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The Purcell Battery. [from the contemporary newspaper accounts, July 14, 1862.1

In the Seven days battles before Richmond.

The conspicuous part played by this battery in the recent battles before Richmond, its terrific losses in killed and wounded, and the brilliant gallantry displayed throughout by its officers and men, challenge from the press more than a passing notice. With little hope of doing justice to the subject, or giving to our readers a fair idea of the great service rendered our cause by this battery, we propose to sketch a brief account of its experiences and achievements from the moment of its crossing to the north bank of the Chickahominy until its last gun was fired in the great battle of Malvern Hill.

On Wednesday, the 25th of June, the Purcell Battery, Captain William J. Pegram, attached to Field's brigade, General Ambrose P. Hill's division, was encamped at Storr's farm, on the west of the Central railroad and south of the Chickahominy. The company numbered five commissioned officers, eleven non-commissioned officers, and eighty-three privates. The commissioned officers were: William J. Pegram, captain; Henry M. Fitzhugh, first lieutenant; W. A. Allen, second lieutenant; Joseph P. McGraw, third lieutenant; M. Featherstone, fourth lieutenant. Captain Pegram, though scarcely twenty years of age, commanded the entire respect and confidence of his men. The order issued Wednesday night to prepare several days' rations was the first intimation the men received that a battle was imminent.

Between 2 and 3 o'clock on the afternoon of Thursday, the 26th of June, the battery, along with the Fortieth, Fifty-fifth, and Sixtieth Virginia regiments, crossed Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge. The Fortieth Virginia regiment of infantry were deployed as skirmishers, while the battery advanced down the Meadow Bridge road about a mile, and then wheeling to the right, began to ascend a hill. About this time the rattle of musketry began to be heard in the woods, both to the right and left of the battery, and was quickly followed by the heavy thunder of cannon. Before reaching the crest of the hill two men were wounded by rifle balls. On the top of this hill they found what they called a Quaker gun—that is, a stove pipe mounted on [363] wheels. The battery was then ordered forward to take a position in a field about three-quarters of a mile from the enemy's entrenchments. No sooner had they got into position in this field than it was evident the battery had been drawn into an ambuscade, and the enemy's cannon opened on them from the entrenchments. Belgian rifle balls whistled through the battery and over the heads of the men in myriads. The battery fired four rounds on a Yankee battery entrenched to the south of Mechanicsville, and were ordered to retire to the cover of the woods, on the left, which they did in good order, amid a fearful storm of bullets and shells, but, remarkable to say, none of the men were struck.

After remaining half an hour in this wood, the battery was ordered back into the same field. It then unlimbered under a terrific fire from Gardner's United States battery, stationed behind entrenchments two thousand yards in front. No sooner had our battery fired a shot than the fire of two other batteries, one on the left and the other on the right, also concentrated upon it. The enemy's fire was swift and terrific. The carnage among our men was fearful, but manfully and cooly they stood to their guns, and until dark poured their deliberate fire into the enemy's entrenchments. Many of the wounded refused to retire, and stood to their posts till the close of the fight. When the order was given to cease firing the guns were almost red hot. William Stillman was struck by a canister shot and instantly killed in this fight, and Lieutenant Allen and forty others were wounded. Lieutenant Fitzhugh was also wounded, but remained with the battery. Twelve horses were killed and others slightly wounded. The battery slept that night on the field in the position it had occupied during the battle.

The next morning (Friday) all the enemy's entrenchments at Mechanicsville had been carried by our infantry.

At 10 A. M. Friday morning the Purcell battery moved forward in the track of the retreating enemy, and at 4 o'clock that evening got under his fire while awaiting orders two hundred yards to the west of the Cold Harbor house. Here two men were struck, one by a fragment of a shell, and the other by a minie ball.

At 5 o'clock P. M., the battery was ordered to take position in the garden at Cold Harbor, between the barn and the house, and to shell the woods to the southeast, where large bodies of the enemy's infantry were drawn up. None of our men were killed here, though [364] the battery early became a mark for the enemy's sharpshooters. Five of our horses were killed. This made seventeen horses the battery had lost in the two engagements. It is well to state that Captain Pegram used in this fight four splendid Napoleon guns, which had been taken from the enemy at Mechanicsville, and which he had obtained for his company. The battery remained on the field of Cold Harbor until Sunday morning, when they recrossed to the south bank of the Chickahominy by a Yankee pontoon bridge, and slept Sunday night at Piney Chapel, on the Darbytown road.

At 10 o'clock Monday morning, the battery moved down the Darbytown road in pursuit of the enemy. At 5 o'clock that evening, as it drew up in Mr. Nathan Enroughty's (Darby) field, eleven miles below Richmond, it came under the fire of the enemy. Here, the shell raining around and above in a perfect storm, it remained until night without firing a gun, and without the loss of a man or horse. One of the enemy's shells chipped a piece from one of our caissons; had it struck a few inches lower and exploded the caisson, the loss of life on our part must have been frightful.

At three o'clock on Tuesday, our forces having come up with the enemy, the Purcell battery was ordered to engage a battery of the enemy half a mile distant across a field. This proved, by all odds, the fiercest fight our men had been engaged in. Two batteries opened on them at once, and one of them was so near that our men could see the Yankees loading their pieces. In course of half an hour we had silenced one of the enemy's batteries, but with fearful loss on our side. Two men had been killed at the guns. Lieutenant Fitzhugh, who had been wounded at Mechanicsville, had his leg so mangled early in the engagement that it had to be amputated on the spot. Lieutenant McGraw had two of his ribs broken, and fifteen privates were wounded, some of them severely, and many of them several times. Several of the men who had been wounded three times stuck to their posts and served their guns to the last. Captain Pegram's courage and gallantry showed pre-eminent where all were brave. He went from gun to gun as long as they could be fired, cheered the remnant of his men, and assisted them in loading.

At ten minutes after 6 o'clock every gun of the battery but one had been disabled, twenty men had been cut down and twenty horses killed, when an order was received for the battery to retire. In an exhausted condition, such of the men and officers who had not been [365] wounded returned to their camp, which had been removed to a position above Richmond, near the Old Fair Grounds.

In the three fights in which the battery had been engaged, it had lost sixty-five in killed and wounded, among whom were three commissioned and eight non-commissioned officers. It had lost thirty-four horses, and had all of its original guns disabled.

The absence of incident in the above account is to be accounted for by the fact that the brave men to whom we are indebted for the main facts were, during the three battles in which they were engaged, too busy to take note of anything but their guns and the enemy in their front. [From the Winchester, Va. Times, September 27, 1893.]

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