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Longstreet: From Manassas to Appomattox
10b - Fighting Along the Chickahominy.
Retreat—Lee's Bold Initiative—Lee and his Lieutenants planning Battle—The Confederates' Loss at Mechanicsville—Gaines's Mill—A. P. Hill's Fight—Longstreet's Reserve Division put in—McClellan's Change of Base—Savage Station—Longstreet engages McClellan's Main Force at Frayser's Farm (or Glendale)—President Davis on the Field—Testimony of Federal Generals—Fierce Bayonet Charges— "Greek meets Greek"—Capture of General McCall—McClellan's Masterly Retreat.


The enemy was found strongly posted upon high ground over theGrapevine Bridge, forming a semicircle, his flanks near the river. A deep and steep chasm in front of his left divided the height upon which he stood from an open plateau over which he must be attacked, if at all, on his left. The side slope leading up to that position was covered by open forest, obstructed and defended by fallen trees. On the crest were felled trees, occasional sand-bags, piles of rails, and knapsacks. Behind these lines were the divisions of Sykes and Morell, with bristling artillery for the first defence, with McCall's division of infantry and a tremendous array of artillery in reserve. Further strength was given to the position by a stream which cut in between the two heights with deep scarped banks. His right was covered to some extent by swamp lands and forest tangles almost as formidable as the approach towards his left. General Fitz-John Porter was the commander on the field.

A. P. Hill came upon a detachment at Gaines's Mill, forced his way across the creek, and followed to the enemy's strong position, where he promptly engaged about the time of D. H. Hill's withdrawal. He found himself fighting not only strong numbers, but against a very strong defensive ground. As General D. H. Hill withdrew, General Porter prepared to follow, but the fierce assaults of A. P. Hill told him that he must hold his concentration. It was a little after two P.M. when A. P. Hill put all of his force into action and pressed his battle with great zeal and courage, but he was alone. Jackson, finding the fire of the enemy steady and accumulating against A. P. Hill, ordered his troops forward into action. D. H. Hill engaged again at the swamp land, and found that he must capture the battery firing across his advance. With the aid of some of Elzey's brigade he succeeded in this, temporarily, but Sykes doubled on him, recovered it, and put it again into action. Parts of Ewell and Lawton, of Jackson's, came in on D. H. Hill's right. Meanwhile, A P. Hill had fought to exhaustion, and found himself obliged to put his troops down to hold his line. The enemy putting in his reserves, spliced his thinned ranks with artillery and infantry, and fought a desperate and very gallant battle, calling for troops from across the river.

My division came up near A. P. Hill's rear, being the reserve, and awaited orders. About five o'clock a messenger came from General Lee asking a diversion by part of my troops against the enemy's left to draw off troops from his right, so as to let our left in through his weakening lines. Three brigades were sent to open fire and threaten their left from the forest edge, with orders not to cross the open. These brigades engaged steadily, and parts of them essayed to pass the field in front as their blood grew hot, but were recalled, with orders repeated to engage steadily, only threatening assault. The army all the while engaged in efforts to find a point that could be forced.

Finally, a little before sunset, General Lee sent to me to say that " all other efforts had failed, and unless I could do something, the day was lost. " Picket's brigade and part of R. H. Andersen's had been drawn up under the crest in rear of A. P. Hill's right, and Kemper's brigade was near, also under cover. Upon the receipt of the last message, Pickett and Andersen were ordered into action as assaulting columns, and Kemper called up. Just as the brigades advanced, General Whiting burst through the woods with his own and Hood's brigades, reported to me that he had lost sight of his commander, General Jackson, in the forest, and asked me to put him into battle. He was ordered to form for assault, and to follow on the left of Picket's and Andersen's columns, then in motion, as the columns of direction. As my troops reached the crest under which they had rested they came under the full blaze of the battle, but Pickett and Anderson were comparatively fresh, and dashed through the open and down the slope before the fire had time to thin their ranks. The steep descent of the hither slope from its crest soon took them below the fire of the batteries, and A. P. Hill's severe fight had so thinned the enemy's infantry lines of men and ammunition that their fire grew weaker. Whiting's brigade, sore under its recent disastrous effort in the battle of Seven Pines, drifted from my left towards the woodland, but Hood, with his Fourth Texas Regiment and Eighteenth Georgia, obliqued to the right behind that brigade and closed the interval towards Anderson^ left, leaving his other regiments, the First and Fifth Texas, on Whiting's left. Hood clambered over the deep ravine with his two regiments and maintained position with the assaulting columns, while the balance of Whiting's division followed in close echelon. As the advanced lines of Pickett, Anderson, and Hood reached and crowned the stronghold of the enemy, Anderson and Pickett moved up in pursuit of the broken lines, and were almost in possession of their massed reserve artillery— had it under easy musketry range—when a dash of cavalry admonished them that their ranks, while in order for following the infantry lines, were not in proper form to receive a charge of cavalry. They concentrated well enough to pour a repelling fire into the troopers, but the delay had made time for the retreating infantry to open the field for the reserve batteries, and, night growing apace, they returned to the line of their trophies and used the captured guns against their late owners.

General Whiting asked for another brigade of Jackson's that had reported to me, and filmed his forces against the enemy's line on our left. The divisions of Ewell and D. H. Hill advancing at the same time, the general break seemed almost simultaneous, and was claimed by all.

The messages from General Lee were so marked by their prompt and successful execution that, in reporting of the battle, it occurred to me that they could be better noted in his report than in mine, but he adopted the claim of a general a.nd simultaneous break along the line.

A letter from General Porter, written since the war, assures the writer that his guns had become so foul from steady protracted fire that his men had difficulty in ramming their cartridges to the gun-chambers, and that in some instances it could only be accomplished by putting the rammers against trees and hammering them down.

The position was too strong to leave room to doubt that it was only the thinning fire, as the battle progressed, that made it assailable; besides, the repulse of A. P. Hill's repeated, desperate assaults forcibly testified to the fact. It was, nevertheless, a splendid charge, by peerless soldiers. When the cavalry came upon us our lines were just thin enough for a splendid charge upon artillery, but too thin to venture against a formidable cavalry. Five thousand prisoners were turned over to General Lee's provost-guard, a number of batteries and many thousand small-arms to the Ordnance Department, by my command. The Confederate commanders, except A. P. Hill, claimed credit for the first breach in General Porter's lines, but the solid ranks of prisoners delivered to the general provost-guard, and the several batteries captured and turned in to the Ordnance Department, show the breach to have been made by the columns of Anderson, Pickett, and Hood's two regiments. The troops of the gallant A. P. Hill, that did as much and effective fighting as any, received little of the credit properly due them. It was their long and steady fight that thinned the Federal ranks and caused them to so foul their guns that they were out of order when the final struggle came. Early on the 28th my advance, reaching the river, found the bridges destroyed and the enemy concentrating on the other side. Under the impression that the enemy must reopen connection with his base on the Pamunkey, General Lee sent Stuart's cavalry and part of Jackson's command (Ewell's) to interpose on that line. They cut the line at Despatch Station, where Ewell's division was halted. Stuart, following down towards the depot on the Pamunkey till he approached the White House, cut off a large detachment of cavalry and horse artillery under General Stoneman that retreated down the Peninsula. At night Stuart rested his command, finding supplies of forage and provisions abandoned by the enemy. At the same time fires were seen along the line of supplies, and houses in flames. On the 29th he followed towards the depot, still in flames.

"The command was now entirely out of rations and the horses without forage. I had relied on the enemy at the White House to supply me with those essentials, and I was not disappointed, in spite of their efforts to destroy everything. Provisions and delicacies of every description lay in heaps, and men regaled themselves on fruits of the tropics as well as the substantials of the land. Large quantities of forage were left also."

On the 28th, Major Meade and Lieutenant Johnson, engineers, were sent from my head-quarters to learn of the enemy's operations or movements. Early on the 29th they made their way across the Chickahominy, into the grounds and works of the enemy just left vacant, and sent the first account of the enemy's move on his change of base. The conflagrations of the day before told of speedy change of position in some direction, but this was the first information we had from a reliable source.' Their report was sent to General Lee. While planning and ordering pursuit, he received a similar report from General Magruder, coupled with the statement that he was preparing to attack one. of the enemy's forts.

General Jackson was ordered to follow on the enemy's rear with his column, including the division of D. H. Hill, crossing the river at Grapevine Bridge, Magruder to join pursuit along the direct line of retreat, Huger to strike at the enemy's flank; meanwhile, Ransom's brigade had joined Huger's division. My division was to cross with A. P. Hill's at New Bridge, march back near Richmond, across to and down the Darbytown road to interpose between the enemy and James River. Stuart was directed to operate against the enemy's left or rear, or front, as best he could.

All the commands, being in waiting, marched at the first moment of their orders.

Jackson was long delayed repairing Grapevine Bridge. He probably knew that the river was fordable at that season, but preferred to pass his men over dry-shod. General D. H. Hill, of that column, reported,—

" Scouts from Hood's brigade and the Third Alabama (Bodes's brigade) succeeded in crossing, and my pioneer corps under Captain Smith, of the Engineers, repaired Grapevine Bridge on the 29th, and we crossed over at three o'clock that night."

On the 28th the Seventh and Eighth Georgia Regiments were sent out alittle before night to ascertain the probable movements of the enemy, and encountered part of W. F. Smith's division, Sixth Corps, meeting the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania and Thirty-third New York Regiments. Colonel Lamar and Lieutenant-Colonel Towers and Adjutant Harper, of the Eighth Georgia Regiment, fell into the enemy's hands, and twenty-nine others of the Seventh and Eighth Regiments were taken prisoners. Just as this affair was well begun a recall of the regiments was ordered ; hence the number of casualties. About the same hour a cavalry affair at Despatch Station occurred which resulted to the credit of the Confederates.

At night General McClellan called his corps commanders to head-quarters and announced his plan for change of base to the James River. The Fourth Corps had been ordered to prepare the route of crossing at White Oak Swamp, and pass over to defend it. The Fifth and Slocum's division of the Sixth were to follow at night of the 28th. The Second, Third, and Smith's division of the Sixth Corps were to defend the crossing against pursuit; the Fourth, continuing its move, was to stand at Turkey Bridge, defending the approach from Richmond by the river road; the Fifth to stand at Malvern Hill, with McCall's division across the Long Bridge road, and Slocum's across the Charles City road, defending the avenues of approach from Richmond. On the 29th, Magruder in pursuit came upon Sumner's (Second) corps at Alien's Farm, and, after a spirited affair, found Sumner too strong for him. After his success, Sumner retired to Savage Station, where he joined Franklin with his division under Smith. The Third Corps (Heintzelman's), under misconception of orders, or misleading of staff-officers, followed the marching corps across the swamp, leaving the Second and Smith's division of the Sixth as the only defending forces. At Savage Station, Magruder came upon them and again joined battle, but his force was not equal to the occasion. The commander of his left (D. R. Jones), realizing the importance of action and the necessity for additional troops, called upon General Jackson to co-operate on his left, but Jackson reported that he had other important duties to perform. The affair, therefore, against odds was too strong for Magruder, so that he was forced back without important results for the Confederates, the Federals making safe passage of the crossing and gaining position to defend against pursuit in that quarter.

On the 29th, General Holmes marched down the James River road to New Market with part of Colonel Daniel's brigade and two batteries, and General J. G. Walker's brigade and two batteries, and was there reinforced by part of General Wise's brigade and two batteries, in cooperative position to my division and that of A. P. Hill, on the Darbytown and Long Bridge roads.

On his night march along the Long Bridge road, Fitz-John Porter got on the wrong end a,nd rubbed up against my outpost, but recognized his adversary in time to recover his route and avert a night collision. He posted McCall's division in front of Charles City cross-roads ; his divisions under Morell and Sykes at Malvern Hill, and Warren's brigade, near the Fourth Corps, on the river routes from Richmond. As the divisions of the Third Corps arrived they were posted,—Kearny between the Charles City and Long Bridge roads, on McCall's right; Hooker in front of the Quaker road, on McCall's left; Sedgwick's division, Sumner's corps, behind McCall.

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