Stuart At The Seven Days Battles
The Life and Campaigns of Major-General JEB Stuart
H. B. Mcclellan, A.M.
Late Major, Assistant Adjutant-General And Chief Of Staff Of The Cavalry Corps, Army Of Northern Virginia
IN order that the movements of the Confederate cavalry during the "Seven Days' Battles around Richmond" may be understood, it is necessary to relate the operations of those divisions of Lee's army with which it was in immediate connection.
The order of battle issued by General Lee on the 24th of June assumed that Jackson's command would be able to reach the vicinity of the Central Railroad on the 25th, and be in position to turn the enemy's right flank early on the 26th. Jackson's march was, however, delayed to such an extent that he only reached the vicinity of Ashland on the night of the 25th. Here he was joined by Stuart with the 1st, 4th, and 9th regiments of Virginia Cavalry, the Cobb Georgia Legion, the Jeff Davis Legion, and the Stuart Horse Artillery. The 3d and 5th regiments of Virginia Cavalry, the Hampton Legion, and the 1st North Carolina Cavalry were stationed on the right of the Confederate army, observing the country between the White Oak Swamp and the James River. The 10th Virginia Cavalry was held in reserve on the Nine Mile Road.
The positions held by the Federal army on the 25th of June were nearly the same as at the time of Stuart's reconnoissance. The three divisions of the 5th corps under General Fitz John Porter, occupied the north bank of the Chickahominy. Taylor's brigade of Franklin's corps, which had constituted the extreme right at Mechanicsville, was withdrawn on the 19th, and replaced by McCall's division of the 5th corps. This appears to have been the only change on the Federal right wing since the 15th of June. The remainder of McClellan's forces extended south of the Chickahominy to the White Oak Swamp. Generals Stoneman and Emory observed the country north of Mechanicsville towards Atlee's Station and Hanover Court House with cavalry. The official reports do not show what cavalry was under General Stoneman's command, but on the night of the 25th he was reinforced by two regiments of infantry from Morell's division--the 18th Massachusetts and the 17th New York. Colonel H. S. Lansing, of the 17th New York, states that the cavalry force under General Stoneman consisted of two regiments and a light battery.
Leaving Ashland early on the 26th, Jackson pursued the Ashcake Road and crossed the Central Railroad about ten o'clock A.M. Here he met the first Federal cavalry picket or scout. Stuart covered his left flank by the march of his column and by scouts as far north as Hanover Court House. At Taliaferro's Mill, Stuart encountered a cavalry picket, which retired before him, skirmishing, by way of Dr. Shelton's, to the Totopotomoy. A part of Stuart's command scouted the road past Enon Church to Hawes' Shop. At Dr. Shelton's, Stuart awaited the arrival of Jackson's column, having sent one squadron to seize the bridge over the Totopotomoy. The enemy, however, had burned this bridge, and held the opposite bank until the arrival of the Texas brigade of Whiting's division, whose skirmishers crossed the stream and drove them away. The bridge was rebuilt, and Jackson's march was continued. His divisions rested for the night in the vicinity of Pole Green Church and Hundley's Corner, his left still covered by Stuart's cavalry.(see note 1)
General Lee's plan of battle had contemplated an attack upon the enemy's positions in the vicinity of Me-chanicsville at an early hour on the 26th, in which Jackson was to play the all-important part of turning the Federal right in their strong position on Beaver Dam Creek. But as we have already seen, Jackson's march had been unexpectedly delayed; and although nothing had been heard from him since early in the day, General A. P. Hill, at three o'clock P.M., crossed the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, with five of his brigades, and drove the enemy back upon their impregnable line on Beaver Dam Creek. This movement uncovered the bridge at Mechanicsville for Longstreet, who had been waiting since early in the morning for an opportunity to cross.
The Federal position on Beaver Dam was to be approached only by two roads; the one leading from Me-chanicsville northward to the Pamunkey, the other crossing the creek lower down at Ellyson's Mill, and leading
(Note 1)Brigadier-General H. C. Whiting says, in his report: "Discovered an advance post of cavalry west of the Totopotomoy, which fled at our approach. At three o'clock reached the creek, found the bridge in flames, and a party of the enemy engaged in blocking the road on the opposite side. The Texan skirmishers gallantly crossed and engaged. Reilly's battery being brought up, with a few rounds dispersed the enemy; the bridge was rebuilt and the troops crossed, continuing on the road to Pole Green Church, or Hundley's Corner. Here we united with Ewell's division, and, night coming on, bivouacked. A furious cannonade in the direction of Mechanicsville indicated a severe battle." -- Official Records, vol. xi. part ii. p. 562.
Brigadier-General Isaac R. Trimble says in his report: "On the 26th we moved with the army from Ashland in a southerly direction, passing to the east of Mechanicsville in the afternoon, and at four P.M. heard distinctly the volleys of artillery and musketry in the engagement of General Hill with the enemy. Before sundown the firing was not more than two miles distant, and in my opinion we should have marched to the support of General Hill that evening."-- Official Records, vol. xi. part ii. p. 614.
towards Cold Harbor. Field's, Archer's, and Anderson's brigades, of A. P. Hill's division, attacked the upper position, while Pender's brigade, aided by Ripley's, of D. H. Hill's division, assailed the lower. Neither effort was attended with success, and after sustaining heavy losses, the Confederate lines withdrew, at nine o'clock, from the unavailing contest. Early the next morning the attack was renewed; but without more favorable results. After two hours of fighting, the Federal troops were withdrawn to take position at Gaines' Mill. This movement was the necessary result of the march of Jackson's command, which now rendered the position at Beaver Dam untenable. It seems from General Trimble's report that Jackson might have reached this same point on the previous evening, and that it was within his power to have rendered efficient aid to the troops which were there engaged. The Federal line on Beaver Dam was held, mainly, by two brigades of McCall's division, who, protected by their works, inflicted upon their assailants a loss probably ten times as great as they themselves suffered. The withdrawal of McCall on the morning of the 27th under fire, and in the presence of a superior force of the enemy, was conducted in a manner worthy of praise.
During the morning of the 27th Longstreet and A. P. Hill moved down the Chickahominy towards Gaines' Mill, while D. H. Hill moved by way of Bethesda Church to Cold Harbor. Jackson crossed Beaver Dam Creek early in the morning, and advanced to Walnut Grove Church; then bearing to his left, moved on Cold Harbor. Finding his road obstructed, he was compelled to make a still wider détour to the left, which threw him in the rear of D. H. Hill.
Meantime Stuart had covered the left of Jackson's march, and having thoroughly scoured the country toward the Pamunkey as far as Old Church, had advanced by way of Beulah Church, and had taken position on Jackson's left, in readiness to intercept the enemy should he attempt to retreat to the Pamunkey by way of Old Cold Harbor. The battle at Gaines' Mill was opened by A. P. Hill at about 2.30 P.M., and soon extended from right to left along the whole Confederate line. On Jackson's line there was no opportunity to use artillery during the earlier part of the battle. Stuart was the first to find a suitable position. Observing, late in the evening, a movement of the enemy's artillery on the road from Grapevine Bridge, two of Pelham's guns, a twelve-pounder Blakely and a Napoleon, were ordered forward to meet it. The Blakely gun was disabled at the first fire, leaving the Napoleon to encounter alone the two batteries to which it was opposed. Pelham maintained the unequal contest with the same courage which subsequently, at Fredericksburg, called forth the praise of Lee and Jackson. By the personal efforts of General Jackson, whose attention was called to the position occupied by Pelham, he was reinforced by the batteries of Brocken-borough, Carrington, and Courtney.
The design of the Federal commander was not yet manifest, and it was still deemed possible that he might attempt to retreat toward the Pamunkey River. When the Federal lines had been forced at Gaines' Mill and Cold Harbor, Stuart proceeded three miles still further to his left, to intercept any movement in that direction; but finding no evidences of a retreat, he returned the same night to Cold Harbor. Early the next morning, the 28th, General Ewell's division was sent down the Chickahominy to Dispatch Station, and the 9th Virginia Cavalry constituted his advance-guard. With his main body Stuart pursued a parallel route to the left, and pushing ahead of Ewell's column, surprised a squadron of the enemy's cavalry at Dispatch Station. The enemy retreated in the direction of Bottom's Bridge. Ewell remained at Dispatch Station during the rest of the day, and on the 29th moved to Bottom's Bridge. On the following day he rejoined his corps.
After Ewell had taken position at Dispatch Station on the 28th, Stuart determined to advance toward the White House. General Stoneman and General Emory had retired in that direction, and had occupied Tun-stall's Station on the evening of the 27th, stationing pickets on the roads towards Dispatch Station. Stuart advanced to Tunstall's Station. Here he found that a field-work commanding the approaches to the station had been constructed since his recent visit on the 13th, which gave proof by its presence that one of the re-suits desired in his late reconnoissance had been accomplished, and that a considerable force of the enemy had been detached to guard his communications. Immediately beyond Tunstall's Station the enemy had destroyed the bridge over Black Creek, and there awaited Stuart's advance, with cavalry and artillery posted on the hills beyond. The fire of Stuart's guns dispersed the cavalry, and Captain Farley, having gained the opposite bank with a few dismounted men, drove off the sharpshooters who commanded the bridge. Captain Blackford at once proceeded to rebuild, but it was after dark before a practicable crossing could be made.
Meantime Stoneman had sent his infantry to the White House, where, with all the infantry of General Casey's command, it was received on board transports and gun-boats, and moved down the river. At dark the evacuation of the White House Landing was completed. So far as their hasty departure permitted, the government property was destroyed by the Federal troops, and, last of all, the torch was applied to the home of Colonel W. H. F. Lee. It is but just to General Casey to state that he says in his report that this last act was performed without his knowledge and against his express orders.
Early the next morning, the 29th, Stuart moved cautiously toward the White House. He had reason to think that it was held by a considerable force of the enemy; nothing, however, was in sight but a Federal gun-boat, the Marblehead, which occupied a threatening position in the river. Imagination had clothed the gun-boat with marvellous terrors, and at this stage of the war there was nothing which inspired more of fear than the screech of its enormous shells. Stuart determined to illustrate to his command its real character. Leaving his main body about two miles in the rear, he advanced with seventy-five men selected from the 1st and 4th Virginia Cavalry and the Jeff Davis Legion. These men were armed with rifle carbines. Deployed in pairs, with intervals of forty paces, they advanced across the open ground to attack the boat, from which a party of sharpshooters was promptly sent on shore to meet them. A lively skirmish ensued, during which Stuart brought up one of Pelham's howitzers and placed it in position to command the gun-boat. Pelham's shells were soon exploding directly over her decks. To this fire she was unable to reply; for while her guns might throw shot far inland, they could not be brought to command that point of the bank where the howitzer was posted. The skirmishers were soon withdrawn to the boat, and under a full head of steam she disappeared down the river, followed as far as was practicable by the impudent and tormenting howitzer.
Although the destruction of Federal property at the White House had been great, it was by no means complete, and sufficient remained to supply both men and horses of Stuart's command. Having sent Colonel Fitz Lee with the 1st Virginia Cavalry to observe the Chick-ahominy from Bottom's Bridge to Forge Bridge, Stuart remained at the White House for the rest of the day. The information which he had been able to send to General Lee was of importance, for it was demonstrated that the enemy had abandoned his base on the Pamun-key, and was seeking a new one on the James.
Late in the afternoon of the 29th Magruder engaged the enemy at Savage Station. Jackson's route lay to the flank and rear of this position, but he was unable to participate in the battle, being delayed by the necessity of rebuilding Grapevine Bridge, which the enemy had destroyed on his retreat. He succeeded in crossing the Chickahominy during the night, and by noon on the 30th had advanced to White Oak Swamp.
On the 29th a reconnoissance was made on the Charles City Road by five companies of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry and the 3d Virginia Cavalry, under the command of Colonel L. S. Baker, of the 1st North Carolina. The enemy's cavalry was discovered on the Quaker Road, and a charge, the 1st North Carolina leading, drove it back to Willis' Church. Here the head of the column was greeted by a fire of artillery and infantry, and Colonel Baker was forced to retire, having sustained a loss of sixty-three in killed, wounded, and missing. His charge had led him unwittingly into the presence of a large force of infantry.
During the 30th Stuart moved his command to Long and Forge bridges, and at the latter place he bivouacked that night. At half past three the next morning, July 1, he received orders to cross the Chickahominy at Grapevine Bridge, and connect with Jackson. He moved at once up the Chickahominy, but on reaching Bottom's Bridge, discovered that the army had passed on to the south, and that the only practicable way for him to connect with Jackson was to retrace his steps and cross at one of the lower fords. Turning the head of his column about, he returned to Forge Bridge, where he found the 2d Virginia Cavalry, Colonel T. T. Munford, which at that time belonged to the Valley cavalry, and had accompanied Jackson's command. Fording the river at this point Stuart pressed on past Nance's shop to Rock's house, near which he encountered a picket, which he pursued until within sight of the camp-fires of a large body of the enemy. Here he encamped for the night.
While Stuart was thus occupied, Longstreet and A. P. Hill had fought the bloody battle of Frayser's Farm, or Glendale, on the afternoon of the 30th. Could Jackson have participated in this battle the result must have been fatal to the Federal army. He had reached White Oak Swamp at midday, but found the bridge destroyed and the passage disputed by a large force of infantry and artillery. After sending Mun-ford's regiment of cavalry across, Jackson decided that the passage was impracticable.(See Note 2) The Rev. Dr. Dabney
(Note 2) I have received from General T. T. Munford an interesting letter, under date of August 4, 1884, which describes the action of his regiment, the 2d Virginia Cavalry, on this day. I am permitted to make the following extract:--
"My recollection is very distinct in regard to what happened on that day. On the evening before, I had heard of some forage and provisions which had been left by the enemy at a point about four miles on our left; and as we had no quartermaster and no wagons, I started to carry my regiment over to this place to get food for man and beast. When I left him, General Jackson ordered me to be at the cross-roads at sunrise the next morning, ready to go in advance of his troops. The worst thunderstorm came up about, night that I ever was in, and in that thickly-wooded country it became so dark that one could not see his horse's ears. My command scattered in the storm, and I do not suppose any officer ever had a rougher time in any one night than I had to endure. When the first gray dawn appeared I started couriers, adjutant, and officers, to blow up the scattered regiment; but at sunrise I had not more than fifty men, and I was half a mile from the cross-roads. When I arrived, to my horror, there sat Jackson waiting for me. He was in a bad humor, and said: ' Colonel, my orders to you were to be here at sunrise.' I explained my situation, telling him that we had no provisions, and that the storm and the dark night had conspired against me. When I got through he replied: 'Yes, sir. But, colonel, I ordered you to be here at sunrise. Move on with your regiment. If you meet the enemy drive in his pickets, and if you want artillery, Colonel Crutchfield will furnish you.'
"I started on with my little handful of men. As others came straggling on to join me Jackson noticed it, and sent two couriers to inform me that my 'men were straggling badly.' I rode back and went over the same story, hoping that he would be impressed with my difficulties. He listened to me, but replied as before, 'Yes, sir. But I ordered you to be here at sunrise, and I have been waiting for you for a quarter of an hour.'
"Seeing that he was in a peculiar mood, I determined to make the best of my troubles, sent my adjutant back, and made him halt the stragglers and form my men as they came up; and, with what I had, determined to give him no cause for complaint. When we came upon the enemy's picket we charged, and pushed the picket every step of the way into their camp, where were a large number of wounded and many stores. It was done so rapidly that the enemy's battery on the other side of White Oak Swamp could not fire on us without endangering their own friends.
"When Jackson came up he was smiling, and he at once ordered Crutch-field to bring up sixteen pieces of artillery, and very soon one or two batteries were at work.
"After the lapse of about an hour my regiment had assembled; and while our batteries were shelling those of the enemy, Jackson sent for me and said, ' Colonel, move your regiment over the creek and secure those guns. I will ride with you to the swamp.' When we reached the crossing we found that the enemy had torn up the bridge, and had thrown the timbers into the stream, forming a tangled mass which seemed to prohibit a crossing. I said to General Jackson that I did not think we could cross. He looked at me, waved his hand, and replied, 'Yes, colonel, try it.' In we went, and you never saw such a time as the first squadron had; but we floundered over, and before I had formed the men, Jackson cried out to me to move on at the guns. Colonel Breckinridge started out with what we had over, and I soon got over the second squadron, and moved up the hill. We reached the guns, but they had an infantry support which gave us a volley; at the same time a battery on our right, which we had not seen, opened on us, and back we had to come. I moved down the swamp about a quarter of a mile, and recrossed with great difficulty by a cow-path. I sent General Jackson a despatch telling him where I had crossed, but his engineers thought they could cross better above than below. A division of infantry was put in above the bridge, and hammered away all day, but did not get over. I never understood why he did not try the ford where I had crossed. He sent me a little slip of paper saying, 'I congratulate you on getting out,' or words to that effect. He held on to the idea of crossing above the bridge."
seems to be of the opinion that this was, perhaps, the sole occasion on which the great "Stonewall" did not accomplish all that lay within his power. On the afternoon of the next day, July 1, Jackson, D. H. Hill, Huger, and Magruder fought the battle of Malvern Hill.
Early on July 2, Stuart took position at Gatewood's on Jackson's left; but as soon as it was known that the enemy had abandoned the position at Malvern Hill, Stuart started down the river to ascertain his location. Lieutenant-Colonel W. T. Martin, of the Jeff Davis Legion, was sent in advance. To his command the 4th Virginia Cavalry had been temporarily added, because all of the field officers of that regiment were disabled. When opposite Haxall's, Colonel Martin and a few of his men proceeded to the river bank, where, in full sight of the Monitor and the Galena, which were lying in the river not one hundred yards distant, he captured a sailor belonging to the Monitor, drove off thirty mules from the open field, and, scouring the adjacent woods, retired in safety with one hundred and fifty prisoners. Privates Volney Metcalf and William Barnard are especially mentioned by Colonel Martin for boldness in this affair.
At the Cross Roads near Shirley, Stuart found the rear-guard of the enemy in such force that he was unable to move it. He spent the remainder of the day in collecting prisoners toward Malvern Hill, and in recon-noitring toward Charles City Court House. Having ascertained that the enemy had not moved in that direction, Captain Pelham was sent with one howitzer and Irving's squadron, of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, with orders to take position in the vicinity of Westover, and shell the enemy should he attempt to move down the river road during the night. Pelham discovered the position of the Federal army at Westover, and informed Stuart of the advantages which might possibly be gained by occupying Evelington Heights, a plateau which commanded the enemy's encampment. Pelham's report was received during the night, and Stuart at once moved his command, as it suggested, having forwarded the information to the commanding general, through General Jackson, and occupied the heights at about nine o'clock in the morning of the 3d. He had been informed that Longstreet and Jackson were moving to his support, and believing that Longstreet was close at hand, he opened with Pelham's howitzer on the Federal camps on the plain below. Artillery and infantry were moved to confront him, but he maintained his ground until nearly two o'clock in the afternoon, when, having exhausted his ammunition, and having learned that Longstreet had advanced no further than Nance's Shop, he withdrew.
Colonel Walter H. Taylor, in his valuable work, "Four Years with General Lee," says, on page 41:--
Without attempting an account of any one of the severe engagements embraced in the seven days' battles, so fully described in General Lee's official report, I cannot forbear mention of a maladroit performance just before their termination, but for which I have always thought that McClellan's army would have been further driven, even "to the wall," and made to surrender; a trifling matter in itself, apparently, yet worthy of thoughtful consideration. General McClellan had retreated to Harrison's Landing; his army, supply, and baggage trains were scattered in much confusion in and about Westover plantation; our army was moving down upon him, its progress much retarded by natural and artificial obstacles; General Stuart was in advance, in command of the cavalry. In rear of and around Westover there is a range of hills, or elevated ground, completely commanding the plains below. Stuart, glorious Stuart! always at the front and full of fight, gained these hills. Below him, as a panorama, appeared the camps and trains of the enemy, within easy range of his artillery. The temptation was too strong to be resisted; he commanded some of his guns to open fire. The consternation caused thereby was immediate and positive. It frightened the enemy, but it enlightened him.
Those heights in our possession, the enemy's position was altogether untenable, and he was at our mercy; unless they could be recaptured, his capitulation was inevitable. Half a dozen shells from Stuart's battery quickly demonstrated this. The enemy, not slow in comprehending his danger, soon advanced his infantry in force, to dislodge our cavalry and repossess the heights. This was accomplished: the hills were fortified, and became the Federal line of defence, protected at either flank by a bold creek which entered into James River, and by heavy batteries of the fleet anchored opposite. Had the infantry been up, General Lee would have made sure of this naturally strong line, fortified it well, maintained it against assault, and dictated to General McClellan terms of surrender; and had the attention of the enemy not been so precipitately directed to his danger by the shots from the little howitzers, it is reasonable to presume that the infantry would have been up in time to secure the plateau.
Colonel Taylor's criticism is based on the assumption that the Federal commander was ignorant of the necessity of occupying a position which commanded his camp until his attention was drawn to the fact by the fire of Stuart's guns. This seems improbable, both from the character o General McClellan and from the fact that at 5.30 P.M., on the 2d of July, he thus wrote to President Lincoln from Harrison's Landing: "If not attacked during this day I will have the men ready to repulse the enemy to-morrow."(1) But even if General McClellan had been so culpably ignorant, can we believe that there was not one among his able subordinates who would have seen and suggested the necessity of securing so obvious and vital a position?
Again, Colonel Taylor assumes that the Confederate infantry would have been in position to make an irresistible attack had it not been for Stuart's precipitate action. The facts of the case do not, however, justify this assumption; for the movements of the Confederates had been greatly retarded by the severe storm of July 2, and neither Jackson nor Longstreet, who approached Harrison's Landing by different roads, were able to reach that vicinity until late in the afternoon of the 3d, and after Stuart had retired from the plateau, which he had occupied for five hours. The supposition that McClellan would have allowed the whole of the 3d to pass without guarding against assault from that position cannot be entertained.
Again, Colonel Taylor assumes that the position on Evelington Heights could have been fortified and maintained by the Confederates against assault aided by the fire of the flotilla of gun-boats, which lay on the river within effective range, in front, and completely enfilading the whole line from the mouth of Herring Creek. At least seven gun-boats guarded the flanks of the Federal army on July 2, and on the 4th Flag Officer Golds-borough informs the Secretary of the Navy that seventeen are at the scene of action. Perhaps the picture which Colonel Taylor presents might have been realized, but, in the light of these facts, it by no means assumes the proportions of a certainty, hardly of a probability.
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