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						181
	The Battle of Williamsburg.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
look to the left and you see upon the plain one fort,
two forts, three forts forts away to a dammed up
body of water, bounded next an impassable ravine-
swamp by a high and narrow mill-dam, commanded
by a battery overlooking it, and the passage of which
would be a labor that the warriors that crossed the 
bridge of Lodi would have been swept from like
oat-chaff.  Go down from the high parapets of Fort
Magruder, and go away over to the right (western)
point of the horse-shoe of the Rebel position, pass
through that  ravine  (so convenient and secure for
the reception of the reenforcements to be marched
up from Williamsburg), and enter, if you can, the
chevaux-de-frise of forest-trees tumbled with cow-
ardly and savage ingenuity five hundred feet wide,
and stretching further than you can see to the west
upon an arc of difficulty that would appal the bravest
troops that England, France, or Russia ever sent
into the field.  The fallen timber was mostly hem-
lock and pine.  Grown on a swamp, it was thick
and rank.  The trees were cut so as to interlock their
branches.  They lapped each other.  The ingenuity
of the chopping is astonishing; in little alleys leading
into this terrible cover going straight seemingly
ending turning at right angles advancing again 
terminating anew in a mass of limbs and trunks and
branches, through which a tiger could not force him-
self alleys leading in from the open space before
Fort Magruder, and made for the Rebels to conven-
iently go and come in their labor of sheltered mas-
sacre of unprotected Northerners.  Get through this
monstrous cover if you have a change of clothes,
and the hopes of a second growth of skin get into
the thick standing forest of which it was last week
a part.  Here is a dead Alabamian.  Five rods be-
yond him a sharp-visaged Virginian, barefooted and
naked now to the waist, turns up to the sunlight a
breast with the blue-rimmed bullet-hole, and proves
that in this dense forest, beyond the timber cheveaux
de-frise, the Rebels first fought us under cover,
and practiced their barbarous civilization, of robbing
and stripping their own dead.  Far, far into this
tangled, swampy forest, you keep coming upon the
ragged and dirtily-clad barbarians, lying upon their
backs, in every form of bloody death their faces,
without a single exception, denoting a different race
of people from those of the North a race below the
negroes, in reducing whom to Slavery they have
brutalized themselves.
  Now go back to Yorktown, south-east, and to
Lee s Mills, south-west, 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 pocket 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

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
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-
ling 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.
  When Sumner, at 5 o clock, the evening before,
communicated to Heintzelman the purpose to com-
mence the attack immediately, the latter, who had
no control of him, but did have control of Hooker,
ordered the latter to post his division immediately 
on the left the ground that Sumner should have
occupied with his large command.  He did more 
he instantly sent back for re-enforcements, anticipat-
ing that Sumner would be repulsed.  He did more
yet did his duty to the army and the cause, by
sending one of his aids to the front, to say to Sumner
that Gen. Hooker would attack the enemy at day-
break on the left, and to suggest to him to defer his
own attack in the center till that time.  The aid
hunted faithfully for Sumner through the tangled 
forest for over an hour, and then returned and
reported him non est inventus.  It was not to be
wondered at for so dense were the woods, and so
dense was the dark that Sumner, with his staff,
had even run against the enemy s pickets and were
fired on.  Forunately none of them were killed.
More fortunately yet, his regiments marching into
the wood, and coming upon each other in the night-
gloom, did not commence a destructive battle of
Union troops upon Union troops.  The intelligence
and discipline of American private soldiers saved the
army from a horrible disaster.  More yet at the
conference between Sumner, Heintzelman, Keyes,
Stoneman, Smith and Hancock, Gen. Heintzelman,
I am assured, refused to offer a suggestion until a
reconnoissance had been made, and insisted upon one
being made.  It was not ordered.  Night fell, as I
have said before, ere the preparations by Sumner for
his attack had been made,and before his regiments
disappeared in the woods.  At the time it was evi-
dent to the commonest teamster in the army, that
upon the narrow and wretched road from Yorktown,
choked with cavalry, infantry, artillery and wagons,
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page two hundred and eight
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; Fort Magruder (Va.); Gunn, Thomas Butler; Hancock, William Scott; Heintzelman, Samuel Peter; Hooker, Joseph; Journalism; Keyes, Erasmus D.; McClellan, George B.; Military; New York tribune.; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Smith, William F.; Stoneman, George; Sumner, Edwin V.; Wilkeson, Samuel
Coverage (City/State):Williamsburg, Virginia; Yorktown, 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.