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418

RAIL ROAD DESTROYED.

resistance, and for two hours the contest was close and se vere, but at last they gave way.

As they reluctantly broke cover, and became exposed to view, our volleys smote them with such deadly effect that their retreat changed into a wild run. With a cheer, our troops now pressed forward in pursuit, but were brought to a halt by General Porter, who had arrived on the ground. Martindale's brigade was then detached from the main body, and directed to push on to the Central rail road, and destroy the bridges over the Pamunkey river. Preceded, by a detachment of cavalry, it pressed rapidly forward, and accomplished its object without resistance. As they were approaching the road, they saw a train of cars moving up from Richmond, filled apparently with troops, but as the conductor caught sight of our flag, and the line of glistening steel, he reversed his engine, and rapidly backed the train.

In the mean time, Butterfield's and McQuade's brigades pushed on after the fugitives who had fled to the left, towards where the rail road crossed the turnpike. Along the road, through the meadows, grain fields, and woods, they swept on till they came upon the enemy, who had probably been reinforced by the troops on the train, and were drawn up in the woods near Mrs. Harris' house. The contest here was sharp but not long. Martindale's regiments, after the destruction of the rail road, had stacked their arms, and were sitting and lying on the ground, taking a short rest, when the heavy boom of cannon brought them to their feet, and swiftly closing up their ranks, they moved off in the direction of the fire. The enemy, though protected by a dense forest, a second time gave way and the firing for a while ceased. The rebels retreated to another piece of woods, nearer the Court House, and made a third and last stand. Our tired regiments, determined to make a clean sweep of the field, moved forward again, apparently as fresh as in the

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419

morning. They knew not the number of the enemy op posed to them, they only knew the woods were full of them, for it was ablaze with their volleys. The artillery was hurried forward, a part taking position in the road, and the rest in an adjoining field, the two batteries placed so as to pour a concentric fire into the timber. Griffin's terrible guns were there, and soon the green arcades were alive with the hurtling storm. The infantry, coming up on the double-quick with cheers, filled the space between the batteries, and blended their steady volleys with the roar of the guns. It was five o'clock when the action began, and it was kept up without cessation till darkness began to gather over the landscape, when the rebels abandoned the contest, and the field was

won.

THE VICTORY,

The sun went down behind the green trees without a cloud, and the tranquil stars came out one after another upon the sky, shedding their gentle light upon field and wood, all unconscious of the dead and dying who had looked their last on the blue heavens.

The loss of the enemy, as usual, could only be guessed at, while ours amounted, in killed, wounded, and missing, to three hundred and forty-five, chiefly from Butterfield's and Martindale's brigades, on which the heaviest of the fighting fell. We took one gun, several trophies, and seven hundred and seventy-one prisoners.

Porter had conducted this hazardous expedition with great skill, in which he was nobly sustained by Butterfield, Martindale and McQuade.

Now, if ever, seemed the time for government to send forward McDowell to close up McClellan's right wing, and add that force without which it would be madness to move on Richmond, and attempt to take it by assault. It was only a little over fifty miles from Fredericksburg to Hanover Court House, and the whole army expected him to advance at

420

MCDOWELL EXPECTED TO ADVANCE.

once. It was because the enemy expected this movement, that Richmond was in such consternation, and the inhabit ants preparing to leave. In fact, they supposed at first, that the attack on Hanover Court House was made by McDowell.

Apart from the troops left to keep open his communication and protect his supplies, McClellan had not a hundred thousand men with whom to advance on the rebel Capital, while it was known that Davis had on his lines of defense or within call, at least a third more. With his inferior force, and his right wing unprotected, to move on strong fortifi cations, so heavily defended, would have been madness, and sure to end in disaster. Neither he nor his corps commanders ever proposed to do any such thing. Though their united plan had been broken up, yet relying on the promise of the government, that when they arrived before Richmond, McDowell should join them from Fredericksburg, they had carried forward the tedious siege of Yorktown, and fought their way gallantly to the gates of the rebel Capital. Farther than this they never expected to go, without the co-operation of the other portion of the army, unless some blunder of the enemy gave an unexpected advantage. Neither they nor McClellan ever proposed to do, with a little over half the army, what the whole had been gathered, drilled and prepared to accomplish. The army had not been divided for the purpose of leaving half of it idle, while the other half did all the work. It would seem that the public might have seen this, but did not. So possessed had it become with the idea that Richmond must fall, that it would not listen to reason nor take into account the relative strength of the forces in the field. It made no difference whether McClellan had fifty or a hundred and fifty thousand men, and the enemy two hundred thousand, he should take Richmond, or be disgraced. The people expected it and that was enough. 3.3

Perhaps there never was another instance on record, in

421

IMPATIENCE OF THE PEOPLE.

which popular impatience exhibited itself in such an unreasonable and unjust manner. To every man who was capable of understanding the situation of things, it was just as plain now that without the co-operation of McDowell's, or a similar corps, Richmond would not be taken, as it was two months after. McClellan and his brave corps commanders had fought their way to this point on a promise, and if that promise was not fulfilled, they knew they had fought in vain. The appeals of their chief to the government for its fulfillment were most moving, but to the public, not a word of complaint, not an explanation was given. A cloud, dark as death, began to settle around that devoted army.

The popular feeling soon after became clamorous and vindictive on the one hand denouncing McClellan and demanding his disgrace-on the other upbraiding the government and accusing it of wantonly perilling the country to effect the ruin of McClellan. Sweeping, unjust, irrational accusations filled the press and the streets-on the one hand making McClellan unfit to command a regiment, on the other the President and Secretary of War little better than traitors.

The truth can be told in a few words, McClellan never proposed, or promised, or expected to take Richmond with the forces given him. The government withheld the requisite force for reasons which at the time unquestionably seemed right and proper, and demanded by the public safety.

It does not follow that because McClellan's plans were broken up, they would have been successful if they had been carried out. In the execution of them, defects may have been discovered which rendered their abandonment necessary, or at least apparently so. Whatever blame is attached to him, must be attributed to the theory of his plan, not to its failure practically, for it never had a trial.

This much, however, may be said: the government tried an experiment in this campaign, which we believe no other

422

A SERIOUS MISTAKE.

government of modern times ever dared to make. Having an army of over two hundred thousand men, designed to act against a common center, Richmond-and thus occupy in fact one great battle field-it divided it up into independent corps, with no Commander-in-Chief to direct the movements of the whole, except the Secretary of War, who knew less of military science than any regular colonel in the field. It is not necessary to condemn this or that commander to get at the cause of failure. It will always come under such an arrangement-if not to day, then to morrow. It was one of the most stupendous blunders ever committed by a great nation.

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