A mile north of the road is Whitaker’s House, headquarters of General W. F. Smith, battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862.
May 5, 1862 saw the first battle of the Peninsula Campaign, which was spearheaded by Major General George B. McClellan. This battle was the result of General Joseph E. Johnston’s shocking evacuation of the Yorktown-Warwick River line just two days prior (Salmon, 80). As a result of Johnston’s evacuation, McClellan hastily pursued him. McClellan sent Brig. General George Stoneman to pursue Johnston’s rear guard, which was headed by Brig. General J.E.B. Stuart’s Calvary and with whom his men skirmished many times. Furthermore, McClellan had ordered Brig. General William B. Franklin to sail up the York River to cut Johnston off and thus prevent him from escaping. Weary because of foul weather, Johnston decided to wall up his troops at Fort Magruder.
General William Ferrar Smith served with one of the corps divisions under Major General Erasmus Keyes. Smith, also known as “Baldy,” led the division that attacked Johnston from the South. Furthermore, Smith had made Whitaker’s House his headquarters during this battle (Warner, 463). Unfortunately for General Hooker, in the midst of battle when Hooker was expecting Smith’s support, Smith was halted more than a mile away from Hooker’s position by General Sumner because he believed that the Confederate soldiers would leave their fortifications to attack him on Yorktown Road. This belief turned out to be true, but the Confederates ended up attacking Hooker, not Sumner and Smith.
In the end, however, the battle ended up in the favor of the Union and it was portrayed as an amazing victory over superior forces.
The house itself belonged to John Whitaker, born on May 21, 1745 in Yorktown, VA. Whitaker played a key role in the process of forming Wake County out of wilderness and establishing the County’s Government. Also known as a “Trustee of the Peace,” Whitaker served in the Wake county Militia and as a Justice of the Court in Wake County from 1777 to 1787. In addition to his public life, he was a successful planter and businessman and thus held a substantial amount of land.
Eicher, John. H and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Ancestry.com. “John Whitaker 1745 – 1823.” http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~glendasubyak/col_jwhitaker.html (accessed March 20, 2012).
Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 2001.
Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Smith, William F. Autobiography of Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith, 1861-1864. Edited by Herbet M. Schiller. Dayton: Morningside House, 1990.
Warner, Erza J. Generals In Blue: Lives of Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
Historical Marker “Whitaker’s House W-45,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.
“William Farrar Smith,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu (accessed May 2, 2012).
“Map of Peninsula Campaign,” Civil War Trust: Maps of the Peninsular Campaign 1862, www.civilwar.org (accessed May 2, 2012).