- The week's campaign before Richmond, continued -- battle of Gaines's Mill -- sketches of the Generals previous to the battle -- position of Jackson -- advance of Wilcox, Featherstone, and Pryor -- the centre under Ambrose Hill -- the Texan brigade brought into action -- McClellan's infantry charge -- defeat of his right wing and centre -- the field of battle -- capture of guns and booty -- death of Major Wheat -- Confederates in striped pantaloons.
Hogan's residence, Lee's temporary quarters, was not far from the river, and I could distinctly see our batteries and troops at Garnett's farm (Magruder's quarters) on the south bank, and in a direct line across. It was' now about one P. M., and as we had full possession of both banks thus far, several couriers rode over to Magruder, and one of his heavy batteries immediately opened upon the woods on the north bank, about a mile to our immediate front, in order to clear the way for our further advance. Our skirmishers were far ahead, popping away in the timber, and in addition to this evidence, the occasional discharge of field-pieces told we were gradually working towards Gaines's Mills. The enemy had abandoned a fine field-work in Hogan's orchard, and several other important structures still closer to the river. This house was badly shattered by our shot and shell, and seemed to be very shaky; in the upper rooms we saw large stains of blood, near where a shell had entered; we were told by prisoners that McClellan had used the place occasionally in his journeys along the lines, and that on one occasion, while all were in bed, a shell came whizzing across, and cleared its way completely through the walls, killing one aid-de-camp. and severely wounding another! Be this as it may, some were killed at this spot during our frequent artillery duels; the out-houses bore every appearance of having been used for hospitals, while numerous mounds of earth spoke of sepulture. The whole yard and orchard were now occupied by general  officers, aids, couriers, and prisoners. Lee sat in the south portico absorbed in thought. He was neatly dressed in a dark blue uniform, buttoned to the throat; his fine calm open countenance and grey hair would have tempted an artist to sketch him in this thoughtful attitude. Longstreet sat in an old garden-chair, at the foot of the steps, under shady trees, busily engaged in disposing of a lunch of sandwiches. With his feet thrown against a tree, he presented a true type of the hardy campaigner; his once grey uniform had changed to brown, and many a button was missing; his riding-boots were dusty and worn, but his pistols and sabre had a bright polish by his side, while his charger stood near, anxiously looking at him, as if expecting a morsel of bread and meat. Though the day was warm, the General's coat was buttoned up as well as it could be, and as he ate and conversed freely with those around him, it was evident that his sandy beard, moustaches, and half-bald head, had latterly had but distant dealings with a barber. He is a little above medium height, thick-set, inclined to obesity, and has a small inquiring blue eye; though thoughtful and slow of motion, he is remarkably industrious. He was a major in the United States army, and being absent in the South-West when the rebellion opened, he hurried on to the scene of action, and has greatly distinguished himself. He appears to be about thirty-five or forty years of age, and is now Major-General C. S. A. Of his frequent successes, much is said in the course of this narrative. Maxy Gregg sits his horse in the shade, conversing with a few about the affair at Ellison's Mills, and seems a very modest, quiet gentleman, of about fifty. His hair is grey; he has full whiskers and moustaches and a ruddy complexion; in person, he is thick-set, of medium height, and is jocular in his manner. His uniform looked the worse for wear; even the three stars upon his throat being dingy and ragged, while his common black felt hat would not bring half a dollar at any place in times of peace. But he is well mounted and armed, and keeps an eye on General Lee, by whom he expects, to be called at any moment. He is a famous lawyer of South-Carolina, and when the United States were at war with Mexico, President Polk offered him the majorship of the first additional regiment of regulars which was then being raised. He served  during that campaign, but achieved no distinction until the affair at Vienna, when he successfully smashed up a Dutch General's reconnoissance on the railroad, as narrated in another place. Gregg is called! he leans his head through a window and converses with Lee, but trots away as if dissatisfied. “There goes Gregg,” some one remarks, “looking as black as thunder because not appointed to the advance.” Wilcox, Pryor, and Featherstone are also present, conversing freely and gaily, as if about to start upon some pleasant “pic-nic.” The latter is a long-bodied, eagle-faced, quiet man of thirty-five years, without moustaches or whiskers, with a prominent Roman nose and compressed lips; he leans forward uneasily in his saddle, and with his downcast eyes appears very thoughtful; but he is a desperate, unflinching man when once aroused. He seems to take little notice of complimentary remarks regarding the action at Beaver Dam Creek in the morning, but is absorbed and anxious for the work assigned him. He is a thorough soldier, and when commanding the Seventeenth Mississippi, drilled his battalion thrice a day through all the heat of summer, apparently enjoying the exercise more than any. At Leesburgh he led his regiment in the last charge, and drove many of the enemy into the river. He is a lawyer and politician of note in Mississippi, very careless of dress, and very blunt in his manner. Having received orders, Wilcox, Featherstone, and Pryor ride off at a gallop, and some prophesy that the advance will soon begin. Besides these and other generals, there are a few civilians present, chiefly land-owners in the neighborhood, who have come to see the havoc perpetrated by General Sykes's regulars, who were encamped around here. A courier comes galloping forward, delivers his papers to Lee, who soon after mounts, and with Longstreet and staffs, proceeds to New Coal Harbor, where it is said Jackson's right wing has already arrived. Magruder's guns have stopped their cannonade, and the advance begins, through the woods towards Gaines's Mills. Jackson was in position at New Coal Harbor on the left, and Ambrose Hill in the centre; it now devolved on Longstreet and D. H. Hill to move forward and get into position on our right. With skirmishers thrown out in the woods, Longstreet  moved cautiously forward, and drove in the enemy's outposts as he proceeded. Halting in the woods, west of Gaines's House, Pryor's column was sent forward about three P. M. to clear the woods and river-bank, south of Gaines's House, of a force stationed there to annoy us. After this was Accomplished, and the enemy driven across a creek eastward, and at right angles with the river, (running here east and west,) part of Longstreet's force left the woods and halted around Gaines's House, beyond range of the enemy, on rising ground to the north. To facilitate a full conception of this heavy and obstinate battle, let the following suffice in lieu of maps. The reader is requested to imagine a large field, more than a mile square. The north-eastern and north-western quarters will represent high flat lands, with the Federal force occupying the north-eastern quarter, backed by woods. A creek, which runs from the north to the Chickahominy, forms the southern boundary of this supposed square. The Federal cannon command the north-eastern quarter, which is flat and level, as also the south-eastern and south-western quarters, which are considerably lower. In the south-western corner stands Gaines's House and Mills, by which we approach on a road that ascends north-eastwardly to the centre of the field, runs through McClellan's position, and terminates in the north-eastern corner. A road also comes into the field at the north-western corner, and it was at this point (New Coal Harbor) that Jackson arrived. A line drawn due east and west will represent a broad brook running eastward into the creek to the rear of the Federals; but the only wood in this square field borders this brook from the centre point running due west, being a steep and timbered ascent on to the plateau of the north-western corner. In a word, it “ might be said” the north-eastern and of the western quarters are much higher than the south-eastern and south-western quarters; the latter much lower, and all ascent to the north-western quarter debarred by a broad brook, with timbered land abruptly rising at the back. With cannon on the north-eastern corner, where the enemy stood in line of battle, they swept the other three quarters; but to prevent the passage of the brook and woods, the common boundary of the north and south-western quarters, a strong breastwork  overlooked the brook in the woods, while through the timber and up the hill rose many rifle-pits, and above all some dozen pieces of artillery, placed on the edge of this belt of timber, covering the breastworks, rifle-pits, etc., and sweeping all approach from Gaines's Mills in the south-western quarter. This brook and wooded hill was also the front of the north-western quarter, so that all approach to the enemy was over such difficulties, while several field-works were erected on the line due north and east to prevent all flanking movements in that direction. McClellan's position was admirably chosen and well fortified. To defend it he had brought over many troops from the south bank (his south centre) by bridges not more than a mile distant, protected from all attack by a strongly fortified camp and hill in the south-eastern corner of the field, its foot being washed by the creek before mentioned, which empties here into the Chickahominy. When Longstreet's and D. H. Hill's division, therefore, debouched from the woods near the Mills in the southwestern quarter, the glitter of bayonets made the Federals plainly visible in battle array on the high grounds of the northeastern quarter. A few shell were thrown at the head of our column, but without doing hurt, and not a shot was fired from the belt of timber crowning the ascent from the centre, west and north-western boundaries of the plateau. The enemy wished us to suppose that the passage to the north-western quarter would be undisputed, and that all they desired was a fair, open fight, when we reached the plateau. It was now four P. M., and Ambrose Hill having opened the fight to the left, Pryor, Wilcox, and Featherstone moved through the woods to the west. Having got sufficiently under the hill to prevent loss from shell thrown from the north-eastern quarter, each commander gathered his troops well together, gave the word, “File right, double-quick!” and under a storm of lead from the hill, ran eastward, parallel with the brook, gave the word, “By the left flank-double quick!” and in less than three minutes, Wilcox on the right, Featherstone in the centre, and Pryor on the left, were rushing along the open towards the brook. Here, having descended the “dip,” they jumped into the brook, and tumbling or clambering over logs and brushwood, found themselves confronted by a heavy force  of the enemy who were posted behind a long breastwork, and in rifle-pits on higher ground to the rear. The manner of our approach was the best that could be devised, for had these brigades marched in the fields, instead of creeping through the woods and hollows, to the west of this “rise,” few would have survived the hailstorm which awaited them. By cautiously approaching at right angles with the brook, until near it, giving the word, “File rightdouble-quick,” until each had got into position in line, and then, “By the left flank-double quick I” it brought the brigades directly under the rising ground, protected from the fire of the northeastern quarter; and by rapidly moving, they got so near the brook, that cannon on the rise to the rear could not be depressed sufficiently to hit, without killing their own men, who were now hand to hand with ours at the brook, and obstinately defending their line of breastworks. In such a position, and on such broken ground, officers saw it would be impossible to ride, and as many horses had been shot in the morning at Beaver Dam Creek, Wilcox, Featherstone, Pryor, and other officers, left their steeds in the woods, where they had been quietly drawn up since two P. M.; and when orders came to advance, they buttoned up their coats, pressed down their hats, drew their swords, and dashed forward on foot, giving the word of command in tones which were audible amid the roar of musketry. Though many fell in the rush while “filing right” from the woods, and “by the left flank” across the open, down the “dip” to the brook, none faltered; ranks closed up as soon as broken, and each brigade seemed emulous of the others in keeping a straight and unbroken front, as if executing “double-quick” movements in a divisional drill, There was much confusion at the brook, which had been deepened and made still more difficult by every impediment that could be devised. But, once across, our men scaled the wooden and earthen line of wall that overlooked it, and were soon desperately engaged with masses of infantry, who retired up the hill and kept up a deafening roar of musketry against our farther advance. The situation was critical, but while our skirmishers “fanned out” in front, and from behind every tree  fired into whole regiments before them, lines were re-formed, and cheers told of our continual progress. The enemy's skirmishers, concealed in bushes, disputed the ground inch by inch, while an unbroken line behind them on higher ground fired upon us, over the heads of their sharpshooters. In fact, there were “three tiers” of combatants opposed to our advance-first a dense body of skirmishers; next, a few yards to the rear, and on higher ground, an unbroken line of battle; and thirdly, still farther behind, and on the edge of the unwooded plateau, a line of cannon, which depressed as much as possible, fairly shaved our heads, blew off our caps, and broke our bayonet-points! “Warm work, this!” one of the generals remarked, as he ran in our rear towards the right, with a regiment to meet a flanking force entering the woods from the north-eastern plateau-“warm work, colonel, but push them hard, sir, for every thing depends on us.” This admonition was not necessary to stir up our men, for they knew that fewer would fall from rushing to “close quarters” than by advancing slowly, and firing from “long taw.” Accordingly, the word rang out from wing to wing, “Forward, march!” and, with indescribable yells, the advance began. The woods were soon completely filled with smoke, so much so that the position of the enemy could only be ascertained by the sudden flashes of light across our front. Standing erect, our men would reply with a deliberate volley, at fifty yards; rush forward, crouch an4 load, while the return volley swept over our heads, and cart-loads of leaves and branches cut by the storm well-nigh buried us. Our men in return aimed up hill, but sufficiently low, at the line of legs just visible under the smoke; and such was the precision of fire, that as we steadily advanced, we had to stride over bodies which lay just as they had fallen, in regular line, but seldom with the faces turned towards us. The destructiveness of our fire far surpassed any thing I have ever witnessed; but owing to the Indian or Zouave style of fighting instinctively adopted by our men, namely, of standing erect, taking deliberate aim, and firing; instantly bending low, or crawling several yards to the front; rapidly loading, waiting for a “return ;” and judging of distance by the line of legs visible under the dense vapor, which did not fall within two feet of the ground-our casualties were unaccountably  few, and those were of men mostly shot in the hand or arm, owing to the overshooting of the enemy. So far I have described the progress of the battle under Wilcox, Featherstone, and Pryor, the result being that the enemy are gradually falling back through the woods to the, plateau in the north-eastern and north-western corners of the field. But at the same time Ambrose Hill was vigorously pushing the centre of the enemy's line, and some of Jackson's forces had come into action on the left, from New Coal Harbor, by the road approaching the field in the north-western corner. Being driven from the woods and up the hill on to the plateau by our right and centre, the enemy fell back, and immediately threw forward a heavy force of artillery, which swept the open fields and tore down the edge of the captured woods in which our forces were resting and re-forming. Fatigued and torn as we were, work more desperate was yet in store for us. In the north-eastern corner of the field heavy masses of infantry stood in admirable order about half a mile distant. It was easy to see from the array of shining bayonets, the waving banners, and the perfect circle of artillery flame rapidly shelling north and south-west, that before we could advance through their still standing camps many thousands would inevitably fall. Ambrose Hill attempted to move forward in the centre, but his division, thoroughly exhausted by hard marching and constant fighting, was unequal to the task, and was withdrawn in favor of Whiting's division of Texans, Alabamians, and Mississippians. The troops of the two latter States had succored Pryor on the left, and had been actively engaged since the combat opened, but the Texan Brigade was held in reserve, and as this was the first “great fight” in which they had participated in Virginia, a desperate part was assigned them to act. While dispositions were being made for the final struggle, the sun sank upon the scene, and perhaps mistaking the cause of our inactivity, McClellan moved up heavy masses of infantry to drive us from the woods. Their advance was beautiful, and as they came on in unbroken line, with colors waving and men cheering, a thrill of admiration was felt by all. When within a hundred yards, our men, who lay close to the ground in the edge of the timber, received the volley, and rose  to their feet at a “ready!” The. Federal commanders then sprang to the front, and led on their men to the “charge!” They advanced a few yards in unbroken line — a few paces nearer their line began to waver, and swayed from wing to wing like a curving wave, and ere they recovered from their apparent indecision, our whole line delivered an accurate and deadly volley. Then high above the roll of musketry might be heard the yell of our men, as dashing headlong through their own smoke, they fell upon the disorganized masses of the enemy, bayoneting, pistolling, and knifing, in the wildest manner — driving them in the utmost confusion through their camps, seizing many guns, and approaching within a few yards of the cannon hastily thrown forward to cover the fugitive masses. As yet not a single piece of our artillery had been brought into action, and as the lands were flat and open, their guns opened upon us with redoubled fury; the right of their lines was still held by powerful earthworks, and our right exposed to a flank movement. This was attempted by the enemy, but Ambrose Hill, in withdrawing from the centre, had marched by our rear, and lay in wait, under cover of the conquered strip of woods, so that when their forces appeared on our right, Hill rose up to meet them. They were apparently astonished, and while engaged in re-forming their lines, and bringing forward fresh forces, their right was assailed with great fury by our left, and at the same time Jackson's main force, assured of our victory, was rapidly marching through the country to their right and rear. The absence of artillery sorely perplexed us, and particularly on our left, where the Federal cannon were sweeping all approach with canister and grape, playing north and southwest. Several regiments had been thrown forward to capture these pieces, but having proceeded some distance, were exhausted and baffled by the enemy changing position and gradually retiring. Occasionally rising to their feet, our thinned and bleeding regiments staggered forward a short distance farther, and suffering severely, again fell on their faces, and picked off scores of cannoniers, completely unmanning several guns. When charged by cavalry, our men, without forming square, closed up their broken files, and received the enemy  with such unerring aim that they never essayed to gallop down upon us again. Their infantry next appeared, but, without waiting for them, our men rushed forward and fired, which caused them to retreat in unmanageable confusion. Again and again their artillery opened fire, and it was evident they were gradually preparing to retreat. Suddenly their movements were accelerated. A wild shout arose to the rear!--on came the Texan Brigade, at a run, the officers in front, charging among their redoubts and guns; soon their right was broken, and while desperately engaged against great odds, the whole line closed up, and a hand-to-hand conflict ensued at all points! Clouds of dust, woods smoking on every hand, long lines of musketry fire, the deafening roar of artillery, and piercing yells, arose on every hand, while the dark, dense mass of the enemy slowly retired through their camps, across the creek and through the woods in the north-eastern corner of the field; the bursting of caissons, and the explosion of ammunition wagons, lighting up the scene on every hand. But while Whiting, Hood,1 Archer,2 Pryor, Wilcox, Featherstone, Ambrose Hill, and others, were hurling their commands at the stubborn enemy, and rapidly capturing guns, munitions, and prisoners at every turn, the distant roar of cannon several miles away to our front, breaks upon the car. News is soon brought that Jackson in person is breaking the enemy's line of retreat towards their fortified camps on the north bank of the Chickahominy, and that he has already captured several thousand prisoners, including cannon, wagons, and officers of all ranks.  Thus at eight P. M., Friday, June twenty-seventh, the Battle of Gaines's Mill was over, and the victory was ours! Couriers and generals and regiments moving to and fro, told that the enemy were to be hard pushed, and in anticipation of fresh hostilities on the morrow, nothing was to be left undone which might annihilate the right wing and centre, which had been opposed to us. It was obvious, indeed, from the roar of musketry to our front, and southward across the creek, that we were driving the enemy closely towards their fortified hills and camps on the banks of the Chickahominy, yet McClellan might even make a second attempt to maintain possession of the north bank, under cover of his numerous fortifications, which were still untouched. These could be seen, not more than a mile distant, with camp-fires burning; while rockets ascending in the star-lit sky, were communicating with Heintzelman and the left wing before Richmond on the south bank. The field was rich in booty. I myself counted fifteen magnificent brass and bronze field-pieces, pointed south-west and north-west, with caissons and horses and dozens of cannoniers, exactly as they were left by the vanquished owners. Camps, clothing, thousands of prisoners, and immense quantities of small arms, banners, drums, and other appurtenances of war, were gathered in a few hours, while most of the troops lay fast asleep where they had halted, many using a dead Federal for a pillow! The destruction was awful; and if many guns fell into our hands, heaps of blue-jackets round them told that they had been heroically defended. Many horses were shot; and the enemy, finding themselves unable to carry off the pieces, had deliberately cut the throats of the uninjured animals to prevent them falling into our hands. In fact, several artillerymen were caught in this inhuman act, and bayoneted upon the spot. The ground round the cannon was dyed purple. Judging from the placid countenances of many, I thought they were only sleeping; but on closer inspection invariably discovered a small hole in the side of the head, made by the unerring bullet of our sharpshooters! Two old farm-houses-one in the north-eastern and another in the north-western quarter-had been converted into field-hospitals, and when I passed, the large yards were covered with Yankees, many of their own surgeons attending them. Our  loss seemed to be in wounded, but theirs in dead! Though we had much the worse position, and no cannon to assist, the numbers of their dead, particularly in the woods, surpassed all I could have believed. The timber was literally crowded with blue-jackets, and regiments which had won those positions could scarcely find sufficient ground on which to bivouac, without trampling upon the poor creatures strewn in all directions. The groans of the wounded were heartrending, yet our men lit fires, and cooked their suppers as unconcerned as if naught had happened, while not ten paces from them they could not step without treading upon some dead or wounded enemy. Generals, colonels, and regiments were scattered through the timber, all engaged in boiling water or cooking bacon on pronged sticks, while ambulances and carriages were slowly moving to and fro all night, carrying off the wounded and bumping against some inanimate carcass in the darkness. “Hospital-corps,” litter-bearers, and others, were everywhere busy, while now and then a sufferer would pass in a bloodstained blanket, carried by six companions in solemn procession, a seventh leading the way through the woods with burning brands or lanterns. Ammunition wagons were busily engaged in distributing cartridge for the morrow, while artillerymen were cleaning the captured guns, and the movements of couriers delivering orders, the tramp of troops and the rumble of artillery, bespoke active operations in the morning. Spades were everywhere in request for interring the dead; comrades, pipe in mouth, consigned their relations to the humble grave without tears or words, while a few, more thoughtful, lingered by the camp-fires and talked of the incidents of battle. Among the many who perished on this occasion, none was more regretted than Major Robert Wheat, who had gloriously fallen while charging at the head of his Louisiana Battalion. All regretted the death of this valiant soldier, and many a stout heart was wrung with anguish when it was whispered: “Poor Wheat is gone!” “Bury me on the battle-field, boys!” said he, expiring beneath a majestic oak, surrounded by his weather-beaten Spartan heroes-“the field is ours, as usual, my boys-bury me on the battle-field!” He was interred beneath the lonely, wide-spreading oak, where he had fallen, and as his face in death was lit by torches, generals and privates  flocked to see the manly form of one whose voice and sabre had led in so many dangerous encounters, and who died without thanks from those who should have delighted to acknowledge his merit by promotion. Colonels gone; captains, lieutenants, and scores of privates gone; captains commanding regiments, and sergeants companies! Such was the state of things at Gaines's Mills, but none had faltered. Files were ploughed down by grape-shot and shell, yet brigadiers and colonels on foot in front waved their caps and swords — the only word heard above the din of battle was “Forward!” and amid hailstorms of lead the men “closed up” without a word, and annihilated the enemy's ranks with murderous volleys at short distances, closing with the foe, and scattering them in all directions. Regiments thus engaged suffered severely as a matter of course, yet it was impossible to estimate our loss at more than a third or fourth that of the enemy. While roaming over the field, gazing on the heaps of slain, I counted not less than ten Federal standard-bearers who had been laid in a small ditch in one of their camps. I knew them to be such by the leathern belts used for carrying the colors, and could not but remark that several were shot in the head and body by numerous balls, as if an entire volley had been fired at them. They were fine, well-developed, muscular fellows, and lay in death with closed hands as if the colors had been torn from them. The branch-covered huts scattered all round were filled with dead, and our men were quietly reposing in the rudely-made bunks, while the proprietors, doubtless, in many cases, were stretched in death but a few feet distant. As soon as the camps had fallen into our hands, and the enemy had retreated, our men laid violent hands on whatever food or clothing they discovered. They were so thoughtless in this respect that I saw many of them attired in suits of Yankee clothing, so that it was oftentimes difficult to distinguish between them and our prisoners. I could not blame the poor fellows for securing clothing of some kind; the greater number of them were ragged and dirty, and wearing-apparel could not be obtained at any price in Richmond. It was grotesque to wee a tall, well-developed Southerner attired in clothes much too  small, but the men themselves were delighted with the change, and strutted about with gold-corded shoulder-straps and striped pantaloons, often not sufficiently long to cover the ankle. I forebore making unpleasant remarks about the danger of wearing such clothes: several of our men were shot in consequence; venturing beyond the lines, they were mistaken for enemies, and before explanations could be offered, were laid lifeless.