Today in History:

39 Series I Volume IX- Serial 9 - Roanoke


The road to Richmond was open by the York or James Rivers, landing in the latter case below Jamestown. It was therefore necessary to erect defensive works in front of Williamsburg and at Yorktown to oppose an immediate advance. Jamestown Island, having been fortified when I took command, would constitute the right flank; the works at Williamsburg the center, and York River and Yorktown the left flank, but Yorktown being 12 miles farther down the river than Williamsburg or Jamestown, the enemy could land at any time on James River below Williamsburg, march across to York River above Yorktown, and cut it off entirely its supplies, thus reducing it in a very short time even if it were fortified. Hence to became necessary to erect works as soon as possible at some point on James below or opposite Yorktown, so that a line across the Peninsula perpendicular to its axis should have both its flanks resting upon water defenses impassable by ships. These two are the lowest points which can be defended against the passage of fleets. To erect these several works, however, and fortify the lines here indicated would obviously be a work of immense labor, requiring, when prosecuted with the most determined energy, seven or eight months to complete them.

The chances were extremely remote for success in such an undertaking, and there was but one way that furnished the remotest hope that the Peninsula could be defended at all with the means then at the disposal of our Republic, and that was by active and threatening operations in front, to make the enemy fear for himself, with the positions were being most vigorously fortified in rear. This plan was adopted by me, and the enemy on his first advance, with a force of five to one against us, having been repulsed and severely punished, the works were pushed forward with great vigor.

The operations below (in front of) the enemy were, however, always carried on with the liability of having a large force of the enemy thrown in the rear of our forces by the Back or Poquosin Rivers, the former having 10, the latter 18 feet of water. I could not, therefore, hold my position in front without building such works on the most navigable of these rivers as would defend it entrance against the enemy's vessels. Hence the works at Ship Point was built (by the labor of the troops and by my order), and completely commands the entrance to that river. I also felt the great disadvantage, when skirmishing with the enemy so near his fortress, that his re-enforcements were at hand while mine were at so great a distance. I therefore availed myself of the near approach of the Poquosin River and Deep Creek, on James River, for the establishment of a convenient base of operations from which I could draw re-enforcements and supplies when needed below, and which I could defend with success if attacked by superior numbers by land.

For these reasons, and to prevent the enemy from occupying this strong position himself, I fortified the lines of Harrod's and Young's Mills, the flanks resting, as I before said, upon Poquosin River and Deep Creek, entering the York and James Rivers respectively. I also fortified the mouth of Deep Creek and Warwick River, sinking thirty canal-boats across the channel. This line could still be turned by the enemy landing between Yorktown and Poquosin River, but I hoped to be able to defend a landing between these points by erecting fortifications there before the enemy made the attempt.

In the mean time winter approached and it was necessary to decide where the troops should build winter quarters. I directed then to build on the front line. While this was being done intelligence arrived of