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						177
	The Battle of Williamsburg.

[newspaper clipping continued]
eted.  I know, too, that at least one of our prisoners
was seen to murder two of our fallen men in cold
blood, for I saw the comrades of the slain lurk-
ing round the hut, swearing they would have the
assassin s life.  You will get more of this sort of
itemizing hereafter; it is not pleasant to record it.
  Their officers showed to more advantage.  Some
were gentlemen.  All were anxious that their
names should be recorded that the news of their
surviving might reach their friends.  They talked
freely enough.  I doubt the existence of a grain of
Union sentiment in any of them.
  I must break off here.  That night and the next
I slept in Williamsburg.  I am alone, in a big, de-
serted house, at night,  squatted  in on his own
responsibility by a comrade.  A sentinel paces to
and fro in front of the door, and I hear a band play-
ing the  Star Spangled Banner  at no great dis-
tace.  The townsfolk are in-doors, subject to mar-
tial law, silent and cowed.  To-morrow I resume
the march with the army.

[Gunn s diary continued]
  The two following letters
are by Sam. Wilkeson:

[newspaper clipping: first column]
		WILLIAMSBURG, Va., May 8, 1862.
  Let us go back to Yorktown, and to Lee s
Mills, and let the time be Sunday noon, and
the occasion our pursuit of the retreating Rebels,
and the principal dramatis person  Sumner and
Heintzelman.  Sumner, who ranks Heintzelman
in the date of his commission, had in his picket an
order from McClellan, which in its substance and
effect was to halt on the left.  Heintzelman carried
a written order to go straight up the Yorktown road
to Williamsburg which would have brought him on
the right.  Nightfall carried our troops up to the
rear of the enemy, and brought Sumner past his
proper position, the left, and on to the right, and
into a dense, wet wood, that not a man in the army
had ever entered or knew anything about.  Where
were the enemy?  How many were they?  Beyond
there, in the dark, were their intrenchments?  What
was there that a corps of 30,000 troops might run
disastrously against?  Military questions all.  A
close-coming storm wholly obscured the sky.  On
my night-ride to the front so dark was it that the
better sight of my horse only saved me from tramp-
ing the fallen soldiers who lined the road for miles.
Diverted into the woods by artillery trains and am-
munition wagons, I was, repeatedly, almost swept 
from the saddle by the unseen branches of trees.
Yet in such darkness, and in such ignorance of his
ground, and such ignorance of his foe, Sumner was
stumbling around in the forest, where his 30,000
men were waiting for daylight to enable them to
find the Rebel rear, which they had been ordered to
attack the evening before stumbling around to find
his way back to Adams s house, his headquarters 
stumbling till nearly daydawn while one of his
divisions, 10,000 strong, lay down among the trees,
cursing the mismanagement which had ordered them
to march without a mouthful of food in their haver-
sacks, and another division, also 10,000, strong,
wrathfully thought of their knapsacks, which they
had been ordered to leave behind in their camp, and
exhausted ingenuity in avoiding the moisture of the
swampy ground.  Before daylight a heavy down-
pour of cold rain set in from the north-east.

[newspaper clipping: second column]
  Monday. A chill north-east rain storm was in full
sweep over the country.  Sumner did not commence
the attack which he had spent the night before in
wandering through the forest to make, but he com-
menced a conference.  Heintzelman earnestly advised
a reconnoissance.  It was ordered.  While in pro-
gress from east to west, the officers conducting it
sent back word that on the enemy s extreme left
were two unoccupied forts, part of a chain stretch-
ing away across, below Williamsburg.  Negroes
accidentally at headquarters, offered to guide us to
them by a road which was in part a mill dam.  Sum-
ner intimated that he should wait till the reconnois-
sance was finished before he acted.  On Heintzel-
man s suggestion that in the mean time the enemy
might occupy these forts, Hancock was ordered to
pour his troops into them.  This laid the foundation
of the victory of Williamsburg.
  Between 7 and 8 o clock, Hooker, on the ex-
treme left, gave through the down-pouring rain
the order to drive in the enemy s pickets.  The
enemy were in great force.  Our utmost numbers
were 8,000.  All of these were exhausted with a
twelve-miles  march through the most atrocious
mud-roads that can disgrace the barbarism even
of a Slave State with a twenty-four hours  rain from
which they had no shelter with a want of food fro
which official negligence cannot justly be imputed.
But they went to work with characteristic Northern
resoluteness, and sent the Rebel pickets in flying.
But re-enforcements from Williamsburg began to
come in immediately the oldest and best troops in
the Rebel army most of them of the Bull Run and
Manassas experience.  At 9, the enemy grew thicker
and more aggressive.  Hooker s second and third
brigades went in, and were soon followed by Em-
ory s cavalry and Benson s battery.  The fight now
became furious.  The great preponderance of
the Rebels, with their carefully cultivated con-
tempt of the courage of Northern men, im-
pelled them upon our regiments with audacity
and the characteristic rage of their civilization.  The
steadiness and pluck of the Northerners were what
was expected of disciplined American troops.  Our
musketry fire was terrible.  Rapid, in time, and
with deliberate aim at the breast, it mowed the 
enemy in great swaths.  The oldest Mexican war sol-
diers on the field noted its rapid and solid character,
and said that they had never seen it equalled.  It,
however, began to exhaust the cartridge boxes.
Soon the equilibrium of the fight was lost, and the
result, to Heintzelman s experienced eye, when he
arrived on the field at 12  , wore a doubtful look.
He instantly sent to Kearney for re-enforcements 
then hurried an orderly to Gen. Sumner to represent
the instant necessity of his re-enforcing him with
more troops, or by a diversion to be made by an at-
tack on his part on the enemy s center.  To Kearney,
in his rear, full eight miles off, he sent staff officer
after staff officer, to hurry him to extraordinary efforts
to come up.  For a whole hour at a time, he was
left entirely alone on the field.  His impatience, like
Napoleon s for the head of Grouchy s column at
Waterloo, was so intense, that in five minutes after
the return of his messengers, he repeatedl sent
them back with new entreaties to Kearney to move
quickly, to save the unequal fight.  They did not
come, for the rain had utterly ruined the swamp
road.  The danger grew fast, and began to culmi-
nate at 1   o clock, when the enemy made a deter-
mined charge with the bayonet on Hooker s left
with a column of 6,000 fresh troops just up from
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page two hundred and three
Description:Newspaper clipping written by Samuel Wilkeson for ''The New York Tribune,'' regarding the Battle of Williamsburg.
Date:1862-05-08
Subject:Battle of Williamsburg (Va.); Civil War; Emory, William H.; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Hancock, Winfield Scott; Heintzelman, Samuel Peter; Hooker, Joseph; Journalism; Kearny, Philip; Martial law; McClellan, George B.; Military; Music; New York tribune.; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Prisoners of war (Confederate); Sumner, Edwin V.; Wilkeson, Samuel
Coverage (City/State):Williamsburg, [Virginia]
Scan Date:2010-06-17

 

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.