Sunday, January 29, 2012

The War in Eastern Virginia

From the Advance of Gen. McClellan’s Army – A Balloon Reconnoissance and View of Richmond.

From the correspondence of the Philadelphia Inquirer, dated, Gaines Hill, on the Chickahominy, nine miles from Richmond, on May 20th and 21st we quote the following.


“Gaines Hill” is the title we have given the elevation from which we are now writing.  Before us lies the Chickahominy river and the rebel army; half a mile further our pickets are watching the rebels from the edge of a piece of woods.  The road crosses here upon the “old bridge.”  Farther up, some seven miles, is the “new bridge,” on the road running from Henrico Court House to Richmond.

Six miles below is the railroad bridge, and below that some few miles is “Bottom Bridge.”  To our left is a swamp; to our front is another.  The rebels still hold this side of the river; no attempt having been made to drive them back. – Above them, and but a few hundred yards we can see five iron cannon planted, with which they can rake the field we would have to pass to drive in their pickets.  The Sixth Cavalry threw out some skirmishers, this morning, to learn their position, and found that they had riflemen concealed in the bushes.


Lieut. S. M. Whitesides, with eight men of Company K, of the 6th Cavalry, yesterday captured some commissary stores at Old Church consisting of ninety barrels of flour, fifty sacks of flour, and forty bags of beans, further on he heard of a train of mules, and dashing on the took eight contrabands and one hundred mules.  This was a gallant affair, and in our dispatch last night we erroneously attributed it to the Eighth Ohio.

The men stated that they belonged to General Whiting’s Brigade, and were en route for Richmond.  The mules were branded C. S.  The Quartermaster in charge ran, and was chased by two cavalry men two miles.


The country is but partially cleared and the ground very poor, having been exhausted by farming; every white man is gone who can carry a musket.  All the slaves of any value, and all the horses and fat cattle have been carried off; some grain is left and a few sheep.  Many of the people profess hostility still, but nearly all the better class have gone to Richmond; many profess neutrality, but all are astonished at the appearance of our army – the rapid pursuit and the well dressed men are what they did not expect.  They all deplore the war and are sick of it.  The scarcity of provisions, except pork, corn, and flour, is the same as we have heretofore noted in other localities.  No money but rags; no coffee, no sugar, no salt, no clothes, no papers, no books, no medicine, nothing but niggers, cotton and tobacco.


There are two coal harbors, old and new. – the Old Coal Harbor is two miles back of New Coal Harbor; each consists of one building, and a well with a long chain to draw the water.  The old one is no longer open, but some poor white trash live in it, too worthless to be drafted into the army.

New coal harbor is kept by a lame man, who professes to be a Union man.  He has nothing but “whisky” to sell, and one bed-room he lets out.  His sign board had an eagle upon it and a South Carolina Regiment made him take it down and burn it last summer.  He says secession has ruined him.


From a hill close to the river bank we secured a position upon the top of a house where we could see the rebels cross the river.  They have, in an open field, one brigade of infantry and two regiments of cavalry.  To the right of the bridge they have five guns,, and to the left three, no intrenchments.  No signs of making any.  A building close by the river is evidently used for a storehouse.


Prof. Lowe has just towed his balloon down here, and, Gen. Stoneman jumping into the car they both shot up.  When up a few hundred feet, Gen. Stoneman announced that Richmond and the rebel army lay before him in plain view.  The body of the rebel army lies off to our left, and between the roads running into Richmond from Old Bridge and the Bottom Bridge, and in the rear of the swamp that runs up to the river near the railroad.

Wagons of all kinds are running to and fro in the woods in the rear; everything is being moved, and it is their evident intention to evacuate their present position.  The bridge crosses in a dense thicket, and they still picket this side with their riflemen.  Lieut. Daniels, of the Signal Corps, occupied this perch all day, and when our cavalry made a dash on their pickets this morning, we saw them mow down the whole brigade towards the road.  What a commotion we could make if we could fire a few big shells into them!


Contrabands are flocking from all around the country.  They have been in the swamps and woods, secreted, some of them, for ten days. – They mostly were at Yorktown, working on the forts, and were about to be sent off again, when they fled to await the coming of our army and secure their liberty.  A more greatful set were never seen.  They profess themselves willing to work, fight, or do anything for us, if, when we “whip out de southern army,” they will be allowed to work for themselves.  None want to go away if they can be allowed to stay and be paid for their labor.  They think they have “worked long enough for nuffin.”  They say but few believed the story about us going to sell them to Cuba, cut off their ears, and commit all kinds of atrocities upon women, children and negroes.


Prof. Lowe went up to a considerable elevation after Gen. Stoneman came down, and had a fine view of Richmond, Manchester, the Rocketts, James River, the rebel army, &c., &c.

The streets, churches, &c., in Richmond were distinctly seen.  The rebel army is retreating from the Chickahominy River now.  A baggage-train close to the river could easily have been taken by Stoneman, in a dash, had his orders allowed it.  The works around Richmond could be seen, but not minutely enough to see the guns – the distance through the air being about five miles.  Large camp fires upon the off bank of James River show that they have not got their whole army here now.  They are evacuating Richmond, beyond a doubt.


We have just ridden a mile along the banks of the Chickahominy, and in conversation with our scouts and pickets, learned that no rebels have been seen to-day where they had so many yesterday.  Their pickets are along both sides of the river here, and the bridge is burned.  The river can be crossed anywhere here, by throwing pontoon bridges over it, in twenty minutes. – We can command the opposite shore with our artillery.  It is ridiculous to call the Chickahominy a river here.  It is not formidable, is not swampy all along it, and not an intrenchment has been found.  Contrabands, who have crossed at different places, report none, and a good ford has been found here, above the bridge a few rods.  No attempt is made here by the rebels to fire upon our pickets, and though the 6th Cavalry have been in an exposed position all day, none of their artillery has been used. – All is quiet along the lines.

In Front of Bohlen’s house there can be seen the residence of Mrs. Price.  It is built upon a high hill, beyond the river, distance some two miles by the road, or one and a half through the air.  It is a rebel headquarters.  In front can be seen the orderlies, coming and going, while this morning a general and his staff rode across an open field to it.  The road to Richmond is in front of it.  In a field, to the left, their artillery was placed; now it is all gone.  When the balloon went up this morning all their horsemen and pickets took to the woods.  The balloon could be plainly seen in Richmond from the streets.  It is no doubt a cause of excitement, and the cry, “The Yankees are coming” was no doubt echoed all over the city.  What a welcome sound it must have been for the prisoners in the tobacco warehouse!  Wonder if their windows do look out this way, so the boys can see the balloon.  They can here the booming of the guns, anyhow.

This Bohlen, from whose house we write, is, no doubt a traitor.  He has five sons in the rebel army, owns several thousand acres of ground, and has sold all his grain and corn to the confederacy; he has no doubt but we will be driven back, and all our troops cut to pieces!  He hopes we will find graves in his meadow in front, and is terribly frightened for fear the rebels will open fire on us, and we will get behind his house, he says if we are gentlemen we will go out in the open field below his house.  We told him the hint was very liberal; a guard was now around his well, his house, his garden, his corn crib, and we would speak to some of the officers, and they would, no doubt go out in the field, right under the batteries, to fight.  He has a son prisoner in Indianapolis, taken at Fort Donelson.  He complained to the guard that a soldier broke open is corn crib yesterday, and filled his blanket with corn.  He would not sell us any chickens or poultry, but gave us a nice bowl of strawberries, and we culled a beautiful bouquet in his garden.  His house is finely furnished.  He had his family in a carriage, ready to leave, when our pickets came up.  He declined to give us any information, saying we would no doubt, be driven back, and he would be hung.  He says one man was hung near Williamsburg, for giving us information about the roads, and that his wife lived near here, in Harlem county.  He says he heard we had 210,000 men here, and that the Southern army had over 300,000, and that Beauregard was coming in with troops from the west.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 31, 1862, p. 2

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