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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 combine 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 destructive 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 attention, 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 Richardson; 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, extensive 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 productive, and even now under tolerably good cultivation. It had evidently been a place of considerable importance, 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 land."

Extensive fields of flowering clover, of rye, and wheat, stretched away from the river, and into these our division 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 transports 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 Pamunky 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 Alexander, of the engineers. Captain Arnold, of the artillery, (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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