General Sumner, in his report of the battle of Savage Station,
When the enemy appeared on the Williamsburg road I could not imagine why General Heintzelman did not attack him, and not until some time afterward did I learn, to my utter amazement, that General Heintzelman had left the field, and retreated with his whole corps (about 15,000 men) before the action commenced. This defection might have been attended with the most disastrous consequences, and although we beat the enemy signally and drove him from the field, we should certainly have given him a more crushing blow if General Heintzelman had been there with his corps.
General Heintzelman, in his report of the operations of his corps, says:
On the night of the 28th of June I received orders to withdraw the troops of my corps from the advanced position they had taken on the 25th of June, and to occupy the intrenched lines about a mile in rear. A map was sent me, showing the positions General Sumner's and General Franklin's corps would occupy.
About sunrise the next day our troops slowly fell back to the new position, cautiously followed by the enemy, taking possession of our camps as soon as we left them.
From some misapprehension General Sumner held a more advanced position than was indicated on the map furnished me, thus leaving a space of about three-fourths of a mile between the right of his corps and General Smith's division of General Franklin's corps.
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At 11 a.m. on the 29th the enemy commenced an attack on General Sumner's troops, a few shells falling within my lines. Late in the forenoon reports reached me that the rebels were in possession of Dr. Trent's house, only 1 1/2 miles from Savage Station. I sent several cavalry reconnaissances, and finally was satisfied of the fact. General Franklin came to my headquarters, when I learned of the interval between his left and General Sumner's right, in which space Dr. Trent's house is; also that the rebels had repaired one of the bridges across the Chickahominy and were advancing.
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I rode forward to see General Sumner, and met his troops falling back on the Williamsburg road through my lines. General Sumner informed me that he intended to make a stand at Savage Station, and for me to join him to determine upon the position.
This movement of General Sumner's uncovering my right flank, it became necessary for me to at once withdraw my troops. * * *
I rode back to find General Sumner. After some delay from the mass of troops in the field I found him, and learned that the course of action had been determined on; so I returned to give the necessary orders for the destruction of the railroad cars, ammunition, and provisions still remaining on the ground.
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The whole open space near Savage Station was crowded with troops-more than I supposed could be brought into action judiciously. An aide from the commanding general had in the morning to me to point out a road across the White Oak Swamp starting from the left of General Kearny's position and leading by Brackett's Ford.
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The advance of the column reached the Charles City road at 6.30 p.m. and the rear at 10 p.m. without accident.
The orders given by me to Generals Sumner, Heintzelman, and Franklin were to hold the positions assigned them until dark. As stated by General Heintzelman, General Sumner did not occupy the designated position; but as he was the senior officer present on that side of the White Oak Swamp, he may have thought that the movements of the enemy justified a deviation from the letter of the orders. It appears from his report that he assumed command of all the troops near Savage Station and determined to resist the enemy there, and that he gave General Heintzelman orders to hold the same position as I had assigned him.
The aide sent by me to General Heintzelman to point out the road across the swamp was to guide him in retiring after dark.
On reaching Savage Station, Sumner's and Franklin's commands were drawn up in line of battle in the large open field to the left of the railroad, the left resting on the edge of the woods and the right