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EVACUATION OF YORKTOWN.

377

CHAPTER XV.

x .

THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC ON THE VIRGINIA PENINSULA.

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a 1862.

ENERAL MCCLELLAN'S batteries would all have
been ready to open on the Confederate works on the
morning of the 6th of May;" but there
was then no occasion for their use, for those
works were abandoned. So early as the 30th of April,
Jefferson Davis and two of his so-called cabinet, and
Generals Johnston, Lee, and Magruder, held a council

at the Nelson House,' where, after exciting debates, it was determined to evacuate Yorktown and its dependencies. A wholesome fear of the heavy guns of the Nationals, whose missiles had already given a foretaste of their terrible power, and also an expectation that the National gun-boats would speedily ascend the two rivers flanking the Confederate Army, caused this prudent resolution. The Merrimack had been ordered to Yorktown, but it had so great a dread of the watchful little Monitor that it remained at Norfolk. Already some war-vessels, and a fleet of transports with Franklin's troops, as we have observed, were lying securely in Posquotin River, well up toward Yorktown. These considerations caused immediate action on the resolutions of the council. The sick, hospital stores, ammunition, and camp equipage were speedily sent to Richmond, and on the night of the 3d of May, the Confederate garrisons at Yorktown and Gloucester, and the troops along the line of the Warwick, fled toward Williamsburg. Early the next morning General McClellan telegraphed to the

May 4. Secretary of War that he was in possession of the abandoned

1 This was a large brick house in Yorktown, which belonged to Governor Nelson, of Virginia, and was occupied by Cornwallis as head-quarters during a part of the period of the siege of that post in 1781, when, at the instance of the owner, who was in command of Virginia militia engaged in the siege, it was bombarded and the British General was driven out. When the writer visited Yorktown in 1848, the walls of that house exbibited scars made by the American shells and round shot on that occasion. When he was there in 1866 the house, which had survived two sieges more than eighty years apart, was still well preserved, and the scars made in the old War for Independence were yet visible. At his first visit he found the grave-yard attached to the old Parish Church in Yorktown, and not far from the Nelson House in which two or three generations of the Nelson family were buried), in excellent condition, there being several fine monuments over the graves of leading members of that family; but at his last visit that cemetery

PARISH CHURCH IN 1866. was a desolation-those monuments were mutilated, and the place of the steeple of the Church (which the Confederates used for a quarter-master's depot, and whose walls and roof only were preserved) was occupied by a signal-tower, erected by Magruder. The Nelson house was used as a hospital by the Confederates.

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378

CONFEDERATE WORKS AT WILLIAMSBURG.

post, and added : “No time shall be lost. I shall push the enemy to the wall.”

At that hour a vigorous pursuit of the fugitives had begun by the cavalry and horse-artillery under General Stoneman, followed along the Yorktown road by the divisions of Generals Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearney, and on the Winn's Mill road, which joins the former within two miles of Williamsburg, by the divisions of Generals W.F. Smith, Darius N. Couch, and Silas Casey. Those of Generals Israel B. Richardson, John Sedgwick, and Fitz-John Porter, were moved to the vicinity of Yorktown, to be ready to go forward as a supporting force, if required, or to follow Franklin's division, which was to be sent up the York River to West Point, to co-operate with the pursuing force on the flank of the fugitives, and to seize that terminus of the Richmond and York River railway. General Heintzelman was at first charged with the direction of the pursuit, but the General-in-Chief changed his mind, and directed General Edwin V. Sumner, his second in command, to

go forward and conduct the operations of the pursuers. McClellan remained at Yorktown, to make arrangements for the dispatch of Franklin up the York.

The Confederates had, some months before, constructed a line of strong works, thirteen in number, across the gently rolling plateau on which Williamsburg stands. These were two miles in front of that city at the narrowest part of the Peninsula, the right resting on a deep ravine near the James River, and the left on Queen's Creek, near the York River. The principal work was Fort

Magruder, close by the junction of the Yorktown and Winn's Mill roads. It was an earth-work with bastion front, its crest measuring nearly half a mile, surrounded by a wet ditch, and heavily armed. The others were redoubts, similar to those cast up around Washington City. At these works the retreating Confederates left a strong rear-guard to check the pursuers, while the main body should have time to place the Chickahominy River between it and the advancing Nationals.

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EDWIN V. SUMNER.

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1 Yorktown presented to the victors evidences of great precipitation in the final departure of the troops, as well as deliberate preparation for a diabolical reception of the Nationals after the flight of the garrison. The Confederates left most of their heavy guns behind them, all of which were spiked. They also left their tents standing; and near wells and springs, magazines; in the telegraph office, in carpet bags and barrels of flour, and on grassy places, where soldiers might go for repose, they left buried torpedoes, so constructed and planted under bits of board, that the pressure of the foot of man or beast would explode them. By these infernal machines several men were killed, and others were fearfully wounded. Mr. Lathrop, Heintzelman's telegraph operator, had his foot blown off above the ankle. “The rebels," wrote General McClellan,“ have been guilty of the most murderous and barbarous conduct in planting torpedoes here. I shall make the prisoners remove them at their peril." By his order some Confederate officers, who were prisoners, were compelled to search for and exhume them. They knew where they were planted, and it was a fitting work for such men to perform,

TORPEDO.

ATTACK ON THE CONFEDERATES.

379

1862.

When Stoneman approached these lines he was met by Confederate cavalry, and these, with the guns of Fort Magruder and its immediate supporters, caused him to halt, fall back about four miles, and wait for the infantry. Hearing of this repulse, Hooker, who was not far in the rear of a brick church on the Yorktown road, was impatient to move forward, but the way was blocked by Smith's division. Therefore he sought and obtained leave of Heintzelman to throw his command on the Hampton or Warwick road; and in the mean time Sumner, with Smith's division, moved on to the

!; point where Stoneman was halting, at five o'clock in the evening. These bivouacked for the night. Hooker pressed forward along the Hampton road, and took position on the left of Smith's at near midnight. Rain was then falling copiously, and the roads were rendered almost impassable. There all rested until dawn,' when Hooker again pressed forward, and at half-past five came in sight of the Confederate works, the spires

a May 5, of Williamsburg appearing in the distance across the open level land. Before the Nationals for nearly half a mile the way was obstructed by felled trees, and the open plain beyond was thickly dotted with riflepits.

Knowing that thirty thousand troops were within supporting distance of him, and the bulk of the Potomac Army within four hours' march, Ilooker made an immediate advance upon the Confederate works, believing that he could sustain a conflict until aid might reach him, if needed. At half-past seven o'clock General Grover was directed to make the attack, by sending into the felled timber the First Massachusetts on the left, and the Second New Hampshire on the right, with orders to skirmish up to the verge of the open fields, to pick off the Confederate sharp-shooters and artillerists. At the same time the Eleventh Massachusetts and Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania were directed to form on the right of the New Hampshire regiment, and advance as skirmishers until they should reach the Yorktown road; while Weber's battery was pushed forward into the open field, within seven hundred yards of Fort Magruder. This drew the fire of the Confederates, which killed four of the artillerists and drove off the remainder. The battery was soon re-manned by volunteers from Osborn's, and with the assistance of Bramhall's, which was now brought into action, and also sharp-shooters, Fort Magruder was soon silenced, and the Confederates in sight on the plain were dispersed.

Patterson's brigade (Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth New Jersey) was charged with the support of these batteries, and was soon heavily engaged with Confederate infantry and sharp-shooters, who now appeared in great numbers. Hitherto the opponents of the Nationals were composed of only the Confederate rear-guard; now Longstreet's division, which had passed on through Williamsburg, had been sent back by Johnston to support that rear-guard, for the pressure of the pursuers was greater than the hitherto tardy movements of McClellan had given reason to expect. These were fresh and strong, and Hooker was compelled to send the First Massachusetts and Seventieth and Seventy-second New York (Excelsior Brigade), under Brigadier-general Grover, to the aid of Patterson. In the mean time the Eleventh Pennsylvania and Twenty-sixth Massachusetts had reached the Yorktown road, and Colonel Blaisdell, who led them, was directed to clear

380

BATTLE OF WILLIAMSBURG.

that way for the advance of the National forces, and form a connection with Ileintzelman's corps.

Hooker was sorely pressed. The Confederates were heavily massed in front of Patterson and his supports. At half-past eleven o'clock he sent a note to Heintzelman, asking immediate assistance. That officer was absent, and Hooker was obliged to fight on unaided. At one o'clock the battle had assumed gigantic proportions, and Hooker's last regiments (Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth New York) had been sent into the fight. He was losing heavily and making no apparent head-way, for as the conflict progressed fresh Confederate troops under Pickett, Gholson, Pryor, and others hastened back from the direction of the Chickahominy to assist their struggling comrades, until a large portion of Johnston's army in that region were in the conflict. Three times the Confederates had made fierce charges on Hooker's center, with the hope of breaking his line, but were repulsed, and as

often the places of the defeated ones were filled with fresh troops. Once a dash was made from the direction of Fort Magruder, which resulted in the capture of five of Weber's guns, and between two hundred and three hundred prisoners.

For almost nine consecutive hours Hooker's division fought the foe unaided,' excepting by the brigade of General J. J. Peck, of Couch's division, which arrived on the field early in the afternoon, and was posted on Hooker's right. There it acted as a continually repelling foil to the attacks of the Confederates, until near night, when it was relieved by two other of Couch's brigades. Finally the ammunition of some of Hooker's regiments, and also of the artillery, began to fail, and no supply train had yet come up. The rain had made much of the road between Yorktown and Williamsburg an almost impassable slough, through which, and over the little wooded hills, whose trees the fugitives had cast in the way,

and across miry ravines coursed by swollen brooks, cannon and wagons had to be dragged with almost a snail's pace. Hooker had called repeatedly on Sumner for help, but could get none, for that officer had ordered a large portion of the troops in hand to the right, under Hancock, to keep the Confederates in check in that direction, and to flank the works if possible. So he fought on, maintaining his ground until between four and five o'clock, when the gallant and dashing Philip Kearney came up with his division, with orders

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EXCELSIOR BRIGADE,

1 IIooker found it impossible to use cavalry to advantage, and he was compelled to decline the proffered services of Brigadier-general Emory, and of Colonel Averill of the Thir Pennsylvania cavalry, excepting for reconnoitering purposes. To Averill, and Lieutenant McAlister of the Engineers, Hooker publicly expressed his thanks; the latter having carefully reconnoitered such of the Confederate works as were concealed from view.

9 Some of the shattered regiments were supplied with ammunition for a time only from the cartridge-boxes of their fallen comrades on the field.

3 " History will not be believed," said Hooker, in his report of the battle (May 10, 1862)," when it is told that my division were permitted to carry on this unequal struggle from morning until night unaided, in the presence of more than 30,000 of their comrades with arms in their hands. Nevertheless it is true.”

KEARNEY'S TROOPS ON THE FIELD.

381

from Heintzelman (who with his staff had arrived on the ground early in the afternoon) to relieve Hooker's worn and fearfully thinned regiments. ney pressed to the front, and Ilooker's troops withdrew from the fight and rested as a reserve. They had lost in the battle one thousand seven hundred of their companions.

Kearney deployed Berry's brigade to the left of the Williamsburg road, and Birney's to the right, and at the same time two companies of Poe's

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Second Michigan were pressed forward to cover the movement, and drive back Confederate skirmishers, who were almost silencing the National batteries. Thus Major Wainwright, Hooker's chief of artillery, was enabled to collect his gunners and re-open the fire from several quiet pieces. At that moment the fearfully shattered New Jersey Fifth went promptly to their support. The battle, which was lagging when Kearney arrived, was renewed with spirit, and the Nationals began to slowly push back their foe.

The heavy felled timber prevented all direct forward movement, and Kearney ordered the Thirty-eighth New York (Scott Life-guard), Colonel Hobart Ward, to charge down the road and take the rifle-pits in the center of the abatis by their flank. This duty was gallantly performed, with a loss to the regiment of nine of its nineteen officers. It did not quite accomplish Kearney's full desire, and he ordered the left wing of the Fortieth New York (Mozart), Colonel Riley, to charge up the open field and take the rifle-pits in reverse. Riley was hotly engaged in front, and the movement was performed under the lead of Captain Mindil, Birney's chief of staff, and the Confederates were driven out. By this time the rear brigade of the division

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