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SIEGE OP YOBKTOWN, VA.
On Sunday, the 9th of March, the rebel camps at Centreville, Manassas and vicinity were evacuated, and on the 10th, the army of General McClellan commenced a forward movement from the vicinity of "Washington toward the abandoned works of the enemy. On the same day a portion of General Kearney's forces reached Centreville, and Federal scouts had explored the deserted works at Manassas Junction. The enemy continued their retreat on the line of the Orange railroad, burning the bridges, and destroying the railroad property on their route.
On the 14th, General McClellan issued an address to the army from his headquarters at Fairfax Court-House, complimenting the men on their discipline, equipment, and patience during the long delay incident to the work of preparation. They were now to be brought face to lace with the enemy, and he besought the army to place perfect trust in him, though his plans of action might seem at times unaccountable.
The cheering news of the capture of New Madrid, the evacuation of Columbus, and the victory at Pea Ridge, now filled all loyal hearts with enthusiasm; and it was fully believed that the army of the Potomac was on the direct route to Richmond, destined to give the death-blow to the rebellion before the month of April should open. Will the rebels make a stand? asked many a confident Unionist, hopeful that the prestige of MoClellan's splendid army would compel the enemy to retire from point to point without risking a battle.
The month of March passed;—and while the public mind was animated with the most cheering details of the western victories—the capture of Newbern, and the defeat of the enemy at Winchester, the great army of the Potomac appeared for the time to have passed from recollection. The Government censorship restrained the publication of any reports of McClellan's movements, and the people, left entirely to hope and conjecture, were sanguine in anticipation of the speedy possession of the Confederate capital.
Late in the month, rumors reached the northern cities of tire arrival of forces at Old Point, on the James river, twenty miles from Norfolk, which were supposed by the Richmond papers to be reinforcements for Burnside. Again curiosity was awakened by the immense number of transports called for and chartered by the Government, daily arriving at the mouth of the Chesapeake. On the 26th, Great Bethel was taken possession of by the Federal troops, and on the 29th a reconnoissance in force was made toward Yorktown It was now generally known that the large army under General McClellan had been conveyed bj transports to Old Point, and was marching to attack the rebel entrenchments at Yorktown, the key of the Peninsula.
On the 5th of April, General McClellan's dispatch to the Secretary of War, announced that his army had that day arrived in front of the enemy's works, having met with but slight opposition on its route.
During this period the weather was unfavorable for military operations. Heavy storm-clouds frowned inauspiciously on the approaching army, rain fell almost daily in torrents, and this at a time when there could be no adequate provision for shelter.
The Federal army was now destined to undergo an experience of toil and privations calculated to try its endurance to the utmost.
Solid roads were absolutely necessary for transportation from the landings to the various encampments, as it was impossible to draw the immense siege and supply trains over or through the soft alluvial mire formed by the unremitting rains, while the creeks and water courses were swollen into torrents. Skirmishing was of daily occurrence—for the enemy neglected no opportunity to annoy their formidable opponents, while the Federal army found it necessary to push its advances within commanding reach of the rebel entrenchments, which stretched from the York to the James rivers, a distance of six miles. The rebel earthworks were ponderously built—some of them of a height and thickness hitherto unparalleled in any war.
The Union soldiery toiled incessantly in the trenches, while covering parties, with efficient batteries, stood guard in their defence, and daily sacrificed some of their brave numbers while protecting their toiling comrades.
The labors of the Federal army soon became apparent. Formidable earthworks began to show their heads, and artillery of the largest calibre was put in position. The rebel generals were struck with astonishment and dismay when the evidences of engineering skill hitherto unsuspected, stood revealed before them.
On the other hand, every day more fully revealed the extensive and intricate line of the rebel defences. Their strength in forts, lunettes and rifle pits—their constantly increasing numbers, and untiring activity, with their accurate knowledge of the topography of the country, increased the magnitude of the work before the Federal army. The natural obstacles to its progress were by no means few or trifling. The sinuous windings of the line of attack they were obliged to assume—the innumerable swamps and pools of water confronting them on every side, the almost impenetrable forests and tangled undergrowth added to their labors and their sufferings. Cold and shivering under garments saturated anew by the rains of to-day, ere those of yesterday had been vaporized, the soldiers endured the pangs of hunger and fatigue unappalled. In view of the terrific struggle before them, human suffering counted for nothing with these brave men. No signs of discontent were manifest. Even in their hardest trials the utmost cheerfulness prevailed; and in more remote positions, where a less rigid discipline was enforced, the patriotic strains of "The Star Spangled Banner" and the "Red, White and Blue," were heard ringing up through the storm. Not unfrequcntly, with faces turned toward the patriot homes from whence they came, would they sing " Do they Miss me at Home?" or " Let me Kiss him for his Mother "—while they breathed the silent prayer that, through the uncertainties of war, they might be permitted again to mingle with their friends in the enjoyment of a bravely won peace.
Daily would some adventurous band of Federal soldiers explore the intricacies of the rebel defences, coming constantly in collision with the enemy. In these adverftures the new and efficient regiments of sharpshooters, just introduced into the United States army, rendered valuable service.
A month before the Union army invested Yorktown, the iron battery Merrimac had made her advent in Hampton Roads, and after destroying the noble old frigates Cumberland and Congress—the pride of a past era—she met the Monitor, her conqueror and the nation's champion. The combat that ensued has stamped a glorious page on the world's history for all time. Like Lucifer in his fall, the rebel monster shrank with "despairing, cursing rage" behind the batteries at Yorktown, while the terrors of her exploits, and rejoicings at her defeat, quickened the nation's heart-pulses from Maine to Maryland.
The noble Minnesota, resting in calm and majestic repose on the waters of the Chesapeake, hitherto would have acknowledged no superior in a naval combat. An exposure for two hours to the heavy guns of the Merrimac, which pierced her wooden walls with shot and shell, while her own missiles were ineffective as pebbles on the scales of the leviathan, destroyed her prestige and her pride of strength.
An efficient fleet of gunboats had been ordered to act in conjunction with McClellan's forces in the reduction of Yorktown; but the presence of the Merrimac no doubt frustrated their plans. On the 15th of April several of the gunboats commenced shelling the woods below Gloucester. One boat approaching within two miles of Yorktown, brought her guns to bear on that place, until driven off by the rebel batteries.
About the same time a portion of the Potomac flotilla ascended the Rappahannock, meeting with but slight opposition, visiting the towns of Urbana and Tappahannock, and destroying the enemy's batteries and huts at Lowry's Point
BATTLE OP LEE'S MILLS, VA.
Apml 16, 1802. .
The defence of Yorktown prompted the rebel chiefs to project a line of batteries and earthworks across the peninsula which has been rendered so prominent in historic interest by the series of important events that have occurred between Richmond and Fortress Monroe. In the course of completing this line, a battery was commenced at a point on the "Warwick road, on the estate of Mrs. Garrow, between Lee's Mills and Winn's Mills. There is here an extensive field, with woods to the right and left, and in the rear of the road. In front, at the foot of a gradually descending slope, is a branch of the Warwick river. The stream had been dammed up between these mills, the water covering a breadth of from thirty to forty rods, and in the deepest parts about four and a half feet deep. On the bank was a rifle-pit, and above it, on the hill, breastworks, with their embrasures for guns, frowned upon the water.
The arrest of this work, and the expulsion of the rebels, became necessary, in order to prevent the completion of what might have become a formidable obstacle. Accordingly, on the morning of the 16th, a party of skirmishers from the Fourth Vermont was thrown out, and took a position near the enemy's one gun battery, at the point named, a New York battery being also advanced at the same time. Opposite the enemy's works at that place there was a considerable space clear of large wood, overgrown with low shrubs and young pine, and surrounded in every direction except towards the enemy by a dense forest. Warwick Creek—from four to five feet deep and about twenty rods wide—separated this field from the rebel battery. Through the low shrubs and young pine the Vermonters made their way up to the edge of the stream, and poured upon the enemy a storm of rifle shot that he soon found it impossible to withstand. After a few moments of this fire not a man was to be seen within the enemy's lines.
Two pieces of the battery—ten-pound Parrots, under Lieutenant Flynn—then took up a position in the edge of the wood, at one thousand yards from the enemy's line, and opened fire. Then the enemy came bravely up to the business, and responded with the large gun in his one gun battery, and with two others in a battery behind it. Lieutenant Stewart, with the second section of the same battery—two twelve-pound Napoleon guns—was ordered up, with the left section, under Lieutenant O'Donald. With this reinforcement the fire became heavy between the artillery on both sides; the Union skirmishers and numbers of the enemy's skirmishers also pouring in their fire whenever they saw an opportunity.
At about ten A. M., after nearly two hours' sharp firing, the enemy ceased to respond, not, it was thought, because his guns had been disabled, but because the Union riflemen held his position so. entirely under fire that it was almost certain death for his men to be seen.
It was now deemed necessary to ascertain the enemy's force at this point and his disposition to fight. Upon consultation between General McClellan and two division commanders, it was determined to make a more decided demonstration of attack, and, accordingly, between three and four p. sr., three batteries were ordered forward into the exposed field, and opened fire at about five hundred yards. This woke the enemy up; he responded warmly for twenty minutes, and onoe more relapsed into silence. In no way deceived by this, the three batteries continued to play upon his position for some minutes longer, when word was brought to the General of the Vermont brigade that the creek was easily fordable, at some distance to the right, and Colonel Hyde, in command of four companies of the Vermont Third, who had skirmished in adv ance, was ordered to send two of his companies across the creek at the point where it was said to be only knee-deep, advance them to the enemy's left, and charge the work in rear. He accordingly sent across companies D and F, and supported them very closely with companies E and K. Meanwhile the Federal batteries became silent. No sooner were the Vermonters in the stream than the water was found to be much deeper than had been stated; the men went up to their arm-pits, and every charge of their ammunition, was, of course, thoroughly soaked. This attempt was made below the dam, and the enemy, when he saw their intention to cross, let in more water upon them by a floodgate.
While the men were in the stream, a large body of the enemy, estimated at three regiments, opened upon them from a rifle-pit on the bank, and this terrible fire cut down nearly half their number. Never was a fire received with greater steadiness or more glorious intrepidity. Except the poor fellows who had been killed or wounded, not a man of the magnificent Vermonters wavered, but all pushed on, and with one shout leaped to the bank, rushed upon the enemy with their bayonets, and fairly drove them in utter rout and confusion. But the contest was too unequal. No supports were within proper distance; and though the enemy was driven away from the first line of pits, and the other two companies of the Third were in the water to cross, those on the other side were ordered to retreat.
After the remnant of these companies returned, the Union batteries, which had in the mean time ceased firing, opened in full force again. Then the Sixth Vermont regiment was ordered to storm the work by the left flank.
Led by their gallant Colonel Lord, they rushed into the water. Seven