"On the morning of the 9th, we got news that General McClellan had reached Roper's church1, about nine miles across country, and established his headquarters.
Communication was thus opened between our right and centre; and Generals Franklin and Porter, with several members of their staffs, rode over to General McClellan's headquarters, and held an interview with him.Slocum's brigade moved out about three miles to a stumpy, new clearing, called the cross-roads, and encamped. Stoneman, with his flying column of cavalry, and General Sprague2, passed up about four miles south of us, and had a skirmish with the enemy's rearguard, but, as usual, without inflicting any serious injury on him. Under the belief that he could do something of , real value if he had infantry to support his cavalry, Stoneman had obtained an order on our division for two regiments, which were sent to him from the Jersey Brigade. It was surprising to see how much opposition this order excited among some of our brigadier generals, who prevailed upon General McClellan to rescind the order and send the infantry back to their brigade. The rest of the day was spent at Eltham, landing cattle, supplies, and cavalry, the last being very slow in getting up. Indeed, it was almost impossible to tell why this cavalry should have been sent from Yorktown by water, subject to all the expense and delay of embarking and discharging, as well as cost of transports, when a good road was open all the way up,and fields of clover a foot deep.
The first supply train from Yorktown came through in charge of Alex, our Irish Lieutenant, who had been selected for the duty. The gunboat we had sent up the Pamunky reached Cumberland landing early on the morning of the 10th, having passed a number of sunken vessels, and removed a variety of obstructions placed in the channel by the rebels. A good, safe channel, with ten and even eleven feet of water, was, however, found and marked out up to the landing, which was at Tooler's3 plantation, a vast open plain, affording magnificent advantages for encamping the whole army. A high ridge, on which the plantation house stood, overlooked an immense extent of country, and gave the spectator a view which, for picturesqueness, I have rarely seen excelled. A pale mist hung over the hill, and a camp with three or four white tents was dimly seen from the deck of the gunboat, pitched a few yards in front of the plantation house. As the mist lifted, the shadowy figures of the camp guards stood out in clear relief. The question was whether they were the enemy or our men. A glass was brought into use, and the blue overcoats decided the question. It was Stoneman's camp. He had halted his flying column, and was waiting for the infantry to move up. He had lost, it was reported, several of his men in an affair with the enemy near New Kent Court-House, the evening before.
Colonel Alexander, Captain Arnold, and several others landed and made their way to the camp, but with the exception of the guards, everything appeared in undisturbed slumber. While, however, the Colonel was making inquiry of the guard as to where he could find General Stoneman, a small-sized head protruded from one of the tents, and a somewhat husky voice inquired who the strangers were. The head and voice were General Sprague's. The General seemed somewhat confused, and could not exactly understand that the flying column had been overtaken by a gunboat. The strangers soon had a pleasant greeting with General Stoneman, who gave them an account of some skirmishing had with the enemy on his way up. They now made an examination of the ground in the vicinity, and in the direction of New Kent Court-House, procured correct information concerning the roads, and returning to the gunboat proceeded back to Eltham to report the success of their expedition. All the light draught vessels of our fleet could ascend the crooked Pamunky to Cumberland Landing, and on this being reported to General McClellan, it was at once determined to establish our depot of supplies there.
On the morning of the 10th another brigade of our division moved over to the cross-roads I have before mentioned, and encamped in the stumpy fields and on the wooded hills. In the afternoon General Franklin and his staff rode out and met General McClellan and several members of his staff at Slocum's headquarters, where they were very handsomely entertained. Accompanying the General was his favorite aid, Colonel Sweitzer, the Duke de Chartres, Count de Paris, and the Prince de Joinville, whose agreeable manners always added a charm to the company he was in. A very pretty and intelligent boy, belonging to a poor family in the neighborhood, who had been in Richmond about a week before, was brought into headquarters and introduced to General McClellan, who questioned him as to what he knew about the rebel capital. What he had to tell, however, was based only on rumor. "There was great excitement when I left, "he said, " and it was reported that Mr. Jefferson Davis had left the big stone house, and done gone out of Richmond."
It was here that General McClellan brought us the news of the evacuation of Norfolk and destruction of the phantom terror of our navy, the Merrimac4, which news was received with an outburst of rejoicing that made the very woods echo. When it became known to the soldiers that General McClellan was in camp, they manifested the wildest enthusiasm, broke away from all restraint, and cheered for him in their loudest strains. When, on taking his departure, he rode through the camps, they gathered about him in crowds, impeded his progress, threw up their caps, and made the very air ring with their shouts of joy. It was the most natural outburst of affection for the chief they loved I had seen the soldiers manifest.
The afternoon was warm and pleasant, and after the General had taken leave of us Captain Jackson and myself rode out about five miles in the direction of New Kent Court-House, over a road finely shaded with trees and bordered with flowering shrubs. On our return we stopped at the farm of one William Martin, an honest-hearted farmer, whose house stood about half a mile from the road, and where we found a hearty welcome, and were entertained with new milk and muffins. Farmer Martin gave us ample proof that he had always been a good Union man, and had, with many others in his neighborhood, struggled hard against the men who carried Virginia into rebellion. There was something so sincere, so kindly about the man and his wife, who seemed a very model of goodness, as to make us forget that we were in an enemy's country. He was not one of the rich, opulent planters, owning a hundred slaves, and therefore hating the Union that afforded them protection. They were to be found on the rich bottom lands adjoining the river, where wealth seemed to give greater force and bitterness to treason. Martin lived on what was called the ordinary upland, several miles away from the river, where the people were less educated and wealthy, but among whom I noticed a strong love for the Union and a more kindly treatment of our soldiers. Martin's farm comprised about five hundred acres; three hundred of it finely wooded with oaks and chestnut, the balance of it under that very ordinary kind of cultivation which has been followed in Virginia for at least a century. The farming implements here were of the rudest kind, and I could not suppress a feeling of regret that all these fine lands should remain unproductive for want of a little of that science and energy which has done so much for the advancement of agriculture in the North and West. Martin had but a few slaves, and cultivated his soil chiefly with free labor. We returned to Eltham that night at a rapid pace, and Captain Jackson's fine horse fell dead a few minutes after we reached headquarters.
Early the next morning we moved with the remainder of the division, and established our headquarters about a mile beyond the cross-roads. On the 12th I went out with the provost marshal and a company of cavalry to post guards along the road to protect property. In one house we found an aged mother and her only daughter, a young woman of eighteen, with an infant in her arms, the father, their only support, having been conscripted into the rebel army. A more terrible picture of poverty and distress could scarcely be presented. In another house were two young girls, and an aged, infirm father, the two brothers who worked the little farm having fallen victims to the inexorable conscription officer. The house of the sheriff or tax collector of the county5 was deserted, its furniture broken, and its floors strewn a foot deep with papers, old books, and manuscripts. Three or four old negroes still remained in the cabins, and told us this destruction was the work of some of our soldiers, who had passed that way the day before, and learned that their master was an arrant rebel.
On returning, I took four cavalrymen and stopped at Martin's house, to protect his property while the army marched up on the next morning. During the day I observed that he exhibited considerable anxiety of mind about something. He at length disclosed to me the cause of it. The wife of a Major Jones6, who was in the rebel army, had been frightened from her house on the banks of the Pamunky by the shells of our gunboats, and leaving in a state of great distress, had made her way through the woods, found sought shelter under his roof. The poor woman was now secreted in one of his garrets — a fact he considered it his duty to disclose to me, especially as he bad been assured that the distressed and innocent would receive protection and be treated with kindness. Assured of protection and kind treatment, she came trembling from her hiding place, but in a state of nervous excitement enough to awake the tenderest sympathies of one's heart. She was a timid, delicate little woman, of refined manners and evident good family. The depth of her distress was increased by the fact that she was soon to give birth to a child, and her home had been made desolate by her own negroes, several of whom had threatened her life. My efforts to relieve her mind of all apprehension of personal danger failed to remove the intense nervous excitement under which she was laboring. She thanked me, however, in the most tender manner for my offer of protection, deplored the war that had brought this misery upon her, and with tears sealed the sincerity of what she said.
I sent this trembling woman to her home in charge of a guard, but it was not the home she left. The negroes had held high festival in its halls for several days, and the scene of destruction which everywhere met the eye showed how regardless they had been of the value of property.
I could not help feeling how thankful we ought to be that our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, lived beyond this terror of war, where peace reigns.And yet the aching head and sorrowing heart of this poor woman is as a feather when compared with the accumulation of woe war brings on the people into whose country it is carried."
1. Ropers Church lay approximately a mile due west of Barhamsville.
2. William Sprague, Brigadier General and the "Boy Governor" of Rhode Island, was on the Peninsula in an unofficial capacity, looking after the interests of Rhode Island's troops and acting as the President's ears on McClellan's staff.
3. Cumberland the Property of Henry Toler.
4. The CSS Virginia , still called Merrimac by many in the North and and South, was scuttled by the Confederates on May 11 since her deep draft prevented her ascending the James River to Richmond.
5. C.A.Hewlett was Sheriff of New Kent in 1862.
6. "Major"Jones is, I believe, Rowland Jones a large landowner on the Pamunkey. Possessing no Confederate rank I can find, "Major" is probably an honorific from bygone militia days. Jones, age 62 and a widower, had recently married again, to the 22 year old Octavia Jones.