Page images

his own division (General Morell succeeding to its command), and that of General Sykes, largely made up of regular troops, to which the reserve artillery was attached; and the Sixth, under General William B. Franklin, consisting of the divisions of Franklin and William F. Smith (General H. W. Slocum succeeding Franklin as division commander). These two corps were allowed, in fact, to continue in permanence. The other three corps present were now left with but two divisions each: Sumner's (the Second), those of Sedgwick and Richardson; Heintzelman's (the Third), those of Hooker and Kearney; and Keyes's (the Fourth), those of Couch and Casey.

On the 19th, the corps of Porter and Franklin were advanced to Tunstall's Station, on the York River railway, five miles nearer Richmond. There were, as before, almost daily reports of bad roads and meteorological obstructions, together with habitual calls for reinforcements, to which importunity the President was becoming seasoned, though not stoically hardened. He said in answer to a dispatch of unusual length, alleging inattention to his requests, among other grievances: "I have done, and shall do, all I could and can to sustain you. I hoped that the opening of the James River and putting Wool and Burnside in communication, with an open road to Richmond or to you, had effected something in that direction. I am still not willing to take all our force off the direct line between Richmond and here.” On the 18th, McClellan was informed by Secretary Stanton:

The President is not willing to uncover the capital entirely; and it is believed that even if this were prudent, it would require more time to effect a junction between your army and that of the Rappahannock by the way of the Potomac and York River, than by a land march. In order, therefore, to increase the strength of the attack upon Richmond at the earliest moment, General McDowell has been ordered to march upon that city by the shortest route. He is ordered, keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all possible attack, so to operate as to put his left wing in communication with your right wing, and you are instructed to co-operate so as to establish this communication as soon as possible by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond. The specific task assigned to his command has been to provide against any danger to the capital of the nation.

vol. ii.-4

[ocr errors]

The effective strength of Johnston's army before Richmond at this date, as shown by the Confederate records, was 62,696 men of all arms, and under Jackson in the valley there were about 15,000 — making altogether a little over 77,000. McClellan had, as he reported near this date, a total of 156,838 men, of whom there were 105,825 present for duty.

Headquarters were advanced on the 22d to Cold Harbor, and the railway was in running order from White House to the Chickahominy by the 26th of the month. Casey had crossed the river a few days before, and was soon joined by Couch, Heintzelman's corps following, and the enemy was driven from Seven Pines, on the stage road by Bottom's Bridge. The extreme right, under Porter, on the same day (May 24th) occupied Mechanicsville. Sumner, also north of the river, was posted near the railway, and between him and Porter was Franklin's corps. From New Bridge, near Cold Harbor, to Bottom's Bridge, the lowest point held on the Chickahominy at the left, the distance is about ten miles. Between the two McClellan planned the construction of eleven new bridges. The stream is here ordinarily about forty feet wide, but it is subject to sudden overflows, covering a wide extent of bottom land on each side after heavy and continuous rains. The outer defenses of Richmond, behind which Johnston had withdrawn, extended from nearly opposite Drewry's Bluff, on James River, bending northeastward to the Chickahominy just above the railway crossing, and thence nearly following its right bank about seven miles in radius from the city.

On the 15th a fleet of gunboats, consisting of the Monitor, Galena, Naugatuck, Port Royal, and Aroostook, under Flag-officer Rodgers, moved up the James, meeting no resistance until within twelve miles of Richmond, at Drewry's Bluff. Here the enemy had strongly fortified against approach by the river; and Fort Darling, his principal work, on such elevated ground as to be little affected by the gunboat fire, forced the assailants to retreat, with severe loss. This experience was deemed conclusive against any nearer advance toward Richmond by the James without army support. McClellan would seem as yet to have concerned himself little about that river. In all his plans submitted in writing before setting out,- whether the movement was to be by Urbana, Mobjack Bay, or ("if worst comes to worst”) Fortress Monroe and Yorktown,- he contemplated the York River and the railway from West Point as his line of communication.

The President had a conference with McDowell at Fredericksburg on the 23d, returning to Washington the same evening. Next day he telegraphed to McClellan: “I left General McDowell's camp at dark last evening. Shields's command is there, but it is so worn that he can not move before Monday morning, the 26th. We have so thinned our line to get troops for other places that it was broken yesterday at Front Royal, with a probable loss to us of one regiment infantry, two companies cavalry, putting General Banks to some peril. ... McDowell and Shields both say they can, and positively will, move Monday morning. I wish you to move cautiously and safely. You will have command of McDowell after he joins you, precisely as you indicated in your long dispatch to us of the 21st."

But news from the valley a few hours later caused a suspension of McDowell's intended advance, as the President himself informed McClellan at 4 P. M. the same day: “In consequence of General Banks's critical position, I have been compelled to suspend General McDowell's movements to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper's Ferry, and we are trying to throw General Fremont's force and part of General McDowell's in their rear." McClellan replied: "I will make my calculations accordingly."

The President telegraphed to the General on the 25th: "General Banks was at Strasburg with about six thousand men, Shields having been taken from him to swell a column for McDowell to aid you at Richmond, and the rest of his force scattered at various places. On the 23d, a rebel force of seven to ten thousand fell upon one regiment and two companies guarding the bridge at Port Royal, destroying it entirely; crossed the Shenandoah, and on the 24th, yesterday, pushed on to get north of Banks on the road to Winchester. General Banks ran a race with them, beating them into Winchester yesterday evening. This morning a battle ensued between the two forces, in which General Banks was beaten back into full retreat toward Martinsburg, and probably is broken up into a total rout. . . If McDowell's force was now beyond our reach, we should be entirely helpless.

. I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington. Let me hear from you instantly." The General answered: “Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond.

I have two corps across the Chickahominy, within six miles of Richmond; the others on this side at other crossings within the same distance, and ready to cross when bridges are completed.”

On the 31st, five days after Beauregard began covertly withdrawing from Corinth,— besieged by Halleck,

a contraband reported the arrival of the Western Confederate General in Richmond "with troops, amid great excitement”; and from Washington McClellan was informed that Corinth was “certainly in the hands of General Halleck."

The truth was that General Johnston, leaving Jackson in the valley to continue what he had so successfully begun, planned a crushing blow on the left wing of McClellan's army, now astride the Chickahominy River. On the 20th, Casey's division had occupied Fair Oaks, on the railway, beyond Seven Pines (farther south, on the Williamsburg highway). Couch followed, taking the same position, when Casey advanced to within about five miles of the city. On the 30th, two of

« PreviousContinue »