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The rear-guard at Malvern Hill.

I.--by Henry E. Smith, Brevet Major, U. S. A.

Referring to the retreat from Malvern Hill, July 2d, General McClellan gives Keyes's corps the credit of furnishing the entire rear-guard. According to the report of Colonel Averell, of the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, the rear-guard was made his command and consisted of his regiment of Heintzelman's corps, First Brigade of Regular Infantry, consisting of the 3d, 4th, 12th, and 14th Infantry, of Porter's corps, and the New York Chasseurs, of Keyes's corps. The “Official Records,” Vol. XI., Part II., p. 235, confirm this statement. In the same volume, p. 193, will be found Keyes's official report, but no mention of Averell. In fact, Averell was the rear-guard to Turkey Bridge and a mile beyond that point, where he found General Wessells of Keyes's corps. The official reports of Fitz John Porter, Sykes, and Buchanan all speak of Averell as having covered this retreat. The writer was a first lieutenant in the 12th Infantry, and in command of Company D, First Battalion, at Malvern Hill, and remembers distinctly that the First Brigade of Regulars slept on the field on the night of July 1st in line of battle. We were surprised the next morning to find that the entire army had retreated during the night, leaving Averell with his small command as a rear-guard to cover the retreat, which was done in the masterly manner stated by General McClellan, but by Averell, and not by Keyes.

United Service Club, Philadelphia, May 25th, 1885.

II.--by Erasmus D. Keyes, Major-General, U. S. V.

A few days ago, in Switzerland, my attention was called to a communication in the August [1885] number of “The century,” p. 642, which falsifies history. It is under the heading, “The rear-guard after Malvern Hill,” and is signed Henry E. Smith. Mr. Smith asserts that it was General Averell who commanded the rear-guard, and that to Averell, and not to Keyes, belongs the credit which General McClellan gives the latter in his article. Mr. Smith cites authorities for his statements, and refers to the “Official Records of the Rebellion,” Vol. XI., Part II., p. 235, and to my report, p. 193, same volume, in which he says there is “no mention of Averell.” It is not unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Smith had read General McClellan's and my reports, since he refers to them, but it is certain that he discredits both, and that he rejects my claim to approval unceremoniously [see p. 435]. General McClellan says, in his book, “Report . . . of the Army of the Potomac,” etc., p. 273:
The greater portion of the transportation of the army having been started for Harrison's Landing during the night of the 30th of June and the 1st of July, the order for the movement of the troops was at once issued upon the final repulse of the enemy at Malvern Hill. The order prescribed a movement by the left and rear, General Keyes's corps to cover the manoeuvre. It was not carried out in detail as regards the divisions on the left, the roads being somewhat blocked by the rear of our trains. Porter and Couch were not able to move out as early as had been anticipated, and Porter found it necessary to place a rear-guard between his command and the enemy. Colonel Averell, of the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, was intrusted with this delicate duty. He had under his command his own regiment and Lieutenant-Colonel Buchanan's brigade of regular infantry and one battery. By a judicious use of the resources at his command, he deceived the enemy so as to cover the withdrawal of the left wing without being attacked, remaining himself on the previous day's battle-field until about 7 o'clock of the 2d of July. Meantime General Keyes, having received his orders, commenced vigorous preparations for covering the movement of the entire army, and protecting the trains. It being evident that the immense number of wagons and artillery pertaining to the army could not move with celerity along a single road, General Keyes took advantage of every accident of the ground to open new avenues, and to facilitate the movement. He made preparations for obstructing the roads after the army had passed, so as to prevent any rapid pursuit, destroying effectually Turkey Bridge, on the main road, and rendering other roads and approaches temporarily impassable, by felling trees across them. He kept the trains well closed up, and directed the march so that the troops could move on each side of the road, not obstructing the passage, but being in good position to repel an attack from any quarter. Hi s dispositions were so successful that, to use his own words, “ I do not think that more vehicles or more public property were abandoned on the march from Turkey Bridge than would have been left, in the same state of the roads, if the army had been moving toward the enemy, instead of away from him ”--and when it is understood that the carriages and teams belonging to this army, stretched out in one line, would extend not far from forty miles, the energy and caution necessary for their safe withdrawal from the presence of an enemy vastly superior in numbers, will be appreciated . . Great credit must be awarded to General Keyes for the skill and energy which characterized his performance of the important and delicate duties intrusted to his charge.

The above extract defines General Averell's duties on the field of Malvern, and gives him credit, and it is equally distinct in reference to me, but General McClellan's article is vague in its expressions regarding the same subjects. As Mr. Smith's article is historically erroneous, I trust you will consider it just to give place to this explanation, and to the following short account of “The rear-guard after Malvern Hill.”

After the battle of Malvern Hill, which was fought on the 1st of July, 1862, the army retired to Harrison's Landing. Late in the evening of that day I received orders from Adjutant-General Seth Williams to command the rear-guard. I spent nearly the whole night making preparatory arrangements; dispatched a party to destroy Turkey Bridge; selected twenty-five expert axe-men under Captain Clarke, 8th Illinois Cavalry, with orders to chop nearly through all the large trees that lined the road below the bridge. All my orders were well executed, and within fifteen minutes after the tail of the column passed, the bridge was destroyed without blowing up, and the road blocked beyond [435] the possibility of passage by wheels and cavalry, and made difficult for infantry for several hours.

The force composing the rear-guard consisted of Peck's division of infantry and four batteries of artillery of my own corps, Gregg's 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry and Farnsworth's 8th Illinois Cavalry. Averell's regiment of cavalry was also designated in a dispatch sent me by Adjutant-General Williams, and he may have taken part below the bridge, but I do not remember to have seen him during the day.

The danger to the trains arose from the fact that the narrow country roads were insufficient in number, and their composition was mostly clay, which was soon converted into mud by the torrents of rain which fell nearly the whole day, and from the liability to attack on the flank. The main road was skirted with woods on the left the entire distance, which is about seven miles from Turkey Bridge to Harrison's Landing. The opposite side of the main road was open, and the columns of troops could move parallel with the wagons. When General W. F. Smith came along at the head of his division, I was opposite an opening in the woods at the highest point of the road. Smith exclaimed to me: “Here's a good place for a battle!” “Would you like to have a fight?” said I. “Yes; just here, and now!” While the columns of troops were moving alongside the trains I felt no apprehension, but after they had all passed there still remained in rear not less than five hundred wagons struggling in the mud, and it was not above ten minutes after the last vehicle had entered the large field bordering the intended camp when the enemy appeared and commenced a cannonade upon us. Fortunately I had in position Miller's and McCarthy's batteries, and they replied with such effect that the attack was discontinued.

The anxiety at headquarters was such that I was authorized, in case of necessity, to cut the traces and drive the animals forward without their loads. Nothing of that kind was done, and we saved all the wagons except a small number that broke down and were as necessarily abandoned as a vessel in a convoy would be after it had sunk in the ocean.

About the middle of the day I received a note from headquarters at Harrison's Landing, of which the following is a copy:

General: I have ordered back to your assistance all the cavalry that can be raised here. It is of the utmost importance that we should save all our artillery, and as many of our wagons as possible; and the commanding general feels the utmost confidence that you will do all that can be done to accomplish this. Permit me to say that if you bring in everything you will accomplish a most signal and meritorious exploit, which the commanding general will not fail to represent in its proper light to the Department. Very respectfully,

R. B. Marcy, Chief of Staff. July 2d.
Brigadier-General Keyes.

General McClellan came out half a mile and met me. I was engaged sending forward sheaves of wheat to fill the ruts in the road near camp, which were so deep that in spite of all efforts to fill them, about 1200 wagons were parked for the night under guard outside. The general appeared well satisfied with what had been done by the rear-guard, and after all the proofs cited above, it is scarcely probable that he made a mistake in the name of its commander.

Blangy, Seine-Inferieure, France, August 20, 1885.

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