Monday, May 7, 2012

Battle of Eltham's Landing

The army of Joseph E. Johnston, retreating up the Virginia Peninsula, had fought a rear guard action with the pursuing army of George B. McClellan at Williamsburg on May 5th, slowing the pursuit. However, McCoellan was still was considering how to catch Johnston's army when it was most vulnerable, on the retreat. He decided to send Franklin's corps up the York River to land at Eltham's landing, so that they could strike Johnston's flank while on the march. Franklin's corps set off up the river on May 6th, and one division landed that night. This movement, however, was two days too late. By this time Johnston's army had passed Eltham's landing, out of serious danger from Franklin. Johnston, however, sent the Texas brigade of John Bell Hood to fell out the enemy to ensure they did not attack his supply train.
John Bell Hood
Hood, who was always eager for a fight, moved vigorously against Franklin on the morning of May 7th, 150 years ago today. He ordered his men to move out with unloaded guns to avoid friendly fire. However, this order soon backfired. Hood, at the head of the 4th Texas, stumbled into a Federal detachment. A Yankee leveled his musket at the general, but thankfully for the Confederates, one Texan had disobeyed orders and was able to shoot the Northerner down before he shot Hood.
Continuing through the thick woods, the Confederates drove back Franklin's skirmishers, and continued the fight when they encountered the main infantry line. After several charges, several Federal units broke and Hood was able to push the Union line back towards the landing. When the Northerners reached the landing, they took up a new position with fresh reinforcements. Having already gone beyond his orders and seeing no chance of any further success, Hood ordered off the attack. Johnston was not altogether pleased with Hood's aggressiveness. "General Hood, have you given an illustration of the Texas idea of feeling an enemy gently and falling back? What would your Texans have done, sir, if I had ordered them to charge and drive back the enemy?" "I suppose, General," Hood answered, "they would have driven them into the river, and tried to swim out and capture the gunboats."

In this second battle Hood had successfully quelled McClellan's attempt to catch Johnston on the march. Franklin now was more concerned about being driven into the river than making any movements against Johnston. It appeared that the Confederate army would be able to select a new defensive position without McClellan close behind them.


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