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army under your immediate command, I would be glad to have your views as to the present state of military affairs throughout the whole country, as you say you would be glad to give them. I would rather it should be by letter than by telegraph, because of the better chance of secrecy. As to the numbers and position of the troops not under your command, in Virginia and elsewhere, even if I could do it with accuracy, which I can not, I would rather not transmit either by telegraph or letter, because of the chances of its reaching the enemy. I would be very glad to talk with you, but you can not leave your camp, and I can not well leave here."
Still the Government and the country awaited the delivery of the blow so long expected, and for which McClellan himself had, days before, encouraged a belief that he was ready. The 22d of June passed, with no sound of battle. So it was on the day after. Late on the night of the 24th the General became aroused by "a very peculiar case of desertion” (so he termed it) from the enemy; the “deserter” saying that Jackson, Whiting, and Ewell (“fifteen brigades”) were at Gordonsville on the 21st, and intended to attack his rear “on the 28th."
On the 25th, McClellan advanced his picket lines on the left, preparatory to “a general forward movement.” At 3:15 P. M. he reported: “ Kearney's and half of Hooker's men are where I want them. . Our men are behaving splendidly. The enemy are fighting well also.
If we succeed in what we have undertaken, it will be a very important advantage gained.
On our right, Porter has silenced the enemy's
batteries in his front.” Again at 5 P. M.: "The affair is over, and we have gained our point fully, and with but little loss, notwithstanding the strong opposition.”
At last, then, something was really getting done. An hour and a quarter later came another dispatch:
Several contrabands, just in, give information confirming the supposition that Jackson's advance is at or near Hanover Courthouse, and that Beauregard arrived with strong reinforcements in Richmond yesterday. I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000, including Jackson and Beauregard. I will do all that a General can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and, if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action, which will probably occur to-morrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility can not be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.
A large-hearted charity could personally forgive this frenzy at such a moment. Stanton replied near midnight (25th): “Your telegram of fifteen minutes past 6 has just been received. The circumstances that have hitherto rendered it impossible for the Government to send you any more reinforcements than has been done have been so distinctly stated to you by the President that it is needless for me to repeat them. Every effort has been made by the President and myself to strengthen you. King's division (of Burnside's army) has reached Falmouth; Shields's division and Ricketts's division are at Manassas. The President designs to send a part of that force to aid you as speedily as it can be done.” In the morning (26th) the President sent the following:
Your three dispatches of yesterday in relation to the affair, ending with the statement that you completely succeeded in making your point, are very gratifying.
The later one of 6:15 P. M., suggesting the probability of your being overwhelmed by two hundred thousand, and talking of where the responsibility will belong, pains me very much. I give you all I can, and act on the presumption that you will do the best you can with what you have, while you continue, ungenerously I think, to assume that I could give you more if I would. I have omitted, and shall omit, no opportunity to send you reinforcements whenever I possibly can.
P. S.- General Pope thinks if you fall back, it would be much better toward York River than towards the James. As Pope now has charge of the capital, please confer with him through the telegraph.
At the same date McClellan was officially notified of the consolidation of the forces of McDowell, Banks, and Fremont, constituting the Army of Virginia, which was to be under the command of Major-General John Pope, called east for that purpose after the occupation of Corinth. The assurance was given that this army would promptly co-operate with that under McClellan, moving southward by land.
According to his official report, McClellan had, on the 20th of June, 156,838 men, of whom 115,102 were present for duty. Lee's army, including Jackson's corps and recent accessions from all sources, as reported on that side, numbered 109,612. The Army of the Potomac was intrenched, its right having a very strong position on Beaver-dam Creek. Lee marched out of his intrenchments, leaving a slender force under Magruder to make a show of still occupying them. About noon on the 26th, Porter's cavalry pickets, advancing
from Mechanicsville on the Meadow Bridge road, were driven in by the vanguard of an approaching column. McClellan at once reported to Stanton: “Jackson is driving in my pickets on the other side of the Chickahominy.” In truth, the assailing forces were those of A. P. Hill, who was closely followed by Longstreet and D. H. Hill, all fresh from the Richmond intrenchments. Battle was now on in earnest, but at neither the time nor the place of McClellan's choosing. It was not on his part an aggressive conflict. Abandoning all present thought of taking Richmond, his first concern was to save what he could of the army and its supplies. In the fight of the 26th at Beaver-dam Creek (near Mechanicsville), the enemy was beaten by the brigades of Reynolds, Meade, and Seymour (of McCall's division), those of Martindale and Griffin (of Morell's division), and Berdan's sharpshooters. Again and again the enemy pushed forward to the slaughter, to be every time completely baffled. *
Before the battle fairly began, McClellan had ordered Quartermaster Ingalls, at White House, to “run the cars to the last moment,” loaded with provisions and ammunition, to Savage's Station, to fill all his wagons with subsistence, and send them by way of Bottom's Bridge to the same point; and, if obliged to abandon White House, to burn everything he could not get off, thenceforward sending supplies up the James. As early as the 18th, in fact, he had taken the precaution to have some supplies dispatched by that river. He now ordered his heavy guns near Gaines's Mill, in the neighborhood of Cold Harbor and New Bridge, to be sent across the Chickahominy, and his victorious forces were withdrawn from Beaver Dam during the night.
* Losses : Union - killed, 49; wounded, 207. Confederatekilled, 600; wounded. 1,850.-War Records.
The enemy pursued closely, with only slight skirmishing, until about noon (on the 27th), when Porter, having taken up a strong defensive position near Gaines's Mill, prepared to give battle. His lines formed nearly a semi-circle before the bridges across this section of the Chickahominy. Soon after noon firing began along the whole front. Porter was reinforced from across the river by one of Franklin's divisions and two brigades of Sumner's corps. On the left there was a fierce struggle for the possession of a strip of woods nearly at right angles with the river, but the enemy's charges were repulsed, with severe loss to the assailants. On the right there were heavy onslaughts upon Sykes's regulars, with like results. A large part of Jackson's command — which had arrived to-day after unexpected delays — came into action here, while Longstreet assailed the Union left. At half-past 6 o'clock renewed attack was made by the enemy along the whole front, but failed to break the lines at any point. Half an hour later Longstreet charged with fresh troops, and succeeded in penetrating the long-contested woods. An incipient panic followed, but was soon arrested, and pursuit was checked. The enemy retired up the slope as night settled over the battlefield. On the Union side, 894 were killed and 3,107 wounded. The Confederates lost 1,700 killed and 6,728 wounded. Of the killed, 589 were of Jackson's command.
The last of Porter's men crossed the Chickahominy