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man and Keyes,* and was concurred in by Major-General McClellan, who first proposed Urbanna as our base.
This army being reduced by forty-five thousand troops, some of them among the best in the service, and without the support of the navy, the plan to which we are reduced bears scarcely any resemblance to the one I voted for.
I command the James River column, and I left my camp, near Newport News, the morning of the 4th instant. I only succeeded in getting my artillery ashore the afternoon of the day before, and one of my divisions had not all arrived in camp the day I left, and, for the want of transportation, has not yet joined me. So you will observe that not a day was lost in the advance; and in fact we marched so quickly and so rapidly that many of our animals were twenty-four and forty-eight hours without a ration of forage. But, notwithstanding the rapidity of our advance, we are stopped by a line of defence nine or ten miles long, strongly fortified by breastworks, erected nearly the whole distance, behind a stream or succession of ponds nowhere fordable, one terminus being Yorktown and the other ending in the James River, which is commanded by the enemy's gunboats. Yorktown is fortified all around with bastioned works, and on the water side, it and Gloucester are so strong that the navy are afraid to attack either.
The approaches on our side are generally through low, swampy, or thickly wooded ground, over roads which we are obliged to repair or to make, before we can get forward our carriages. The enemy is in great force, and is constantly receiving reinforcements from the two rivers. The line in front of us is therefore one of the strongest ever opposed to an invading force in any country.
You will then ask, why I advocated such a line for our operations? My reasons are few, but, I think, good.
* General Keyes, it will be understood, is referring here to the action of the council held after the evacuation of Manassas by Johnston.
With proper assistance from the navy, we could take Yorktown, and then, with gunboats on both rivers, we could beat any force opposed to us on Warwick River, because the shot and shells from the gunboats would nearly overlap across the Peninsula, so that, if the enemy should retreat, and retreat he must, he would have a long way to go without rail or steam transportation, and every soul of his army must fall into our hands or be destroyed.
Another reason for my supporting the new base and plan was, that this line, it was expected, would furnish water transportation nearly to Richmond.
Now, supposing we succeed in breaking through the line in front of us, what can we do next? The roads are very bad, and if the enemy retains command of James River, and we do not first reduce Yorktown, it would be impossible for us to subsist this army three marches beyond where it is now. As the roads are at present, it is with the utmost difficulty that we can subsist it in the position it now occupies.
You will see, therefore, by what I have said, that the force originally intended for the capture of Richmond should be all sent forward. If I thought the four army corps necessary when I supposed the navy would co-operate, and when I judged of the obstacles to be encountered by what I learned from maps and the opinions of officers long stationed at Fort Monroe, and from all other sources, how much more should I think the full complement of troops requisite, now that the navy cannot co-operate, and now that the strength of the enemy's lines and the number of his guns and men prove to be almost immeasurably greater than I had been led to expect!
The line in front of us, in the opinion of all the military men here who are at all competent to judge, is one of the strongest in the world, and the force of the enemy capable of being increased beyond the numbers we now have to oppose to him. Independently of the strength of the lines in front of us, and of the force of the enemy behind them, we cannot advance
until we get command of either York River or James River. The efficient co-operation of the navy is, therefore, absolutely essential, and so I considered it when I voted to change our base from the Potomac to Fort Monroe.
An iron-clad boat must attack Yorktown, and if several strong gunboats could be sent up James River also, our success will be certain and complete, and the rebellion will soon be put down.
On the other hand, we must butt against the enemy's works with heavy artillery and a great waste of time, life, and material.
If we break through and advance, both our flanks will be assailed from two great water-courses in the hands of the enemy; our supplies would give out, and the enemy, equal, if not superior in numbers, would, with the other advantages, beat and destroy this army.
The greatest master of the art of war has said that “if you would invade a country successfully, you must have one line of operations and one army, under one general." But what is our condition? The State of Virginia is made to constitute the command, in part or wholly, of some six generals, viz.: Fremont, Banks, McDowell, Wool, Burnside, and McClellan, besides the scrap, over the Chesapeake, in the care of Dix.
The great battle of the war is to come off here. If we win it, the rebellion will be crushed. If we lose it, the consequences will be more horrible than I care to foretell. The plan of campaign I voted for, if carried out with the means proposed, will certainly succeed. If any part of the means proposed are withheld or diverted, I deem it due to myself to say that our success will be uncertain.
It is no doubt agreeable to the commander of the First Corps to have a separate department, and, as this letter advo cates his return to General McClellan's command, it is proper to state that I am not at all influenced by personal regard or dislike to any of my seniors in rank. If I were to credit all
the opinions which have been poured into my cars, I must believe that, in regard to my present fine command, I owe much to General McDowell and nothing to General McClellan. But I have disregarded all such officiousness, and I have, from last July to the present day, supported General McClellan and obeyed all his orders with as hearty a good will as though he had been my brother or the friend to whom I owed most. I shall continue to do so to the last, and so long as he is my commander, and I am not desirous to displace him, and would not if I could. He left Washington with the understanding that he was to execute a definite plan of campaign with certain prescribed means. The plan was good and the means sufficient, and, without modification, the enterprise was certain of success. But, with the reduction of force and means, the plan is entirely changed, and is now a bad plan, with means insufficient for certain success.
Do not look upon this communication as the offspring of despondency. I never despond; and when you see me working the hardest, you may be sure that fortune is frowning upon me. I am working now, to my utmost.
Please show this letter to the President, and I should like also that Mr. Stanton should know its contents. Do me the honor to write to me as soon as you can, and believe me, with perfect respect,
Your most obedient servant,
E. D. KEYES,
Brig.-Gen. Comd'g Fourth Army Corps.
Hon. IRA HARRIS,
THE SIEGE OF YORKTOWN.
RETREAT OF THE CONFEDERATES UPON EVACUATION OF NORFOLK AND DESTRUCTION OF THE THE BATTLE OF WILLIAMSBURGH, AND ADVANCE TO THE CHICKAHOMINY.
THE reports of General Barnard and of General Keyes having made it necessary now to open regular approaches against the defences of Yorktown, the work was at once begun and vigorously pushed forward.
His excellency, the commander-in-chief, however, contemplating the situation by telegraph from Washington, suggested a shorter method of dealing with the enemy. On the 6th of April he telegraphed to General McClellan :
"You now have over one hundred thousand troops with you, independent of General Wool's command. I think you had better break the enemy's line from Yorktown to Warwick River at once. This will probably use time as advantageously as you can.
"A. LINCOLN, President."
"The enemy's field-works," says General Barnard, Chief of Engineers, in his report, "are far more extensive than may be supposed from the mention of them I make; and every kind. of obstruction which the country affords, such as abattis, marsh, inundation, was skillfully used. The line is certainly one of the most extensive known to modern times.
"The country on both sides the Warwick, from near York