June 22, 1862, The New York Herald
Our Special Army Correspondence.
CAMP NEAR THE CHICKAHOMINY, Va., June 14, 1862.
The day has been clear and hot, and the drying atmosphere has done much to repair the damage of the soil, occasioned by the late succession of deluges. The only operation on the right wing recently was a shelling match on the 12th, between the rebel Small Moon earthwork, just completed, opposite Mechanicsville, and the First Massachusetts battery, light artillery. A road through this little village crosses the Chickahominy, in a southwesterly direction, straight toward Richmond, and this road is flanked upon the right by a field battery and upon the left by an earthwork, situated upon the crest of the hill over which the road passes. The distance between these batteries and our camp in Mechanicsville is about three thousand yards. At six o’clock this afternoon the rebels opened fire from the redoubt with two rifled twenty-four pounders, and sent some well directed shells across, which burst in the tree tops of the grove in the rear of the old tavern, and half a mile beyond. One of their shells exploded near a regiment of our infantry; but no damage was done. The fire was soon returned by the Massachusetts battery — ten-pounder Parrott guns — and as soon as the range was obtained they landed several shells in and about the earthwork, which was silenced for the day. A few shells were also sent beyond the rebel battery some distance in the woods, where a body of cavalry was stationed.
Colonel Torbet, of the First New Jersey regiment, who accompanied the wife of General Lee across the Chickahominy, was met by Col. Mallory, of the Fifty-fifth Virginia regiment, and held quite a lively conversation with that gentleman. They had known each other at West Point. After the usual compliments, Colonel Mallory remarked that he concluded, from the reports of the battle at Fair Oaks, that we did not gain much of a victory on that occasion. Colonel Torbet did not see the matter in that light, and explained some points of the mistake in the same vein of sarcasm. “Why didn’t you come over and see us on Sunday, while we were fighting?” asked Colonel Torbet. Colonel Mallory protested against the delay of General McClellan in advancing. “Why don’t you come across and settle the matter at once?” he asked. Colonel Torbet replied that they were waiting for the troops to come up. Colonel Malory asked in astonishment if they were to bring more troops against Richmond. “Oh, yes, certainly; only our advance guard has arrived,” said Colonel Torbet. He added that, when the Union forces cross the creek they will occupy Richmond the same evening. To this […..] Mallory demurred. He was certain the rebels would keep them two or three days upon the road […..] was politely requested to order the […..] Richmond to be left in good order for the Union officers when they arrived, but answered that he doubted our ability to get to those hotels, and was confident that if we did not much would be found in them. Colonel Mallory expressed a wish that the war might be brought speedily to a close, and offered to fight his regiment against the First New Jersey if the whole matter could be decided by such arbitrament. Refreshments were supplied liberally during the interview, and the parties separated with mutual expressions of good will, to take the effect after the war.
One of our secession neighbors was served a Yankee trick last night by a regiment on picket duty around his plantation. The rascals pulled up all his onions, for which he had been exacting half a dollar a dozen; cut off the bulbs and transplanted the tops neatly in the same places. This morning the old gent went into his onion patch to supply a customer, and the first pull extorted from him the exclamation, “That’s a Yankee trick.”
The officers and soldiers are amusing themselves by relating the incidents of the campaign, and making straw hats from material gathered in secession wheatfields. One regiment came out with straw hats last evening, and others are blooming to-day.
One good story is told of Second Lieutenant Kerin, an Irishman, lately promoted from the ranks in the Fifth cavalry, now Acting Assistant Adjutant General on General Emory’s staff. At the battle of Hanover Court House, in which the cavalry took an important part, Lieutenant Kerin, while in command of a detachment of about twenty, took prisoners two companies of rebel infantry who had been cut off completely by our troops. Kerin marched the prisoners straight to the General. Leaving his own men with their company some distance in the rear, he marched boldly at their head to the General’s quarters with their muskets at shoulder and their cartridge boxes filled with ammunition.
General Emory saw him approaching with his battalion, and, supposing that he had got some infantry for a certain movement, which the General had suggested some time previously, went out and remonstrated with him. “You are too late with your infantry, Lieutenant,” said the General; […..] whole thing is over.” The Lieutenant touched his cap and replied, “These are not our men, General; they are the enemy — prisoners of war.” Smiling at the Lieutenant’s coolness, the General ordered that the prisoners should stack arms and march to a neighboring brook and empty their cartridge boxes.
On another occasion General Emory sent for Kerin and told him he would like to have a squad of men destroy a small bridge in the neighborhood that night. “I want your orders, General,” was the reply. “It is a kind of duty we do not like to order any one to perform,” said the General: […..] is a hazardous service, and it is not customary to give positive orders on the subject; but I would be very glad to have you volunteer to do it,” said General Emory. Still the Lieutenant only replied, “I await your orders, General.” The order was finally given, and Lieutenant Kerin and his men started off in the darkness to fulfill it. About two o’clock in the morning, long before he expected the party to return the General was awakened by a rap. “Who’s there?” he asked. “It is Lieutenant Kerin, General. I have to report that the act is accomplished.”
Quite an excitement was created in this division of the army yesterday towards evening, by the report that a rebel force had made a dash upon our right flank and rear, near Old Church, and captured a train of cavalry wagons on a foraging expedition. The men were ordered under arms (this getting under arms at short notice, under such circumstances, has been christened a […..] in the army), and an hour or so was passed in waiting for orders to march; but nothing came of it. This morning there are many rumors in camp of a large force on our right, most of which are greatly exaggerated. It is probable that this flank movement of the enemy was occasioned by information of the disposition of our troops communicated to them by Mrs. Gen. Lee, who was sent to Richmond some three days since, with a flag of truce. The result has been a slight change of programme on our part, which will prevent any further incursions upon our right.
WHITE HOUSE, June 20, 1862.
The recent bold and dashing raid of the rebels in the rear and along the entire lines of our army, has at last awakened our military authorities to a relaizing sense that we are encountering no common enemy. This movement evinces the desperate spirit with which the rebels are inspired, and should teach us to abandon that overweening confidence which has too often prevailed, that our superiority in discipline will counteract the numerical superiority of the enemy. It is just such bold dashes as I have referred to that inspires the great body of the rebel army, as it affords practical lessons for their emulation in greater masses. I can only express my gratification that the result of the rebel raid has not been attended by more serious disaster, as it might have been. Such an event will not occur again in this department. The enemy have gratuitously pointed out our weak points; we have improved the lesson.
The country for miles around here is being scoured by large bodies of troops, and all the male inhabitants, most of whom, no doubt, have been furnishing the enemy with information from within our lines, are being sent here for safe keeping. All the loose arms in the farm houses are being confiscated, and removed from the possession of those who would use them on our straggling troops should the opportunity offer. Some of the prisoners are loud in the profession of Union sentiments; others are stolid and indifferent, while others look vengeance. There is no use of prating about Union sentiment among the natives of Virginia. There is not the first evidence of any such thing, as I can detect, and I flatter myself to say may faculties of observation are as healthy and generous as the generality of mankind.
A balloon reconnoissance was made from the lines of our army in front to-day, when the discovery was made that the rebels were moving a large body, several thousand troops, from their left (our right) to their right (our left). Whether this is with a view and preparatory to an attack on our left is not of course known. It may possibly be a feint of the rebels, as such movements are generally conducted under cover of darkness, or by circuitous routes. That a great battle is not far off is apparent, from the fact that the rebel army is now on short allowance of food. They have been unusually insolent all along the lines for the past few days, forcing our pickets and committing all sorts of petty and unsoldierly annoyances. It is only by the forbearance of our commanders that these things are tolerated. Of course, what our army is doing I am not at liberty, to say. One thing is certain, our little General will choose his own time and ground for the next battle; he will not be decoyed, forced or smoked into an engagement with the enemy. If they attack him, it will be at the cost of a great number of lives, and attended by sure defeat to them. Mark what I now state.
The enemy have been disappointed in their hopes that the swamps of the Chickahominy would cause a great mortality in our camps. At first it seemed as though the rebels having their expectations realized by the large bills of sickness reported daily at headquarters; but the cause of this was soon discovered, namely, that the antidote we used to repel climatic diseases, (the whiskey and quinine ration to the soldier,) became the bane. This discovered, the whiskey ration was at once dispensed with. The good results of this prompt measure are now apparent in the signs of returning good health of our troops. The most prevalent diseases here are typhoid, bilious and intermittent fevers, and some few cases of fever and ague. The former disease comprises about two-thirds of the whole. In some typhoid cases the disease has proved fatal in one week after the attack. The sickness is caused by the warm days and cold nights and constant exposure.
To-day a flag of truce came to this point from the east side of the Pamunkey river. The flag covered two ladies, who came here to see their husbands, who had been captured by our troops on suspicion of treason. The ladies used all the influence, persuasion and art of which their sex is so talented, to obtain the liberation of their halfs; but Lieutenant Colonel Ingalls, our able chief here, although he listened to the lamentable stories of the ladies, was not moved by their eloquence or their smiles. He assured them that their husbands would neither be hanged, bayonetted nor their throats cut, a la secesh, but would be well watched and well cared for, and positively be kept out of the path of secesh inclinations. The creatures left here with tears in their eyes, after taking an affectionate kiss from their caged dears. What a pity!
The post roads in this locality are in good condition, the weather distressingly warm, and the nights made hideous by the screaming of owls, bats and the croaking of bullfrogs on the banks of the Pamunkey.