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Chapter 17:

  • The tardiness of McClellan.
  • -- how the Confederates availed themselves of it. -- their concentration of forces at Richmond. -- strength of these forces. -- position of the two armies. -- the Chickahominy and the roads crossing it. -- battle of “seven Pines.” -- failure of Gen. Huger to attack. -- gallant charge of the troops of Longstreet and Hill. -- Gen. Johnston wounded. -- the affair of the next day. -- important change of military command. -- secret history of the attempt to limit the military power of President Davis. -- a plan of Confederate politicians. -- plot against the President's power. -- the new office of Commanding-general of the Confederates -- how made nominal by President Davis. -- Gen. Robert E. Lee appointed to this office. -- his appearance and manners. -- the seven days battles around Richmond. -- Lee's plan of operations. -- Jackson's withdrawal from the Valley masked. -- battles of Mechanicsville and Beaver Dam. -- repulse of the Confederates at Beaver Dam Creek. -- Jackson flanks the enemy's position. -- McClellan's retreat to Gaines' Mills. -- its strategic design. -- extraordinary strength of the new position. -- Gen. Lee waiting for the great battle. -- battle of Gaines' Mills. -- heroic fight of Hill's division. -- the enemy gains ground. -- an urgent message to Longstreet. -- Jackson appears. -- final charge of the day. -- its fierce grandeur. -- victory of the Confederates. -- McClellan retreats towards the James River. -- failure of Magruder and Huger to intercept him. -- the great errour which they committed. -- battle of savage Station. -- McClellan crosses White Oak Swamp. -- failure of Huger's attack. -- another opportunity lost. -- battle of Frazier's farm. -- Hill and Longstreet's troops only engaged. -- battle of Malvern Hill. -- McClellan's position on the Hill. -- his numerous artillery. -- the attack of the Confederate left not supported. -- Magruder's impetuous and desperate charge. -- the sublime scenery of the contest. -- failure of the attack. -- McClellan continues his retreat to Harrison's Landing. -- fruits of the Confederate success. -- Gen. Lee's explanation of McClellan's escape. -- estimate of the victory by Lee and Stonewall Jackson. -- Richmond erect and exultant

The tardiness of McClellan afforded opportunity to the Confederates to recruit their forces, to realize the results of the conscription law, and to assemble before Richmond the largest army they were ever able to put on a single field in any time of the war. The enemy had had the start in the preparation of many months. He delayed the advance upon Richmond, hesitating which line to adopt, when an advance upon either of the proposed lines could hardly have failed of success. A month was lost before [279] the advance was begun. Another month was occupied in the siege of Yorktown, where McClellan was held in check by eleven thousand men. Three weeks more were taken up in the cautious advance across the Peninsula. Thus three full months were lost by the Federal army before it was fairly in the neighbourhood of Richmond, and every day of these months was employed by the Confederates in enlarging their resources of defence.

Having reached the Chickahominy, McClellan threw a portion of his army across the river, and, having thus established his left, proceeded to pivot upon it, and to extend his right by the right bank of the Pamunkey, so as to get to the north of Richmond. While conducting this manoeuvre and delaying an attack, the Confederate army was rapidly receiving reinforcements, and drawing troops from distant points to make a decisive battle. Huger's army, from Norfolk, united with Johnston before Richmond; forces, under Branch, in North Carolina, were rapidly brought forward by rail; and even as far as Charleston, troops were withdrawn to match Johnston's numbers as far as possible with those of the enemy. And in this instance the match of numbers was probably closer than ever before or afterwards in the great conflicts of the war. With Jackson's command in the Valley which it was intended to put on the Richmond lines at the proper moment, the force defending the Confederate capital may be estimated at about ninety thousand men; and McClellan's, considering his losses on the Peninsula, could scarcely be more than one hundred and twenty or thirty thousand men.

In the last days of May the position of the two armies around Richmond is described by the Chickahominy. This stream, tracing through heavy forests and swamps east of Richmond from a north-westerly to a south-easterly direction, formed the respective fronts of the two armies — the Confederates occupying the western, the Federals the eastern banks. The line occupied by the enemy was nearly a right line from north-west to south-east. His forces were stretched from a short distance above New Bridge, where his right rested, to Bottom's Bridge, which constituted his left. The line was about ten miles long. Across it ran five roads in the following order, from west to east: the Brook turnpike; the Mechanicsville turnpike, (Mechanicsville being a village on the north side of the Chickahominy); the Nine Mile road; York River railroad; the Williamsburg road; the Charles City road; and the Darbytown road.

Before the 30th of May, Gen. Johnston had ascertained that McClellan had thrown his left forward to a point within six miles of Richmond, a mile in front of a point locally designated the “Seven Pines,” where Casey's division was posted. Couch's division was encamped in his rear, his right resting in front of Fair Oaks station, about six miles due east of Richmond. Gen. Keyes commanded both divisions. In front there was [280] a heavy forest, and a screen of dense undergrowth. A terrific thunder storm had taken place on the night of the 29th of May, and floods of rain spirting in broad jets, had so swollen the Chickahominy in Keyes' rear, that Johnston indulged the prospect of having to deal with no other troops than those of this corps. In these circumstances, on the morning of the 30th May, he moved out to annihilate the enemy's left.

Battle of seven Pines.

Gen. Johnston's plan of battle was to embrace an attack at three points Gen. D. H. Hill, supported by the division of Gen. Longstreet, (who had the direction of operations on the right,) was to advance by the Williamsburg road, to attack the enemy in front; Gen. Huger, with his division, was to move down the Charles City road, in order to attack in flank the troops who might be engaged with Hill and Longstreet; Gen. Smith was to march to the junction of the New Bridge road and the Nine Mile road, to be in readiness either to fall on Keyes's right flank, or to cover Longstreet's left.

The greater part of the day was lost in vain expectation of Huger's movement — the most important part of the design, as it was to take the enemy's flank and insure his destruction. The movement was disappointed, as Huger could not cross the swollen stream in his front. At a late hour in the afternoon Longstreet determined to move upon the enemy with his own and Hill's division, and accomplish whatever results were possible in the far-spent day. Gen. Johnston remained with Smith on the left, to observe the field.

Through the thick woods, on marshy ground, in water in many places two feet deep, Longstreet's regiments moved on, brushing off occasionally a cloud of skirmishers that disputed their passage. As they came upon the enemy's works, a sheet of fire blazed in their faces. It was sharp, rapid work. Some of the regiments crept through the low brushwood in front of the redoubt, and, at a given signal from the flanking parties, made a rush for the guns, cleared them, and, entering pell-mell into the earthwork, bayonetted all who opposed them. Line after line of the enemy's works was carried; the victorious career of the Confederates swept through his successive camps and entrenchments; and as night fell he had been driven about two miles, and had left a track of retreat through swamp and water red with carnage.

On the left, where Johnston commanded in person, the enemy held his position until dark; Smith's division, with a portion of Whiting's, failing to dislodge him. On this part of the field Gen. Johnston was disabled by a severe wound in the shoulder. [281]

The work of carnage in a few hours of daylight had been terrible The Confederate loss was more than four thousand. That of the enemy was stated in Northern journals to have exceeded ten thousand. McClellan officially states it at 5,739. The visible fruits of our victory were ten pieces of cannon, six thousand stand of arms, one garrison flag, four stand of regimental colors, a large number of tents, besides much camp equipage and stores.

On the following day, June 1, the enemy, having thrown across the Chickahominy two additional divisions, under command of Gen. Sumner, attacked the brigade of Gen. Pickett, which was supported by that of Gen. Pryor. The attack was vigorously repelled by these two brigades, the brunt of the fight falling on General Pickett. This was the last demonstration made by the enemy. This action, really of no consequence, was magnified in McClellan's dispatches as “the Battle of Fair Oaks,” thus giving to the Northern public a new and most undue “sensation” to counteract the defeat of the previous important day.

It must be admitted that the Confederate public was but little affected by the victory of Seven Pines. It was a splendid feat of arms; but it accomplished no important results, and the ground which it gained was unimportant, and was speedily abandoned. Had Huger obeyed orders, Johnston might have demolished the enemy; as it was, McClellan's left was routed and demoralized, and we had gained nothing more substantial than a brilliant battle, when it had been intended to have embraced an attack at three points, and probably all along the line, if the enemy had accepted it.

The disabling wound, which Gen. Johnston had received, was the occasion of an important change of military commands. The Confederate Congress had some time ago passed a bill creating the office of commanding general, who should take charge of the military movements of the war. This measure was one of great significance, as the early attempt in the Confederacy to abolish the bipartite character of the Executive office, and to supply two agents for the management of the war.

The merits of the proposed reform were long a theme of discussion in the Confederacy. The President in his Executive capacity was the servant of Congress, and, therefore, could have nothing of the dictator in his action; but as “Imperator,” or commander-in-chief of the army and navy, he might be almost despotic in the exercise of his powers. The army regulations would be his “Constitution;” but with the power to fill courts-martial with his creatures, his authority would be limited very much by his own will, and all appeals from their decisions would be from him the Imperator to him the civil magistrate. The theory of such a power was evidently on the verge of despotism. Abolish the habeas corpus, and the President, with his full bipartite powers, would be an autocrat, if he had the tact to be so without raising the anger of the people until he established [282] himself on firm grounds. Experience in the old Union had sufficiently taught the Confederates what little safety to public liberty was to be expected from the representatives of the people, when Executive patronage was brought to bear; and indicated the additional lesson that even where the Executive officer had not sufficient ability to be dangerous, he might become the tool of a proscriptive and tyrannical party.

After the first battle of Manassas, a certain adviser of President Davis, who had some experience of the Congress at Montgomery, and knew the numerous efforts to shape the action of the government in favour of local interests, drew his attention to the bipartite nature of his office, and urged him to assume more of the Imperator, as the best and speediest manner of concentrating our forces for decisive action. From a conscientious regard to the advisory power of Congress, President Davis then declined to do this. How could he, as the executive officer of Congress, do it? Were not the two offices in one person clearly antagonistic? The consequence was, that before the end of the first year of the war it was manifest that a clear head and a vigorous will were wanting in the administration of military matters. The conclusion came to be almost unanimous in the public mind that the civil and military affairs of the Confederacy could not be conducted by one head, and should be separated into two distinct offices. It was argued that this plan involved the least danger to public liberty; that the civil and military powers being, each, in the control of one clear head and strong hand, would probably be most effectually exercised in the accomplishment of our independence, and that the two heads would not be as likely to unite for any end injurious to the public liberty as a Cabinet of weak, plastic characters, put in place and held in hand by one man.

In consequence of these views, a plan was matured by several leading Confederate politicians, having for its object the division of the Executive powers between a civil ruler, who should carry out the designs of Congress and watch over the liberties of the people and the safety of the Constitution, and a military leader, Imperator, or commander-in-chief, who should be entrusted with the conduct of the war, and look to Congress and the Executive for the means to carry out his plan.

The scheme was this: Gen. R. E. Lee was to be commander-in-chief and have the army of the Potomac; Johnston to be entrusted with the war in the Valley of the Mississippi East; Price in Missouri; Kirby Smith in Louisiana and Texas; Bragg in the South; Beauregard in the South-east, while Jackson, Longstreet, Hill, Whiting, and the other promising officers were to carry out their views. The commanders of divisions, above named, were to constitute a board of advisers to Congress, and each to be entrusted with discretionary powers in his own district.

President Davis was probably aware of the details of this early plot [283] against his power. He vetoed the bill creating the office of commanding general. But being personally well affected towards Lee, he took occasion of Johnston's disability to put the first not only in command of the field before Richmond, but to appoint him to the nominal office of commanding general, the order providing that he should “act under direction of the President.” It was the successful career of the Confederacy from this date that for a time put out of mind the design upon the military autocracy of President Davis; but we shall hereafter see how this design was renewed, in what portentous circumstances it afterwards appeared, and how it assumed the tone and air of an almost revolutionary demand.

Gen. Lee assumed his new and important command with characteristic simplicity. He was naturally quiet, thoughtful and polite; and he was one of those rare men whose modesty became more conspicuous at each ascending stage of power and responsibility. A stranger would scarcely have recognized in the quiet gentleman who in a plain grey suit, without any insignia of rank, rode each day about the lines of Richmond, scarcely attracting observation, the man whose genius and resources commanded the unbounded confidence and hope of the Confederate people.

The seven days battles around Richmond.

Gen. Lee's plan of operations around Richmond was soon formed. It was very simple and comprehensive; and is at once understood on a general survey of the positions of the opposing armies. McClellan's base of supplies was near the head of York River. His left was established south of the Chickahominy, between White Oak Swamp and New Bridge, defended by a line of strong works. His right wing lay north of the Chickahominy, extending beyond Mechanicsville, the approaches from the south side being strongly defended by entrenchments. Lee's army was around Richmond; the divisions of Huger and Magruder, supported by those of Longstreet and D. II. Hill, in front of the enemy's left, and that of A. P. Hill extending from Magruder's left beyond Meadow Bridge.

The intention of the enemy seemed to be to attack Richmond by regular approaches. The strength of his left wing rendered a direct assault injudicious, if not impracticable. It was therefore determined by Gen. Lee to construct defensive lines so as to enable a part of his army to defend the city, and leave the other part free to cross the Chickahominy, and operate on the north bank. By sweeping down the river on that side, and threatening his communications with York river, it was thought that the enemy would be compelled to retreat or give battle out of his entrenchments.

We have already noticed the operations of Gen. Jackson's command, [284] including Ewell's division, in the Shenandoah Valley, and seen how successful they were in diverting the army of McDowell at Fredericksburg from uniting with that of McClellan. It was now important to summon the force to the defence of Richmond, and to do so with secrecy and dispatch. To mask his withdrawal from the Valley at the proper time, Jackson, after the defeat of Fremont and Shields, was reinforced by Whiting's division, composed of Hood's Texas brigade, and his own, under Colonel Law, from Richmond, and that of Lawton from the South. The deception succeeded even beyond expectation; and there is reason to suppose that McClellan remained in profound ignorance of Jackson's movement until his apparition on the lines of Richmond.

According to Lee's general order of battle, Gen. Jackson was to march from Ashland on the 25th of June, in the direction of Slash Church, encamping for the night west of the Central railroad, and to advance at three A. M., on the 26th, and turn Beaver Dam. A. P. Hill was to cross the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge, when Jackson's advance beyond that point should be known, and move directly upon Mechanicsville. As soon as the Mechanicsville bridge should be uncovered, Longstreet and D. H. Hill were to cross, the latter to proceed to the support of Jackson, and the former to that of A. P. Hill. The four commands were directed to sweep down the north side of the Chickahominy towards the York River railroad, Jackson on the left and in advance, Longstreet nearest the river and in the rear. Huger and Magruder were ordered to hold their positions against any assault of the enemy, to observe his movements, and follow him closely should he retreat.

Battles of Mechanichville and Beaver Dam.

A. P. Hill did not commence his movement until three o'clock in the afternoon, when he crossed the river and advanced upon Mechanicsville. This place had been strongly fortified by Fitz-John Porter, whose services as an engineer and artillerist were highly valued by McClellan. As the Confederates advanced on Porter's works, artillery on both sides opened with a terrific roar. A deafening cannonade of half an hour disturbed the last hours of evening. The flash of guns, and long lines of musketry fire could be seen in bright relief against the blue and cloudless sky. As night drew on, a grander scene was presented to the eye. Barns, houses and stacks of hay and straw were in a blaze; and by their light our men were plainly visible rushing across the open spaces through infernal showers of grape. A few moments more and the Federal guns were silent; a loud noise of many voices was heard; and then a long, wild, piercing yell, and the place was ours.

The enemy was now forced to take refuge in his works on the left bank of Beaver Dam creek, about a mile distant. The position was one [285] of extraordinary strength; the banks of the creek in front were high and almost perpendicular; the approach to it was over open fields; there were no bridges, and the difficulty of crossing the stream had been increased by felling the woods on its banks. It was thought that the only possible method in which the position could be attacked was to cross the creek and swamp higher up; and it was expected that Jackson would pass Beaver Dam above, and turn the enemy's right.

In the meantime Longstreet and D. H. Hill crossed the Mechanicsville bridge as soon as it was uncovered, and could be repaired. It was late before they reached the north bank of the Chickahominy. D. H. Hill's leading brigade under Ripley advanced to the support of the troops engaged, and at a late hour united with Pender's brigade of A. P. Hill's division in an effort to turn the enemy's left. In the excitement and darkness, Ripley advanced his line through the open fields, and had reached the road and swamp in front, when suddenly the enemy opened with grape, at seventy yards, and mowed down whole files of our men. The word to “charge ;” ran from wing to wing, and our men running down the bank to the road beneath, were stopped by the impassable swamp and abattis; to the right, up the rising road, cannon also blazed in their faces, and well-posted infantry poured in showers of small shot. Retreat was the only alternative, and under cover of the darkness, it was effected with little additional loss. The fire was continued until about nine o'clock in the night, when the engagement ceased; and thus closed the first day of the battles around Richmond.

In the morning of the 27th June Jackson's arrival on the enemy's left was still looked for. In expectation of it the battle was renewed at dawn. The fight continued with animation for about two hours. As the sun brilliantly rose over the tree-tops, illumining the field, the line of fight with its stream of fire; bursting of caissons, shouts, yells; the centre occupied by the strong redoubt; crowds of combatants rushing in the charge; soldiers reeling, bleeding, shouting, powder-blackened and fainting, madly firing random shots, and sinking from fatigue, formed a scene that was at once soul-stirring, sublime and horrible. But while this terrible and critical action was going on, Jackson was rapidly approaching to decide it. He had at last succeeded in crossing Beaver Dam creek above the enemy's position; and the Federals no sooner perceived it than they abandoned their entrenchments, and retired rapidly down the river.

No time was now to be lost. Gen. Lee readily perceived that McClellan had endeavoured to force Porter into an energetic resistance thus far, to gain time to protect his centre on the north bank, situated in the neighbourhood of Gaines' Mills, near the river. As soon as the bridges over Beaver Dam could be repaired the several columns resumed their march. Longstreet and A. P. Hill moved along the edge of the Chickahominy on [286] the right; while Jackson, with whom D. H. Hill had united, was still fall to the left, threatening the enemy's right rear as he gradually converged towards the river.

The position which McClellan had taken at Gaines' Mills was evidently intended for a decisive field. Here was to occur the heavy and obstinate battle for Richmond. The enemy occupied a range of hills, with his left on a wooded bluff, which rose abruptly from a deep ravine. The ravine was filled with sharpshooters, to whom its banks gave protection. A second line of infantry was stationed on the side of a hill, behind a breast work of trees, above the first. A third occupied the crest, strengthened with rifle trenches, and crowned with artillery. The approach to this position was over an open plain, about a quarter of a mile wide, commanded by this triple line of fire, and swept by the heavy batteries south of the Chickahominy. In front of his centre and right, the ground was generally open, bounded on the side of our approach by a wood, with dense and tangled undergrowth, and traversed by a sluggish stream which converted the soil into a deep morass.

Gen. Lee, having taken up his headquarters at a house on Hogan's plantation, awaited quietly the moment when his word of command would join the most important battle of the war. It was past noon. The columns of Hill and Longstreet halted in the open ground to await the arrival of Jackson's right at New Cold Harbour. Gen. Lee, quiet and serious, sat alone in the rear portico of Hogan's house. A crowd of military dignitaries were gathered in council upon the front door-steps and on the grassy sward. A low and eager conversation was kept up among them, while the great commander sat alone in thoughtful attitude, his fine, calm, open countenance serious in its expression, but without any line or shadow upon it of weak anxiety or irresolution. Presently a courier dashes up, and delivers a paper to Gen. Lee. As the commander mounts his horse it is understood that Jackson is at hand, and that the time for action has come.

Battle of Gaines' Mills.

Pressing on towards the York River railroad, A. P. Hill, who was in advance, reached the vicinity of New Cold Harbour about two o'clock, where he encountered the enemy. He soon became hotly engaged. The arrival of Jackson on our left was momentarily expected, and it was supposed that his approach would cause the extension of the enemy's line in that direction. Under this impression, Longstreet was held back until this movement should commence. The principal part of the Federal army was now on the north side of the Chickahominy. Hill's single division met this large force with impetuous courage. They drove the enemy back and assailed him in his strong position on the ridge. The battle raged fiercely, and with varying fortune, more than two hours. Three regiments [287] pierced the enemy's line, and forced their way to the crest of the hill on his left, but were compelled to fall back before overwhelming numbers. The superior force of the enemy, assisted by the fire of his batteries, south of the Chickahominy, which played incessantly on our columns as they pressed through the difficulties that obstructed their way, caused them to recoil. Though most of the men had never been under fire until the day before, they were rallied, and in turn, repelled the advance of the enemy. Some brigades were broken, others stubbornly maintained their positions, but it became apparent that the enemy was gradually gaining ground.

Jackson had not yet arrived. It was a critical time. An urgent message was sent by Gen. Lee to Longstreet to make a diversion in favour of the attacking columns. The three brigades under Wilcox were at once ordered forward against the enemy's left flank with this view. Pickett's brigade making a diversion on the left of these brigades, developed the strong position and force of the enemy in Gen. Longstreet's front; and the latter found that he must drive him by direct assault, or abandon the idea of making the diversion. He at once determined to change the feint into an attack, and orders for a general advance were issued. Gen. R. H. Anderson's brigade was divided-part supporting Pickett's in the direct assault, and the other portions guarding the right flank of the brigades under Wilcox.

At this moment Jackson arrived; and the air was now rent with shouts as the combined commands prepared for the final charge of the day. Jackson's right division, that of Whiting, took position on the left of Longstreet. The opportune arrival of this division occupied the entire field. The gallant command of Confederates was now moved forward in the face of three lines of infantry fire, supported by batteries from both sides of the Chickahominy.

With fierce grandeur the charge swept on. On the right the troops pressed steadily forward, unchecked by the terrible fire from the triple lines of infantry on the hill, and the cannon on both sides of the river, which burst upon them as they emerged on the plain. The thousand continuous volleys of musketry seemed mingled into the grand roar of a great cataract, while the louder and deeper discharges of artillery bounded forth over the hills and down the valley, with a volume that seemed to shake the earth. The canopy of smoke was so thick that the sun was gloomily red in the heavens, while the clouds of dust in the rear, caused by the commotion of advancing and retreating squadrons of cavalry, was stifling and blinding. The dead and wounded marked the way of the intrepid advance; Whiting's brave Texans leading, closely followed by their no less daring comrades. The enemy were driven from the ravine to the first line of breastworks, over which our impetuous columns dashed up to the entrenchments on the crest. These were quickly stormed, fourteen pieces [288] of artillery captured, and the enemy driven into the field beyond. Fresh troops came to his support, and he endeavored repeatedly to rally, but in vain. He was forced back with great slaughter. The retreating columns soon became mingled into one black mass of troops. Night put an end to pursuit, and fell upon the scene of a great Confederate victory. Long lines of dead and wounded marked each stand made by the enemy in his stubborn resistance, and the field over which he retreated was strewn with the slain.1

On the morning of the 28th, it was ascertained that none of the enemy remained in our front north of the Chickahominy. As he might yet intend to give battle to preserve his communications, some cavalry, supported by Ewell's division, was ordered to seize the York River Railroad, and Gen. Stuart, with his main body, to cooperate. When the cavalry reached Dispatch Station, the enemy retreated to the south bank of the river, and burned the railroad bridge. Ewell, coming up shortly afterwards, destroyed a portion of the track. During the forenoon, columns of dust, south of the Chickahominy, showed that the Federal army was in motion. The abandonment of the railroad, and destruction of the bridge, proved that no further attempt would be made to hold that line. But from the position it occupied, the roads which led towards James River, would also enable it to reach the lower bridges over the Chickahominy, and retreat down the Peninsula. In the latter event, it was necessary that our troops should continue on the north bank of the river, and until the intention or Gen. McClellan was discovered, it was deemed injudicious to change their disposition. [289]

During the afternoon and night of the 28th, the signs of a general movement were apparent, and no indications of his approach to the lower bridges of the Chickahominy having been discovered by the pickets in observation at those points, it became manifest that Gen. McClellan was retreating to the James River.

It had been the part of Magruder and Huger to watch the enemy, and to cut off or press his retreat. the battle of Gaines' Mills had forced McClellan from his original strongholds on the north side of the Chickahominy, and, with his communications cut off on the Pamunkey River, and encountered by the force on tile south side of the Chickahominy, it was supposed that he would be unable to extricate himself from his position without a capitulation. But the enemy had been imperfectly watched at a conjuncture the most critical of the contest; a great and almost irreparable errour had been committed; and McClellan had succeeded in massing his entire force, and taking up a line of retreat by which he hoped to reach the cover of his gunboats on the James.

Early in the morning of the 29th, the pickets at Magruder's and Huger's front were attacked in force, but instead of giving ground, drove the enemy down the roads and through the woods, into and past their breastworks, and found them deserted. Far from profiting by this discovery, and commencing the pursuit, these Generals allowed the foe to pass across their front, instead of piercing his line of retreat by advancing down the Nine Mile road, the railroad, and the Williamsburg road, which would have cut these forces of the enemy into so many fragments.

The works abandoned by McClellan consisted of long lines of casemated batteries, and were found to be formidable and elaborate. An immense destruction of stores had been accomplished here. The neighboring fields and woods were covered with every description of clothing and camp equipage. There was every indication that the enemy had left his encampment in haste and disorder. In one place there were four tiers of barrels, fifty yards square, in a blaze, scores of barrels being all strewn around, which had contained ground coffee, sugar, rice, molasses, salt, tea, crackers, flour meal, etc., the heads of the barrels being broken and their contents strewn on the ground.

Battle of savage Station.

Early on the 29th, Longstreet and A. P. Hill were ordered to recross the Chickahominy at New Bridge, and move by the Darbytown to the Long Bridge road. As soon as the retreat of the enemy was discovered, Gens. Huger and Magruder were ordered in pursuit, the former by the Charles City road, so as to take the Federal army in flank, and the latter by the Williamsburg road, to attack its rear. Jackson was directed to cross at Grapevine Bridge and move down the south side of the Chickahominy. [290] Magruder reached the vicinity of Savage Station about noon, where he came upon the rear guard of the retreating army.

McClellan's column had already been swallowed in the maw of the dreary forest. It swept onward fast and furious. Pioneer bands rushed along in front, clearing and repairing the single road; reconnoissance officers were seeking new routes for a haven of rest and safety. The Confederates were in the rear, pressing on with fearful power; and there was yet an expectation that Jackson's flank movement might cut off the retreat. Moments seemed hours. Back and forth dashed hot riders. Caravans of wagons, artillery, horsemen, soldiers, camp-followers, pressed through the narrow road, and at intervals swept onward like an avalanche The trace of agony was on the face of the commander, and the soldiers who carried muskets in their hands could perceive it. Presently the dull boom of a cannon and its echoing shell fell grimly upon the ear, and an ominous roar behind told the enemy that his rear was attacked.

Magruder had struck the enemy's rear; but Jackson had been delayed. The first, under the false impression that the enemy was advancing upon him, sent for reinforcements. Two brigades of Huger's division were ordered to his support, but subsequently withdrawn, it being apparent that the force in Magruder's front was covering the retreat of the main body. Jackson's route led to the flank and rear of Savage Station, but he was delayed by the necessity of reconstructing Grapevine Bridge. Late in the afternoon Magruder attacked the enemy with one of his divisions and two regiments of another. A severe action ensued, and was terminated by night. Owing to the lateness of the hour and the small force employed, the result was not decisive, and the enemy continued his retreat, under cover of darkness, leaving several hundred prisoners, with his dead and wounded, in our hands. The time gained in Magruder's action enabled the retreating column to cross White Oak Swamp without interruption, and destroy the bridge.

Jackson reached Savage Station early on the 30th. He was directed to pursue the enemy on the road he had taken, and Magruder to follow Longstreet by the Darbytown road. As Jackson advanced, his progress was arrested at White Oak Swamp. The enemy occupied the opposite side, and obstinately resisted the reconstruction of the bridge. Longstreet and A. P. Hill, continuing their advance on the 30th, soon came upon the enemy, strongly posted across the Long Bridge road, about a mile from its intersection with the Charles City road. Huger's route led to the right of the position, Jackson's to the rear, and the arrival of their commands was awaited, to begin the attack. On the 29th, Gen. Holmes had crossed from the south side of the James, with part of his division. On the 30th, reinforced by Gen. Wise with a detachment of his brigade, he moved down the river road, and came upon the line of the retreating army near Malvern Hill [291] Perceiving indications of confusion, Gen. Holmes was ordered to open upon the column with artillery. He soon discovered that a number of batteries, advantageously posted, supported by an infantry force superiour to his own, and assisted by the fire of the gunboats in James River, guarded this part of the line. Magruder, who had reached the Darbytown road, was ordered to reinforce Holmes, but, being at a greater distance than had been supposed, he did not reach the position of the latter in time for an attack. Huger reported that his progress was obstructed; but about 4 P. M., firing was heard in the direction of the Charles City road, which was supposed to indicate his approach. Longstreet immediately opened with one of his batteries, to give notice of his presence. This brought on the engagement; but Huger not coming up, and Jackson having been unable to force the passage of White Oak Swamp. Longstreet and Hill were without the expected support.

Battle of Frazier's farm.

The superiourity of numbers and advantages of position were on the side of the enemy. He occupied the open high lands constituting “Frazier's farm,” five miles northeast of Darbytown. The place was good for defence; the woods right and left of it swarmed with skirmishers; the ascending grade of the road was swept by cannon, while all attempts to flank the enemy's left would meet with broadsides from the gunboats at Curl's Neck, in the James River, two and a half miles distant.

The Confederates pressed forward under an incessant storm of lead; sixteen pieces of artillery belching forth shell, canister, and grape upon them, while they had but one battery on their side, which could not be got into position. The battle raged furiously until nine o'clock in the night. By that time, the enemy had been driven with great slaughter from every position but one, which he maintained until lie was able to withdraw under cover of darkness. At the close of the struggle nearly the entire field remained in our possession, covered with the enemy's dead and wounded.

After the engagement, Magruder was recalled, to relieve the troops of Longstreet and Hill. The command of the latter was, indeed, prostrated by almost superhuman exertions. It had won the battle of Mechanicsville, fought five hours at Gaines' Mills, marched over a terrible road and circuitous route of forty miles, and had now borne the chief part in another of the series of engagements that had tracked the lines of Richmond with fire and destruction.

Battle of Malvern Hill.

Early on the 1st of July, Jackson reached the battle-field of the previous day, having succeeded in crossing White Oak Swamp, where he [292] captured a part of the enemy's artillery and a number of prisoners. He was directed to continue the pursuit down the Willis Church road, and soon found the enemy occupying a high range, extending obliquely across the road, in front of Malvern Hill. On this position, of great natural strength, he had concentrated his powerful artillery, supported by masses of infantry, partially protected by earthworks. Immediately in his front the ground was open, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile, and sloping gradually from the crest, was completely swept by the fire of his infantry and artillery. To reach this open ground, our troops had to advance through a broken and thickly-wooded country, traversed, nearly throughout its whole extent, by a swamp passable at but few places, and difficult at those. The whole of it was within range of the batteries on the heights, and the gunboats in the river, under whose incessant fire on movements had to be executed. Jackson formed his line with Whiting's division on his left, and D. H. Hill's on the right, one of Ewell's brigades occupying the interval. The rest of Ewell's, and Jackson's own division were held in reserve. Magruder was directed to take position on Jackson's right, but before his arrival two of Huger's brigades came up and were placed next to Hill. Magruder subsequently formed on the right of these brigades, which, with a third of Huger's, were placed under his command. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were held in reserve, and took no part in the engagement.

The position taken by McClellan enabled him to turn at bay, with his rear protected by the James, and flanks partially covered by gunboats. From the magnificent bluff might be seen the Federal gunboats cruising in the river. The hill was crowned with numerous artillery. Owing to the obstacles presented by the woods and swamp, the Confederates had been unable to bring up sufficient artillery to oppose successfully the extraordinary force of that arm employed by the enemy.

The Confederate line of attack was not formed until a late hour in the afternoon. A general advance was to be made at a given signal. On the left, D. H. I-ill pressed forward across the open field, and engaged the enemy gallantly, breaking and driving back his first line; but a simultaneous advance of the other troops not taking place, he found himself unable to maintain the ground he had gained against the overwhelming numbers and numerous batteries of the enemy. Jackson sent to his support his own division and that part of Ewell's which was in reserve, but owing to the increasing darkness and intricacy of the forest and swamp, they did not arrive in time to render the desired assistance. Hill was therefore compelled to abandon part of the ground he had gained, after suffering severe loss.

On the right, a more terrible and dramatic action was to occur. It was past four o'clock, and if anything was to be attempted, the work must be [293] quick and desperate. An order had been dispatched by Gen. Magruder to bring up from all the batteries thirty rifle pieces, if possible, with which he hoped to shatter the enemy's infantry. It was soon evident that the artillery could not get up in time. Magruder determined to trust to the impetuous valour of his troops, and with fifteen thousand infantry to storm the hill at Crew's house. There was a run of more than six hundred yards up a rising ground, an unbroken flat beyond of several hundred yards, one hundred pieces of cannon behind breastworks, and heavy masses of infantry in support! The brigades advanced bravely across the open field, raked by the fire of the cannon, and the musketry of large bodies of infantry. Some were broken and gave way; others approached close to the guns, driving back the infantry, compelling the advanced batteries to retire to escape capture, and mingling their dead with those of the enemy. To add to the horrors of the scene, and the immense slaughter in front of the batteries, the gunboats increased the rapidity of their broadsides, and the immense missiles coursed through the air with great noise, tearing off the tree-tops, and bursting with loud explosions.

Towards sunset the concussion of artillery was terrific; the hill was clothed in sheets of flame; shells raced athwart the horizon ; the blaze of the setting sun could scarcely be discovered through the canopy of smoke which floated from the surface of the plains and rivers. Piles of dead lay thick close to the enemy's batteries, and the baleful. fires of death yet blazed among the trees, where our shattered columns had sought an imperfect cover behind the slight curtain of the forest.

It was now dark, and little could be done. The attack on Malvern Hill had failed for want of concert among the attacking columns. The assaults of the Confederates were too weak to break the Federal line, and, after struggling gallantly, sustaining and inflicting great loss, they were compelled successively to retire.

But the action of Malvern Hill was to be the last important incident of the drama of Richmond, and another day was to complete and reveal to the world McClellan's grand catastrophe. As night fell, the enemy silently retreated from Malvern Hill. In the morning of the 2d July it was discovered that McClellan had again retired, and was in full retreat, and Lee instantly recommended the advance, although it rained in floods. But the Federals seemed to have vanished once more in the densely-timbered swamp. The outposts saw no signs of them, and most of the day was lost before it was ascertained whither McClellan lad fled. Towards night it was discovered he had conducted his whole force by a narrow road through z. thick swampy wood, several miles in extent, and was safe under his gunboats at Harrison's Landing.

McClellan had managed his retreat with skill. He had at last obtained a position on the river, our advance to which could be made but by one [294] road, and that narrow, and swept with numerous artillery. He immediately began to fortify his position, which was flanked on each side by a creek, the approach to his front being commanded by the heavy guns of his shipping in addition to those mounted in his entrenchments. He had reached at last a safe cover for his shattered columns; but after a series of defeats that had demoralized his command, inflicted upon him a loss of not less than twenty thousand in killed and wounded, and was fatal to his designs upon Richmond. The immediate fruits of the Confederate success were the relief of Richmond from a state of siege; the rout of the great army which had so long menaced its safety; more than ten thousand prisoners, including officers of high rank; the capture or destruction of stores of the value of millions, and the acquisition of thirty-five thousand stand of small arms, and fifty-two pieces of superiour artillery.

It is true that this success, great as it was, fell below public expectation in Richmond, which had looked for the capitulation or annihilation of McClellan's entire forces, after they had been driven from the north side of the Chickahominy. Of this disappointment, Gen. Lee writes: “Under ordinary circumstances, the Federal army should have been destroyed. Its escape was due to causes already stated. Prominent among these was the want of correct and timely information. This fact, attributable chiefly to the character of the country, enabled Gen. McClellan skillfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns. But regret that more was not accomplished, gives way to gratitude to the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe for the results achieved.”

The expression of pious thanks was fervently repeated by Jackson. He wrote, in his official report: “Undying gratitude is due to God for this great victory-by which despondency increased in the North, hope brightened in the South, and the capital of Virginia and of the Confederacy was saved.”

It was indeed a glorious success. A week before, and an invading army, superiour to the Confederates in numbers, and in the material of war, closely beleaguered their capital, and vauntingly proclaimed its speedy conquest. Now the remains of that confident and threatening host lay on the banks of James River, anxious only to recruit from the effects of disastrous defeats; and Richmond, erect and exultant, was secure in the protection of an army whose fresh victory had been obtained over a force that had had every resource that could be summoned to its assistance, every possible addition of numbers within the reach of the Federal Government, and every material condition of success to insure for it the great prize of the capital of the Confederacy.

1 A Texan soldier writes of this charge:

A splendid battery of thirteen guns, manned by regulars, was just beyond, belching forth destruction, and it seemed almost like certain death to venture upon the brow of the hill; but these were Texans. The most extraordinary fact about it was, that this terrible battle was being fought without any directions from officers on our side. We had lost all our field officers before we got to the first battery--the lieutenant-colonel mortally wounded, since dead; the major badly wounded, since dead; and many of the line officers killed or wounded. When I got to the top of that hill, I was almost completely exhausted, but as I got a breath, there I was, able and ready to go on when the word was given. The men had been firing from the brow of the hill, and had shot down many of the artillerymen, and so many of their horses that they could not get their guns away. They stood to their guns well, only running when they could do nothing else. We pushed forward, and placed our colours upon the battery, but as the enemy were still firing upon us, we commenced firing in return. Pretty soon a strong force opened fire upon our left, and changing our front in that direction, we poured in a heavy fire, which soon brought them to taw, as the greater part of two regiments threw down their arms, and ran to us, bringing their colours. Having delivered them over to another brigade, we pressed on in front, and drove the last Yankee from the field. As night was coming on, we were halted, and drawn up in line of battle. It was, indeed, a sad sight to look at the old regiment, a mere squad of noble men, gathered around their tattered colours. I could not realize that this little band of fifty or sixty men was the Fourth Texas. But it was even so. Out of five hundred and thirty men who went into the fight, there were two hundred and fifty-six killed, wounded, or missing: while many were completely broken down, and nearly every one was struck or grazed. We staid here all night without interruption, being heavily reinforced during the night.

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