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Federal troops, which compelled them to retire. One gun was abandoned. General Hooker's men straggled nobly against the terrible disadvantages under which they were fighting,—for the rebels, seeing the progress they were making, sent back for reinforcements, and they increased during the day until not less than twenty-five thousand of their troops turned back from their retreat.
As the enemy gradually augmented in number, the fight became more severe, and was hotly contested on both sides. General Hooker had resolved to maintain his position. General Grover's brigade, (the First, Eleventh and Sixteenth Massachusetts, and Second New Hampshire,) was on the left; General Sickles' brigade, (the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Excelsior of New York,) and General Patterson's New Jersey brigade, (the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth,) occupied positions nearer the right of the column. Near these were company "H," United States First Artillery, Captain Bramhall, and company "O," New York Volunteer Artillery, Captain Smith. These regiments took positions along the edge of the woods, and the artillery opened on the forts, when the struggle became general nearly along the whole line.
At an early period of the battle it was perceived that the enemy was endeavoring to turn the left of the Federal line, when a part of the First and the Eleventh Massachusetts were ordered forward to anticipate and prevent the movement. While the Eleventh was engaged at a point about fifty yards from the enemy, a rebel officer displayed a white flag, and shouted, "Don't fire on your friends!" Colonel Blaisdell immediately ordered his men to cease firing, and Michael Doherty, a private of company A, stepped forward to meet the flag, upon which the officer called out to his men," Now, give it to them!" The command was immediately obeyed, and a heavy fire was poured into the regiment, by which a number of men were cut down. Doherty fell among the rest, but he fired his piece at the dastardly officer, who fell dead upon the spot.
The First Massachusetts remaiaed at its post, doing severe execution among the enemy until all its ammunition had been expended, when it was relieved by the Seventy-second New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Moses, which was in turn relieved by the Seventieth New York, Colonel Dwight, who was also aided by a portion of the Second New Hampshire. ,
The reinforcements of the enemy were pouring in, and adding continually to the severity of the struggle. Colonel Moses was ordered to the front, for the purpose of silencing a battery on the left. He was soon confronted with a most murderous fire, when he was relieved by the Seventieth New York. The rebel regiments in front were reinforced by another, and soon successfully engaged. Colonel Dwight was slightly wounded in the leg, and Colonel Farnum, being severely wounded, was carried to the rear. The regiment fought with determined bravery, against superior numbers, when Colonel Dwight ordered a charge through the fallen timber. The soldiers, with invigorating cheers, advanced upon the rebels, and with irresistible ardor put them to flight. The regiment held its position till its ammunition was exhausted, and then supplied themselves from the cartridge-boxes of their dead and wounded comrades.
On came the rebel reinforcements. Massive and determined columns pressed forward, and at last the helpless regiment, which had expended all its ammunition, was pressed vigorously by the enemy, and Colonel Dwight and many of his men were taken prisoners. They were carried to Williamsburg, where they were rescued the next day, when the Federal army reached that city. The heroism of this regiment may be seen from the fact that out of thirty-three commissioned officers who went into the action, no less than twenty-two were killed or wounded.
The engagement had now become one of grand proportions. Two regiments of the J^ew Jersey brigade were conducted by General Patterson to the front, to assist in repelling another attempt of the enemy to turn the Federal left. They occupied the heavy timber which interrupted the view of the enemy's works. When they advanced they were also met by fresh regiments of the enemy, and for a time the advantage alternated between the contending forces, and the tide of battle was seen to ebb and flow on either side, uncertain as to the issue. The forces of the enemy suffered severely as well as the Federals, who delivered
their fire while lying upon the ground. Just then, Colonel Johnson came up with the Eighth New Jersey, in time to check the flanking movement of the enemy, which was rapidly reaching round to the left. Again the orders of the rebel officers, to the front and rear were heard, and again the surging columns of the foe were met and driven back. In this position for nearly five hours the New Jersey brigade stood the fire of superior numbers, and with all the coolness and determination of veterans resisted the advance of the enemy. At a late hour in the* day the arrival of fresh troops relieved them from the ground they had disputed with such undaunted courage.
Generals Heintzelman and Sumner united their commands toward the right, on the line of the Yorktown road. General Hooker, finding himself so severely pressed, sent to General Heintzelman for reinforcements, but he was away, and the message was read and returned to General Hooker by General Sumner, who endorsed it, "opened and read by the senior officer on the field." After some time spent in painful suspense by General Hooker, he was cheered by the arrival of General Peck with his brigade, forming the advance of General Couch's division, which arrived on the ground at one o'clock, having marched up from Lee's Mills, ten or twelve miles, that morning, in the midst of a pouring rain, and through mud ankle deep. General Hooker being sorely pressed, the men were marched at once into the field, taking a position on his right, in the centre of the army, where they were at once exposed to the full force of the enemy's fire. For two hours they held their position against terrible odds. Twice they were driven back, and twice they rallied again, and recovered their ground.
When the brigade first reached the field, the One Hundred and Second Pennsylvania advanced to the front, delivered its fire, and fell back, giving place to the Ninety-eighth Pennsylvania, which held the ground until the One Hundred and Second rallied, and the two maintained the position. The Fifty-fifth New York, De Trobrian's Zouaves, came up on the left and then retired, while the Sixty-second New York held the rebels in check, and the One Hundred and Second and Ninetyeighth Pennsylvania delivered a cross-fire. The Fifty-fifth then formed a new line of battle, and advanced to the support of the Sixty-second, and the Ninety-third Pennsylvania came up and opened fire on a battery commanding the road, until the rebels were driven back at all points.
The Federal reinforcements were at last coming up to the scene of action. Urgent requests for aid had been sent to the rear, and Governor Sprague rode back from the field to Yorktown, to report the facts to General McClellan and urge forward the requisite assistance. In the mean time General Kearney, with his division, a part of General Heintzelmar's corps, had received orders from him to press on with the utmost haste, which was done. He arrived, closely followed by General Berry, with his brigade, when they took a position on the extreme left, in order to prevent flanking by tbe enemy. The Third Michigan was ordered to the left as a support, while General Berry moved forward with the remaining regiments, arriving on the ground at about halfpast two o'clock, p. M. The Fifth Michigan, Colonel Terry, proceeded to the left of the road, in front of some fallen timber and the rifle-pits, while the Thirty-seventh New York, Colonel Hayman, went still further to the left. The Second Michigan occupied a position on the right of the road. As soon as these arrangements were completed, an order was given for the troops under General Berry to advance and charge, which they did in a splendid manner, driving the enemy entirely out of the timber. At this charge the enemy lost sixty-three men killed. The rebels, being posted in the rifle-pits, caused the Federal troops much annoyance. The Fifth Michigan, however, soon compelled them to retreat, although it lost a great many of its men in the effort.
The enemy had the advantage of protection, while the Union men were obliged to expose themselves in bold relief. The Federal bullets could not penetrate the earth-works around the rifle-pits, and the only way to drive the enemy out was to make a bayonet charge. This charge was made in splendid style by the Fifth Michigan in front, and the Thirty-seventh New York at the left, the men pushing up to the pits near enough to bayonet the riflemen behind them. By this charge considerable loss was occasioned on both sides.
When General Kearney's troops were coming into action, they met the lengthened files of General Hooker's wounded being carried to the rear. The shrieks of the lacerated and bleeding soldiers, who had been fighting so long and so well, pierced the air, and this, joined to the mud and rain, and the exhaustion of those who had come several miles on a forced march, was not calculated to produce a favorable impression on them as they were going into action. General Heintzelman, however, ordered several of the bands to strike up national and martial airs; and, when the strains of these familiar tunes reached the ears of the wounded, their cheers mingled with those of the soldiers who were just rushing into the battle. The effect was wonderful on the other side; for some of the prisoners state that when they heard the bands strike up the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by that enthusiastic cheer, they knew that the victory would be ours.
The Third and Fourth Maine regiments having been detached from General Birney's brigade, and temporarily assigned to General Emory, General Birney came forward with the two remaining regiments,—the Thirty-eighth New York, Colonel J. H. Ward, and the Fortieth New York, Colonel Reilly. These were deployed to the right of the Hampton road, and, like those under General Berry on the left, relieved fragments of regiments which had borne the brunt of the battle sinc« its commencement. All this time the rebel artillery was sending a rapid fire into the Federal ranks.
The Thirty-eighth New York regiment was ordered to charge down the road and take the enemy's rifle pits in front by the flank. Colonel Ward led seven companies of his regiment in this most brilliant and successful charge. The other three companies, under Lieutenant-Colonel Strong, were doing efficient service in an adjacent portion of the field.
The battle had now been raging uninterruptedly from an early hour in the morning, and seemed at last to be checked by the heroic conduct and successful charge of General Kearney's troops. The extreme left was still heavily pressed, however, by the obstinate force of the rebels in that part of the line.
To General Hancock was intrusted the most dangerous, because the boldest manoeuvre of the day. He passed with his brigade—the Fifth Wisconsin, Colonel Cobb; the Sixth Maine, Colonel Burnham; the Forty-ninth Pennsylvania, Colonel Lowrie ; the seventh Maine, Colonel Mason, and the Thirty-third New York, Colonel R. F. Taylor, supported by Lieutenant Cowan's and Captain Wheeler's batteries—to the right, for a mile parallel to the front, but completely hidden by the forest. Thence across a fifty-acre heath edged with timber, north to the extreme left of the enemy's line of works. At this point the rebels had dammed a creek which empties into York river, and straight across the narrow causeway frowned an earthwork, which looked imposing as a castle from its commanding position on the opposite hill.
General Hancock found this singular defence deserted, but it was with caution his skirmishers ventured across the dam and planted the Federal flag on the parapet, fifty feet above water mark. Then the whole force went over at double-quick, turned to the left, and followed a narrow, dangerous road, a gorge cut in the hill-side by the pond, till it emerged in turn, from the east, on the open battle-field.
A splendid picture met the eye. Two miles distant Hooker was fighting the rebels on the other side of Fort Page. From the latter point the rebel artillery was playing upon his lines. Between Hancock and the fort were two lesser works, at intervals of half a mile. Their garrisons quickly retreated on seeing him, and retired on the main force—the movement before practiced on the left, and one which plainly indicated that the rebel force was too small to hold the line. But it was also evident, from the determined stand made in and near Fort Page, that the rear guard was under orders to make a desperate maintenance of its position.
Although Hancock had a regiment with him besides his own, yet his