The gunboats of the Yankees were specially directed to the annoyance of Yorktown and Gloucester Point, but thieves and marauders are always cowardly, and the Yankee pirates seldom ventured within range of our guns, contenting themselves with a distant cannonade. Thousands of shells were thrown in and around these two places, crowded with troops and horses, moving carelessly in all directions, and yet there were but 2 men killed and not a single horse.
Finding that the Yankees were not likely to attack by water, many of the heavy guns were moved from the river banks and placed on the land side. Heavy traverses had to be constructed and bomb-proofs erected, and work of almost every conceivable kind to be done. The weather was wet and cold, and the men were generally without tents. One-third of the men had to be kept in the wet trenches day and night Fatigue, watching, cold, and wet told on the health of the troops, and the hospital were soon crowded. The powder was carefully husbanded at first, but learning that the position would be evacuated, I resolved to spend all our heavy ammunition upon the "restorers of the Union." Their working parties were impeded and reconnaissances made hazardous.
The whole line was evacuated on the night of May 3. The batter to deceive the Yankees, a furious cannonade was kept up until midnight on the 3rd. The infantry abandoned the lines at dark on the 4th, leaving the heavy artillery alone to protect the place. This kept up a storm of shot and shell until midnight, as on the 3rd, and then suddenly ceased, and the guns were quietly spiked. The garrison being gone, I left with staff and couriers between 12 and 1 o'clock.
The Yankees had been delayed between five and six weeks by a force on their first landing about one-twentieth as large as their own, and at no time equal to one-third of their own. They had now, however, brought up an immense number of mortars and siege guns and were just ready to open upon Yorktown, and their mortification and regret were very great at our not waiting to be pelted by long-range guns, to which we had nothing to reply.
The evacuation was eminently wise. It deprived the Yankees of their favorite diversion-firing at long range upon an unresisting foe. It enticed them away from their gunboats farther into the interior, where they were soundly thrashed in June and July.
We lost very little by the retreat, save some medical stores, which Surgeon Coffin deserted in his flight on the 1st instant. The heavy guns abandoned were all of the old navy pattern, taken at Norfolk, of little more use than so much cast iron.
We reached Williamsburg, 12 miles from Yorktown, about sunrise on the 4th and rested that day. The Yankee cavalry made its appearance, but after being charged by Hampton remained quiet and civil the balance of the day. General McLaws, however, had some successful skirmishing with the Yankee infantry. All the troops (except Longstreet's division and mine) were moved on to Eltham's Landing, in anticipation of an attempt to cut off our retreat.
My division left Williamsburg on the morning of the 5th, leaving Longstreet holding the earthworks around Williamsburg. The division had waded but a few miles through the mud and slush when the heavy firing in our rear announced that Longstreet was engaged. I soon received an order from him to hurry back to his assistance.
On reaching the ground the Second Florida and Mississippi Battalion were sent to the support of the troops on the right. The brigades of Early, Rains, Featherston, and Rodes, of my division, were placed in