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	The Battle of Williamsburg

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
supplies of food and re-enforcements of men, aye,
and supplies of ammunition even, could not be got
up in time for use before next noon.
  Monday. A chill north-east rainstorm 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.  Freed now at
headquarters, and alarmed by the heaviness of the
battery firing from Hooker s division, Heintzelman
instantly went to the nearest practicable road to his
position, and about 1 o clock found the gallant Gen-
eral sorely pressed and in great danger.  Hooker in-
quired for the re-enforcements he had sent for, by a
path through the woods, only a mile long sent to
Heintzelman for.  His written message was received
and read by Sumner soon after Heintzelman left
headquarters.  Heintzelman instantly sent two or-
derlies with another message to Sumner for a portion
of his 30,000 sent two, so that if one was killed the 
other could go through.  He also began sending to
the rear, to hurry up the march of the brigades
floundering through the mud.  Officer after officer he
sent to the rear, on this painfully anxious mission 
till he was frequently wholly alone on the field.  I
told yesterday how he encouraged the troops how
he rallied and led back broken companies how he
gathered the fragments of two bands of music, and
while awaiting the coming of the re-enforcements
from Sumner on his right or from out of the mud in
the rear, animated the drooping courage of Hooker s 
outnumbered and almost over-mastered men, with
 Yankee Doodle  and the  Star Spangled Banner. 
To the repeated messages he sent to Sumner for aid,
he got no reply whatever.  At 5 o clock, and not be-
fore, Sumner ordered Hancock to the front.  Before
5, Berry had come up with his brigade, and saved us
from the most imminent rain that has lowered upon 
our cause since Bull Run.
  The thousands who unnecessarily wear mourning
in the North and West, for our victory at Williams-
burg, will now understand the causes of the terrible
mortality which accompanied the demonstration
of our superiority to these barbarians.  To further
elucidate them regard the plan of the field, and see
where the Yorktown road comes upon the corn-field
directly in front of the bastioned Fort Magruder.
That was our direct line to Williamsburg.  The
swampy woods on both sides are a mile deep, the
abattis of fallen trees about 500 feet deep; beyond
that were rifle-pits, away round the horse-shoe-
shaped plain; beyond them were batteries of flying
artillery; then Magruder, beyond all, vomiting
shell, canister, and grape.  In that mile depth of
thick woods, Heintzelman and Hooker, and their
brave comrades, fought the principal part of the bat-
tle.  It was principally there, that in the long strug-

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
gle from 8 o clock in the morning till 2 o clock in the
afternoon, 8,000 men held their own against 25,000.
But the battle raged with desperate courage on the
edge of the woods, in front of the abattis, in the in-
fernal abattis, itself, and through it, up to the rifle-
pits, and beyond them, and finally, with triumph,
into one of the forts.  The only ground on 
which we could use artillery was a small
angle of the corn field, where the road debouches
upon the plain, and which our infantry had cleaned
of the Rebels to admit of our gunners wading with
their pieces into position.  No sooner were these un-
limbered, than men and horses began to fall the
recoil of the guns soon buried them almost to the
bubs in the soft earth down went more men and 
more horses the enemy made a dash at the bat-
teries, and they were lost.  The assistance Heintzel-
man received from Kearney s Division, enabled him
to do whast he had vainly tried and hoped to do, all
day to attack in flank.  The 38th and 40th New-
York charged through the abbattis upon the rifle-
pits and threw the Rebels out with their bayonets in
double quick.  Berry s charge at the same time all
along the front settled a part of the dispute between
the North and the South.  The Rebels were whip-
  Now this was purely an infantry fight.  And how
well Hooker s Division did fight!  Those much
abused those wronged, derided, and suspected Fire
Zouaves the Sickles Brigade they were heroes all.
Every man of them had reason to be proud of the
organization.  I have just returned from the spot where
Lieut.-Col. Lewis Benedict, jr., was last seen.  It is
in the densest heart of the abattis, and close in front
of the rifle pits.  The bark of the trunks and branches
of the trees is checkered white with masket bullets
and grape.  Standing up to his full hight, and wav-
ing his men forward with his pistol, he was heard
to shout,  Fight men! fight to the last! !   The idea
prevailing in his regiment is, that he got to the front
 that a charge drove his men back, that he was too
brave and too proud to run that he was captured 
for his exchangeable value, instead of being killed.
A negro woman saw him on his way to Richmond
next morning, leaning on the shoulders of two
soldiers and walking lamely.  Out of his regi-
ment, a small one, 1 captain and 2 lieute-
nants, and 19 privates were killed; 54 privates
were wounded, 37 are missing and their
manly Lieutenant-Colonel was captured.  The
same proportional mortality marked the courage
and the fighting of all the Sickles Brigade.  The
Williamsburg battle was, indeed, as I have said, an
infantry fight.  Very much of it was hand to hand,
bayonet to bayonet, musker-butt to musket-butt.
After Berry s brigade came up, and afer Ward and
Riley led the 38th and 40th New-York into the rifle-
pits, swarming at the tie with the savage tatter-
demalions, the battle was purely a hand-to-hand con-
flict.  As soon as we got them where we could reach
them, the question of the comparative manhood of
Northern and Southern men received a speedy solu-
tion.  Sixty-three Rebels lay in a heap in one sec-
tion of the rifle-pits fury and outlay of the last
and best powers of their savage natures set with iron
hardness by death upon their coarse and brutal 
faces.  Not a corpse of a Union man was near them.
  On both sides the fighting was ten times as des-
perate as at Bull Run.
  Now, on to the Gulf of Mexico!
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page two hundred and ten
Description:Newspaper clipping written by Samuel Wilkeson for ''The New York Tribune,'' regarding the Battle of Williamsburg.
Subject:Battle of Williamsburg (Va.); Benedict, Lewis, Jr.; Berry, Hiram Gregory; Casualties; Civil War; Fort Magruder (Va.); Gunn, Thomas Butler; Hancock, Winfield Scott; Heintzelman, Samuel Peter; Hooker, Joseph; Journalism; Kearny, Philip; Military; New York Infantry Regiment, 38th; New York Infantry Regiment, 40th; New York tribune.; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Riley, Colonel; Sumner, Edwin V.; Ward, Captain; Wilkeson, Samuel
Coverage (City/State):Williamsburg, [Virginia]
Scan Date:2010-06-17


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.