Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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During the day and night of the 30th of May a very violent storm occurred; the rain, falling in torrents, rendered work on the rifle pits and bridges impracticable, made the roads almost impassable, and threatened the destruction of the bridges over the Chickahominy.

The enemy, perceiving the unfavorable position in which we were placed and the possibility of destroying that part of our army which was apparently cut off from the main body by the rapidly-rising stream, threw an overwhelming force (grand divisions of Generals D. II. Hill, Huger, Longstreet, and G. W. Smith) upon the position occupied by Casey’s division.

It appears from the official reports of General Keyes and his subordinate commanders that at 10 o’clock a. m. on the 31st of May an aide-de-camp of General J. E. Johnston was captured by General Naglee’s pickets. But little information as to the movements of the enemy was obtained from him, but his presence so near our lines excited suspicion and caused increased vigilance, and the troops were ordered by General Keyes to be under arms at 11 o’clock. Between 11 and 12 o’clock it was reported to General Casey that the enemy were approaching in considerable force on the Williamsburg road. At this time Casey’s [p.39] division was disposed as follows: Naglee’s brigade extending from the Williamsburg road to the Garnett field, having one regiment across the railroad; General Wessells’ brigade in the rifle Pits, and General Palmer’s in the rear of General Wessells’; one battery of artillery in advance with General Naglee; one battery in rear of rifle pits to the right of the redoubt; one battery in rear of the redoubt, and another battery unharnessed in the redoubt. General Couch’s division, holding the second line, had General Abercrombie’s brigade on the right along the Nine-mile road, with two regiments and one battery across the railroad near Fair Oaks Station; General Peck’s brigade on the right, and General Devens’ in the center.

On the approach of the enemy, General Casey sent forward one of General Palmer’s regiments to support the picket line, but this regiment gave way without making much, if any, resistance. Heavy firing at once commenced and the pickets were driven in. General Keyes ordered General Couch to move General Peck’s brigade to occupy the ground on the left of the Williamsburg road, which had not before been occupied by our forces, and thus to support General Casey’s left, where the first attack was the most severe. The enemy now came on in heavy force, attacking General Casey simultaneously in front and on both flanks. General Keyes sent to General Heintzelman for re-enforcements, but the messenger was delayed, so that orders were not sent to Generals Kearny and Hooker until nearly 3 o’clock, and it was nearly 5 p. when Generals Jameson and Berry’s brigades, of General Kearny’s division, arrived on the field. General Birney was ordered up the railroad, but by General Kearny’s order halted his brigade before arriving at the scene of action. Orders were also dispatched for General Hooker to move up from White Oak Swamp, and he arrived after dark at Savage Station.

As soon as the firing was heard at headquarters orders were sent to General Sumner to get his command under arms and be ready to move at a moment’s warning. His corps, consisting of Generals Richardson’s and Sedgwick’s divisions, was encamped on the north side of the Chickahominy, some 6 miles above Bottom’s Bridge. Each division had thrown a bridge over the stream opposite to its own position.

At 1 o’clock General Sumner moved the two divisions to their respective bridges, with instructions to halt and await further orders. At 2 o’clock orders were sent from headquarters to cross these divisions without delay and push them rapidly to General Heintzelman’s support. This order was received and communicated at 2.30 o’clock, and the passage was immediately commenced. In the mean time General Naglee’s brigade, with the batteries of General Casey’s division, which General Naglee directed, struggled gallantly to maintain the redoubt and rifle pits against the overwhelming masses of the enemy. They were re-enforced by a regiment from General Peck’s brigade. The artillery, under command of Col. G. D. Bailey, First New York Artillery, and afterward of General Naglee, did good execution on the advancing column. The left of this position was, however, soon turned, and a sharp cross-fire opened upon the gunners and men in the rifle pits. Colonel Bailey, Major Van Valkenberg, and Adjutant Rumsey, of the same regiment, were killed; some of the gnus in the redoubt were taken, and the whole line was driven back upon the position occupied by General Couch. The brigades of Generals Wessells and Palmer, with the re-enforcements which had been sent them from, General Couch, had also been driven from the field with heavy loss, [p.40] and the whole position occupied by General Casey’s division was taken by the enemy.

Previous to this time General Keyes ordered General Couch to advance two regiments to relieve the pressure upon General Casey’s right flank. In making this movement General Couch discovered large masses of the enemy pushing toward our right and crossing the railroad, as well as a heavy column which had been held in reserve, and which was now making its way toward Fair Oaks Station. General Couch at once engaged this column with two regiments; but, though re-enforced by two additional regiments, he was overpowered, and the enemy pushed between him and the main body of his division. With these four regiments and one battery General Couch fell back about half a mile towards the Grapevine Bridge, where, hearing that General Sumner had crossed, he formed line of battle facing Fair Oaks Station, and prepared to hold the position.

Generals Berry’s and Jameson’s brigades had by this time arrived in front of the Seven Pines. General Berry was ordered to take possession of the woods on the left, and push forward so as to have a flank fire on the enemy’s lines. This movement was executed brilliantly, General Berry pushing his regiments forward through the woods until their rifles commanded the left of the camp and works occupied by General Casey’s division in the morning. Their fire on the pursuing columns of the enemy was very destructive, and assisted materially in checking the pursuit in that part of the field. He held his position in these woods against several attacks of superior numbers, and after dark, being cut off by the enemy from the main body, he fell back toward White Oak Swamp, and by a circuit brought his men into our lines in good order.

General Jameson, with two regiments (the other two of his brigade having been detached—one to General Peck and one to General Birney), moved rapidly to the front, on the left of the Williamsburg road, and succeeded for a time in keeping the abatis clear of the enemy. But, large numbers of the enemy pressing past the right of his line, he, too, was forced to retreat through the woods toward White Oak Swamp, and in that way gained camp under cover of night.

Brigadier-General Devens, who had held the center of General Couch’s division, had made repeated and gallant efforts to regain portions of the ground lost in front, but each time was driven back, and finally withdrew behind the rifle pits near Seven Pines.

Meantime General Sumner had arrived with the advance of his corps, General Sedgwick’s division, at the point held by General Couch with four regiments and one battery. The roads leading from the bridge were so miry that it was only by the greatest exertion General Sedgwick had been able to get one of his batteries to the front.

The leading regiment (First Minnesota, Colonel Sully) was immediately deployed to the right of Couch to protect the flank, and the rest of the division formed in line of battle, Kirby’s battery near the center, in an angle of the woods. One of General Couch’s regiments was sent to open communication with General Heintzelman. No sooner were these dispositions made than the enemy came in strong force and opened a heavy fire along the line. He made several charges, but was each time repulsed with great loss by the steady fire of the infantry and the splendid practice of the battery. After sustaining the enemy’s fire for a considerable time General Sumner ordered five regiments (the Thirty- fourth New York, Colonel Suiter; Eighty-second New York, Lieutenant- Colonel Hudson; Fifteenth Massachusetts, Lieutenant-Colonel Kimball; [p.41] Twentieth Massachusetts, Colonel Lee; Seventh Michigan, Major Richardson—the three former of General Gorman’s brigade, the two latter of General Dana’s brigade) to advance and charge with the bayonet. This charge was executed in the most brilliant manner. Our troops, springing over two fences which were between them and the enemy, rushed upon his lines and drove him in confusion from that part of the field. Darkness now ended the battle for that day.

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.38-41

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006)

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