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The Seven days battle around Richmond.

The latter part of June, 1862, was an enventful period in the history of the 12th Alabama and of the Army of Northern Virginia. While General Lee's army confronted McClellan's hosts before Richmond, Stonewall Jackson was in the Valley fighting a series of battles.

On the 26th of June the Confederate army was engaged with McClellan at Mechanicsville, which is near the Confederate capital. Our army suffered severely in this fight. On the 27th my regiment, brigade and division, under General D. H. Hill, took part in the battle of Gaines' Mill, near Cold Harbor, which proved to be one of the most hotly contested battles in which we were ever engaged. The enemy was commanded by General Porter. They had long lines of infantry, in double column, and numerous batteries of artillery, on top of a hill. It became our duty to cross a creek in a swamp, and the enemy had cut the timber so as to impede the advance of our attacking force. I can never forget that when in a short distance of the enemy we made a halt and I was placed in command of a detachment of four men from each company, and ordered to deploy in their front, and shoot [228] the cannoneers who were doing fatal damage in our ranks. The cannon belched forth fire and smoke, and bursting shells were hurtling among us. Wounded men were being carried to the rear, while we were saddened by the sight of motionless and lifeless comrades. In obedience to instructions, I hurried forward through the lowland, and before we had gone two hundred yards we captured seven prisoners, and I disarmed and hurried them to the rear. One of my men volunteered to take charge of and carry them back, but I replied that he would be needed in the other direction, and left them to surrender themselves to the main body.

Sergeant Patton of Company I, a native of Portland, Maine, a volunteer in a Mobile company, kept near me and showed great gallantry. We marched as best we could in line till we reached a deep sunken road, near enough to one of the batteries to shoot the artillerymen. The men were not slow in doing execution, and very soon we silenced the battery in our immediate front. Before we did so they turned their shot and shell, grape and canister directly upon my small squad, and the limbs of trees and countless leaves fell upon us, cut down by the enemy's fire. During a cessation in the firing Sergeant Patton obtained my permission to go up a ravine in front and discover what was going on. In a short time he returned, leading a horse, with a splendid saddle and holster of pistols upon it, and a young Federal soldier walking by his side. Bringing him to me we searched the young man and found a dispatch in cipher from General Kearney to General McClellan. We could not read it, and I sent the horse and its rider with the dispatch to Colonel Gayle, who took the horse and his accoutrements, including the holster of pistols, and sent the dispatch to General D. H. Hill. The Richmond papers next day gave an account of the capture, and stated that the dispatch was important, giving valuable information, and mentioned that it had been brought in by a Lieutenant of the 12th Alabama Regiment.

Noticing the great and prolonged quiet in front of us, I ordered my men to crouch low and proceed beyond the woods into an open field, and there, to our intense surprise, we found a long array, in one line, of knap-sacks, haversacks, guns and cartridge boxes. I quickly found, by an examination of the baggage, that they belonged to the 20th Mass. Regt., and we begun to open the knapsacks, which contained, besides clothing, numerous letters from relatives and sweethearts, and many pictures of women. From these I was [229] handed by one of the men a half dozen razors, one of which I now daily use, and a number of red silk sashes, which evidently belonged to officers.. Also a number of of ambrotypes, which I saved, and, the first opportunity, expressed to my home-folks at La Grange, Georgia, near where my mother lived. I am sorry to relate that some of the letters, which were read aloud by the men after we returned to camp, were too obscene and improper to be written, and certainly should never have been preserved. We saw many artillery horses lying dead, and numerous cannoners by their side, stiff and cold. My little band remained in possession of the large collection of knap-sacks, haversacks, etc., until recalled about night, and every man returned to his company loaded with trophies, many of them of some value, others worthless, except as curiosities. When the battle ended it was dark.

The next day, an extremely hot one, while we were in line of battle in the blazing sun, I witnessed a piece of recklessness, or, heroism, if you choose to call it so, on the part of Captain L'Etondal, of Company A, from Mobile. The Twelfth Alabama was stretched out, and the men were lying prone upon the ground, enduring the sun's rays, and suffering greatly from the heat. Suddenly their attention was drawn to a novel sight, perhaps never a similar one was seen in any battle. At the end of Company A an umbrella was stretched over the prostrate form of Captain Jules L'Etondal. Soon the notice of the enemy's artillery was attracted by the umbrella, and they began aiming their Napoleon guns at that portion of the regiment, and the balls began to strike in dangerous proximity to it, and to the brave men near it. The men of the other companies began to call aloud, ‘shut down that umbrella,’ ‘close it up, you old fool.’ The cries had no influence upon L'Etondal, or his company, and when, some of the other companies, indignant at his willingness to expose his comrades to the fire of the enemy, by his efforts to protect himself from the blazing rays of the burning sun, called to him that they would come and shut up the umbrella if he didn't do it, and a few rose and started toward the captian as if to carry out their threat, some of his company rose to meet them, and swore that he should keep the umbrella raised over head, if he wanted to, and it was none of their d——d business. This state of affairs continued for some little time, but L'Etondal kept up his shade, and was totally oblivious to the commands and entreaties of the men, and his own company [230] humored him, laughing at his persistence. When we were ordered to move forward, the captain, with his two hundred and fifty pounds of avoirdupois, streaming with perspiration, continued to hold aloft his umbrella.

During the time we were in this recumbent position, our division commander, General D. H. Hill and his staff rode by, and I witnessed in him a truly remarkable instance of his characteristic will which seemed to dominate physical pain, and in performance of duty made him regardless of self-sacrifice. One of the enemy's shells burst in front of the passing horsemen, and a piece of it cut under the arm of General Hill, tore away a portion of his uniform, his vest, if he had on any, and his shirt, and left a portion of the bare flesh on his side exposed. Wonderful to relate, the countenance of the General was unchanged, so far as we could see. No remark was made about the piece of shell, nor the work it had done, and no change was apparent in the gait of the horses, or at all in the conduct of General Hill or his comrades. This exhibition of indifference reminded me of seeing, during the seven days battles, while passing along a road, Stonewall Jackson1 and D. H. Hill, who were brothers-in-law, dismount from their horses, and, sitting on a rail fence, pour syrup from a small bottle upon biscuits, which they were eating, passing the syrup to each other as they ate. During the time shell and shot were falling thick and fast around them, but they did not seem to hear them, not to be at all concerned about their safety. Such wonderful presence of mind had an encouraging influence over the weary and worn infantrymen as they trudged by, moving toward the enemy and witnessing an occasional comrade fall wounded and carried to the rear.

1 The editor who served in the command of General Jackson saw him on more than one occasion evince similar imperturbability, whilst minie balls rained around and shells exploded with terrific sound and results near him —he sat firmly in his saddle on ‘Old Sorrel’ smiling grimly, as those a-foot about him bent, in his estimation, idly, to avoid preordained fate.

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