Saturday, April 16, 2016

Siege of Yorktown April 16, 1862 Dam Number One at Lee's Mill

Yorktown on the peninsula.
~Orders of Battle~
Union Forces

BG. William H.T. Brooks Brigade

3rd VT Inf                        5 stands
4th VT Inf                        5 stands
7th VT Inf                        6 stands


Confederate Forces

BG Howell Cobb

15th NC Inf                              5 stands
7th GA Inf                                6 stands
2nd LA BN (Coppens Zouaves)  7stands

General George McClellan decided on a bold plan to end the war and Capture Richmond. Fearing that a direct rout overland would be a costly affair, He chose to move his army by water and landing on the Peninsula and marching into Richmond through the "backdoor." In early march 1862, The Army of the Potomac, already had 50,000 men at Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. This number grew to 121,500 soldiers before any shots were fired. McClellan effectively commanded the largest army ever assembled on the North American Continent. His command was organized into three corps and other supporting units.On April 4. McClellan ordered the advance up the Peninsula. on April 5, IV Corps commander BG Erasmus Keyes made initial contact with Confederate forces in defensive positions at Lee's Mill on the Warwick River. The Confederate Commander, MG John Magruder, was a fan of theatrics. He ordered several units to march in and out of clearings in the woods in order to give the appearance of endless numbers of defenders. This tactic worked and The "Little Napoleon" decided on waiting for his siege cannons to come up from the coast. McClellan was convinced he was facing a force that was numerically superior to his force. In fact Magruder only had 11,000 men on the peninsula. So settled both armies on the defenses around Yorktown Virginia, with McClellan waiting for his heavy siege cannons and mortars to be in place before making an assault. On April 16th Federal forces probed in force the Confederate defenses around Dam No. 1, on the Warwick River by Lee's Mill.

Turn 1. Federal Initiative. BG Brooks fails to order his men forward. the Colonels take it upon themselves to move the men forward. Only the 7th VT Infantry decide to hold position.  We can see the defenses along the north bank of the river.

General Magruder with General Howell Cobb riding up to the defenses on the Warwick River.

"This line must be held, We must buy Richmond time to gather reinforcements. All the world is a stage and we have a part to play."

Th Confederate troops dug in on the north side of the Warwick River.

Gen William F. "Baldy" Smith  explains to Brig Gen Brooks how important it is to find a way to break the Rebel line and put an end to this rebellion. "Gen McClellan has been observing troop movements in and out of the tree lines in front of Yorktown. Trains have been arriving in constantly. We need to know how strong their defenses are."

Turn 1 Federal Initiative. Brooks fails to order the brigade forward at the start time. The messenger must have gotten lost. Either way, the Colonels take it upon themselves to start the advance. Only the 7th Vermont holds position. The Confederate forces hold in position. The Colonels check with their company commanders, making sure everyone is loaded and ready.

Moving through the woods towards Lee's Mill.

Turn 2 Federal Initiative. Finally, the messengers deliver their orders. The brigade moves as one. the 3rd Vermont Infantry has moved out of command radius but continues forward. The Confederates listen to the sounds of the woods across the river. They listen for the sounds of an approaching army.

Turn 3. Federal Initiative. General Brooks realizes his troops will hit the line at different times. He quickly orders his advance to straighten its line. The 3rd Vermont emerges from the woods and opens fire on the 15th North Carolina Infantry across the river from them. The Confederates watch as the Federals emerge from the woods. The initial volley causes some casualties. The 15th North Carolina Inf Regt. Rallies and returns fire.

Turn 4. Federal Initiative. The 3rd Vermont and the 15th North Carolina continue to "exchange pleasantries." The rest of the Vermont Brigade moves forward. the 4th Vermont forced to make a right oblique march to get around the Mill 

Turn 5. Confederate Initiative.  General Cobb continues to have the 15th Nc Infantry fire at the 3rd VT Infantry on the Confederate right flank.  The rest of the line holds there fire and waits for the rest of the assault that is sure to come. General Brooks continues to move his brigade forward in a hurry. 

Turn 6. Federal Initiative. The remainder of Brook's brigade emerges from the woods and forms up on the south bank of the river. They open fire all along the line. The 15th NC Infantry on the Confederate right flank has taken heavy casualties by this time. General Cobb hasn't given up yet and responds with a volley of his own.. Casualties begin to mount up. The 15th NC is Shaken. The 3rd VT drops down to cohesion of 4 and miraculously passes. The 7th VT takes heavy casualties and one stand of infantry is removed. Coppen's Zouaves made every shot count.

Turn 7.  Confederate Initiative. Several of the Regiments hang on by a thread. The casualties have piled up. What started off as a mild skirmish and probing the defenses has turned into a general assault on this line.

Turn 8. Confederate Initiative. The regiments of Cobb's brigade continue to pour it into the Federal troops on the river bank. the 3rd Vt Infantry finally had enough and quit the field. the 4th Vt Infantry in the Federal center  also rout and leave the field. The 7th Vt on the Federal right flank still holds on to their position despite their losses. Brigadier General Brooks orders a withdrawal from the line. The 7th Vt Infantry pull back in good order The Confederates hold the line.
~After Action Report~ There should have been some Artillery support for this attack. Historically The Federals were only to probe the line and gauge the strength of the defenders. This ended up being a general assault on the line. However, it should have had more support.

~Historical Outcome~ When the Union Army made it to the Warwick Line they were stopped in place by their commander. General McClellan was confused by the troop movements and reports he was receiving from the front line. His opponent,Major General John B. Magruder, was an amateur actor before the war. His flare for the dramatic saved the Confederate army. He ordered Infantry and artillery to move along the line in a loud and boisterous fashion so the Union observers could see. Confederate soldiers would march in and out of clearings, deploy and regroup. march and redeploy all along the line. This made McClellan and his Intelligence operatives, Allan Pinkerton, over estimate the Confederate strength.
McClellan may have doubted his numerical strength but he did not doubt the strength of his artillery. His time serving as an military observer in the Crimean War in 1855, and witnessing the siege of Sevastopol, enforced his belief in the the power of siege warfare. This set the stage for the siege of Yorktown as the infantry dug in and faced each other and McClellan moved his Siege guns forward into position.
The Union Army Balloon Corps with aeronaut Professor Thaddeus Lowe used two balloons, the Intrepid and the Constitution, to perform aerial reconnaissance. On April 11, the Intrepid carried Brig Gen Fitz John Porter aloft but winds caused the balloon to drift over enemy lines much to the concern of the Union Army. a wind change brought the hapless Porter back to his own lines.  On the Confederate side, Captain John Bryan experienced a similar incident during his observations from a Confederate balloon over the Yorktown lines.

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