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Friday, October 18, 2013

Story of a Trooper: Francis Colburn Adams in New Kent III . . . A March to Eltham

The continuing story of trooper Francis Colburn Adams' experiences in New Kent during the Peninsula Campaign . . .

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection-Map of the vicinity of Richmond, Va., and part of the Peninsula. From surveys made under the direction of Capt. A.H. Campbell, P.E.C.S.A., in charge, Topographical Department, D.N.Va. 1864.


The morning after the battle (the 8th) came in bright
and beautiful. The crash and clash of battle had
ceased, and although its fierce engines were still here,
and the dead were there to harrow up the feelings of
the living, and the wounded to call for succoring hands
and sympathizing hearts, the quiet picture was in strange
contrast with that of yesterday. We were surrounded
by one of those soft, quiet landscapes than which none
could be more beautiful. A gentle breeze, sweet with
the breath of flowers, came playing as it were over the
river. And the calm, winding waters of the Pamunky
and Mattapony, the vast green fields that stretched
away from their banks, the dark, luxuriant foliage that
gave such a crispness and outline to the picture, with
flowers everywhere in full bloom — all seemed to com-
bine in one enchanting harmony. Here nature had
just put on her most beautiful robes, as if to excite the
soul's love. Strange thoughts forced themselves on the
mind, one after another, while sitting on the bank of
the river contemplating this gorgeous scene. How
is it, I asked myself, that a God who is all goodness,
and controls all things, has made man the most destruc-
tive of all His creatures, and permits him to lay waste
these beautiful scenes, to scourge the earth with war ?

There were arrivals from Washington and New York
this morning, and we again had the sutler and the news-
boy in camp, both doing a brisk business. The battle
of Williamsburg was just then absorbing our atten-
tion, and as we were anxious to get the lists of killed
and wounded, everybody bought a newspaper.

Portions of Sedgwick's, Richardson's, and Porter's
divisions had come up by water from Yorktown during
the night. About 9 o'clock there might have been
seen about the headquarters' tents groups of generals,
some of whose names will have a prominent place in
the nation's history. In one stood the tall, thoughtful,
and brave Franklin; the affable and courteous Fitz
John Porter ; that sturdy, frank, and unpretentious
soldier, Sedgwick ; and the blunt, but good-humored
Colonel Alexander, surrounded by a number of their
staff officers. In another stood the sleeker, meditative,
and restless Slocum, with his bronzed face and sharp
features ; the genial and brave John Newton ; Dana,
and the rolicking and energetic Torbert, of the Jersey
brigade. There, too, was the honest-hearted Richard-
son ; all surrounded by a number of staff officers, many
of whom have since been killed or disabled for life ;
others have risen to high commands.

About 10 o'clock, an enterprising German arrived
from Washington with a supply of refreshing lager,
which found a hearty welcome at headquarters, for the
morning was warm and sultry. Our friends, the newly
arrived generals, were invited to join us, and numerous
glasses were quaffed, with thanks to the man who first
made lager.

About one o'clock, Franklin's division was ready to
march, and after the wounded were taken care of, and
the solemn ceremony of burying the dead performed,
moved forward on a narrow, swampy, road, five miles
to Eltham, on the right bank of the Pamunky, which
here made a beautiful curve, and to the west of which,
and following the course of the winding stream, exten-
sive meadows stretched away as far as the eye could
reach. This Eltham was a broad, level farm, of some
two thousand acres, the soil remarkably rich and pro-
ductive, and even now under tolerably good cultivation.
It had evidently been a place of considerable impor-
tance, and had a history full of romance. Time was
when the wealth, the fashion, the beauty, and the wits
of the country round about assembled at Eltham, and
held high court on the lawns and in the halls of the old
mansion. But Eltham, like Virginia's pride, (a pride
strongly resembling that found in England,) was coming
down, and going to decay. An old black man, who
had passed his five-score years, still lived on the place,
and could tell you with great distinctness of the time
when Eltham was gay and festive, and when the great
men of Virginia were the welcome guests of his master,
and the feast set before them was " the best in all the

Extensive fields of flowering clover, of rye, and wheat,
stretched away from the river, and into these our di-
vision debouched and bivouacked, the animals enjoying
the feast thus spread before them. In forty-eight hours
these fields, so luxuriant of the coming harvest when
we entered them, presented only a surface of bald clay.
A landing was also made on the bank of the river, and
a temporary depot established, and the fleet of trans-
ports and steamers came sweeping up in grand style,
their spars and funnels presenting a novel appearance
among the trees and deep green foliage with which the
river banks were lined.

Our information respecting the capacity of the Pa-
munky river was somewhat confused at first. Few
vessels of any size had ascended above West Point.
Virginians had not given themselves the trouble to sound
it, nor to consider the advantages it might give them
in properly developing so rich a country. Hence it
came to be regarded by the people along its banks as
navigable only for oyster boats and small craft of very
light draught. Some of the negroes, who had acted as
pilots and oystermen on the river, thought a channel
could be found much further up for nine and even ten feet
of water. In order to settle this question, a gunboat,
commanded by Captain Nicholson, with Colonel Alex-
ander, of the engineers. Captain Arnold, of the artil-
lery, (then on Franklin's staff,) and two other officers,
whose names I have forgotten, started on a voyage of
discovery up the river, the object being to establish
our depot of supplies as near Richmond as we could
get by water.
-The Story of a Trooper: With Much of Interest Concerning the Campaign on the Peninsula

-to be continued-

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