all directions, much to the horror of the fleeing negroes and amusement of the soldiers, who were ensconced away behind the earthworks. Several of them received such a fright that they were never seen afterwards. Of this number was one of the negroes who communicated the information before Yorktown of its evacuation.
On the following day, the 27th, a portion of Gen. Franklin's Corps was sent back across the river to aid Gen. Porter in holding his position at Gaines’ Farm. Several of our batteries were likewise wheeled about and brought to bear upon the enemy. But these and other reinforcements were not sufficient to turn the tide of battle. The overwhelming numbers of the enemy, estimated by Gen. McClellan at full eighty thousand, precluded any hope of successfully resisting them and maintaining the position. All the troops on the east bank of the river accordingly crossed that night to the opposite side, destroying the bridge after them.
Gen. McClellan immediately summoned several of his Generals, and informed them that there was only one of two things to be done, either to mass all of his troops at that point, near “Golden's Farm,” and risk a sanguinary battle, or to retire immediately and rapidly to the James River. In the former case, defeat would ensure the destruction of the army, whereas by abandoning the siege of Richmond for the time being, he could retreat in safety to the
A RETREAT DECIDED UPON.
James, saving most of his men and material. The result of the interview was a determination on the part of the Commanding General to “ change his base," and, under cover of night, preparations were made for the retreat,
During the following morning, Saturday, June 28th, Col. Taylor, in accordance with orders from Gen. Smith, moved with a portion of his command to, relieve and support the picket line, then within two hundred yards of the enemy, leaving the remainder in camp, under command of acting Adjutant Tyler, to strike tents, secure baggage, &c., preparatory to retreating. The men had hardly reached the picket line before the confederates opened a heavy artillery fire from twenty pieces, which was mainly concentrated upon the camp.
Shot and shell flew in every direction, crashing through the trees, ploughing up the ground, completely riddling the tents, firing the baggage and commissary stores, and rendering every foot of the camp enclosure untenable. The camp guard, prisoners, sick, convalescents and, others, seizing their arms, immediately sought refuge behind the earthworks, consisting of ditches and the breastwork in front, which had afforded such good protection on the Thursday previous.
Several of the enemy's missiles struck the breast
works and rolled over, occasioning not a little confusion. One shell dropped down into the ditch beneath the parapet among the men, but was quickly tossed out by J. W. Hendricks, Co. A, and again taken up by Peter Roach, of the same Company, and thrown down the hill, where it exploded, doing no injury. This heroic deed of these brave fellows undoubtedly saved the lives of several of their comrades at the imminent peril of their own.
Not being replied to by our guns, nearly all of which had been taken to the rear to form in the line of retreat, their artillery firing ceased at the end of an hour, leading our officers to infer that the rebels had withdrawn to some other point. The mistake was soon discovered, however, when the picket line (embracing, in addition to a part of the Thirtythird, two companies of the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania), which had firmly maintained its position, in spite of the artillery fire, was fiercely attacked by two full regiments of infantry.
The men stood their ground manfully at first, but were at length forced back to the earthworks, wheeling and firing steadily as they retreated. The defences gained, and the co-operation of the remainder of the Regiment secured, a most gallant stand was made. Colonel Taylor had hardly stationed the men in their places before the rebels, flushed with their first success, and confident of easily storming the defences and capturing the defenders, came charging furiously down upon them.
All became hushed along the line as the men