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Chapter 8:

  • “the Seven days”

For about three weeks after the battle of Fair Oaks nothing of moment took place. By the 2d of June our left was advanced considerably beyond the lines it had occupied before the battle. The position at Fair Oaks was strengthened by a line of intrenchments which protected the troops while they were at work upon the bridges, gave security to the trains, liberated a large fighting-force, and afforded a safer retreat in case of disaster. To form these intrenchments was hard work: redoubts and embankments had to be raised, rifle-pits to be dug, and trees in great numbers to be cut down; and all this under the burning sun of a Virginia June. General McClellan was anxious to assume the offensive; it was his policy to do so, as the enemy were gaining and we were losing by the mere lapse of time. But no general battle could be risked until the two wings of the army were put in full [233] communication with each other, and that, too, by bridges strong enough to stand a flood and long enough to stretch across the whole bottom-land of the river. These necessary works were delayed, and the labors and exposures of the men greatly increased, by the incessant rains. General McClellan's communications to the authorities at Washington show how he was tried and baffled by the obstinately bad weather. On the 4th of June he telegraphs to the President, “Terrible rain-storm during the night and morning; not yet cleared off. Chickahominy flooded, bridges in bad condition;” and on the next day he says to the Secretary of War, “Rained most of the night; has now ceased, but it is not clear. The river still very high and troublesome.” On the 7th he tells the Secretary,--
The whole face of the country is a perfect bog, entirely impassable for artillery, or even cavalry, except directly in the narrow roads, which renders any general movement, either of this or the rebel army, utterly out of the question until we have more favorable weather.

Three days after, in another despatch to the Secretary, he says,--

I am completely checked by the weather. The roads and fields are literally impassable for artillery,--almost so for infantry. The Chickahominy is in a dreadful state: we have another rain-storm on our hands.

I shall attack as soon as the weather and ground will permit; but there will be a delay, the extent of which no one can foresee, for the season is altogether abnormal.

The heat of the weather, the poisonous miasma [234] which the sun drew up from the saturated soil, and the heavy toils of the men, began to tell sadly upon the general health of the army. And the vigilant and active enemy allowed us no repose. Little skirmishes and affairs of outposts were constantly occurring; showers of shells would sometimes suddenly fall upon the tents; and no one could say whether these demonstrations were not the preludes to serious attacks. Our men were obliged to work at the intrenchments and upon the bridges as the Jews builded on the walls of Jerusalem: “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.” 1

General McClellan saw with nothing less than anguish of mind the golden moments of opportunity slipping away from him unimproved, and his noble army slowly wasting by disease and exposure. From trustworthy sources of information, he had good reason to believe that the enemy were receiving large accessions to their strength; and in the north, like an ominous cloud, loomed up the corps of the indefatigable Jackson, about which frequent rumors began to fly through the air. General McClellan knew his old classmate well enough to know that he was not a man to lose any time, and that, sooner or later, he would be a formidable element of danger on our right flank. His [235] communications to the Government at Washington are full of earnest, almost passionate, entreaties for reinforcements, and in them he restates the reasons why he deems it important that his hands should be strengthened. He suggests that portions of the army of General Halleck, then in the Southwest, might be detached for this purpose. The replies of the Secretary of War are friendly and encouraging in tone. On the 11th of June he tells General McClellan that McCall's force, forming part of McDowell's corps, was on its way, and that it was intended to send the rest of McDowell's corps to him as speedily as possible. General McCall's division, numbering about eleven thousand men, arrived on the 12th and 13th; but these were the only reinforcements that General McClellan received till after the retreat to Harrison's Landing.

General McDowell was at this time on the Rappahannock, with about forty thousand men, including McCall's division. He expected to join General McClellan, and was most desirous of doing so; for on the 10th of June he wrote to the latter, saying, “For the third time I am ordered to join you, and hope this time to get through. * * * * I wish to say I go with the greatest satisfaction, and hope to arrive with my main body in time to be of service. McCall goes in advance, by water. I will be with you in ten days with the remainder, by Fredericksburg.” On the 12th he wrote again to General McClellan, telling him that he shall not be with him on so early a day as he had previously announced, but still expecting to join him. It [236] would have been an easy four days march for McDowell's corps to have made the desired junction with the Army of the Potomac; but the junction never was made, and on the 27th of June the corps of McDowell, Fremont, and Banks were consolidated into one body, called the Army of Virginia, and put under the command of General Pope! Whether this disposition of McDowell's force was in consequence of a real and sudden change of opinion in the councils of the War Department, or whether there was never a settled purpose that he should go to Richmond, and General McClellan was only amused with hopes never meant to be realized, is a matter on which it is now useless to speculate. There would be more of contempt in the one case, and more of indignation in the other; but it could make little difference practically with General McClellan whether he was the victim of want of decision or want of frankness. lie was entitled to fair dealing, and the country was entitled to consistency and firmness. In the management of great interests like these, caprice expands to the dimensions of crime.

On the 13th of June the rebel General Stuart, with fifteen hundred cavalry and four pieces of artillery, made a sudden dash upon a small cavalry force we had at Hanover Court-House, and overpowered them. They then swept on to Tunstall's Station on the York Railroad, made an attack upon a railway-train, which contrived to escape in spite of obstructions which had been laid upon the track, though the engineer and some of the passengers [237] were killed. A detachment was sent off to White House to destroy stores, and the main body pushed on to New Kent Court-House, where they were soon joined by their friends, and remained some hours. At night they crossed the Chickahominy and made their way into the Confederate lines.

This must be admitted to have been a dashing and brilliant expedition. A continuous sweep was made clear round the Federal forces, a few prisoners were taken, and a considerable amount of valuable stores was destroyed. The material losses were not much; but the moral results were of consequence. It encouraged and exhilarated the enemy; and, above all, it was a startling revelation to General McClellan of the weak points in his position, and of the danger he was in of having his communications cut and his supplies by rail interrupted.

On the 18th of June, General McClellan had made arrangements to have transports, with supplies of provisions and forage, under a convoy of gunboats, sent up James River. They reached Harrison's Landing in time to be of use to the army on its arrival there. Two considerations had led him to adopt this course. First, in case of an advance on Richmond, our communications with the depot at the White House might be severed; and, second, he had already begun to feel that the increasing pressure upon his right might force him to make a flank movement and establish a new base of operations on the James River.

On Wednesday, June 25, the Army of the Potomac [238] was thus placed. The several corps of Keyes, Heintzelman, Sumner, and Franklin, comprising eight divisions, were on the right bank of the Chickahominy. They were disposed in a semicircular line of three miles in length, stretching from White Oak Swamp on the left to Golding's house and the Chickahominy on the right. The front of this line was strengthened by six redoubts, mounting from five to nine guns each, connected by rifle-pits, or barricades, which contained numerous emplacements for artillery. Extensive “slashings” 2 were made in front, wherever the woods approached too near. Headquarters were at Dr. Trent's house, in rear of the right, and near Sumner's upper bridge.

On the left bank of the river were Porter's corps, comprising two divisions, and McCall's Pennsylvania Reserves. The troops were disposed along a line extending from New Bridge, on the left, to Beaver Dam Creek, on the right. We had an advanced post, composed of a regiment and a battery, on the heights overlooking Mechanicsville; and a line of pickets was stretched along the river between the Mechanicsville and Meadow bridges. Four batteries had been constructed on the left bank, on the ground occupied by Porter; and these batteries mounted six guns each. They were intended [239] to operate upon the enemy's positions and batteries opposite, or to defend the bridges which connected the two wings of the army.

Some of the bridges built by our troops were of no use to us, because the enemy held the debouches, or ground that commanded the road, on the right bank. We could use, on the 25th of June, the following: Bottom's bridge, in rear of our left, and between five and six miles from its front; the railroad bridge; Sumner's upper bridge; Woodbury's, Alexander's, and Duane's bridges. These last afforded a very direct communication between the two wings of the army. As our operations against Richmond were conducted along the roads leading to it from the east and northeast, Bottom's bridge was of little direct service to us. Most of the supplies for the troops on the right bank of the river were brought up by the railroad and over the railroad bridge.

As it was now certain that the army was not to be strengthened by any reinforcements from McDowell, General McClellan resolved to do the best he could with what he had. He had covered the front of his position with defensive works, to enable him to bring the greatest possible numbers into action, and to secure the army against the consequences of unforeseen disaster. As Jackson had kept McDowell from joining him, he hoped that Jackson might also be kept from joining Lee.


The Seven days.

On the 25th of June, a forward movement of the picket-line of the left was ordered, preparatory to a general and final advance. The orders were successfully carried out, and about a mile of ground was gained, with small loss. The advantage thus secured was important, as by it both the corps of Heintzelman and Sumner were placed in a better position for supporting the main attack, which it was intended General Franklin should commence the following day. During this day, June 25, information came that the enemy had received reinforcements from Beauregard's army, and that Jackson was near Hanover Court-House with a large body of troops.

On the next day, Thursday, the 26th, General McClellan had intended to make a final attack; but he was anticipated by the enemy, and assailed on his right by a strong force which crossed the Chickahominy at Meadow bridge and near Mechanicsville. It appears that on the 25th a council of the Confederate generals was held at Richmond, and it was determined that while Jackson was moving upon the right flank of the Federal army a general and simultaneous attack should be made upon the whole line. When the approach of the enemy was discovered on our right, our pickets were called in, and the regiment and battery at Mechanicsville were withdrawn. A strong position was taken by our troops so as to resist the threatened attack. It extended along the left bank of Beaver Dam Creek, [241] a slender tributary of the Chickahominy, which runs nearly north and south. The front line was composed of McCall's division: Seymour's brigade held the left, and Reynolds's the right. Meade's brigade was in reserve. The left of the line was covered by the river, the right by two brigades of Morell's division, deployed for the purpose of protecting that flank. The position had been carefully prepared, and was materially strengthened by “slashings” and rifle-pits. The creek in front, bordered by beautiful catalpa-trees in flower, was crossed by only two roads practicable for artillery. It was to force these roads that the enemy made especial efforts. Their attack began at three P. M. along the whole line, and a determined attempt was made at the same time to carry the upper road. General Reynolds succeeded in resisting this attempt, and the enemy fell back for a while. Our troops then had a breathing-space for a couple of hours,--though the fire of the artillery and the skirmishing did not cease. The passage of the lower road was then attempted; but here also General Seymour was successful. The action ceased as the darkness gathered, and the enemy retired at nine o'clock from the front of a position which it had assailed in vain and with very heavy loss. We had been successful at all points; and the troops that lay that night in front of Richmond will never forget the enthusiasm that ran like wildfire through our lines, from the heights of the upper Chickahominy to the lowlands of White Oak Swamp, when the news of the success was brought to them, [242] and, amid the ringing cheers of men, the bands, long silent by command, filled the air with strains of triumphant music.

In the course of the 26th, the rapid movement of events, and especially the cloud of advancing forces on our right, every moment growing darker and more menacing, determined General McClellan to pat into immediate execution that plan of transferring his base of operations to the James River which he had been meditating for some days, and in view of which he had already directed large supplies of forage and provisions to be forwarded. The task was one of no common difficulty. The distance between the points of departure and destination was about seventeen miles. An army of ninety thousand men, including cavalry and artillery, was to be marched this distance; and, what was much more difficult, a boundless procession of four thousand wagons, carrying supplies, must go with it, a large siege-train must be transported, and a herd of twenty-five hundred oxen must be driven. For the wagons, the train, and the cattle there was but one road available: luckily, it was in good condition. But it ran north and south, and between it and Richmond there were several roads going east and west, along which attacks might be expected from an active and vigilant enemy. General McClellan, in short, was attempting one of the most difficult and dangerous enterprises in war,--a flank movement in the face of a superior force. But there was no help for it: it must be done.

Time was now an element of the greatest importance. [243] The design was to be kept concealed from the enemy till the latest possible moment, and every instant of the precious interval was to be profitably employed. Orders were immediately telegraphed to Colonel Ingalls, quartermaster at the White House, to run the cars till the last moment, filling them with provisions and ammunition, to load all his wagons with subsistence and send them to Savage's Station, to forward as many supplies as possible to James River, and to destroy the rest. These commands were all obeyed, and so promptly and skilfully that nearly every thing was saved, and only a comparatively small amount of stores destroyed.3

To begin auspiciously the contemplated movement, it was necessary to keep the enemy in check on the left bank of the river as long as possible, to give time for the removal of the siege-guns and trains. The night following the 26th of June was a busy one on the right of our army, and the work of removal went on till after sunrise; but shortly before daylight it was sufficiently advanced to permit the withdrawal of the troops from Beaver Dam Creek. A new position was taken, in an arc of a circle, covering the approaches to our bridges of communication. The first line was composed of the divisions of Morell and Sykes, the former on [244] the left, the latter on the right. The division of McCall was posted in reserve, and fifteen companies of cavalry under General Cooke were in rear of the left. The battle-ground was a rolling country, partly wooded and partly open, extending from the descent to the Chickahominy on the left, and curving around, in rear of Coal Harbor, towards the river again. Our artillery was posted on the commanding ground, and in the intervals between the divisions and brigades; and the slope towards the river, on our left, was also swept by the fire of four batteries, one of them of siege-guns, on the right bank of the river. General Stoneman's movable column, comprising most of our cavalry and some picked troops of the other arms, which had been cut off by the rapid advance of Jackson, fell back on White House, and rendered no assistance during the battle.

Our dispositions were completed about noon of Friday, June 27, and shortly after that hour the skirmishers of the enemy appeared, advancing rapidly, and a general attack was made upon the whole position. The engagement soon became extremely severe, and General Porter asked for reinforcements. At two P. M., Slocum's division of the 6th Corps was ordered to cross the river and support him. By three P. M. the pressure of the superior numbers of the enemy had become so heavy that all the reserves had been moved forward, and our line, thus strengthened, met and resisted repeated and desperate attacks along the whole front. General Slocum's division arrived at half-past 3, [245] and was distributed along the weaker portions of our line. Our troops, including this division, numbered about thirty-five thousand men; and it is believed that they were attacked by from sixty to seventy thousand of the enemy. Many of our men were wearied by the fighting of the day before, and most of them by having been under arms for more than two days. The pressure of the superior numbers of the enemy was very hard to bear; but it was borne manfully, and, time after time, on the left and on the right, our troops repulsed the determined attacks of the swarming Confederates, who charged again and again up to their position. Every effort of the enemy failed to break our lies until about seven o'clock, when our left was forced, and the whole position flanked by a furious attack of fresh troops. The battle of Gaines's Mill was lost Our men fell back to the hill in the rear, overlooking the bridge. Two brigades from the 2d Corps arrived most opportunely at this moment. They checked and drove back the stragglers, and advanced boldly to the front. Their cheers were heard by the enemy; and the knowledge that fresh troops had arrived, the terrible losses they had themselves sustained, and the gathering darkness, prevented them from following up their advantage.

The battle was lost, and with it we lost about nine thousand men and twenty guns; but the object for which it was fought had been attained. The enemy was checked, and the needed time was gained. Our siege-guns and material were saved, and the right wing, under cover of the night, joined [246] the main body of the army on the right bank of the river. The rear-guard crossed at six o'clock in the morning, destroying the bridge behind them.

Saturday, June 28, was for our army a day rather of marching and working than of fighting. The enemy were exhausted by the desperate fight of the previous day: they were also on the left bank of the river, or at least the greater part of them were, and the bridges were destroyed, so that they must either build new bridges in order to cross the river, or else fall back to the Mechanicsville bridge. Thus a few precious hours were gained. In accordance with orders given by General McClellan to his corps commanders, assembled by him at his Headquarters on the evening of the 27th, the execution of his plan for a flank movement to the James River was commenced at once, under his own direction.

General Keyes, with his 4th Corps and its artillery and baggage, crossed the White Oak Swamp bridge, and seized strong positions on the opposite side, to cover the passage of the other troops and trains. General Heintzelman and General Sumner, with the 3d and 2d Corps, remained in the works. General Franklin, while withdrawing his command from their position in the works, was attacked by artillery-firing from three points, and an attempt was made to carry a part of his line. The fighting here was sharp for a little while, and extremely damaging to the enemy, who speedily retired. This was the only fighting of the day. Men were busy loading the wagons with ammunition, provisions, and necessary baggage, and destroying all [247] that could not be carried off. General Porter, with the 5th Corps, began the passage of the White Oak Swamp during the day.

On Sunday, the 29th, the troops of the 4th Corps remained in their position, covering the road through the swamp, until relieved, as will be mentioned, by the arrival of General Slocum; and those of the 5th Corps held their ground beyond the swamp, covering the roads leading from Richmond towards the line of retreat. McCall's division also crossed the swamp, and took a proper position to aid in covering the general movement.

Day broke darkly : clouds and fog hung very low, and a thick mist added to the cheerlessness of the morning. It was a sorry sight to see the empty embrasures, the deserted camps, filled but the night before, and for so many previous days, with guns and fighting-men. But the darkness of the morning was good for troops that desired to steal a march on the enemy, and its coolness was good for men that were to fight.

Slocum's division of the 6th Corps marched straight back to Savage's Station, where it was to be posted as a reserve to the position to be taken by the rear-guard; but, on reaching the Station, it received orders to cross the swamp and relieve the corps of General Keyes. The rear-guard, composed of the 2d and 3d Corps and Smith's division of the 6th Corps, moved from the works at daylight, and marched about half-way to Savage's Station, halting at Allen's farm, where a line was formed on both sides of the railroad, towards Richmond. [248] About nine o'clock the enemy made an attack with infantry and artillery, and renewed the attempt twice. The firing of both sides was sharp for a while, but the assault was repulsed with ease by the skirmish-line of Summer's corps, supported by artillery, and our loss was very slight. A report that the enemy had repaired the bridges, and crossed the Chickahominy in the rear of our position at Allen's farm, was brought to General Sumner at that place, and he at once fell back to Savage's Station and united his command with Smith's division of the 6th Corps, which General Franklin, by reason of the same report, had already moved thither. The junction took place a little after noon, and General Sumner assumed command of the forces so united.

At Savage's Station a large field extended to the left from the railroad, and the ground sloped steadily downwards towards Richmond. General Sumner formed his line in this field, at right angles to the railroad. The rise in the ground gave our troops an excellent view of the whole position, and was favorable for the posting of artillery. Some regiments were also placed on the right of our position, nearly parallel to the track, so as to watch the apprehended approach of the enemy from the left bank of the river. General Heintzelman, in seeming violation of his orders, withdrew from his position on the left before four o'clock, and marched to the swamp, which he crossed at Brackett's Ford. Thus the rear-guard was weakened by the loss of nearly fifteen thousand men, and the situation of [249] General Sumner appeared critical. His position, however, was good, and the troops excellent. The whole of the 2d Corps, said to be the only corps in the army which has never to this day lost a gun or a color, was there, with one division of Franklin's corps. About four o'clock the enemy commenced his attack in large force by the Williamsburg road, which here runs nearly parallel to the railroad. The enemy's left was supported by their boasted iron-clad railroad battery, mounted, according to their newspapers, with a rifled thirty-two. The attack was gallantly met. General Burns, commanding the front line, rendered special service. The reserves were successively sent forward, and the action continued with great obstinacy till after eight in the evening, when the enemy were driven from the field and into the woods beyond, where our deployed companies, which were speedily thrown forward, found the ground thickly strewn with the bodies of the sufferers. The position we had gained in this brilliant and picturesque engagement was held till the road in the rear was cleared; and during the ensuing hours of darkness, all the troops crossed the White Oak Swamp bridge, and Sumner's last brigade, commanded by General French, destroyed the bridge at six o'clock in the morning.

During the same night, the 4th Corps, followed by the 5th, was moving towards the river, and on the morning of Monday, June 30, General Keyes had arrived there in safety. He took up a position below Turkey Creek bridge, with his left resting [250] on the river. General Porter posted the 5th Corps so as to prolong Keyes's line to the right and cover the Charles City road to Richmond. General Franklin, with his. own corps, Richardson's division of the 2d Corps, and Naglee's brigade, held the passage of White Oak Swamp. The position of the remaining troops was changed at times during the day; but it is enough to say that they were so disposed as to hold the ground in front of the road connecting Franklin's position with Porter's right, so as to cover the movement of the trains in the rear. General McClellan occupied himself in examining the whole line, rectifying the position of the troops, and expediting the passage of the trains.

The fierce battle fought on Monday, June 30, is known by the name of the battle of Glendale, or Nelson's Farm. It is a little difficult to be understood, for two reasons. In the first place, the troops of the 2d and 3d Corps were so divided that the army may be said on that day to have been without its corps organization, and to have been an army of divisions, and those divisions, in several instances, were separated from their usual connection. In the second place, though the sharpest fighting was in or near Glendale, yet there was fighting along a line of about five miles, extending from White Oak Swamp to Malvern Hill, and lasting from noon till after dark.

The first attack was made on Franklin's position, which was assailed by a concentrated fire of artillery. A very fierce and obstinate artillery-combat [251] took place here, and there was also some infantry-fighting. Our men suffered severely; but repeated attempts of the enemy to cross the swamp were unsuccessful, and General Franklin held the position till after dark.

Some two hours after the attack just mentioned was commenced, a strong column moved down the Charles City road, near which, on its right, General Slocum was posted. General Kearney's division of the 3d Corps connected with General Slocum's left. General McCall, with the Pennsylvania Reserves, prolonged our line to the left, crossing the New Market road, and General Hooker's division of the 3d Corps was on the left of McCall. General Sumner, with Sedgwick's division in reserve, was in rear of McCall, on the Quaker road. The first attempt of the enemy was made on Slocum's left; but it was checked by his artillery, and abandoned. Then, passing to their right, the enemy made a fierce onslaught on General McCall, His division speedily gave way, with loss of general officers and guns, and the enemy pressed on so vigorously that their musketry proved fatal on the Quaker road. The centre of our army was nearly pierced, the main road of communication almost in the enemy's power. At this critical moment Sumner hurried to the front some regiments of Sedgwick's division, just returned at the double quick from White Oak Swamp, to which they had been marched in order to support Franklin. A gallant advance was made; Sumner's artillery opened sharply. The advance of the enemy was checked, [252] some ground was regained, and some guns were retaken. Hooker, moving to his right, aided in the repulse. The gap caused by the giving way of McCall's command was speedily closed, and our line of retreat was once more securely held. Another effort was made by the enemy on Kearney's left; but this also was repulsed, with heavy loss. The enemy's attack thus failed at all points; but our success was costly. We lost heavily in killed and wounded, and in guns. All, or nearly all, of McCall's guns were left in the hands of the enemy.

On the same day, at about five P. M., an attack was made on General Porter's left flank, near Malvern Hill. It was met by the concentrated fire of about thirty guns on the hill, by the fire from the gunboats on the river, and by the infantry-fire of Warren's brigade. The enemy was soon forced to retreat, with the loss of two guns. Thus, on the right, in the centre, and on the left, the fierce and persistent efforts of the enemy had failed; but our trains were not yet in safety, and our communications not yet secure, so that more marching and more fighting were still before the brave Army of the Potomac. The troops distributed along the line between White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill fell back to the latter place during the night, and were posted there, as they arrived, by General Barnard, who received his instructions from the general commanding.

On Tuesday, July 1, the sun rose on a scene such as few but soldiers see, and soldiers rarely. The whole Army of the Potomac was massed on the [253] slopes of Malvern Hill. It is an open plateau, and extends about a mile and a half in width and three-quarters of a mile in depth. On the highest ground there is an old-fashioned Virginia house, of brick, in one story. Trees standing thickly supply it with grateful shade. Behind the house, the ground falls away as abruptly as at the Highlands of the Hudson, and the delighted eye ranges over miles and miles of level country, profusely clothed with an almost tropical vegetation, and watered by the James, the Appomattox, and Turkey Creek. It is a scene of rare loveliness and peace; and gunboats, seemingly sleeping at their moorings on the gleaming river, half seen through the screen of foliage, added on that day to the air of repose which brooded over the whole landscape. But no stronger contrast could be presented than by the scene in front. On those broad slopes, in triple concentric lines, with the guns in the intervals and on the higher ground in the rear, the weary Army of the Potomac was rapidly ranging itself. The general commanding, and other general officers, were making the circuit of the position and superintending the movements of the troops, and, as by magic, the great army came into the order of battle. Cavalry escorts, the lancers with their red pennons fluttering beneath the glittering points of their weapons, gave animation to the scene.

The line taken up by our army was something more than the half of a circle. The left rested on the hill near the river, and the line curved round the hill and backwards, through a wooded country, [254] towards a point below Haxall's, on the James. The flotilla was so moored as to protect our left flank and command the approaches from Richmond. Porter's corps was on the left; next came Couch's division of the 4th Corps, then Heintzelman's corps, then Sumner's, then Franklin's, and, on the extreme right, Keyes, with the remainder of the 4th Corps. The remains of McCall's division were in reserve, and stationed in the rear of Porter and Couch. The right, where the troops were less compact than elsewhere, was strengthened by “slashings” and barricades.

The enemy began to feel along our lines early in the day, and annoyed our troops by artillery-fire from various points. Batteries appeared, and fired, and disappeared only to present themselves again at a new point, and so keep our wearied troops from preparing by rest for the coming struggle. About three o'clock the real battle began. A heavy fire of artillery opened on Couch's division and the left of Kearney's, which was connected with the right of Couch's; and a brisk attack of infantry on Couch's front speedily followed. The enemy, disregarding the fire of our artillery, pressed steadily on till they were within short musket-range. Then Couch's men, who had been lying down, sprang to their feet, and delivered a fire which destroyed the order of the enemy and drove them back in confusion. Their attack thus failed utterly, and the advantage gained was improved by an advance of our men for nearly half a mile, which gave them a better position. [255]

About two hours of comparative quiet followed this discomfiture of the enemy, during which the general surveyed the whole line, and every thing was made ready for the coming attack, and kept so. It was begun at six o'clock; and Porter and Couch received it. The whole artillery of the enemy suddenly opened upon them, and brigade after brigade came rushing forward to carry their position, but only to meet the crushing fire of a determined infantry, and the tempest of grape, canister, and shell that poured upon them from our massed artillery, with the enormous projectiles that came howling over the pleasant woods and fields from the great guns on the river. Until dark-and the battle was when the days are longest — the enemy persisted in their desperate efforts, but to no purpose. It was a day of useless slaughter for them, but of comparatively trifling loss for us. The darkness fell like a curtain, to close and conceal the sublime spectacle of the battle of Malvern Hill.

With the last shots fired by the artillery, after nine o'clock in the evening of this day, the fighting of the “Seven days” ended. The troops had little rest that night, for a further movement was ordered as soon as the enemy were finally repulsed. By the morning of the following day the whole army was marching rapidly towards Harrison's Landing, on the James River. As there was but one main road, it was necessary to crowd it to its utmost capacity with artillery and cavalry, while the infantry went on each side. A heavy rain soon began to fall,--such a rain as is only felt in the [256] South: the road first became slippery, then muddy, then deep with mud. Through this clinging soil the weary horses dragged their loads, while on each side the living stream of infantry forced its toilsome way through the thick and dripping underbrush which bordered the road. Fortunately, the distance was not great, and the troops poured rapidly into the vast plain on the river, and sank to rest upon its trampled wheat, their journey ended, their great task accomplished. The woods of the Peninsula were on one side of them, beautiful in their midsummer luxuriance, and perhaps concealing indefatigable enemies; but on the other was the broad river, bearing on its calm waters the powerful gunboats which displayed the flag of our navy, and, thanks to the provident foresight of the general commanding, bearing also countless vessels filled with tie ammunition and equipments, the food and the clothing, of which our troops stood so much in need.

Mr. Emil Schalk,--a severe military critic, and chary of praise,--speaking of the retreat from the Chickahominy to the James River, says, “This plan of defence reflects the highest credit and honor on the general who conceived and carried it out.” 4 Such is the opinion, it is believed, of all competent judges, whether soldiers by profession, or civilians who have made the art of war a special subject of study. It was a military movement of great danger and difficulty, extending over several days, marked [257] throughout by admirable combinations and dispositions,--in which nothing was overlooked, nothing was forgotten, and not a single mistake was made. The sagacious foresight, the calm self-reliance, the thorough professional knowledge, the vigilant eye, of the commanding general formed the power by which the whole breathing mass of courage and endurance was guided and propelled. And the conduct of the army was, to borrow General McClellan's own expression, “superb.” The whole retreat was one unbroken strain upon their physical energies and moral force. They had to march all night and fight all day. The nervous exhaustion produced by toil and want of sleep was aggravated by the excessive heat of the weather, by which many a manly frame was prostrated. The enemy were brave, vigilant, well handled, superior in numbers, and confident of success; but only at Gaines's Mill was any decisive advantage gained. At every point, at every moment, the Confederates had met organized courage, disciplined valor, the dauntless front of men who trusted in themselves and trusted. in their commander; and at Malvern Hill the closing hours of danger and suffering were illumined by the blaze of victory, like the rich red sunset which ends a day of storm and cloud. And not only had our men fought admirably, but they had toiled patiently and intelligently. Guns were to be removed, wagons and teams were to be helped along, here a piece of road was to be mended, and there trees were to be cut down to obstruct the enemy's passage; and for all these labors the officers found quick faculty, [258] serviceable hands, and a willing spirit. When it is remembered that the carriages and teams belonging to the army, stretched out in one line, would have reached nearly forty miles, we can understand that nothing could have insured their safe removal in the face of an enemy but that universal training of the brain and hand found among a people who are all taught to handle indifferently the pen, the axe, the gun, and the spade.

The general in command, when the James River had been reached, had a right to look around with just pride upon the army now sheltered and safe. On the 28th, in the bitterness of his soul, he had said, in a telegraphic message to the Secretary of War, “If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you, or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.” That army he had saved; and the army was conscious of it. But there was nothing of triumph in his own mind; for their safety had been won at fearful cost. Our killed, wounded, and missing from the 26th of June to the 1st of July reached the mournful aggregate of fifteen thousand. Of the sick and wounded, many had of necessity been left behind, but with a proper complement of surgeons and attendants and a bountiful supply of rations and medical stores.

And there was another consideration which might; Have deepened the sadness of his mind, if he had allowed his thoughts to dwell upon it at such a moment. He had conducted an important movement with a skill and success which an intelligent [259] military judgment could understand and appreciate; but still that movement was a retreat. This was the great fact present to the public mind. He had been compelled to abandon his position before Richmond; the place was not taken: he was a general in command of a large army, and had failed to accomplish the object of his own hopes. The facts and events which had rendered a retrograde movement necessary required some reflection to make them understood and some candor to make them felt. His knowledge of human nature, and of the bitterness and unscrupulousness of party, was enough to reveal to him the harsh judgments, the misconstructions, the injustice, the cruel insinuations, the calumnious charges, to which he had exposed himself by the crime of failure,--that crime which the public is so slow to forgive. He must have foreseen how the pert phrase — makers of the land — who conduct campaigns so admirably in their armchairs, and dispose of brigades and divisions as easily as they fold and label their letters — would strive to mangle him with their pens,--weapons more cruel than the tiger's claw or the serpent's tooth,--and point out what he should have done, and should not have done, to have escaped the shame and disgrace of retreating before a rebel foe. Sir John Moore, dying in the arms of victory at the close of a successful retreat, said, “I hope the people of England will be satisfied: I hope my country will do me justice.” His country, in time, did justice to that great man. Sooner or later, the world comes round to see the truth and do the right; [260] and for the coming of that time General McClellan can afford to wait.

But the saddest of all experiences for a commanding general is to lose the confidence of his army. That cup was never put to General McClellan's lips. His soldiers were intelligent enough to understand what he had done, and generous enough to be grateful to him for it. They had witnessed his toils and exposures, his calm self-reliance, his resolute front, his unaltered brow: they had seen him perplexed but not cast down, anxious but not despairing. The approach of danger, the burden of responsibility, had called forth reserved powers and unrevealed energies. Their common perils, their common labors, the trying scenes they had passed through, the safety they had secured, had created new ties of sympathy between the commanding general and his noble army. No muttered curses fell upon his ear, no sullen, averted countenances met his eye; but, as he rode along their lines, shouts of welcome instead, and faces glowing with honest joy, passed a judgment upon his course that enabled him to meet with composure the sneers of the scoffer, the malice of partisan falsehood, and the rash censures of presumptuous half-knowledge.

1 Nehemiah IV. 17, 18.

2 A “slashing” is a kind of defence made by cutting down trees in front of a position, two or three feet from the ground, and allowing them to fall. Their branches thus form a barrier against the advances of infantry, and a space is opened for the play of artillery.

3 The Prince de Joinville says that a complete railway train, locomotive, tender, and cars, which had been left on the rails, was sent headlong over the broken bridge into the river. Nothing was left for the enemy but three siege-guns; and these were the only siege-guns he captured.

4 Campaigns of 1862 and 1863, p. 179.

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