Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 08.djvu/311
Battle of Williamsburg. 299
In General Hancock's official report, it is stated that the retiring regiments abandoned upon the field one of their battle-flags, which his men found and Brought in; but this was not the Twenty- fourth's colors; for trusty old Coltraine never losed his grasp upon his precious charge, and having borne it proudly aloft as well in the advance as the retreat, it to-day droops sadly in the library in the capitol at Richmond, faded, tattered and pierced with many a bullet, but pure and unpolluted by touch of hostile hand.
In his first dispatch to Lincoln, General McClellan states that Hancock had repulsed Early's brigade by a real charge with the bayonet, and this statement is again and again repeated, until Mr. Swinton, generally accurate, amplifies upon it thus : " A few of the enemy who approached nearest the fort were bayoneted " [Army of the Potomac, Swinton, page 116] and he adds a note: "This is official." Rather a doubtful verification, seeing the exceeding great difference in those days between facts and official accounts thereof.
Now, doubtless, by all the. laws of war, five regiments and ten guns, drawn in line on ground of their own selection, when attacked by a single regiment in the open and unsupported, instead of giving back and retreating (some by orders and some without), or even "feigning to retreat," as Mr. Swinton says (page 116), should have held their ground, and when the venturesome regiment came up, quietly taken them prisoners or, perhaps, 'they might have sallied out and captured it as it advanced. And similarly when this numerous force, abandoning the position tliey had chosen, and "feigning to retreat," had run into and behind the redoubt they were set to defend, five regiments and ten guns should not have allowed two, with unsupported flanks, to 'approach them within twenty or thirty yards, and utterly silence their fire, without giving them a taste of cold steel.
But so in fact it was. And in answer to General McClellan and Mr. Swinton and others, the writer hereof, who led the charge of " those who approached nearest the fort"; who himself approached it as near, or nearer, than any other of the assailants, and there remained for several minutes; who being mounted had ample opportunity of seeing all that transpired in front ; who entered the field as soon as any of his regiment, and left it later than all save those poor fellows who lay upon the sod, affirms that so far from any bayonet charge having been made upon the Twenty-fourth Virginia, that, as already stated, its advance was steady and unin- terrupted from the commencement of the action till it reached the