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Chapter 27:

  • Further details of the Chickahominy battle
  • -- Longstreet succeeds to the command -- General Lee the acknowledged chief -- skirmish at fair Oaks, an episode -- Gossip of officers -- scenes and incidents of the battle -- our negro servants -- the Louisiana Zouaves -- Brigadier -- General Jenkins and the South -- Carolinians -- care of our wounded in Richmond -- hospital scenes.

During the week it was confidently expected the enemy would marshal their forces, and make a rush upon us in retaliation for the thrashing we had given them; and to be prepared for such emergency, our Generals held their troops well together, and the utmost circumspection seemed to guide all plans and dispositions of force. Owing to the frightful gash Johnston had received, the command devolved on Longstreet, or seemed to do so by common consent, for though Gustavus Smith and others, perhaps, ranked before him, their energies were taxed in offices that became them more than “field” operations. Lee was now seen on horseback more frequently, and scarcely a day passed without my meeting him ambling along the roads, and in all kinds of out-of-the-way places. Though naturally quiet, thoughtful, and polite, the responsibility resting on him rendered his deportment even more so than usual, and had a stranger met him, his manner was so quiet and placid, his dress so humble, and his gait so slow and unofficial, that he would never have recognized in him one whose genius and resources commanded the unbounded confidence and hopes of the nation.1 Brigadiers, with couriers and orderlies at their heels dashing to and fro, would have presented a much more impressive idea of importance and dignity, than the meek, gray. haired gentleman who passed us a few minutes before, with out uniform, or blazing stars on his shoulder-straps, or distinctive color. [248] Alarms were frequent during the week, both night and day, and the Texans under Hood, down the railroad, and Wright's Louisianians and Georgians, down the Williamsburgh road, were continually popping at the enemy. These skirmishes were not of an important character, but since McClellan and the Northern press have manufactured out of them “a brilliant victory,” which they term “Fair Oaks,” it is necessary to give the reader Some idea of an affair our men never termed more than a skirmish.

Some few days after the battle of Chickahominy or “Seven pines,” the enemy in possession of the old battle-ground vacated by us gave it to “Sickles's” notorious brigade to hold and to signalize their occupation they attempted to drive in our pickets. The First Louisiana were then in front, and learning that the New-York “roughs” were in the vicinity, and occupied a small copse to the right of the road, and south of Barker's Farm, a plan was formed to advance, and drive them away. Without consulting General Wright, eight corn-panics of this regiment assailed Sickles's men, and though the enemy were superior in number, they drove them out of the thicket with much loss. Enraged at their rough treatment, Sickles's warriors, being reenforced, advanced again, but were a second time repulsed. It was an unimportant affair, and as the ground was not necessary to us, the Louisianians retired to their former position, and nothing was said or thought about the matter. Several of their pickets were subsequently captured, who informed us that Sickles's “roughs” and Meagher's Irish brigade swore to be revenged.

Several days after, a North-Carolina regiment, not three days from home, which never drew trigger, were sent out on picket, and occupied the left of the road near Sickles's brigade; the Louisianians were on the right, in their old picket-grounds, and a Georgia regiment still farther to the right. General Wright's orders were to hold their positions, and, if attacked, reenforcements should be forthcoming. Sickles's men seemed to invite a combat, and the gallant Louisianians, nothing 10th, advanced, drove in their outposts, occupied the thicket, and were advancing into the open ground after them, when three full brigades stood in view. The Louisianians, scorning to retire, were assailed with great fury, while flanking regiments moved on the [249] right and left of the thicket, and waited for their retreat. Finding themselves overpowered, the Louisianians fell back through the wood, were followed up, and had to sustain a three-sided fire. Having secured themselves behind a fence, they continued the fight, expecting the arrival of reenforcements every minute. The North-Carolinians on the left, though perfectly raw, sustained an unequal musketry fire for three hours, and gave not an inch of ground. The same may be said of the Georgians on the right.

Seeing that our men were not reenforced, the enemy endeavored to get farther on our right, flank, and rear, by marching two regiments through the woods. But a Georgia regiment, (the Fourth,) hearing the continual fire, marched on our right through the woods to succor their brigade companions — the Louisianians-and, having a strong affection for them, were maddened to think they had been played such a trick and overpowered. This flanking party had not progressed far ere they unexpectedly came upon the Yankees quietly taking ground on our right and rear. A volley was instantly given, and a charge ordered. The enemy were amazed; they were on our ground, and we on theirs; the fight was of but a few moments' duration, for the Federals fled, but, not knowing our exact position in the woods, came across several small parties, who slew them as they ran. The Georgians were fearfully excited on this occasion, and, disobeying all orders, rushed after the enemy, and often transfixed them to the earth. This affair was very short, but the carnage great, and occurring accidentally, aggravated the rage of the Georgians to an uncontrollable degree. This charge seemed to settle the affair. Sickles, Meagher, and others, were disappointed, and retired very early to their original position, ours being exactly the same as in the morning. I should hardly have mentioned this affair in connection with “Seven pines,” fought but a few days before, but as the-Northern press required some new “sensation” to counteract the effects of Casey's annihilation, McClellan accommodated them with a flaming and false account of this skirmish if I mistake not, he called it “the Battle of Fair Oaks,” but the occurrence was really as here described, for I was on the ground and witnessed it from first to last.

I had been to Richmond, and was returning to camp, but, [250] passing down the Nine Mile Road, stopped at an old wooden church, which had been converted into quarters by one of the Generals. While lighting a cigar at a fire before the door, I observed a black boy very busy with soup and chicken, and the odor was very agreeable and enticing. “Whose boy are you?” I inquired of the negro, as he handed me a live coal. “Why, Lor bress you, Massa Tom! doesn't you know dis darkey? Massa Frank is here, and all of them!” But before I could be gone, Frank came clanking along with his heavy spurs, and insisted on my dismounting. “Recollect we've got chickens, and the devil knows what all, for supper, so tumble down and join us; you can't better yourself much, these times!”

Without more ado, I hitched the mare to a tree, and entered the old church, which I found converted into a quartermaster's office, with a party of officers and privates engaged in cards. The pulpit was gone, the windows broken, the shutters converted into tables, and carpets used as make-shifts for blankets and bedding. Soap-boxes were our seats, an empty hogshead was turned on end and served as table, and an excellent supper was soon smoking before us. “I know you can't ‘go’ rye-coffee, Tom,” said Frank, but, giving me a sly wink, introduced me to a bottle containing rye-whiskey. Pipes were lit, and cards resumed, but, preferring the open air, several of us sat on the doorsteps, or lolled on the grass round the fire, and were soon busy discussing the “Chickahominy” fight, or “Battle of seven pines,” as the Yankees term it.

“How came it to be called ‘ seven pines? ’ ” asked some one.

“From Federal accounts,” said a grey-haired paymaster; “it seems there were discovered seven pine trees standing apart in an open field near Casey's Headquarters, and his encampment was called so after them. 'Tis a pretty name enough, but I think, as we defeated them so utterly, they should have left naming the field to us. It would have looked more modest. Johnston calls it the ‘ Battle of Chickahominy,’ from the river that runs across our front and to their rear. It was up this river that the celebrated Captain John Smith sailed when captured by, Indians in early days. These banks were the hunting-grounds of pretty Pocahontas who saved his life. The story would read better had Smith married the poor lass.” [251]

“ Well,” said another, “the locality is forever famous, but I see that McClellan, as usual, claims it as a ‘victory.’ ”

You were not foolish enough to suppose he would commence telling the truth at this stage of proceedings? It is true he is the best man they have, but when the North, displeased with Scott's defeat, were beating about for a successor, had not McClellan fed the national vanity by sending flaming “sensation” despatches about his defeat of Pegram at Rich Mountain, Western Virginia, they would never have given him a thought; for it must be confessed politicians do not seek out and reward true merit, while any dependents remain unprovided for. McClellan has attained his present flattering position by falsehood, and will seek to maintain it in the same manner. Falsehood is their settled plan of action. You remember the column of lies that appeared after Manassas, Leesburgh, etc.

They have the most fertile imaginations of any race on the globe, and could battles be fought on paper, and with woodcuts, instead of powder and sabre-cuts, the Herald, Times, Tribune, together with Harper's and Leslie's illustrated papers, would settle the business in gallant style. Their illustrations are certainly the most extraordinary productions of the age; it suits the multitude, ‘pays’ well, no doubt, and that is all any of them care for — they would squeeze a dollar until the eagle howled.

“ I think the prisoners we took,” said the major,

could give a version of ‘Seven Pines’ rather different from that published by McClellan. When Stone failed, and Baker fell at Leesburgh, McClellan was indignant at the idea that he was said to have ordered their unfortunate advance. Baker was dead and could not speak; Stone, who could speak, was immediately incarcerated in Fort Warren. If the commander-in-chief did not order that movement, who did? Casey is accused of imbecility and cowardice because he has suffered a defeat, and is now moved to the rear. But this system of falsehood and hypocrisy cannot last long, although I believe if the enemy were ‘whipped out of their boots’ they would still shout “ victory, victory,” as loudly as ever.

There is no doubt that poor old Casey was sadly out-generalled and beaten by Johnston, but had not our attack been delayed on the right and left, we should have driven them all [252] into the river. Did you hear that we captured Casey's private papers, public documents, etc.? It is so. A young man in the Twelfth Mississippi seized them and gave them to Whiting. Though the capture was important, and effected at great peril, the youth has never been complimented.

“Speaking of that regiment,” said another, “I saw great bravery in one of their cooks. The darkies, as usual, would not remain in camp, but marched out with the rest, and fought behind their masters. When General Rhodes had pushed the enemy through their camps, capturing breastworks as he went, a ball struck him in the arm, and he became faint from loss of blood. As it seemed a critical moment, he refused to leave the field, but still cheered on his men as if nothing had happened. ‘Archie,’ a black boy, volunteered to go for water and bandages, and, mounting a horse, plunged along across the line of fire, and soon returned. The general was much relieved, and remounted. The enemy were now bringing forward their reserves, and as no reenforcements appeared to our rear, it seemed that, weary though all were, we should be compelled to ‘stick it out.’ Falling back into one of the redoubts, Rhodes turned the captured guns on their late owners, but his men were failing fast from fatigue and want of ammunition. Although the enemy maintained a fierce triangular fire, he defied all efforts to dislodge him, and was lost in volumes of smoke. ‘Archie,’ perceiving that his company was short of cartridge, volunteered to run the gauntlet and make his way to the rear. The distance was fully a mile, but this brave boy ran rapidly along, filled half-a-dozen haversacks, and brought back several well-filled cartridge-boxes found on the way. He had scarcely re-entered the redoubt when a fierce clatter of musketry told the advance of our supports, and the day was ours. The darkies, generally, behaved like trumps, but this case came under my own observation. Ben, there, smoking and grinding among the pots, had a hand in it, and has a full suit of regimentals, somewhere, taken out of their tents! But if you ever let all the soup boil way again, sir,” said the major, smiling, “and run off to the fight, somebody's head will feel sore, Ben!”

Ben chuckled, and said he “didn't care for de Yanks, [253] no-how; dey was no ‘count anyways, ‘cept make a big noise; couldn't hit a squirrel in. a year, he didn't believe.” The sound of a fiddle and darkies dancing to the rear of the church led Ben away, and the conversation continued.

The appearance of the prisoners was very dejected, and little information could be extracted from any of them. I saw one tall, hard-fisted Alabamian carrying a stand of captured colors, and conducting some dozen Pennsylvanians from the field, including the standard-bearer. The latter seemed contented with his fate, and joked good-humoredly about the fortunes of the battle. “He wouldn't have surrendered,” he said, “but found himself surrounded by three regiments, and gave up instantly to the first man that appeared.” The Alabamian denied this stoutly but jocularly; observing, in a whisper: “I found him sitting upon the colors behind a tree. Although I was alone, he made no resistance, but marched very quietly to the rear, anticipations of our tobacco-warehouses having no terrors for him.”

“During the fight,” said one,

I was much amused at the coolness of St. Paul's Louisiana Zouaves. They stood in line with North and South-Carolinians, but were very restive, because ordered to lie down in the brushwood and wait for orders. Their red breeches were a conspicuous mark for the enemy, but they lay so low, and kept up such a lively fire, that the enemy would not advance. “Well, boys,” said General Anderson, riding up, “the enemy are before us, and in strong force I” “ Did you say, “Charge them,” general?” asked Goodwin, their commander. “Yes, boys,” replied Anderson, “remember Butler and New-Orleans, and drive them into h-ll!” No sooner said than done. This handful of determined men crept through the chapparal, until within fifty yards of the foe, and although exposed to a cross-fire, suddenly rose, rushed with a yell upon the Pennsylvanians, delivered their fire at fifteen paces, and routed them with the bayonet. This affair was witnessed by the whole left, but none comprehended why so few should have attacked so many. The charge was a brilliant but mad one, and the Zouaves suffered less, for the enemy, discovering the smallness of their number, instantly reformed, and poured in upon them a destructive fire. Our line instantly moved up, however, and the advance was again [254] resumed. I afterwards saw some of these Zouaves conducting many prisoners to the rear, dozens being bandaged about the head and arms.

These Louisianians seem to be great epicures, for scarcely one came off the field without having a well-filled haversack, and a canteen of liquor. Where or how they got these things is a mystery, yet I couldn't help noticing that many of the enemy were so affected by liquor as to be scarcely able to walk. I heard one of the Zouaves, sitting by the roadside, bathing his leg in a mud-puddle, swear he had shot four men that day, and would not grant quarter at all: their cry was, “Orleans and Butler the beast!” They gave no quarter, and expected none. One Louisianian, while drinking at a spring, was shot at; the Yankee missed fire, and then approached to surrender. “ I do not understand you,” said the Creole, in French, and despatched the unfortunate Dutchman with the bayonet. This sort of thing occurred several times during the day; the Louisianians were so exasperated at the thought that their homes were possessed by the enemy, that they all seemed to be blind with passion and revenge. Longstreet personally presented a fine battle-flag to this battalion a few days since, in highly complimentary terms.

“The South-Carolinians deserve praise,” remarked some one,

and I am glad that Jenkins displayed himself to advantage on that occasion. He acted as brigadier, and I do not see why the Secretary of War does not make him a general. He is highly educated in military matters, and far surpasses many of those political generals who are incessantly blundering among us.2 [255] The Northern papers are loud in their praise of the steady manner in which his troops advanced against all difficulties, and marched over heavy abattis up to and into their batteries. It was a grand sight, indeed, to witness that memorable advance. Nothing could stop them; our ranks were shattered by shell and grape, yet the gap was instantly closed up, and through swamp, over timber, across fields, through camps, our progress was steady and uninterrupted; officers in front, and men cheering and yelling like an army of demons. It is said that D. H. Hill lost many men, while waiting for his division to form, but soon made the enemy repay him with interest; for as his Alabamians, Louisianians, Mississippians, and Virginians rushed from the woods across the open, in splendid order, they carried position after position rapidly, and forced the fighting at a killing pace.

Do you know I think our artillery acted indifferently. The truth is, we could not bring up pieces on account of the roads. Carter's battery did good execution; the Lynchburgh battery also. They drew their pieces by hand through the woods and along those boggy roads, and opened fire at twenty yards. I saw our guns not more than fifty yards distant from those of the enemy on several occasions; and when the fight was over the pieces stood almost muzzle to muzzle. We captured over a dozen very fine pieces. I myself counted twelve, and superb brass pieces they are-called “Napoleon” guns, I believe.

“What should you say the general loss was?”

“As far as I can ascertain,” said the major, “our killed and wounded would number about four thousand--not over that-besides a few dozen prisoners taken. General Hatton was killed on Saturday evening on the left. You must recollect that on Saturday morning down the railroad our men were surprised, and that, together with a few prisoners, Brigadier-General Pettigrew fell into their hands. The enemy confess their killed, wounded, and missing at nearly twelve thousand men, besides several standards and cannon. How many prisoners were taken I could not say, but I myself counted several hundred on their way to Richmond.” [256] Although the number of our wounded was not considerable, Government endeavored to provide comfortably for them; and for this purpose stores and warehouses, in various parts of the city, were fitted up, and surgeons, public and private, detailed to superintend them. There were several “committees for the wounded” in operation among the better class of citizens, and every thing that private means could do was devoted to the needy. From sunrise until sunset the bed-sides of our poor fellows were never deserted by kind friends, and I have known frequent instances where ladies attended, night after night, for weeks, fanning, washing, and feeding them; reading or writing for them, etc., so that the poor boys were oftentimes even bored by their many attentions and unceasing care. Scopes were taken from military hospitals into private families, and tended for months, free of charge, and treated more affectionately than they might have been even at home. First-class surgeons gave their advice and attention gratuitously, and I know several medical men of standing who neglected lucrative practice to assist our men. Some took them home, and cared for them there; others instituted private hospitals for their proper treatment; and I remember instances where individuals have been comfortably provided with homes and proper scientific treatment for many months, not being allowed to depart until fully recovered from wounds or ailments. Frequently during the battle of “Seven pines,” I saw hundreds of citizens drive their vehicles near the battle-grounds, and convey away the wounded; to see a muddy, ragged, bandaged soldier lolling in a fine silk-trimmed carriage was no uncommon sight.

In fact, so great was the anxiety of citizens to carry off the wounded, that one of their omnibuses, approaching too near the enemy's lines, on Sunday morning, was captured by an ambuscading party, and carried off in great triumph as a rebel trophy. This omnibus was but one of many furnished by hotels for this humane purpose, and several were capsized in the mud, and rendered useless for all future service. The poor fellows seemed perfectly contented with their treatment, and lay in bed smoking cigars or drinking “brandy toddy,” as happy as lords. In fact, many of them rather liked the change, and would not exchange their honorable scars for any amount. Cigars, brandy, fine food, and raiment, were [257] such a contrast to rags, constant duty, hard fare, and incessant marching.

Some who came out of camp to visit these invalids would look round with almost a jealous eye upon the many comforts provided for them. Ragged, sunburnt, and ill-fed as they were, many could but jocularly smile, and good-humoredly wish some friendly bullet had thrown them into such comfortable quarters. When the wounded in turn visited their comrades in camp, their appearance was so much improved, they looked so bright and cheerful, and had so many stories to tell about pleasures and pastimes, that our doctors caught many feigning sickness, in order to be sent to hospitals in town.

The theatres were a great temptation, and as convalescents were permitted to attend them, with properly signed “passes,” these places were nightly crowded with military audiences, scores having arms in slings or bandaged heads. Such pieces, such music, such yelling and laughter were never heard before; the poor Germans in the orchestra were tired to death with repeats of “Dixie,” “My Maryland,” and the “Marseillaise” --tunes which the audience accompanied with vocal efforts of their own, or embellished with a running accompaniment of stamps and howling. “Blood-and-thunder” pro. ductions were greatly in vogue, and those pieces wherein most of the characters were killed, rose decidedly in the ascendant. “A tip-top fight” was what the boys delighted in, and an unlucky hero would never fall without an accompanying yell of “Bring on your ambulance!” Had these men had free access to liquor, its effect would have been disastrous; but this was successfully prohibited, thanks to the vigilance of the Provost-Marshal, General Winder.3 [258] The greatest amount of affection seemed to be lavished upon privates; officers, for the most part, were treated coldly by the masses, and allowed to shift for themselves as best they could, for it was considered far more honorable to carry a musket than to loiter round Richmond in expensive gold-corded caps and coats. Volumes might be written upon the great kindness shown to our troops by the ladies of Virginia: although the women of Winchester, Leesburgh, Charlottesville, and other places, did much for the common cause, their noble-hearted and open-handed sisters of Richmond far surpassed them all. Nothing that human nature could do was left undone; and although much of this kindness and care were thrown away upon rude, uncouth objects, their humanity, patience, and unceasing solicitude are beyond all praise.

But what shall I say of the army doctors and nurses? There was a great improvement! On the field, they endeavored to do their duty; but surgeons of Virginia regiments evinced more care and anxiety than any others, and seemed to be far more skilful and expeditious. The field hospitals presented an awful sight. I entered one, but never desire to see another. It was an old dilapidated house, with scarcely any thing standing except the brick chimney. The sufferers lay inside and outside on straw, but such was the flow of blood, that all their garments, bedding, straw, and every thing around was of a bright red color. In one corner I saw a large pile of arms and legs; many already dead were lying on the grass, with blankets thrown over them, while not far distant, in the woods, a party were engaged in digging long trenches for sepulture. These things were passing under the eyes of all, and those just brought in from the field were spectators of operations going on, hearing moans and groans incessantly. Sickening as such sights were, our men bore up under it wonderfully well, and did not wince at all when called upon to take their place upon the unhinged door which served as an operating-table. Yet, how could all this be otherwise? Such is the reality of war, and those who paint it in glowing colors, with all the pomp and circumstance of triumph, should never fail to add a few words [259] of truth against encouraging the sacrifice of life for the sake of ambition and unsubstantial causes. Had it not been for the great love evinced for us by the good people of Richmond, hundreds of wounded would never have answered roll-call again; and but for their paternal care, coupled with the extraordinary exertions of Government, the increasing warm weather would have added greatly to our bills of mortality.

1 It was evident that Longstreet was chief in the field only until Lee should vacate his rooms in the War Office, and permanently assume command.

2 Brigadier-General Jenkins is said to be a Northern by birth, and was First Lieutenant First Artillery in the old service. He left the army, and was principal of a flourishing military academy near Charleston (South-Carolina) when the war broke out. He then raised a company, and was elected Colonel of the Fifth Regiment from that State. He afterwards recruited a regiment fifteen hundred strong, called the “First Palmetto sharpshooters.” His conduct during the whole war in Virginia has marked him as a very superior officer. He greatly distinguished himself at “Williamsburgh,” (May, 1862,) and commanded a brigade at “Seven pines,” where his generalship was loudly praised even by Northern journals. He is comparatively young, and can do more with raw troops, or recruits, than any officer I have seen in the field, rapidly bringing them up to a high state of efficiency. He has been wounded several times; but as long as 'tis possible to sit in the saddle, so long will he lead, and his fine voice can be heard far and wide. As a disciplinarian, he has few equals; and even when cannon are roaring in front, he gallops about, sharply reminding the men to “dress up! dress up there!” Should he live, South-Carolina. may rejoice in the possession of such an officer.

3 Brigadier-General John H. Winder is a native of Maryland, and about sixty years of age. He entered the service as Brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery, July first, 1820; resigned August, 1823; appointed Second Lieutenant First Artillery, April second, 1827; Captain First Artillery, October seventh, 1842; Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel First Artillery, September fourteenth, 1847, and commanded at Barrancas Barracks, (opposite Fort Pickens,) Florida, when the war began. He has been acting as Provost-Marshal-General at Richmond during the war, and renders essential service in that department; in truth, no half-dozen men could fulfil the labors of this eagle-eyed and indefatigable old man.

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