Page images
PDF
EPUB

192

SIEGE OF SUFFOLK

on the Rappahannock. This was the raising the siege of Suffolk, by Longstreet. General Peck had been sent to command at this place, the September before, with an army of about thirteen thousand men, and for six months labored unweariedly to put it in a state of defense. It lies at the head of the Nansemond River, thirty miles above where it empties into the James River. A railroad, twenty miles long, connected it with Norfolk, from which Peck received his supplies. In April, Longstreet, with a force estimated at thirty or forty thousand men, advanced against Suffolk, designing to cut the railroad in rear of it, capture the army there, and march on Norfolk. In order to weaken the garrison, he sent a force to operate against Little Washington, which caused, as he anticipated, an order to be sent to Peck for reinforcements. He then crossed the Blackwater, and, in three heavy columns, moved confidently forward on Suffolk. Peck, advised of this movement, telegraphed to Admiral Lee, who sent up gunboats to operate in the Nansemond, and assist him in preventing this overwhelming force from crossing the stream. Longstreet, finding Peck prepared, at every point, to receive him, abandoned the attempt to take the place by surprise, and sat down before it in regular seige. Planting batteries along the stream, he first endeavored to drive the gunboats away or Eink them. A fierce artillery fight followed, in which the gunboats were riddled with shot. Lieutenants Cushing and Lamson, who commanded the river fleet, clung to the enemy's batteries with a tenacity which nothing could shake loose. General Getty, commanding the third division of the Ninth army Corps, held the line of the Nansemond, nine miles in length, and by his sleepless vigilance and skill, kept Longstreet's army from effecting a crossing. But, on the 18th of April, the enemy succeeded in establishing a battery at Hill's Point, six miles from Suffolk, which threatened to

SIEGE OF SUFFOLK RAISED,

193

drive the gunboats off. But this strong earth-work was surprised and captured by a brilliant night attack, made by two hundred and eighty men of the Eighty-ninth New York and Eighth Connecticut volunteers. The garrison of one hundred and thirty-seven men, and five guns, were captured in this gallant assault. Longstreet now began to strengthen his defenses. Peck, with his small force, was compelled to overtask his men, yet he held his powerful foe grimly at bay, till the 3rd of May, when the events at Chancellorsville caused Longstreet to raise his siege of twenty-four days. The skill and courage of General Peck, in thus defeating the plans of Longstreet, called forth the highest encomiums of General Dix, who afterwards asked the Government to make a separate department of this section, and place Peck

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Over ii.

[merged small][ocr errors]

Longstreet was summoned, with his defeated army, to Fredericksburg, for Lee, now he had measured strength with Hooker, and tested satisfactorily his capacity, treated him with the same contempt he showed to Pope, and resolved to march some hundred and fifty miles around him, by the Shenandoah Valley, to the Potomac, and, crossing over into Maryland, complete the invasion which the year before had been brought to such a disastrous termination by the battle of Antietam. It was a bold move, but he seemed to think that he could give his antagonist thirty thousand men more than his oxyn army, and yet beat him on any fair field.

The country was made to believe, that though Hooker was defeated, he had inflicted such a heavy blow on the enemy as to cripple him severely, and render him incapable of any serious movement for a long time to come. But the rumors that he was swinging his superb army around Wastington, towards Harper's Ferry, effectually dispelled this illusion. His movements seemed wrapped in mystery, a::O the country was amazed that no blow was struck against liis

194

ATTACK ON WINCHESTER,

extended line. Lee actually moved clear around our army, as coolly and leisurely as though no enemy confronted him. By the last of the month, the people of Maryland were alarmed at the tidings that his advance troops were in the neighborhood of the Upper Potomac. On the 16th of June, Governor Bradford 'issued a proclamation, calling on the citizens to rally for their defense.

The first blow fell on General Milroy, at Winchester. He had been in command at this place since the last of December, the previous year, and had under him about seven thousand men, which was considered an ample force to hold the position against all the rebels known to be in the Valley, But, on the 11th of June, he received a telegram from Colonel Don Piatt, Chief of Staff, at Harper's Ferry, ordering him to fall back at once on the latter place. Milroy, instead vi obeying, telegraphed to General Schenck, at Baltimore, his immediate Commander, expressing his regret at the order, and declaring that he could hold the post against all the force the “rebels could afford to bring against it.” He received permission, in reply, to remain till further orders. But he soon ascertained, from his scouts, that Ewell and Longstreet, with an overwhelming force, were advancing swiftly against him, and he immediately called in all his outposts. Instead, however, of retreating, he still waited for further developments. On Sunday morning, four batteries suddenly opened on him, and ten thousand men precipitated themselves on the outwork commanding the approaches from the west, and swept it like a storm. But by the guns from the fort proper and the Baltimore battery, commanding this work, the enemy were soon driven out." An artillery fight then commenced, which lasted till eight o'clock in the evening. Milroy now called a council of war, in which it was decided to abandon the artillery and wagons, and fall back on Harper's Ferry. The troops marched out at one

A DISASTROUS RETREAT.

195

o'clock in the morning, and, proceeding by a ravine around the town, struck the Martinsburg road, and pressed swiftly forward. The column, however, soon found its way blocked by the enemy, who had got in front. In attempting to cut its way through, the

army

became divided, and hurried forward by different routes towards the Potomac. Milroy, with one column, took the road to Harper's Ferry, and arriva there safely the same afternoon. The other column, completely disorganized, crossed at Hancock, and finally assembled · at Bloody Run, Pennsylvania, twenty-seven hundred strong. At first, it was supposed that Milroy had lost a third of his army, but, in the end, only a few hundred were found to be 'missing. The loss in artillery and trains, however, was felt to be a great disgrace, and Milroy was put under arrest, by order of Halleck. That he committed a great error, in not obeying at once the first order he received, is very

clear. But Schenck, who gave him permission to remain till further orders, was still more culpable. His excuse was, that the original order, which he received from Halleck, contained no such peremptory command as Don Piatt had dispatched. This is true, and the guilt of this disgraceful surrender must be divided between the General-in-Chief, Milroy and Schenck. The only clear, prompt military mind engaged in the whole transaction, was Don Piatt.

Lee at once crossed the Potomac, occupied Hagerstown, and pushed on to Pennsylvania, causing the most intense excitement at Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore Washington, and throughout the country. The President called on the several States for their militia, and New York had. the honor of sending forward the first troops. Hooker fo:lowed Lee on his right flank, and, on the 27th of June, occupied Frederick City. Cavalry fights had occurred all along, at Beverly's Ford, Brandy Station, Berryville and Aldie, some of them very severe ones, but they had no effect

196

GENERAL MEA DE.

on Lee's movements. He had occupied all the gaps of the Blue Ridge, through which he watched the movements of Hooker, ready at any moment to give him battle.

At Frederick, on the 28th,. Hooker, by order of the War Department, relinquished the command of the army, and Major-General George G. Meade was put in his place. The announcement of this change, on the eve of a great and decisive battle, took the country by surprise, and awakened the deepest anxiety in every breast. Meade was but little known; besides, the time chosen to make this important change, was deemed ill-judged. More than this, it was currently reported that it was caused by a quarrel between Hooker, and Halleck the General-in-Chief. This disquieted the public mind, also, for everything seemed to go wrong with the noble army of the Potomac, whoever commanded it. Hence, when, soon after Meade had commenced his march, it was reported that he had cut telegraphic communication between himself and Washington, that he might not be interfered with, the whole country applauded the act. This fact is a bitter commentary on the management at Washington at that time, and shows how low in the estimation of the people, the military capacity of the Secretary of War and the General-in-Chief was held

« PreviousContinue »