Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 1862

June 26, 1862: 
Eastern Theater, Peninsula Campaign:


Battle of Mechanicsville (Beaver Dam Creek):  The Battle of Oak Grove the day before draws McClellan’s attention to his left flank, thus missing the sure signs of Lee’s intended attack on his right, as deserters and escaped slaves have been telling Little Mac’s intelligence service.  Lee’s step-off movement of this series of attacks to cripple the Union right essentially fails because Stonewall Jackson, uncharacteristically sluggish, does not descend upon the Union flank of Gen. FitzJohn Porter’s V Corps, isolated from the rest of McClellan’s army north of the Chickahominy River.  Lee’s plan calls for A.P. Hill to strike Porter’s front while Jackson threatens Porter’s exposed flank; then, Longstreet and D.H. Hill will cross the Chickahominy and join in Hill’s attack.  But although Jackson’s men are in motion, they are six hours behind schedule.  A.P. Hill waits for the sounds of Jackson’s guns, and by 3:00 PM, finally attacks alone.  Porter pulls his blue line back to Beaver Dam Creek and, with 14,000 men in a strong position, and 32 guns, deflects Hill’s attack with his 11,000.  Jackson arrives, but does not attack; his exhausted troops go into bivouac.  In spite of Lee ordering him to stand his ground and not attack any more, Hill is joined by some of Longstreet’s and D.H. Hill’s troops later, and tries more attacks with unencouraging results.  Meanwhile, Huger and Magruder’s men south of the Chickahominy maneuver menacingly, inflating Union report of their numbers.  Union Victory.

Union                          361
Confederate          1,484
Battle of Beaver Dam Creek or Mechanicsville

---As a result of the action near Mechanicsville, McClellan is convinced that his right flank is threatened, and that in fact his supply line by rail to White House on the York River is threatened, and therefore decides to move his supply base to the opposite side of the Peninsula, to the James River.  The presence of Jackson’s men on Porter’s flank also prompts McClellan to order him to withdraw his Corps to Gaines Mill, where there are strong prepared defensive lines behind Boatswain’s Creek.  McClellan sends a message to Washington, asserting that he faces over 200,000 Confederates, and requests reinforcements. 

Seven Days' Battles

---John Beauchamp Jones, of the C.S. War Department, records in his journal of the sounds of battle heard in the capital---and perhaps hastily interprets what he hears as the successful execution of the Lee’s plan:

. . . Hill was so near us as to be almost in sight. The drums and fifes of his regiments, as they marched up to the point of attack, could be easily heard; how distinctly, then, sounded his cannon in our ears! And the enemy’s guns, pointed in the direction of the city, were as plainly discerned. I think McClellan is taken by surprise. . . . Another hour, and the reports come with the rapidity of seconds, or 3600 per hour! And now, for the first time, we hear the rattle of small arms. And lo! two guns farther to the right,—from Longstreet’s division, I suppose. And they were followed by others. This is Lee’s grand plan of battle: Jackson first, then Hill, then Longstreet—time and distance computed with mathematical precision! The enemy’s balloons are not up now. They know what is going on, without further investigations up in the air. The business is upon earth, where many a Yankee will breathe his last this night! McClellan must be thunderstruck at this unexpected opening of a decisive battle. . . .

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