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Chapter 3:

  • The Seven days campaign
  • -- cross the Chickahominy -- sojourn in the swamp -- Gaines' Mill -- Savage's Station -- Fraser's Farm or Charles City cross roads -- Malvern Hill -- down the James to Westover -- intrenching -- humors of the camp -- comrades answer the “last roll call” -- Abraham Lincoln in camp

Nothing unusual occurred until the middle of the week, when ‘Boots and saddles!’ sounded, and, the camp being speedily broken up, we found ourselves moving down the river toward Cold Harbor.

During the previous weeks, the engineer corps of the army had been busy in performing various works which the wisdom and skill (conceded by the military world to be profound) of the chief of engineers had planned. One phase of this work was the trestlework bridges, rendered indispensable because the wings of our army were separated by the morass of the Chickahominy. There were now eleven of them, seven being available for heavy teams. One of these, constructed by the engineer brigade under Gen. Woodbury and called Woodbury's Bridge, completed, we believe, on the 14th of June, we crossed.

We desire to briefly describe this triumph of military engineering, as an illustration of one of the manifold phases of talent that were utilized by the government, in its struggle for existence.

The approach to the bridge on the north side from the foot of the hill, was of earth raised perhaps three feet, deep lateral ditches being made, the last and upper stratum of earth being thrown upon a layer of brush. There were perhaps twenty cribs built upon the swampy shore and into the stream, and, beyond these, six framed trestles. On the other side there were probably twenty more cribs, or firm, compact log piers. Stringers extended from cribs to trestles, and from trestles to the cribs upon the other side of the stream. Upon these timbers, for the floor of the bridge, were laid logs of nearly uniform size, and these were ballasted on either hand by sticks of timber which extended parallel with the stringers. The driveway between these timbers, which [47] was eleven feet wide, was covered with earth. The approach to the bridge from the south side was of raised corduroy. The length of the whole structure, including the approaches, was 4,200 feet. The length of the bridge proper was nearly 1,100 feet.

Having crossed, we moved forward over the corduroy, through the wood, into the open country. The surface, as you proceed southerly from the river, varies from low bottom land with patches of morass to undulating swell; this again is broken by shallow valleys, through which sluggish rivulets flow, fed by springs along their banks. The annual slow decay of the rank vegetation on the banks of these low, damp water-courses, which were the natural outlets of the drainage of the camps, contributed to make this section south of the river a busy place for the hospital steward, and to increase the number of respondents to sick-call. Into this region we were now moving, and an observation of the infantry and artillery, that during the day were along the route with us, led us to infer that the remainder of the right wing was being brought across the river. This inference was, however, hasty. It was only Franklin's corps; Porter's remained on the left bank till after the battle of Gaines' Farm. It was the Sixth Army Corps, that was being moved out to positions on the right of the advanced forces, which had been for weeks on the south side of the river. In the disposition of the corps on a line drawn northwest of Fair Oaks, Slocum's division occupied the right, Bartlett's brigade and our battery being on the right of Slocum's position.

Among the troops of this brigade were the Sixteenth and Twentyseventh New York Volunteers, who had been with us ever since the reorganization of the army in the fall of 1861. The latter regiment had been led at Bull Run by our brave and able general of division, Slocum, and later had been commanded by our gallant general of brigade, Bartlett.

In front of the infantry of this part of the line was a tract of hard timber, and through this wood, three fourths of a mile away, a portion of it along the banks of a ravine which led to the north, was the right section of our picket line. From these pickets, ranged along the ravine, Richmond would be about west perhaps five miles away, their posts being probably the nearest approach they had yet made to the Confederate stronghold. [48]

Some of us, who were one day detailed to accompany a sergeant and artificers out into the woods a short distance in the rear of our picket-line, to construct, under the direction of Col. Arnold, a lookout, had an opportunity to observe the position of a portion of this section of the vedettes. Having arrived at the spot where it was designed to build the structure, we were set to cutting timber, from which stout steps or rounds of a ladder were to be fashioned by the artificer, which it seemed were to be secured to a huge old oak on the one hand and on the other to a tall standard which was to be planted in the ground, perhaps three feet from the base of the tree. The colonel, after giving necessary orders as to the work, directed us, in case of the falling back of the pickets, to retire; and as he was about to leave us to our work, he remarked that when in want of water we could fill our canteens at a spring in a ravine in our front, indicating the direction by pointing. So, later in the day, several of us went to the spring, which we found to be well down the left slope of the ravine, a basin of pure, cold water bubbling from many a vent in a bed of clean white sand. A rivulet made its way from the spring to the creek which ran through the ravine. As we reach the bank of this valley we see beyond, on the other side, a clearing in which is a cornfield, through which extended the Confederate picket-line. Occasionally an individual was seen plainly enough, but there was no firing in that part of the line; indeed, it was said that previously, the spring, by the then position of our pickets, was between the lines and was visited by the boys from both sides; at any rate there were the boys in gray a few rods yonder, and all was quiet as would be a Sunday ramble in a Maine wood.

The intensely hot weather during this fortnight in June had a various influence upon the different temperaments and dispositions of the soldiers in camp. Some were quite enervated and despondent, seeming to catch through the veil a glimpse of misfortune to our arms; some who were constitutionally irascible were heated to contention; others, and the greater number, were warmed into a glow of patriotic ardor, and were impelled to express their faith in the commander of the army and the triumph of our cause. The veil that hid the disaster, now near at hand, was impenetrable to all, but the volunteer ever seeks to pierce it with his inevitable, ceaseless conjectures, which are born [49] of restless impatience of restraint, and flights of fancy, in which camp life often gives him leisure to indulge. Sometimes there would arise ludicrous, petty differences between officers of different arms of the service, as to the limits of their camps, and most amusing charges of encroachment upon one another's domain. We have observed Gen. Slocum called in as arbitrator, walking beside the appellant, blowing a thin cloud of smoke from his cigar. We have overheard a comrade exclaim, as he watched the pale, thin, quiet face, ‘Well, is n't he the coolest man you ever saw?’ This remark was recalled on the night of June 30, when we saw the general stirred with righteous anger which had anything but a cool effect on those upon whom it was justly visited.

Rumors of every sort were rife during this time, of movements made at other points in the Federal line, and of those about to be made from our front. Newspapers found their way into camp with tolerable regularity, which gave us their versions of the doings of troops on the Rappahannock, in the valley, or on the Mississippi. Speculation, baseless indeed, was active in the minds of the privates; but nothing palpable had occurred to indicate the subsequent change of base.

Supplies continued to be sent from the Pamunkey to Savage's Station, east of us, our immediate depot. The hackneyed phrase ‘All quiet along the Chickahominy,’ had become well worn. Sometime during Thursday forenoon, June 26, the company being assembled, general orders congratulating the troops upon advantages gained in a conflict the day before, which were said to ‘augur well for our final triumph,’ were read by Lieut. Sawin, officer of the day; the account, however, was so vague as to make hardly a transitory impression upon us. It was a kind of appeal to the faith that the Union soldier was supposed always to possess, through all fortunes, in our ultimate success.

The battle indistinctly alluded to was that of Oak Grove, on the day before (25th), about a mile in advance of the battlefield of Fair Oaks. This was an effort, that succeeded, to drive in Confederate pickets in the woods, before the Federal left, in order to give the Union forces command of cleared fields, still farther in advance; the fighting continued all day, from nine A. M. The brunt of the contest was borne by Hooker's division. This was the inauguration of the seven days campaign. [50]

At length, after midday on the 26th, the stillness was broken, when across the river, up the left bank, there was an incessant cannonading for hours; evidently there was a terrible artillery combat in progress. Porter must be engaged. With what troops? Have they been withdrawn from our front to crush him, or has Jackson swooped down upon him from the valley? Or is the gallant Fifth Corps contending, single-handed, with the combined forces of Jackson and some corps drawn from our front? These questions were in some degree to be answered on the morrow.

On the morning of the 27th, one of those camp rumors, whose source no private can fathom, but whose story almost always gains credence, said that a Confederate corps had marched by, beyond the right of our line on the south side, had crossed at Meadow Bridge, not far from Mechanicsville, and had fallen upon Porter at that place, while Jackson, who two days before had arrived from the valley, had marched from Ashland, fifteen miles away, formed a junction with the force that had crossed at Meadow Bridge, and was now moving toward Whitehouse, our base of supplies on the Pamunkey. If this story were substantially correct, then the long-continued fire of yesterday afternoon and evening must have been at a terrible artillery fight at Mechanicsville.

Authentic advices subsequently confirmed this. It was learned that the Fifth Corps, with the Pennsylvania reserve which shortly before had come down from McDowell's department, had repulsed a furious attack by A. P. Hill upon the Federal intrenchments near Mechanicsville, that it was the most terrible artillery battle the war had yet known, and that the Federal batteries, from the nature of their position, wrought frightful loss upon their assailants. This was the second day of the seven.

If Jackson is moving toward Whitehouse, if a large Confederate force is confronting Porter alone on the north side, perhaps the bulk of their army, we surely shall move to-day. The regiments and batteries since morning had been under marching orders. We heard an infantry officer, before a sutler's tent, say to another, pointing to some of the Sixteenth New York, who were standing by, “These men are all liable to arrest for being out of camp;” and some of the men retorted in an undertone, ‘So are you.’

Where are we going? Is it a retreat towards the James? [51]

‘Boots and saddles!’ we are off somewhere. No, not immediately; we remain in line expectant; the contiguous infantry with arms stacked are similarly waiting. Hark! there is firing across the river. It seemed to be in the neighborhood of the camp we occupied in May, at Gaines' Farm. 'T is past noon; we are still waiting at one o'clock. There is a rumor that heavy guns, wagons, and teams, have been crossing to this side of the river during the night and moving toward Savage's Station. That looks like a movement towards the James. Two o'clock: there is a stir among the infantry; there's a messenger,—an orderly,— no, an aid, going to headquarters. Soon comes the order, ‘Drivers, mount,’ and we move out toward the river, whither already some of the infantry of Bartlett's brigade were moving, whither more infantry and artillery of the division were following.

Now the firing is louder and more rapid as we approach. This route seems the same by which we came to the camp which we have just left. The roads show that heavy teams have lately passed over them. The firing seems to be continuous along a curve from Gaines' Mill, on the left as we are facing, far on to the right, toward Cold Harbor.

It must have been past three when the infantry and artillery of our division reached the field upon the other side. The Federal line, with its left upon Gaines' Mill stream, was evidently severely pressed. If only Porter's corps up to this moment was on this side, he must have been contending against fearful odds. The entire second line and reserves are engaged. They have evidently been moved forward to repel the continued assaults along the line. Some of the infantry and a battery of our division which have just arrived are pushed directly forward. There go a regiment and a battery to the left toward Gaines' Mill stream. One would get the impression that Slocum's division was being divided and sent hither and thither to points where the need of support was extreme. Now, midst the din and confusion, the screaming of shot and shell, the shrieking of minie balls, Bartlett's brigade and the First Massachusetts Battery were sent to the right, where Sykes' division and Griffin's brigade for more than an hour had firmly held their ground against repeated stubborn attacks. Never was a reinforcement more welcome. Speedily we moved up and onward to the right, where, forming the right section of an [52] arc, partly in the woods, and partly in the open ground reaching toward the rear of Cold Harbor, the troops of Sykes and Griffin were desperately stemming the tide. Bartlett's regiments are brought into line. Our guns are unlimbered, and caissons move to the rear.

It was without doubt the material aid afforded by Gen. Slocum's reinforcement of this part of the line, at this juncture, that saved the Federal right. Let this fact be remembered to the credit of the Sixth Army Corps and the gallant commander of its First Division, whose command in an equal emergency at Antietam helped retrieve the failing fortunes of the day, and who himself afterward commanded the right wing of our army at Gettysburg.

It was perhaps five o'clock, when, upon the left of our position, seemingly in the centre of the Federal line, as we try to picture in our minds a line drawn along the crest of the range of heights from Gaines' Mill to our position on the right already described, the heavy firing indicates that the enemy is trying the same tactics that have failed upon the right. The sounds do not settle back toward the river, so we judge that the centre stands firm. For half an hour this continued, when the din of conflict seemed to be transferred to the extreme left. Now the sounds seem to be floating to our rear. Have the Confederates massed their forces upon the right of their line, to destroy Porter and McCall? The infantry contiguous to us seem to have been ordered to fall back; we limber up and move toward the left and rear. Still the cannonade upon the left continues. As we draw nearer, there comes to our ears a yell that suggests that there is a charge in progress on the Confederate right flank; but, drawing yet nearer, there was a scene of confusion in the rear of the left. Infantry seemed to be retreating to the river. Batteries were withdrawing, not at a walk, but overrunning the infantry. Our approach added to the confusion. But at this moment, a column from the south side of the river appears upon the scene; they have Second Corps badges; 'tis French and Meagher. They push through the retreating masses; the latter are rallied, and with new courage follow behind the fresh brigades, ready to meet a new attack.

The enemy seemed to be aware of the arrival of reinforcements; there was a brief exchange of shots, then a lull, as darkness settled upon the field. It is said that when the Federal line broke on the [53] left, Porter had called into action all his artillery, and was effectively checking the Confederate advance, while at the same time withdrawing, under cover of the artillery fire, his infantry; when the horses of Gen. Cooke's cavalry, which had been attempting to charge the enemy, becoming unmanageable, wheeled about and galloped among the gunners, who, being without infantry support, and supposing a charge made upon them, the batteries were hastily withdrawn.

This perhaps explains the scene of confusion which met the eyes of French's division and the Irish brigade, when they reached the field.

During the night, the Federal forces were withdrawn to the right bank. The last of the rear-guard, crossing after daylight, destroyed the bridge behind them. It was in the thick darkness that immediately precedes day, that our company reached the camp which it left before the battle, and where yet was its necessary baggage and some commissary and quartermaster's stores. It needed the light of dawn to exhibit the weary, sober troops; Private M. V. Cushing was wounded, Rogers and one other man were missing. The horses were clamorous for fodder.

Much needed refreshment and a brief rest for man and beast were hardly enjoyed, when our command and all the troops in that vicinity were again in motion, this time toward the southeast.

This hot, gloomy Saturday morning was quiet as an old fashioned New England Sabbath. There was something ominous in the stillness. No one of the rank and file knew the true condition of the army, or its destination, but the surmise was general that we were going to the James. Indeed, the Confederates must have been hours in possession of Whitehouse and the York River Railroad up to the Chickahominy. In the light of subsequent events, it is now evident that we were at this time creeping along between Magruder's force in front of Richmond, and the great bulk of the Confederate army on the north bank of the river.

About nine o'clock, Confederate batteries on the north side of the river, posted in the vicinity of Porter's position of yesterday, launched forth a heavy fire upon our troops, who held a fortified position opposite on the south side. This was of brief duration. There was no meeting of contending forces that day, but a painfully [54] slow, agonizing motion of endless trains of artillery, army wagons, and ambulances with their sad burdens. But where were those wounded who could not bear the jolt and swaying of the ambulances? Are the hospital tents with the faithful nurses abandoned to the enemy? It may be that the safety of the army demands it. ‘This is the time that tries men's souls.’ So, various were the reflections of men of diverse temperaments and physiques. Now we hear from a dust-begrimed veteran with sleepless eyes, an optimist to the core: ‘I have not the faintest doubt of the final triumph of our cause, and I have the firmest faith in our commander-in-chief.’ Then an officer replies to another, who asks: ‘Where are we going?’ ‘To the James, to take transports to Fortress Monroe. The southern Confederacy will be recognized within a week.’

Certainly the awful suspense of Saturday, June 28, and the night following, were more trying to the spirit of the soldier than the combats that ensued. The narrow ways were choked with cavalry, teams, and infantry. The monster procession moved at a snail's pace; the day wore away. We cannot say where we passed the night of the 28th. We were evidently a part of the rear guard. At daybreak we were in the vicinity of Savage's Station. We found upon reaching Savage's Station, commissary stores and quartermaster's supplies smouldering in piles, and the scattered debris of army property. A locomotive derailed was poised upon the embankment, its smoke-stack leaning like the Tower of Pisa. But there was yet some property undestroyed. At this time the contending forces were at no point a mile apart, while Sedgwick's division was but a few hundred yards from the Confederates; they had undoubtedly divined McClellan's purpose. They must flank White Oak swamp and get possession of the New Market cross roads before the Union army can pass through the swamp, at the same time that they are prodding our rear, or it will be too late for flanking movements to avail them anything. The commander of the extreme Federal rear guard had been ordered to retire slowly and hold the enemy in check.

At Peach Orchard it was necessary for the rear division to turn and confront the Confederate van. For four hours the contest was waged with great vigor on both sides, the advantage being [55] with the Federals, in so far that they were enabled, the enemy falling back, to retire to their main body. When they arrived, past noon, at Savage's Station, they halted to complete the work of destruction. The troops in our rear at this moment were commanded by Gen. Heintzelman. At four o'clock, Magruder's force, which had hung upon Heintzelman's steps for two hours, made a spirited attack. From the first onslaught, the heroic soldiers of the Federal rear held their pursuers in check, fighting and retiring until dark. Under cover of night they passed through White Oak Swamp.

In the meanwhile, the long trains of artillery, wagons, and ambulances, and the advance troops, had crossed the swamp during the day and were moving along the Quaker road which led to the James. While Magruder was pressing the Federal rear on this Sunday afternoon and evening, the fifth of the seven, Longstreet was making a detour of the swamp, with the design of striking the Federal force at the junction of thenine mile road with that along which McClellan's army was travelling.

We camped that night in a small clearing in the woods along the line of the Quaker road. Loud peals of thunder were heard in the north far over the swamp, suggesting a night storm or a deluge on the morrow. But the morning of the sixth day was dry and sultry, the heat during the forenoon was oppressive in the extreme. No breeze found its way into the thick, low woods. The company camp had much of the air it possesses when a protracted halt is made. Details had been made for various purposes, and the boys included in these calls were executing their tasks.

We recollect on this forenoon, that Comrade Daniel Cheney and another of his detachment were bringing water in campket-tles to the cook's fire, and that Cheney was singing, ‘The cottage by the sea,’ smiling at us, as we were watching him. He, poor fellow, seemed to have no premonition that before sundown he would be numbered with the slain. And Comrade Thomas Daly, whose genial countenance was seen no more after this day save in memory, in camp, line, or column, mortally wounded in the afternoon, and our boys captured that day,—all were cheerful, not contemplating the future. At noon, artillery firing was heard in the swamp. Jackson had repaired and crossed Grapevine Bridge. He has perhaps joined his force with that of Magruder, who was [56] pressing our rear so persistently yesterday. His plan is, to push across White Oak Creek, through the swamp, and unite with Longstreet and Hill, who are making the detour of the swamp, hoping to reach the junction of the New Market and Quaker roads and intercept McClellan.

How to prevent the consummation of the plans of these Confederate chieftains was McClellan's problem. His extreme advance had reached the James, this morning; the artillery, much of it, was parked on Malvern Hill. Leaving Franklin, with the divisions of Smith and Richardson, and Naglee's brigade, and artillery under Capt. Ayres, to guard the passage of the swamp, he hurried the remainder of his army along the Quaker road.

Our command has evidently been waiting with others, until the movement had made such progress as to render it practicable for other bodies to be set in motion. Fortune favored McClellan, for when Jackson reached White Oak Creek, the bridge was destroyed, and batteries on the south side effectually swept the crossing. This was the firing which we heard at noon. Again and again did the Confederates attempt to cross the creek, and as often were they repulsed by Smith's division of the Sixth Corps. After noonday we moved along. Longstreet was at this time upon the New Market road, south of the swamp, a mile from the cross roads, i. e., from the point of intersection of the New Market and Quaker roads. He found the junction in the possession of the Federal forces. There was little probability that he could gain this point and cut the Federal army in two, unless he could unite with Jackson; the latter never came. But tenacity of purpose and courage are qualities that often impel men to cope with serious disadvantages, and sometimes enable them to win success. Longstreet and Hill seem to have determined to pierce the Federal line within hearing of Jackson, who could not participate in the fearful venture; but there were in front of them troops which, though inferior in numbers, were not only equal in the particulars of discipline, personnel, and courage to their own, but were led in divisions by men of equal courage and firmness of purpose with the Confederate generals themselves.

Across the New Market road, on a line parallel with and in front of the Quaker road, extended the Union forces, commanded by Hooker, Sumner, McCall, and Kearney, awaiting the attack of [57] the Confederate host. McCall covered the point of intersection; Sumner and Hooker were on his left, and Kearney was on his right. Longstreet's corps confronted our left; A. P. Hill's our right.

It was perhaps three o'clock on the afternoon of June 30, 1862, when, moving through the woods a short distance in the rear of the cross roads, we found upon our left a little acre of partially cleared land, falling off from the road to the wood; and here the forge and battery wagon and spare horses were left, while the guns and caissons moved to the front. Here, a part of the time under a cross-fire, these teams remained until night. Occasionally a wounded man was brought into this nook, and occasionally a horse with his leg broken and dangling would hobble into their midst, and, strange to say, commence to crop the herbage.

Our company had scarcely emerged from the woods before an attack was made upon the centre of the Federal line. It is the Pennsylvania Reserves that are engaged yonder. Off the road, across the field, as it was bidden, our command moved in battery and came into position and action at this juncture, as part of the artillery contingent of the centre. The battle now raged with fury. Evidently the most desperate attempt is being made by the enemy to turn McCall's left, and at the same time there are furious assaults upon the Union batteries in the centre, and on the right. Our guns are having a baptism of fire; we seem to be exposed to the steady fire of artillery in our front, whose shots fly now by, now over, the heads of our gunners; there is a rattling hail of shot between us and the opposing battery. Now is work in earnest; officers and men seem instinctively to feel that their company is an element of the forlorn hope that has been extended to the centre of the Federal line, and seem to be animated with the spirit of devotion to duty. Calmly and quickly passed the orders from chiefs of sections to sergeants, and from sergeants to gunners.

There falls a cannoneer in the sixth detachment; the wheel of the piece, in recoiling, several times jostles roughly his dead body lying prone behind it. It was stalwart Dan Cheney. It is said, ‘Tom Daly is hit.’ Now nearer the guns are moved, and if possible more rapidly discharged. So, incessantly through the afternoon was the command engaged; now moving forward as [58] there was a momentary surging back of the infantry, then a recovery of their position. Now a hail of shot from the foe, and a deafening response from our guns, and quickly repeated volleys from the infantry of our brigade. Now was severely tested the pluck and endurance of the Fifth Maine, and the Sixteenth and Twenty-seventh New York, and grandly was the test met. The drivers of our pieces and caissons, had plenty of food for contemplation, and ample opportunity to exercise patience and self-control.

Now our howitzer section under Lieut. Sleeper is hastily despatched to the right, where it is said that Gen. Kearney has need of more short-range artillery. The boys reported that, coming into action near a rail fence, the Confederate shots in their front made an exceedingly lively shower of slivers, as the section commenced work in its new position. During the heat of the action, the conduct of our officers was superb. The calm resolution of Capt. Porter, the sanguine energy and inspiring self-confidence of McCartney, the sprightly cheerfulness of Sleeper, the quiet attention to duty of Federhen and Sawin, will be remembered by the boys while memory endures.

Now two regiments of Confederates charge upon Randall's battery, then there is a desperate hand to hand fight with the supporting regiment; there is no unemployed infantry to be sent to its aid, and the battery is captured. Now there is another Confederate onslaught upon McCall's left; it wavers; the flank is turned! A yell and a rush of Confederates ensue, as they attempt to follow up their success. But suddenly one hears a resounding cheer—unmistakably Union; farther to the left, Hooker has taken the grays, in turn, by a flank fire. They are driven across Sumner's front, and before and along McCall's centre, and forced back. It was during this part of the action that shots from the front and left went thudding into the enclosure to which we have alluded, where were wounded men, spare horses and teams. Now, as sunset is merging into night, the sounds on the right and left indicate that Hooker and Kearney are respectively gaining ground.

Night has come on; the vigor of the Confederate attack seems scarcely abated. Now again is a quickened movement in our command, and we participate in repelling a last attack in our [59] front. Then for an uncertain period there was a lull, an anxious rest. At last we limber up and draw out upon the road.

Capt. Porter rides in the darkness into the enclosure, and in a low tone bids the drivers of the teams and the men in charge of the spare horses to move on after the company, at the same time enjoining silence; just then some mules close at hand gave a prolonged blast of their unique music, so that the otherwise serious effect of the captain's injunction was ludicrously spoiled. We have no doubt this was appreciated by the brave captain, for he next inquired, in his usual tones, for some one who was missing, and receiving no definite information, remarked that the one in question would ‘go to Richmond.’ The company was now moving along at a rapid pace. So dark was it, that we could not judge from observation whether we were in the general column on a pike, or were a portion of a corps that was making its way by a bridle-path through the woods. Certainly, narrow and crooked enough for an hour the way was; there appeared to be considerably more than the usual interval between the teams. The drivers had to employ all their skill to prevent locking their wheels with the trees. At length a carriage was held fast; its right hind hub was flush with the trunk of a large tree, and was plumb against another. The drivers of the following team dismounted and sought to render assistance, grasping the wheel, lifting, and endeavoring with the aid of the horses, whose drivers tried to back them, to throw the wheel away from the tree. No officer, commissioned or non-commissioned, was at hand. It required more strength than was afforded by the willing men present. Now the pickets came along, their canteens rattling as they walked, and the drivers besought them, in vain, to lend a hand; they were intent upon making as good time as possible. As they strung along, the drivers would fruitlessly repeat the request.

At last, an officer who had evidently been superintending and hastening forward the pickets, and looking personally to the movements of the rear on this retreat, rode up in time to hear one of the last appeals of the drivers. ‘A half dozen of you men hand your muskets to others, and take hold here,’ said he to the pickets. The infantry-men, doubtless, in the darkness supposed him to be a lieutenant in charge of the teams, and paid no heed. As the order was repeated, one of the men said: ‘We don't belong to the [60] artillery.’ The officer rose in his stirrups, and in a tone in which was no palaver, said: ‘Don't belong——! Put down your gun and lay hold of that carriage, or I'll shoot you.’ Six muskets or more were instantly passed to other men by their owners, who lifted the carriage with the aid of the other drivers, and the officer who had dismounted, leading his horse, came to put his shoulder to the wheel. We saw and recognized his features; it was Gen. Slocum. Our march was unimpeded for the rest of the way through the woods, although it was dark for some time longer. The road was slightly ascending, as though we were gradually making progress toward the summit of a hill, or to a table-land, where the army would be again at bay to-morrow.

Just after daybreak, we drove out of the woods, to find ourselves on the brow of a ridge with a vale stretching along its front and winding among the ridges down to the James. Across the mead was the elongated superior elevation called Malvern Hill; up there we saw the troops that had preceded us during the night,—artillery, their guns in position frowning from the height; infantry, some in line resting upon their arms, some being moved to positions they were destined to occupy; aids and orderlies riding to and fro; cavalry moving toward the lower end of the hill. The whole array seemed invested with an air of weary expectation.

We moved across the valley, then obliquely up the hill, then along the crest through batteries and companies of infantry. When we had halted and unhitched, we rode our horses back again down to a brook in the vale, to water them. A drove of cattle, probably intended for slaughter that morning, was being driven around the foot of the hill. We had just climbed the side of the hill on our return, and were riding along its crest, toward our carriages, when lo! looking to the left, from which direction we had just come, there on the brow of the ridge we had crossed a half-hour since, was the van of the Confederates. They too, must have made the best use of the night, from their standpoint. To attack the Union force holding such a position with sufficient artillery, and with all these advantages, palpably threefold in its favor,—this, to a casual, unprofessional observer, standing in the vale or upon the lesser ridge occupied by the Confederates, would seem to be an enterprise costly beyond all comparison, to the army acting on the offensive. Perhaps the Confederate commander [61] counted upon a demoralization of our troops, as a result of the six days campaign just concluded. Perhaps he was forced to make a concession to generals and troops who, flushed with the victory at Gaines' Farm, burned to wipe out the defeat sustained yesterday and the day before.

The condition of our company guns, owing to the undue enlargement of the vents by the melting of the rims, was such the morning after the affair at Charles City Cross Roads, as to render them temporarily unserviceable. Nevertheless, though relieved about noon from the position occupied since morning, our command was again in the afternoon placed in position farther on the right. While marching in column along the brow of Malvern Hill, toward the right and rear of our line, the enemy fired at us from the lower ridge before alluded to, their shots passing harmlessly over our heads, and beyond us. This did not provoke any return from the Federal batteries which we were passing.

While we were reaching this position in the afternoon, July I, 1862, the French princes were flitting down the river, having taken abrupt leave of Gen. McClellan, on whose staff they had served during the campaign which was drawing to a close. Having come hither to pursue a full course as students of military science and art, they seem to have contented themselves with a single term's instruction.

The battle of Malvern Hill was peculiarly illustrative of the superior advantage which that one of two equally brave and ably commanded armies possesses, even if numerically inferior, which acts upon the defensive; and this advantage is enhanced in proportion to the natural strength of the position assailed.

The left and centre of our line was on Malvern Hill, with part of a division in the low ground to the left of the eminence, watching the road to Richmond. The right was along a line of ridges, to the east, bending back toward the river. Before this part of the line, timber was felled and the roads were blocked. It is said that, when at four o'clock the attack was made upon our lines, Jackson, with the divisions of D. H. Hill, Whiting, and Ewell, in the order named, struck our right, weakest in its natural defences, while Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and Magruder essayed to storm and carry the hill held by our left. Till half-past 5, the Confederates, with characteristic ardor and stubbornness, advanced by regiment [62] and battery to reap the terrible slaughter which was inevitable from the superiority of the position which McClellan had chosen for his last stand. At sunset they retired from our front, through the woods toward Richmond.

During the night and on the following morning, Tuesday, July 2, our army was moving down the James to Harrison's Landing and the vicinity. Copious showers during the night, with floods of water collecting in pools in every shallow depression, and then streaming over the surface and down slopes, had rendered the sacred soil both divisible and adhesive; and as the clouds still lowered over the roads and fields, the sun's rays failed to evaporate the moisture and dry the mud, so the feet of the men, the hoofs of the horses, and the weight of the wheels, ploughed through the muck and mire of the roads, and converted the sward and turf of the fields into a paste. Yet the freshened vegetation along the route, moist with dampness, was odorously agreeable to our senses.

We plodded along at various rates of speed: now a walk, now a trot, then a halt, then a slow, hardly perceptible movement, then a rapid motion, as if we were struck with compunction for having tarried at all, and felt bound to make amends.

The topography of the north bank of the James, below Malvern Hill, is not unlike that of the south bank of the York: reedy, marshy bottom lands extend along its shore, now and then breaking into the high upland, inland; the river throwing an arm into this marshy indentation, back, irregularly, for miles; the arm being met at its head by a stream,—the whole system constituting a tributary of the great river. Below Harrison's Landing, and north of the mouth of the Chickahominy, the bottom lands this side penetrate the shore for several miles, bending northwest from the river, skirting, on the northwest, high bluffs grown up with oak, holly, and wild cherry interspersed with underbrush, with magnolias growing at the swampy base. Through acres of this marsh land extends Herring Run Creek, for a large portion of its course clinging closely to the foot of the bluff on its north side.

On this bluff, or rather on the open plateau whose shoulder it is, was the right of McClellan's army, during the weeks that intervened between the battle of Malvern Hill and the northward movement of Lee's army. Ascending from the river road to the [63] cultivated uplands on our left hand, and moving back to make room for the hundreds and thousands of the different corps that were pouring in to halt here until assigned to a permanent position, we enter, about noon, with the infantry and artillery of our division, an immense grainfield. The stalks now sweep about our waists; before night not a green spear or a root is discernible; the whole field, by the ceaseless tramp of soldiers and steeds, has become an area of gray paste, which adheres so tenaciously to the soldier's shoe, that when the foot sinks deeply, on seeking to extract itself, it comes forth shoeless; the leather is locked in the embrace of the mud, and the soldier must needs sound for it. On the second of July, we moved to the position in the line which we occupied during this stay, in 1862, of the Army of the Potomac on the James. To the Sixth Corps was assigned the section of the line which rested on the banks of Herring Run, at a point on Westover Heights, northeast of Harrison's Landing and nearly due east from Malvern Hill. This was the right of a line, soon strongly fortified, which, extending due west for a mile, then obliquing gradually to the southwest for several miles, finally bent due south to the James.

The heat rays of old Sol, on the 3d and 4th of July, struck the sacred clay with such intensity that the gray paste became a gray crust. The next transformation will be the dry, powdery dust into which the inevitable tramping of the hosts shall grind it, and the spades, picks, and shovels of the fatigue parties that shall break, lift, and pile up the soil in earth banks to-morrow. This was the staple employment for the next fortnight, for details from some or other of the commands which stretched along the front of our army. Our company contributed a fair proportion of its muscular force to the undertaking which resulted in a system of ponderous barriers from the old church on Westover Heights on the bank of Herring Run, along the position of our line as heretofore indicated, to the James. It was dig, dig, dig—lift and throw—until the bank reached the height of the embrasures and platforms for the field pieces; then the work was varied for some who were to fill grain-bags with earth, which, piled in tiers, were to constitute the sides of the embrasures.

So the army found itself, before the middle of July, strongly [64] intrenched, awaiting the attack of a foe who never came; he had a better plan. But the digging did not cease.

'T was dig, dig, dig, till the flesh begins to creep;
'T was dig, dig, dig, till the stars begin to peep.
Oh! general gallant and young, oh! general wise and brave,
'T is not the foe you are wearing out,
You are digging a nation's grave!

At the first six embrasures on the right of this long barrier were our guns. Behind them were our corral and our company quarters, and near at hand, its camp systematically arranged, was our supporting regiment.

We were now, those of us who were well and hardy, (which in spite of all was a majority of us,) jogging along to the routine tune of camp life. But this, in the rests between the whole notes, permits of many episodes in the course of a week. We watered our horses regularly in Herring Run, twice a day, and we, nearly as regularly at a different hour, dove and swam in its waters.

An incident, one of several that we shall relate in the course of our history, that illustrates the versatility of our boys, occurred during one of our daily baths in Herring Run Creek. One evening a squad of Vermont boys, of our corps, and as many of our own company, had just waded into the creek, when comrade Flukins exclaimed, ‘I'll wager I can stay under water longer than any man here!’ Suiting his action to his word, he dove and disappeared; the Vermonters, few of whom swam, waded and paddled around, our boys swam about, ducked under, and gambolled in the water; at last, said one of our Vermonters, ‘He's drowned; no one could stay under so long.’ His own comrades were a little mystified, but their confidence in Flukins' aquatic genius lessened the alarm they might otherwise have experienced. But a minute more and another elapsed, and his comrades asked: ‘Where is Flukins? Must we run up to camp, give the alarm, drag the river?’ ‘Wait awhile, my boys!’ said a voice behind us and sure enough, up the bank, peering from the thick underbrush, was the head of Mr. Flukins, looking like a merman's, the water dripping from his beard, and a brilliant globule suspended from his nose. He had swam back some rods under water, and quietly climbed up the bank. [65]

The boys will remember their independent explorations in the fields and woods, in front of our line,—the large cornfield, the stalks as high as a horseman's head, not a weed among them, only now and then a sassafras shoot, or a blackberry vine; then the blackberry patches beyond, with plenty of fruit; the woods, the old logs and stumps on which lizards crawl that reflect the color of whatever they are upon, large fellows with serpent's head and tail, and a body shaped like a baby alligator's; an occasional snake, too, like one for example that comrades M. and L. found coiled under their gum blanket one morning before first call. It will be recollected that L., on being asked what they did on first seeing the reptile, replied: ‘I guess, by Guy, we got up.’

But whims, vagaries, and jokes float upon a troublous sea. Happy he who may be wafted along upon them. The serious side of life inexorably presents itself during our gayest moments. Our beloved comrade, Geo. B. White, model soldier and admirable man, reached this place worn and exhausted, his fund of vitality so low that he could hardly make his way with slow, uncertain steps to the surgeon's quarters. Yet he strove for a time to perform assigned duty until he was obliged to succumb. It was sad to look upon his pale, emaciated face, but inspiring to behold his patience and hope. It was but a day before his death that he was removed to the hospital tent. On the eve before the final event an elderly comrade said, ‘He's struck with death.’ We buried him within the shadow of the old church, one of the oldest in Virginia. The elms wave over the grave we made, upon which, after Lieut. Sleeper, responsive to the chaplain's words, had sprinkled a handful of dust upon the coffin, we piled earth and sods, and a platoon of infantry discharged their farewell shots. A comrade prepared a neat headboard, on which was carved the name and age, the name of the company of the deceased, and the legend, ‘Peace to his ashes.’ Lieut. McCartney was heard speaking in the highest terms of the deceased to the chaplain, paying a just and kindly tribute to the memory of the quiet, modest, and brave soldier.

Comrades Cummings and Langley are weak and debilitated; the shadowy appearance of the former is touching to contemplate. Comrade Currier has made his last march; one of the lithest, most active fellows was he, not an ounce of loose flesh upon his frame,— [66] a good soldier. His death was reported to us later from Fortress Monroe. A slow fever is consuming poor Brother Knowles, who has passed the meridian of life,--a sturdy patriot, a brave old man. We fear we shall leave him along the route on our next move.

During July Abraham Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac,— Abraham Lincoln, who, even as the Roman Senate thanked the consuls in the hour of defeat for not despairing of the republic, sent words of hope and cheer to the Army of the Potomac after each reverse, and who at this time rode with the commanderin-chief and his staff through the principal streets of the vast camp, amid the plaudits of the soldiers. We seem yet to see that rugged form towering above general and staff, and those massive, benignly grand features of our war president.

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