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422

BATTLE AT GAINES'S FARM.

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effect nothing. So he resolved to carry the heights by assault. While he was preparing to do so the corps of Jackson and D. H. Hill's division arrived, the former taking position on Longstreet's left, and the latter, after severe and successful fighting, gaining his destined point on the extreme left of the Confederate line. Ewell's division, in the mean time, came into action on Jackson's right, and two of the latter's brigades were sent to assist A. P. Hill.

The Confederate line was now in complete order, and made a general advance. Porter, hard pressed, sent to McClellan for aid, but the Commander-in-Chief, persuaded that the Confederates between himself and Richmond outnumbered his own forces, could spare only Slocum's division of Franklin's corps.' Ile was not aware that Magruder, who was making a great show and noise on his front, was repeating his successful game of deception practiced in the vicinity of Yorktown, and that he was at the head of only twenty-five thousand men, opposed to McClellan's sixty thousand, well intrenched, and was trembling for the safety of his army and the capital.

Slocum's division crossed Alexander's bridge, and made Porter's force about thirty-five thousand strong. It reached him at half-past three o'clock, when the whole of Lee's army on that side of the river was in the action. So imminent was Porter's peril that the re-enforcements were divided, even to regiments, and hastily sent to weak points. The conflict was terrible, especially on the left, between the houses of Adams and Dr. Gaines. Indeed, the struggle along the whole line was fierce and persistent for hours, and the issue for a long time was extremely doubtful.

At five o'clock Porter again called for aid, and McClellan sent him the brigades of French and Meagher, of Richardson's division. They went forward at a quick pace, but before they could reach the river the Confederates, at about six o'clock, had rallied every available platoon in their ranks for a desperate effort to break or crush the National line. Brigade after brigade was hurled against the Union line, striking it here and there in rapid succession and tremendous force, where it appeared weak, hoping to break it. But for a long time it stood firm, though continually thinned and weakened by carnage. Finally, when Jackson, with the divisions of Longstreet and Whiting, made a furious assault upon the National left, Butterfield's gallant

"McClellan made inquiries from time to time of Heintzelman, Keyes, Franklin, and Sumner, about sparing men from their respective corps to send to Porter, and their reports were all discouraging, for Magruder, by great skill in his display of troops, made each believe that his particular position might be assailed at any time by an overwhelming force. See telegraphic corresponílence between McClellan and these commanders, June 26 and 27, 1962, in McClellan's Report, piges 128, 129.

Magruder, as we have observed, man:ged with his inferior force to keep up a flurry of excitement all along the front of the National army during the whole day, threatening first one point and then another, and finally, at the middle of the afternoon, when Porter was most needing re-enforcements, he cansed Burns's pickets to be attacked by a strong force. Burns sent word to Hancock to prepare for action. The messenger had just arrived when the latter was assailed with shot and shell from an unsuspected Confederate battery, fol. lowed by a furious attack of infantry. Burns on one side and Smith on the other supported llancock with their Napoleon and Parrott gans, and very soon the latter repulsed his assailants. In this engagement, sometimes called The Second Battle of Fair Oaks, two Georgia regiments were dreadfully shattered, and the colonel of one of them was captured. He proved to be L. Q. C. Lamar, one of the most active men in the incipicot stages of the rebellion in the South. See page 59, volume I.

? Alluding to this crisis, Magruder in his report (Reports of the Army of Northern Virginia' i. 191) says :* I considered the situation of our army as extremely critical and perilous. The larger part of it was on the opposite side of the Chickahominy; the bridges had all been destroyed; but one was rebuilt, and there were but 25.000 men between his (McClellan's) army of 100,000 men and Richmond,"

BATTLE AT GAINES'S FARM.

423

DANIEL BUTTERFIELD.

brigade, which had been repelling the heaviest of the attacks for more than an hour unassisted, now, sorely pressed on the front and flank, gave way and fell back toward the woods on the Chickahominy, leaving the batteries of Allen, Weedon, Hart, and Edwards, exposed. These made a desperate defense, but, being without support, fell back with a loss of several guns.

Then the center bent, and, with the right, fell back in the same direction, toward Alexander's bridge. Seeing this, Porter called up all of his reserved and remaining artillery (about cighty guns in all), covered the retreat of his infantry, and for an instant checked the advance of the victors. Just at that moment General St. George Cooke, without orders, attacked their fank with his cavalry, which was repulsed and thrown into great disorder. The horses, terrified by the tremendous roar of nearly two hundred guns, and the rattle of thousands of muskets, rushed back through the Union batteries, giving

the impression that

a furious attack of Confederate cavalry. This made the artillerists recoil, and Porter's whole

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back to the river. To this circumstance Porter attributed his failure

to hold the field, HOSPITAL

and to take off all of his guns and wounded.

Porter's troops were now pressing toward the bridge,

many of them in fearful disorder, and for a moment all seemed to be lost, for the Confederates were in crushing force just behind them. But relief for the fugitives was at hand. French and Meagher had just crossed the bridge, covered by the heavy guns in position on the Richmond side of the river, and, gathering up the vast multitude of stragglers, checked the flight. They advanced rapidly to the front, with cheers that thrilled with joy the fainting hearts of the

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424

RETREAT TO THE JAMES RIVER BEGUN.

Unionists. Behind them the shattered brigades were speedily formed, while the batteries of Griffin and Martin poured a destructive storm of shot and shell upon the head of Lee's column. Seeing fresh troops on their front, and ignorant of their number, the Confederates fell back and rested upon the field they had won, at a fearful cost to themselves and their foes. Thus ended the sanguinary BATTLE OF GAINES's Farm.' During the night the thinned and exhausted regiments of Porter's corps

were safely with drawn to the other side of the river; the regular infantry forming the rear guard, and destroying the bridges after them. The cavalry of Stoneman and Emory, who had been cut off from Porter's force, proceeded to the White House, and thence to Yorktown, and rejoined the army on the James River. With this movement ended the siege of

Richmond, for now McClellan abandoned all thoughts of capturing it, and studied only how he should transfer his army and supplies to the bank of the James. That evening he informed his General officers of his determination to fly and not to fight, and gave orders accordingly, directing Keyes to advance with his corps through the White Oak Swamp, across the creek that traverses it, and take position on the other side, so as to cover the passage of troops and trains.

Before day-break the next morning General McClellan went • June 28, to Savage's Station, and remained there all day, superintending 1862.

the movement, which was commenced at an early hour. By noon Keyes was in the prescribed position. During the day Porter's shattered division was moved across the swamp, and placed in positions covering the roads leading from Richmond toward White Oak Swamp and Long

1 The Confederates in their reports called it The Battle of t'e Chickahominy. For full details see the reports of General McClellan, and of General Porter and his subordinates; also, of General Lee and his subordinates, contained in volume I. of the Reports of the Army of Northern Virginia. The losses on both sides may be given only in numbers derived from (stimates, as McClellan says, “no general returns wero made until we hau arrived at Ilarrison's Landing," several days afterward. The estimates make the National loss in this battle about 8,000 men, of whom 6,000 were killed and wounded. Among those who were captured was General John F. Reynolds. The Confederute loss was probably about 5,000. Porter lost 22 guns, three of which re: off the bridge into the river.

2 This is a view of the ruins of Dr. Gaines's mills, near which the battle was fought, as they appeared when the writer sketched the spot, at the close of May, 1866. The one in the foreground was a flouring-mill, built of brick; and the other, more distant, across the stream, of which only the flume and wheel remained, was a sawmill. The road seen on the slope is in the direction of Mechanicsville.

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RUINS OF GAINES'S MILLS.2

THE CONFEDERATE COMMANDER DECEIVED.

425

ERASMUS D. KEYES

Bridge; and at night McCall's weakened division was also moved forward for a similar purpose. These were followed by a train of five thousand wagons laden with ammunition, provision, and baggage,' and a drove of twenty-five hundred beef cattle, all of which had to make the passage of the swamp along narrow causeways and defiles. Yet so perfectly was the movement masked from the Confederates, that they had no suspicion of it until the night of the 28th. To allow the trains and the cattle to get well forward, the corps of Sumner and Heintzelman, and Smith's division of Franklin's corps, were ordered to form an interior line, and remain on the Richmond side of the White Oak Swamp until dark of the 29th, in a position to cover the roads to Richmond, and also Savage's Station, on the railway, where Slocum's division was left as a reserve. Then they were to fall back across the swamp, and join the fugitive army. The left of this covering force rested on Keyes's old intrenchments, to the left of the Seven Pines, and the right so as to cover Savage's Station.

There was a little flurry on the morning of the 28th, when Franklin's corps withdrew from Golding's farm in front of Woodbury's Bridge. The Confederates opened their artillery on Smith's division from Garnett's Hill, and from Porter's late position on Gaines's Hill, beyond the Chickahominy. This was followed by an attempt of two Georgia regiments to carry the works about to be abandoned, when they were driven back by the Twentythird New York and Forty-ninth Pennsylvania, who were on picket duty with a section of Mott's battery. This repulse confirmed the Confederates in the belief that McClellan's army was all behind his intrenchments, preparing for another attack.

Lee was deceived. He supposed McClellan might at once throw his united force across the river, and give battle to preserve his communication with the White House; or else, if it was his intention to relinquish the siege of Richmond, that, having possession of the lower bridges of the Chickahominy, he would follow the way down the Peninsula which Johnston came up. So he kept the great bulk of his army on the northern side of the river, ready for battle if it should be offered, or to strike the retreating forces on flank and rear; and he sent Stuart and Ewell to seize the railway and cut McClellan's communication with the White House. They found that supplystation abandoned, a greater portion of the stores and munitions of war removed, and the remainder, with the White House itself, in flames.

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1 Orders were given to the different commanders to load their wagons with ammunition and provisions, and only necessary baggage, and to destroy all property which could not be taken away.

? An order had been sent that morning to the cornmander at the White House to apply the tvrch to every thing there not already removed, so soon as indications of danger shouli appear. Warning thereof was quite early given, when the cars sent with supplies toward Savage's Station were turned back at Dispatch Station by reports that the Confederates were near. Before the close of the day an immense amount of provisions, stores, and munitions of war was there committed to the flames. The gallant Lieutenant George Sibbald Wilson, of Poughkeepsie (who gave his young life to his country in consequence of a wound received at Fredericksburg) who was among those detailed for that service, gave a graphic description of the scene in a letter to his mother, now before the writer. "Such quantities of elegant new tents," he sail; “ of nice beds for the sick; of fine liquors and wines, cordials and medicines, oranges, lemons, beef, corn, whiskey; immense quantities of hay; boxes on boxes of clothing, and every thing conceivable for use and comfort were committed to the flames.”

1

426

DESTRUCTION AT THE WHITE HOUSE,

Lee was perplexed by these circumstances, for Huger and Magruder all that day reported the National fortifications in front of the Richmond lines to be fully manned. That night the amazing fact was disclosed to the Confederate commander that a greater portion of the Army of the Potomac bad departed, not to give battle on the northern side of the Chickahominy, nor to retreat down the Peninsula ; but to take a new position near the James River, with that stream as a highway for supplies, and a theater for the cooperation of a naval force, by which its offensive and defensive power would

a be wonderfully strengthened. He made instant preparations for a pursuit to crush that army before it could gain its destined goal.

McClellan left Savage's Station at an early hour on the morning of the

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29th, and moved across the White Oak Swamp toward the front of his

retreating columns. He had issued the day before“ two extraora June 28,

dinary documents. One was an order for the sick and wounded 1862.

inen who could not march, to be left at Savage’s Station with surgeons, rations, and medical stores, to fall into the hands of the Confederates. The other was a dispatch to the Secretary of War, which has no

The White IIouse itself, as we have observed, was not spared. It was a small and common wooden structure (see pige 886), surrounded by a field shaded by locust-trees. The patriotic impulsos given by the written misrepresentation of its owner, which made McClellan say, officially, “ I have taken every precaution to securo from injury this house, where Washington passed the first portion of his married lifa-I neither occupy it inyself, nor permit others to occupy it, or the grounds in the immediate vicinity "-hail been succeeded by feelings of contempt. At the time we are considering it was occupied by Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, who accompanied the National army for the relief of distress.

1 This is a view of Savage's Station as it appeared when the writer sketched it, at the close of May, 1566. In the foreground is seen the cellar and foundation wall of Savage's house, and between it and the site of the station on the left a pleasant grove, in which many of the wounded in the Battle of Gaines's Farm found grateful shelter from the hot sun. Savage's house was the general hospital at this place at the time considered in the text, and the out-buildings and about three hundred tents around them were filled with wounded men.

2 The Cominander ordered all the ambulances to depart empty, instead of carrying away the disabled; for - four or five thousand wounded an sick men would so embarrass the army, that its escape might be impossible."— The Peninsula Campaign, by J. J. Marks, D. D., page 239.

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