Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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No. 20.

Reports of Brig. Army, Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac, of operations during the siege.

All would have been ready on the night of the 5th, and the fire would have been opened on Tuesday morning. The water batteries would have been enfiladed by Batteries Nos. 1, 13, and 14, while they were in the direct line to receive all the shots of No. 10, which passed over the front of the work, and indeed No. 2 as well. The gunboats would have [320] engaged and run past the water batteries, and opened a fire upon the rear of the town and enfiladed the ravine over the outlet of which the road from Yorktown to Williamsburg passes.

When the number of our mortars and guns are considered, the great security with which they would have been worked (owing to their careful construction and the manetlets provided for the embrasures), the positions which Batteries Nos. 1, 10, 13, and 14 occupied, the co-operation of the Navy, &c., it will be admitted, I think, that the enemy’s position had become untenable; that he could not have endured our fire for six hours.

It should be mentioned that Battery No. 1 was opened on the 1st, and with great effect on the wharf (where the enemy appeared to be receiving artillery and stores) and the town.

During the first opening of our parallels little effort was made by the enemy to interfere with our work by his fire, but after opening the parallel between the ravine and York River an incessant fire was kept up during the day with rifled projectiles, 8-inch shell, and solid shot, and 32 and 34pounder shot, without retarding the work in the least or causing material loss of life. It is also a matter of surprise that, since our first appearance before Yorktown (April 5, and particularly since the 15th) the ravines and woods have been filled with men, night and day, making roads, building batteries, parallels, and guarding the works, the loss of life has been most trifling. I know not the exact number, but I have reason to believe that it does not amount toa dozen. I can hardly conceive that the enemy should not have known how to use his curved fires with more effect upon those ravines. There was probably no very great supply of ammunition, and that was reserved for warmer work. His fire for the last two or three days was pretty brisk, however. During the siege operations General Woodbury, with his brigade, has been mainly engaged on the construction of roads and bridges, making gabions and fascines, and constructing Battery No. 4 (13-inch mortar).

Captain Duane, with his command, and Lieutenants Comstock and McAlester, have superintended the siege works. All these officers have exhibited great energy, industry, and courage, and will be favorably mentioned by the commanding general, as also my aide-de-camp, Lieut. H. L. Abbot, Topographical Engineers, who has done most valuable service in the reconnaissances and determination of the positions of the enemy and our own works.

Although it is next to impossible to fix by reconnaissance the exact trace of field works, our plans prove to be quite accurate, and the position of every one of the enemy’s guns bearing on our own was marked.

Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Farquhar have been at General Sumner’s headquarters engaged in examining the enemy’s positions along the Warwick and in strengthening our own and in constructing Batteries Nos. 7 and 8. Had the siege continued further they would have been brought to the front. I should mention that besides the siege work mentioned extensive boyaux of communication were made down the Peninsula between the York River and Wormley’s Creek, as shown on the siege plan.

I should remark that the bateaux-bridge equipage constructed during the last winter has proved of infinite service, and I believe it is the only reliable military bridge. Such equipages as the India-rubber, or even the Russian canvas-boat bridge, are of very limited applicability.

I send herewith four maps, viz: Map 1, siege plan; map 2, plan of Yorktown and Gloucester works, taken after our occupation (it must [321] be borne in mind that there is a difference in the scale); map 3, plan of external works immediately connected with Yorktown; map 4, general topography and delineation of the enemy’s line across the Peninsula. I regret that there is not time and means to prepare a complete plan of this enormous system of defenses. They should form part of the record of the operations of the Army of the Potomac.

The forcing of such a line with so little loss in itself is an exploit less brilliant, perhaps, but more worthy of study, than would have been a murderous assault, even if it had proved successful.

I am, very respectfully, your most obedient,


Brig. Gen., and Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac.


Chief Engineer, &c., Washington, D. C.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.319-321

web page Rickard, J (4 February 2007)


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