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CHAPTER XXXIII.

MAY-JUNE, 1862.

A FLOOD IN THE CHICKAHOMINY MCCLELLAN'S FORCES SEPARATED BY IT

THE ENEMY RESOLVES TO ATTACK THE PORTION ACROSS THE RIVER AND DESTROY IT-BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS-ROUT OF CASEY'S DIVISION--HEINTZELMAN COMES TO THE RESCUE--KEARNEY'S DIVISION--BERRY'S BRIGADE -SUMNER SUCCEEDS IN CROSSING-THE SECOND DAY'S BATTLE-BAYONET

CHARGE OF THE SECOND EXCELSIOR-THE, VICTORY APPEARANCE OF THE FIELD-MC CLELLAN'S DISPATCH.

TI

THE brilliant victory at Hanover Court House, proved the

prelude to the most desperate battle thus far of the warmthat of Pittsburg Landing perhaps alone excepted. Threu days after, a terrible storm, accompanied with fearful exhibitions of lightning and explosions of thunder, broke over the Union camps. The water came down in floods all night, completely inundating the valley through which the Chickahominy flowed, turning the narrow stream into a broad and mighty river, converting the adjacent swamps into expansive lakes, and carrying away one bridge and rendering another unsafe.

McClellan, in pushing forward towards Richmond, had crossed the river with part of his forces, when this sudden and unprecedented flood came. Casey's division, numbering, when it left Washington, thirteen thousand men,--now reduced to about half that number-occupied the advance within about six or seven miles of the rebel Capital. The Williamsburg stage road runs west, direct from Bottom's bridge across the Chickahominy to Richmond; nearly parallel to it, and varying in distance from a mile to two and a half or three miles, is the West Point rail road. On and be. tween these, beyond Fair Oaks, lay his division, forming the advance of the left wing, his pickets extending nearly to the

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POSITION OF OUR FORCES.

Chickahominy north, which, flowing from the north-west, formed a line that made rather an acute triangle with the rail road." Thus, a line running directly north and south would cut the river, rail road and stage road, making a gore of land between the river and either of the roads. Couch's division lay in rear of Casey's, on the stage road. A space of country, about a mile square, enclosed the mass of these two divisions, on the front and left of which was a belt of forest, occupied by our pickets. Between this cleared space and the rail road was a wooded swamp, beyond which spread another wide extent of cultivated fields, in which was stationed Naglee's brigade. Wessel's brigade held the center, joined on the left by General Palmer's. Heintzelman's divis. ion was directly in rear of the whole, on the same side of the river, though several miles distant. The rest of the forces were on the other side, though Sumner was just ready to cross, farther north, where Casey's line of pickets almost cut the river. Casey had pushed his advance as far as he could, and had commenced intrenching himself.

This was the position of affairs when that terrible storm suspended operations. Whether the resolution of the rebels was suddenly taken or not on account of the unexpected food, its purpose was to break up, capture and destroy Casey's, Couch's and Heintzelman's divisions, before reinforcements could be thrown across the Chickahominy to their relief. If the movement was decided upon before the storm, its unexpected sudden advent and destructive power must have seemed like a special interposition of Providence, for it made it very doubtful whether reinforcements could be thrown over at all, leaving them to finish those isolated divisions at their leisure.

The storm having done its work, sending a turbulent flood and spreading a wide lake between the two portions of the army, the rebels believed that the overthrow of the divisions

COMMENCEMENT OF THE BATTLE

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between them and the Chickahominy was certain. During the whole night before, the dull sound of heavy trains coming in from Richmond and halting only a short distance in front, awakened suspicion that some hostile movement was on foot. The next morning, an aid to the rebel General Johnston, having on his person a complete description of our forces and their various positions, and evidently seeking some more definite information concerning some of the cross roads, was captured by our pickets. The pickets also reported that the enemy was showing himself in force in front. This, how. eyer, being a common occurrence, occasioned very little alarm-still a regiment was sent out to their support. It had not been gone lona saying that the enemy in heavy columns and extended line was moving down upon our line of pickets.

BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS.

It was

Instantly the long roll was beat--the working parties re. called, and the whole division ordered under arms. now about noon, and when the alarm was given, preparations for dinner were going on in the various camps. Instantly every thing was in commotion, and four regiments and four pieces of artillery were sent forward a quarter of a mile to meet the advancing enemy. Casey soon discovered, however, that it was putting up a straw to stop the hurricane; for the tactics of the other Johnston at Pittsburg Landing were here practised over again. Not cautiously feeling his way by detached brigades, nor stopping to make sure work with his artillery, did the enemy advance; but in massive columns, and threefold lines, and wide enfolding wings, led by Hill and Longstreet, he came boldly down like an onsweeping wave, determined to crush all obstacles by the suddenness and weight of the onset. Some of the regiments

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A STRANGE SPECTACLE.

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and portions of regiments bore up gallantly, hour after hour, against this overwhelming force; and our artillery in front, especially Regan's, with canister and grape, and in rear with shells, sent devastation through the crowded ranks. Deficient in artillery, the rebels seemed to rely chiefly on small arms, and from the outset were determined to come to a hand to hand conflict, in which their overwhelming numbers would decide the contest before help could arrive. Casey's line of battle was soon broken, some of the regiments fleeing in the wildest panic, and never stopping till they reached the Chickahominy, nor even then. His second line was formed behind his redoubts, but this too after a short, vain struggle, also yielded, and many of our guns fell into their hands-among them a battery of brass pieces, in endeavoring to save which, Colonel Bailey was killed. Regan's battery, which did fearful exe. cution, was saved by a charge of bayonet. The camp was swept with such fury that nothing was saved. The panic stricken soldiers thought only of themselves, and lost alike to patriotism and honor, came pouring down the muddy stage road like a herd of frightened cattle. General Peck, with his military family, was quietly seated in the open air, taking his coffee and rice, when the regular and sustained volleys in front suddenly brought all to their feet and to the saddle.' The long roll was beaten, hurried orders were dispatched to put the brigade under arms, and in a few minutes from the time his noonday lunch was interrupted, Peck was spurring forward to the scene of action. He had not gone far, however, before he met the great straggling flow of the fugitives, filling up the entire road in their disorderly flight. The cowardly crew, when they saw the officers barricading the road, began to limp, and hide their hands in their 'bosoms, to make believe they were wounded—their ridiculous contortions and the shamed expression of their faces all the while exposing the disgraceful deception they were attempting to practise.

UEINTZELMAN COMES TO THE RESCUE.

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guns, sound

The officers dashed among them, cursing them fiercely to their faces as poltroons. But still the flow kept deepeningwhile great stalwart men, with muskets in their hands, simulated sickness, and gave lying excuses to each stern demand what they meant by this shameful cowardice; and limped by, presenting at once a sickening and maddening spectacle. Covered with mud, showing that they had thrown themselves on the ground in terror, to escape the shot and shells that screamed through the air, they presented a sad specimen of freemen fighting for the national flag. A guard was finally "stretched across the road to arrest this steadily increasing stream of cowards, and drive them back to their duty. But it was all in vain—they heard the steady roar of the ing momentarily nearer, and impelled onward by fear, they turned off into the fields and neighboring woods-still fleeing towards the Chickahominy. It was an amazing spectacle.

It was soon evident that Casey's division was gone, shattered into irrecoverable fragments; and Keyes hurried off his staff officers to Heintzelman for help. But the old hero was already on the march-his practiced ear had told him by the tremendous volleys that shook the field, that an overwhelming force was moving down upon our positions. As soon as he heard the astounding news of the utter rout of Casey's division, he sent back for Kearney's and Birney's brigades, and the chivalric Berry's, whose bayonets he had greeted with a shout when so hard bestead at Williamsburg.

Brave troops were soon on the march; but what would be the effect on them of this wild panic-stricken horde, their own iron-hearted leaders trembled to contemplate. The Fifty-fifth New York was ordered to march forward into the fight; but instead of advancing with firm and confident front, it moved spasmodically, its hitches and starts showing beforehand where it would be when the hurricane of fire should smite them,

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