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FAIR OAKS-REBEL PLANS,
The work of strengthening their positions was prosecuted with diligence, but continuous rains made the labor slow and fatiguing. The rain, on the thirtieth of May and the night following, was remarkably heavy, and rendered the position of the soldiers in the new intrenchments very uncomfortable. The rebel commanders, fully informed of the numbers and condition of the force which had crossed the Chickahominy, knowing that, except Bottom's bridge, no facilities for crossing existed, and judging that the heavy rains would produce such a food in the river as would render crossing, especially with artillery, impracticable for two or three days, resolved to hurl a greatly superior force upon the small body of troops on the south side of the Chickahominy, and crush it completely, before re-enforcements could be brought to its support. This done, they would be in better position to repel the attacks of McClellan's main army, which, weakened by so heavy losses, would wait for further re-enforcements before attacking Richmond. The move was one of considerable daring, and had it proved successful, would have been productive of great mischief, but its success was only partial the first day, and the second saw the assailants routed and flying.
At about eleven and a half o'clock A, M., the rebel leaders, believing that the river was in full flood, commenced driving in Gen. Casey's pickets, and by twelve and a half o'clock P. m.; had engaged his advance, consisting, it will be remembered, of six regiments of new troops, who, since joining the army, had been subjected to unusual exposures and hardships, and were ill-prepared to resist an attack from more than seven times their number. The attacking force, consisting of about thirty-five thousand of the best disciplined of the rebel troops, under the command of Gen. J. E. Johnston, soon drove back these six regiments in some disorder, the 103d Pennsylvania breaking and flying, joined on its way by a considerable number of sick and stragglers. The main body, however, did not
FAIR OAKS—THE FIRST ASSAULT.
fall into confusion, but retired in order to the first line of the division, a quarter of a mile or more in front of the Seven Pines, where they made a stand and fought desperately, losing a large number of men. The force which pressed upon them was, however, too large to be successfully resisted, and though General Keyes sent forward brigade after brigade from Couch's division, they were pressed back step by step to the second line,-Couch's, - at the Seven Pines, where a stronger abatis partly protected them, and there maintained their position with the utmost obstinacy, while awaiting re-enforcements from Heintzelman's corps. During this part of the battle, many acts of great bravery occurred. Twice from that sorely pressed force, galled by the fire of the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, did one or two regiments dash out, charge the foe, with a loss of one-fourth of their own number, and re-take a battery which had been turned against them, or drive back the flushed and insolent foe. The first charge was made by the 55th New York, the Garde Lafayette, a French regiment, who, for their small stature, had been ridiculed by their comrades, but who covered themselves with glory in this battle. The second was by the 23d and 61st Pennsylvania regiments, under the immediate command of Gen. Couch, and for gallant daring has not often been equaled ; rushing upon a force nearly ten times their own number, and receiving their murderous fire at very short range, a fire which put fully one-third of both regiments hors du combat, they grappled with the foe hand to hand, drove them back, and when, at last, forced to retire, brought with them thirty-five prisoners. By this time, Kearney's division, from Heintzelman's corps, had come up, and that bold and reckless officer flung bis force upon the fue so impetuously as materially to check his progress. Meanwhile, the 10th Massachusetts, from Couch's division, had crossed the field under a scorching fire, and gained a position from which they could enfilade the
PROGRESS OF THE BATTLE,
enemy's advance, and thus materially aided in the forming and maintaining the third line of defence which, with the aid of two brigades from Kearney's Division, was now established on elevated ground, somewhat more than half a mile in rear of the Seven Pines.
Gen. McClellan, who was ill at the time the battle commenced, heard the firing, and directed Gen. Sumner, whose corps — the second - was stationed near Barker's Mill, to to prepare to move to the relief of the troops who were fighting on the south side of the Chickahominy, and that commander promptly threw his men forward, and had them already at the head of the bridge, which he had caused to be constructed, — "Sumner's upper bridge” on the map,—and which had that day been completed, when the order came to cross. The flood on which the rebel commanders had relied to prevent crossing, had not yet reached this part of the river, and by six o'clock P. M., Sedgwick's division having crossed the river, and carried their artillery by hand through the deep mud, had reached the left flank of the enemy near Fair Oaks Station, and commenced a fierce and deterinined attack upon it. The rebel troops still out-numbered ours largely, and they fought most desperately, determined not to be driven from the field they had so nearly won ; once they had nearly succeeded in separating Sedgwick’s forces from those of Heintzelman and Keyes, and thus gaining a position which would have given them the day, but the danger was happily prevented by the quick movement of Gens. Burns, Dana and Gormau's brigades, under Gen. Sumner's orders. About sunset, the rebel Commander-in-chief, Gen. J. E. Johnston, was severely wounded and carried off the field.
Darkness put an end to the fighting for the night, and both armies lay down on the field, to resume the battle early in the morning. The remainder of Sumner's corps crossed in the early part of the night, but not a moment too soon, for
SECOND DAY'S FIGHT-ENEMY ROUTED,
the flood, expected by the rebels at noon, came in the night and carried all before it ; the bridge on which Sumner's soldiers had crossed was carried away, and its timbers borne into the James river, and no other corps could have reached the field except by the long detour of Bottom's bridge.
The Union Generals expected an attack at day-break, on the morning of the first of June, and had formed their men in line to await it, but the rebels, dispirited by the loss of their commander, were in no haste to make it, and it was nearly seven o'clock before they commenced fighting, by an assault upon Gen. Richardson's division, which occupied the right beyond Fair Oaks Station. While they were engaged with French and Howard's brigades here, Hooker, with part of his own division, assailed their right flank south of the Williamsburg road, and after some difficulty in reaching them, on account of the swamp, the whole line, embracing Hooker's immediate command, - the 5th and 6th New Jersey, Sickles' brigade, and a portion of Howard's and French's brigades, – charged upon them with the bayonet, and drove them back nearly a mile. The retreat thus commenced, became a rout as they approached Richmond. By mid-day the fighting was all over, and our army, had it been thrown across the Chickahominy at Bottom's bridge, could, it is believed, have gone directly into Richmond, in the rear of the terrified mob, which were pouring into it from the battle field. Unfortunately, the Federal commander did not know his opportunity
The loss of the Union army was, killed, six hundred and thirteen ; wounded, two thousand five hundred and seventyeight; and missing, six hundred and nine, of whom one hundred and fifteen were prisoners in the hands of the enemy. Total, three thousand eight hundred. The rebel loss, in sixty out of seventy-two regiments, battalions, &c., engaged in the battles, was, as published in the Richmond papers, six thousand seven hundred and thirty-two, killed, wounded and miss
LOSSES UNION FORCES ENGAGED.
ing; in the whole force, it could hardly have been less than eight thousand. The force actually engaged on the Union side, is reckoned by Gen. Heintzelman, in his report, not to have exceeded eleven thousand, ont of about seventeen thousand in all, who were on the south side of the Chickahominy. The rebel force, from their own admission, was not less than thirty-five thousand.
On the day following the battle, — Monday,—Gen. Hooker was ordered by Gen. Heintzelman, to make a reconnoissance in force on the Williamsburg road toward Richmond, and proceeded without other resistance than a little picket firing to a point within three and a half or four miles of that city. In the afternoon, Gen. Heintzelman having informed Gen. McClellan of this reconnoissance, Gen. Hooker was re-called and ordered to occupy the position held before the battle by Gen. Casey's division. The reasons assigned for this reluctance to move forward upon Richmond, by Gen. McClellan, were, that the roads and bridges were not in a condition to permit the passage of heavy artillery, and that to have attacked the city without it, would have been hazardous ; that the troops engaged in the battles of the 31st of May, and 1st of June, were too much exhausted to have been capable of another severe battle ; that even if he had taken Richmond, he could not have held it, having only the single line of the York River railroad to connect him with his base of supplies, and that he needed McDowell's corps as re-enforcements, before such a movement would have been practicable.
Nineteen days later, viz: on the 20th of June, his returns to the Adjutant General's office were as follows, Gen. McCall's force having been received meanwhile : present for duty, one hundred and fifteen thousand one hundred and two : special duty, sick and in arrest, twelve thousand two hundred and twenty-five ; absent, twenty-nine thousand five hundred and eleven ; total, one hundred and fifty-six thousand eight hun