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HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
A very peculiar case of desertion has just occurred from the enemy. The party states that he left Jackson, Whiting, and Ewell, (fifteen brigades,) at Gordonsville, on the 21st; that they were moving to Frederickshall, and that it was intended to attack my rear on the 28th. I would be glad to learn, at your earliest convenience, the most exact information you have as to the position and movements of Jackson, as well as the sources from which your information is derived, that I may the better compare it with what I have.
G. B. MCCLELLAN, Major-General.
The reply was as follows:
WASHINGTON, June 25, 1862.
We have no definite information as to the numbers or position of Jackson's force. Gen. King yesterday reported a deserter's statement that Jackson's force was, nine days ago, forty thousand men. Some reports place ten thousand Rebels under Jackson, at Gordonsville; others, that his force is at Port Republic, Harrisonburg, and Luray. Fremont yesterday reported rumors that Western Virginia was threatened; and Gen. Kelley, that Ewell was advancing to New Creek, where Fremont has his depots. The last telegram from Fremont contradicts this rumor. The last telegram from Banks says the enemy's pickets are strong in advance at Luray; the people decline to give any information of his whereabouts. Within the last two days the evidence is strong that for some purpose the enemy is circulating rumors of Jackson's advance in various directions, with a view to conceal the real point of attack. Neither McDowell, who is at Manassas, nor Banks and Fremont, who are at Middletown, appear to have any accurate knowledge of the subject.
A letter transmitted to the department yesterday, purported to be dated at Gordonsville on the 14th instant, stated that the actual attack was designed for Washington and Baltimore, as soon as you attacked Richmond, but that the report was to be circulated that Jackson had gone to Richmond, in order to mislead. This letter looked very much like a blind, and induces me to suspect that Jackson's real movement is now toward Richmond. It came from Alexandria, and is certainly designed, like the numerous rumors put afloat, to mislead. I think, therefore, that while the warning of the deserter to you may also be a blind, that it could not
safely be disregarded. I will transmit to you any further information on this subject that may be received here. EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
On the 25th, McClellan began to advance his left, preparatory, he says, to a general forward movement. In the evening of the same day, he reported: "The affair is over, and we have gained our point fully, and with but little loss, notwithstanding the strong opposition." An hour and a half earlier, he had telegraphed: "On our right, Porter has silenced the enemy's batteries in his front."
The blow which the wily deserter had announced to be struck by Jackson on the 28th, fell two days earlier. Only an hour after announcing the success of his preliminary movement on the 25th, McClellan reported that he had "information confirming the supposition that Jackson's advance is at or near Hanover Court House, and that Beauregard arrived, with strong reënforcements, in Richmond yesterday." The desponding side of his temper, and an impulse to protect himself from the extreme effects of an apprehended fall, appear in the following paragraph of this dispatch:
I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of re-enforcements, that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and, if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur to-morrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility can not be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.
Secretary Stanton replied:
WASHINGTON, June 25, 1862, 11.20 P. M. Your telegram of fifteen minutes past 6 has just been received. The circumstances that have hitherto rendered it impossible for the Government to send you any more reënforcements than has been done, have been so distinctly stated to you by the President, that it is needless for me to repeat them.
Every effort has been made by the President and myself to strengthen you. King's division has reached Falmouth; Shield's division and Ricketts' division are at Manassas. The President designs to send a part of that force to aid you as speedily as it can be done.
E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War. Maj.-Gen. G. B. MCCLELLAN.
The President sent the following dispatch on the same subject:
WASHINGTON, June 26, 1862.
Maj.-Gen. MCCLELLAN: Your three dispatches of yesterday in relation to the affair, ending with the statement that you completely succeeded in making your point, are very gratifying.
The later one, of 6.15 P. M., suggesting the probability of your being overwhelmed by two hundred thousand, and talking of where the responsibility will belong, pains me very much. I give you all I can, and act on the presumption that you will do the best you can with what you have, while you continue, ungenerously I think, to assume that I could give you more if I would. I have omitted, and shall omit, no opportunity to send you reënforcements whenever I possibly can.
P. S. Gen. Pope thinks if you fall back, it would be much better toward York river than toward the James. As Pope now has charge of the Capitol, please confer with him through the telegraph. A. LINCOLN.
The aggregate number of the Army of the Potomac, on the 20th of June, was 156,838. The campaign had now extended into the season when disease could not fail to be prevalent, in the low, swampy region now occupied by the Government troops. The effective men numbered 115,102.
From the evening of the 26th, when Jackson attacked his right, and threatened his communications by the Pamunkey river, Gen. McClellan states that " every energy of the army was bent" to the end of "an immediate change of base across the Peninsula." The Rebel Gen. D. H. Hill had gone out from Richmond with his command that day, over Meadow Bridge, to form a junction with Jackson, who was approaching by way of Ashland and Hanover Court House. At about 3 o'clock P. M., Hill attacked McCall, at Mechanicsville, and
was finally repulsed, with great loss. Gen. McClellan telegraphed: "Victory to-day complete, and against great odds. I almost begin to think we are invincible." During the night, the baggage of the Fifth Corps (Porter's) was sent across to the west side of the Chickahominy, and preparations were made to start the trains next day, for James river. Orders were at the same time sent to the White House for the removal of all the stores possible from that vicinity, by water, up the James river, to meet the retreating army, and to destroy whatever supplies could not be thus reshipped. These orders were promptly executed. Gen. Stoneman, with his cavalry force, having been cut off, made a successful retreat to the White House.
McCall was to fall back and unite with the rest of Porter's corps, on the east bank of the Chickahominy, to hold the bridges at Gaines' Mill, giving time for the main army to execute its intended movement. This position was to have been maintained until the night of the 27th, when Porter's force was to cross, destroying the bridges. Hill, however, attacked McCall at dawn with great vigor, compelling him to retire. further down the stream, leaving the bridge at Mechanicsville to the enemy. A large part of the Rebel force was now on the left bank of the river, and expeditiously concentrated for the destruction of Porter's forces at Gaines' Mill, near the New Bridge. Porter's left at length gave way, under the fierce and overwhelming onset of the enemy, and the center was thrown into confusion, with imminent danger of utter rout. Reënforcements were hurried across from the south bank of the river, and saved the day. Meagher's Irish brigade, fighting with unsurpassed gallantry, and French's brigade, with like heroic conduct, came to the support of Porter's broken divisions, and held the enemy in check until night closed the conflict. This battle was one of the most sanguinary of the campaign, resulting in defeat, but it gained time for starting the trains and troops through White Oak Swamp. It had also drawn out Lee's forces from Richmond, so as to prevent any immediate interference with the retreat from that quarter.
It was not until the 28th, that Lee became fully aware of
the purpose of McClellan to withdraw his army to the James river. The single road by which this movement was to be made was exposed, at different points, to an advance of the enemy from Richmond, by the several roads leading from the city. There was no degree of security until the rear had passed through the Swamp, and on emerging therefrom the danger would be soon renewed. The corps of Sumner and Franklin were stationed at Fair Oaks on Sunday, the 29th, (Heintzelman meanwhile retiring,) and having protected the trains, which were now well on their way, (a large amount of property which could not be transferred having been destroyed,) began to fall back. The enemy, perceiving the movement, promptly attacked the retiring forces, about 2 o'clock P. M., The and they made a stand not far from Savage's Station. Rebel masses, brought up within a short distance of our artillery, now in position, were repulsed with great loss, and their repeated attacks were successfully repelled. During the night, Sumner and Franklin fell back to the White Oak Swamp bridge. On the morning of the 30th, the last of the troops had followed the trains across that bridge. Franklin remained to dispute the passage of the Rebels at this point, while Heintzelman, with the four divisions of Hooker, Sedgwick, Kearney and McCall, took position at Charles City Cross Roads, where several roads leading from Richmond intersect. Jackson's corps crossed the Chickahominy early on Monday morning, following up the retreating army by the Williamsburg road. The forces of Longstreet, A. P. Hill, Magruder and Huger went out the Charles City road with the expectation of intercepting our forces at that point. Jackson had come close upon the position held by Franklin at the White Oak Swamp, a little before noon; but the rear of our army had already crossed and destroyed the bridge. An artillery engagement followed, lasting until night, with severe losses on both sides. Two brigades of Sumner's corps participated in this action. Further pursuit from this direction was not attempted.
Toward night, on the same day, the forces of Longstreet and others (commanded by Gen. A. P. Hill, the former being absent,) attacked the force under Heintzelman, who was aided