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THE SEVEN DAYS.
On the 25th of June, a forward movement of the picket-line of the left was ordered, preparatory to a general and final advance. The orders were successfully carried out, and about a mile of ground was gained, with small loss. The advantage thus secured was important, as by it both the corps of Heintzelman and Sumner were placed in a better position for supporting the main attack, which it was intended General Franklin should commence the following day. During this day, June 25, information came that the enemy had received reinforcements from Beauregard's army, and that Jackson was near Hanover Court-House with a large body of troops.
On the next day, Thursday, the 26th, General McClellan had intended to make a final attack; but he was anticipated by the enemy, and assailed on his right by a strong force which crossed the Chickahominy at Meadow bridge and near Mechanicsville. It appears that on the 25th a council of the Confederate generals was held at Richmond, and it was determined that while Jackson was moving upon the right flank of the Federal army a general and simultaneous attack should be made upon the whole line. When the approach of the enemy was discovered on our right, our pickets were called in, and the regiment and battery at Mechanicsville were withdrawn. A strong position was taken by our troops so as to resist the threatened attack. It extended along the left bank of Beaver Dam Creek,
a slender tributary of the Chickahominy, which runs nearly north and south. The front line was composed of McCall's division : Seymour's brigade held the left, and Reynolds's the right. Meade's brigade was in reserve. The left of the line was covered by the river, the right by two brigades of Morell's division, deployed for the purpose of protecting that flank. The position bad been carefully prepared, and was materially strengthened by “slashings” and rifle-pits. The creek in front, bordered by beautiful catalpa-trees in flower, was crossed by only two roads practicable for artillery. It was to force these roads that the enemy mado especial efforts. Their attack began at three P.M. along the whole line, and a determined attempt was made at the same time to carry the upper road. General Reynolds succeeded in resisting this attempt, and the enemy fell back for a while. Our troops then had a breathing-space for a couple of hours,-though the fire of the artillery and the skirmishing did not cease. The passage of the lower road was then attempted; but here also General Seymour was successful. The action ceased as the darkness gathered, and the enemy retired at nine o'clock from the front of a position which it had assailed in vain and with very heavy loss. We had been successful at all points; and the troops that lay that night in front of Richmond will never forget the enthusiasm that ran like wildfire through our lines, from the heights of the upper Chickahominy to the lowlands of White Oak Swamp, when the news of the success was brought to them,
and, amid the ringing cheers of men, the bands, long silent by command, filled the air with strains of triumphant music.
In the course of the 26th, the rapid movement of events, and especially the cloud of advancing forces on our right, every moment growing darker and more menacing, determined General McClellan to put into immediate execution that plan of transferring his base of operations to the James River which he had been meditating for some days, and in view of which he had already directed large supplies of forage and provisions to be forwarded. The task was one of no common difficulty. The distance between the points of departure and destination was about seventeen miles. An army
of ninety thousand men, including cavalry and artillery, was to be marched this distance; and, what was much more difficult, a boundless procession of four thousand wagons, carrying supplies, must go with it, a large siege-train must be transported, and a herd of twenty-five hundred oxen must be driven. For the wagons, the train, and the cattle there was but one road available : luckily, it was in good condition. But it ran north and south, and between it and Richmond there were several roads going east and west, along which attacks might be expected from an active and vigilant enemy. General McClellan, in short, was attempting one of the most difficult and dangerous enterprises in war,a flank movement in the face of a superior force. But there was no help for it: it must be done.
Time was now an element of the greatest import
The design was to be kept concealed from the enemy till the latest possible moment, and every instant of the precious interval was to be profitably employed. Orders were immediately telegraphed to Colonel Ingalls, quartermaster at the White House, to run the cars till the last moment, filling them with provisions and ammunition, to load all his wagons with subsistence and send them to Savage's Station, to forward as many supplies as possible to James River, and to destroy the rest. These commands were all obeyed, and so promptly and skilfully that nearly every thing was saved, and only a comparatively small amount of stores destroyed.*
To begin auspiciously the contemplated movement, it was necessary to keep the enemy in check on the left bank of the river as long as possible, to give time for the removal of the siege-guns and trains. The night following the 26th of June was a busy one on the right of our army, and the work of removal went on till after sunrise; but shortly before daylight it was sufficiently advanced to permit the withdrawal of the troops from Beaver Dam Creek. 'A new position was taken, in an arc of a circle, covering the approaches to our bridges of communication. The first line was composed of the divisions of Morell and Sykes, the former on
* The Prince de Joinville says that a complete railway train, locomotive, tender, and cars, which had been left the rails, was sent headlong over the broken bridge into the river. Nothing was left for the enemy but three siege-guns; and these were the only siege-guns he captured.
the left, the latter on the right. The division of McCall was posted in reserve, and fifteen companies of cavalry under General Cooke were in rear of the left. The battle-ground was a rolling country, partly wooded and partly open, extending from the descent to the Chickahominy on the left, and curving around, in rear of Coal Harbor, towards the river again. Our artillery was posted on the commanding ground, and in the intervals between the divisions and brigades; and the slope towards the river, on our left, was also swept by the fire of four batteries, one of them of siege-guns, on the right bank of the river. General Stoneman's movable column, comprising most of our cavalry and some picked troops of the other arms, which had been cut off by the rapid advance of Jackson, fell back on White House, and rendered no assistance during the battle.
Our dispositions were completed about noon of Friday, June 27, and shortly after that hour the skirmishers of the enemy appeared, advancing rapidly, and a general attack was made upon the whole position. The engagement soon became extremely severe, and General Porter asked for reinforcements. At two P.M., Slocum's division of the 6th Corps was ordered to cross the river and support him. By three P.M. the pressure of the superior numbers of the enemy had become so heavy that all the reserves had been moved forward, and our line, thus strengthened, met and resisted repeated and desperate attacks along the whole front. General Slocum's division arrived at balf-past three,