Friday, June 29, 2012

Seven Days Battles - Day 5 - Battle of Allen's Farm and Savage Station

Sunday, June 29, 1862

Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered Generals John Magruder and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to pursue the retreating Union army, pushing them from the rear and hoping to engage an attack. Lee sent General James Longstreet south to Glendale and General Theophilus Holmes to Malvern Hill in anticipation of the movement of the Union army. Union General George McClellan left only five divisions from three corps, including General Bull Sumner’s Second Corps, General Samuel Heintzelman’s Third Corps, and General William Franklin’s Sixth Corps, to defend the rear of the Union army at the supply depot at Savage Station.

At dawn Brigadier General Napoleon Dana received orders to re-pitch the tents struck around midnight to confuse the Confederates who were rapidly approaching behind their lines and to give his brigade additional time for the ensuing retreat to Savage Station. One half-hour later, after re-pitching their tents and marching into the woods toward Savage Station, the men of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment observed the arrival of the Confederates into their abandoned camp. At approximately 8:00 A.M. the Twentieth Massachusetts arrived at a location about two miles west of Savage Station. General Dana positioned the Twentieth Massachusetts along the Richmond and York Railroad near the woods on Mrs. E. Allen’s Farm. At 9:00 A.M. the Confederates attacked. The battle ensued for two hours, and General Dana’s brigade was not heavily engaged. The Confederate attack was repulsed by 11:00 A.M. The Twentieth suffered no casualties during this encounter.

Shortly after the battle at Allen’s Farm ceased Second Corps Commander Bull Sumner received news that the Confederates had crossed the Chickahominy River with a large force, and Sumner realized the necessity to remove his corps to Savage Station immediately. Although the march to Savage Station was relatively short, the day was exceedingly hot, and many soldiers suffered from heat exhaustion during their progress. The Twentieth reached Savage Station in the early afternoon, and deployed on elevated ground near the hospital tents. The men of the Twentieth who had pushed the railroad cars to Savage Station depot on the previous day were burning and destroying large stores of ammunition. Thick smoke from the destruction marked the location of the Union troops.

Once again General Jackson was late to assist General Magruder, and Magruder decided to attack Sumner’s Corps before Jackson’s arrival. On the Union side, General Heintzelman’s Third Corps, who was ordered to guard the rear flank, did not reinforce Sumner’s Second Corps, but proceeded to join the remainder of the Union army and left Sumner alone to defend the flank. At approximately 5:00 P.M. Magruder approached Savage Station and a battle ensued between the forces of Magruder and Sumner. The Twentieth saw much of the action from their position on high ground, although they were in range of Confederate artillery fire. Sumner’s Pennsylvania regiments saw the heaviest fighting at Savage Station. As nightfall approached and the Twentieth was ordered to relieve the Pennsylvania Fire Zouaves, the Confederates ordered a cessation of the fight because they feared firing on their own men. As darkness descended the Twentieth Massachusetts again escaped the heat of battle, but not for long.1

1George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 111-118. Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 139-44.

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