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Defence of Magruder.

There has been a charge more serious than that of mistaking roads, laid to the door of this gallant and unfortunate commander; and I want to disprove that to-night, and vindicate his memory. Not many months ago, meeting accidentally a gallant Confederate general, and the conversation turning on the war, he remarked that the battle of Malvern Hill was a sad and melancholy mistake, and that it was a serious and unfortunate occurrence that General Magruder was under the influence of liquor. I have heard Federal officers, when commenting on the Malvern Hill fight, make the same charge. Not long ago a veteran's son said to me that this impression was on his mind, derived, he thought, from conversations he had heard around his father's fireside. I wish to say, for the information of this camp, and the citizens of this city, that General Magruder was perfectly sober the whole day. I did not leave his side, except to carry some order; I spread his blankets that night, and, lying near by, heard the whole conversation between him and General Lee in regard to the fight. In the record of the Union and Confederate Armies, series 1, Vol. II, page 683, will be found the certificate of E. J. Eldridge, Surgeon of the 16th Georgia regiment, bearing directly upon this point. I quote in part:

‘Concerning his condition in reference to intoxication, I can say most positively, that if he was under the influence of liquor, I failed entirely to see it. Had he been laboring under such influence, I must have noticed it. I am positive that he had not even taken a drink, most certainly was not the least excited from this cause.’

It would be an easy task to show that at no time during that period, was Magruder inactive or inefficient. Swinton, the historian, says of the fight at Savage's Station:

Magruder attacked in front with characteristic impetuosity [218] about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, expecting Jackson, whose route led in flank and rear, to arrive and decide the action.’

Again, he says of the operations on the south of the Chickahominy:

Porter could expect no aid from the southside, for they were fully engaged by the demonstrations of Magruder, who, by energetic handling of his troops, making a great show and movement and clatter, held the corps commanders, to whom McClellan applied for aid in behalf of Porter, so fully occupied that they declared they could spare none.’

Of the devoted, loyal sons of Virginia who volunteered for her defense, none was more patriotic or heroic than John Bankhead Magruder. On the plains of Mexico he had won his first laurels. With consummate skill he fortified the historic peninsular from Yorktown to Mulberry Point, so that the foremost captain of the Federal army, with 100,000 men against 15,000, was halted and held at bay until Johnston's forces could march to the rescue. At Savage's station he attacked the rear guard of McClellan's army, and inflicted severe loss on the Federals. From that point he had moved with great alacrity to Timberlake's store, and was in position to deal a telling blow at Frazier's farm, when the order came to move to New Market. It does seem the irony of fate that he should have been the victim of the misfortunes that attended our imperfect knowledge of the roads and topography around Richmond.

President Davis, in his ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ says: ‘We had no maps of the country in which we were operating; our generals were ignorant of the roads, and their guides knew little more than the way from their homes to Richmond.’ This latter declaration does injustice to many patriotic and intelligent citizens of our lower counties, some of whom have passed beyond the reach of censure or praise, others of whom are here to testify for themselves, and will be heard from, doubtless, around your camp fires. General Long says, evidently with a view of offsetting the rather severe criticisms of General Dick Taylor, that the major-generals had maps, and he produced a copy of the same. That some of our generals had maps of the principal county roads there can be no question; but the by-roads were not laid down. A division-general, after the engagement of July 1st, was directed to move on the left flank and proceed to the neighborhood of the old Westover church, in Charles City county. Calling to his guide, he asked [219] to be piloted to Nance's Shop. Arriving there, he inquired how far it was to Bradley's Store, near the church, and learning that the distance was nearly the same as from the starting to his objective point, he asked why he had not carried him the nearest way; the guide, a blunt, plain man, replied: ‘You told me to bring you to Nance's Shop, and I have done so.’ The neighborhood road was not laid down. The general made no inquiries of his obedient guide, and lost five miles in his line of march. The same difficulties as to roads have attended armies in older and more open and cultivated countries than Eastern Virginia, and have been the instruments of winning or losing many battles.

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