RetreatLee's Bold InitiativeLee
and his Lieutenants planning BattleThe Confederates' Loss at
MechanicsvilleGaines's MillA. P. Hill's FightLongstreet's
Reserve Division put inMcClellan's Change of BaseSavage
StationLongstreet engages McClellan's Main Force at Frayser's Farm (or
Glendale)President Davis on the FieldTestimony of Federal
GeneralsFierce Bayonet Charges "Greek meets Greek"Capture of
General McCallMcClellan's Masterly Retreat.
The enemy was found strongly posted upon high ground over
theGrapevine Bridge, forming a semicircle, his flanks near the river. A deep
and steep chasm in front of his left divided the height upon which he stood
from an open plateau over which he must be attacked, if at all, on his left.
The side slope leading up to that position was covered by open forest,
obstructed and defended by fallen trees. On the crest were felled trees,
occasional sand-bags, piles of rails, and knapsacks. Behind these lines were
the divisions of Sykes and Morell, with bristling artillery for the first
defence, with McCall's division of infantry and a tremendous array of artillery
in reserve. Further strength was given to the position by a stream which cut in
between the two heights with deep scarped banks. His right was covered to some
extent by swamp lands and forest tangles almost as formidable as the approach
towards his left. General Fitz-John Porter was the commander on the field.
A. P. Hill came upon a detachment at Gaines's Mill, forced
his way across the creek, and followed to the enemy's strong position, where he
promptly engaged about the time of D. H. Hill's withdrawal. He found himself
fighting not only strong numbers, but against a very strong defensive ground.
As General D. H. Hill withdrew, General Porter prepared to follow, but the
fierce assaults of A. P. Hill told him that he must hold his concentration. It
was a little after two P.M. when A. P. Hill put all of his force into action
and pressed his battle with great zeal and courage, but he was alone. Jackson,
finding the fire of the enemy steady and accumulating against A. P. Hill,
ordered his troops forward into action. D. H. Hill engaged again at the swamp
land, and found that he must capture the battery firing across his advance.
With the aid of some of Elzey's brigade he succeeded in this, temporarily, but
Sykes doubled on him, recovered it, and put it again into action. Parts of
Ewell and Lawton, of Jackson's, came in on D. H. Hill's right. Meanwhile, A P.
Hill had fought to exhaustion, and found himself obliged to put his troops down
to hold his line. The enemy putting in his reserves, spliced his thinned ranks
with artillery and infantry, and fought a desperate and very gallant battle,
calling for troops from across the river.
My division came up near A. P. Hill's rear, being the
reserve, and awaited orders. About five o'clock a messenger came from General
Lee asking a diversion by part of my troops against the enemy's left to draw
off troops from his right, so as to let our left in through his weakening
lines. Three brigades were sent to open fire and threaten their left from the
forest edge, with orders not to cross the open. These brigades engaged
steadily, and parts of them essayed to pass the field in front as their blood
grew hot, but were recalled, with orders repeated to engage steadily, only
threatening assault. The army all the while engaged in efforts to find a point
that could be forced.
Finally, a little before sunset, General Lee sent to me to
say that " all other efforts had failed, and unless I could do something, the
day was lost. " Picket's brigade and part of R. H. Andersen's had been drawn up
under the crest in rear of A. P. Hill's right, and Kemper's brigade was near,
also under cover. Upon the receipt of the last message, Pickett and Andersen
were ordered into action as assaulting columns, and Kemper called up. Just as
the brigades advanced, General Whiting burst through the woods with his own and
Hood's brigades, reported to me that he had lost sight of his commander,
General Jackson, in the forest, and asked me to put him into battle. He was
ordered to form for assault, and to follow on the left of Picket's and
Andersen's columns, then in motion, as the columns of direction. As my troops
reached the crest under which they had rested they came under the full blaze of
the battle, but Pickett and Anderson were comparatively fresh, and dashed
through the open and down the slope before the fire had time to thin their
ranks. The steep descent of the hither slope from its crest soon took them
below the fire of the batteries, and A. P. Hill's severe fight had so thinned
the enemy's infantry lines of men and ammunition that their fire grew weaker.
Whiting's brigade, sore under its recent disastrous effort in the battle of
Seven Pines, drifted from my left towards the woodland, but Hood, with his
Fourth Texas Regiment and Eighteenth Georgia, obliqued to the right behind that
brigade and closed the interval towards Anderson^ left, leaving his other
regiments, the First and Fifth Texas, on Whiting's left. Hood clambered over
the deep ravine with his two regiments and maintained position with the
assaulting columns, while the balance of Whiting's division followed in close
echelon. As the advanced lines of Pickett, Anderson, and Hood reached and
crowned the stronghold of the enemy, Anderson and Pickett moved up in pursuit
of the broken lines, and were almost in possession of their massed reserve
artillery had it under easy musketry rangewhen a dash of cavalry
admonished them that their ranks, while in order for following the infantry
lines, were not in proper form to receive a charge of cavalry. They
concentrated well enough to pour a repelling fire into the troopers, but the
delay had made time for the retreating infantry to open the field for the
reserve batteries, and, night growing apace, they returned to the line of their
trophies and used the captured guns against their late owners.
General Whiting asked for another brigade of Jackson's that
had reported to me, and filmed his forces against the enemy's line on our left.
The divisions of Ewell and D. H. Hill advancing at the same time, the general
break seemed almost simultaneous, and was claimed by all.
The messages from General Lee were so marked by their prompt
and successful execution that, in reporting of the battle, it occurred to me
that they could be better noted in his report than in mine, but he adopted the
claim of a general a.nd simultaneous break along the line.
A letter from General Porter, written since the war, assures
the writer that his guns had become so foul from steady protracted fire that
his men had difficulty in ramming their cartridges to the gun-chambers, and
that in some instances it could only be accomplished by putting the rammers
against trees and hammering them down.
The position was too strong to leave room to doubt that it
was only the thinning fire, as the battle progressed, that made it assailable;
besides, the repulse of A. P. Hill's repeated, desperate assaults forcibly
testified to the fact. It was, nevertheless, a splendid charge, by peerless
soldiers. When the cavalry came upon us our lines were just thin enough for a
splendid charge upon artillery, but too thin to venture against a formidable
cavalry. Five thousand prisoners were turned over to General Lee's
provost-guard, a number of batteries and many thousand small-arms to the
Ordnance Department, by my command. The Confederate commanders, except A. P.
Hill, claimed credit for the first breach in General Porter's lines, but the
solid ranks of prisoners delivered to the general provost-guard, and the
several batteries captured and turned in to the Ordnance Department, show the
breach to have been made by the columns of Anderson, Pickett, and Hood's two
regiments. The troops of the gallant A. P. Hill, that did as much and effective
fighting as any, received little of the credit properly due them. It was their
long and steady fight that thinned the Federal ranks and caused them to so foul
their guns that they were out of order when the final struggle came. Early on
the 28th my advance, reaching the river, found the bridges destroyed and the
enemy concentrating on the other side. Under the impression that the enemy must
reopen connection with his base on the Pamunkey, General Lee sent Stuart's
cavalry and part of Jackson's command (Ewell's) to interpose on that line. They
cut the line at Despatch Station, where Ewell's division was halted. Stuart,
following down towards the depot on the Pamunkey till he approached the White
House, cut off a large detachment of cavalry and horse artillery under General
Stoneman that retreated down the Peninsula. At night Stuart rested his command,
finding supplies of forage and provisions abandoned by the enemy. At the same
time fires were seen along the line of supplies, and houses in flames. On the
29th he followed towards the depot, still in flames.
"The command was now entirely out of rations and the horses
without forage. I had relied on the enemy at the White House to supply me with
those essentials, and I was not disappointed, in spite of their efforts to
destroy everything. Provisions and delicacies of every description lay in
heaps, and men regaled themselves on fruits of the tropics as well as the
substantials of the land. Large quantities of forage were left also."
On the 28th, Major Meade and Lieutenant Johnson, engineers,
were sent from my head-quarters to learn of the enemy's operations or
movements. Early on the 29th they made their way across the Chickahominy, into
the grounds and works of the enemy just left vacant, and sent the first account
of the enemy's move on his change of base. The conflagrations of the day before
told of speedy change of position in some direction, but this was the first
information we had from a reliable source.' Their report was sent to General
Lee. While planning and ordering pursuit, he received a similar report from
General Magruder, coupled with the statement that he was preparing to attack
one. of the enemy's forts.
General Jackson was ordered to follow on the enemy's rear
with his column, including the division of D. H. Hill, crossing the river at
Grapevine Bridge, Magruder to join pursuit along the direct line of retreat,
Huger to strike at the enemy's flank; meanwhile, Ransom's brigade had joined
Huger's division. My division was to cross with A. P. Hill's at New Bridge,
march back near Richmond, across to and down the Darbytown road to interpose
between the enemy and James River. Stuart was directed to operate against the
enemy's left or rear, or front, as best he could.
All the commands, being in waiting, marched at the first
moment of their orders.
Jackson was long delayed repairing Grapevine Bridge. He
probably knew that the river was fordable at that season, but preferred to pass
his men over dry-shod. General D. H. Hill, of that column, reported,
" Scouts from Hood's brigade and the Third Alabama (Bodes's
brigade) succeeded in crossing, and my pioneer corps under Captain Smith, of
the Engineers, repaired Grapevine Bridge on the 29th, and we crossed over at
three o'clock that night."
On the 28th the Seventh and Eighth Georgia Regiments were
sent out alittle before night to ascertain the probable movements of the enemy,
and encountered part of W. F. Smith's division, Sixth Corps, meeting the
Forty-ninth Pennsylvania and Thirty-third New York Regiments. Colonel Lamar and
Lieutenant-Colonel Towers and Adjutant Harper, of the Eighth Georgia Regiment,
fell into the enemy's hands, and twenty-nine others of the Seventh and Eighth
Regiments were taken prisoners. Just as this affair was well begun a recall of
the regiments was ordered ; hence the number of casualties. About the same hour
a cavalry affair at Despatch Station occurred which resulted to the credit of
At night General McClellan called his corps commanders to
head-quarters and announced his plan for change of base to the James River. The
Fourth Corps had been ordered to prepare the route of crossing at White Oak
Swamp, and pass over to defend it. The Fifth and Slocum's division of the Sixth
were to follow at night of the 28th. The Second, Third, and Smith's division of
the Sixth Corps were to defend the crossing against pursuit; the Fourth,
continuing its move, was to stand at Turkey Bridge, defending the approach from
Richmond by the river road; the Fifth to stand at Malvern Hill, with McCall's
division across the Long Bridge road, and Slocum's across the Charles City
road, defending the avenues of approach from Richmond. On the 29th, Magruder in
pursuit came upon Sumner's (Second) corps at Alien's Farm, and, after a
spirited affair, found Sumner too strong for him. After his success, Sumner
retired to Savage Station, where he joined Franklin with his division under
Smith. The Third Corps (Heintzelman's), under misconception of orders, or
misleading of staff-officers, followed the marching corps across the swamp,
leaving the Second and Smith's division of the Sixth as the only defending
forces. At Savage Station, Magruder came upon them and again joined battle, but
his force was not equal to the occasion. The commander of his left (D. R.
Jones), realizing the importance of action and the necessity for additional
troops, called upon General Jackson to co-operate on his left, but Jackson
reported that he had other important duties to perform. The affair, therefore,
against odds was too strong for Magruder, so that he was forced back without
important results for the Confederates, the Federals making safe passage of the
crossing and gaining position to defend against pursuit in that quarter.
On the 29th, General Holmes marched down the James River
road to New Market with part of Colonel Daniel's brigade and two batteries, and
General J. G. Walker's brigade and two batteries, and was there reinforced by
part of General Wise's brigade and two batteries, in cooperative position to my
division and that of A. P. Hill, on the Darbytown and Long Bridge roads.
On his night march along the Long Bridge road, Fitz-John
Porter got on the wrong end a,nd rubbed up against my outpost, but recognized
his adversary in time to recover his route and avert a night collision. He
posted McCall's division in front of Charles City cross-roads ; his divisions
under Morell and Sykes at Malvern Hill, and Warren's brigade, near the Fourth
Corps, on the river routes from Richmond. As the divisions of the Third Corps
arrived they were posted,Kearny between the Charles City and Long Bridge
roads, on McCall's right; Hooker in front of the Quaker road, on McCall's left;
Sedgwick's division, Sumner's corps, behind McCall.