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Reports of the battle.

Thus ended this fearful conflict, the last of the seven days fight. The losses on each side were about equal, the Confederates suffering more, perhaps, in killed and wounded, as they were the aggressors and fought the Federals on their chosen ground. Our killed and wounded reached 3,000. The loss of the enemy, while heavy, was not so severe. Fitz-John Porter says: ‘It is not to be supposed that our men, though concealed by the irregularities of the ground, were not sufferers from the enemy's fire. The fact is that before they exposed themselves by pursuing the enemy the ground was literally covered with the killed and wounded.’

Their own gun-boats helped in this slaughter, and inflicted little if any loss on our men. The thirty-two-pounder howitzers and siege-guns killed and demoralized the Confederates. Ours were raw troops, many of whom had never been in line of battle, and they confronted the regulars of the United States army. It requires experience and drill to make efficient soldiers, even of material such as Hill and Magruder commanded that day.

General Holmes, commanding a division of 6,000 effective men, occupied a position on the River road on our extreme right. The day before, he had a slight engagement with Warren's Brigade, and suffered the loss of two killed and forty wounded, and his request for re-enforcements turned Magruder from his direct march to Frazier's Farm, and thus prevented a complete success on that field. In his [216] report he says: ‘I moved my division to a point on the River road half a mile below the upper gate of Curl's Neck and there remained during the night, in line of battle, but I deemed it out of the question to attack the strong position of Malvern Hill from that side with my inadequate force.’

In his official report of the battle, Longstreet said: ‘A little after 3 P. M. I understood that we would not be able to attack the enemy that day, inasmuch as his position was too strong to admit of it.’ Writing long years afterwards in the Century ,Magazine, he says: ‘As our guns in front did not engage, the result was the enemy concentrated the fire of fifty or sixty guns upon our isolated batteries and tore them into fragments in a few minutes after they opened, piling horses upon each other and guns upon horses. Before night the fire from our batteries failing of execution, General Lee seemed to abandon the idea of an attack. He proposed to me to move around to the left, with my own men and A. P. Hill's Division, turning the Federal right. I issued my orders accordingly for the two divisions to go around and turn the Federal right, when, in some way unknown to me, the battle was drawn on. We were repulsed at all points with fearful slaughter, losing 6,000 men and accomplishing nothing.’

Swinton, who refers to our army as ‘that incomparable body of men, the glorious infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia,’ says of Malvern Hill: ‘Lee never before or since that action delivered a battle so ill-judged in conception or so faulty in its details of execution.’

In referring to the Quaker road, I have doubtless raised the inquiry on many a mind here, ‘What would have been the effect had General Magruder not mistaken the order, or had there been only one road known by that name?’ I am unable to say; and not having been educated a soldier, I do not presume to criticise. With the knowledge of the roads and the country, gained since that time, and the experience of the years after the battle, I will venture to say that had Magruder followed on the Willis church road and the (Federal map) Quaker road, and occupied the position of D. H. Hill, so that that officer, together with Early and Ewell, could have extended our left until it encircled Malvern Hill, the enemy would have been taken in flank and forced to give battle on ground more advantageous to us, or to make his retreat over the single road across Turkey Island creek.

The depositions of three intelligent citizens and soldiers of Henrico [217] county, sworn to before R. H. Nelson, a magistrate, then and afterwards a member of my cavalry company, and now living on Frazier's Farm, in Henrico county, can be seen in the records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series 1, Vol. XI, page 677, and they prove beyond question that the road on which General Magruder was conducted by these guides was the only Quaker road known to those people; and now, after thirty-four years have elapsed, you may go there and the same road will be pointed out as the Quaker road.

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John Bankhead Magruder (5)
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