RetreatLee's Bold InitiativeLee
and his Lieutenants planning BattleThe Confederates' Loss at
MechanicsvilleGaines's MillA. P. Hill's FightLongstreet's
Reserve Division put inMcClellan's Change of BaseSavage
StationLongstreet engages McClellan's Main Force at Frayser's Farm (or
Glendale)President Davis on the FieldTestimony of Federal
GeneralsFierce Bayonet Charges "Greek meets Greek"Capture of
General McCallMcClellan's Masterly Retreat.
THE day after Stuart's return I rode over to General Lee's
head-quarters and suggested that General Jackson be withdrawn from the Valley
to take position on our left, to march against McClellan's right, and was
informed that the order for Jackson was se nt when Whiting's division was
detached and sent to join him.
Then it was that General Lee revealed the plan indicated in
his instructions of the 11th, for General Jackson to march down and attack
McClellan's rear, while he made a simultaneous attack upon his front. The
suggestion was offered that the enemy had probably destroyed the bridges and
ferries on the Pamunkey along the line of his retreat which might leave Jackson
in perilous condition if the front attack should be delayed; that that attack
must be hazardous, as the enemy was in well-fortified positions wit h four army
corps. After deliberation, he changed the plan and accepted the suggestion in
favor of combining his fighting columns on the north side of the Chickahominy
in echelon march against McClellan's right flank, leaving troops in the
trenches in front of McClellan to defend in case of a move towards Richmond. At
the first mention of this march before this conference a change of base was
spoken of by General D. H. Hill, but with our troops to be left in the
trenches, so near the flank of such a move, and our columns afield, pressing
close upon its rear, it was thought impracticable. General D. H. Hill, in view
of the possibility, preferred that our attack should be made against the
enemy's left by crossing White Oak Swamp below the enemy's left.
Jackson was called in advance of his command to meet the
Hills and myself at General Lee's head-quarters for conference on the
execution. On the forenoon of the 23d of June we were advised of his approach,
and called to head-quarters to meet him. He was there before us, having ridden
fifty miles by relay of horses since midnight. We were together in a few
minutes after his arrival, in General Lee's private office. The general
explained the plan briefly : Jackson to march from Ashland by heights between
the Chickahominy and Pamunkey, turning and dislodging the Federal right, thus
clearing the way for the march of troops to move on his right; A. P. Hill to
cross the upper Chickahominy and march for Mechanicsville, in echelon to
Jackson; the Mechanicsville Bridge being clear, D. H. Hill's division and mine
to cross, the former to reinforce Jackson's column, the latter to file to the
right and march down the river in right echelon to A. P. Hill's direct march
through Mechanicsville to Gaines's Mill.
General Lee then excused himself to attend to office
business, asking that we talk the matter over for our better comprehension.
Turning to Jackson, I said,"You have distance to overcome, and in all
probability obstacles will be trhown in the way of your march by the enemy. As
your move is the key of the campaign, you should appoint the hour at which the
connection may be made cooperative." He promptly responded, - "The morning of
I expressed doubt of his meeting that hour, and suggested
that it would be better to take a little more time as the movements of our
columns could be readily adjusted to those of his. He then appointed the
morning of the 26th.
Upon his return, report was made General Lee that the
officers understood, and would be prepared to execute the plans; that General
Jackson had appointed the morning of the 26th, when he would lead the march.
Verbal instructions were given, followed by written orders, embodying in minute
detail the plan already given in general.
The topographical features of the ground about Beaver Dam
Creek have been given in a former chapter. Behind it battery epaulements had
been skilfully laid and constructed, as well as rifle-trenches. These were
occupied by the troops of the Fifth Corps, commanded by General Fitz-John
Porter. McCall's division had joined the Army of the Potomac, and was assigned
as part of the Fifth Corps, with the divisions of Sykes and Morell. Two of
McCall's brigades, J. F. Reynolds' and Seymour's, with thoroughly-equipped
artillery, were especially charged with the defences, the Third Brigade,
Meade's, in reserve, the other divisions in supporting distance. McCall's
advanced brigades had guards at the bridges as far as Meadow Bridge, and a
strong outpost at Mechanicsville, under orders to retire when the strength of
the enemy's advance was so developed as to warrant their doing so.
Three batteries, two of six guns each and one of four,
manned the epaulements at the opening of the fight.
Before sunrise on the 26th of June the division of A. P.
Hill was in position at Meadow Bridge; his brigade, under General Branch, and
Johnson's battery, seven miles above, at Brook Turnpike Bridge; my division and
that of D. H. Hill on the heights overlooking the Mechanicsville
Bridge,all awaiting the approach of the initial column. Not anticipating
delay, the divisions had no special cause to conceal their presence, nor did
the lay of the ground offer good cover. Morning came, and noon passed.
A few minutes after ten A.M., General Branch received a note
informing him that, at the hour of its writing, General Jackson's column was
crossing the Central Railroad. He assembled his command, crossed the
Chickahominy, and marched down along the route designated for his column,
without sending information to the division commander. Of his march he
" Interruption by the enemy, but with no other effect than
to retard without checking our march.
"Near Crenshaw's the road on which the column commanded by
Major-General Ewell (of Jackson's) "was advancing and that on which I was
advancing approach within one-fourth of a mile of each other. The heads of our
columns reached this point simultaneously, and, after a short personal
interview between General Ewell and myself, we proceeded on our respective
" After dislodging the enemy from several ambuscades with
only a small loss to my command, I reached the Meadow Bridge road, when I
learned from stragglers that Major-General Hill had crossed the Chickahominy,
without opposition, with the remainder of the division and gone on to
Mechanicsville, then distant about one and a half miles. A courier from the
general soon assured me of the correctness of the information, and, closing in
my skirmishers, I made all haste to join him at Mechanicsville. The brigade
reached the field almost an hour before sunset."
At three o'clock, General A. P. Hill, hearing nothing from
Jackson or his brigade under Branch, decided to cross the river and make his
move without reference to Jackson or Branch. He crossed and moved down against
Mechanicsville, attacked by Field's brigade, Andersen and Archer on Field's
left, Pender and Gregg on his right, and six field batteries (four guns each).
The outpost was driven in, and Hill prepared and attacked against the front at
Beaver Dam Creek. Meanwhile the Mechanicsville Bridge had been cleared, and,
after a little delay repairing breaks, D. H. Hill's and Longstreet's divisions
A. P. Hill's battle soon became firm, but he waited a little
for Jackson before giving it full force. Jackson came up marched by the fight
without giving attention, and went into camp at Hundley's Corner, half a mile
in rear of the enemy's position of contention. A. P. Hill put his force in
severe battle and was repulsed. As D. H. Hill approached, he was called into
the fray by the commanding general, then by the President. He sent Hipley's
brigade and five batteries, which made the battle strong and hot along the
The most determined efforts were against the enemy's right,
where General McCall, reinforced by Kern's battery and Griffin's and
Martindale's brigades (Morell's division), Edwards's battery, and the Third
Regiment of Meade's brigade, beat off the repeated and formidable efforts of A.
P. Hill, when he essayed a column against the crossing at Ellerson's Mill,
which McCall reinforced by the Seventh IRegiment of Meade's, Eastman's battery,
and before night the Fourth Michigan, Twelfth New York, and Berdan's
Sharp-shooters came in to reinforce the line and relieve regiments exhausted of
ammunition. The battle was in close conflict till nine o'clock at night, when
Hill was obliged to give over till morning. The Federal reinforcements were not
all engaged, and some that were suffered but little; none very severely. McCall
replenished ammunition and prepared to renew the fight the next morning.
The Federal loss in the engagement was 361 aggregate.No
especial account of the Confederate loss was made in separate report, but it
could not have been less than two thousand, and may have reached three
General D. H. Hill reported of his Forty-fourth Georgia
Regiment, the lieutenant-colonel, Estes (J. B.), wounded, and others,
aggregating 334 killed and wounded. Of his First North Carolina Regiment,
Colonel Stokes, Major Skinner, six captains, and the adjutant killed, and 133
privates killed and wounded.
During the night General McClellan ordered his troops
withdrawn. They retired at daylight on the 27th, leaving a line of skirmishers
to cover their march. The skirmishers were not seriously molested, the
Confederates being satisfied that the direct assault had failed, and the
flanking march non-aggressive. Early in the morning, D. H. Hill was ordered to
march to the left to turn the position, and was on the Federal right before
their lines were well out of their trenches. He came up with Jackson and led
the march of that column from Hundley's Corner. A. P. Hill marched by the
direct route to Gaines's Mill, and Longstreet, in reserve, moved by the route
nearer the river and Dr. Gaines's house.
D. H. Hill marched by Bethesda Church to Old Cold Harbor. He
understood the plan of campaign and promptly engaged the new position along the
Chickahominy Heights, on the enemy's right, where he found a well-posted
battery of ten guns near swamp lands commanding the only road of approach. He
ordered Bondurant's battery into action, but the combat was unequal; the latter
was forced to retire, and General Jackson ordered the division back to selected
ground parallel to a road over which he supposed that the Federals would
As my division was in reserve, it could only be used in the
last extremity. So the driving could only be made by the division of A. P.
Hill, while Jackson, with his own, Ewell's, D. H. Hill's, and Whiting's
divisions, had more than half of our moving column, organized as our leading
battle force, held in ambush for the enemy.