By Jefferson Davis
DURING the night I visited the several commands along the entrenchment on the south side of the Chickahominy. General Huger's was on the right, General McLaws's in the center, and General Magruder's on the left. The night was quite dark, especially so in the woods in front of our line, and, in expressing my opinion to the officers that the enemy would commence a retreat before morning, I gave special instructions as to the precautions necessary in order certainly to bear when the movement commenced. in the confusion of such a movement, with narrow roads and heavy trains, a favorable opportunity was offered for attack. It fell out, however, that the enemy did move before morning, and that the fact of the works' having been evacuated was first learned by an officer on the north side of the river, who, the next morning (the 29th), about sunrise, was examining their works by the aid of a field glass.
Generals Longstreet and A. P. Hill were promptly ordered to recross the Chickahominy at New Bridge, and move by the Darbytown and Long Bridge roads. General Lee, having sent his engineer, Captain Meade, to examine the condition of the abandoned works, came to the south side of the Chickahominy to unite his command and direct its movements.
Magruder and Huger found the whole line of works deserted, and large quantifies of military stores of every description abandoned or destroyed. They were immediately ordered in pursuit, the former by the Charles City Road, so as to take the enemy's any in flank; the latter by the Williamsburg Road, to attack his rear. Jackson was directed to cross the "Grapevine" Bridge, and move down the south side of the Chickahominy. Magruder reached the vicinity of Savage Station, where he came upon the rear guard of the retreating army. Being informed that it was advancing, he halted and sent for reinforcements. Two brigades of Huger's division were ordered to his support, but were subsequently withdrawn, it having been ascertained that the force in Magruder's front was merely covering the retreat of the main body.
Jackson's route led to the flank and rear of Savage Station, but he was delayed by the necessity of reconstructing the "Grapevine" Bridge.
Late in the afternoon Magruder attacked the enemy with one of his divisions and two regiments of another. A severe action ensued, and continued about two hours, when night put an end to the conflict. The troops displayed great gallantry, and inflicted heavy loss; owing to the lateness of the hour and the small force engaged, the result was not decisive, and the enemy continued his retreat under cover of night, leaving several hundred prisoners, with his dead and wounded, in our hands. Our loss was small in numbers but great in value. Among others who could ill be spared, here fell that gallant soldier, useful citizen, true friend and Christian gentleman, Brigadier General Richard Griffith. He had served with distinction in foreign war, and when the South was invaded, was among the first to take up arms in defense of our rights.
At Savage Station were found about twenty-five hundred men in hospital, and a large amount of property. Stores of much value had been destroyed, including the necessary medical supplies for the sick and wounded. The night was so dark that before the battle ended it was only by challenging that on several occasions it was determined whether the troops in front were friends or foes. It was therefore deemed inadvisable to attempt immediate pursuit.
Our troops slept upon their arms, and in the morning it was found that the enemy had retreated during the night; by the time thus gained, he was enabled to cross the White-Oak Creek, and destroy the bridge.
Early on the 30th Jackson reached Savage Station. He was directed to pursue the enemy on the road he had taken, and Magruder to follow Longstreet by the Darbytown Road. As Jackson advanced, he captured so many prisoners and collected so large a number of arms that two regiments had to be detached for their security. His progress at White-Oak Swamp was checked by the enemy, who occupied the opposite side, and obstinately resisted the rebuilding of the bridge.
Longstreet and A. P. Hill, continuing their advance, on the 30th came upon the foe strongly posted near the intersection of the Long Bridge and Charles City roads, at the place known in the military reports as Frazier's Farm.
Huger's route led to the right of this position, Jackson's to the rear and the arrival of their commands was awaited, to begin the attack.
On the 29th General Holmes had crossed from the south side of the James River, and on the 30th was reinforced by a detachment of General Wise's brigade. He moved down the River Road, with a view to gaining, near Malvern Hill, a position which would command the supposed route of the retreating army.
It is an extraordinary fact that, though the capital had been threatened by an attack from the seaboard on the right, though our army had retreated from Yorktown up to the Chickahominy, and after encamping there for a time had crossed the river and moved up to Richmond, yet, when at the close of the battles around Richmond McClellan retreated and was pursued toward the James River, we had no maps of the country in which we were operating; our generals were ignorant of the roads, and their guides knew little more than the way from their homes to Richmond. It was this fatal defect in preparation, and the erroneous answers of the guides, that caused General Lee first to post Holmes and Wise, when they came down the River Road, at New Market, where, he was told, was the route that McClellan must pursue in his retreat to the James. Learning subsequently that there was another road, by the Willis church, which would better serve the purpose of the retreating foe, Holmes's command was moved up to a position on that road where, at the foot of a hill which concealed from view the enemy's line, he remained under the fire of the enemy's gunboats, the huge, shrieking shells from which dispersed a portion of his cavalry and artillery, though the faithful old soldier remained with the rest of his command, waiting, according to his orders, for the enemy with his trains to pass; taking neither of the roads pointed out to General Lee, he retreated by the shorter and better route, which led by Dr. Poindexter's house to Harrisons Landing. It has been alleged that General Holmes was tardy in getting into position, and failed to use his artillery as he had been ordered. Both statements are incorrect. He first took position when and where he was directed, and, soon after, he moved to the last position to which he was assigned. The dust of his advancing column caused a heavy fire from the gunboats to be opened upon him, and, in men who had never before seen the huge shells then fired, they inspired a degree of terror not justified by their effectiveness. The enemy, instead of being a straggling mass moving toward the James River, as had been reported, was found halted between West's house and Malvern Hill on ground commanding Holmes's position, with an open field between them.
General Holmes ordered his chief of artillery to commence firing upon the enemy's infantry, which immediately gave way, but a heavy fire of twentyfive or thirty guns promptly replied to our battery, and formed, with the gunboats, a crossfire upon General Holmes's command. The numerical superiority of the opposing force, both in infantry and artillery, would have made it worse than useless to attempt an assault unless previously reinforced, and, as no reinforcements arrived, Holmes, about an hour after nightfall, withdrew to a point somewhat in advance of the one he had held in the morning. Though the enemy continued their cannonade until after dark, and most of the troops were new levies, General Holmes reported that they behaved well under the trying circumstances to which they were exposed, except a portion of his artillery and cavalry, which gave way in disorder, probably from the effect of the ten-inch shells, which were to them a novel implement of war; for when I met them, say half a mile from the point they had left, and succeeded in stopping them, another shell fell and exploded near us in the top of a wide spreading tree, giving a shower of metal and limbs, which Soon after caused them to resume their flight in a manner that plainly showed no moral power could stop them within the range of those shells. It was after a personal and hazardous reconnaissance that General Lee assigned General Holmes to his last position; when I remonstrated with General Lee, whom I met returning from his reconnaissance, on account of the exposure to which he had subjected himself, he said he could not get the required information otherwise, and therefore had gone himself.
After the close of the battle of Malvern Hill, General Holmes found that a deep ravine led up to the rear of the left flank of the enemy's line, and expressed his regret that it had not been known, and that he had not been ordered, when the attack was made in front, to move up that ravine and simultaneously assail in flank and reverse. It was not until after he had explained with regret the lost, because unknown, opportunity, that he was criticized as having failed to do his whole duty at the battle of Malvern Hill.
He has passed beyond the reach of censure or of praise, after serving his country on many fields wisely and well. I, who knew him from our schoolboy days, who served with him in garrison and in the field, and with pride watched him as he gallantly led a storming party up a rocky height at Monterey, and was intimately acquainted with his whole career during our sectional war, bear willing testimony to the purity, selfabnegation, generosity, fidelity, and gallantry which characterized him as a man and a soldier.
General Huger reported that his progress was delayed by trees which his opponent had felled across the Williamsburg Road. In the afternoon, after passing the obstructions and driving off the men who were still cutting down trees, they came upon an open field (P. Williams's), where they were assailed by a battery of rifled guns. The artillery was brought up, and replied to the fire. In the meantime a column of infantry was moved to the right, so as to turn the battery, and the combat was ended. The report of this firing was heard at Frazier's Farm, and erroneously supposed to indicate the near approach of Huger's column, and, it has been frequently stated, induced General Longstreet to open fire with some of his batteries as notice to General Huger where our troops were, and that thus the engagement was brought on. General A. P. Hill, who was in front and had made the dispositions of our troops while hopefully waiting for the arrival of Jackson and Huger, states that the fight commenced by fire from the enemy's artillery, which swept down the road. This not only concurs with my recollection of the event, but is more in keeping with the design to wait for the expected reinforcements.
The detention of Huger, as above stated, and the failure of Jackson to force a passage of the White-Oak Swamp, left Longstreet and Hill, without the expected support, to maintain the unequal conflict as best they might. The superiority of numbers and advantage of position were on the side of the enemy. The battle raged furiously until 9 P. M. By that time the enemy had been driven with great slaughter from every position but one, which he maintained until he was enabled to withdraw under cover of darkness. At the close of the struggle nearly the entire field remained in our possession, covered with the enemy's dead and wounded. Many prisoners, including a general of divisions, were captured, and several batteries with some thousands of small arms were taken.
After this engagement Magruder, who had been ordered h go to the support of Holmes, was recalled to relieve the troops of Longstreet and Hill. He arrived during the night, with the troops of his command much fatigued by the long, hot march.
In the battle of Frazier's Farm the troops of Longstreet and Hill, though disappointed in the expectation of support, and contending against superior numbers advantageously posted, made their attack successful by the most heroic courage and unfaltering determination.
Nothing could surpass the bearing of General Hill on that occasion and I often recur with admiration to the manner in which Longstreet, when Hill's command seemed about to be overborne, steadily led his reserve to the rescue, as he might have marched on a parade. The mutual confidence between himself and his men was manifested by the calm manner in which they went into the desperate struggle. The skill and courage which made that corps illustrious on former as well as future fields were never more needed or better exemplified than on this.
The current of the battle which was then setting against us was reversed, and the results which have been stated were gained. That more important consequences would have followed had Huger and Jackson, or either of them, arrived in time to take part in the conflict, is unquestionable; there is little hazard in saying that the army of McClellan would have been riven in twain, beaten in detail, and could never, as an organized body, have reached the James River.
Our troops slept on the battlefield they had that day won, and couriers were sent in the night with instructions to hasten the march of troops who had been expected during the day.
Valor less true or devofion to their cause less sincere than that which pervaded our army and sustained its commanders would, in this hour of thinned ranks and physical exhaustion, have thought of the expedient of retreat; so far as I remember, however, no such resort was contemplated. To bring up reinforcements and attack again was alike the expectation and the wish.
During the night, humanity, the crowning grace of the knightly
soldier, secured for the wounded such care as was possible, not only to those of our own army, but also to those of the enemy who had been left upon the field.
This battle was in many respects one of the most remarkable of the war. Here occurred On several occasions the capture of batteries by the impetuous charge of our infantry, defying the canister and grape which plowed through their ranks, and many hand-to hand conflicts, where bayonet wounds were freely given and received, and men fought with clubbed muskets in the life-and death encounter.
The estimated strength of the enemy was double our own, and he had the advantage of being in position. From both causes it necessarily resulted that our loss was very heavy. To the official reports and the minute accounts of others, the want of space compels me to refer the reader for a detailed statement of the deeds of those who in our day served their country so bravely and so well.
During the night those who fought us at Frazier's Farm fell back to the stronger position of Malvern Hill, and by a night march the force which had detained Jackson at White-Oak Swamp effected a junction with the other portion of the enemy. Early on July 1st Jackson reached the battlefield of the previous day, having forced the passage of White-Oak Swamp, where he captured some artillery and a number of prisoners. He was directed to follow the route of the enemy's retreat, but soon found him in position on a high ridge in front of Malvern Hill. Here, on a line of great natural strength, he had posted his powerful artillery, supported by his large force of infantry, covered by hastily constructed entrenchments. His left rested near Crew's house and his right near Binford's. Immediately in his front the ground was open, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile, and, sloping gradually from the crest, was completely swept by the fire of his infantry and artillery. To reach this open ground our troops had to advance through a broken and thickly wooded country, traversed nearly throughout its whole extent by a swamp passable at only a few places and difficult at these. The whole was within range of the batteries on the heights and the gunboats in the river under whose incessant fire our movements had to be executed.
Jackson formed his line with Whiting's division on his left and D. H. Hill's on his right, one of Ewell's brigades occupying the interval. The rest of Ewell's and Jackson's own division were held in reserve. Magruder was directed to take position on Jackson's right, but before his arrival two of Huger's brigades came up and were placed next to Hill. Magruder subsequently formed on the right of these brigades, which with a third of Huger's were placed under his command. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were held in reserve, and took no part in the engagement. Owing to ignorance of the country, the dense forests impeding necessary communications, and the extreme difficulty of the ground, the whole line was not formed until a late hour in the afternoon. The obstacles presented by the woods and swamp made it impracticable to bring up a sufficient amount of artillery to oppose successfully the extraordinary force of that arm employed by the enemy, while the field itself afforded us few positions favorable for its use, and none for its proper concentration.
General W. N. Pendleton, in whom were happily combined the highest characteristics of the soldier, the patriot, and the Christian, was in chief command of the artillery, and energetically strove to bring his long-range guns and reserve artillery into a position where they might be effectively used against the enemy, but the difficulties before mentioned were found insuperable.
Orders were issued for a general advance at a given signal, but the causes referred to prevented a proper concert of action among the troops. D. H. Hill pressed forward across the open field, and engaged the enemy gallantly, breaking and driving back his first line; a simultaneous advance of the other troops not taking place, he found himself unable to maintain the ground he had gained against the overwhelming numbers and numerous batteries opposed to him. Jackson sent to his support his own division and that part of Ewell's which was in reserve; owing to the increasing darkness and intricacy of the forest and swamp, however, they did not arrive in time to render the desired assistance. Hill was therefore compelled to abandon part of the ground he had gained, after suffering from severe loss and inflicting heavy damage.
On the right the attack was gallantly made by Huger's and Magruder's commands. Two brigades of the former commenced the action, the other two were subsequently sent to the support of Magruder and Hill. Several determined efforts were made to storm the hill at Crew's house. The brigade advanced bravely across the open field, raked by the fire of a hundred cannon and the musketry of large bodies of infantry. Some were broken and gave way; others approached close to the guns, driving back the infantry, compelling the advance batteries to retire to escape capture, and mingling their dead with those of the enemy. For want of cooperation by the attacking columns, their assaults were too weak to break the enemy's line; after struggling gallantly, sustaining and inflicting great loss, they were compelled successively to retire. Night was approaching when the attack began, and it soon became difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The firing continued until after 9 P. M., but no decided result was gained.
Part of our troops were withdrawn to their original positions; others remained in the open field; some rested within a hundred yards of batteries that had been so bravely but vainly assailed. The lateness of the hour at which the attack necessarily began gave the foe the full advantage of his superior position, and augmented the natural difficulties of our own.
At the cessation of firing, several fragments of different commands were lying down and holding their ground within a short distance of the enemy's line, and as soon as the fighting ceased an informal truce was established by common consent. Numerous parties from both armies, with lanterns and litters, wandered over the field seeking for the wounded, whose groans and calls on all sides could not fail to move with pity the hearts of friend and foe.
The morning dawned with heavy rain, and the enemy's position was
seen to have been entirely deserted. The ground was covered with his dead and wounded, and his route exhibited evidence of a precipitate retreat. To the fatigue of hard marches and successive battles, enough to have disqualified our troops for rapid pursuit, was added the discomfort of being thoroughly wet and chilled by rain. I sent out to the neighboring houses to buy, if it could be had at any price, enough whiskey to give to each of the men a single gill, but it could not be found.
The foe had silently withdrawn in the night by a route which had been unknown to us, but which was the most direct road to Harrison's Landing, and he had so many hours the start, that, among the general officers who expressed to me their opinion, there was but one who thought it was possible to pursue effectively. That was General T. j. Jackson, who quietly said, 'They have not all got away if we go immediately after them."
During the pursuit, just described, the cavalry of our army had been absent, having been detached on a service which was reported as follows: After seizing the York River Railroad, on June 28th, and driving the enemy across the Chickahominy, the force under General Stuart proceeded down the railroad to ascertain if there was any movement of the enemy in that direction. He encountered but little opposition, and reached the vicinity of the White House on the 29th. On his approach the enemy destroyed the greater part of the immense stores accumulated at that depot, and retreated toward Fortress Monroe. With one gun and some dismounted men General Stuart drove off a gunboat which lay near the White House, and rescued a large amount of property, including more than ten thousand stand of small arms, partially burned. General Stuart describes his march down the enemy's line of communication with the York River as one in which he was but feebly resisted. He says:
We advanced until, coming in view of the White House (a former plantation residence of General George Washington), at a distance of a quarter of a mile, a large gunboat was discovered lying at the landing. . .. I was convinced that a few bold sharpshooters could compel the gunboat to leave. I accordingly ordered down about seventy-five, partly of the First and Fourth Virginia Cavalry, and partly of the Jeff Davis Legion, armed with the rifled carbines. They advanced on this monster so terrible to our fancy, and a body of sharpshooters was sent ashore from the boat to meet them. . .. To save time I ordered up the howitzer, a few shells from which, fired with great accuracy, and bursting directly over her decks, caused an instantaneous withdrawal of the sharpshooters, and a pre. cipitous flight under headway of steam down the river. . .. An opportunity was here offered for observing the deceitfulness of the enemy's pretended reverence for everything associated with the name of Washington for the dwelling-house was burned to the ground, not a vestige left except what told of desolation and vandalism.
Nine large barges, laden with stores, were on fire as we approached; immense numbers of tents, wagons, and cars in long trains, loaded, and five locomotives; a number of forges; quantities of every species of quartermaster 5 stores and property, making a total of many millions of dollars all more or less destroyed.
I replied (to a note from the commanding General) that there was no evidence of a retreat of the main body down the Williamsburg road, and I had no doubt that the enemy, since his defeat, was endeavoring to reach the lames as a new base, being compelled to surrender his connection with the York. If the Federal people can be convinced that this was a part of McClellan's plan, that it was in his original design for Jackson to turn his right flank, and our generals to force him from his strongholds, they certainly never can forgive him for the millions of public treasure that his superb strategy cost.
Leaving one squadron at the White House, he returned to guard the lower bridges of the Chickahominy. On the 30th he was directed to recross and cooperate with Jackson. After a long march, he reached the rear of the enemy at Malvern Hill, on the night of July 1st, at the close of the engagement.
On July 2d the pursuit was commenced, the cavalry under General Stuart in advance. The knowledge acquired since the event renders it more than probable that, could our infantry, with a fair amount of artillery, during that day and the following night, have been in position on the ridge which overlooked the plain where the retreating enemy was encamped on the bank of the James River, a large part of his army must have dispersed, and the residue would have been captured. It appears, from the testimony taken before the United States Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that it was not until July 3d that the heights which overlooked the encampment of the retreating army were occupied, and from the manuscript notes on the war by General J. E. B. Stuart, we learn that he easily gained and took possession of the heights, and with his light howitzer opened fire upon the enemy's camp, producing great commotion. This was described by the veteran soldier, General Casey of the United States Army, thus:
The enemy had come down with some artillery upon our army massed together on the river, the heights commanding the position not being in our possession. Had the enemy come down and taken possession of those heights with a force of twenty or thirty thousand men, they would, in my opinion, have taken the whole of our army except that small portion of it that might have got off on the transports.
General Lee was not a man of hesitation, and they have mistaken his character who suppose caution was his vice. He was prone to attack, and not slow to press an advantage when he gained it. Longstreet and Jackson were ordered to advance, but a violent storm which prevailed throughout the day greatly retarded their progress. The enemy, harassed
and closely followed by the cavalry, succeeded in gaining Westover on the James River, and the protection of his gunboats. His position was one of great natural and artificial strength, after the heights were occupied and entrenched. It was flanked on each side by a creek, and the approach in front was commanded by the heavy guns of his shipping, as well as by those mounted in his entrenchments. Under these circumstances it was deemed inexpedient to attack him; in view of the condition of our troops, which had been marching and fighting almost incessantly for seven days under the most trying circumstances, it was determined to withdraw, in order to afford to them the repose of which they stood so much in need.
Several days were spent in collecting arms and other property abandoned by the enemy, and in the meantime some artillery and cavalry were sent below Westover to annoy his transports. On July 8th our army returned to the vicinity of Richmond.
Under ordinary circumstances the army of the enemy should have been destroyed. Its escape was due to the cause already stated. Prominent among these was the want of correct and timely information. This fact, together with the character of the country, enabled General McClellan skillfully to conceal his retreat, and to add much to the obstructions with which nature had beset the way of our pursuing columns. We had, however, effected our main purpose. The siege of Richmond was raised, and the object of a campaign which had been prosecuted after months of preparation, at an enormous expenditure of men and money, was completely frustrated. 1
More than ten thousand prisoners, including officers of rank, fifty-two pieces of artillery, and upward of thirty-five thousand stand of small arms were captured. The stores and supplies of every description which fell into our hands were great in amount and value, but small in comparison with those destroyed by the enemy. His losses in battle exceeded our own, as attested by the thousands of dead and wounded left on every field, while his subsequent inaction shows in what condition the survivors reached the protection of the gunboats.