Primary tabs

ills

Pictures and Illustrations.

George A. M'Call.

The Single Combat.

Samuel P. Heintzelman.

Philip Karney.

Battle Of Malvern Hill.

Gun-Boats at Malvern Hill.

Captain Reed and Son.

28

Change Of Base Effected.

Perils of the March. — Battle of Frayser's Farm, or Glendale. — Heroism of M'Calls Division. — Incidents of the Battle. — Barbarity of the Rebels. — Nobility of a Young Patriot. — Hospital Scenes. — The Final Battle at Malvern Hill. — Signal Repulse of the Foe. — The Retreat continued. — Disappointment and Indignation of Patriot Generals. — Popularity of General M'Clellan with the Soldiers.

IN our last Number we left the heroic patriot army in its disastrous march from the Chickahominy to the James, toiling through the mire and forest of White Oak Swamp. During the long hours of the night of Sunday, the 29th of June, the rear-guard toiled slowly along through the swamp roads, over which the army they had rescued had gone before them. The iron Sumner, chafing and rebelling against the order to fall back, and scarcely consoled by the thought of his salvation of the Army of the Potomac, carried his men, his guns, and his flags safely through to the other side of the morass. At 9 o'clock on Monday morning, June 30, he looked back

29

defiantly upon Jackson, Longstreet, and Hill, as they prepared to descend from the opposite hills and enter the swamp in pursuit.

The danger was now imminent of a flank movement, by which the army might be cut into two portions, and the helpless rear surrounded and destroyed. The roads were intricate. We knew them but imperfectly, while to the rebels they were familiar routes. When we look back upon the position of our army at this crisis its final escape appears providential, and almost miraculous. The road to Turkey Bend or Malvern Hill, called Quaker Road, is the great highway from Savage's Station to James River, and is intersected repeatedly by the roads running from Richmond to the East. Over this road our troops must pass. By any of these Richmond roads a force might be suddenly thrown across our lines of retreat, hampered and choked by artillery and baggage-trains.

In the centre General Sumner still held the perilous rear. General Franklin was with him. General Slocum was on his left, and General Heintzelman on the right, to guard, so far as was possible, against the anticipated attempt to flank and divide our forces. Generals Hooker, Kearney, Sedgwick, and M'Call, were all there in the most exposed posts of peril, with the wearied remnants of their divisions, ready for the sixth day and the sixth battle.

The early summer day of July 1 broke with parching heat on the already smoking field. Our troops had been drawn up in a line of battle three or four miles long, taking advantage of the cleared farm lands to the right and left of the road. They placed, wherever it was possible, an open field in their front across which the enemy must advance to attack them. With the first light a rebel battery was discovered, which during the night had been moved very nearly up to our lines. Our rifled cannon were at once brought to bear upon it, and in a short time five of the guns were dismounted. Still the rebels, with desperate bravery, held their post and continued their fire.

Until 10 o'clock the cannonading was incessant on both sides. Then, from the woods in front of General M'Call's division, poured out a vast body of rebels for an overwhelming charge. General M'Call's division was posted across the New Market Road, and consisted of Pennsylvania regiments; regiments that did such gallant service at Gettysburg a year later, and that had suffered terribly in Gainsville and Mechanicsville three days before. It has been said that these reserves broke into inextricable confusion early in the day. But the incontrovertible proof of their brave fighting was to be seen the next morning in the number of their dead lying upon the ground where they fell, and in the wounded being borne away to the hospitals.

The imputations, so cruel and undeserved, which have been cast on the bravery and endurance of these troops can not easily be explained. Even the Commander-in-Chief lent his assistance to the unmerited stigma, which was a hard return for a division which maintained the position at the Cross Roads from morning till night, leaving it strewn with their dead, and held as reserves at Malvern Hill, on the next day plunged boldly in, at the critical moment of the last charge, from which they came out reduced one half in number. Justice, however, is eternal, though slow of speech, and brave men are not called cowards for long. The written testimony of Fitz John Porter and General Meade, among others, will remain as a record of the bravery of M'Call's division.

"Had not M'Call," writes Fitz John Porter, Major-General Commanding the Fifth Corps," held his place on New Market Road, June 30, that line of march would have been cut by the enemy."

"It was only the stubborn resistance," writes General Meade, "offered by one division — the Pennsylvania Reserves — prolonging the contest till after dark, and checking, till that time, the advance of the enemy, that enabled the concentration during the night of the whole army on the James River which saved it."

The whole force which attacked M'Call's troops consisted of the divisions of Hill, Long-street, Anderson, Cobb, and Whitticomb; and they fought with bloody will. Twice they captured M'Call's batteries of sixteen guns. Twice our men, rallying under the sting of their loss, retook them, and the last time held them, to do deadly work the next day at Malvern Hill. Through the sultry hours of the long summer's day the fortunes of the fight rose and fell. Now the sweeping fire of our rifled cannon bore the masses of the rebels back in hopeless terror, and as they receded our men sprang forward, and with the old cry, "On to Richmond!" pressed so hard that only superhuman exertions on the part of the rebel officers prevented the entire giving way and rout of their army.

Then, rallying under some powerful leader, they would stem and reverse the torrent, and we, in our turn, would yield. Rarely has there been seen more desperate fighting. One of the thrilling incidents of the day has been thus eloquently described by the Rev. J. J. Marks. A single brigade of the rebels had made a desperate charge upon one of our divisions, coming on steadily, under a raking fire, with their guns trailed:

"They were led by a man of vast muscular strength and prowess. Cheering and shouting to his men he ran on the gunners. The reserve infantry rushed forward to the rescue; and around the cannon, between them and over the bodies of fallen horses and comrades, commenced a contest of the most furious character. Scarcely a single shot was fired. Bayonet crossed bayonet; and frequently after a death-struggle for two or three minutes, the foes stood breathless, with guns locked, foot to foot and face to face, each afraid to move, lest that would give his enemy the advantage; and in that awful moment, when the whole being was fired by a frenzy that seemed supernatural, the countenance

30

of each was painted on the mind of the other forever. The shouts of command, the yells of fury, the thrust, the parry, the spouting blood, the death-cry, the stroke and the crash of clubbed muskets, the battle receding into the forest, and every tree and bush the scene of a tragedy; and then again the pressing out around the cannon, the officer mounted on the broken wheels, cheering and calling his men, the pause of a moment from exhaustion or to rally, and then the renewal of the fight with greater fury than ever, made this a spectacle of awful grandeur.

"In all this conflict the leader of the Confederates had been successful in every struggle, and had hurled to the ground with scornful ease less powerful men. Every where a path opened before him, until a man of equal strength sprang forward to meet him. After they had parried each other's thrusts for a moment, they paused, looked at each other intently, as if to determine what next to do; each feeling that he had met a foe worthy of his steel; and again they rushed forward, with renewed desperation, each intent upon pressing back the other, until some fall or stumble would give him the victory. But they

31

were so equally matched that not a foot did either recede; backward and forward they bent and dashed, then again, foot to foot and arm to arm they struggled; unlocking their guns, which had been twisted together, they would start back and then dash forward with the fury of gladiators.

"Many on both sides stopped to look on this desperate personal rencontre; around the wounded, taking purchase for blows on the bodies of the dead, they continued the struggle, until, with gun pressed against gun, they breathed into each other's faces; and while they thus stood the rush of battle bound, for a second, the arm of the Southern giant. His enemy was swift to improve the advantage. He darted back, lifted his clubbed gun, and brought it down with crushing force on the neck of his foe, The musket of the rebel dropped from his hands, and, throwing up his arms in the air, his whole body quivered convulsively and he fell dead. The conqueror turned his head, looked up with a grim smile of satisfaction into the face of his general, and disappeared in the whirl and cloud of battle."

Acts of heroic bravery on both sides signalized this day. A young boy, son of a rebel major, fell helpless to the ground, both legs shattered. His father, a few yards in advance, casting one look of unutterable pain and love upon his bleeding child, exclaimed, "I will help you when we have beaten the enemy. I have other sons to lead in the path to glory."

These were his last words. In a moment he too fell to the earth mortally wounded.

Great apprehensions were entertained by the rebel leaders as to the result of the battle. They were prepared for the worst. Orders were dispatched to Richmond with all possible haste to insure the removal to a place of safety of all the public documents and property; and the whole population of the city was thrown into a state of suspense and alarm. General Lee gave orders to Stonewall Jackson to hold his corps in readiness to cover the retreat of the

32

army in case it should become necessary. Every thing betokened their realization of peril. Nothing more clearly showed it than the mad recklessness with which they risked the lives of whole divisions in hopeless charges upon our lines. But our undismayed men, strong and ready in spite of the six days through which they had toiled and marched and fought, held their ground and drove back their foes.

The chivalrous Kearney, omnipresent on the field, gave electric strength to his men wherever he appeared. Waving his brave one arm, more to be dreaded than two, and saying with a smile, into the eyes of every man, "Gayly, my boys go in gayly!" he drew them on, into the thickest fight, with an abandon which must have been seen to be realized. General Kearney possessed that rarest gift of intuitive anticipation of the enemy's plans — that sure instinct of the nearest danger, which is almost a battle second-sight, and which would have made him had he lived, one of our most famous generals.

General Heintzelman deserves the greatest credit for the coolness with which he guided the intricate movements of the day, executed, as many of them were, in the deep woods, in

33

comparative uncertainty as to the number and situation of the enemy, and with the disheartening consciousness that he was righting merely to secure a road for retreat. Nightfall found us unquestioned victors. But with barely time for reorganizing our forces in line of march, we stole away again in the darkness, leaving the rebels busily engaged in burying their own dead and rifling the bodies of ours. Our retreat was so hurried that the wounded were left behind, to meet a fate worse than death under any form — lingering, torturing life in rebel hands. The heart turns away speechless from the story of their sufferings.

Many of our men also were taken prisoners before morning, in consequence of their having fallen asleep upon the ground immediately upon the cessation of the battle at midnight; sleeping undisturbed through the indescribable noise and confusion of the commencement of the march, waking at daylight to find confronting their astonished gaze the unfamiliar and unfriendly faces of rebel guards, strongly posted at every point, rendering their escape impossible. Gloomily they gave themselves up, and turned their faces toward the Richmond they had hoped to enter in triumph, but which would give to them now only a loathsome dungeon. Bitter as was their fate, however, we forget them as we turn to the hundreds of wounded left helpless in their agonies, to be picked up by merciless foes or to die alone.

Before nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, July 1, the entire army had reached Malvern Hill in safety. The five protecting gun-boats lay full in view in the sparkling water to the southeast. Our siege guns were on the heights. The daring retreat was accomplished. Malvern Hill is about two miles to the northwest from James River, sloping gently to the north and east, but difficult of ascent on the south and west. The fine old country seat called Crow House stands on the summit, bowered in the vines and foliage of a century's growth. General M'Clellan himself superintended the planting on this hill of three hundred and fifty pieces of artillery, which, with indomitable energy and wise provision, had been brought out of and through the swamps and the battles of the previous six days.

To this artillery and to the gun-boats we owed our victory in the great battle which soon ensued. Without these our exhausted men, broken down by alternate marchings and battles for six days and nights, and broken-spirited at the humiliation of the abandonment of their campaign, could never have borne the furious onsets of the rebels on this seventh, last, and desperate day. The batteries were protected by rifle-pits, dug during the night, and covered with straw, so that no token was discernible of the ten thousand muskets lying in wait there to flash out upon charging foes.

Early in the forenoon the rebel forces slowly advanced, feeling their way by shelling the woods to the right and left, uncertain at what precise points we were posted. General Magruder was in command, assisted by Generals Jackson, Longstreet, Hill, and Huger. Our lines were drawn up in still readiness for the attack. General Keyes held the right flank, supported by General Smith in the rear. On his left was General Sumner's corps; and still farther to the left were Hooker and Kearney. The lines were three miles in length; and no road by which the rebels could advance was left unguarded.

General Magruder's first movement, after discovering our position, was to advance a few batteries into a field in our front. In the twinkling of an eye they were dismantled and shattered to fragments by the rain of our shot, and nothing could be seen in the clearing smoke and dust but a few gunners escaping into the woods. His next effort was made against General Sumner's corps. Upon this part of our line he threw his entire left wing, composed of the finest troops in the Southern army — the brigades of Toombs, Cobb, Wright, Armistead, and others.

Unflinchingly the first column advanced toward the smoking hill, from which such death had come to their comrades. But before they had crossed half-way they were mown down. Only a few crept back on their faces with no guns. A new column stepped forward over the same strewn road. Our gunners groaned with pity and admiration for brave men as they dealt the same death again. Once the thin column rallied, pressed a little nearer the cannon, and then they too melted away. The open plain lay piled with dead. When the air had cleared still a third column came on, swifter and more resolved than the others, closing up over its dead, and rushing at last, little more than a handful of men, into the reserved musket fire, which swept all the cannon had spared.

General Slocum's division was hurried up to support General Sumner, and until six o'clock the battle raged in this part of our lines. But the great struggle was on the extreme left, where Generals Heintzelman, Kearney, and Hooker found themselves in the centre of the sorest fight. Only their veteran valor and the heroic endurance of their tried troops could have resisted the fierce persistence of the rebels. Late in the afternoon a large body of the rebels was thrown boldly forward from Magruder's centre, with orders to press on in the face of every obstacle, and not to fall back while a man was left alive. It has been said that these men had been drugged by whisky and gunpowder. Their reckless self-sacrifice is hardly explainable upon any other supposition. They were no longer men; they were maddened fiends.

As the plowing balls struck them down dead by hundreds the living rushed on with yells that seemed exultant. Again and again and again they closed up and neared the mouths of the guns on the top of the hill till the shot flew over their heads, leaving them unharmed. Then, just as the gunners quailed before their approach, the rifle-pits blazed, and a thousand

34

close, deadly musket-shots clicked through the air. The rebels wavered and fell back, but still fought bravely down the hill, and left its base thick with their dead. At six o'clock in the evening the rebels made another furious charge, which bore back our left. General M'Call's exhausted and reduced division was the last reserve which could come to its aid; but in a few moments it was routed, slaughtered, its General taken prisoner, and Biddle and Kuhn mortally wounded.

General Sedgwick's division was then sent from the centre to aid the left, and Generals Hooker and Kearney rallied their divisions for a grand charge. Four batteries of artillery were hurried forward and opened with effect. The gun-boats Aroostook and Galena, having taken their position about a mile above Turkey Bend, opened fire with their gigantic guns, when suddenly, in one tremendous panic, the entire rebel army turned and fled. The shells from the unseen gun-boats, crashing through the forests and dropping from high into the air in their midst, struck such terror to the foe that they ran in abject fright, seeking blindly for shelter in swamps and caves. The day was ours! The foe was in

35

full retreat, having lost more than twice as many men as we.

"If at this moment," writes an eye-witness, "we could have brought ten thousand reserves into the field, we might have marched back again, retaken all we had lost, and, without difficulty, have reached Richmond."

Others, upon the ground, felt and dared to say that our army was as strong to follow as the rebel army to flee, and General M'Clellan's order to retreat to Harrison's Landing was received with a storm of incredulous indignation by many of his generals. Dr. Marks writes:

"General Martindale shed tears of shame. The brave and chivalrous Kearney said, in the presence of many officers, I, Philip Kearney, an old soldier, enter my solemn protest against this order to retreat. We ought, instead of retreating, to follow up the enemy and take Richmond. And in full view of all the responsibility of such a declaration, I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason."

It is probable that General M'Clellan was not fully aware of the extent to which the rebel army was shattered and demoralized. He had been so depressed through the day with the most melancholy forebodings, that the final repulse of the enemy possibly appeared to him more as a temporary escape than the positive victory which it really was. He had not been alone in these forebodings. The Prince of Joinville had left

36

the field early in the morning, in company with his nephews, the Due de Chartres and the Count de Paris, and had taken refuge in a steamer. The fact that they who had hitherto been foremost in every danger and undeterred by any fears had apparently recoiled from the prospect of this last day seemed a significant one. The paymasters, also, were all ordered on board of the gun-boats; and the evident apprehension and distrust on the part of the Commander-in-Chief, who remained for the greater portion of the day on the steamer, had diffused general distrust and alarm.

Our forces, moreover, were most undeniably in a deplorable state. "Whole regiments were missing; divisions reduced to little more than a regiment; more than one half of the Grand Army of the Potomac, as it landed at Fortress Monroe, dead from sickness or battle, or wounded and in prison. It is estimated that during the three months of this Peninsular campaign nearly sixty thousand patriot troops melted away. It was not strange that it seemed impossible for this exhausted remnant to make one more effort. It is not strange that the commanding General could not realize that, bitterly smitten as his own army was, the army of his foe was still more enfeebled, and might be crushed. But his failure to realize this, and his persistent retreat to Harrison's Landing, closed the door for months, and even years, to our success on the Peninsula. As a part of the history of this campaign, it is a duty here to record the following statement, from the Report of the Congressional Committee on the Operations of the Army of the Potomac:

"It would appear, from all the information your Committee can obtain, that the battles were fought, the troops handled, new dispositions made and old ones changed, entirely by the corps commanders, without directions from the commanding General. He would place the troops in the morning, then leave the field and seek the position for the next day, giving no directions until the close of the day's fighting, when the troops would be ordered to fall back, during the night, to the new position selected by him. In that manner the army reached the James River."

The Battle of Malvern Hill was the most severe of all the battles of this memorable retreat. The loss of the rebels was terrible, owing to our artillery fire — equaling the total of our losses in the whole seven days. Our own loss was not so severe as in the other engagements. But the sufferings of our wounded, whom we were forced to abandon to the inhumanities of their foes, were more terrible than have been elsewhere known in the history of the rebellion.

Four days after the battle of Glendale no bread or meat had been sent to some of the hospitals, in which our men were starving by scores. Ambulances, wagons, private carriages, and vehicles of all descriptions, had driven out from Richmond, bringing food and wine to the rebel wounded, and carrying them tenderly back to the city. They were sons, husbands, and brothers, and we do not complain that loving hands turned first to them; but Nature as well as Christianity must blush at the heathen neglect which, after their own sufferers had been cared for, left ours to die unsuccored. Appeal after appeal was made to the Confederate agents by those of our devoted surgeons who had remained behind, but to no purpose. Our men lay night after night on the wet ground where they fell, and no stretchers, no ambulances, no nurses, could be obtained to bring them in. Even the few stores our surgeons had of medicines, bandages, and food were taken from them by the orders of the Confederate surgeons to be applied to their own uses. In one instance a Federal surgeon lent his case of surgical instruments to a prominent surgeon in the rebel service, trusting to his sense of professional honor for its safe return. It could never be obtained again, and the Federal surgeon was forced to stand by powerless to relieve, and see his brave fellows die from loss of blood. From another of our surgeons were forcibly taken both his case of instruments and his horse.

The heavy army-wagons were loaded with our wounded men as with produce, and then left standing for hours in the July sun, until some officer should remember to give the order for them to start on their fatal journey to Richmond. Some of them died before starting, some died on the road; all were jolted on together, and unloaded together at the prison gates, living, dying, and dead! Others, again, were forced to fall into line with the prisoners, and march, shedding their life-blood at every step, only to fall dead at the end of the fourteen miles. So many the less to feed! But "the tender mercies of" these "wicked," which "were cruel" and speedy death, are less harrowing to the soul than the conduct of those Confederate officers who had charge of the supplies, and day after day refused to our imploring surgeons the articles necessary to keep life in the bodies of their men. So long as men shall live to read the story of this war, so long shall these things make the names of those officers accursed on earth.

One hundred men, wounded at Gaines's Mill on Friday the 27th of June, had nothing from that day till the 16th of July but raw flour and water — not even salt, to enable them to swallow the nauseous porridge or rough-baked cake. During these twenty days many died of hunger, When the surgeons entered their tents the skeletons lifted themselves, and, with tears in their sunken eyes, cried, "Bread! bread!" The pain of their gaping wounds was forgotten in the more gnawing pangs of days and nights of hunger. Finally, in answer to the burning remonstrances and appeals of the surgeons, the Confederate authorities sent to Savage Station, when there were over 1500 men, stores as follows: camphor, 1 lb.; cerate, 1 lb.; adhesive plaster, 5 yds.; iodine, 1 oz.; opium, ź lb.; tincture of iron, ˝ lb.; whisky, 6 galls.; bandages, 6 doz.;

37

lint, 1 lb. These were sent as the supply for a fortnight!

In the mean time the fields and hills were purple with the most luscious blackberries and whortleberries, which would have given life to the sufferers. But every hand of nurse and surgeon, for night and day, had more than its burden of work; and, moreover, it was with the risk of being shot down by Confederate soldiers that one of our men appared in the fields. At Carter's house, however, was a hospital of less severe cases, and, in response to an appeal from one of their surgeons, this feeble band hobbled to the woods, and for days busied themselves in filling their tin cups with the fruit, and sending it by the bushel to the poor fellows at Savage's Station. Such acts as these shed a holy light on the dark picture of woe. It brought tears from eyes which had learned not to weep before suffering or death to see these helpless soldiers in their beds look with speechless delight on the familiar berries, which they had gathered in peace on the hills of their New England homes. Rough, hard men, with moistened eyes, kissed the hands that held the cool fruit to their hot lips; and the givers were more blessed than the receivers.

Among our wounded officers at Meadow Station was a Captain Reed, of the Twentieth Indiana. When he volunteered to serve his country with his sword, his son, a heroic boy of sixteen, insisted upon leaving college to accompany his father to the field. In one of the actions a ball pierced his body, and he fell, calling to his father, who was near him, "I am shot; I am badly hurt." Captain Reed rushed to him; found him shot through the bowels, and, as it seemed, soon to die. Raising him up, William rallied a little, looked at his father, and said, smiling, "Father, leave me; take care of the men." Placing a pillow, made of an overcoat and some leaves, under his head, and tenderly bidding him farewell, he left his brave son to die, and resolutely nerved himself to duty. Ere long a rebel shot stretched the captain upon the ground; yet herroically he continued to direct the fire of his company.

At night the battle closed. Colonel German, of the Fourteenth South Carolina, passed over the ground, viewing the result of the day's strife. To him Captain Reed surrendered his sword. To the honor of Colonel German be it recorded that he nobly refused it, and with his own hands replaced it in the sash of the wounded officer.

After a time Captain Reed and his son were placed in a negro hut, where for five days they received neither food nor medicine. Here a party from Richmond visited them. One of these persons was Rev. Mr. Moore, said to be pastor of a Presbyterian church in Richmond, who, approaching the noble, suffering boy, tauntingly said, "I declare! here is a fine blue-eyed boy among the wounded Yankees! Why did you come from your father and mother and school to murder us, burn our houses, and destroy our cities?"

The father's soul was roused in hearing this brutal attack upon his loved child.

"Stop, Sir," said he. "This is my son. I brought him. The fault is mine, if fault there be; and mine must be the punishment. I think it cruel in you to come and insult us, and instead of bringing us relief, to add to our misery. You know we are in no condition to answer you."

"Sir," said Mr. Moore, " I beg pardon," and left the hut.

William Reed was a true Christian hero; more anxious for his father than for himself; patient, submissive, cheerful. Seeing one morning some dead soldiers on the grass-plot under his window, lying with upturned faces upon which the night-dews had fallen, he said, "Father, the sweetest tears Heaven sheds are the dews on a dead soldier's face."

In suffering and in privation William lived about fourteen days, and then closed his eyes upon earth's woes, in the long-to-be-remembered Libey Prison. "I reached the room in which he lay," says a chaplain who had watched him tenderly, "just in season to commend his spirit to God; one of the most precious offerings laid on our country."

The suffering at the hospital in Willis's Church, on the Quaker Road, was, perhaps, more severe than that at any other. This hospital was under the charge of Dr. Marsh, of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, surgeon of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, and contained one hundred wounded men, who were mostly from General Sumner's corps, and of New York regiments. For four days they were absolutely without any other supplies than such as the surgeon and his assistant could gather in a neighborhood where the inhabitants, in addition to their own vindictive hostility, had orders from Richmond not to sell to the Yankees. Our men died of hunger; and before any food was sent to them they had reached such extremities that a single cracker found in the haversack of a dead soldier would be eagerly seized, broken, and distributed among twenty ravenous mouths.

At last, after imploring appeals to General Lee and General Jackson themselves, there came, on the evening of the fourth day, two hundred crackers and one hundred and fifty pounds of fat bacon, which was totally unfit to eat. On the next day two barrels of flour completed the list of the provision deemed necessary for one hundred wounded Yankees. Could we believe that there was the shadow of a necessity for this restriction of supplies we could regard the agonies and death of our brave men as only a part of the chances of a war waged against starving foes. But their own statements at this time pointed to no such famine and destitution in their midst as would justify these inhumanities. Later in the war they were undoubtedly, at times, too near starvation themselves to be able to give food to their prisoners.

38

While our wounded men were thus slowly dying day by day on the fields where they had fallen, the remainder of the army was pressing on in its retreat toward Harrison's Landing. The exhausted soldiers, with but a few hours at a time to rest, were alternately marching and fighting the guerrillas who harassed their rear. Nobly the rear-guard did their work — corps relieving corps, as one after the other they became exhausted in the severe skirmishing. The wagons were all brought off in safety, or when the horses died were so broken up that they could never be used again. The pursuing enemy found nothing upon the track that could be of any service to them. Wood was burned up, and stores of whisky and molasses emptied into the dust. Muskets which grew too heavy for the sick arm to carry were left bent and broken by the roadside. Knapsacks were emptied of their contents and torn into shreds. It was a march of horror. Heat, thirst, hunger, pain of wounds, and terror of pursuing foes, all combined to exhaust the already exhausted army.

General M'Clellan was still importunate in his call for reinforcements. In response to a very earnest appeal, on the 1st of July, for more

39

troops, President Lincoln replied on the 2d as follows:

"Your dispatch of yesterday morning induces me to hope your army is having some rest. In this hope allow me to reason with you for a moment. When you ask for fifty thousand men to be promptly sent you, you must surely labor under some gross mistake of fact. Recently you sent papers showing your disposal of forces made last spring for the defense of Washington, and advising a return to that plan. I find included in and about Washington 75,000 men. Now please be assured that I have not men enough to fill that very plan by 15,000. All of General Fremont's men in the Valley, all of General Banks's, all of General M'Dowell's not with you, and all in Washington taken together do not exceed, if they reach, 60,000, with General Wool and General Dix added to those mentioned. I have not, outside of your army, 75,000 men cast of the mountains. Thus the idea of sending you 50,000 men, or any other considerable force, is simply absurd. If in your frequent mention of responsibility you had the impression that I blame you for not doing more than you can, please be relieved of such impression. I only beg that, in like manner, you will not ask impossibilities of me. If yon think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do not ask you to try just now. Save the army, material and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive as fast as I can."

The persistent importunity of General M'Clellan in calling for reinforcements is certainly a historic marvel. The very next day after the receipt of the above telegram from Washington, he writes to the Secretary of War from Harrison's Bar:

"I am in hopes that the enemy is as completely worn-out as we are. He was certainly very severely punished in the last battle. It is of course impossible to estimate, as yet, our losses, but I doubt whether there are to-day more than 50,000 men with their colors. To accomplish the great task of capturing Richmond and putting an end to this rebellion, reinforcements should be sent me, rather much over than less than 100,000 men."

There probably will never be any very accurate statistics in reference to the losses during this disastrous campaign. From testimony afforded the Congressional Committee, by Mr. Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, it appears that prior to the 5th of April, 1862, there were landed on the Peninsula 121,500 men. Soon after the divisions of Franklin and M'Dowell, numbering 12,000, were sent down. Then M'Call's division of 10,000, and 11,000 from Fortress Monroe, were sent; and soon after 5000 men of Shields's division. Total, 159,500 men.

On the 22d of July, 1862, by returns from General M'Clellan to the Adjutant-General's office, the army consisted of — present for duty; 101,691; special duty, sick, and in arrest, 17,828. This indicates a total loss, on the battle-field and in the hospital, of 39,981. There are other statements that 60,000 of the Army of the Potomac were buried on the Peninsula.

Four or five miles above City Point, on the Richmond bank of the James River, is a rude landing called Turkey Landing — a low, sterile plain, scorched black by the July sun, deserted, and desolate. But it gave to our weary army a Heaven of rest. They plunged, men and horses, up to their necks, in the muddy water. They laid down on bare planks, and slept for the first time for seven nights without the sound of skirmishing shots in their ears. The festering wounds were dressed, and some attempts made at reorganizing the regiments. On the evening of the 1st of July, and the morning of July 2, the army moved on to Harrison's Landing, the place which General M'Clellan had selected for his final encampment. A pitiless storm poured down with the morning, and added, what had seemed impossible, one more discomfort to their load — mud, Virginia mud, ankle deep. But the hospital transports and the supply ships were seen anchored close at hand, and each breeze which came over their sails to the bank of the river carried strength to the hearts of the men.

For the next two days all was confusion. The heights were not occupied, and the troops were not so placed as to be able to resist an attack. But for the heavy rain which made it impossible for the enemy to bring on their artillery, the disastrous seven days, the "Change of Base" would have perhaps terminated in a still more disastrous massacre of the remaining half of our army. But on the 3d of July the heights were properly fortified, and the Fourth found the army able once more to hold its ground against any probable attack.

A slight demonstration by the enemy on Thursday, the 3d, was met so vigorously that they retired for the last time, having lost a number of prisoners and guns. The sun of the Fourth rose as undimmed as if only peace and happiness lay beneath its light. The troops were reviewed by General M'Clellan in the afternoon, and they received him with the most irrepressible enthusiasm. Storms of cheers rent the air and followed him from line to line. During the review a proclamation was read to them, which must have stirred their blood almost to forgetfulness of the woes and the losses of the campaign.

Those losses were appalling. General M'Celllan gives the figures in his official returns of the losses during the Seven Days Battles as folows: killed, 1565; wounded, 7711; missing, 5958. Total, 15,224. The losses of the rebels were even greater, and were estimated by their own papers as high as 18,000.

It is easy to find fault. It is not difficult in a review of events to point out errors which could not have been foreseen. The causes of failure in this humiliating campaign are now

40

obvious. In December, 1861, the Army of the Potomac was about as perfect in numbers, organization, and discipline as it ever became. Four months had been devoted in the perfecting of this majestic engine of war. And yet after this, for five months, more than 100,000 magnificently arrayed and highly disciplined troops loitered restless in their tents doing nothing; while the Potomac, the great avenue to the capital, was blockaded, and the rebels, far inferior in numbers, equipment, and organization, were within twenty miles of our lines. No satisfactory reason has ever been rendered for this astounding inaction.

Norfolk could easily have been taken. Our gun-boats could easily have cleared the banks of the Potomac of the rebels by whom they were infested. The navy implored permission to open the blockade, but were forbidden to do so. The loss of Washington at that time, when France and England were supposed to be upon the point of recognizing the rebel Confederacy, would have been an incalculable disaster. And yet when the army did move, it advanced circuitously upon a line which uncovered Washington, and which exposed it to the most imminent peril of capture. Our advance upon Richmond, by the route finally taken, should have been like the swoop of the eagle; it was the creeping of the snail. Four long weeks were wasted before Yorktown. It might have been taken in as many hours, and with less loss of life from the bullets of the foe than was experienced from the pestilence of the marsh.

The fight at Williamsburg, without reconnoitring the position, without any concert of action, with but a handful of troops from an army of over 100,000 men within sound of its guns, with uncertainty even as to who was in command, was a gross military blunder. Through the heroism of division commanders and the bravery of the soldiers we gained a victory, but at a sad and altogether unnecessary loss of life. One day's delay at Williamsburg would have placed Franklin's division in their rear at West Point, and would have effectually cut off the retreat of the foe.

It is forty miles from Williamsburg to Bottom's Bridge, on the Chickahominy. We scarcely caught sight of a rebel on the march. Most of the encumbrances of our army were conveyed by steamers up the York River. And yet fourteen days were occupied in the march — an average of less than three miles a day. If we had wished to give the rebels time to concentrate their troops from all quarters, and to throw up defenses around Richmond, we could not better have served their purpose. Vigilantly and energetically they improved the hours with which we thus favored them.

Upon the destruction of the Merrimac, on the 11th of May, there was no obstacle in the way of our transports and gun-boats passing up the James River almost to within cannon-shot of Richmond. The battle of Williamsburg was fought on the 5th of May. Our troops should immediately have seized upon the James River approach, and thus have secured the effectual co-operation of the navy. The delay of the movement until the disastrous " change of base" in the Seven Days fight was a fearful error.

nts

Notes.

1. Report of Congressional Committee, p. 13.

Share