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from Yorktown, and had an open space before it about half a mile in width, “dotted all over with rifle-pits.' The approaches were obstructed with felled timber, and the enemy's movements were much shielded by surrounding woods. McClellan in person was still at Yorktown, attending to the dispatch of Franklin's and other troops up the river on transports.
Hooker was joined on his right by Smith, whose division formed the center after the later arrival of Hancock's brigade and other forces, extending the line eastward. The divisions of Couch and Casey (Keyes's corps) did not reach the scene until late in the day. Fire was opened at half-past 7 in the morning by Hooker, who advanced his infantry, encountering a deadly hail from the rifle-pits and repeated assaults, repulsed only by desperate fighting. This contest lasted for several hours, Heintzelman anxiously looking for Kearney's division, which had been expected early in the morning, but was delayed by the confusion consequent upon the lack of well-understood marching orders. When Kearney arrived, after 3 o'clock, the ammunition of Hooker's infantry was nearly exhausted, and the men were much wearied. The fresh division now relieved them, and the enemy was finally repulsed. Hancock, on the right, attempted to turn the enemy's flank, but met with such resistance that he was recalled by Sumner, the ranking officer in the field. Some hours later, Smith's division and Naglee's brigade were sent to his support by McClellan, who had arrived between 4 and 5 o'clock; and then came Hancock's brilliant bayonet charge and his occupation of the works in his front. Johnston (then commander of the Richmond army) abandoned the contest as night closed in.
The brunt of the battle was borne by Hooker and Kearney, as attested by the losses — the former's division losing 337 out of a total of 456 killed, and 902 of the 1,400 wounded. Johnston lost 288 killed and 976 wounded. Six days after his hasty dispatch on the night of the battle, McClellan telegraphed to the Secretary of War his wish to “ bear testimony to the splendid conduct of Hooker's and Kearney's divisions, under command of General Heintzelman, at the battle of Williamsburg, adding: “ Their bearing was worthy of veterans. Hooker's division for hours gallantly withstood the attack of greatly superior numbers, with very heavy loss. Kearney's division arrived in time to restore the fortunes of the day, and came most gallantly into action.
Had I had the full information I now have in regard to the troops above named when I first telegraphed, they would have been specially mentioned and commended."
Early on the morning of the 7th, Franklin landed his division on the right bank of the Pamunkey River, opposite West Point, which is between that stream and the Mattapony, at their junction to form the York River. The place was of importance as the terminus of the York River railway to Richmond, and as connected by navigable water with the Chesapeake Bay. Sedgwick's division began arriving, also by water, later the same morning. In the middle of the day there was skirmishing with the enemy's rear guard, which soon fell back toward Richmond. Later, the divisions of Richardson and Fitz-John Porter also arrived on transports from Yorktown. The other troops, after a brief rest at Williamsburg, marched to join their comrades in camp near West Point.
While the army was getting together in the vicinity of West Point, the President and Secretaries Chase and Stanton visited Old Point Comfort. A Confederate force under General Huger occupied Norfolk, and the reappearance of the Merrimac, daily expected, was watched for by the Monitor. Lincoln determined that prompt action should be taken for gaining control of the James River and for the possession of Norfolk.
On the 8th of May, Sewell's Point, where the enemy had long had an annoying battery, was bombarded, but though the Monitor, the ironclad Naugatuck, and four other vessels joined in the attack, the battery was not silenced. Next day, after exploration, a landing-place below the Rip-raps was chosen for an expedition to be sent against Norfolk in the rear. During the night and the following morning six regiments of infantry, a battalion of riflemen, and a battery of the regular artillery — about six thousand men in all were landed at Ocean View, across the harbor, six miles from Fort Monroe, and put in motion towards Norfolk. Arriving at his destination near night, General Wool received the surrender of the city from its civil authorities, Huger having just before retired with its garrison of three thousand men. Direct communication was thus opened between Burnside (in North Carolina) and Wool; and command was gained of the lower James. Another consequence was the destruction of the dread Merrimac by the act of its own commander. Learning that the Sewell's Point, Craney Island, and other defenses of Norfolk had been abandoned, Flag-officer Tatnall endeavored to lighten the vessel so as to run up the James, but even when thus raised until unfitted for service, it was found that the heavy hulk could not be towed to a place of security. The crew was landed, and early on
, the morning of the 11th the Merrimac was blown into fragments.
Sending Stoneman forward, with infantry and artillery support, to open communication with Franklin, McClellan remained at Williamsburg until the ioth. On the 15th and 16th, Franklin, Smith and Porter advanced to White House, the new base of supplies, on the south bank of the Pamunkey, five miles beyond West Point.
On the 9th, McClellan had telegraphed to Secretary Stanton, then at Fortress Monroe, asking permission to reorganize his army corps, saying "the present arrangement” had “nearly resulted in a most disastrous defeat” at Williamsburg, adding: “Had I been one-half hour later on the field on the 5th, we would have been routed and would have lost everything."
Stanton at once replied that by consent of the President, the corps organization might be temporarily suspended and any other adopted at discretion until further orders, and saying: “He also writes you privately.” This is what Lincoln wrote from Fort Monroe, May 9th:
I have just assisted the Secretary of War in framing the part of a dispatch to you relating to Army Corps, which dispatch, of course, will have reached you long before this will. I wish to say a few words to you privately on this subject. I ordered the Army Corps organization not only on the unanimous opinion of the twelve Generals whom you had selected and assigned as Generals of divisions, but also on the unanimous opinion of every military man I could get an opinion from, and every modern military book, yourself only excepted. Of course, I did not on my own judgment pretend to understand the subject. I now think it indispensable for you to know how your struggle against it is received in quarters which we can not entirely disregard. It is looked upon as merely an effort to pamper one or two pets, and to persecute and degrade their supposed rivals. I have had no word from Sumner, Heintzelman, or Keyes — the commanders of these corps are, of course, the three highest officers with you; but I am constantly told that you have no consultation or communication with them; that you consult and communicate with nobody but General Fitz John Porter, and perhaps General Franklin. I do not say these complaints are true or just; but at all events, it is proper you should know of their existence. Do the commanders of corps disobey your orders in anything?
When you relieved General Hamilton of his command the other day, you thereby lost the confidence of at least one of your best friends in the Senate. And here let me say, not as applicable to you personally, that Senators and Representatives speak of me in their places without question, and that officers of the army must cease addressing insulting letters to them for taking no greater liberty with them.
But to return. Are you strong enough — are you strong enough even with my help - to set your foot upon the necks of Sumner, Heintzelman and Keyes all at once? This is a practical and very serious question to you.
The success of your army and the cause of the country are the same, and, of course, I only desire the good of the cause.
Availing himself of the permission granted, the General provisionally formed two additional army corps the Fifth, under General Fitz-John Porter, comprising