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						93
	       The First Day s Fight.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
him; her son, a boy of twelve, had gone to some
place of safety, only  baby  remained.  I inquired
if we Yankees had proved the depredators supposed,
and if we had pillaged or inflicted injury upon the
country folks.  Keeping a wary eye on the closed 
door of her  hennery,  through a side window, she
replied,  No, she couldn t say they had,  and pres-
ently she started up in alarm, with a cry that the
soldiers were trying the door, and I have no doubt
they were.
  She possessed sundry specimens of Confederate
shinplasters, and clung fondly to the hope that they d
be worth something some time.  I read upon one of
them the words,  After the acknowledgment of the
Confederate States by the United States,  and de-
cided that the  day after never  might have ex-
pressed the equivalent of the date.
  Onward again  forward to Richmond!  through
roads rendered horribly muddy by the rain-storm
which has just overblown itself, by fields that are
mere quagmires, or jungles of rotting corn-stalks,
along the open, through forest, thicket, stream-
let and meadow onward!  Bayonets, plodding and
plashing men, mules tugging at wagons and ambu-
lances, body  mired  in the intolerable road, cattle
(for some of us take with us our own beeves), train af-
ter train of artillery a martial procession that seems
to have no end and no beginning such is the aspect 
of the march to Yorktown.  Gens. McClellan, Heintz-
elman, Porter, Hooker, and Hamilton, are ahead,
and the booming of cannon tells us the attack has 
commenced.
	       THE FIRST DAY S FIGHT.
  How shall I describe the memorable hours that fol-
lowed, until, tired out, sick, and sad at heart, at the
sounds and sights of human agony presented by the
rooms beneath (I have said I slept in a house occu-
pied as a hospital), and with an awed consciousness
of the horrors involved in war, that found its only
flitting expression in a fervent, involuntary prayer to
Almighty God that this one might be brief, very
brief I retired to the sleep that comes of fatigue and
exhaustion.  Then the boom of cannon made the
casements rattle, and the glare of some distant con-
flagration on the left lent an additional terror to the
dreary landscape.  Now the sun is shining on as
beautiful a Sunday as ever invited man abroad to
bless the Creator for existence, and my task is to
narrate the first day s doings of the attack on York-
town.
  An on-looker, a mile or two behind the action
saw nothing but camps, marching men, distant
woods, rising grounds, and puffs of smoke; heard
nothing but the firing of target rifles and the report
of cannon.  What I have since gathered is neces-
sarily imperfect; all accounts at this time of writing
must be so.
  The day, then, was devoted to sharp-shooting and
artillery practice on both sides.  The accompanying

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
plan, for which I am indebted to Lieut. W. Elmen-
dorf of Col. Berdan s 1st Regiment will enable you
to understand the localities.
  The Rebel entrenchments, it will be seen, extend 
in the shape of a semi-circle from York toward James
River.  They are high earthworks, mounted with
heavy barbette guns 32 pounders.  Situated on an
open plain, with Yorktown at less than a mile s dis-
tance in the rear (its house-tops and windows,
crowded with spectators, were visible to our men
during the action), defended by rifle pits in front, the
rolling ground which slopes downwards, the posi-
tion is emphatically a strong one it may yet cost as
much blood to win it.  The line of earthworks is
about a thousand yards from the woods displayed on
the map, joining them at either side; the land not
muddy but rising to the sandy plain above mentioned.
The shortest range obtainable by our sharp-shooters
at the enemy behind his intrenchments was about
750 yards, from the Peach Orchard marked on the
map, the scene of the hottest firing.
  The number of the enemy has been estimated with
the usual vagueness, at from 1,500 to 5,000.  Troops
were observed pouring in, in a stream, at one period
of the day; three regiments and two squadrons of
cavalry being remarked among them.
	   BERDAN S SHARP-SHOOTERS.
  The action commenced at 1 a. m., under General 
Porter, who had the command of the right wing.
First of all, Col. Berdan s Sharp-shooters, belonging
to the division, advanced as skirmishers, to clear the
woods and reconnoiter, the troops supporting them.
These deployed to the right and left plunging in the
bushes and availing themselves of any stone, tree,
or log that might afford shelter.  Companies A and
G were on the extreme right, before the 5th Massa-
chusetts Battery; Companies C and E, and part of
F, distributed along the fence on the left; Companies
B and H acted as a reserve.  Over three-quarters of
a mile was thus entirely covered by the Sharp-shoot-
ers. But for their admirable pluck, skill, and adroit-
ness, our troops would have been exposed to a mur-
derous fire from every tree and thicket in front of the
Rebel intrenchments.
  Col. H. Berdan and Dr. Snelling (Surgeon of the
Regiment, now deservedly promoted to the Brigade
Surgeonship) followed by three orderlies, had ridden
to the horizontal belt of woods exhibited in the map,
when the first Rebel shot came whizzing over their
heads; another compelled them to seek cover in the
bushes.  There they remained until the men were
fairly deployed, the shot and shell playin fast and
furiously about them; the sharp-shooters lying on
their stomachs and progressing reptile-fashion to
every favorable point for assailing the enemy.
Twenty minutes subsequent the 5th Massachusetts,
under Capt. Allen, came up, and turning to the right
went to work vigorously on the battery fronting
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page one hundred and seven
Description:Newspaper clipping written by Gunn for ''The New York Tribune,'' regarding the first day of fighting in the Battle of Yorktown.
Date:1862-04-06
Subject:Allen, Captain; Siege of Yorktown (Va.); Berdan, Hiram; Civil War; Elmendorf, W., Lieutenant; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Hamilton, Charles Smith; Heintzelman, Samuel Porter; Hooker, Joseph; Hospitals; Journalism; Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 5th; McClellan, George B.; Military; New York tribune.; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Porter, Fitz-John; Snelling, Dr.; United States Sharpshooters Regiment, 1st; Women
Coverage (City/State):Yorktown, [Virginia]
Scan Date:2010-06-14

 

Volume
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen
Description:Includes Gunn's descriptions of his experiences as a war correspondent for ""The New York Tribune"" in Virginia while traveling with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsular Campaign; the Siege of Yorktown; the Battle of Williamsburg; his departure from Alexandria on the steamer Kent; the ruins of Hampton, Virginia, after it was burnt by John B. Magruder; touring the gunboat Monitor; the death of Fitz James O'Brien from a gunshot wound; Jim Parton's temporary separation from Fanny Fern; and seeing Robert E. Lee's house in Virginia.
Subject:Civil War; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Journalism; Marches (U.S. Army); Marriage; Medical care (U.S. Army); Military; Military camp life; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Prisoners of war (Confederate); Siege of Yorktown (Va.); Slavery; Slaves; Travel; Women
Coverage (City/State):New York, New York; Washington, District of Columbia; Alexandria, Virginia; Hampton, Virginia; Yorktown, Virginia; Williamsburg, Virginia
Note:Thomas Butler Gunn was born February 15, 1826, in Banbury, England, and came to New York in 1849. During the Civil War he worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and the New York Evening Post. He returned to England in 1863, and died in Birmingham in April 1903. The collection includes twenty-one volumes of his diaries, including newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, sketches, and various other items inserted by Gunn. Diary entries date from July 7, 1849, to April 7, 1863, and include his experiences with the New York publishing and literary world, his descriptions of boarding houses, his travels throughout the United States, and his experiences traveling with the Federal army as a Civil War correspondent.
Publisher:Missouri History Museum
Rights:Copyright 2010 Missouri History Museum.
Source:Page images, transcriptions, and metadata of the Thomas Butler Gunn diaries have been provided by the Missouri History Museum.