War of the Rebellion: Serial 012 Page 0275 Chapter XXIII. GENERAL REPORTS.

Search Civil War Official Records

No. 15. Report of General Joseph E. Johnston,

C. S. Army, commanding Department of Northern Virginia, of operations from April 15 to May 19.

HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, May 19, 1862.

SIR: Before taking command on the Peninsula I had the honor to express to the President my opinion of the defects of the position then occupied by our troops there. After taking command I reported that the opinion previously expressed was fully confirmed. Some of my objections to the position were that its length was too great for our force; that it prevented offensive movements except at great disadvantage, and that it was untenable after the guns of Yorktown were silenced-a result admitted by all our officers to be inevitable from the enemy's great superiority in artillery. York River being thus opened, a large fleet of transports and 500 or 600 bateaux would enable him to turn us in a few hours. It seemed to me that there were but two objects in remaining on the Peninsula: The possibility of an advance upon us by the enemy, and gaining time in which arms might be received and troops organized. I determined, therefore, to hold the position as long as it could be done without exposing our troops to the fire of the powerful artillery, which I doubted not would be brought to bear upon them. I believed that after silencing our batteries on York River the enemy would attempt to turn us by moving up to West Point by water. The great fatigue and exposure incident to their service told very severely upon the health of our troops. In three days, ending May 3, about --- sick ere sent to Richmond.

Circumstances indicating that the enemy's batteries were nearly ready, I directed the troops to move toward Williamsburg on the night of the 3rd by the roads from Yorktown and Warwick Court-House.

They were assembled about Williamsburg by noon of the 4th, and were ordered to march, by the road, to Richmond, Major-General Magruder leading. Early in the afternoon the cavalry rear guard on the Yorktown road was driven in and rapidly followed by the enemy. Brigadier-General McLaws was sent with the brigades of Kershaw and Semmes to support the cavalry. He met the enemy near the line of little works constructed by Major-General Magruder's forethought; made his dispositions with prompt courage and skill, and quickly drove the Federal troops from the field, in spite of disparity of numbers. I regret that no report of this handsome affair has been made by General McLaws.

Major-General Magruder's march was too late to permit that of Major-General Smith the same afternoon. His division moved at daybreak on the 5th, in heavy rain and deep mud. About sunrise the rear guard was again attacked. The action gradually increased in magnitude until about 3 o'clock, when General Longstreet, commanding the rear, requested that a part of Major-General Hill's troops might be sent to his aid. Upon this I rode upon the field, but found myself compelled to be a mere spectator, for General Longstreet's clear head and brave heart left me no apology for interference. For details of the action see accompanying reports.

Our wounded and many of those of the enemy were placed in hospitals and residences in Williamsburg.