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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Note: the Regiment marches toward White House Landing

Encamped close by a rail line, on which one or two trains had passed during the night, daybreak brought a freight train to a stop and with it more complete details of the Fifth Corps' defeat at Gaines Mills the previous day, including tales of the 18th's now leveled camp and the fate of those who had been left behind. There was little anyone could do except thank their lucky stars they had been spared the experience and take advantage of a nearby creek for a quick bath.

Returning scouting parties soon after pulled reign to report Confederate troops nearby and, after scrambling for muskets, a line of battle was formed and maintained until 10 a.m. when, after deciding discretion being the better part of valor, Stoneman's expeditionary force began a five hour march toward White House Landing.

Arriving between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, the Landing presented as a veritable superwarehouse for commissary stores. "The river was full of small craft, barges, transports, loaded with the most valuable property of our Uncle Samuel." Those in Stoneman's party, given a thumbs up, roamed like kids in a candy store, loading up on "kegs of butter, cheese, bbls [sic], of pies and cakes, preserves, clothing and everything that they could desire." Then in what many would call "their 4th of July celebration," the remainder of the goods were put to the torch by the Regiment.

The last to board a vessel, members of the 18th watched flames lick the sky from the rails of the Cornelius Vanderbilt as it pulled away from the dock and began its descent down the Pamunky River. Hours later all sight was lost of the billowing clouds of black smoke when nightfall intervened, shrouding all in darkness. Drown out by the level of chatter filling the decks, the Vanderbilt's anchor plunged into the Pamunky's brown water, signaling the end to the day's chapter.

On the knife's edge, Porter's Fifth Corps saw the sun rise that morning over the Trent Farm, the former site of McClellan's now abandoned headquarters. Those who got a peek were astonished at the luxuries the General Commanding had surrounded himself with. It was here, too, that McClellan announced to his Corps commanders in the wee hours of the morning his plan to secure a change of base along the James River. In the coming days, that retrograde movement would amount to a footrace between Lee and McClellan, with the former attempting to cut off the latter before he could reach the safety of the James and would fuel the remaining battles of what collectively became known as the Seven Days.

Two hours after the midpoint of the day, the First Division of the Fifth Corps began it's march toward Savage Station, followed by the Second Division at six, and finally the Third at nine. That movement was almost painfully slow as "the labor of rebuilding causeways and bridges over swamp and stream, the darkness of night, intensified by rain, and the condition of the narrow roads, cut up and blocked by trains and herds of cattle, all combined to retard the march."


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