At three o'clock Sunday morning the 29th, the Sixth corps quietly evacuated its works and proceeded in the direction of Savage's Station. The men slung their knapsacks and quietly moved off. A scene of desolation met their view as they passed along. Tents cut to pieces, commissary stores thrown upon the ground or burning in heaps, blankets and clothing piled promiscuously about, not considered worth carrying away; all indicating a retreat under most disastrous circumstances.
We had been preceded by Keyes' corps, which had started at noon the day before, crossed White Oak creek and occupied the opposite side, acting as advance guard for our long trains which were now making all haste toward the James river.
The endless streams of army wagons, artillery trains and ambulances were all pouring down the roads from the various camps, and crowding into the narrow paths that led to the opposite side of the Peninsula. Porter's infantry mingled with the trains, and thousands of cattle driven along through the woods by the roadside made a strange scene. Franklin's, Sumner's and Heintzelman's corps were to guard the rear, and it was with secrecy that we had left the rifle pits; for the enemy was close upon us ready to take advantage of every movement. A picket guard was left to deceive the rebels, while regiment after regiment silently disappeared, leaving only the pickets to hold the long line of earthworks. These brave men waited hour after hour for the signal to retire. The gray lights of the morning broke upon them, yet there was no sign for them to join their commands. At length, when they had given up all hope of being relieved, they were signaled to leave the breastworks, and under cover of the morning mists, they quickly joined their comrades.
The Second division moved in the direction of Savage's Station, while the First kept on to the crossing of White Oak Swamp, acting as rear-guard to Porter's corps. We of the Second division kept along the high lands which skirt the Chickahominy, when, after marching about two miles, the division was brought to bay by the pursuing enemy. Facing about we waited in line of battle for our trains to get out of the way; when we again resumed the retreat. While here, General McClellan, with his immense staff, rode by us on his way toward Harrison's Landing. He passed White Oak Swamp the same day, and waited the arrival of the army; which, hindered by battles and innumerable difficulties, did not come up with its commander again till the 1st of July.
We arrived at Savage's Station at 4 P.M. Here trains and troops were crowded together in wonderful confusion. Immense heaps of commissary stores, arms and ammunition were waiting destruction lest they should fall into the hands of the enemy, and hundreds of sick and wounded men were taking sad leave of their friends; for it had been determined that these brave unfortunate men must be left to the tender mercies of the rebels. Again the division was formed in line of battle to protect our pioneers and the regiments which were engaged in the destruction of the stores. The long railroad bridge across the river at this point had been burned. The work of destruction went on at a marvelous rate. Boxes of hard bread, hundreds of barrels of flour, rice, sugar, coffee, salt and pork were thrown upon the burning piles and consigned to the flames. One heap of boxes of hard bread as large as a good sized dwelling made a part of the sacrifice. Boxes of clothing and shoes were opened and every man as he passed helped himself to whatever he thought worth carrying away. Notwithstanding thousands helped themselves, and huge boxes of clothing were cast into the flames, we found on our return to the Peninsula two years afterwards, that the inhabitants for a long distance around were clothed and shod with articles left by us at Savage's Station on the grand retreat. The people had also made large gains by gathering up the coats, pants, shirts and shoes left on the ground and selling them in Richmond and elsewhere.
It was easy thus to dispose of commissary and quartermaster's stores, but to destroy the immense magazines of cartridges, kegs of powder, and shells, required more care. These were loaded into cars; a long train was filled with these materials, and then, after setting fire to each car, the train was set in motion down the steep grade. With wildest fury the blazing train rushed; each revolution of the wheels adding new impetus to the flying monster, and new volumes to the flames. The distance to the bridge was two miles. On and on the burning train thundered like a frightful meteor. Now, the flames being communicated to the contents of the cars, terrific explosions of shells and kegs of powder lent new excitement to the scene. The air was full of shrieking, howling shells, the fragments of which tore through the trees and branches of the forest; and huge fragments of cars were seen whirling high in the air.
At length the train reached the river; and such was its momentum, that, notwithstanding the bridge was burned, the engine and the first car leaped over the first pier in the stream, and the cars hung suspended. While this destruction was going on, Smith's division moved back beyond Savage's Station, toward White Oak Swamp, marching, with frequent halts, three or four miles, when we were ordered to retrace our steps with all speed, to reinforce Sumner's corps, which was engaging the enemy. The heat of the day was most oppressive. Many of our men fell with sunstroke. Among those who thus suffered was General Davidson.
THE GRAND RETREAT.
Lee's army in pursuit—Sumner and Smith at Bay—Battle of Savage's Station—The Vermont Brigade—Sick and wounded abandoned—Retreat to White Oak Swamp—Battle of White Oak Swamp—An astonished division—A night march—A mystery—In sight of the James—Battle of Malvern Hill—Departure of the princes—Gloom and anxiety—Lee's attack—The rebels demoralized.
Meanwhile the rebel army, finding no force in front of them, were at first at a loss to determine what course we had taken; but when it was discovered that we had withdrawn from before both wings of their army and that our base of supplies at White House had been abandoned, it was quickly divined that the Union army was retreating to the James river. Stuart, with his cavalry, had dashed down to White House and found only heaps of smoldering ruins; and from the absence of all motion in front of the right of their line, it was clear that no attempt was to be made on Richmond. Finding himself thus unexpectedly victorious, Lee at once ordered his forces, now on the north bank of the Chickahominy, to cross over and pursue the retreating army.
During the night of the 28th, they had been actively engaged in rebuilding the bridge destroyed by General Porter, and early on the morning of the 29th, the main body of Lee's army was pouring across the river. Hill and Longstreet moved rapidly so as to interpose between our army and Richmond, and to be able to strike us on the flank; two other divisions followed on the Charles City road, and Jackson, with his corps, moved down the bank of the Chickahominy, threatening our rear.
To resist any attack from these approaching columns, Sumner's and Heintzelman's corps, and our Second division of the Sixth corps, were formed in line of battle before Savage's Station.
For hours our division, with Sumner's corps, stood in the open field watching the enemy. Heintzelman withdrew his corps and left Sumner and Smith to stem the tide that was destined to pour upon us. It seems to have been the impression of General Heintzelman, who had listened with credulity to the stories of the immense superiority of the enemy in numbers, that all hope of resisting the power of Lee's army was gone, and that there remained nothing for us but to make the best of our way to the James river without stopping to give the enemy battle.
In the view that there was no safety but in retreat, he was guided by the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, who had no thought of any further resistance than should suffice to bring the men and as much of the material of the army as could be brought by the teams across the Peninsula. Not so the old war horse Sumner. He would gladly have attempted, a few hours later, to have "pushed the rebels into the Chickahominy," had not his application for help been answered from beyond White Oak Swamp, "The rear-guard will follow the retreat of the main body of the army." If there was no hope for the army but rapid retreat, then it was right for Heintzelman to leave the road clear; for as it was, with only Sumner's corps and our own division, the road was packed so full that the men could scarcely march. But if there was an opportunity of inflicting great injury upon the rebels, as Sumner believed there was, then we are not surprised at the amazement of the veteran when he discovered, the battle having commenced, that one corps had left the line altogether. We were now as near our new base of supplies as the rebels were to theirs, and here we had enough to last the army many days. We were, as they had been, on the defensive; and we had the advantage in position. But there was nothing left for those now on the line but to make the best resistance possible under the circumstances, and then fall back to the banks of the James.
About five o'clock the huge cloud of dust in the direction of the camps we had deserted, gave warning of the approach of that part of the rebel army which was marching by the Charles City road; and at sunset the thunders of their artillery burst upon us. For an hour, only the heavy roar of artillery was heard from both sides. Shells screamed from one side to the other, and the bright flashes and sharp reports, as they burst in the air, mingled with the noise and smoke of the battle, as battery responded to battery. Thus far no discharge of musketry was heard; but suddenly Magruder's men, with yells and shouts, rushed to the charge. Streams of fire flashed along the two lines, and the rattle of innumerable muskets told of closer work than artillery duels. The brave fellows of Sumner, and of our Vermont brigade, met the assailants with defiant shouts that rang out above the roar of muskets and cannon.
Leaving Sumner's heroes to contend the ground on their part of the line, let us glance more in detail at the part borne by our own division in this battle of Savage's Station.
The Vermont brigade having the advance of the division, General Brooks at once threw his regiments to the front. The Fifth and Sixth as skirmishers, supported by the Third and Second in line of battle, the Fourth being thrown upon the flank, the brigade advanced rapidly through a wide strip of woods. Suddenly, as the line of skirmishers emerged from the woods they received the fire of a battery and of a strong line of battle. The Fifth at once charged upon the force in front, which scattered in all directions. The rebels were beaten back both from our own and from Sumner's front; but only to reform and press forward again from the cover of the woods to which they had retreated, to give battle with new vigor. Again the flash and roar of musketry mingled with the wild yells of the rebels and the manly shouts of the Unionists, and again nothing could be seen but the clouds of smoke, out of which sprung the vivid blaze of the cannon, and the quick flash of the rifles. Every now and then, fresh troops arriving upon the field would send up the shout above all the other noise of battle, and then nothing but the continuous din of arms could be heard. Three rebel regiments now advanced against the Fifth Vermont; but the brave fellows secured a good position and held it, in spite of every effort of the rebels to dislodge them. The other regiments were not so hotly engaged as the Fifth. Two hundred of the men of that regiment were killed, wounded or missing. Fifty of their dead bodies were left on the field. Davidson's and Hancock's brigades guarded important positions, but were not actively engaged.
The conflict raged till eight o'clock, when the confederates, repulsed at every point, beaten and discouraged, left the field, and no more was seen of them. The whole loss to the confederates in this engagement was about four hundred.
Before midnight, the rear-guard had turned toward White Oak Swamp, leaving many hundreds of our brave wounded and sick men lying upon the green sward, or collected under rude shelters. Here, large groups were gathered under the shade of some large tree; and there, long lines of staggering invalids, leaning upon their guns or staffs for support, tottered after the retreating column, in the hope of being able to reach with it a place of safety.
Surgeons were left to care for these unfortunate ones who could not get off; and a small amount out of the abundance of provisions that was condemned to destruction was saved for them. Of all the sad scenes which had made the Peninsula swarm with melancholy memories, nothing we had seen could compare with this most sorrowful of all. Twenty-five hundred of our sick and wounded were left to fall into the hands of the enemy.
At nine or ten in the evening, we withdrew from our position before Savage's Station, and marched rapidly toward White Oak Swamp. The road was completely filled with wagons, ambulances and artillery, mingled with horsemen and infantry, all crowding forward with utmost speed. Never had our men experienced so severe a march. They were obliged to pick their way among the teams, losing all organization, each man bent upon making his way forward regardless of others.
At length, toward morning, we crossed White Oak creek, ascended a little elevation on the further side, and lay down upon the grass completely exhausted and worn out.
The sun was shining brightly when we were roused from our heavy slumbers. The morning passed in perfect quiet except the rattle of the trains which had parked here over night, and now were hurrying along the narrow road, wagons and artillery rushing by with all speed to allow room for the immense collection to file out. This process continued till afternoon, and was the only source of excitement to us except the distant roar of battle on the left, where McCall and Hooker were hotly engaged. Thus matters continued until about two o'clock; the men seeking shelter among the pines or resting quietly after their weary night's march. A picket line composed of men from the various regiments of our Third brigade, Second division, guarding our extreme right flank. All were listless and little dreaming of the tremendous storm of iron hail which was gathering to break upon us in a moment.
Suddenly, like a thunderbolt, seventy-five pieces of artillery belched forth their sheets of flame and howling shells; and in an instant, our whole division was thrown into the most perfect confusion by the deadly missiles which flew among us in every direction. Such cannonading had never before been heard by our army, and before our batteries could reply with any effect, the horses were killed, the gunners dispersed and the pieces disabled. It was a most perfect surprise; no one was prepared; men ran hither and thither seeking shelter behind any object which seemed even sufficient to conceal them from the view of the enemy.
It appeared that Jackson had effected a crossing of the river, and with great secrecy made his way to the border of White Oak creek, where, concealed by trees and underbrush, he had massed his batteries, and when all was in perfect readiness had opened upon us this storm of death. Unutterable confusion prevailed for a time; riderless horses galloped madly to the rear; men rushed here and there; officers wandered about without commands, and men were left without directions how to act. Generals Smith and Davidson occupied an old fashioned wooden house which stood upon the brow of the elevation above and facing the bridge. About it were many orderlies, holding their horses, or lounging carelessly, or chatting with each other. The very first volley riddled the house with shells; orderlies rushed from the place in consternation and the inmates quickly appeared without, gazing in amazement toward the source of this unexpected cause of the tumult. The gray-haired owner of the house was cut in two as he stood in the door, and several other persons were more or less injured. General Smith, at the moment the cannonade opened, was engaged at his rude toilette; his departure from the house was so hasty that he left his watch, which he did not recover. He coolly walked off to a less exposed position and devoted himself to restoring order. One regiment, as soon as the shells began to fly, rushed pell-mell to the rear, none of the men standing upon the order of their going.
During all this time a few of the regiments held their ground without moving. By active exertions, on the part of officers, order was restored and the whole division fell back a short distance, taking up a position at the edge of a strip of woods, which commanded an open field. General Smith, with his accustomed fearlessness, was to be seen riding along his lines exhorting his men to coolness, and by his own composure restoring confidence to them. The design of Jackson, to cross the stream, was frustrated. The firing soon ceased, and, as darkness came on, quiet again reigned, except now and then a little skirmishing.
At nine o'clock in the evening, under cover of the darkness, we silently and hastily withdrew. All orders were given in whispers; men refrained from conversation; and everything indicated the most intense anxiety on the part of our generals for the safety of the army. Thus, in silence, we hastened on our way; the weary and exhausted troops scarcely able to keep awake while they marched. No better illustration can be given of the intense state of anxiety, excitement and doubt which prevailed, than the following little incident, which occurred during this night march. Our Third brigade, leading the Second division, had halted where the narrow road passed through a piece of woods, waiting a moment for the road to clear, or for the guides to report the direction for the march. Generals Franklin and Davidson, with officers of Davidson's brigade, were grouped together near the head of the column, sitting upon their horses. The weary men, almost overcome by sleep, were leaning upon their muskets or lying in the road half asleep. Officers nodded and swung this way and that in their saddles. The stillness of death prevailed. In an instant, without any perceptible cause, as though a breath from some evil genius had swept the narrow track, every man was gone from the road. They stood in the woods looking with breathless wonder into the road for the unseen danger. After the first moment of surprise, the word passed along, in low tones, "Attention!" Not a living being could be seen in the road, and all was silence. Recovering from the first surprise, General Davidson looked for General Franklin, who, but a moment before, was dozing by his side. "General Franklin! General Franklin!" called the general in a loud whisper, but nothing could be found of him, and we saw no more of him that night. What was the cause of this sudden alarm we never knew. Possibly, a riderless horse might have suddenly startled those in front, or, quite as likely, there was no cause whatever; but the incident illustrates the state of feeling in the army that night.
At length, just as the gray light of the morning was streaking the skies, we came in sight of the majestic James river. Every man took a long breath, as though relieved of a heavy load of anxiety. Officers clasped their hands and exclaimed, "Thank God." The worn out men stepped lighter, for they had arrived at the haven of their hopes. Again they experienced a feeling of safety. We filed into a beautiful clover field, and there the exhausted columns sunk down for a brief rest. Brief it was to be, for scarcely had two hours passed when we were ordered into line of battle. We moved back through the woods, crossing a little stream, and formed in a wheat field, where the grain stood in shocks. Here we remained, watching the enemy, who stood in our front, contenting themselves with occasional sallies of their skirmishers, while the great battle of Malvern Hill was in progress on our left, where the booming of our field pieces and the dull roar of the heavy guns from the gunboats was heard for many hours. At length, as night came on, the sound of battle died away, and all was again quiet. Now we heard cheers on the left, and, looking in that direction, we saw, approaching at great speed, the commander of the Union army. Cheers greeted him as he rode along the line, and hats were thrown high in the air in honor of the chief.
As the leading corps of the army had fallen back from White Oak Swamp, they had occupied a superb position on the James river, called Malvern Hill. The wagons and other impedimentia of the army had also arrived there, and were secured behind the southern slope of the hill. The place was admirably adapted for a defensive battle. It was a lofty plateau, rising not less than one hundred and fifty feet above the plain, sloping gently toward the north and east, down to the border of the forest. The approach to this sloping field was rendered difficult by ravines, which ran along the front; and the enemy, if he approached, must do so by way of the roads which crossed them.
Upon the crest was posted the battery of siege guns which had escaped the hands of the enemy; and nearly three hundred field pieces were arranged along the heights, so that the fire might pass over the heads of the infantry, who were arranged upon the glacis, up which the enemy must charge, hidden, for the most part, by the tall wheat and corn. Here the main body of the army was posted. First, nearest the James, was Porter's corps; then Heintzelman's, Keyes', Sumner's and our Sixth corps, occupying the right flank, two or three miles from the position where the rebels must advance with their main force. The fleet of gunboats floated upon the river, on our left flank, ready to send their screaming monster shells into the ranks of the advancing enemy.
Against this position, naturally almost impregnable, Lee hurled his hosts, with the design of giving the final blow to the Union army, which should insure its destruction and capture. The rebel army confidently believed that the army of the north must now be compelled to surrender or be driven into the James.
If the rebels were confident and exultant, our own men were filled with the deepest despondency.
Exhausted by a month of constant labor and watchfulness, with fighting and marching and digging, now, as they believed, fleeing from the face of an enemy immensely superior to them in numbers, it is not to be wondered at that they were apprehensive of the worst results.
Paymasters sought refuge with their treasures in the gunboats on the river. The Prince De Joinville and his nephews, the Count De Paris and Count De Chartes, who had acted as aides de camp to General McClellan, who had been with us from the beginning, active, brave men, who were frequently where the danger was greatest, and who had entered our service with the determination of seeing it to the end, now departed; they, too, finding a respite from their toils upon one of the gunboats. The young men were accompanied on board by the staff and by the Commander-in-Chief himself. From the deck of the vessel he communicated his orders by the signal flags, to those left in command on shore. Here, with his young friends, and in consultation with the commander of the fleet, he remained until about five o'clock, when he rode down the lines to the rear of our corps, where he spent the time till darkness put an end to the fight.
Such was the sad state of feeling in our army. Yet, exhausted and depressed as they were, our men were as brave and determined as ever. They had yet a country; and they knew that the fate of that country depended upon the result of this encounter, and they resolved to acquit themselves with heroism and even desperation.
Lee had marshaled his whole force in front of our strong position. He wrote to each of his division commanders ordering an assault, and directing, when they heard the yell of Armistead's troops, to charge also with yells.
The yell was heard, and some of the divisions, but not all, pressed forward to a wild charge.
The rebels came on heroically, but were sent reeling back down the slope in confusion and disorder. Again and again they renewed the charge from under cover of the woods which skirted the base of the slope. They would start across the open space, charging our batteries with wild yells, but the heavy fire of our guns and the steady volleys of our infantry sent them back as often to the shelter of the woods. At times our infantry would reserve their fire till the rebel columns had run the gauntlet of shot and shell from our batteries, almost reaching our lines, when with exultant cheers they would bound forward to seize the prize now almost within their grasp, when our men would open upon them a single volley, and, leaping over the breastworks, pursue the panic-stricken assailants, capturing prisoners and colors, and driving the rebels in confusion down the slope. Thus the battle raged with terrible fury; every attempt on the part of the enemy failing, until darkness set in, and the rebel chiefs were glad to let the battle subside; though it was not till nine o'clock the artillery firing ceased.
The weight of the attacks had been upon our center. Here Couch, Sumner and Heintzelman withstood the shock of battle for hours, only a part of Porter's corps being engaged, and neither our Sixth corps nor Casey's division of Keyes' corps being actively in the fight.
The rebel General Trimble thus describes the condition of their army on the morning after the battle:
"The next morning by dawn I went off to ask for orders, when I found the whole army in the utmost disorder. Thousands of straggling men were asking every passer-by for their regiments; ambulances, wagons and artillery obstructing every road; and altogether in a drenching rain presenting a scene of the most woful and heart-rending confusion."
Had but a show of an attack upon such an army been made, it must have resulted in defeat and utter rout to the rebels.
March to Harrison's Bar—A scene of confusion—A beautiful landscape—Fourth of July in camp—Gloom at the north—Cause of the disasters—Prevalence of disease—Review by the President—A night demonstration by the enemy—Reconnoissance to Malvern Hill—Departure of General Davidson—A retrospect.
Our corps remained in line of battle in the wheat field till early next morning; changing position during the night just often enough to deprive us of rest. As we started out toward Harrison's Landing the rain was pouring in sheets; and throughout the day it continued to deluge the country. The roads were rivers of almost fathomless mud; and our tired men could scarcely drag themselves along. But at four in the afternoon we halted under cover of our gunboats, and bivouacked for the night. Such a deplorable scene as was here, was enough to melt the heart of the stoutest. As we debouched from a piece of woods skirting the plateau at Harrison's Landing, officers stood like hotel porters at a steamboat landing, calling out "This way for the Third corps;" "This way for the Fifth corps;" "This way for Slocum's division." All was confusion. The whole army seemed to be made of stragglers. Our little Brigadier Davidson rose in his saddle to an unusual height, as he looked back and saw with undisguised pride, his brigade marching in, almost unbroken.
The landscape before us was indescribably beautiful. There lay the James river, and spreading out between us and the river were the broad fields of wheat; the fine country houses; the long avenues and roads lined with rows of cedar trees; which last were almost in a moment stripped of their branches to make beds for the soldiers.
There, crowded together, were the immense caravans of wagons, ambulances, guns and pontoons, hugging the river, and the multitude of men swarming over the plain. Long processions of sick and wounded men, leaning on canes and crutches, their heavy steps and sunken faces now for a moment lighted up at the thought that their melancholy pilgrimage was nearly ended, filed by us; and battalions of cooks and special duty men were wandering about in search of their commands.
The river was full of transports and gunboats, giving it the appearance of the harbor of some commercial metropolis. Many of the hungry men, without waiting for their rations to be brought by the commissary, plunged into the stream, swam to the boats and there procured the coveted food. But the greater number of our men, their powers completely exhausted, without waiting for food, or to provide comfortable quarters, lay down in the bed of mud and were soon in heavy slumbers.
Again, after a poor night's rest, the corps was marched to a new position on the front line, where we remained to celebrate the anniversary of the nation's birthday. A gloomy "Fourth of July" was this to us, though every effort was made to keep up the spirits of the men. Early in the morning the enemy opened a fire upon parts of our line, to which our guns responded. A national salute had been ordered, and precisely at the hour appointed, while the fighting was in progress, the heavy guns were heard booming the salute. Our boys listened for a moment, and then, as if all inspired with new life, they made the welkin ring with their cheers. The bands, roused from their long inactivity, pealed forth stirring national airs, and the Commander-in-Chief issued an address to his array, in which he praised its gallantry and firmness, declared that he himself had established the new line, and that if the enemy would come upon us now we would convert his repulse into a final defeat.
At home, a heavy gloom hung over the nation. The news of our retreat and of the terrible battles, had been carried by the magic wires to the remotest parts of the north; but few yet knew the fate of their friends who were in the great army. It was enough that the siege of Richmond, which had cost so much time and money, and, above all, so many thousands of brave men, was abandoned, and the grand army, on which the hopes of the nation hung, was now beleaguered, defending itself in an unhealthy position, which offered little advantage for anything but defense. Sympathizers with the rebellion secretly rejoiced and openly prophesied the speedy destruction of our army by the scorching sun and poisoned air, even if left to itself by the rebels.
The cause of all these disastrous circumstances was by some attributed to unwise interference, on the part of the authorities in Washington, with the plans of the chief of our army. They claimed that the President, Secretary of War and the Major General commanding all the armies of the Union, had, in the words of General McClellan, "done what they could to defeat this army." They complained loudly that reinforcements had been withheld, and that McDowell, with a large force, had been kept unemployed in the vicinity of Fredericksburgh, when his corps would have thrown the balance of strength upon our side. Others claimed that the whole campaign had been sadly mismanaged by a commander who had, as they insisted, never seen his army fight; who had invariably found employment elsewhere than on the field of battle when fighting was to be done, and whose character as a soldier was made up of doubts and hesitancies.
Six weeks of camp life, dreary, sickly and monotonous, succeeded our arrival at Harrison's Bar.
Our corps proceeded to the work of throwing up strong intrenchments and mounting guns. Our Third brigade, Second division, constructed an extensive fort, in which several very heavy guns were mounted; each of the regiments taking their turn at the labor. In our front the forests were slashed for a great distance, and thousands of sturdy wood-cutters plied their heavy blows, sweltering under the burning rays of the sun.
Sickness became almost universal. The men were worn out with the tremendous labors which they had performed since their arrival on the Peninsula; they were burned by almost unendurable heat; they were nearly devoured by the countless myriads of flies and other annoying insects; and they were forced to drink impure and unwholesome water. It was not strange that hundreds died in camp, and that hundreds more, with the seeds of death implanted in their constitutions, went to their homes in the north to breathe out their lives in the midst of their friends, or languished in the large government hospitals at Washington, and other cities.
Leaves of absence were given freely, and thousands availed themselves of the opportunity of visiting their homes and recruiting their health. The men, with the patience which none but soldiers ever exhibit, went quietly to work to render their situation as tolerable as possible. Wells were dug in the camps, from which they procured better water than they were able to get at first, and small pines were brought and set among the tents, by which some degree of protection was afforded against the burning sun. On the morning of the 8th of July, the monotony was broken by the arrival of President Lincoln. The booming of artillery announced his coming, and the heartfelt cheers of the soldiers assured him of a welcome.
The President, after spending a few hours at the head-quarters of the army, proceeded to review the various corps. He was accompanied by General McClellan, and many officers of note. Everywhere he received an enthusiastic welcome from the men, who regarded him as their warm friend. He manifested great emotion as he rode along the lines and saw that the regiments, which but a few weeks before had left Washington with full ranks, were now mere skeletons of regiments. Evening drew its mantle over the scene, and the review was closed by moonlight.
Little occurred to relieve the monotony of the six weeks of camp life at Harrison's Bar, except the events of which we have spoken; a demonstration by the enemy during the night of the 31st, and an advance to Malvern Hill by General Hooker's division. On the former occasion, the troops were startled from their slumbers about midnight, by the sudden discharge of a battery of artillery from the south side of the James. The rebels had succeeded in getting a force in position there, and they now opened a vigorous fire upon our shipping and our camps. Their shells flew among us in disagreeable proximity, and the long lines of fire traced upon the midnight sky lent a certain charm to the dangerous business. Our gunboats answered the fire; and after two hours of exciting work drove the rebels from their position. Some infantry was taken across the river, who hastened the retreat of the enemy, burned the buildings near the shore, and cut down the trees, that they might not in future afford concealment for the rebels.
General Hooker's reconnoissance resulted in his occupying Malvern Hill for a day or two, having a brisk skirmish with the enemy and returning to camp.
Our active and gallant Brigadier-General Davidson was, early in August, relieved from the command of our Third brigade, and ordered to the department of Missouri. Notwithstanding the severity of his discipline, and his occasional forgetfulness that men could not accomplish as much physical labor as horses—for the general had always been a cavalry officer—his never-tiring energy, his undoubted bravery, and his interest and pride in his brigade, had endeared him to the men. During the severe trials on the Chickahominy, and on the retreat, the general had taken an unusual interest in the brigade, and had made himself personally acquainted with nearly all the members of his command.
The general took command of a cavalry division in Missouri; where his name became a terror to all secessionists in that part of the country. The command devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Corning of the Thirty-third New York, then senior officer of the brigade, who was soon succeeded by Colonel W. H. Irwin, of the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Reinforcements began to arrive from Washington, and our army, in August, numbered one hundred and twenty thousand men. With these, and a few thousand more, General McClellan declared his belief that he could repel the enemy and advance into Richmond.
Let us for a moment turn to the fortunes of the regiment with which we left Saratoga, and whose early history we have traced. In all the stirring events which have transpired in the division and corps, the Seventy-seventh has acted an important and honorable part. Always ready to perform the duties demanded of it; always in its place when danger was greatest; ever cheerfully obeying the commands of superiors, it has assumed no honor above its fellows, but proudly claimed to be the peer of such noble regiments as the Sixth Maine, the Fifth Wisconsin, the Thirty-third New York, and other bright stars in the galaxy of the Sixth corps; ornaments to it and the army. "It is a little regiment," said General Davidson to a member of Governor Morgan's staff, who came to look after the interests of the New York troops, "but it is always in the right place." The general regarded the regiment with especial favor, and was accustomed to call it "my little Seventy-seventh." Since the arrival of the army on the Peninsula the experiences of the regiment have been varied. With the other regiments of Smith's division, it has spent a month at Yorktown, within musket shot of the enemy. At Williamsburgh it, with other regiments of its brigade, supported batteries in front of Fort Magruder, and when, in the afternoon, it received the order to go with the Forty-ninth to the assistance of Hancock, it started forward with cheers; the men going through the mud at double quick. But when the two regiments arrived on the field, their gallant brothers of Hancock's and of their own brigade, had nobly accomplished the work in which they would gladly have assisted. We have seen how gallantly the regiment routed the rebels at Mechanicsville; capturing a flag and other trophies; and when on the Chickahominy Smith's division held the line closest upon the enemy, it bravely assumed its part of the labor and danger. A portion of the regiment on picket on the 28th of June, exhibited sterling heroism, and we need hardly refer to the noble sacrifice of the brave young soldier John Ham.
Disease and exhaustion had made terrible inroads upon the Seventy-seventh. Instead of nearly a thousand men with which we came to the Peninsula, inspection in the middle of June showed only about two hundred and fifty men present for duty. Although this regiment had from the very beginning occupied an exposed position in the very front line; although it composed a part of Smith's division, which has already become famous both in the Union and rebel armies for being always in closest proximity to the enemy, yet it had thus far lost very few men in battle. All the rest of those now absent had been stricken down by fevers, or worn out by the exhausting labors and exposures of the campaign.
Among those attacked by typhoid fever was Colonel McKean. After suffering a few days in the vain hope of soon being able to place himself again at the head of his regiment, he was removed from the poisonous atmosphere of the swamps to Washington, and thence to his home in Saratoga. The men looked upon his departure with sincere regret, for they not only respected him as an able commander, but loved him for his never failing interest in their welfare. He had been to the regiment in the capacity of commander and father. His leave of the regiment was destined to be final; for except as an occasional visitor he never returned to it; and after many months of suffering, his constitution undermined, and his health permanently destroyed, he was forced to relinquish the command. But though forced to leave the field, the men of his regiment never ceased to cherish feelings of love and respect for their first commander. They had witnessed his bravery on the field, and they now knew that he was contending with disease with the same fortitude that had marked his course in the army. The departure of Colonel McKean from the service was not only a great loss to his regiment but to the whole corps; for he was not only a brave officer, but a gentleman of superior intellectual endowments. Another of the sufferers from typhoid fever was Lieutenant Bowe, a young man of fine abilities and greatly beloved by his regiment. After several weeks of absence, he returned to camp on the 18th of July restored to health. On the very next day, while standing with several officers in a tent, he was fatally wounded by an accidental shot from a pistol. His father, hearing of the sad occurrence, came for him and removed him from camp; but only to see him expire in a few days.
Changes occurred among the officers. The lieutenant-colonel and major left the service, the first by resignation, the other by dismissal. Adjutant French was made major, and afterwards lieutenant-colonel, which office he held during the remainder of the term of the regiment. He assumed command of the regiment on his return to it after the battle of Antietam, and continued in command while it was a regiment. Captains and lieutenants also resigned. Chaplain Tully and Quartermaster Shurtliff departed for their homes, having left the service. Lieutenant Hayward was made quartermaster, a position for which he was eminently qualified, and which he thenceforward held to the great satisfaction of the entire regiment.
RETREAT FROM THE PENINSULA, AND GENERAL POPE'S BULL RUN CAMPAIGN.
Premonitions of a change of base—The transfer commenced—Marching down the Peninsula—On board transports—A contrast—Arrival at Alexandria—Unaccountable delays—General Pope's campaign—An obstinate general—Causes of Pope's failure.
Early in August, rumors were floating about the army, that General McClellan had received positive orders to transfer the Army of the Potomac to the front of Washington, there to unite the forces of the two armies; and that this plan was strongly opposed by General McClellan, who insisted that he wanted only a few thousand more men to march into Richmond.
The army had received large reinforcements since arriving at Harrison's Landing, and now numbered more than one hundred thousand men; not by any means an inconsiderable force, yet too small, in General McClellan's opinion, to warrant another advance.
But, owing to the movements of the enemy in front of General Pope, the supposed impracticability of the route, and to some distrust as to the abilities of General McClellan by the authorities at Washington, peremptory orders had been sent to him to remove his army as quickly as possible from the Peninsula.
What the merits of the dispute in high places might be, the army at large was not able to decide; but the rumors gave rise to many spirited debates, in which the authorities at Washington and the authority at Harrison's Bar had each earnest advocates. At length it became known that the army was to leave the Peninsula, and preparations for this important movement commenced. The work of shipping the sick and wounded, numbering twelve thousand five hundred, began; but it was not carried on with a degree of alacrity satisfactory to the War Department or the President.
The wharves along the river side became the scene of immense activity. Ambulances crowded along the banks of the river, laden with sick and wounded, while those from the hospitals able to walk, tottered along with trembling steps, their wan faces and sunken eyes telling their story of suffering. Transports were in waiting for these, and were rapidly filled with their freight of suffering humanity. Everything not movable was ordered to be destroyed. Tents were struck and taken to the pickets who had left them behind, and everything betokened an important movement. Three or four days were spent in momentary expectation of the order to "fall in," but still the situation remained unchanged.
At length, on the 16th of August, all was ready and the men were ordered to pack their knapsacks; but the men of the Sixth corps remained in camp until the sun's rays became scorching; then the column moved rapidly eastward. A hard day's march on the 16th and another on the 17th, brought the corps in sight of the Chickahominy. It crossed a pontoon bridge of enormous extent, in the construction of which ninety boats were used, and the length of which was over two thousand feet. Thoroughly exhausted the men bivouacked on the eastern bank of the Chickahominy.
The rebels, now aware of the retreat, were following close at the heels of the Union army, but declined to make any offensive demonstrations, further than picking up stragglers and those that fell out by the way from weakness and fatigue. The main portion of the rebel army was now occupied in important movements in another direction.
Another rapid march, under a burning sun, brought our corps to the ancient capital of the Old Dominion—Williamsburgh. Passing through its streets without halting, taking only time to glance at its now dilapidated buildings, we reached the familiar scenes of the old battle-field, which, three months before, we little expected to recross before the downfall of the rebellion. Here was the plain where a portion of our Second division had, by its gallantry, decided the fate of the battle; the scene of our bivouac in the rain and mud, and the redoubts where lay the wounded rebels, whose groans had rendered the night hideous. In the midst of these scenes we bivouacked again for the night.
At dawn the column moved again, and after a fatiguing march reached Yorktown; our Second division encamping in the works erected by Porter's division during our famous thirty days' siege of that place.
Many of the men had by this time become exhausted; and a long train of ambulances was filled with these and sent ahead on the morning of the 20th. The well ones soon followed toward Fortress Monroe, halting on the field of Big Bethel. This was the first visit of our corps to this disastrous field, and the men rambled about manifesting great interest in the spot rendered sacred by the blood of Winthrop and Greble.
Plums, peaches and sweet potatoes constituted novel additions to the diet of the men, and although the two former were unripe, their good effects were manifested in arresting multitudes of those troublesome cases of diarrhea which had resisted all treatment so long as the men were deprived of acid fruits. Another hard march on the 21st brought the corps again, after five months' absence, to the vicinity of the desolated village of Hampton, and the end of our march for the present. The whole army was crowded along the shores, waiting to embark for Aquia. Transports of every size and description were riding upon the bay or lashed to the wharves, and infantry, cavalry and artillery were crowding toward the beach ready to take their turn to embark. The scene was one of unusual activity, resembling only the one we had witnessed on embarking for the Peninsula months ago.
At length all were on board, and the transports swung out upon the bay and steamed up the Potomac. One of the transports on which a portion of the Second division was embarked, the "Vanderbilt," had been, in other days, an old friend, as she ploughed up and down the Hudson; now her magnificent saloons, which had been of dazzling beauty, were dismantled and disfigured. No gorgeous drapery or gilded mirrors adorned them, but desolation and filth prevailed.
The weather was charming, and, except for the crowded condition of the transports, the trip would have been a delightful one. What a contrast was there in the appearance of those same men now, and when they came down the river in April! Then our ranks were full; the men were healthy and in fresh vigor; their uniforms were new and clean, and their muskets and equipments were polished and glistening. Now, we looked about with sadness when we remembered how many of our former companions were absent, and how few present. We could bring to mind many who went to the Peninsula, full of hope, who had sunk as victims of the malarial poisons, and now rested in humble graves at Yorktown or along the Chickahominy; and many others who had nobly fallen upon the field of strife; and yet others who now were wearing out tedious days of sickness in hospitals or at home.
The little band that remained could hardly be recognized as the same men who left the defenses of Washington but a few months since; their faces were now bronzed from constant exposure to the scorching rays of the sun, and their clothing was worn and soiled. Hats and caps of every description: hats of straw and of palm leaf, of brown wool, black wool, and what had been white wool. Caps military and caps not military, all alike in only one respect, that all were much the worse for wear. It would have puzzled a stranger to have determined from this diversity of apparel, what was the regular uniform of our troops.
We came up the river with feelings far less exultant and confident than those experienced in our downward trip. Indeed a gloom hung over the minds of all. The army was satisfied that General McClellan would be removed from command, and it was said that General Pope or General Burnside would be his successor. Though they remembered the brilliant successes of the one in the west and of the other in the south, many expressed fears that the command of a large army might be as fatal to either of these as it had been to General McClellan.
At sunset of the 23d, the transports bearing the two divisions of the Sixth corps, were anchored just off Alexandria; but none of the men were allowed to go ashore. Spending another night in the crowded vessels, where the foul air prevailing between decks rendered breathing anything but a luxury, the men hailed the appearance of daylight as the time for their liberation from this close and unpleasant confinement.
The process of disembarking progressed rapidly, and the divisions were marched through the city to a field about a mile beyond its limits, where we encamped near Fort Ellsworth.
Although this was on Sunday morning, and it was known that Pope's army was fighting the enemy even before we left the Peninsula, and was in need of reinforcements; yet no signs of marching occurred until Thursday.
Let us now turn back for a moment and hastily glance at the movements of General Pope and his army, which had now for several days been actively engaged. The battle of Cedar Mountain was fought on Saturday, August 9th. General Banks, pushing his corps toward Cedar Mountain, and, finding the enemy in his front, had boldly attacked him. The confederate forces were led by General Jackson, and outnumbered the forces under General Banks. The field was hotly contested for an hour and a half, when our forces were obliged to fall back; but being reinforced by Rickett's division, they were able to prevent the enemy from occupying the field. During the night, Jackson withdrew his forces, leaving the ground in our hands, which was at once occupied by the Union forces.
The whole of Sunday was occupied in burying the dead and bringing off the wounded of both armies. Our men had behaved with great bravery, and the gallantry and zeal of General Banks was what might have been expected from that general. The field was yet in our hands; yet the battle could hardly be called a decided victory for our arms. Jackson retreated rapidly across the Rapidan, in the direction of Gordonsville, leaving many dead and wounded along the road from Cedar Mountain to Orange Court House. Except to follow up the enemy with cavalry as far as Orange Court House, no important move was made for several days by the forces under General Pope.
Reinforcements were constantly arriving for Jackson, and it became evident, by the 18th, that nearly the whole of Lee's army was assembling in front of General Pope, along the south side of the Rapidan. Among papers captured from the enemy at this time, was an autograph letter from General Robert Lee to General Stuart, stating his determination to overwhelm General Pope's army before it could be reinforced by any portion of the army of the Potomac.
The whole army was now ordered to fall back and occupy a stronger position behind the Rappahannock. The movement was executed on the 18th and 19th of August, without loss; the new line extending from Kelley's Ford to a point three miles above Rappahannock Station. The enemy appeared next day at the various fords, but, finding them strongly guarded, waited for all their forces to arrive from the Rapidan.
The whole of the 21st and 22d were spent by the enemy in efforts to cross the river, and a fierce artillery duel prevailed along the line for more than seven miles in extent, but the rebels were repulsed at every point, and withdrew with the intention of moving up the river and turning the flank of the Union army.
General Pope, appreciating the danger of this movement on the part of the rebels, telegraphed to Washington, and, in reply, was assured that, if he could hold out two days longer, he should be so strongly reinforced as to enable him, not only to hold his position, but to take the offensive.
It is needless to say that, with the exception of one or two small divisions, no reinforcements reached him within that time; and although General Porter reported to him by letter from Bealton on the 25th, it had been better for General Pope had he not come at all. On the night of the 26th, Jackson, coming through Thoroughfare Gap, got in the rear of Pope's army and cut the railroad at Kettle Run, near Warrenton Junction. Lee was still in front, in the vicinity of Sulphur Springs. General Pope, desiring at the same time to fall back toward Centreville and interpose his army between Jackson's and Lee's forces, ordered a retrograde movement. His troops were by this time fairly exhausted. In his report to the Secretary of War, he says: "From the 18th of August, until the morning of the 27th, the troops under my command had been continually marching and fighting night and day; and during the whole of that time there was scarcely an interval of an hour without the roar of artillery. The men had had little sleep, and were greatly worn down with fatigue; had had little time to get proper food or to eat it; had been engaged in constant battles and skirmishes, and had performed services, laborious, dangerous and excessive, beyond any previous experience in this country." Jackson had succeeded in burning fifty cars at Bristow Station, and a hundred more at Manassas Junction, heavily laden with ammunition and supplies. On the afternoon of the 27th, a severe engagement occurred between Hooker's division of Heintzelman's corps, which had arrived the evening before, and Ewell's division of Longstreet's corps, near Bristow Station. Ewell was driven back; the loss on each side being about three hundred. During the night, General McDowell with his corps, and Generals Reno and Kearney with their divisions, took such positions as effectually to interpose between Jackson's forces and Lee's, and no alternative was left Jackson but to turn upon Hooker and rout him, or to retreat by way of Centreville. Hooker's men had exhausted their ammunition, so that there were but five rounds per man left. General Pope, fearing that Hooker would be attacked, dispatched an aide to General Porter with orders to join Hooker at once. The aide was instructed to inform General Porter of the immediate necessity of moving at once, and to remain and guide him to the place. But Porter utterly refused to obey the order. Most fortunately for our army, Jackson, ignorant of Hooker's weakness, determined to retreat by way of Centreville; a mistake which prevented most serious consequences to us. Jackson in his retreat was hotly pursued, and on the 28th a severe battle took place between McDowell's corps and the retreating column, in which our forces gained decided advantages. On the 29th, Jackson was again near the old Bull Run battle-ground, and a terrific battle ensued, which lasted with great fury from daylight until dark. The rebels were driven from the field, which was occupied by our men. General Pope sent peremptory orders to Fitz John Porter to move at once upon Centreville; which would have cut off Jackson's retreat; but again this commander refused to obey orders, and Jackson was enabled to unite with Lee, who had by this time reached Thoroughfare Gap, and was pushing on toward him. Had the orders of General Pope been carried out, Jackson must without doubt have been crushed before Lee's forces could by any possibility have reached the field of action.
On the following day the whole of both armies were brought face to face with each other. General Pope, by this time hopeless of any aid from the fresh troops he had expected long before this from Washington, and aware of the disaffection of the largest and freshest corps in his command, although nearly discouraged, determined to give battle and inflict as much damage as possible upon the enemy. His force now, including Porter's corps, was about forty thousand. The whole of Lee's and Jackson's forces now pressed upon our lines with terrible effect.
The action raged with great fury for several hours; the rebels constantly massing heavy columns against our lines, especially upon the left, where McDowell's and Sigel's corps resisted the onset with great bravery, but were at length forced to yield, when an utter rout took place; the whole army falling back upon Centreville in great disorder. On this day, for the first time in all these long series of battles, Porter's corps was brought into action. The conduct of the corps, in the early part of the day, showed a determination on the part of its leaders not to fight, and the men fell back in disorder; but being rallied later in the day, the pride of the men overcame the obstinacy of their commanders and the corps did good service. Hooker's and Kearney's divisions, and Reynolds' Pennsylvania reserves had rendered most gallant services from the time they reached General Pope's army.
Returning now to our Sixth corps under General Franklin. The corps remained quietly at Alexandria, from the morning of the 24th until the afternoon of the 29th. Rations and ammunition were as well supplied when we reached Alexandria as when we left. The booming of cannon was heard on the 26th and 27th, and contrabands and white refugees informed us that terrible fighting was in progress beyond Manassas. We wondered that we were not ordered to go to the relief of the little army which we knew was resisting the whole of Lee's and Jackson's forces.
On Thursday afternoon, August 28th, the corps received marching orders. Tents were struck, knapsacks packed, rations provided, and many regiments, shouldering their knapsacks, stood in line ready to move. But sunset came and no further orders. The men waited impatiently, only a few venturing to unpack their knapsacks or pitch their tents, until long after dark.
Friday morning brought few indications of an advance. Head-quarter tents remained standing, artillery horses stood unharnessed, and everything showed an intentional delay. At length the corps moved. Marching quietly and easily, the old ground of Camp Misery was passed, and the corps reached Annandale, where it halted and encamped after an easy march of six miles. Saturday morning the corps again moved leisurely along, making very frequent halts. The firing in front indicated a hardly contested battle, and our men, knowing that Pope must be in need of reinforcements, were anxious to push forward rapidly. Every hour the corps halted for at least twenty minutes, and sometimes even longer. At this snail pace we passed Fairfax Court House, the roar of musketry and artillery becoming constantly louder in front, and arrived at Centreville. Orders immediately came for the corps to proceed to Cub Run, about two miles beyond Centreville. Here, wounded men by hundreds and stragglers in greater numbers passed across the little bridge over the run, a dismal crowd, hastening toward Centreville.
As usual at such times, scores of cowardly villains were attempting to pass to the rear as wounded men.
An amusing encounter occurred between one of this class, a coward in captain's uniform, and one of our own officers, Captain Deyoe, as brave a fellow as ever drew a sword. The demoralized captain, his sword thrown away and its sheath after it, came hurriedly upon the bridge, where Deyoe was sitting, coolly filling his pipe. The fugitive captain turned his face, pale with fright, to the imperturbable Deyoe, and, striking him on the shoulder, said with as much composure as he could muster, "Captain, we have had hard times of it out there, but don't be afraid, don't be afraid." Deyoe, turning his face toward that of the straggler with a look of unruffled coolness and unmitigated contempt, replied, "Well, who the d—is afraid? Oh, yes, I see, you are. Well, you had better get away from here then!"
The corps remained at Cub Run until nightfall, when it was ordered to return to Centreville, where it encamped. Regiments from our Third brigade were sent to the rear of Centreville to arrest stragglers, who were hurrying toward Alexandria in great numbers.
The regiments were drawn up in line across the turnpike, where they remained all night, turning back hundreds of stragglers at the point of the bayonet.
The scene at Centreville on the next day was one of the utmost confusion. Thousands of stragglers wandered about without knowing or caring what had become of their commands; long columns of shattered regiments and batteries filed past to take up new positions, either within the intrenchments or on the flanks. The appearance of these skeletons of regiments and batteries gave evidence of the terrible experiences of this long series of engagements. Their ranks, thinned by the fortunes of battle, and still more by the disgraceful skulking which had become so universal, the worn and weary appearance of the men, their flags, each surrounded by only enough men to constitute a respectable color-guard, all showed that even the hard experiences of the Army of the Potomac had never had so demoralizing an effect as this.
The skulkers were loud-mouthed in their denunciations of General McDowell. Hundreds of them, who had in all probability not been near enough to the front during the whole retreat to know anything that was going on there, declared that they had seen him waving that mystic white hat as a signal to the rebels; and all knew that it was through his treachery that the army had been destroyed. Others declared positively that they had seen, with their own eyes, General McClellan, with a small body of faithful followers, dash against the advancing foe, and arrest the pursuit! Such wild and improbable stories filled the whole atmosphere, and, strangest of all, were believed by thousands, not only in the army, but throughout the whole north.
Long trains of ambulances were bringing from the battle-field wounded men, who had been, since Saturday, exposed to the burning sun and the storm which had prevailed during Sunday night.
Temporary hospitals were established, and surgeons were actively employed in ministering to the relief of the unfortunate. Monday evening the battle of Glendale or Chantilly was fought, in the midst of a terrific thunder storm. The enemy, in attempting to turn our right, had been met by Hooker, Reno, McDowell and Kearney, and repulsed with heavy loss, from our entire front. But the victory was a costly one for us. The brave, earnest and accomplished soldier, Major-General Kearney, and the gallant Stevens, were both killed while leading their commands against the enemy.
The Sixth corps, on Monday evening, was marched back to Fairfax Court House; but early next morning returned within a mile of Centreville, when it took possession of the heights, and lay in line of battle until three o'clock P.M., when orders were received to march back to our old camp at Alexandria, which we reached at ten o'clock the same night; thus making in a single evening, a distance that had required two full days and a part of another, to march, in going out.
Thus ended General Pope's campaign in Virginia. Never was a campaign so misrepresented or so little understood; and never were the motives of men so falsely judged as were those of the generals connected with this campaign.
General Pope had fallen a victim to the foulest treachery of ambitious rivals, rather than to the strength of his open foes. Any one who will in candor trace the movements and the handling of that little army, when beset by an enemy now known to have been double its own strength, must concede that his plans were well conceived, and his generalship in this campaign fully equaled that which had won him so great renown in the west.
That the defeat of General Pope was brought about by the rivalry and jealousy of generals of the Union army cannot now be doubted. We know why Porter withheld the largest and freshest corps in the command from the fights, while its eleven thousand men were within sight of the battles; but why was the Sixth corps delayed? Some one was equally culpable with Porter. Was it worse to keep a corps out of the fight, when on the field, than to keep another corps off from the field altogether without any good reason? There can be but one question—who was responsible for the criminal neglect to send the Sixth corps to the assistance of Pope's army?
THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN.
General McClellan restored to command—March through Washington—Leisurely campaigning—Battle of Crampton Pass—Death of Mathison—Battle of South Mountain Pass—Death of Reno—Surrender of Harper's Ferry—March to Antietam.
General Pope, at his own request, was relieved from the command of the army, and General McClellan resumed the direction. Whatever might have been the real fitness of General Pope to command, his usefulness with the army just driven back upon the defenses of Washington, had departed. The return of General McClellan was hailed with joy by a large portion of the army.
On the 5th of September, Lee crossed the Potomac into Maryland, and occupied Frederick City. General McClellan was ordered to push forward at once and meet him. It was on the evening of the 6th that orders were issued to move. It was but short work to pack up our limited supply of clothing, cooking utensils and the few other articles which constituted our store of worldly goods, and prepare to march. We left Alexandria, and proceeding toward Washington, passed Fort Albany and crossed the Long Bridge, the moon and stars shining with a brilliancy seldom equaled, rendering the night march a pleasant one. As the steady tramp of the soldiers upon the pavements was heard by the citizens of Washington, they crowded upon the walks, eager to get a glance, even by moonlight, of the veterans who had passed through such untold hardships. Many were the questions regarding our destination, but we could only answer, "We are going to meet the rebels." Passing through Georgetown, we reached the little village of Tanleytown, where, weary from the short but rapid march, we spent the remainder of the night in sleep. The morning passed without orders to move, and it was not until five o'clock in the afternoon that we again commenced the march, when, having proceeded six miles, we halted. At daybreak on the morning of the 8th, the corps was moving again, and passing through Rockville we halted, after an easy stage of six miles.
On the 9th we marched three miles, making our camp at Johnstown. On the following morning, at 9 o'clock, we were again on the move, driving before us small bodies of rebel cavalry, and reaching Barnesville, a small village, ten miles from our encampment of the night before. Our Third brigade, of the Second division, was quartered on the plantation of a noted secessionist, who, on our approach, had suddenly decamped, leaving at our disposal a very large orchard, whose trees were loaded with delicious fruit, and his poultry yard well stocked with choice fowls. Our boys were not slow to appropriate to their own use these luxuries, which, they declared, were great improvements on pork and hard tack. In the enjoyment of ease and abundance, we remained here until the morning of the 12th, when we resumed the march, proceeding ten miles farther, halting near Urbana, at Monocacy bridge, which had been destroyed by the rebels, but was now rebuilt. On the same day General Burnside, having the advance, entered Frederick, encountering a few skirmishers of the enemy, which he drove. On the 13th, we arrived at the lovely village of Jefferson, having made ten miles more, and having driven a detachment of rebels through Jefferson Pass.
The advance was sounded at ten o'clock on the morning of the 14th, and at three we found ourselves near the foot of the South Mountain range, having marched about fifty miles in eight days. Upon the advance of Burnside into Frederick, the rebel force had fallen back, taking the two roads which led through Middletown and Burkettsville, and which crossed the South Mountains through deep gorges, the northern called South Mountain or Turner's Pass, and the other, six miles south of it, Crampton Pass.
These passes the rebels had strongly fortified, and had arranged their batteries on the crests of neighboring hills. The Sixth corps came to a halt when within about a mile and a half of Crampton Pass, and a reconnoissance was ordered.
General Franklin was now directed to force the pass with the Sixth corps, while the remaining corps should push on to the South Mountain Pass and drive the enemy through it. We formed in line of battle and advanced. Before us lay the little village of Burkettsville, nestling under the shadow of those rugged mountains, its white houses gleaming out of the dark green foliage. Beyond were the South Mountains; their summits crowned with batteries of artillery and gray lines of rebels, while the heavily wooded sides concealed great numbers of the enemy.
A winding road, leading up the mountain side and through a narrow defile, known as Crampton's Gap, constituted one of the two passages to the other side of the range; South Mountain Gap being the other. The enemy had planted batteries and posted troops behind barricades, and in such positions as most effectually to dispute our passage.
At the foot of the mountain, was a stone wall, behind which was the first rebel line of battle, while their skirmishers held the ground for some distance in front. The position was a strong one; admirably calculated for defense, and could be held by a small force against a much larger one.
The day was far advanced when the attack was ordered. No sooner had the lines of blue uniforms emerged from the cover of the woods, than the batteries on the hill tops opened upon them. The mountains, like huge volcanoes, belched forth fire and smoke. The earth trembled beneath us, and the air was filled with the howling of shells which flew over our heads, and ploughed the earth at our feet. At the same time, the line of battle behind the stone wall opened upon us a fierce fire of musketry. In the face of this storm of shells and bullets, the corps pressed forward at double quick, over the ploughed grounds and through the corn fields, halting for a few moments at the village. The citizens, regardless of the shells which were crashing through their houses, welcomed us heartily, bringing water to fill the canteens, and supplying us liberally from the scanty store left them by the marauding rebels.
Patriotic ladies cheered the Union boys and brought them food; and well might they rejoice at the approach of the Union army, after their recent experience with the rebels, who had robbed them of almost everything they possessed in the way of movable property.
After a few minutes, in which our soldiers took breath, the advance was once more sounded, and again we pushed on in face of a murderous fire, at the same time pouring into the face of the foe a storm of leaden hail. Slocum's division, of the Sixth corps, advanced on the right of the turnpike, while Smith's division pushed directly forward on the road and on the left of it. After severe fighting by both divisions, having driven the enemy from point to point, Slocum's troops, about three o'clock, succeeded in seizing the pass, while our Second division pressed up the wooded sides of the mountain, charging a battery at the left of the pass and capturing two of its guns. The confederates fled precipitately down the west side of the mountain, and our flags were waved in triumph from the heights which had so lately thundered destruction upon us. As we advanced, we wondered, not that the foe had offered such stubborn resistance, but that the position had been yielded at all. Their dead strewed our path, and great care was required, as we passed along the road, to avoid treading upon the lifeless remains which lay thickly upon the ground. On every side the evidences of the fearful conflict multiplied. Trees were literally cut to pieces by shells and bullets; a continual procession of rebel wounded and prisoners lined the roadsides, while knapsacks, guns, canteens and haversacks were scattered in great confusion. The rebel force made its way into Pleasant Valley, leaving in our hands their dead and wounded, three stand of colors, two pieces of artillery and many prisoners. Our troops scoured the woods until midnight, bringing in large numbers of stragglers.
We had lost quite heavily; some of our best men had fallen. Colonel Mathison, who commanded the Third brigade of Slocum's division, whose heroism at Gaines' Farm, and bravery in all our campaign on the Peninsula, had endeared him to his division, was among the killed.
The corps moved down the road to the western side of the mountains, our men resting on their arms for the night, expecting that the battle would be renewed at dawn. But the morning revealed no enemy in our front; we were in quiet possession of the valley.
Meanwhile on the right, at South Mountain Pass, a still more sanguinary battle had been in progress.
On the morning of the 14th, the Ninth corps, Burnside's veterans, the heroes of Roanoke and Newbern, under the command of the gallant Reno, advanced from Middletown; and coming near the base of the mountains, found the enemy strongly posted on the crests of the hills, thronging the thickly wooded sides, and crowding in the gap. No matter what position the brave boys occupied, they were submitted to a murderous fire from the crests and sides of the mountains. Under this galling fire, the First division of the corps formed in line of battle, and advanced toward the frowning heights. It was an undertaking requiring more than ordinary valor, to attempt to wrest from an enemy strong in numbers, a position so formidable for defense; but the men approaching those rugged mountain sides had become accustomed to overcome obstacles, and to regard all things as possible which they were commanded to do. Under cover of a storm of shells, thrown upward to the heights, the line of battle advanced, with courage and firmness, in face of terrible resistance, gaining much ground and driving the rebels from their first line of defenses. Now, the corps of Hooker rushed to the assistance of the Ninth. As the gallant general and his staff rode along the lines, enthusiastic cheers for "Fighting Joe Hooker," greeted him everywhere. Forming his divisions hastily, he pushed them on the enemy's lines at once.
Thus far, the battle had been principally maintained by artillery; the rattle of musketry coming occasionally from one or another part of Reno's line. But now, the whole line was pushing against the rebel line, and the continued roll of musketry told of close work for the infantry. Reno's troops on the left and Hooker's on the right, were doing noble fighting. The advancing line never wavered; but pressing steadily forward, pouring volley after volley into the enemy's ranks, it at last forced the rebels to break and fly precipitately to the crests, and, leaving their splendid position on the summit to retreat in great haste down the other slope of the mountain. The engagement had been of three hours duration; and the bravery of the Union troops was rewarded by the possession of the mountain tops. Darkness put an end to the pursuit. Thus the two chief passes through the mountains were in the possession of the Union army.
While his corps was striving to dislodge the enemy from the stronghold, the gallant Reno was struck by a minie ball, and expired. The loss of this hero threw a gloom not only over his own corps, but throughout the army.
In the many battles in which he had taken a brilliant part, he had won an enviable fame, and his private virtues and kindly qualities of heart added lustre to the brilliancy of his military record.
While the fight was in progress in Crampton Pass, the booming of guns at Harper's Ferry, only seven miles distant, told us of an attempt, on the part of the rebels, to capture that important point; and while we lay upon our arms on the morning of the 15th, two miles nearer than we were on the day before, the firing was heard to be still more fierce. Our Sixth corps was ordered to press forward to the relief of the beleaguered place; but before we had started the firing suddenly died away. General Franklin concluded that the place had been surrendered; and his conclusion was verified by reconnoissances. So the corps remained in Pleasant Valley, at rest, all of the 15th and 16th.
The surrender of Harper's Ferry was a terrible blow to our cause. Had it continued in our possession it must have insured, with any respectable energy on the part of our commanders, the destruction of the rebel army in its retreat. As it was, our loss was over eleven thousand men, and a vast amount of war material.
Of course, the surrender of Harper's Ferry, at this critical period, was owing directly to the imbecility and cowardice, not to say treachery, of the officers in command at Harper's Ferry and on Maryland Heights. But, while we condemn the weakness and cowardice of these commanders, can we relieve from a share in the responsibility, the general who marched his army in pursuit of the enemy at a snail pace, traveling but six miles a day upon an average, when by a few brisk marches this important point might have been reinforced?
Early on the morning of the 17th, the Sixth corps was on its way, hastening to the scene of conflict which had commenced on the banks of Antietam creek. A part of the Seventy-seventh had constituted one-third of the picket line which had extended across the valley between the corps and Harper's Ferry.
These companies, by a hard march, much of it at double quick, succeeded in overtaking the division just as the Third brigade was making a charge over ground already thrice won and lost by Sumner's troops. Without waiting to form the companies, the detachment joined the command, and, all out of breath and faint from their forced march, rushed with their companies against the foe.
THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM.
The Valley of the Antietam—Gathering of the hosts—The battle-field—The battle commenced—Splendid fighting of Hooker's forces—Successes and reverses of Sumner's troops—Timely arrival of the Sixth corps—A gallant charge—Losses of the corps—Burnside's attack—Hours of suspense—The enemy defeated at all points—Retreat of the rebels—Scenes on the battle-field—At the hospitals—At Sharpsburgh—A division of militia—Couch's division joins the Sixth corps—Visit of the President—Recruits—Energy at the north—At rest—Want of clothing—Stuart's raid—Delays—Clear Spring—General Brooks.
Among the delightful and fertile valleys which beautify the State of Maryland, none is more charming than the one through which the Antietam winds its tortuous course. Looking from some elevation down upon its green fields, where herds of sleek cattle graze, its yellow harvests glowing and ripening in the September sun; its undulating meadows and richly laden orchards; its comfortable farm houses, some standing out boldly upon eminences, which rise here and there, others half hidden by vines or fruit trees; the ranges of hills, rising on either side of the stream, diversified by charming vales or deep gullies; the turnpikes winding along the sides of the hills and through the valleys; the lovely stream itself, now flowing smoothly over its dark bed and anon tumbling noisily in rapids over a stony bottom, winding here far up to one range of hills and then turning back to kiss the base of the other; the whole scene is one of surpassing beauty, upon which the eye rests with untiring delight. Who would have selected this lovely valley as the scene of one of the most bloody struggles ever recorded? Who, looking down from some height of land on the morning of the 13th of September, would have dreamed that those stacks of grain, which dotted the fields here and there, would soon become the only protection from the heat of the sun and the storm of battle, to thousands of wounded, bleeding men? or, that from those lovely groves of oak and maple, now reposing like spots of beauty upon the landscape, were to belch forth fire and smoke, carrying destruction to thousands? Yet, here on these smiling fields, and among these delightful groves, one of the grand battles which should decide the march of events in the history, not only of our own country but of the world, was to be fought. These green pastures were to be stained with blood, and these peaceful groves marred and torn by shot and shell.
Driven from the towns along the Potomac, from Frederick, from Hagerstown, and from Boonsboro; and forced from the strong passes in the South Mountains, the detached portions of the rebel army were concentrated along the banks of the Antietam creek, in the vicinity of the little town of Sharpsburgh. Hither Jackson and Longstreet, Hill and Stuart, with their hosts, had gathered to offer combined resistance to the Union army; boastfully proclaiming that now, upon northern soil, they would hurl our army to final destruction. One hundred thousand men, flushed with recent victories, and eager for one grand crowning success, proudly defied the Union army.
Their position was well chosen. A line of steep hills, forming a half circle, with the convexity in front, rising at some distance back from the creek, and nearly parallel with it, afforded admirable advantages for posting batteries, in such a manner as to sweep the plain below, from right to left. Upon their left, wooded fields afforded protection to their infantry; while upon their right, the undulating nature of the grounds near the base of the hills, covered them from the fire of our guns. In their rear was Sharpsburgh; and two fine roads leading to the Potomac, afforded safe lines of retreat in case of disaster. From the crest of the hills, on which Lee had thus posted his army, the ground sloped gently back; concealing the movements of his forces from the view of the army in their front, allowing them to maneuver unobserved by their opponents. Owing also to the form of their line of battle, it was an easy matter to throw troops from one part to another. Thus, strongly posted and confidently anticipating victory, they waited the approach of the Union army.
Our own forces were also gathering toward this point. Richardson's division of the Second corps, pressing closely upon the heels of the retreating rebels, had passed through Boonsboro and Keedeysville, and had overtaken them here.
Porter, with his regulars, was close at hand, and took position. Then came Burnside, with his favorite Ninth corps; and the white-haired veteran, Sumner, with troops worthy of their leader; fighting Joe Hooker and his gallant men; and Mansfield, with Banks' corps. The afternoon and most of the night was spent in getting into position. Brisk skirmishes were occurring with sufficient frequency to excite the men on both sides; but no general engagement took place. The morning of the 16th found our army ready to give battle. On our right was Hooker; then Sumner with his own and the Twelfth, Mansfield's corps; and far to the left was Burnside. Porter's corps, secure behind an elevation in the rear, was held in reserve.
The night had passed with but now and then a little picket firing; but all felt that, before many hours, must commence a battle, which must determine the fate at least of that campaign.
Crossing the Antietam, in front of the line of our army, were three bridges. The first, on the Hagerstown road; the next on the road to Sharpsburgh; and the third on the left, three miles below, on the road from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburgh.
This last bridge, crossed the stream at a point where steep and high hills crowded closely on every side; the summits of those on the western side of the stream, crowned with rebel batteries, and their steeply falling sides covered with infantry. Over the first of these bridges, on the right, Hooker was to cross his forces; while on the left, Burnside was to attempt to dislodge the enemy from his commanding position. Far in the rear, a prominent hill rose above the surrounding country; here was a signal station, and here the commander of the army established his quarters. Hour after hour of the 16th passed away, the two armies facing each other, watching and waiting; troops moving this way and that, maneuvering like two giant wrestlers, each willing to try the movements and feel the gripe of the other before coming to the sharp grapple. At four o'clock, Hooker crossed his corps and occupied a position on the west side of the creek, and Mansfield soon followed; a little fighting, but not severe, and then darkness closed over the scene again. The skirmishes and artillery practice here, developed, to the quick eye of General Hooker, the position of the enemy in his front, and their plan of defense. Satisfied with this knowledge, he was willing to allow his corps to rest until morning. Our lines were now very near those of the rebels; so near that the pickets of the opposing forces could hear conversation from one line to the other.
At an early hour on the morning of the 17th, the great battle commenced in earnest. Hooker formed his line with Doubleday on the right, Meade in the center, and Ricketts on the left. Opposed to him was Stonewall Jackson's corps. First, Meade's Pennsylvania reserves, of Hooker's corps, opened upon the enemy, and in a few moments the firing became rapid and general along the line of both Meade's and Rickett's divisions. The rebel line of battle was just beyond the woods, in a cornfield. The hostile lines poured into each other more and more deadly volleys; batteries were brought up on each side which did terrible execution. Each line stood firm and immovable. Although great gaps were made in them, they were closed up, and the opposing forces continued to pour fearful destruction into each other's ranks. General Hooker, riding everywhere along the front line, knew exactly the position and the work of every regiment in his command. Cheer after cheer greeted him as he passed along the line, inspiring the men by his presence. Thus for half an hour the two lines stood face to face in deadly conflict; at length the general directed a battery to be placed in a commanding position, and the shells and shrapnel were seen to work fearful havoc in the rebel ranks. The gray line wavered; then back through the cornfield and over the fences the confederates rushed, seeking shelter from the terrible storm, under cover of the woods, on the other side of the field. "Forward!" shouted General Hooker, and his divisions pressed rapidly through the cornfield, up to the very edge of the wood, while the welkin rang with their cheers. Here, the fleeing foe, reinforced by fresh troops, made a determined stand. Terrific volleys poured from the woods, thinning out the Union ranks at a fearful rate. Unable to sustain the deadly fire, they fell back—this time the rebels following with yells and shouts; but before the cornfield was crossed, our troops made another stand, and the swarthy foe was brought to bay; yet the thinned line seemed hardly able to sustain the fearful shock much longer. Hooker, fearing that his center was doomed to destruction, sent to his right for a brigade, although his right was hard pressed and in danger of being flanked.
The fresh brigade pressed steadily to the front, and the rebel line again fell back to the woods. Mansfield's corps now came to the support of the right wing, and well did those troops, so lately demoralized at Bull Run, stand their ground. General Mansfield received here his mortal wound.
It was at this time, when Hooker saw his forces gaining a decided advantage and felt that their part of the work was well done, that a rifle ball passed through his foot inflicting a painful wound. Lamenting that he could not remain to see the end of what he hoped would prove a great victory, he left the field. The battle lulled at this point; but in the center it raged with terrible energy. There, Sumner the white-haired veteran, led his corps into the very jaws of death. If he seemed reckless of the lives of his men, he had no more care of his own. Across the ploughed ground, over ditches and fences, with unsurpassed ardor, sweeping over all obstacles, the corps pushed forward, driving the enemy before it; but the right became hard pressed, and a terrible fire on that part of the line and on the center, forced the corps back. Again the ground was taken; and again the enemy, with wild yells of triumph, drove our men back. Still determined to win, the veteran hero ordered a third charge; and the third time the field was ours, but only to be lost again. The brave General Sedgwick, who then led one division of Sumner's corps, whom we were afterward proud to call the commander of the Sixth corps, thrice wounded, was at length obliged to leave the field. Richardson and Crawford were carried wounded to the hospitals.
It was at this critical moment, when Sumner's troops, weary and almost out of ammunition, were for the third time repulsed; the remnants of the shattered regiments no longer able to resist the overwhelming forces opposed to them; the artillery alone, unsupported, holding the enemy for a moment in check; that the Sixth corps, our second division in advance, arrived upon the field.
The scene before us was awful. On the left, as far as the eye could reach, the lines of the contending forces, stretching over hills and through valleys, stood face to face; in places, not more than thirty yards apart. The roar of musketry rolled along the whole extent of the battle-field. The field upon which we had now entered, thrice hotly contested, was strewed with the bodies of friend and foe.
Without waiting to take breath, each regiment as soon as it arrives on the field, is ordered to charge independently of the others. The third brigade is first; and first of its regiments, the Twentieth New York, with their sabre bayonets, are ready; and the shout, "Forward, double quick!" rings along the line. The Germans waver for a moment; but presently with a yell they rush down the hill, suddenly receiving a volley from a rebel line concealed behind a fence; but the Germans, regardless of the storm of bullets, rush forward; the rebels breaking and flying to the rear in confusion, while the Germans hotly pursue them. Next, on the left of the Twentieth, the gallant Seventh Maine charges; rushing forward into the midst of the cornfield, they, too, are met by concealed foes. Although they are concealed from our view, the crashing of musketry tells us of the struggle which they maintain.
The gallant regiment makes its way down the slope, almost to the earthworks of the enemy, when the men throw themselves upon the ground behind a rail fence. Here, subjected to the shells from the Union and rebel batteries, the regiment can neither advance or retreat; but our batteries, finding that their shots are as fatal to our men as to the rebels, allow the remaining fragments of the regiment to retire from the perilous position.
On the right of the Seventh Maine comes the glorious Forty-ninth and our own Seventy-seventh, Captain Babcock in command. On the right of all is the old Thirty-third, within supporting distance. The men of the Seventy-seventh rush forward over their fallen comrades, making toward a small school house which stands upon the Sharpsburgh and Hagerstown turnpike, behind which is a grove swarming with rebel troops. Our boys are almost on the road, when, at a distance of less than thirty yards, they find themselves confronted by overwhelming numbers, who pour a withering fire into their ranks. The Seventy-seventh receives the fire nobly, and, although far ahead of all the other regiments, stands its ground and returns the fire with spirit, although it is but death to remain thus in the advance. The brave color-bearer, Joseph Murer, falls, shot through the head; but the colors scarcely touch the ground when they are seized and again flaunted in the face of the enemy. Volley after volley crashes through our ranks; our comrades fall on every side; yet the little band stands firm as a rock, refusing to yield an inch. At this juncture, General Smith, riding along the line and discovering the advanced and unprotected position of the regiment, exclaims, "There's a regiment gone," and sends an aide to order it to retire. The order was timely, for the rebels were planting a battery within twenty yards of the left of the regiment, which would, in a moment longer, have swept it to destruction.
The regiment reformed behind the crest, in line with the other regiments of the brigade, all of which had been forced to fall back; but the line held was far in advance of that held by Sumner's troops when the division arrived. Thirty-three of the little band had fallen; they were less than two hundred men when they came upon the field. In the Seventh Maine the loss was still greater; of the one hundred and seventy men who went into the fight, one-half were killed or wounded; more than eighty of those noble forms were prostrated like the slashings in their own forests. The Thirty-third lost fifty in killed and wounded. The total loss to our Third brigade was three hundred and forty-three; of the Second division, three hundred and seventy-three; of the corps, four hundred and thirty-eight.
Our men lay down behind the ridge to protect themselves from the rebel batteries; yet even here the shells came, carrying death to many of our number. The Vermont brigade was sent to the assistance of French's division, who, having expended their ammunition, were making feeble resistance to the enemy. The Vermonters behaved with their usual gallantry, resisting the advance of the enemy; and although frequently subjected to the fire of artillery, they held their ground bravely. The brigade was composed of men who could always be depended on to do what they were ordered to do.
The advent of the Sixth corps upon the field had decided the contest upon the right of the line, and after the first charge by the Third brigade the battle lulled. Of all the brilliant charges made in the army on that memorable day, none was more gallant or more important in its results than this noble charge of the Third brigade of Smith's division. Although the infantry on both sides became comparatively quiet, artillery thundered from every eminence in possession of our own or the enemy's batteries. Shells and cannister tore through the Union ranks, making in parts of the line fearful havoc. Thus, for nine long hours, our Sixth corps endured this fiery ordeal, when darkness closed over the field of strife.