To the east of the road here, centering at Fort Magruder, was fought the battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862. The Union General McClellan was pursuing General Johnston’s retiring army. The rearguard of which was commanded by General Longstreet. Johnston ordered Longstreet to hold off McClellan’s attacking forces until the confederate wagon trains, bogged down in mud, were out of danger. This mission was accomplished and Johnston continued his retirement.
The Battle of Williamsburg, also known as the Battle of Fort Magruder, was one of the largest battlefield encounters between Union and Confederate forces during McClellan’s famous Peninsula Campaign. After having been delayed for around a month at the Yorktown defenses, General McClellan moved his troops in hot pursuit of Johnston and his fellow Confederate soldiers, who had started to retreat for more defensible positions closer to Richmond (Rickard). At Williamsburg, Confederate soldiers aimed to hold up parts of the defense line simply to hinder the Union forces advancement into Richmond.
Confederate forces had positioned themselves in front of For Magruder, which served as their key point during the battle. Because of muddy conditions, the Confederate retreat was hindered and thus James Longstreet had to hold the line at Williamsburg while fellow forces moved towards Etham’s landing. General Sumner and General William F. Smith launched the first assault on Confederate lines on May 4th; but this had to be abandoned because of the woodland between the two forces that hindered them. The next day, however, General Hooker started the battle facing Fort Magruder, which continued most of the day (civalwar). The fighting was tremendous and eventually General Winfield S. Hancock was able to push back the Confederate forces with heavy losses.
McClellan decided that Hancock’s actions were “brilliant” and that this battle was a superior victory for the Union forces – while this fact may be slightly skewed. Both sides had gained something from this battle in that the Union perceived it as having pushed the Confederates from a defensive line with seriously outnumbered odds. The Confederates saw the battle as a success because it was seen that General Longstreet had successfully held off Union attack and allowed for the Confederates to withdraw with precious supplies (Rickard).
Civil War Trust. The Battle of Willamsburg. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/williamsburg.html (accessed March 9, 2012)
Rickard, J. Battle of Williamsburg, 5 May 1862. http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_williamsburg.html (accessed March 9, 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.
Historical Marker “Battle of Williamsburg W-43,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.
“Battle of Williamsburg Map,” Civil War Trust: Maps of Williamsburg, Virginia, www.civilwar.org (accessed May 2, 2012).
“The Battle of Williamsburg,” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov (accessed May 2, 2012).
“Battle of Williamsburg- Gen. Hancock’s Charge,” Library of Congress, www.loc.goc (accessed May 2, 2012).