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The Battle-fields of Virginia

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1210, p. 702.

June 27, 1863


We present our readers with a carefully-prepared Map of the great battle-fields round Washington and Richmond. The majority of the Maps hitherto published have not been compiled with sufficient care and knowledge to render them reliable or intelligent guides in the great military movements that have been followed with so much interest. We understand, however, that an officer of General Lee's army, who served with that General and Generals Jackson and Longstreet from the beginning of the struggle until the battle of Fredericksburg, is in England and preparing an authentic series of maps of the war.

The successive campaigns of M'Clellan, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker are no doubt fresh in the memory of our readers. The map which we offer them will, however, enable them more clearly to discern the positions of the contending forces and to appreciate the strategic art by which Richmond and Washington, the two capitals of the rival States, have been in turn threatened and defended. It will be found useful, also, in understanding the future military movements of which the old State of Virginia will in all probability be yet the scene.

With this preface we will proceed to a more detailed account of the various battles. The country represented on the map is about 200 miles long by 140 broad. The battles fought thereon ranged, therefore, over a space similar to that extending between London and the Scottish border. The figures used, it will be seen, are of two characters. The larger denote twenty-four successive battle-fields, of more or less importance; the smaller indicate the several occasions and the various routes by which the masterly marches of the late General Jackson to the rear of the Federal armies contributed to defeat their purpose. It should also be said that, for the purpose of avoiding unnecessary detail and consequent confusion, no towns have been denoted upon our map save such as are of military or strategic importance. We shall now proceed to explain the battle-fields in detail, and in their arithmetical, which will also be found to be their chronological, order.

1. Yorktown (from April 6 to May 4, 1862).--It was from this point that the first noxious advance upon Richmond was made. It will be remembered that when General M'Clellan approached Richmond from Fort Monroe, with an army of 158,000 men and a large fleet of gun-boats, the Confederate General M'Gruder (now in Texas) threw a line of works across from Yorktown to the James River, distance about twelve miles. A portion of it, however, was composed of mill-dams and swamps. General Joseph Johnston arrived with his army from the Rappahannock in time to stop the progress of the Federal General, who could otherwise have proceeded directly to Richmond, as M'Gruder only had 5000 men under his command. Upon General M'Clellan being reinforced by his iron-clad gun-boats Johnston had to abandon his works, lest his supplies, which reached him by steamers, &., on York River, should be cut off. There were several sanguinary assaults upon Johnston's works; but they failed, with considerable loss to the Federals. Artillery duels continued for some forty days.

2. At Williamsburg (May 5, 1862) the Federals fell with force upon Johnston's rear as he retired towards Richmond. This action was very hotly contested, and resulted in great slaughter, the total killed and wounded reaching 5400. The Federals fought long and well; but they could not compass impossibilities--the state of the roads and the heroic endurance of the Confederates baffling all their efforts.

3. Barhamsville (May 7th).--Here General M'Clellan next landed 20,000 men, supported by a fleet of vessels, intending to cut off the rearguard and waggon-train of Johnston, under command of General G. W. Smith, which must necessarily pass within two miles of this point. General Smith directed Brigadier-General Whiting, with 8000 men, to attack this force and drive them back to their boats. So unexpected an attack in the dense forests, where Texan rifles lurked behind every tree, had its effect, and the trains passed in safety all that day.

4. "The Seven Pines" and "The Fair Oaks" (May 31 and June 1).--General Johnston, being followed by M'Clellan across the Chickahominy, turned upon and attacked him. The action ceased after dark, General Johnston being severely wounded. The lateness of the hour and the loss of General Johnston rendered the hard day's struggle fruitless, although the Confederates held the field. On the 1st of June, 1862, General Lee assumed the general command of the Confederate forces.

5 and 6. Battles near Mechanicsville (June 26).--General Jackson at this time was near Mechum's River. General Lee, knowing that General M'Clellan had spies in Richmond, used them to mislead him. He ordered General Whiting to take a division and proceed by night, with secrecy and dispatch, viĆ¢ Lynchburg and Charlottesville, to Mechum's River (about 200 miles), and report to General Jackson.

While General M'Clellan was telegraphing to President Lincoln in Washington, and General Banks at Winchester, to look out for Stonewall Jackson, who had been thus heavily reinforced and might threaten either place, Jackson was, by forced marches (see 1 and arrows denoting his route), taking those very reinforcements back towards Richmond; and before M'Clellan suspected it he was in his rear, some miles north-east of Mechanicsville. As soon as Lee knew of Jackson's arrival at Ashland, Longstreet and Hill passed the Chickahominy and swept down upon Mechanicsville, and on Thursday, June 26, began a series of battles, in which the Federals fought well and long, but were only saved from entire destruction by the slow movements of one of the Confederate Generals and the admirable tact and skill of General M'Clellan in the use of his splendid and numerous artillery. These battles continued for seven days, and were fought over twenty-five miles of ground, cumbered with dead men and horses, waggons, cannon, muskets, blankets, &.

7. Cold Harbour and Gain's Farm.--These were the battle-fields of June 27, when General Hood's Texans, at command of General Whiting, stormed the triple works of M'Clellan; and Jackson, Longstreet, the Hills, &., fought over miles of ground.

8. Battles were fought at White Oak Swamp, Sunday and Monday, June 29-30.

9. Malvern Hill, the scene of the terrible action of Tuesday, July 1. In the above engagements the losses can hardly be estimated. They have been computed from 25,000 to 30,000. Their result was to deliver Richmond and to endanger Washington.

10. Second battle at Malvern Hill (August 5-6).

11. August 8 and 9.--Jackson, whose line of march will be found denoted by the smaller figure 2 and arrows, here defeated Banks at Cedar Mountain (also called "South-west Mountain" and "Slaughter's Mountain"); loss about 2500.

12.- Artillery duel and skirmishing were continued along the Rappahannock River.

13. August 29 and 30.--Jackson here fought the second battle of Manassas. The small figure 2 and arrows show the course Jackson took to get in Pope's rear, Pope having fallen back to Warrenton. Jackson had marched day and night some fifty miles through Jefferson, Orleans, and Salem, meeting on the way and driving back to Alexandria the forces sent out to capture General Stuart. He then took and destroyed railroad trains and immense stores that he found at Manassas; and, when Pope sent several divisions to surround him, he met and fought them separately, holding them in check until Longstreet came up.

14. Longstreet, stopped by M'Dowell at Thoroughfare Gap, forced his way through, after an action of a few hours, hastening to reinforce Jackson.

15. Jackson's battle-field at Sudley, and Longstreet's at Groveton and Manassas. The actions began on Friday, Aug. 29, 1862, and were renewed on Saturday, ending, after dark, in the rout of the Federals. The line of battle extended in a crescent four miles long, and crossed that of 1861 (called "Bull Run") at right angles.

16. Battle of Chantilly (September 1). The small figure 3 and arrows denote Jackson's route in again getting on the Federal flank. On Sunday, after marching and fighting for a week, Jackson again sought the Federal rear, at Fairfax Court House. General Pope sent General Kearney and others to hold him in check at Chantilly while he drew off his troops to Washington. Kearney was killed. The Federals fought well in all these engagements, but were compelled to seek shelter in the works around Washington.

17. Braddock's Gap, or South Mountain. General D. H. Hill here held M'Clellan in check until a portion of Longstreet's corps came up.

18. Harper's Ferry (Sept. 14, 15). When General Lee went into Maryland he detached several batteries of artillery, with sufficient troops to guard them, and had them secretly posted upon the Loudon Heights, opposite the Shenandoah side of Harper's Ferry, and on the Maryland Heights, on the Potomac side. About the time that these batteries were getting into position Jackson diverged from the road from Boonsboro' to Hagerstown, which General Lee took, and pursued the road leading to a ford over the Potomac River at Williamsport. His course is indicated by fig. 4 and arrows. By this means he drove a large force of Federals out of Martinsburg and followed them to Harper's Ferry. Having then invested the place, the batteries opened on them from the Loudon Heights, and when they took refuge behind the rocks on the other side of the hill batteries opened upon them from the Maryland Heights, Jackson meanwhile shelling them from his position in the rear. The place, being untenable, was surrendered, with very large stores, artillery, muskets, &c. About 13,000 prisoners were taken, including nearly 12,000 Federal soldiers. The surrender of Harper's Ferry was made on Monday. That night Jackson marched to Shepherd's-town, and on Tuesday night was on General Lee's left at Sharpsburg, engaging in the battle which culminated on Wednesday.

19. On the night of Sept. 14 General Lee withdrew his men from South Mountain, in consequence of General M'Clellan having obtained possession of Crampton's Gap, leading directly to Sharpsburg; and, proceeding to the latter position, he there awaited the coming of Jackson. General M'Clellan followed him on Monday afternoon (15th), and General Lee stood at bay for two days on the south-west bank of Antietam, using his artillery to delay M'Clellan's attack until Jackson could join him. Jackson marched all night after the capture of Harper's Ferry; and on Wednesday, the 17th, he fought a battle on the extreme left of the Confederate lines, which were more than four miles long.

General M'Clellan had three lines of battle; General Lee was scarcely able to present a single line, which, in some places, was not adequately supported. In addition to this, M'Clellan had a large reserve, which was so admirably used that, when the Confederates at any point drove in the Federal lines, which they often did, the reserves overwhelmed them and compelled them to fall hack. The Federal signal corps contributed to this result, by giving immediate notice to M'Clellan of every event along the lines. In addition, there was great disparity of numbers between the contending forces. The action lasted from morning until dark. General A. P. Hill did not get into position until late in the afternoon, and his men were wearied by their march from Harper's Ferry. General Lee, finding himself short of ammunition, forage, rations for the men, &c., and that M'Clellan did not renew the action on Thursday, crossed the Potomac that night. This movement was managed with such skill that the Confederate pickets did not know the army was gone until they were driven in after sunrise next morning.

20. Shepherdstown (September 20).--On Friday there was an artillery duel between the Confederate General Pendleton and M'Clellan, across the Potomac River at Shepherdstown; but on the next day Jackson directed that a few brigades of M'Clellan's army should be allowed to cross the river, and that General A. P. Hill should then attack them. It is impossible to estimate the immense numbers that were slaughtered or drowned on that occasion. The river was red with blood and disfigured with bodies for some distance. The total loss could not have been less than 4000.

21. Fredericksburg (December 3).--This was the first occasion on which General Lee had the advantage of an extended line of works. He selected a magnificent plain about five miles long and from two to two and a half broad, and surrounded it with abattis, rifle-pits, and masked batteries. Into this plain the Federal army, under command of General Burnside, ventured. Longstreet was on the left, Jackson and Stuart on the right. The hills around the plain were in the form of a crescent, and were each surmounted with batteries commanding the whole plain. Had General Lee been acquainted with the extent of the Federal losses, he would have moved from his position and completed their destruction. As it was, he fully expected them to make another attempt to carry his works, and General Burnside succeeded in withdrawing his army in the night across the river. The plan of the relative position of Lee and Burnside's armies at Fredericksburg shows them so distinctly as to preclude the necessity of verbal description. The plain on which the battles were fought is, it will be seen, overlooked by the Stafford heights, on which batteries of guns of large size were placed, and in some cases shot and shell were sent five miles across the river and plain. There were few trees upon the plain, and consequently the movements of the Federal troops could be seen from the hills.

Stonewall Jackson had his head-quarters on a hill in rear of Hamilton's Crossing, and nearly 500 shot and shell fell that day within one hundred yards of where he stood. At Marye's-hill the ground was covered for acres with killed and wounded Federals, lying in some places two or three deep. The cross-street on this hill formed a fine stone breastwork for the Confederates.

22. (March 17, l863). A cavalry engagement between a large body of Federal cavalry (said to be 2500) and Brigadier-General Fitz-Lee (a nephew of the Hon. J. M. Mason). The losses were heavy, but the Federals re-crossed the Rappahannock. General Lee had only 750 men under his command.

23. The Wilderness.--General Jackson, with a portion of his corps, pursued the source indicated by fig. 5 and arrows, in order to turn the flank of General Hooker, whose army had crossed the river and was at Chancellorsville, and got between him and the fords and pontoons by which alone he could re-cross the river. Had it not been for his being wounded by his own men he would, in all probability, have compelled Hooker to surrender or fight his way back to the river. Jackson had only 20,000 men in the action. In consequence of his wounds, the action defeated but did not destroy Hooker.

24. Marye's-hill.--General Sedgwick, with 20,000 Federal troops (another statement makes it only 15,000), having taken possession of the heights above Fredericksburg, and slain, captured, or scattered the troops left in charge (supposed to be Colonel Barkesdale's regiment), was in turn attacked by a division of General Lee's army, and routed with great slaughter.

In all the above engagements, and in others of less importance, the Federal officers and men fought with great endurance and bravery, as must be evident when the length of time they held their ground and their heavy losses are considered.

On the other hand, the victories of the Confederate leaders, hardly gained as they have been, have failed often in bringing about those results which might fairly have been expected from them. The overwhelming numbers of the Federal armies, their abundant supplies, the splendid artillery at their command, and the good use made of it, contributed, with the numerical disproportion and exhaustion of the Confederates, their limited supplies of horses, ammunition, and rations, to render many of the above hardly-fought and victorious fields barren of decisive results.

[A map of Vicksburg and the adjacent country, illustrating the plan of General Grant's campaign, is in preparation.]

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