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Malvern Hill. From the Times-dispatch, October 13, 1907.

Some Reminiscences of one of the survivors of that famous engagement.


All that the survivors of the ‘Lost Cause’ have left are our memories and our monuments. Our memories perish with us. Soon our campfires will die out, the last reveille be sounded, as one by one we answer the final roll-call. Our monuments we bequeath to posterity as a perpetual legacy to commemorate the sacrifices made to principles that are imperishable—constitutional government!

As one of the survivors I read with interest the reminiscences of the veterans of the late Civil War. The perusal of the recent articles in your Confederate Column has brought to mind my experience at the battle of Malvern Hill, the culmination of the Seven Days Battles around Richmond. General Stephen D. Lee, then Colonel of Artillery, in his report to General Magruder, says: ‘The enemy's artillery was admirably handled in this action, and is admitted to have been the most terrible artillery fire during the war.’

Some conception of this terrible fire may be formed when it is stated that the captain of one of the Federal batteries engaged reports that his battery alone exploded four hundred rounds of shell, five hundred and fifteen rounds of spherical case and sixty-six rounds of canister, add to this the fire of other batteries and the thousands of muskets engaged and the fire from the gunboats, some idea of the din may be formed. This famous battle occurred over forty-five years ago, and yet the impressions made on that fateful day were so impressible that the lapse of time has failed to erase them.

This battle occurred July 1, 1862. Our regiment, the 15th Virginia, was encamped within about two miles of Richmond. The night before my old comrade, C. A. Richardson, who has contributed so much interesting matter to your columns, and the [122] writer, ‘ran the block’ to attend a ‘starvation party’ given by some ladies in our honor in the city. We reached camp in the wee hours of the next morning. We found the camp deserted, but our blankets and rifles were in our brush tents and only a few sick and lame comrades to point, out to us the route the regiment had taken. We knew that if we did not catch up and get in line before the battle began we would be liable to arrest and court-martial for being absent without leave, so we struck out before the sun was up, in the direction indicated, and marched through the hot sun and the clouds of dust raised by the wagons and artillery that thronged and obstructed the roads to Malvern Hill.

We caught up with our comrades just before they reached the battlefield of the day before—Frazier's Farm—and were appalled by the sights, sounds and odors of that fearful contest. Hundreds of dead Federal and Confederate, as well as horses, were mingled together just as they fell, and under the fervid heat of the summer sun began to emit most sickening odors; the wounded were groaning in temporary hospitals. We were with Semmes' Brigade, consisting of the 15th and 32nd Virginia, 5th and 10th Louisiana, 10th and 53rd Georgia, moved up within 1,200 yards of the enemy's batteries and held in reserve in a ravine, and were subjected to a shelling unsurpassed for severity in any conflict during the war. The concentration of our forces was not completed until late in the day, and it was between 3 and 4 P. M. before the advance was made by Mahone's and Wright's Brigades, which met with a terrible repulse. Such was the accuracy of the fire of the enemy that the field was swept clean. One of our batteries that went in with the above named brigades did not have an opportunity to unlimber; the horses being killed and the caissons blown up and guns dismounted before they could get into action.

Soon the reserve was called for. We moved towards the right and were ordered to charge with fixed bayonets through a meadow, at a distance of about 500 yards, in full view of the guns of the enemy. Before attaining the meadow we moved through a body of woods and over a fence, the limbs from the trees cut by the shells dropping on us and the rails of the fence knocked from under us as we got over. In this body of woods [123] were trees as large as a telegraph pole cut almost in two by musket balls. On debouching into the meadow General Semmes' coat was cut by a fragment of a shell and our colonel (Thos. P. August) was severely wounded in his leg, but the colonel was plucky. When the stretcher-bearers were about to bear him from the field he made them halt, and amidst the storm of lead and the shriek of shells, delivered this impassioned address: ‘Boys, remember you belong to the old 15th Virginia, remember you are fighting for your homes and your firesides. Give them h—l, d—n 'em.’ The words were scarcely out of the colonel's mouth before the stretcher-bearers were struck down and the colonel, still bleeding, was tumbled ingloriously into a ditch.

We continued to move obliquely until we reached the base of the hill upon which was concentrated probably fifty or sixty of the enemy's guns, belching grape and canister from their livid mouths into our very faces, it being not over two hundred yards from the base to the crest of the hill. The sun was nearly down. Had the Rev. John Jasper been present at this point, his celebrated sermon ‘the sun do move’ would never have been preached, for, notwithstanding we prayed most fervently that it would set, it hung in the heavens and seemed perfectly stationary for what appeared under the circumstances and excitement of the occasion to be hours. About one hundred and fifty of our regiment reached the base of the hill, in command of Major John Stewart Walker, formerly captain of the Virginia Life Guard, of Richmond (Company B), who assumed command as soon as Colonel August was placed hors de combat. Here we rested, under severe and continuous fire that did not admit of our raising our heads from the ground. As twilight was deepening into the shades of night, the word was passed down the line to prepare to charge the crest of the hill. Major Walker stood up with drawn sword and flashing eye and gave the command, ‘Forward, charge!’ It was the last word this gallant officer ever uttered. He fell, and was dragged into the little branch which flowed at the foot of the hill and expired in the arms of his brother, Captain Norman Walker. Thus perished as brave a soldier as ever flashed his sword in any cause!

It was now quite dark, the sky clouded by the coming storm, [124] and the muttering of thunder and the flash of lightning added to the wildness of the scene, which was grand and terrific. The fire of musketry and artillery now raged with great fury. The hill was clothed in smoke and darkness, relieved only by the flashes of the guns. Complete darkness soon settled upon this bloody field, but once in a while the hill would again become a living flame, to which there was no reply from our side, for those who were on the field had to hug Mother Earth to escape death. Soon the storm of wind and rain was upon us, adding to our discomforts, until about 9 o'clock the firing on both sides ceased, the enemy having retreated to their gunboats, and we retired to the woods to seek such shelter as the protecting branches afforded. The Federal loss in this battle was, killed, wounded and missing, three thousand. The Confederate loss was fully double this.

The battle of Malvern Hill was a disaster of a serious nature. The demoralization of the brigades engaged was beyond conception; regiments and companies were so mixed, mingled and scattered that it took a day or two to get them together. The loss of this battle was doubtless due to lack of concert of action, misconception of orders and refusal in some instances to obey them. What ought to have been the grand Confederate sequel to the Seven Days fights was a Federal victory, due to the consummate skill shown by McClellan in concentrating a last stand, upon an almost impregnable position.

A portion of Semmes' Brigade (5th and 10th Louisiana), who were to the left of the 15th Virginia Regiment, charged through the enemy's lines, and some of them were found dead fifteen or twenty yards within the Federal lines the next morning. The lines of the contending forces the next day could be traced and defined by the dead who fell on each side as they stood in battle array. Thus ended one of the fiercest battles of the war.

J. Staunton Moore, Company B, 15th Virginia Infantry.

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