Abbildungen der Seite

able. None of the upper bridges had yet been built . We had then only Bottom's Bridge, the railroad - bridge, and the two bridges built by General Sumner some miles higher up the river. Bottom's Bridge and the railroad-bridge were too distant to be of any service in an emergency such as a battle demands. At the time of the enemy's attack, which was sudden and unexpected, completely overwhelming General Casey's division, our sole reliance to reinforce the left win'»


was by Sumner's corps, and over his two bridges. It happened to be the fortune of the writer to see " Sumner's upper bridge," — the only one then passable,—at the moment the head of General Sumner's column reached it. The possibility of crossing was doubted by all present, including General Sumner himself.

The bridge was of rough logs, and mostly afloiit, held together and kept from drifting off by the stumps of trees to which it was fastened; the portion over the thread of the stream being suspended from the trunks of large trees, which had been felled across it, by ropes which a single blow with a hatchet would have severed. On this bridge and on these ropes hung the fate of the day at Fair Oaks, and, probably, the fate of the Army of the Potomac too; for, if Sumner had not crossed in time to check the movement of the enemy down the river, the corps of Heintzelman and Kcyes would have been taken in flank, and it is fair to suppose that they must have been driven into an impassable river, or captured.

But Sumner crossed, and saved the day. Forever honored be his name!

As the solid column of infantry entered upon the bridge, it swayed to and fro to the angry flood below or the living freight above, settling down and grasping the solid stumps, by which it was made secure as the lino advanced. Once filled with men, it was safe until the corps had crossed. It then soon became impassable, and the "railroad-bridge," says General Barnard, "for several days was the only communication between the two

wings of the army." Never was an army in a more precarious siluation. Fortunately, however, whatever mistakes we made in allowing ourselves to be attacked when the two wings of the army were almost separated, the enemy also committed serious blunders, both as to the point of his attack and the time when his blow was delivered. His true point of attack was on the right flank of our left wing. Had the attack which Sumner met and repulsed been made simultaneously with the assault in front, a single battalion, nay, even a single company, could have seized and destroyed "Sumner's upper bridge," the only one, as before remarked, then passable, Sumner would consequently have been unable to take part in the battle, and our left wing would have been taken in flank, and, in all probability, defeated; or, had the attack been deferred until the next day, or even for several days, as the bridges became impassable during the night of the thirty-first, it would probably have been successful.

It is easy to make such criticisms after the events have happened; their mere statement will carry conviction to the minds of all who were in a position, during these memorable days, to know the facts that decided the movements; and it is right that they should be made, for it is only by pointing out the causes of success or failure in military affairs, as, indeed, in every human undertaking, that wo can hope to be successful. But, in doing so, we need not confine ourselves to one side of the question; we may look at our enemies as well as at ourselves. Nor need they be made in a spirit of censoriousness; for the importance of individuals, in speaking of such great events, may safely be overlooked without affecting the lesson we would learn. Neither should it be forgotten that the general who has always fought his battles at the right time, in the right place, with the proper arms, and pursued his victories to their utmost attainable results, has yet to appear. He would, indeed, be an intellectual prodigy.

Snch we may suppose to be the reflections of General Barnard, when he points out the mistakes which were made in the Army of the Potomac while on the Chickahoininy. He does not, indeed, bring to our view the mistakes of the enemy. That would have been travelling outside of the record in the report of the operations falling under his supervision, and such criticism is wisely left for some of the enemy's engineers, or for a more general history. In speaking of the difficulties of crossing the Chickahominy immediately after the battle of the thirty-first of May, General Barnard says, —" There was one way, however, to unite the army on the other side; it was to take advantage of a victory at Fair Oaks, to sweep at once the enemy from his position opposite New Bridge, and, timultaneously, to bring over by the New Bridge our troops of the right wing, which would-then have met with little or no resistance "; and again, in a more general criticism of the campaign, he says,—" The repulse of the Rebels at Fair Oaks should have been taken advantage of. It was one of those 'occasions' which, if not seized, do not repeat themselves. We now know the state of disorganization and dismay in which the Rebel army retreated. We now know that it could have been followed into Richmond. Had it been so, there would have been no resistance to overcome to bring over our right wing."

But the "occasion" which the morning of the first of June presented of uniting the two wings of the army, and thus achieving a great victory, was not seized, because, as General Barnard says, "we did not then know all that we now da" At the moment when the New Bridge became passable, 8.15, A. M., it is not probable the Commanding General knew it. Nor did he know, that, at this very moment, the enemy was retreating to Richmond in a "state of disorganization and dismay." Besides, the troops of the left wing had fought a hard battle the preceding afternoon, and they had been up all night, throwing up works

of defence, and making dispositions to resist another assault by the enemy. They were not in a condition to assume the offensive against an enemy who was supposed to be in force and in position, himself preparing to resume the attack of the previous day, however competent they may have been to pursue a demoralized foe flying from the field. The propitious moment was lost, not to return,— for, during the day, the rising flood rendered all the bridges, except the railroad - bridge, impassable.

The necessity for more substantial bridges to connect the two wings of the army had now been made manifest, and two fine structures, available for all arms, were completed by the nineteenth. At the same time two foot-bridges were made, the other bridges repaired, and their approaches made secure, though the enemy still held the approaches of the three upper bridges on the right bank.

While these bridges were being made, mostly by the right wing of the army, the left wing was engaged in constructing a strong line of defence, stretching from the White-Oak Swamp to the Chickahominy, consisting of six redoubts connected by rifle-pits or barricades. General Barnard says, — " The object of these lines (over three miles long) was to hold our position of the left wing against the concentrated force of the enemy, until communications across the Chickahominj could be established; or, if necessary, to maintain our position on this side, while the bulk of the army was thrown upon the other, should occasion require it; or, fmally, to hold one part of our line and communication by a small force, while our principal offensive effort was made upon another." At the same time, several batteries were constructed on the left bank of the river in the neighborhood of the upper bridges, either to operate on the enemy's positions in their front, or to defend these bridges.

All these preparations were made with the understood purpose of driving th« enemy from his positions in front of New Bridge; and they appear to have been about completed, for on the night of the twenty-sixth " an epaulementfor putting our guns in position " to effect this object was thrown up. But it was too late. Lee's guns had been heard in the afternoon, in the neighborhood of Mechaniesville, attacking the advance of our right wing, and Jackson was within supporting distance. The battle of the twentyseventh of June, on which "hinged the fate of the campaign," was to be fought to-morrow. This battle, or rather the policy of fighting it, or suffering it to be fought, has been more criticized than any other battle of the campaign. We fought a battle which was decisive against ns with less than one-third of our force.


General Barnard is severe in his criticisms. In his "retrospect, pointing out the mistakes that were made," he says,—

"At last a moment came when action was imperative. The enemy assumed the initiative, and we had warning of when and where he was to strike. Had Porter been withdrawn the night of the twenty-sixth, our army would have been concentrated on the right bank, while two corps at least of the enemy's force were on the left bank. Whatever course we then took, whether to strike at Richmond and the portion of the enemy on the right bank, or move at once for the James, we would have had a concentrated army, and a fair chance of a brilliant result, in the first place; and in the second, if we accomplished nothing, we would have been in the same case on the morning of the twenty-seventh as we were on that of the twenty-eighth, — minus a lost battle and a compulsory retreat; or, had the fortified lines (thrown up expressly for the object) been held by twenty thousand men, (as they could have been,) we could have fought on the other side with eighty thousand men instead of twenty•even thousand; or, finally, had the lines been abandoned, with our hold on the right bank of the Chickahominy, we might have fought and crushed the enemy on the left bank, reopened our communications, and then returned and taken Richmond.

"As it was, the enemy fought with his whole force, (except enough left before our lines to keep up an appearance,) and we fought with twenty-seven thousand men, losing the battle and nine thousand men.

"By this defeat we were driven from our position, our advance of conquest turned into a retreat for safety, by a force probably not greatly superior to our own."

It is to be hoped that the fortheoming report of General McCIellan will give us the reasons which induced him to risk such a battle with such a force, and modify, to some extent at least, the justice of such outspoken censure.

The services of the engineers in passing the army over White-Oak Swamp, in reconnoitring the line of retreat to James River, in posting troops, and in defending the final position of the army at Harrison's Landing, are detailed with great clearness. Of his officers the General speaks in the highest terms. It appears, that, with a single exception, they were all lieutenants, whereas "in a European service the chief engineer serving with an army-corps would be a fieldofficer, generally a colonel." In this want of rank in the corps of engineers the General says there is a twofold evil.

"First, the great hardships and injustice to the officers themselves: for they have, almost without exception, refused or been refused high positions in the volunteer service, (to which they have seen their contemporaries of the other branches elevated,) on the ground that their services as engineers were absolutely necessary. Second, it is an evil to the service: since an adequate rank is almost as necessary to an officer for the efficient discharge of his duties as professional knowledge. The engineer's duty is a responsible one. He is called upon to decide important questions, — to fix the position of defensive works, (and thereby of the troops who occupy them,) —to indicate the manner and points of attack of fortified positions. To give him the proper weight with those with whom he is associated, he should have, as they have, adequate rank.

"The campaign on the Peninsula called for great labor on the part of the engineers. The country, notwithstanding its early settlement, was a terra incognita. We knew the York River and the James River, and we had heard of the Chiekahominy; and this was about the extent of our knowledge. Our maps were so incorrect that they were found to be worthless before wo reached Yorktown. New ones had to be prepared, based on reconnoissances made by officers of engineers.

"The siege of Yorktown involved great responsibility, besides exposure and toil. The movements of the whole army were determined by the engineers. The Chickahominy again arrested us, where, if possible, the responsibility and labor of the engineer officers were increased. In fact, everywhere, and on every occasion, even to our last position at Harrison's Landing, this responsibility and labor on the part of the engineers was incessant.

"I have stated above in what manner the officers of engineers performed their duties. Yet thus far their services are ignored and unrecognized, while distinctions have been bestowed upon those who have had the good fortune to command troops. Under such circumstances it can hardly be expected that the few engineer officers yet remaining will willingly continue their services in this unrequited branch of the military profession. We have no sufficient officers of engineers at this time with any of our armies to commence another siege, nor can they be obtained. In another war, if their services are thus neglected in this, we shall have none."

It is to be hoped that the General's appeal for additional rank to the officers of engineers will not be overlooked. The officers of this corps have demonstrated not only their skill as engineers, but also their ability to command troops and even armies. On the side of our country's cause we have McClellan, Halleck, Rosecrans, Gillmore, and Barnard, besides

a score of others, all generals; and in the ranks of the Rebels we find Lee, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Gilmer, and Smith, all generals, too, and all formerly officers of engineers. Nobly have they all vindicated the scale of proficiency which placed them among the distinguished of their respective classes at their common Alma Mater.

Whatever may have been the services of other men during our present struggle for nationality, and whatever may be their services in the future, to General Barry, the Chief of Artillery of the Army of the Potomac, from the organization of that army to the close of the Peninsular campaign, more than to any other person, belongs the credit of organizing our admirable system of field-artillery.

We have two reports from General Barry: one, on "The Organization of the Artillery of the Army of the Potomac "; the other, a "Report of the Operations of the Artillery at the Siege of Yorktown." Of the services of the artillery during the remainder of the campaign we have no record from its chief; but they were conspicuous on every battle-field, and will not be forgotten until Malvern Hill shall have passed into oblivion.

After the first Battle of Bull Run, the efforts of the nation were directed to organizing an army for the defence of the national capital. Of men and money we had plenty; but men and money, however necessary they may be, do not make an army. Cannon, muskets, rifles, pistols, sabres, horses, mules, wagons, harness, bridges, tools, food, clothing, and numberless other things, are required; but men and money, with all this added materiel of war, still will not make an efficient army. Organization, discipline, and instruction arc necessary to accomplish this. At the time of which we speak the people of this country did not comprehend what an army consisted of, or, if they did, they comprehended it as children, — by its trappings, its men and horses, its drums and fifes, its " pomp and circumstance."

Few even of our best officers who had honestly studied their profession had ever seen an army, or fully realized the amount of labor that was necessary, even with our unbounded resources, to organize an efficient army ready for the field. Happily for our country, there were some who in garrison had learned the science and theory of war, and in Mexico, or in expeditions against our Western Indians, bad acquired some knowledge of its practice. Of these General McClellan was selected to be the chief. Ho had seen armies in Europe, and it was believed that he could bring to his aid more of the right kind of experience for organization than any other man. If there is any one thing more than another for which General McClcllan is distinguished, it is his ability to make an army. Men may have their opinions as to his genius or his courage, his polities or his generalship; they may think he is too slow or too cautious, or they may say he is not equal to great emergencies; but of his ability to organize an army there is a concurrent opinion in his favor.

By himself, however, he would have been helpless. He required assistance. He was obliged to have chiefs of the several arms about him, — a chief of engineers, of artillery, of cavalry, and chiefs of the several divisions of infantry.

General Barry was his chief of artillery. To him was assigned the duty of organizing this arm of the service. We learn from his Report, that, "when Major-General McClellan was appointed to the command of the 'Division of the Potomac,' July 25th, 1861, a few days after the first Battle of Bull Run, the whole field-artillery of his command consisted of no more than parts of nine batteries, or thirty pieces of various, and, in some instances, unusual and unserviceable calibres. Most of these batteries were also of mixed calibres. My calculations were based upon the expected immediate expansion of the 'Division of the Potomac' into the 'Army of the Potomac,' to consist of at least one hundred thousand infantry. Considerations involving the peculiar character and extent of tho force

to be employed, the probable field and character of operations, the utmost efficiency of the arm, and the limits imposed by the as yet undeveloped resources of the nation, led to the following general propositions, offered by mo to MajorGeneral McClellan, and which received his full approval."

These propositions in brief were, —

1st. "That the proportion of artillery should be in the ratio of at least two and a half pieces to one thousand men."

2d. "That the proportion of rifled guns should be one-third, and of smooth bores two-thirds."

3d. "That each field-battery should, if practicable, be composed of six. guns."

4th. "That the field - batteries were to be assigned to 'divisions,' and not to brigades."

5th. " That the artillery reserve of the whole army should consist of one hundred gans."

6th. "That the amount of ammunition to accompany the field-batteries was not to be less than four hundred rounds per gun."

7th. That there should be "a siegetrain of fifty pieces."

8th. "That instruction in the theory and practice of gunnery, as well as in the tacties of the arm, was to be given to the officers and non-commissioned officers of the volunteer batteries, by the study of suitable text-books, and by actual recitations in each division, under the direction of the regular officer commanding the divisional artillery."

9th. That inspections should be made.

Such, with trifling modifications, were the propositions upon which tho artillery of the Army of the Potomac was organized ; and this organization finds its highest recommendation in the fact that it remains unchanged, (except very immaterially,) and has been adopted by all other armies in the field. The sudden and extensive expansion of the artillery of tho Army of the Potomac, that occurred from July 25, 1861, to March, 1862, is unparalleled in the history of war. Tabulated, it stands thus : —

« ZurückWeiter »