Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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Early in the afternoon on the 24th of May our artillery opened upon the enemy for the first time on this part of our lines at New Bridge. The fire, sustained for some time, elicited no response. During its progress the advance guard, under General Stoneman, with a brigade under General Davidson, moved toward the village of Mechanicsville, then known to be held by a force of the enemy. The artillery joined the column on the march.

A detachment of seven signal officers, hastily collected from stations in the vicinity, moved with our forces. From the upper story of Austin’s house, a dwelling located on a high bank on the east side of Beaver Dam, a first view was caught of the enemy on the other side of the Chickahominy, near Mechanicsville Bridge, and of the spires of Richmond.

Before the fact that the enemy was visible could be announced to the commanding general the head of the column, ascending on the Mechanicsville road to the crest on the west side of Beaver Dam, was received by a discharge of the enemy’s artillery, and the engagement was commenced. At the same time a battery of two guns, stationed on the south side of the Chickahominy near a foot bridge, opened in a vain attempt to reach the left of our line near Austin’s house, on the east side of Beaver Dam. It was not known what force of the enemy might be near this battery. A signal officer was stationed on the left of our lines to watch it and report by signals any movement of the enemy in that direction to another officer stationed near the battery engaging the enemy on the west side of Beaver Dam, and also to another officer stationed with the battery firing from near Austin’& house. The skirmish was of short duration. Our troops were hardly deployed in line of battle when the enemy’s fire ceased, and they retreated to Mechanicsville.


A signal officer stationed on Austin’s house reported six guns as moving near that village. It was dark by this time, and the troops bivouacked for the night.

By order of General Stoneman two signal officers were sent to report to General Davidson, and a code of rocket signals was arranged by which to indicate certain movements if made by his forces during the night.

At daylight the troops advanced upon the village, and after some artillery firing occupied it. As the line moved up General Stoneman, at his headquarters near Austin’s house, was kept informed of its progress, and of the moment of the occupation of the village, by signals from the officers who accompanied the troops. As soon as the village was occupied a courier was dispatched ordering the wire of the field telegraph to be run out from a dwelling near the Hogan house, by this time occupied by General W. F. Smith as his headquarters, to a point near Mechanicsville. This was done, with a few hours’ labor, in a heavy rain, and soon after noon the telegraphic communication was established from the headquarters of General Davidson, near Mechanicsville, to the division headquarters of General Smith. The ease with which this was done illustrated the rapidity with which under more favorable circumstances such communication might be made available.

On the day following the occupation of Mechanicsville a station of observation was established near that village, which was held almost constantly while our troops occupied the place. On the next day an expedition was made by a force of two companies of cavalry, with a detachment of mounted artillery and a field piece, under the command of Maj. A. S. Webb, of the Rhode Island Artillery, to examine the country in the vicinity of the Richmond and Virginia Central Railroad.

Two signal officers joined the expedition for the purpose of reconnaissance. This expedition penetrated the enemy’s lines for some miles, driving in their pickets and scattering their supports, and finally reaching the railroad at a station near Greenshaw’s, 12 miles from Richmond. The track was destroyed and set on fire in two places. In this work of destruction the turpentine from the canteens which signal soldiers carry was found to be a useful auxiliary. By the time the party reached the railroad it had been reduced by pickets left on different roads and guards at houses to about 25men. The drums of the rebel force camped in the vicinity could be distinctly heard beating the alarm. The party returned to our lines unmolested.

On May 26 headquarters camp was established near New Bridge.

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Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.239-240

web page Rickard, J (19 November 2006)


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