By Jubal Early
DURING my absence from the army, the battle of Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks, as the enemy called it, was fought on the 31st of May and the 1st of June, and General Johnston had been wounded. General R. E. Lee had succeeded to the command of the army of General Johnston, and it was now designated "The Army of Northern Virginia.
General Lee's army had received some reinforcements from the South; and General Jackson (after his brilliant campaign in the valley of the Shenandoah, by which he had baffled and rendered useless large bodies of the enemy's troops, and prevented McDowell from being sent to the support of McClellan with his force of 40,000 men) had been ordered to move rapidly toward Richmond for the purpose of uniting in an attack on McClellan's lines.
This movement had been made with such dispatch and secrecy, that the approach of Jackson towards Washington was looked for by the authorities at that city, until he was in position to fall on McClellan's rear and left.
Having started on my return to the army, without having any knowledge of the contemplated movement, on my arrival at Lynchburg I found that the fighting had already begun with brilliant results. I hastened on to Richmond and arrived there late in the afternoon of the 28th of June. Though hardly able to take the field and advised by the surgeon not to do so, immediately on my arrival in Richmond I mounted my horse, and with my personal staff rode to General Lee's headquarters at Gaines' house, north of the Chickahominy, for the purpose of seeking a command and participating in the approaching battles which seemed inevitable. I arrived at General Lee's headquarters about 11 o'clock on the night of the 28th, and found him in bed. I did not disturb him that night but waited until next morning before reporting to him. The battles of Mechanicsville and Chickahominy had been fought on the 26th and 27th respectively, and that part of the enemy's army which was north of the Chickahominy had been driven across that stream to the south side.
The troops which had been engaged in this work consisted of Longstreet's, D. H. Hill's, and A. P. Hill's divisions, with a brigade of cavalry under Stuart, from the army around Richmond, and Jackson's command, consisting of his own, Ewell's, and Whiting's divisions. All of these commands were still north of the Chickahominy, and Magruder's, Huger's, McLaw's, and D. R. Jones' divisions had been left on the south side to defend Richmond, there being about a division at Drewry's and Chaffin's Bluffs under Generals Holmes and Wise. Magruder's, McLaw's and Jones' divisions consisted of two brigades each, and were all under the command of General Magruder.
A reorganization of the divisions and brigades of the army had been previously made, and my brigade, composed of troops from two different States, had been broken up, and my regiments had been assigned to other brigadier generals. On reporting to General Lee on the morning of the 29th (Sunday), I was informed by him that all the commands were then disposed of, and no new arrangement could take place in the presence of the enemy; but he advised me to return to Richmond and wait until a vacancy occurred, which he said would doubtless be the case in a day or two.
I rode back to Richmond that day, and on the next day, the 30th, called on the Secretary of War, General Randolph, who gave me a letter to General Lee, suggesting that I be assigned to the temporary command of Elzey's brigade of Ewell's division, as General Elzey had been severely wounded, and would not be able to return to duty for some time. On the day before, our troops on the north of Chickahominy had crossed to the south side in pursuit of the enemy, and were marching towards James River, and Magruder had had an engagement with the rear of the retreating column at Savage Station on the York River Railroad On the afternoon of the 30th, I rode to find General Lee again, and, being guided by reports of the movement of our troops and, as I got nearer, by the sound of artillery, I reached the vicinity of the battlefield at Frazier's farm, just about the close of the battle near dark. This battle had taken place between Longstreet's and A. P. Hill's divisions and a large body of the enemy's retreating forces. There had been a failure of other portions of the army to come up as General Lee expected them to do, but the enemy had been driven from the field with a loss of some artillery and a considerable number in killed, wounded and prisoners on his part.
I gave General Lee the letter of the Secretary of War, and next morning he gave me an order to report to General Jackson for the purpose of being assigned temporarily to Elzey's brigade. This was the 1st of July, and I rode past the battlefield of the day before with our advancing troops, until we reached the road leading from across White Oak Swamp past Malvern Hill to James River, where I found the head of General Jackson's column. I rode forward and found the General on the road towards Malvern Hill with a cavalry escort, awaiting a report from some scouts who had been sent forward to ascertain the enemy's position.
On reporting to General Jackson, he directed his adjutant general to write the order for me at once, but while Major Dabney, the then adjutant general, was preparing to do this, the enemy opened with some of his guns from Malvern Hill, and several shells felt near us. This rendered an immediate change of quarters necessary, and the whole party mounted at once and retired to the rear, followed by the enemy's shells in great profusion, as the cloud of dust arising from the movement of the cavalry enabled him to direct his fire with tolerable precision. As soon as we got out of immediate danger, Major Dabney wrote me the necessary order, on his knee, in a hurried manner, and I thus became attached to the command of the famous "Stone-wall" Jackson. I found General Ewell 's division in the rear of Jackson's column, and upon reporting to him the command of Elzey's brigade was at once given me, it being then about ten o'clock P. M.
The brigade was composed of the remnants of seven regiments, to-wit: the 13th Virginia, the 25th Virginia, the 31st Virginia, the 44th Virginia, the 52nd Virginia, the 58th Virginia, and the 12th Georgia Regiments. The whole force present numbered 1,052 officers and men, and there was but one colonel present (Colonel J. A. Walker of the 13th Virginia Regiment), and two lieutenant colonels (of the 25th and 52nd Virginia Regiments respectively), the rest of the regiments being commanded by captains. General Jackson's command at this time was composed of his own division, and those of Ewell, D. H. Hill, and W. H. Whiting, besides a number of batteries of artillery. Ewell's division was composed of Trimble's brigade, Taylor's Louisiana brigade, the brigade to which I had been assigned, and a small body of Maryland troops under Colonel Bradley T. Johnson.
After remaining for some time in the rear, we finally moved forward past Willis' Church, to where a line of battle had been formed confronting the enemy's position at Malvern Hill. D. H. Hill's division had been formed on the right of the road leading towards the enemy, and Whiting's on the left, with an interval between his right and the road into which the Louisiana brigade of Ewell's division was moved. My brigade was posted in the woods in rear of the Louisiana brigade, and Trimble's brigade was formed in rear of Whiting's left, which constituted the extreme left of our line. Jackson's division was held in reserve in rear of the whole. The enemy soon commenced a heavy cannonade upon the positions where our troops were posted, and kept it up continuously during the rest of the day. From the position which I occupied, the enemy could not be seen, as a considerable body of woods intervened, but many shells and solid shot passed over us, and one shell passed through my line, killing two or three persons.
We remained in this position until about sunset, and, in the meantime, D. H. Fill on our immediate right and Magruder on his right had attacked the enemy and become very hotly engaged. Just about sunset I was ordered to move my brigade rapidly towards the right to support General D. H. Hilt. General Ewell accompanied me, and we had to move through the woods in a circle in rear of the position Hill had first assumed, as the terrific fire of the enemy's artillery prevented our moving in any other route. As we moved on through intricate woods, which very much impeded our progress, we were still within range of the shells from the enemy's numerous batteries, and they were constantly bursting in the tops of the trees over our heads, literally strewing the ground with leaves.
After moving through the woods for some distance we came to a small blind road leading into an open flat, where there had once been a mill on a creek which ran through swampy ground between our left and the enemy. On reaching the edge of the open flat I was ordered to halt the head of my brigade, until General Ewell rode forward with a guide, who had been sent to show us the way, to ascertain the manner in which we were to cross the creek. The musketry fire was now terrific, and reverberated along the valley of the creek awfully. General Ewell soon returned in a great hurry and directed me to move as rapidly as possible. As soon as the head of the brigade, led by Lieut. Colonel Skinner of the 52nd Virginia Regiment, emerged into the open ground, General Ewell turned to him and directed him to go directly across the fiat in the direction he pointed, cross the creek, and then turn to the left through the woods into the road beyond, ordering him at the same time to move at a double quick. Before I could say anything General Ewell turned to me and said, "We will have to go this way," and he dashed off in a gallop on a road leading to our right along the old dam across the creek into another road leading in the direction of the battlefield.
I had no option but to follow him, which I did as rapidly as possible, but this required me to make a considerable circuit to get to the point where I expected to meet the head of my brigade. There were flow streams of our men pouring back from the battlefield, and on getting into the road leading towards it I lost sight of my brigade, as a woods intervened. I did not find it coming into the road at the point where I expected, and after some fruitless efforts to find it, in which I was often deceived by seeing squads from the battlefield come out of the woods in such manner as to cause me to mistake them for the head of my brigade, I rode back to find if it was crossing the flat.
I saw nothing of it then, and the fact was, as afterwards ascertained, that, after crossing the creek, Colonel Skinner had turned to the left too far, and moved towards the battlefield in a different direction than that indicated. His regiment had been followed by three others, the 13th, 44th, and 58th Virginia Regiments, but the 12th Georgia and 25th and 31st Virginia Regiments, being in the rear in the woods when the head of the brigade moved at a double quick, were left behind, and when they reached the fiat, seeing nothing of the rest of the brigade, they crossed the creek at the dam and took the wrong end of the road. In the meantime, while I was trying to find my brigade, General Ewell had rallied a small part of Kershaw's brigade and carried it back to the field. I saw now a large body of men, which proved to be of Toombs' brigade, coming from the field and I endeavored to rally them, but with little success.
While I was so engaged, the 12th Georgia of my own brigade came up, after having found that it had taken the wrong direction, and with that regiment under the command of Captain J. G. Rogers, I moved on, followed by Colonel Benning of Toombs' brigade with about thirty men of his own regiment. Lieutenant Early, my aide, soon came up with the 25th and 31st Virginia Regiments, which he had been sent to find. On reaching the field, I found General Hill and General Ewell endeavoring to form a line with that part of Kershaw's brigade which had been rallied, while Ransom's brigade, or a part of it, was moving to the front.
I was ordered to form my men in line with Kershaw's men, and this was done in a clover field in view of the flashes from tile enemy's guns, the guns themselves and his troops being concealed from our view by the darkness which had supervened. General Hill's troops had been compelled to retire from the field as had been the greater part of Magruder's, after a very desperate struggle against immense odds, and a vast amount of heavy siege guns and field artillery. I was ordered to hold the position where I was and not attempt an advance.
The enemy still continued a tremendous fire of artillery from his numerous guns, and his fire was in a circle diverging from the main position at Malvern Hill so as to include our entire line from right to left. This fire was kept up until after nine o'clock, and shells were constantly bursting in front and over us, and crashing into the woods in our rear. It was a magnificent display of fireworks, but not very pleasant to those exposed to it. After being gone some time the part of Ransom's brigade which had advanced in front of us, retired to the rear. Trimble's brigade had arrived from the extreme left, and was posted in my rear. Generals Hill and Ewell remained with us until after the firing had ceased, and then retired after giving me orders to remain where I was until morning and await further orders. During the night General Trimble moved his brigade back towards its former position, and General Kershaw and Colonel Benning retired with their men for the purpose of looking after the rest of their commands.
My three small regiments, numbering a little over three hundred in all, were left the sole occupants of that part of the field, save the dead and wounded in our immediate front. My men lay on their arms in the open field, but they had no sleep that night. The cries and groans of the wounded in our front were truly heartrending, but we could afford them no relief. We observed lights moving about the enemy's position during the whole night, as if looking for the killed and wounded, and the rumbling of wheels was distinctly heard as of artillery moving to the rear, from which I inferred that the enemy was retreating.
At light next morning T discovered a portion of the enemy's troops still at his position of the day before, but it was evidently only a small portion and it turned out to be a heavy rear guard of infantry and cavalry left to protect the retreating army. The position which he had occupied and which our troops had attacked was a strong and commanding one, while the whole country around, over which our troops had been compelled to advance, was entirely open several hundred yards and
swept by his artillery massed on the crest of Malvern Hill.
In my view were nearly the whole of our dead and wounded that had not been able to leave the field, as well as a great part of the enemy's dead, and the sight was truly appalling. While watching the enemy's movements I observed to our right of his position and close up to it a small body of troops lying down with their faces to the enemy, who looked to me very much like Confederates. I moved a little further to my right for the purpose of seeing better and discovered a cluster of Confederates, not more than ten or twelve in number, one of whom was also looking with field glasses at the body which I took to be a part of our troops. On riding up to this party, I found it to consist of General Armistead of Huger's division with a few men of his brigade. In answer to my question as to where his brigade was, General Armistead replied, "Here are all that I know anything about except those lying out there in front." He had spent the night in a small cluster of trees around some old graves about two hundred yards from my right.
After viewing them with the glasses, we were satisfied that the troops lying so close up to the position of the enemy were Confederates, and it turned out that they consisted of Generals Mahone and Wright of Huger's division with parts of their brigades. The whole force with them only amounted to a few hundred, and this body constituted the whole of our troops making the assault who had not been compelled to retire. They maintained the ground they had won, after mingling their dead with those of the enemy at the very mouths of his guns, and when the enemy finally retired this small body under Mahone and Wright remained the actual masters of the fight. Before the enemy did retire, a messenger came from Generals Mahone and Wright, with a request for the commander of the troops on the part of the field where I was to advance, stating that the enemy was retreating and that but a rear guard
occupied the position. I was, however, too weak to comply with the request, especially as I was informed that their ammunition was exhausted.
Shortly after light, General Ewell came ill a great hurry to withdraw my command from the critical position in which he supposed it to be, but I informed him that the enemy had been retreating all night, and he sent information of that fact to General Jackson.
Early in the morning a captain of Huger's division reported to me that he had collected nearby about one hundred and fifty men of that division, and lie asked me what he should do with them. I directed him to hold them where they were and report to General Armistead, who was on the field. About this time a considerable body of the enemy's cavalry advanced towards us on the road from his main position of the day before, as I supposed for a charge upon us, and I requested General Armistead to take command of the detachment from Huger's division and aid me in repulsing the charge, but, while I was making the necessary preparations, a few shots from a small party of infantry on the left of the road sent the cavalry back again. By this time our ambulance details had commenced to pass freely to the front for our dead and wounded, and they began to mingle freely with those of the enemy engaged in a similar work. For some time a sort of tacit truce seemed to prevail while details from both armies were engaged in this sad task, but the enemy's rear guard finally retired slowly from our view altogether, on the road toward Harrison's Landing.
It was not until this movement that I discovered what had become of the rest of my brigade, and I then ascertained that when the missing regiments had arrived on the battlefield at a different point from that intended, Colonel Walker had taken charge of them. It was dark by that time, and they got in amongst some of the enemy's regiments, when Colonel Walker quietly withdrew them, as the force into which they had got was entirely too strong for him to attack. My brigade did not draw trigger at all, but it sustained a loss of thirtythree in killed and wounded from the artillery fire of the enemy. During the 2nd it commenced raining, and before night the rain was very heavy, continuing all night. After being employed for some time in picking up small arms from the battlefield, my command was moved to a position near where we had been in line, the day before, and there bivouacked with the rest of the brigade, which had returned to that point the night before.
At the battle of Malvern Hill, the whole army of McClellan was concentrated at a very strong position, with a limited front and both flanks effectively protected. General Lee's entire army was likewise present, and it was the first time during the seven days' fighting around Richmond that these two armies had thus confronted each other.
McClellan's army, however, was so situated that each portion of it was in ready communication with, and in easy supporting distance of, every other part, so that the whole was available for defence or attack, white such was the nature of the ground over which General Lee's army had to move to get into position, and in which it was drawn up after it got in position, that communication between the several commands was very difficult, and movements to the support of each other still more difficult.
General Lee made the attack, and it was his purpose to hurl the greater part of his army against the enemy, but there had been much delay in getting some of the commands into position, owing to the difficulties of the ground and an unfortunate mistake as to roads. When the attack was made, it was very late in the afternoon, and then, from the want of concert produced by the want of proper communication, only a portion of our troops advanced to the attack of the enemy. The troops which did so advance consisted alone of D. H.
Hill's division of Jackson's command, Magruder's command of three small divisions of two brigades each, and three brigades of Huger's division, in all fourteen brigades.
From some mistake in regard to the signal for the advance, D. H. Hill, hearing what he supposed to be that signal, and was probably intended as such, advanced to the attack on the enemy's front with his five brigades alone, and for some time confronted the whole force at Malvern Hill, but after a desperate conflict and a display of useless valor, was compelled to retire with heavy loss. Magruder's command, including Huger's three brigades, was then hurled upon the enemy by brigades, one after the other, but those brigades were likewise compelled to retire after making in vain the most heroic efforts to force the enemy from his position.
In the meantime, Holmes' division of three brigades, Jackson's division of four brigades, Ewell's division of three brigades, and Whiting's division of two brigades, were inactive, while Longstreet's and A. P. Hill's divisions, of six brigades each, were held in reserve some distance in the rear. It is true two brigades of Ewell '5 division, and Jackson's whole division, were ordered to the support of D. H. Hill after his command had been compelled to retire, but it was only to be thrown into confusion by the difficulties of the way and the approaching darkness, and to be exposed to a murderous fire of artillery, for it was then too late to remedy the mischief that had been done.
In addition to all this, our troops had to advance over open ground to the attack of the enemy's front, while exposed to a most crushing fire of canister and shrapnel from his numerous batteries of heavy guns and field pieces massed on a commanding position, as well as to a flank fire from his gunboats in James River, as it was impossible from the nature of the ground and the position of the flanks to turn and attack either of them.
Moreover, such was the character of the ground occupied by us that it was impossible to employ our artillery, as in attempting to bring the guns into action on the only ground where it was possible to use them, they could be knocked to pieces before they could be used with effect, and such was the result of the few experiments made. Longstreet's and Hill's divisions were held in reserve because they had been heavily engaged at Frazier 's farm the day before, but why the rest of Jackson's command was not thrown into action I cannot say, unless it be that the difficulty of communicating, and the impossibility of seeing what was going on our right, prevented the advance from that quarter from being known in time. Certain it is that I was not aware of the fact that it was any other than an affair of artillery, until ordered to General Hill's support, as the roar of the artillery drowned the sound of the small arms.
General Hill states that his division numbered ten thousand men at the commencement of the fighting north of the Chickahominy, and he had sustained considerable loss in that fighting. General Magruder says his force of three divisions (six brigades) numbered about thirteen thousand men when the movement to the north of the Chickahominy began, and he had been severely engaged at Savage Station. Huger's three brigades numbered perhaps seven or eight thousand, certainly not more. Our troops engaged could not, therefore, have numbered over thirty thousand, and was probably something under that figure, while McClellan was able to bring into action, to meet their assault on his strong position, his whole force, or very nearly the whole of it.
The loss in the two armies was very probably about equal, and we were left in possession of the battlefield, and all the abandoned muskets and rifles of both armies, besides those pieces of artillery abandoned On the retreat, and some wagons and ambulances, hut all this did not compensate us for the loss of valuable lives
sustained, which were worth more to us than the material of war gained or any actual results of the battle that accrued to our benefit.
Both sides claimed the victory, but I do not think any advantage was gained by either army from the battle, though McClellan made good the retreat of his shattered army to the very strong position at Harrison's Landing. If General Lee's plans for the battle had been carried out, I have no doubt that it would have resulted in a crushing defeat to the enemy.
On the 3rd of July the army was put in motion again, and Jackson's, Ewell's, and Whiting's divisions moved around to the left and approached McClellan's new position by the road leading from Long Bridge to Westover, Ewell's division being in front. On the 4th we arrived in front of the enemy, and advanced, with Ewell's division in line of battle, and skirmished in front, until we encountered the enemy's skirmishers, when our progress was arrested by an order from General Longstreet, who had come up. We remained in line skirmishing heavily with the enemy for a day, when we were relieved by Whiting's division. It was now judged prudent not to attack the enemy in this position, as it was a strong one with very difficult approaches, and on the 8th our army retired, the greater part of it returning to the vicinity of Richmond, thus leaving McClellan to enjoy the consolation of having, after near twelve months of preparation on the most gigantic scale and over three months of arduous campaigning, accomplished the wonderful feat of "a change of base."
McClellan in his report (Sheldon & Co.' s edition of 1864) shows that there was an aggregate present in his army on the 20th of June, 1862, of 107,226, of which there were present for duty 4,665 officers and 101,160 men, making the aggregate present for duty 105,825. See page 53. On page 239, he says: "The report of the Chief of the 'Secret Service Corps,' herewith forwarded, and dated 26th of June, shows the estimated strength of the enemy, at the time of the evacuation of Yorktown, to have been from 100,000 to 120,000. The same report puts his numbers on the 26th of June at about 180,000, and the specific information obtained regarding their organization warrants the belief that this estimate did not exceed his actual strength."
He seems to have been troubled all the time with the spectre of "overwhelming numbers" opposed to him, and that lie should have believed so when he had "Professor Lowe" with his balloons to make reports from the clouds, and his "Chief of the Secret Service" and "intelligent contrabands," to fool him with their inventions, may be perhaps conceded by some charitable persons, but that he should have written such nonsense as the above in 1863, and published it in 1864, is perfectly ridiculous. If the United States Government with its gigantic resources and its population of 21,000,000 of whites could bring into the field for the advance on Richmond only 105,000 men, and some fifty or sixty thousand men for the defence of Washington, how was the Confederate Government, with its limited means, its blockaded ports, and its population of less than 6,000,000 of whites, to bring into the field, to oppose this one of several large armies of invasion, 180,000 men, and if it could get the men where were the arms to come from?
When I was at General Lee's headquarters, on the night of the 28th of June, at Gaines' house, General Longstreet, who occupied a part of the same house and had accompanied General Lee from the commencement of the operations on McClellan's flank and rear, informed me that, when the movement commenced, we had about 90,000 men in all, including Jackson's command, 60,000 being employed in the movement north of the Chickahominy, and 30,000 being left on the south side for the protection of Richmond. This latter number included the troops at Drewry's Bluff and Chaffin's Bluff. This statement was elicited in reply to a question by me, in which I expressed some surprise at the boldness of the movement, and asked how it was possible for General Lee to undertake it with his force. General Longstreet had no reason to underestimate the force to me, and his estimate was a sanguine one, and, I think, perhaps rather too large, as it was based on the idea that General Jack-son 5 force was stronger than it really was.
The very active campaign and rapid marching of that part of Jackson's command which had been employed in the valley, had very much reduced its strength, and the brigades and regiments were very weak. The whole force was probably somewhere between eighty and ninety thousand, and certainly did not exceed the latter number. A very large portion of the army was armed with smooth-bore muskets, and it was not until after the battles around Richmond, and of second Manassas, that we were able to exchange them for rifles and minie muskets captured from the enemy.
The movement of General Lee against McClellan was a strategic enterprise of the most brilliant character, and at once demonstrated that he was a general of the highest order of genius. Its results, independent of the capture of artillery, small arms, and stores, were of the most momentous consequences, as it relieved the capital of the Confederacy of the dangers and inconveniences of a regular siege for a long while, though it had not resulted in the destruction of McClellan's army as General Lee had desired, and the army and country fondly hoped; but in a thickly wooded country, where armies can move only along the regular roads, and move m line of battle or compact columns along those roads, there are facilities for the escape of a beaten army which one accustomed to reading of European wars cannot well understand. This was peculiarly the case in the country through which McClellan retreated, where the impracticable character of the swamps and woods enabled him to conceal his movements and to protect his trains, rear, and flanks by blocking up the roads and destroying bridges.
General McClellan, it must he confessed, displayed considerable ability in conducting the retreat of his army after it was out-manoeuvered and beaten, notwithstanding the excessive caution he had shown on the Potomac and at Yorktown, and I think there can be no doubt he was the ablest commander the United States had in Virginia during the war, by long odds. During tile seven days' operations around Richmond, the two armies were more nearly equal in strength than they ever were afterwards.