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CHAPTER XIV. The Retreat Commenced.—The Thirty-third one of the last Regi. ments to Leave.-Savage's Station.-Destruction of Property.-General Davidson Sun-struck.
Our army was now in full retreat, the right wing following the left, and both sweeping away to the James. The rebel capital beleagured, pressed, girt round about by a living wall, and just within our grasp, once more breathes freely. The siege is raised, the tide of war rolled back from her gates, and the black flag of rebellion waves in triumph.
It was a sad and humiliating day for our brave boys, when gathering up effects and shouldering muskets, they turned their backs on the city. For weeks they had regarded it as their prize. Their young Chief had told them it should be theirs, and in him they firmly placed their trust. Bitter were the anathemas heaped upon the Washington authorities, through whose mismanagement they believed victory was being turned into defeat. Whatever may have been the truth of the case, they and they alone were held responsible that we were now marching away from instead of towards Richmond. The route of the right wing lay along the west bank of cos. A AND F LEFT ON THE PICKET LINE. 135 the Chickahominy to Savage's Station, White Oak Swamp, and thence to Harrison's Bar. General Smith's command did not begin to move until the troops, crossed from the other side of the river, had passed by.
Saturday night, June 28th, the right wing of the Thirty-third was again detailed for picket duty, the third night the men had been without sleep. In obedience to orders from Gen. Davidson, Captain McNair, taking a squad of men, destroyed the camp equipage of the entire Brigade: Before morning the destruction of everything of value was completed. Cos. C, D and I remained on picket until 1 o'clock A. M., when they were relieved by A and F. The line stretched away to the left for half a mile, connecting on with General Gorman's. The reader can imagine what were the feelings of these men, who were left to deceive and hold in check the enemy while the remainder of the troops withdrew. Regiment after Regiment disappeared in the distance, until they alone remained. Moments lengthened into hours, but their eyes were greeted with no signal to retire. Through the gray mist of the early morn, the rebel pickets could be seen, their line advanced already to within speaking distance, and their forces in the rear preparing to throw themselves headlong on our retreating columns; still no orders for withdrawal came.
It is a brave and noble thing when a soldier, burning with love of country and cheered on by the presence and sympathy of comrades in arms, rushes
ARRIVAL AT SAVAGE'S STATION.
into the conflict, and at the cannon's mouth breasts the storm of death; but braver and nobler far, when the picket guard, knowing that each moment lengthens the distance between him and friends, and makes more certain his slaughter or capture by an insolent and cruel foe, stands calmly waiting his fate, rather than betray his trust and compromise the safety of an army. Gen. Smith had said to them before going out, “It is the duty of the few to sacrifice themselves for the safety of the many," and they murmured not at the decision which had made them the victims.
After all hope of being withdrawn had gone, they were, to their great joy, signalled to return, which they did rapidly, under cover of a dense fog, and soon joined the Regiment.
The Division marched two miles Sunday morning, keeping on the high lands which skirt the Chickahominy, in order to protect the right of the army. On arriving at Trent House, they were massed for a short time, during which Gen. McClellan rode by.
Again resuming the march along the river, they halted about one mile to the right of Savage's Station, and, after remaining in line of battle a few moments, fell back to the Station, a large clearing in the forest, of two thousand acres or more. The pioneers of the Thirty-third were detailed to assist in the destruction of the immense war material which had accumulated here. Of all the pyrotechnic displays which our military authorities have gotten
DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY.
up during the war, this was the most costly and magnificent, if such a melancholy spectacle can be styled magnificent.
Scattered over a large surface of ground were · heavy supplies of provisions and ammunition burning and bursting, filling the air with smoke and embers, and adding to the already oppressive heat of the day. As the flames reached fresh piles of commissary stores, they would burst forth anew, lighting up the country for miles, and imparting a terrible grandeur to the scene. The forage, which had been sent from the North, and collected from the surrounding country, burned rapidly, creating dense volumes of smoke, which slowly drifted along to the westward. Great numbers of torpedoes, prepared for signal purposes, were shooting in every direction, displaying through the murky atmosphere the red, white and blue colors. Occasionally a box of cartridges would explode, sending the balls whizzing among the tree tops, to the great annoyance of some of the men, who did not care to be picked off in this style. A large number of agricultural implements sent down from Washington to aid in harvesting the crops of the Peninsula, were thrown together in a promiscuous heap. The torch applied, nothing soon remained of them but a mass of blackened shafts and wheels. Though burning so fiercely, the flames were found inadequate to complete the destruction. A long train of cars was accordingly run up, and after being loaded with material, and set on fire, was started towards the 138
Chickahominy, the engineer swinging off after having “let on full steam.” Along it sped at a fearful rate, until reaching the river, when the engine exploded, as it careened over the bank, and the cars were precipitated into the water below, lying piled one upon another, a mass of ruins. The explosion of the engine, which was heard for a long distance, caused the rebels to hastily decamp from the opposite side of the river, where they were drawn up to prevent our retreat in that direction.
A General Hospital was located at the Station, and contained, in addition to thousands of sick, the wounded from the late battles, who had been sent here after the retreat was decided upon, presenting an indescribable scene of suffering and woe. To add to the gloom and unhappiness of their condition, they were now informed that all who could not join in the march would be left behind, no ambulances or transportation being furnished. A large number of the poor fellows, determined not to fall into the hands of the enemy, started bravely out, and through all the retreat, their weak and emaciated forms could be seen struggling along the weary way, with limbs just amputated, or undressed wounds bleeding at every step. But with spirits all unconquered, and hope yet whispering words of encouragement, many of these unfortunates reached Harrison's Bar, and have since recovered to recount experiences of suffering and brave endurance, rarely fallen to the lot of human beings.
Of this number was Philip Smith, of the Thirty