No. 50. Report of Colonel Hiram Burnham,
Sixth Maine Infantry.
HEADQUARTERS SIXTH MAINE REGIMENT, On Battle-field, near Williamsburg, May 7, 1862.
SIR: Last Sunday morning, the 4th instant, I received orders at daybreak from headquarters of the First Brigade to get my regiment under arms and cross Warwick Creek into the enemy's fortifications, which were said to be evacuated. I immediately complied with these orders and field across the creek upon the dam in front of the rebel battery, where the action of the 16th of April occurred. We found the extensive and formidable works of the enemy completely deserted. In many places the camp-fires were still burning, while the knapsacks, blankets, clothing, and articles of camp and garrison equipage, which were scattered about in the wildest confusion, gave evidence of the haste and terror with which the retreat of the enemy had commenced. I was ordered back to camp to prepare for the pursuit. Tents were immediately struck, knapsacks packed, rations issued to the men, and all other preparations made with the utmost speed.
At 11 o'clock a.m. everything was in readiness, and accordingly we took up the line of march. Recrossing Warwick Creek, we passed through the deserted fortifications and took the road leading toward Williamsburg. After proceeding some 4 miles a halt was ordered, and the men were allowed to rest for a short time. When we again started my regiment was placed in the advance, and for 3 or 4 miles we pushed on very rapidly, when we emerged into a large open field, but a short distance from the place where our cavalry had discovered the enemy a little earlier in the afternoon. Here a halt was ordered; my command was deployed in line of battle, and the men were allowed to rest until other regiments came up. Additional forces soon arrived and were deployed. It was now late in the afternoon and night was fast closing in. We were ordered to advance in line through the woods in front, for the purpose of discovering a battery occupied by the enemy. As the men were excessively fatigued by the labor of the day it was deemed best for them to leave their knapsacks in the field under charge of a guard. I then threw out skirmishers and advanced with my command toward the enemy. The forest through which we passed was very dense, and as it was growing darker every moment we were obliged to move on with the utmost caution. At length we came into a field with timber fallen on each side of it, as if to allow a battery a free range. Beyond this field I threw my skirmishers some distance, but it was now quite dark, and I was unable to find the battery for which we were searching.
At this juncture of affairs a halt was ordered, I drew in my skirmishers and marched my command to the edge of the field of which I have just spoken. Here, without overcoats or blankets, we bivouacked for the night in the fallen timber. Toward morning a heavy rainstorm set in, and our situation was unpleasant in the extreme. As daylight dawned and the objects around us gradually assumed distinct forms we discovered the fortifications of the enemy just on our right, and not more than half a mile off. These fortifications were swarming with men, and we could also see them moving about on the outside, while farther back troops were drawn up in line of battle.
In accordance with orders received from General Hancock I moved