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Chapter 9: the escape. Battle of Malvern Hill

  • Enemy's New position.
  • -- line formed. -- Pendleton's artillery. -- artillery combats. -- Whiting's report. -- Sumner seeks cover. -- Lee's reconnoissance. -- Lee misled. -- attack begun. -- Wright's report. -- Semmes and Kershaw. -- D. H. Hill's report. -- Toombs's report. -- casualties. -- Lee's report. -- Stuart shells a camp. -- McClellan writes. -- Stuart's report. -- attack abandoned. -- casualties. -- an artillery raid. -- the South side. -- our balloon.

Next morning (Tuesday, July 1) we began to pay the penalty for our unimproved opportunity of the day before.

Of course, the enemy was gone, and about three miles down the road we came upon his whole army, now united and massed, upon Malvern Hill.

This position is a high plateau stretching north from the lowlands along the valley of James River, over which it dominates in high steep hills, with Turkey Run on the west, and Western Run on the east. It is about a mile wide and, for two miles from the river, is open land, rolling and sloping toward the north where it ends in a heavy forest, intersected by marshy streams, with only one good road leading through the forest out upon the plateau. The Rev. L. W. Allen, already mentioned as on the staff of Magruder, was a native of this section, and had described to D. H. Hill its striking features, noting, —

‘its commanding height, the difficulties of approach, its amphitheatrical form and ample area, which would enable McClellan to arrange his 350 field guns, tier above tier, and sweep the plain in every direction.’

Hill writes in the Century magazine:

Jackson moved over White Oak Swamp on July 1, Whiting's division leading. Our march was much delayed by the crossing of troops and trains. At Willis's Church I met Gen. Lee. He bore grandly his terrible disappointment of the day before, and made no allusion to it. I gave him Mr. Allen's description of Malvern Hill and presumed to say, [157] “If Gen. McClellan is there in force, we had better let him alone.” Longstreet laughed and said, “Don't get scared, now that we have got him whipped.”

Reconnoissance, ordered by Longstreet on the right, found a position favorable if we could employ a heavy force of artillery. A hill across Turkey Creek on the west gave ground whence 40 or more guns could enfilade the enemy's batteries and lines of battle. A wheat-field to the northeast gave positions whence a hundred guns could cross fire with them. Could we mass and open two such batteries, and follow their fire by a simultaneous charge of heavy columns, we would have a chance of winning a victory. Lee ordered the plan carried into effect. Meanwhile, a line of battle had been formed through the woods and fields. Whiting was on the left with three brigades (one of Jackson's under Hampton, and two of his own). D. H. Hill came next with five, then two of Huger's, six of Magruder's, and two more of Huger's, including Ransom's, detached from Holmes's division. The remainder of Holmes's was held on the River road, and was not engaged. Longstreet and Hill were in reserve behind Magruder; and Ewell's and Jackson's own division, behind Jackson. The enemy's batteries kept up a severe fire through the woods and along the roads, and the gunboats in the James participated for some hours with their heavy guns, until at length some shells burst prematurely over their own lines, when their fire was ordered to cease.

The order to charge the enemy's lines was, however, not made absolute. Magruder, Huger, and D. H. Hill, with their 14 brigades, were notified as follows about noon: —

July 1, 1862.
Batteries have been established to rake the enemy's line. If it is broken, as is probable, Armistead, who can witness the effect of the fire, has been ordered to charge with a yell. Do the same. By order of Gen. Lee.

R. H. Chilton, A. A. G.

The charge, therefore, was made to depend upon our being able to inaugurate and conduct with success an artillery duel of some magnitude.

Pioneers were sent to open a road to the left, and it was [158] expected that artillery would act upon both flanks; but here our organization broke down. Gen. Pendleton, Lee's Chief of Artillery, had a large artillery reserve, organized in four battalions of several batteries each, including our best rifled guns; but he was not able to bring a single one of his batteries into action. His official report of the day is as follows:—

‘Tuesday, July 1, was spent by me in seeking, for some time, the commanding general, that I might get orders, and, by reason of the intricacy of routes, failing in this, in examining positions near the two armies toward ascertaining what could be best done with a large artillery force, and especially whether any position could be reached whence our large guns could be used to good purpose. These endeavors had, of course, to be made again and again under the enemy's shells ; yet no site was found from which the large guns could play upon the enemy without endangering our own troops, and no occasion was presented for bringing up the reserve artillery. Indeed, it seemed that not one-half of the division batteries were brought into action on either Monday or Tuesday. To remain near by, therefore, and await events and orders in readiness for whatever service might be called for, was all that I could do. Here again it was my privilege to be thrown with the President, he having arrived sometime after nightfall at the house near the battle-field, where I had just before sought a resting-place.’

Between the lines one can but read a disappointing story. Pendleton did not find Lee all day long, nor did any orders from Lee find him. He implies that his reserve artillery was not expected to go in until all the division batteries were first engaged. The division batteries were not organized into battalions, and, acting separately, were easily overpowered when brought out, one by one, in the face of many guns already in position. Pendleton's battalions of from three to six batteries each, would have stood much better chances; and while there were not many places, there were two extensive ones, in either of which all of these battalions could have been used — Poindexter's field, and the position on Magruder's right, to which Lee made the pioneers open a road. As matters were, our whole reserve artillery stood idle all day.

Pendleton graduated at West Point in 1830, one year after Lee. He resigned in 1833, and entered the ministry in 1837. In 1861, he returned to military life, and was appointed Chief of Artillery of the Army about Oct., 1861, under Gen. [159] Johnston. His command did little during the Seven Days, and Col. Brown, commanding his largest battalion, in his report mentions ‘the great superabundance of artillery and the scanty use that was made of it.’

Col. Cutts, commanding another battalion, also reported:—

‘My own small command (seven guns) was assigned a place near the battle-field of Tuesday, the 1st inst., and although I am sure that more artillery could have been used with advantage in this engagement, and also that my company could have done good service, yet I received no orders; therefore, I have not had the honor to participate in any of the many engagements for the protection of our capital.’

Several field-batteries were brought in, one or two at a time, upon both flanks, but each was quickly overwhelmed. The artillery under D. H. Hill, which had been engaged at White Oak Swamp the afternoon of the 30th, had entirely exhausted its ammunition and been sent to the rear to replenish. In the demand for guns, A. P. Hill sent two of his batteries, Davidson's and Pegram's. Pegram had been engaged in every battle, beginning with Mechanicsville. Including Malvern Hill, he had 60 casualties out of 80 men, and was only able to man a single gun at the close. This fighting, the artillery part of the action, began about noon and continued until about half-past 3 o'clock. D. H. Hill thus describes that in his front, —

‘Instead of ordering up 100 of 200 pieces of artillery to play on the Yankees, a single battery, Moorman's, was ordered up, and knocked to pieces in a few minutes. One or two others shared the same fate of being beat in detail. Not knowing how to act under the circumstances, I wrote to Gen. Jackson that the firing from our batteries was of the most farcical character.’

Whiting, on Hill's left, says: —

‘To our left was a very large wheat-field which afforded a good view of the enemy's position, and fair opportunities for artillery. Batteries were ordered up. . . . The first battery ordered into Poindexter's field found itself exposed to a vastly superior cross-fire and was soon compelled to retire with loss. Balthis's battery, better posted and better covered by the ground, fought well and continued the action until their ammunition was exhausted. Other batteries were ordered up. Our gunners replied with spirit, but from want of ammunition the contest was too unequal, and I caused them successively to withdraw. This cross-fire was excessively severe upon the supporting troops.’


Of the artillery fighting on the right flank, Gen. Armistead reported: —

‘By a reconnoissance first made by Col. E. C. Edmonds of the 38th Va. . . . I found that the enemy were in, near, and around Crew's house, and that the hill in front of the ravine we occupied was a good position for artillery. It was asked for, and Capt. Pegram's and Grimes's batteries were sent. The fire was a terrible one and the men stood it well. The enemy must have had 30 or 40 pieces opposed to ours and of superior calibre. No men could have behaved better than Capts. Pegram and Grimes. They worked their guns after their men were cut down, and only retired when entirely disabled. I sent for more artillery repeatedly.’

These extracts sufficiently illustrate the character of the fighting during the hours devoted in theory to bringing a heavy enfilading and cross-fire of artillery to bear upon the enemy in his crowded position. The one advantage which we had was that all our shots were converging toward his centre, and stood fair chances of finding some of his troops, even when they missed their special targets. And, thin, scattered, and meagre as our artillery fire was,—‘almost farcical,’ as D. H. Hill pronounced it, and directed entirely at the enemy's batteries, its effect upon his infantry lines was such that Sumner withdrew his whole corps from their positions, and took refuge under the crest of the hills nearest the river, and he ordered Porter also to withdraw. Porter reports that he—

‘protested against such a movement as disastrous to us, adding that as the major-general commanding had seen and approved my disposition, and also Gen. Couch's, I could not change without his order, which could soon be obtained if desirable. He desisted and the enemy was soon upon us, compelling him to recall his own corps.’

How eloquent is this episode of what might have been the effect of bold and energetic use, early in the day, not only of our large artillery reserve, but of all our brigade and division batteries, brought in under their protection, as might have been done under efficient management.

As it was, this inefficient artillery service so discouraged the prospects of an assault that before three o'clock Lee abandoned his intention to assault. Longstreet was informed,1 but no [161] notice was sent to other generals, as there seemed no apparent need. The aggressive efforts had grown gradually weaker, and by three o'clock the firing on both sides had almost ceased.

Shortly before this, Lee had taken Longstreet and ridden over to our left in search of some route by which the enemy's position could be turned.

This should have been done early that morning, not by Lee in person, but by staff-officers under cavalry escorts. Jackson, on the left flank, had with him a fair supply of staff, and Munford's regiment of cavalry. In the Valley he would have done it without waiting for orders. By a movement inaugurated that day, a force might easily have reached the high ground known as Evelington Heights, overlooking Westover (of which there will be more to tell later), or any nearer point threatening the enemy's line of retreat, where a Confederate force in position might compel the enemy to take the offensive at a disadvantage.

A short reconnoissance induced Lee to order Longstreet at once to move his own division and Hill's to the left: Longstreet had rejoined his troops and was putting them in motion, when, to his surprise, he heard the sounds of battle break forth. He thought the enemy had taken the offensive, and that Magruder would soon be calling for reenforcements. His two divisions were, therefore, moved up to secure the right flank, though they did not become engaged.

Longstreet, in his narrative, states that the battle was precipitated by accident, but this is a mistake. It was begun by a direct order from Lee given hastily under the influence of a misapprehension of fact, which occurred as follows: —

When Sumner withdrew his corps under the cover of the hills, as has been told in the quotation from Porter, the movement was observed from our left by Whiting. He reported to Lee that the enemy were withdrawing both trains and troops. About the same time, a body of the enemy's skirmishers being advanced in front of Armistead's brigade, was attacked and easily driven back by three of his regiments. These followed the fugitives a short distance and occupied advanced ground, in a swale which afforded some shelter. This affair was considered a success, and it was also reported to Lee as he was returning from [162] his reconnoissance with Longstreet. Had Sumner's movement, and the advance and easy retreat of the Federal skirmishers, been planned as a ruse to decoy us into a charge, its success would have been brilliant. That part of our plan which had called for a tremendous preliminary cannonade was forgotten. Lee believed that his enemy was retreating and about to escape him, and he hastened to send a verbal order to Magruder through Capt. Dickinson of Magruder's staff, who wrote the order as follows: —

Gen. Lee expects you to advance rapidly. He says it is reported the enemy is getting off. Press forward your whole line and follow up Armistead's success.’

Under Magruder's orders the advance was' commenced by Wright's Ga. and La. brigade, followed by Mahone's Va. brigade, both of Huger's division. These two brigades formed our extreme right, and went into action only about 2500 strong, many stragglers having been lost from the ranks in the marchings and skirmishes of the three previous days.

To the left of Wright was Armistead of Huger's division, followed by Cobb's and Semmes's brigades. In support of these were all the rest of Magruder's and Huger's 10 brigades, Ransom, of Holmes's division, being also temporarily attached to Huger. Farther to the left came D. H. Hill's five brigades. Magruder's brigades consumed a little time in developing a full roar of musketry, but no sooner was it heard than D. H. Hill's division was also put in.

Fitz-John Porter, in Battles and leaders, thus describes the opening of the battle from the Federal point of view: —

The spasmodic, though sometimes formidable, attack of our antagonists, at different points along our whole front, up to about four o'clock were, presumably, demonstrations or feelers preparatory to their engaging in more serious work. An ominous silence, similar to that which had preceded the attack in force at Gaines' Mill, now intervened, until, at about 5.30 o'clock, the enemy opened upon both Morell and Couch with artillery from nearly the whole of his front, and soon after pressed forward in columns of infantry, first on one, then on the other, or on both.

As if moved by a reckless disregard of life equal to that displayed at Gaines Mill, with a determination to capture our army or destroy it by driving us into the river, brigade after brigade rushed at our batteries; [163] but the artillery of both Morell and Couch mowed them down with shrapnel, grape, and canister, while our infantry, withholding their fire until the enemy were in short range, scattered the remnants of their columns, sometimes following them up and capturing prisoners and colors.

One can scarcely read the full story of this charge without believing that, made early in the day with the aid of all our reserve artillery on the flanks and of the 22 brigades of infantry who were spectators, we might, by main force, have crushed the enemy's army as it stood. Porter himself, who was practically in command of the field, and the most accomplished of the Federal corps commanders, records that, at one period of the action, as he rode to bring up reenforcements, he felt such apprehensions of soon becoming our prisoner, that he took from his pocket and tore up his ‘diary and despatch book of the campaign.’

That the ground was less unfavorable for an assault from our right flank appears from the reports of Wright and Mahone, whose small force was not driven back at all, but made a lodgment and held their ground all night. Gen. Wright reports as follows:—

At 4.45 o'clock I received an order from Gen. Magruder through Capt. Henry Bryan, one of his staff, to advance immediately and charge the enemy's batteries. No other troops had yet come upon the field. I ordered my men forward, and, springing before them, led my brigade, less than 1000 men, against a force I knew to be superior in the ratio of at least 20 to 1. Onward we pressed, warmly and strongly supported by Gen. Mahone's brigade, under a murderous fire of shot, shell, canister, and musketry. At every step my brave men fell around me, but the survivors pressed on until we had reached a hollow about 300 yards from the enemy's batteries on the right. Here I perceived that a strong force had been sent forward on our left, by the enemy, with a view of flanking and cutting us off from our support, now more than 1000 yards in our rear. I immediately threw the left of the 3d Ga. a little back along the upper margin of the hollow, and, suddenly changing front of the regiment, poured a galling fire upon the enemy, which he returned with spirit, aided by a fearful direct and cross-fire from his batteries. Here the contest raged with varying success for more than three-quarters of an hour; finally the line of the enemy was broken, and he gave way in great disorder.

In the meantime, my front, supported by Gen. Mahone, had been subjected to a heavy fire of artillery and musketry, and had begun to waver, and I feared I would be compelled to fall back. Just at this moment firing was heard far away to our left, and soon we saw our columns advancing upon the enemy's centre. This diverted a portion of the enemy's fire from us, and I succeeded in keeping my men steady. We [164] had now approached within a few hundred yards of the enemy's advanced batteries, and I again gave the order to charge, which was obeyed with promptness and alacrity.

We rushed forward, up the side of the hill under the brow of which we had been for some time halted, and dashing over the hill, reached another hollow or ravine immediately in front of, and, as it were, under, the enemy's guns. This ravine was occupied by a line of Yankee infantry posted there to protect their batteries. Upon this we rushed with such impetuosity that the enemy broke in great disorder and fled ....

The firing had now become general along the left and centre of our line, and night setting in, it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe.

Several of my command were killed by our own friends, who had come up on our immediate left, and who commenced firing long before they came within range of the enemy. This firing upon us from our friends, together with the increasing darkness, made our position peculiarly hazardous, but I determined to maintain it at all hazards, as long as a man should be left to fire a gun. The fire was terrific now, beyond anything I had ever witnessed, — indeed, the hideous shrieking of shells through the dusky gloom of closing night, the loud and incessant roll of artillery and small-arms, were enough to make the stoutest heart quail. Still my shattered little command, now reduced to less than 300, with about an equal number of Gen. Mahone's brigade, held our positions under the very muzzles of the enemy's guns, and poured volley after volley with murderous precision into their serried ranks. . . .

Just at this time a portion of Col. Ramseur's 49th N. C. regiment, having got lost upon the field, was hailed by me and ordered to fall in with my brigade. A strong picket was advanced all around our isolated position, and the wearied, hungry soldiers threw themselves upon the earth to snatch a few hours' rest. Detachments were ordered to search for water and administer to our poor wounded men, whose cries rent the air in every direction. Soon the enemy were seen with lanterns, busily engaged in moving their killed and wounded, and friend and foe freely mingled on that gloomy night in administering to the wants of wounded and dying comrades. . . .

‘Early on the morning of July 2, Gen. Ewell rode upon the field, and coming to the position where my men lay, I reported to him and was relieved from further watching on the field. . . . My loss in this engagement was very severe, amounting to 55 killed, 243 wounded, and 64 missing (total 362). I have no means of determining the loss of the enemy, though I am satisfied it was very heavy.’

Gen. Mahone reports that his brigade carried into action 1226, and lost 39 killed, 164 wounded, and 120 missing (total 323).

Wright's report gives a clear idea of the fighting upon our right flank. Next, on the left, Semmes and Kershaw also made, [165] perhaps, the farthest advance of the attack, actually getting among the enemy's guns, where lay the body of a handsome young Louisiana officer, next morning, the farthest jetsam of the red wave which had stained all the green fields of our advance. Both of these brigades had been forced to fall back, not so much from the fire of the enemy in their front, as from that of their friends farther on the left, advancing on converging lines in the dusk. There were more troops concentrated in the forest in a small space than could be well handled, even in daylight; and the plateau over which their charge was to be made, when they got free of the wood, was so bare of shelter, and swept by such fire of musketry and artillery, that not a single brigade faced it long without being driven back. The official reports show that in the storm and smoke around them single brigades often thought themselves to be the only ones engaged.

D. H. Hill, whose advance was across the plateau, thus describes the attack by his division:—

While conversing with my brigade commanders, shouting was heard on our right, followed by the roar of musketry. We all agreed that this was the signal agreed upon, and I ordered my division to advance. This, as near as I could judge, was about an hour and a half before sundown. . . .

‘The division fought heroically and well, but fought in vain. Garland, in my immediate front, showed all his wonted courage and enthusiasm, but he needed and asked for reenforcements. I sent Lt.-Col. Newton, 6th Ga., to his support, and, observing a brigade by a fence in our rear, I galloped back to it and found it to be that of Gen. Toombs. I ordered it forward to support Garland, and accompanied it. The brigade advanced handsomely to the brow of the hill, but soon retreated in disorder. Gordon, commanding Rodes's brigade, pushed gallantly forward and gained considerable ground, but was forced back. The gallant and accomplished Meares, 3d N. C., Ripley's brigade, had fallen at the head of his regiment, and that brigade was streaming to the rear. Colquitt's and Anderson's brigades had also fallen back. Ransom's brigade had come up to my support from Gen. Huger. It moved too far to the left and became mixed up with a mass of troops near the parsonage on the Quaker road, suffering much and effecting little. Gen. Winder was sent up by Gen. Jackson, but he came too late, and also went to the same belt of woods near the parsonage, already overcrowded with troops. Finally Gen. Ewell came up, but it was after dark, and nothing could be accomplished. I advised him to hold the ground he had gained and not to attempt a forward movement.’


Gen. Toombs's account of the advance of his brigade will give some idea of the confusion of commands upon the field after the battle was in full tide: —

Accordingly, I advanced rapidly in line of battle through the dense woods, intersected by ravines, occasionally thick brier patches, and other obstructions, guided only by the enemy's fire in keeping direction, frequently retarded and sometimes broken, by troops in front of me, until the command reached the open field on the elevated plateau immediately in front of, and in short range of, the enemy's guns. Here, coming up with a portion of the troops which I was ordered to support, I halted my line for the purpose of rectifying it and of allowing many of the troops whom I was to support, to pass me and form. These objects were but imperfectly accomplished by me, as well as by the rest of the troops within my view, from the great confusion and disorder in the field — arising much from the difficulties of the ground over which they had to pass, and in part from the heavy fire of grape and canister and shells, which the enemy's batteries were pouring in upon them. But, having accomplished what could be done of this work, I ordered my brigade to advance. It moved forward steadily and firmly until it came up with the troops in advance, who had halted. I then ordered it to halt, and ordered the men to lie down, which they did, and received the enemy's fire for a considerable time, when an order was repeated along my line, coming from the left, directing the line to oblique to the left. This order I immediately and promptly countermanded as soon as it reached the part of the line where I stood, and arrested it in part. I saw that the immediate effect of the movement was to throw the troops into the woods and ravines on the left of the plateau, and necessarily throw them into great confusion. . . .

In the meantime Gen. Kershaw came into the field with his brigade, near one of my regiments, the 2d Ga., which still remained in very good order; and my adjutant, Capt. Du Bose, proposed to him to unite that, and some other companies of other regiments, with his command in the attack on the enemy's batteries, to which he assented; and this command, under Cols. Butt and Holmes, accompanied by Capt. Du Bose and Maj. Alexander (my quartermaster, who acted as one of my aides on the field) advanced with Gen. Kershaw's brigade beyond the edge of the wood into the open field, but, under the destructive fire of the enemy's cannon and small-arms, wavered and fell back into the road skirting the pine thicket. . . .

‘My losses were very severe, the total being 194 killed and wounded, out of about 1200 carried into action. I am happy to add that the disorders which did arise were, due rather to the difficulties of the ground, and the nature of the attack, than from any other cause, and that as far as my observation went, they extended to all troops engaged on the [167] plateau in front of the enemy's guns. This is further evidenced by the fact that at roll-call next morning over 800 of my command answered to their names, leaving under 200 unaccounted for, many of whom soon made their appearance.’

There is no doubt that the entire force which had been engaged was wrecked for the time being, and that, had the enemy been in position for a counterstroke, the fragments could have made but little opposition. But A. P. Hill and Longstreet were close in rear, and Whiting's, Jackson's, and Ewell's divisions were on the left, and Holmes a few miles off on the right. The enemy, moreover, having sent ahead all of their trains, were now very low both in ammunition and provisions, and could scarcely have ventured anything serious.

Whiting's division had suffered 175 casualties in its two brigades, and 19 in Hampton's brigade, from the enemy's artillery fire, while lying in support of our artillery in Poindexter's field. Including with these the losses in Jackson's and Ewell's divisions and Lawton's brigade, the casualties were 599. In Magruder's division the casualties were 2014, and in Huger's, including Ransom's brigade, 1609. In Rodes's, Colquitt's, and Ripley's brigades of D. H. Hill's division, the casualties were making 889, a total, so far, of 5111. The other two brigades, Anderson's and Garland's, report only their total casualties for the campaign as 863 and 844, a total of 1707. A half, 854, is a moderate estimate for their losses at Malvern.

This would make our total losses 5965 or more; those of the enemy could scarcely have reached 2000, but the casualties of different battles are not separated.

Of Jackson's part in this action there is very little to be said. He took no initiative, though complying promptly with orders or requests as received. But had he been the Jackson of the Valley, being on the left flank that morning, he would have turned Malvern Hill by his left, and taken position commanding the road somewhere beyond Turkey Creek. Malvern should not have been attacked; only the enemy observed and held by Longstreet, while Jackson got a position which they would be forced to assault.

Lee's report sums up the subsequent operations briefly, as follows: — [168]

‘On July 2, it was discovered that the enemy had withdrawn during the night, leaving the ground covered with his dead and wounded, and his route exhibiting abundant evidence of precipitate retreat. The pursuit was commenced, Gen. Stuart with his cavalry in the advance, but a violent storm which prevailed throughout the day greatly retarded our progress. The enemy, harassed and followed closely by the cavalry, succeeded in gaining Westover and the protection of his gunboats. He immediately began to fortify his position, which was one of great natural strength, flanked on each side by a creek, and the approach to his front commanded by the heavy guns of his shipping in addition to those mounted in his intrenchments. It was deemed inexpedient to attack him, and in view of the condition of our troops, who had been marching and fighting almost incessantly for seven days, under the most trying circumstances, it was determined to withdraw in order to afford them the repose of which they stood so much in need.’

One episode of the pursuit, however, is worthy of note. On July 2, but little progress was made by the infantry, owing to the heavy rain-storm, but Stuart's cavalry (which had recrossed the Chickahominy by fording at Forge Bridge on the afternoon of July 1) followed the enemy and endeavored to shell his columns wherever opportunity offered. About 5 P. M. the last of these columns had arrived at its destination on the James River, Harrison's Landing,— a peninsula about four miles long by one and a half wide, formed by Herring Creek on the northeast, running for that distance nearly parallel to the James before emptying into it. At its head a small inlet from the river on the southwest left but a narrow front exposed to attack.

But, across Herring Creek, an extensive plateau called Evelington Heights dominates the upper part of this peninsula so that, if held by artillery, the enemy would be forced to attack at a disadvantage — the creek being impassable for some distance above. During Wednesday night, Stuart received a report from Pelham, commanding his artillery, describing this position and recommending its being seized. He forwarded the report to Lee, through Jackson, and early on the 3d, with a few cavalry and a single howitzer, nearly out of ammunition, he ran off a Federal squadron and took possession of the heights. It is a pity that there was any ammunition, for Stuart writes that —

‘the howitzer was brought in action in the river road to fire upon the enemy's camp below. Judging from the great commotion and excitement below, it must have had considerable effect.’


It did have considerable effect of a most unfortunate kind for us. It awaked the enemy to instant appreciation of the fact that it was essential for him to hold that ground, and that it behooved him to take it before we brought up any more force. A military lesson is to be learned from the result, to wit, that dangers lurk in excess of enterprise as well as in its deficiency. In this campaign our cavalry affords two instances. Stuart's zeal, without necessity, led him to make the circuit of McClellan's army, June 11-15. The result was that McClellan was prepared to change his base to the James as soon as he found Lee threatening his communications. Now, the temptation to shell a camp and wagon trains loses to our army its last chance to take a position which would compel the enemy to assume the offensive. One howitzer could, of course, accomplish nothing but to alarm the enemy, and precipitate their attack.

When Stuart opened fire, he thought that both Longstreet and Jackson were near. In fact, neither was within miles. Jackson had been sent in direct pursuit, being nearest the most direct roads, and his troops having been least engaged during the Seven Days. Two of the four brigades of his own division had been so little exposed as to have had together but two killed and 26 wounded, in the whole campaign. His 3d brigade, Winder's, had had but 75 casualties at Gaines Mill, and 104 at Malvern. Lawton's brigade, and Ewell's and Whiting's divisions, had only been severely engaged at Gaines Mill.

Longstreet, with A. P. Hill's and his own divisions, was on the 2d moved around the field of battle to Poindexter's house, and on the 3d was sent by roads to the left of Jackson. By mistake of the guides he was conducted too far to the left, and only reached Evelington Heights about dark on the 3d; Jackson's troops came up at the same time by the direct road.

Jackson's official report says: —

‘On the morning of the 3d, my command arrived near the landing and drove in the enemy's skirmishers,’ but the date is shown by all other reports to be a clerical error for the 4th.

Had Stuart not opened fire, the enemy would not have disturbed him that day. During it McClellan wrote to the Secretary of War, as follows: — [170]

‘I am in hopes the enemy is as completely worn out as we are. He was certainly very severely punished in the last battle. The roads are now very bad. For these reasons I hope we shall now have enough breathing space to reorganize and rest the men, and get them into position before the enemy can attack again. . . . It is, of course, impossible to estimate, as yet, our losses, but I doubt whether there are to-day more than 50,000 men with their colors.’

By the next morning 21 Confederate brigades had arrived and would have been upon Evelington Heights had Stuart not forced the enemy to come over and occupy them. McClellan's 50,000 men would then have had the task of removing them.

Stuart thus describes his resistance: —

I held the ground from 9 A. M. till 2 P. M., when the enemy had contrived to get one battery into position on this side the creek. The fire was, however, kept up until a body of infantry was found approaching by our right flank. I had no apprehension, however, as I felt sure Longstreet was near by, and, although Pelham had but two rounds of ammunition left, I held out, knowing how important it was to hold the ground till Longstreet arrived.

‘The enemy's infantry advanced, and his battery kept up its fire. I just then learned that Longstreet had taken the wrong road and was then at Nance's shop, six or seven miles off. Pelham fired his last round, and the sharp-shooters, strongly posted in the skirt of woods bordering the plateau, exhausted every cartridge, but had at last to retire. . . . The next day, July 4, Gen. Jackson's command drove in the enemy's advanced pickets. I pointed out the position of the enemy, now occupying, apparently in force, the plateau from which I shelled their camp the day before, and showed him the routes by which the plateau could be reached, to the left, and submitted my plan for dispossessing the enemy and attacking his camp. This was subsequently laid before the commanding general.’

From the Federal reports it appears that the enemy occupied the heights on the afternoon of July 3 with Franklin's division. The next morning Longstreet was up with his own and A. P. Hill's division and two brigades of Magruder's. Jackson was also up with his own, Ewell's, Whiting's, and D. H. Hill's divisions. Lee did not reach the field until noon, and, as Longstreet ranked Jackson, he ordered the enemy's pickets driven in and preparation made for an attack.

A favorable opportunity was presented to regain the Evelington Heights by main force. They were occupied by but one [171] division, and, being across Herring Creek from the rest of the Federal army, it could not have been rapidly reenforced. There would have been very small risk in making the effort so earnestly urged by Stuart, for McClellan would never have dared a counterstroke, had we failed. The enemy's gunboats could have rendered little assistance, as their own camps and lines intervened. Briefly, the game seems to have been worth the candle, and it should have been played.

Jackson's troops, however, were in front, and Jackson protested against the attack, saying that the troops were not in proper condition, and asking for delay until Lee should reach the field. To this Longstreet consented, and when Lee arrived, Jackson's arguments prevailed and the attack was given up. It was entirely unlike Lee, and he must have reluctantly yielded to Jackson's persuasion. Evidently, Jackson was still not the Jackson of the Valley.

The next day the troops were moved back toward Richmond, and the campaign was ended.

The total casualties of the two armies for the Seven Days were: —

Confederate:killed 3286,wounded 15,909,missing 946,total 20,141
Federal:killed 1734,wounded 8,062,missing 6053,total 15,849

Including the Federal wounded, we took about 10,000 prisoners and captured 52 guns and about 35,000 muskets. We lost two guns in the stampede in Holmes's division.

For a week after McClellan had established himself at Westover, he neglected to occupy the opposite bank of the James. As the fire of his gunboats commanded it, he could do so at pleasure, but as long as he did not, it was much better for us that he should not. Again, however, the temptation to shell a camp proved irresistible, and Lee was persuaded to authorize an expedition for the purpose under Pendleton's supervision.

On July 12 some 47 rifled guns were collected, positions chosen, and ranges marked for night firing. After midnight they opened fire upon the Federal transports, wharves, and camps, and used up their small supplies of ammunition in a random cannonade. The enemy replied in like fashion, both from the shore and from gunboats. Of course, there was much commotion in the [172] Federal camps, but the actual damage done was trifling. Some 40 casualties are reported among the Federals, and two or three among the Confederate artillerists.

The next day the Federals established themselves on the South Side. The strategic advantages of a position astraddle of the James River have already been referred to (page 61, Chap. III.), but they were not yet generally appreciated. Fortunately for us, Lincoln and Halleck recalled McClellan and his army to Washington without ever realizing them; although McClellan had tried hard to impress them upon his superiors. Fortunately, too, for us, Gen. S. G. French, in command at Petersburg, saw and appreciated the threat of the position, and immediately began the construction of a line of intrenchments about that city. These intrenchments, in 1864, defeated some attempts at surprise; and at last enabled Beauregard, with two divisions, to withstand the attack of Grant's whole army, between June 15 and 18 of that year.

My personal duties during the Seven Days were the supervision and distribution of our ammunition supplies. Our organized division supply trains and brigade wagons worked smoothly, and no scarcity was felt anywhere.

In addition to these duties, I was placed in charge of a balloon which had been manufactured in Savannah by Dr. Edward Cheves, and sent to Gen. Lee for use in reconnoitring the enemy's lines. It was made from silk of many patterns, varnished with gutta-percha car-springs dissolved in naphtha, and inflated at the Richmond Gas Works with ordinary city gas.

I saw the battle of Gaines Mill from it, and signalled information of the movement of Slocum's division across the Chickahominy to reenforce Porter. Ascensions were made daily, and when the enemy reached Malvern Hill, the inflated balloon would be carried down the river and ascensions made from the deck of a boat. Unfortunately, on July 4, the boat — the Teaser, a small armed tug —got aground below Malvern Hill on a falling tide, and a large Federal gunboat, the Maritanza, came up and captured both boat and balloon, the crew escaping.

We could never build another balloon, but my experience with this gave me a high idea of the possible efficiency of balloons [173] in active campaigns. Especially did we find, too, that the balloons of the enemy forced upon us constant troublesome precautions in efforts to conceal our marches.

Malvern Hill to Westover

As affording a bird's-eye view of our organization and of the forces engaged in the different actions, and the severity of the conflicts, a table of Confederate division casualties is attached, showing as accurately as can be determined, the losses of each [174] command for each action. The total Federal losses in killed and wounded (excluding prisoners) is also approximately divided for the principal actions as nearly as records permit.

Division Casulaties. Seven days before Richmond

Whiting's Div.210171751192
Jackson's Div.391117208
Lawton's Brig.149275567
Ewell's Div.4764223987
D. H.Hill's Div.558614231743153767
Margruder's corps D. R. Jone's Div.2424455879
Margruder's corps McLaws's Div.2357315672
Margruder's corps Margruder's Div.2848749967
Longstreet's Div.6188325554438
Huger's Div.311373941531
A. P. Hill's Div.6764268875084210
Holmes's Div.3499178677
Pendleton's Art.22
Stuart's Cav.7171
Totals 10 Divisions391350835844133055590112420168
Federal Losses (killed and wounded only)36140014002034200010009796

1 His report says, — ‘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.’

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