of the 4th instant, soon after daylight, General Hancock rode up to me bringing two contrabands, who informed me that the works in front of us had been evacuated. I immediately directed General Hancock to call for a few volunteers from each regiment of his brigade to cross the dam in front of us, and made the necessary dispositions of my artillery and infantry to cover as much as possible the crossing of these men, in case the work should still be occupied. Before, however, the troops arrived at the points designated, at about 5.30 a.m., Lieutenant Custer, Fifth Cavalry, and Captain Read, assistant adjutant-general to General Brooks, had crossed the dam and taken possession of the works. The Fifth Vermont being near at hand, I ordered if forward at once to occupy the works, and other regiments were immediately ordered in as a support.
Work was immediately commenced on the dam to make it passable for artillery and cavalry, and at about 7 a.m. the squadron of cavalry under my command was thrown across the dam and ordered to the front to reconnoiter. Information was soon received from Captain Chambliss, commanding the squadron, that he had come up with the rear guard of the enemy, consisting of a large force of cavalry and a force of infantry. Captain Chambliss was ordered to retire, as I was then in no condition to support him, and the information was telegraphed to the general-in-chief and the generals commanding the left wing and Fourth Corps.
About 8 o'clock my artillery began to cross. I immediately ordered a battery with General Hancock's brigade forward to support the cavalry. About this time a dispatch was received from the general-in-chief ordering me not to engage the enemy, as he had made arrangements for cutting them off. Captain Chambliss had, however, been cautiously following their retreating rear guard, and by the time I overtook the advance, about 11.30 a.m., it was within a mile of the Yorktown and Williamsburg road. Here I received a positive order from General Sumner to halt, and occupied myself pushing reconnaissances to ascertain whether we could turn the head of Skiff Creek, the bridge over which had been burned [and in the endeavor to put out the fire Lieutenant Custer had burned his hands], and also to ascertain if a practicable route could be found to the Yorktown road, the road directly in front of us being impassable. Both these reconnaissances were successful.
Between 2 and 3 o'clock General Sumner came up, and ordered the division forward on the Yorktown and Williamsburg road. I came up with General Stoneman's command at about 5.30 p.m. As fast as the division arrived it was ordered by General Sumner to be formed in three lines of battle, preparatory to charging upon the enemy's lines.
At about 6.30 p.m. the order to advance was given. Before the first line got fairly into the woods I took the responsibility of halting the third line, ordering it to remain in support of the artillery, and as a reserve for the other troops to fall back upon in case they were driven in. On finding the utterly impracticable nature of the woods in front of us I endeavored to find General Sumner, to get authority to halt the troops, but failing in that, I sent an aide to find General Hancock to order a halt. I then sent to General Heintzelman, stating the circumstances, and asking him to authorize a halt. The reply came back that he was excepting General Hooker to attack on the left, and under the circumstances could not give the requisite authority.
About 8 o'clock, while endeavoring to get the troops of the right wing into order, I was very much relieved by hearing from General