Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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No. 20.

Reports of Brig. Army, Chief Engineer Army of the Potomac, of operations during the siege.

Fort Magruder, the first lunette on our left, appears to have been built at an early period, probably before the rear of Yorktown was inclosed, and to prevent the approach of an enemy who should attempt to pass the ravines. It had a moderately strong profile, but its gorge, a mere stockade, was taken in reverse by our Battery No. 13.

The Red Redoubt (square) farther to the left answered very well as a means of continuing the line and securing against assault by ordinary means, but its front was almost wholly occupied by barbettes for field or siege guns, and its interior was seen from our Battery No. 13. The exterior connection between this work was first a rifle trench, probably afterwards enlarged into a parapet, with external ditch and an emplacement for four guns in or near the small redan in the center.

Behind this they had constructed numerous epaulements, with connecting boyaux, not fully arranged for infantry fires, and mainly intended, probably, to protect their camps and reserves against the destructive effects of our artillery. From the Red Redoubt these trenches and epaulements ran to the woods and rivulet which forms a head with the Warwick, and continue almost without break to connect with the works at Wynn’s Mill. This stream mentioned (whatever be its name, the term “Warwick,” according to some, applying only to the tidal channel from the James River up as high as Lee’s Mill) is [318] inundated by a number of darns from near where its head is crossed by the epaulements mentioned down to Lee’s Mill. Below Lee’s Mill the Warwick follows a tortuous course through salt marshes of 200 to 300 yards in width, from which the land rises up boldly to a height of 30 or 40 feet. The first group of works is at Wynn’s Mill, where there is a dam and bridge. The next is to guard another dam between Wynn’s and Lee’s Mills. (This is the point attacked by General Smith on the 16th ultimo. His object was merely to prevent the further construction of works and to feel the strength of the position.)

A work, of what extent is not now known, was at the sharp angle of the stream just above Lee’s Mill, and a group of works was at Lee’s Mill, where there was also a dam and bridge. From Lee’s Mill a line of works extends across Mulberry Island, or is supposed to do so. At Southall’s Landing is another formidable group of works, and from here, too, they extend apparently across to the James. These groups of field works were connected by rifle pits, trenches, or parapets for nearly the whole distance. They are far more extensive than may be supposed from the mention of them I make, and every kind of obstruction which the country offered, such as abatis, marsh, inundation, &c., was skillfully used. The line is certainly one of the most extensive known in modern times. The country on both sides of the Warwick from near Yorktown down is a dense forest, with few clearings. It was swampy and the roads impassable during the heavy rains we have continually had, except where our own labors had corduroyed them. If we could have broken the enemy’s line across the isthmus we could have invested Yorktown, and it must with its garrison have soon fallen into our hands. It was not deemed practicable, considering the strength of that line and the difficulty of handling our forces, owing to the impracticable character of the country, to do so.

If we could take Yorktown or drive the enemy out of Yorktown the enemy’s line was no longer tenable. This we could do by siege operations, and the result was in my mind a certainty. It was deemed too hazardous to attempt the reduction of the place by assault. The operations of the siege required extensive preparations, and the landing and bringing up of siege artillery by roads which we had to corduroy throughout their whole extent were in themselves heavy operations. The position of Wormley’s Creek, with its numerous wooded ravines, which head near Yorktown, 1,500 yards (at that distance there was everywhere good cover in them), offered great facilities for siege operations, while it at the same time demanded great preliminary labor. Numerous bridges had to be built and roads prepared along the margin of the creek and up the ravines. Nearly 5,000 yards of road, mostly side cutting, with numerous crib-work bridges over intersecting ravines, were constructed. The mill-dam was widened for vehicles, and a crib- work bridge built at the “old dam.” Three pontoon bridges, two long crib-work bridges, one floating-raft bridge, were constructed lower down (though not all maintained), and other bridges were in construction toward the mouth and over the South Branch.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.317-318

web page Rickard, J (4 February 2007)

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