Foreign and Colonial NewsThe Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1261, p. 510.
May 28, 1864
The two great armies of the North and the South, led respectively by Grant and Lee, have at last joined in conflict, and tidings of prolonged slaughter from the seat of war in Virginia arrive by every mail. From the hasty and necessarily imperfect accounts which have reached us it is not easy to summarise a precise narrative of events.
General Grant took the initiative. The order to cross the Rapidan was given by him early on Tuesday, May 3, and was effected during the afternoon of that and the whole of the following day without molestation. Sedgwick commanded the left wing, Hancock the right, Warren the centre, and Burnside took the reserve. Each division was computed to be about 30,000 strong. On Thursday morning, May 5, the whole army, with its supply-trains, which had got safely across the river on Wednesday night, moved forward. They had hardly got into motion when it became known that Lee's army was advancing upon them. The right wing and centre were in line by eleven o'clock, the left had turned from its original line of march and was ordered to takes a cross road to complete the formation of the line of battle. Meanwhile, a detachment was pushed forward from the centre to ascertain Lee's position and strength. They came upon the enemy after advancing about a mile and a half, and found him in unexpected force, and were driven back upon the main body with severe loss. It was then that General Lee discerned the weak point in the Federal line, and at once attempted to cut off Hancock, who had not had time to form. To relieve him from the peril in which he was placed, Sedgwick was ordered forward to attack, and the completion of the line of battle was accomplished by Hancock under a terrific fire of musketry. The dense underground of the country prevented the employment of artillery. The Federals lost about 1000 men that day; but Grant had prevented Lee from crushing him before he had had time to mass his men after the passage of the Rapidan. On the following day (Friday, May 6) the struggle was resumed by an attack made upon the Federal right wing by the Confederates under the command of General Ewell. It was repulsed, and immediately the left was assailed by Longstreet. This attack was also repulsed, after two hours' hard fight. The right was once more assailed by more formidable numbers, but a second time Ewell was driven back to his second line. From noon to five o'clock there was a succession of fierce assaults, but without any permanent change in the positions held by the combatants respectively. The day was excessively hot and the men were exhausted. About half-past five Longstreet, with troops newly arrived from Orange Courthouse, and Hill's corps, made a fierce rush upon the Federal left, forced it back, and threw Mott's division into confusion. The left centre was compelled by this movement to give way. There was danger of a break, but General Hancock ordered Colonel Carroll's brigade to form at right angles with his own line, and to sweep along the whole front of it, and so take the assailants in flank. The movement was executed with complete success, and the Confederates repulsed with terrible slaughter. The battle was not yet over. After sunset the Confederates made a new and fiercer attack. It was this time against Sedgwick. On his extreme right lay a part of his division under General Seymour, and they were at work intrenching themselves when the enemy fell upon them. The main line stood firm, but this division of it gave way. Sedgwick's flank was turned in less than ten minutes; and Seymour's brigade, panic-stricken, fled a mile and a half through the wood to a plank road in their rear. Sedgwick, however, retrieved the honour of his corps and maintained his position to the close. The last blow seemed designed only to cover Lee's retreat, which he effected, in good order, during the night. General Grant pushed forward in pursuit, and found his antagonist strongly posted at Spottsylvania Courthouse, on the River Po; and after heavy skirmishing on Sunday, May 8, he attacked his enemy along his whole line on Tuesday, the 10th, the telegrams say, with no decisive result. That Lee severely suffered there can be no doubt. Longstreet is severely wounded, Pegram badly so, and Jenkins is killed. On the other hand, Sedgwick and Wadsworth are
Page 511killed. The losses of officers and men on both sides must have been frightful if there be an approximation to the truth in the estimate which the Federals have given of their own--namely, from 8000 to 10,000 men killed or wounded on the 10th, making an aggregate of 40,000 soldiers, killed, wounded, or missing during the week's campaign.
By the City of Washington and the Belgian we have news from New York to the evening of the 14th.
There was no fighting on the 11th inst.; but at an early hour on the morning of Thursday, the 12th, General Hancock's corps, which had shifted its position in the Federal line during the night, vigorously attacked the right of the Confederate army, partly turned its flank, carried a line of rifle-pits, and captured 3000 or 4000 prisoners, including two Generals, and twenty-five or thirty guns, some of which, however, are said to have been afterwards abandoned or recaptured. A furious battle ensued along the whole front, and lasted until nightfall; but General Grant made no further impression on General Lee's line, the Confederates retaining their positions before Spottsylvania Courthouse. During the night General Lee withdrew his forces across the River Po, leaving a line of skirmishers in front of General Grant, who, on the morning of the 13th inst., pushed forward two divisions to ascertain whether his adversary had retreated.
At the date of the latest New York advices it was supposed that General Lee had occupied, or intended to occupy, a strong position on the North and South Anna Rivers. The Federal cavalry had destroyed several miles of railway in his rear on the 9th or 10th inst. There is a report that Siegel has cut the Virginia Central Railway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, and another report that he has been attacked and defeated by the Confederates under Breckenridge. General Grant, to whom the Federal Cabinet was sending reinforcements, was represented to be continuing his advance in pursuit of the Confederates with as much speed as was permitted by the state of the roads, which had been rendered difficult by a heavy fall of rain during the battle of the 12th inst. No estimate was given of the numbers of slain and wounded during the 12th inst.; but we are told that the slaughter was awful, the men on both sides falling like grain.
Accounts from other scenes of action are interesting, but for the most part so incomplete, and so far dwarfed by the absorbing interest of the central contest, as not to invite comment. General Butler had pushed forward to some extent the auxiliary operations intrusted to him on the south bank of the James River, and claimed to have gained some successes. Nothing having been heard from him for some days, a shade of misgiving was naturally beginning to fall over the hopes of those who believed him likely to render any important aid towards the common object of taking Richmond.
The campaign on the confines of Tennessee and Georgia had been actively recommenced, with the result, as far as it is known, of leading to the discovery that the Confederate position at Resaca was too strong to be attacked. Forrest, who massacred the negroes at Fort Pillow, has been defeated at Bolivar, Tennessee, and driven into Mississippi.
From Louisiana the news is more and more disastrous for the Federals. General Banks's retreat from Alexandria by the Red River was cut off by Confederate batteries, and the unfortunate General was endeavouring to reach Brashear City. A fleet of steamers, with supplies and reinforcements for him, had been sunk or captured; and Admiral Porter's gun-boats above the falls of the Red River were stranded by a diversion of the waters, and were sure to fall into the hands of the Confederates.
The Governor of Kentucky has issued a call for 10,000 troops, to serve for six months, to come to the rescue of the country, finish the war, and save the Government.
The House of Representatives has adopted a resolution to drop from the army-rolls all unemployed General officers, including Generals M'Clellan and Fremont. It has also passed the bill giving to soldiers and sailors, both white and coloured, homesteads from confiscated Confederate estates.
Major-General M'Dowell has been appointed to the command of the military department of the Pacific, and was to leave for California immediately. This step was supposed to have been taken in view of the possibility of a rupture with France on the Mexican question.
The latest quotation of gold at New York on the 14th inst. was 72½ per cent premium.
The Richmond Examiner of the 2nd reports the death, occasioned by a fall, of Joseph B. Davis, aged four years, second son of the Confederate President.