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Memoir of General John Bankhead Magruder.

General A. L. Long.
As far back as 1848 the name of Colonel John Bankhead Magruder became familiar to me through the press. He had just returned from Mexico crowned with honor fairly won in the brilliant campaigns of General Scott. But it was not until 1851 that I became personally acquainted with him. He was then in command of Fort [106] Adams (the guardian of the harbor and town of Newport, Rhode Island). Here he enjoyed a fine field for exercising his high social qualities and fondness for military display. His princely hospitality and the brilliant show-drills with which he entained his visitors made Fort Adams one of the most attractive features of the most celebrated watering place in America. It was, however, not until some years later, when I came under his command, that I learned to appreciate the chivalric character and admire the military ability of Colonel Magruder. This was at Fort Leavenworth, in the fall of 1858, after the suppression of the political troubles in Kansas.

The assemblage of a considerable number of artillery companies at Fort Leavenworth suggested the establishment of a light artillery school at that place, on the plan of the school that had been created at Old Point. On this suggestion the Leavenworth school was established in the spring of 1859. Colonel Dimick, by virtue of his rank, became superintendent of this school. He was an officer remarkable for purity and integrity of character; through a long experience his valor and his piety shone alike conspicuous. Shortly after the establishment of the Leavenworth school, Colonel Dimick was removed to another sphere of duty, and Colonel Magruder became his successor. He was well-fitted for the position to which he had been assigned. His early career in the light artillery service, in companionship with Bragg, Duncan, and Ridgely, impressed upon him a character for dashing and bold qualities, so necessary for the light artillery officers. On the fields of Pallo Alto, Reseca de la Palma and Buena Vista, and the Valley of Mexico, the brilliant exploits of the artillery filled the army with admiration. There it was that Magruder learned the lessons in artillery that so well fitted him to become the instructor in after-life. Magruder brought with him to Leavenworth the disposition which had characterized him at Newport. Although in the West the brilliant show-drills and dressparades were often only witnessed by a group of frontiermen, or a squad of Indians from the plains, he appeared as well satisfied as on similar occasions at Newport, when the spectators were the gay crowd of a fashionable watering-place. The sequel to his military exercises was usually a dinner, provided with all the taste of a connoisseur. There were others at our school entitled to a passing notice, both on account of their military reputation and social character. The great value of the artillery schools at Old Point and Leavenworth cannot be better be illustrated than by referring to some of the names which subsequent events have rendered distinguished, [107] such as Bailey, Benson, and Grebble, who, in the brilliant display of their skill, were removed from the theatre of fame when honor was fast gathering about them, while there still remained Hunt, Barry, and some others, in the enjoyment of distinguished reputations.

The light artillery of the United States before the Mexican war was held in but small estimation, but the brilliant service of the batteries of Magruder, Bragg and Duncan during that war raised it to a high degree of popularity, and subsequently, through the influence of the military academy at West Point and the artillery schools at Old Point and Leavenworth, the Federal and Confederate artillery of America acquired a character that was unsurpassed by the artillery of any other nation. In the time of Bonaparte, France took the lead in the improvements of artillery, and during the gigantic wars that convulsed Europe in the reign of Napoleon the First the field artillery of France acquired an excellence that admitted of but little improvement for the succeeding fifty years. After the restoration of peace in Europe many of the leading nations made preparations for the cultivation of the science of war, but the decade from 1850 to 1860 was reserved to produce the most marked improvements in all kinds of artillery. The Crimean war was followed by numerous inventions for modeling and constructing the various implements of war. Among the field artillery of France appeared the twelve-pounder Napoleon gun, and about the same time the Lancaster gun made its appearance in England. The superiority of the Napoleon consists in its power to admit of the indiscriminate use of shell and solid shot, with an increase of metal insufficient to diminish its mobility. The Lancaster gun is constructed with the view of imparting a rotary motion to its projectile, in order to produce accuracy of fire with increased range. Although this gun was practically unsuccessful, it lead to the introduction of the rifle cannon, from which immense range and much accuracy was obtained. While the improvements in cannon were in progress, their destructive power was greatly increased by the inventions of various kinds of explosive projectiles. While Europe was engaged in improving and inventing engines of war, America has not been behind in contributing her portion, especially in the improvement of naval and sea-coast guns, of which the Columbia, the Dalghren, the Brooke and Rodman guns are unsurpassed for destructiveness.

Magruder was not a tyrannical schoolmaster, but allowed the officers under his command to dispose of their leisure time as suited [108] their inclination, and was himself always ready to participate in the amusements of his subalterns.

It was soon evident that the instruction received at West Point, supplemented by that obtained at the Leavenworth and Old Point schools, had raised the United States artillery to a state of efficiency unsurpassed by that of any other nation, as was subsequently demonstrated on many a hard-fight field.

The Leavenworth school continued under the control of Colonel Magruder until it was disintegrated by the violent political excitement that preceded the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln.

At the first note of civil war, which soon followed that event, Colonel Magruder resigned his commission in the United States Army and repaired to his native State, and was seen among the first who offered their services for the defence of Virginia, and soon after he was entrusted with the defence of Yorktown and the peninsula embraced by York river and the James, with the rank of Brigadier-General.

In his new field of operation Magruder displayed great energy and ability in strengthening his position and disciplining his troops. His force, though necessarily small at this early stage of the war, under his masterly hand rose with such rapidity in efficiency that on the 8th of June he was able to encounter and defeat the enemy at Big Bethel in greatly superior numbers. This was the first conflict of arms since the fall of Fort Sumter, and although small in point of numbers, its moral effect was considerable by inspiring the Confederates with confidence, while it had a depressing influence upon the Federals.

After this affair the Federals made no other demonstration on the Peninsula until the ensuing spring; during which period Magruder applied himself with skill and industry to the completion of the defences of his position. He first occupied himself in securing the command of York river by the erection of strong batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester Point, where the river is less than a mile wide; then completed his land defences to the Warwick, near its head, and subsequently extended them down that river to its mouth. The strip of land between the Warwick and the James, being marshy, could easily be rendered difficult, if not impracticable, for military movements by inundation, for which purpose dams were constructed on the Warwick.

Magruder's defences were so complete that when McClellan advanced against them on the 4th of April with his powerful army, [109] upon a personal examination, he found them too strong to be carried by assault, and therefore determined to reduce them by regular approaches. For that purpose he promptly commenced the erection of his primary batteries beyond the effective range of Magruder's guns (one and a half miles).

At this time Magruder's force did not exceed eleven thousand men, while that of his opponent numbered over a hundred thousand. Notwithstanding this disparity of numbers, Magruder, with matchless audacity, maintained his position for several weeks. Every advance of McClellan was met with such vigor and boldness that he was compelled to retire with loss. His force being evidently inadequate for the permanent maintenance of his position, strong reenforcements were ordered to his assistance, and General Johnston was directed to assume command of the Peninsula. Magruder, in his report, says that with twenty-five thousand men he could have held his position. Judging from what had preceded, this was clearly no idle boast. It may be here remarked, in the face of his distinguished service, that the omission of Magruder's name is a matter of surprise, when reference is made to the Peninsula campaign.

After General Magruder had resigned the command of the Peninsula to General Johnston, he exhibited the same patriotic zeal as division commander that had characterized him while exercising an independent command. His division, which was trained under his own eye was unsurpassed in discipline and spirit by any other division in the army.

We will now follow General Magruder to the Chickahominy. For his heroic defence of the Peninsula he had been rewarded with the rank of Major-General. The day after the battle of Seven Pines I met Magruder for the first time since the commencement of the war. He did not then possess the dashing nonchalant air that characterized him at Newport, and which he particularly retained at Leavenworth, but he had the mien of a veteran who fully understood the importance of his position. General Lee had just assumed the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and was occupied in the selection of a defensive line. The position that had been chosen by General Johnston with but slight alteration was adopted, and Magruder retained that position that had been previously occupied by his division, that being the one of greatest prominence.

From the 1st to the 25th of June the operations of both armies were of preparatory character. During that interval I was frequently on Magruder's line, and was always impressed with the superior [110] character of his defences and the soldierly bearing of his troops. But it soon became obvious that Magruder belonged partly to that class of men whose genius, being unshackled, was capable of achieving the most brilliant results; but when overshadowed by authority became paralyzed. This flaw in the character of Magruder became apparent when left in command of the defences before Richmond, while General Lee operated north of the Chickahominy against McClellan's right wing. On the 27th his martial spirit was aroused by the sound of battle from Gaines' Mill, and he boldly left his entrenchment, and made so formidable a demonstration that General McClellan felt it necessary to withhold the reinforcements he had intended to send General Porter at Gaines' Mill. But on the 28th the audacity which was so conspicuous on the Peninsula seemed to abandon him; for he closely hugged his breastworks with thirty thousand men, while McClellan was in active preparations for retreat. The advantage thus gained could never be overcome. On the 29th, however, he became conscious of his mistake, and endeavored to correct it by a vigorous attack on the enemy's rear guard at Savage Station. And on the 31st, at Malvern Hill, Magruder assaulted, with splendid gallantry, the Federal position. His division, in the face of a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, broke through the enemy's line, but were obliged to yield the advantage it had won to overpowering numbers of fresh troops. The ground over which the terrible conflict raged was covered with the Confederate and Federal slain, lying side by side.

Soon after the battle General Magruder reported in person to General Lee, briefly saying: ‘My division made a heroic attack but gained nothing but glory. After carrying the enemy's position we had to give it up and retire before greatly superior numbers.’

Shortly after the defeat of General McClellan, General Magruder was appointed to the command of the Department of Texas, which from its remoteness and extent was of great importance. This exhibition of confidence on the part of the Confederate Government furnishes undeniable proof of the high estimation in which Magruder was held, and the able manner in which he performed his duties shows that his ability was correctly estimated.

Magruder continued in the command of the Department of Texas to the end of the war. While exercising that important trust his patriotic zeal won for him the confidence and affection of the Texans, among whom a few years later he delivered up his gallant spirit into the hand that gave it.

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