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THE QUIET SIEGE OF RICHMOND.
Army of the Potomac with the White House. To mask this movement, and to give the impression to both McClellan and his Government that more formidable operations were to be begun in the Shenandoah Valley, Lee sent Whiting's division in that direction, in a way that would be easily discovered by the National scouts. As we have observed, the movement was successful, and Jackson suddenly appeared at Ashland on the 25th of June.
McClellan had promptly informed the Secretary of War of the rumored movement of Whiting, but on the same day, pos
a June 18,
1863. sessed of other information, he telegraphed to him that a general engagement might take place at any hour, and adding-“ After to-morrow we shall fight the Rebel army as soon as Providence will permit.” Two days later he informed the President that his defensive works would be completed the next day, and then expressed a desire to lay before the Executive his
ນ “ views as to the present state of military affairs throughout the whole country,” and also, he said, to “learn the disposition, as to numbers and positions, of the troops not under my command in Virginia and elsewhere." To this request, so extraordinary and inexplicable under the circumstances, the President kindly replied that he would be glad to have him give his views, if, he said, “it would not direct too much of your time and attention from the army under your immediate command;" but he thought it best not to communicate the information respecting the armies asked for, either by letter or telegraph, as it might reach the Confederates.'
And so the siege of Richmond went quietly on. Works had been thrown up, bridges built, re-enforcements called for, and abundant complaints uttered. Finally, on the 25th, General Heintzelman's corps, with a part of Keyes's and Sumner’s, was ordered to move forward on the Williamsburg road, through a swampy wood, for the purpose, the commanding general said, “to ascertain the nature of the ground" beyond," and to place Generals Heintzelman and Sumner in a position to support the attack inrtended to be made on the Old Tavern on the 26th or 27th, by General Franklin, by assailing that position ia the rear.” The movement was made, a fight ensued, in which the brigades of Sickles and Grover, of IIooker's division, bore the brunt, assisted by Kearney, and resulted in
SAMUEL P. IIEINTZELMAN. a loss to the Nationals of five hundred and sixteen men killed and wounded. This is called THE BATTLE OF OAK GROVE. General McClellan reported that the coveted point was gained with very little loss, and that “the enemy were driver from
1 McClellan's Report, page 118.
LEE PREPARING TO STRIKE MOCLELLAN.
4 June 18
On returning from overlooking the affair at the Oak Grove, McClellan telegraphed to the Secretary of War, that “contrabands” had just informer him that Jackson was at or near Hanover Court-House, and that Beauregard had arrived in Richmond the day before, with re-enforcements. He said he was inclined to think Jackson would attack his right, and that if the reports were true, that the Confederate force was two hundred thousand in number, he would “have to contend against vastly superior odds." Ile gave the Government to understand that he considered himself “ in no way responsible” for the inferiority, of his numbers; and in sceming anticipation of defeat, he disclaimed all responsibility for that also. More than a week
previously" he had wisely prepared for a defeat, by making
arrangements for a change of base from the Pamunkey to the James, in the event of disaster.!
Lee's preparations for striking McClellan a fatal blow, or to raise the siege of Richmond, were completed on the 25th of June, and on the following morning information that reached the latter of the advance of Jackson on his right, caused him to abandon all thought of moving toward the Confederate Capital. He at once took a defensive position, and prepared for a retreat to the James River. He considered the positions of the troops on the Richmond side of the Chickahominy as reasonably secure, yet measures for a passage for their retreat through the White Oak Swamp were prudently taken. On the other side of the Chickahominy the right wing, consisting of the corps of Fitz-John Porter, about twenty-seven thousand strong, was also strongly posted. It was composed of the divisions of Morell, Sykes, and McCall, with a large portion of the cavalry reserve. Porter had ten heavy guns in a battery on the banks of the Chickahominy. McClellan says he was satisfied that he had to deal with double his own numbers, but, relying upon the character of his followers, he felt "contented calmly to await the bursting of the coming storm."
He did not wait long. General Lee called a council of general officers on the 25th, when it was resolved to begin the movement on McClellan's right, already mentioned, at three o'clock the next morning. Jackson was to advance, take with him Branch's troops, near Hanover Court-House, and turn the Beaver Dam Creek back of Mechanicsville. General A. P. Hill was to cross the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, and move on Mechanicsville;
1" I will do all that a General can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command," he said, " and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of tbe action, which will probably occur to-morrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs." Dispatches to the Secretary of War, June 25, 1862, at six o'clock in the evening.
To this dispatch the President replied, that the General's suggestion that he might be overwhelmed by 200,000, and his talk as to whom the responsibility wonld belong, pained him very much. "I give you all I can," said Mr. Lincoln, “and act on the presumption that you will do the best you can with what you have; while you continne, ungenerously I think, to assume that I could give you more if I would, I havo omitter, and shall omit, no opportunity to send you re-enforcements whenever I possibly can."
On the 20th General McClellan had reported the force under his co:nmand at 156,838, of whom only 115,102 were present or fit for daty ; the remainder, 29,511, being absent on furlough, or sick, and under arrest. Lee's troops, it has been since ascertained, numbered about 75,000, an'l Jackson increased the number to about 110,000. Beauregard was not at Richmond.
. Report to the Secretary of War, August 4, 1863, page 123.
Report, page 124. 4 Report, page 124
5 Composed of Generals Lee, Ballwin, Jackson, A. P. Hill, D. II. IIill, Huger, Longstrect, Braneh, Wise, Anderson, Whiting, Ripley, and Magruder.
BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE,
and when the Mechanicsville bridge should be uncovered, Longstreet and D. II. Hill were to cross, and proceed to the support of the troops on the left side of the stream. This movement would leave only the divisions of Huger and Magruder between McClellan's left, at Fair Oaks, and Richmond
The projected movement of the Confederates was delayed until the afternoon of the 26th, when, at about three o'clock, A. P. Hill crossed the Chickahominy, and drove a regiment and battery at Mechanicsville, back to the main line near Ellison's Mill. The movement had been discovered in time to call in all the pickets and prepare for the shock of battle. The Nationals were now strongly posted on the heights overlooking Beaver Dam Creek, near Ellison's Mill. There McCall's Pennsylvania Re serves, eight thou
MECHANICSVILLE BRIDGE OVER THE CITICKANIOMINY. sand five hundred strong, with five batteries, occupied a position commanding the stream below and the open fields beyond, over which the Confederates must approach. These, with two regiments of Meade's brigade as reserves, were well supported by Morell's division and Sykes's regulars. General Reynolds held the right, and General Seymour the left, and the brigades of Generals Martindale and Griffin were deployed on the right of McCall. The bridges over the creek had all been destroyed, and trees were felled along its margin.
In the face of these formidable obstacles, and a heavy fire of artillery and infantry, the leading brigades of Hill, followed by Longstreet's, moved to the attack. Then they massed on the National left to turn it, expecting Jackson to fall on its right at the same time; but the movement was foiled by Seymour, who stoutly opposed it. There was a terrific battle, and the Confederates were hurled back with fearful carnage. Night fell, and at nine o'clock THE BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE ceased. The Nationals were
1 This is a view of the bridge from the Mehanicsvillo side of the stream as it appeared when the writer sketched it, at the close of May, 1866. The Chickabominy was then “ up,” and overflowing the wooded bottom. In the distance toward Richinond is seen the edge of the high plain, along which was a line of heavy fortifications erected by the Confederates, and which commanded the Chickahominy for a long distance.
This occurred on the same ground where the skirmish was fought on the 23d, and this battle-ground also is seen in the picture of Ellison's mill and vicinity on page 404. The road from Mechanicsville approaching the Beaver Dam Creek, runs along the foot of the distant eminences, almost parallel with the stream, and there the approaching Confederates presented a flank to the fire of their foes.
SIEGE OF RICHMOND ABANDONED
masters of the situation. Expecting a renewal of the fight in the morning, the gallant Reserves rested on their arms that night.'
Notwithstanding the Nationals gained a decided victory at Ellison's Mill, McClellan was satisfied that the time had come for him to fly to the
James River. He ascertained that Jackson had passed the Beaver Dam Creek above, and was gaining his flank. Lee's intention to strike McClellan's communications with his base at the White House was clearly developed, and the latter was left to choose be
tween a concentration of his whole MECHANICSVILLE
army on the left bank of the Chickahominy, by means of the several bridges that now spanned it, and there give general battle to Lee's army; to concentrate his whole force on the right bank, and march directly on Richmondl; or to transfer the right wing to that side of the stream, and with his supplies retreat to the James River. Experts say that a skillful and energetic commander would not have hesitated a
moment at such juncture in concentrating his forces and marching on Richmond, whose defenses were manned by only about twenty-five thousand men. Thus he might have severed Lee from this force and his supplies, and turned upon and crushed him. Indeed, Magruder tremblingly expected this movement; and it was a theme of just wonder among many of the Confederate officers that it was not made, for Richmond was then really at the mercy of the Army of the Potomac.?
McClellan chose the less hazardous course, and commenced a retreat toward the James River, for which, as we have observed, he had prepared several days before. “To that end," he said, "from the evening of the 26th every energy of the army was bent.” Ile had already ordered Colonel Ingalls, the Quartermaster at the White House, to send the stores and munitions of war of every kind to Savage's Station, burn what he could not remove, and forward as many supplies as possible up the James. He also sent his wounded to Savage's Station, and prepared to cross the Chickahominy with the right wing for the flight, a perilous thing to do at that crisis, for Jackson and Ewell had crossed the Beaver Dam Creek above, cut
BATTLE OF MECHANICSVILLE.
1 The National loss was about four hundred. According to a statement made to Mr. Swinton (Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, note, page 145) by General Longstreet, the Confederate loss was between three and four thousand.
? In his report (August 12, 1862) General Magruder said: “Ilad McClellan massed his whole force in column, and advanced it against any point of vur line of battle, as was done at Austerlitz under similar circumstances by the greatest captain of any age, though the head of his column would have suffered greatly, its momentum wonld have insured him success, and the occupation of our works about Richmond, and consequently ihe city, might have been his reward. His failure to do so is the best evidence that our wise com mander fully understood the character of his opponent."-Reports of the Operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, i. 191.
PREPARATIONS FOR ANOTHER BATTLE.
off Stoneman and his cavalry from the Army, and would doubtless fall upon Porter's flank in the morning, while the troops of Longstreet and the Hills would attack his front.
In order to save his heavy guns and supply-train, and keep Jackson from interfering with the removal of the public property at the White House, McClellan found it necessary to hold the Fifth Corps back for that purpose, and, as we have observed, the soldiers slept on their arms after the fight at Ellison's Mill. During the night most of the heavy guns and wagons were thrown across the river, and at a little before dawno the troops
6 June 27, were skillfully withdrawn to a strong position near Gaines's Mills, between Cool Arbor' and the Chickahominy. There, in line of battle, on the arc of a circle, and covering the approaches to the bridges (Woodbury's and Alexander's) over which the troops were to cross the river and join those on the Richmond side, the Fifth Corps awaited attack. A few of the siege-guns were yet in position there, and those wbich were passed over the stream were planted so as to cover the approaches to the bridges. Morell's division occupied the left, near a deep ravine traversed by a brook, and Sykes's division of Regulars and Duryea's Zouaves were on the right, extending toward Cool Arbor. McCall's division formed a second line, his left touching Butterfield's right; Seymour's brigade and the horse-batteries of Roberts and Tidball commanded the rear, and cavalry under General Philip St. George Cooke
performing vedette and flanking-service near the Chickahominy. On that field, where Grant and Lee fought so desperately two years later, Porter was now preparing to give battle to a foe greatly his superior in numbers. It proved to be, before the conflict ended, thirtyfive thousand against seventy thousand.
Porter was attacked at two o'clock in the afternoon by A. P. Hill, who led the advance of Lee's column, and had been waiting for Jackson, who was to form the left of the Confederate line, to come up.: Longstreet was held back for the same purpose. The brunt of the attack fell first upon Sykes, who threw the assailants back in great confusion, and with heavy loss. Many of these, so easily repulsed, were reenforcements who had just come up from the sea-board, and had never been under fire before. Longstreet was at once ordered forward to their relief with his veterans. He was directed to make a feint on Porter's left, but was so promptly and stoutly met that he was compelled to make a real attack or
1 A tavern called New Cool Arbor was nearer Dr. Gaines's than Old Cool Arbor, as will be observed by reference to the map.
? Five companies of the Fifth Regular Cavalry, two squadrons of the First Regular, and three squadrons of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry.
3 The divisions of A. P. Hill, Anderson, and Whiting, formed the center.
A. P. HILL