Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document


No. 18.

Report of Brig. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, U. S. Army, of reconnaissance toward Yorktown, April 6, with indorsements.

Report - Indorsement


April 7, 1862.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that in obedience to instructions from division headquarters I yesterday morning proceeded with the Fifth Wisconsin and Sixth Maine Regiments of Volunteers to make a reconnaissance from this point of the creek, forming the line of the enemy’s defenses, until I met our own troops coming from the direction of Yorktown. Lieutenant Merrill, of the Engineers, and Lieutenant Bowen, Topographical Engineer, were ordered to report to me.

We found the enemy in possession of the whole length of the stream, our skirmishers meeting the enemy’s pickets at every point on this side of the river and driving them to it, and in several places across it. In each case field works of the enemy were developed, all, with one exception, having artillery in them. The stream is a succession of pools, formed by damming the river at different points, rendering it, it is understood, unfordable, the enemy’s pickets retiring by small bridges. The banks of the stream on the other side appear generally to be higher than on this side. In one case, however, at some chimneys in an open field, at about 400 yards distance, the ground is higher than their battery opposite, mounting one gun, but there are evidences of another work behind this, sheltered by the woods, and there are appearances of ranges being cut in the woods and two guns there. This is the point where Lieutenant Comstock met my column and made a reconnaissance, covered by one of my regiments, the Sixth Maine, under Colonel Burnham.


This creek here is about 1,200 yards distant from the Yorktown road. The Fourteenth Alabama was stationed there, and according to the statement of four soldiers of that regiment, taken by the Sixth Maine Volunteers, it numbered 1,070 men when it left Richmond, a few days ago. During the afternoon other movements of troops were observed marching down the stream behind the works, while this regiment was holding the crest of the creek. The dam there, by the statement of the colonel, is from 15 to 20 rods in length and about 12 feet broad. It is believed that yesterday that point could have been easily taken. The colonel of the regiment sent me a message by his major, asking permission to take it, which, however, I did not receive, being at the time with the other regiment, overlooking the two lower works. I merely mention this to show his idea of the practicability of it at that time, for I imagine the difficulty would have been in crossing the creek and in maintaining possession after we had taken it, for we had no artillery or intrenching tools with us. Major Harris, who took the message, with an escort of two men, meeting a scouting party of seven of the enemy, was prevented from communicating. He, however, by a ruse (commanding a deployment of men) and the fire of the two men, killing one of the enemy, causing them to fall back, escaped.

The circumstances were entirely changed afterwards, for the movement of several regiments of troops beyond the forts was observed by our line of skirmishers, who, notwithstanding, held the crest for about three hours, and until withdrawn to return. The next work below that appeared to be a rifle pit, and showed no guns. Our skirmishers, of the Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers, Captain Bean, drove the enemy from this crest down the bank, across the bridge there, and into their works. This appears to be flanked by the work in rear of the one-gun battery. Below this three other works were seen, each mounting artillery, each containing several guns. We drove the enemy to the crest of the high ground overlooking the flat in front of these forts. From the one (of those two) highest up the stream the enemy threw a number of shells at our skirmishers. It appears to have a direct control of the next one or two lower down the stream. We had a fair view of the lower work from this crest at about not more than 1,000 paces, and probably not so far. This crest commands it, and looks down upon the mill and road directly under it.

Troops are stationed at the mill, for at each time of driving their skirmishers in bugle-calls sounded the alarm, and the movement of a piece of light artillery was heard. It appeared to us to be moved toward us, in order to prevent our skirmishers from descending the crest or debouching on the road. At another point lower down, at 1,100 yards’ distance, we had a fair, unobstructed view of the fourth work in the order mentioned, from ground that commanded it, and with a level plain between us and the stream. Our skirmishers, who had lain there twenty-four hours, reported that the parapets of that work had been raised about 3 feet. There is an encampment of troops in the woods on one flank and one in the rear of it. Several colors could be seen in the woods. For a detailed explanation as to the armament, position of the forts, and their relative positions, I beg leave to refer you to the reports of the engineers, who made their reports direct to the headquarters of the army corps. I herewith inclose a return of the casualties. [Not found].

Our soldiers behaved with spirit. I may mention here the names of [310] several persons whose conduct was marked: Captain Ross, Captain Bean, Lieutenant Oliver, Fifth Wisconsin Volunteers; Colonel Burn- ham, Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler, Major Harris, and First Lieut. J. D. McFarland, adjutant., Sixth Maine Volunteers. The latter, on horseback, took a prisoner within 150 paces of the enemy’s battery, chasing him on horseback to that point in a direct range of the enemy’s infantry and artillery, and in unobstructed view of the fort mounting one gun, which was afterward discharged at our troops. The parapet was lined with infantry and the gunners were at their posts. The officer was not fired at probably because he kept the prisoner between the fort and himself. This officer reports that the water is 5 or 6 rods in breadth. He had a perfectly unobstructed view of it. In approaching this work he leaped his horse over a rifle pit, not of recent construction, which was on this side of the river. It was a little above the fort and nearly at right angles with the stream. Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler and this adjutant captured three other prisoners. The first prisoner taken was a signal man, placed behind some chimneys at 400 yards distance from the battery; the other three were of a party of five scouts of the enemy. Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler commanded the skirmishers at this point. A number of the enemy were killed at different points where our skirmishers came in contact with them.

It is but just to speak of the handsome manner in which Lieutenant Merrill and Lieutenant Bowen, the engineers, made their observations under the enemy’s fire and in short range of their guns.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier- General, Commanding.

Capt. L. P. H. CURRIE,

Assistant Adjutant- General, Smith’s Division.

Report - Indorsement

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.306-310

web page Rickard, J (4 February 2007),

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