Hill - The Last of the Seven Days
by Daniel Moran
The Federal results of the Seven Days Fight about Richmond gave Major General
George B. McClellan ample reason to adapt his plan to withdraw down the
Virginia Peninsula. General Robert E. Lee's ambitious advance at Gaine's Mill
nearly a week before had caused the Army of the Potomac to break its right
flank against the York River creating a need to fall back upon the James River.
The movement began on the 29th of June, the 5th Army Corps under Major General
Fitz John Porter moving southeast with Morell's and Sykes' Divisions, along
with a portion of the reserve artillery to the vicinity of Turkey Bridge. The
march had begun that day, however, continued on through the night. Porter's
corps being led by one cavalry officer having stated he knew the route,
misguided the corps through the black of night causing a delay of arrival at
Turkey Creek until 9:00 am on the 30th of June.
Porter had selected the ground just north of Turkey Creek, the rolling hills
and deep ravines making up the landscape about the Crew House, known as
Malvern. If General Lee chose to engage here, this would be a Fifth Corps fight
indeed. Here on Malvern Hill, Fitz John Porter's men consisting of: Major
General Morell, Major General Sykes, Major General McCall, all division
commanders, Colonel Henry Hunt with roughly one hundred pieces of his artillery
reserve, Colonel R. O. Tyler's Connecticut Siege Artillery, Couch's division of
Keyes' IV Corps, the brigades of John C. Caldwell and Thomas Meagher of Edwin
Sumner's II Corps, along with the brigade of Daniel Sickles of Heintzelman's
III Army Corps.
The center of the Malvern Line is open rolling ground for about one thousand
yards ending at a marshy woods area. The Crew House sits to the left rear of
the line's center, to the side and back of the house, Malvern Hill drops off
deeply making it an easily defendable site and can be held with only a small
body of troops.
Major General Fitz John Porter had placed the artillery reserve upon the
grounds at Crew House and those along the crest would make life hell for the
Confederates that would charge up the deep ravines.
The preliminary battle began on Monday afternoon about 3:00 pm, when General
Theophilus Hunter Holmes' division made it's approach along the River Road,
batteries from Wise's Brigade of Holmes' Division, opened up with six rifled
guns and the extreme left of Major General Morell's line began receiving shot
and shell from the approaching butternuts. Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren
commanded a small brigade consisting of the 5th and 10th New York Infantries
down on this portion of the line re-enforced by Major Jones of the 11th United
The 5th New York Infantry had ordered out a skirmish line and pickets, when
about 5:00 pm Sergeant William Hoffman observed the rebels on the edge of a
cornfield. Colonel Warren upon receiving word of this ordered Lieutenant
Dumont, presently serving the signal corps to notified the gunboats Jacob Bell,
Galena, and Aroostook, in the James River to commencing lobbing shells in that
Four zouave signalman in the cornfield wig wagged back to the signal station to
regulate the aim of the gunboats. The gunboats had been firing one hundred
pound shells. The commands at Turkey Bend who stood their watching these rounds
fly through the air likened them to flour barrels. The sound of them whizzing
through the air was frightening to all that were within range of their drop
zone fearing that if one fuse was cut short it was going to land on them.
Thirty cannon that Colonel Hunt had placed in protection of this road and the
troops posted against it, quickly opened up on Holmes' artillery demonstration
with great accuracy smashing one battery to pieces, and causing another to
withdraw. Morell's left made it so hot for the rebel infantry and cavalry that
they made haste to the rear. Colonel Warren walked away with two guns and six
caissons from this small affair. General Holmes lost 2 killed, 49 wounded.
This test of the Federal Left was known as the action of Turkey Bridge or
Malvern Cliff. Major General Fitz John Porter was but only one hundred or so
yards from the engagement, but due to the lack of sleep he had been getting
upon the retreat march down the Peninsula, he was in the Malvern House catching
a nap. He was awoken two hours later and told of the engagement. He had never
heard the boom of the guns.
Monday Night passed as more troops began arriving on Malvern Hill for their
placement in the coming battle expected the next day. General Couch's division
came up now extending Morell's line to the right across the Quaker Road.
General McCall commanding the Pennsylvania Reserve also arrived that night
having been posted in front of the Malvern House.
The morning of July 1st, Major General T. J. Jackson spotted a group of mounted
soldiers just outside of the Willis Church, it was here that General Robert E.
Lee had made his headquarters. All had been waiting on Jackson's arrival. It
was the entire Confederate High Command, General Lee, Longstreet, both A. P.
and D. H. Hill. Lee had been very open about expressing his disappointment
about the day before at White Oak Swamp and now expressing his desire to
continue to push McClellan and he was impatient to get it done.
Jackson rode up saluting and said nothing to the group, but listened as
Longstreet made a sarcastic comment to Harvey Hill's concern about assaulting
the Federal Concentration on Malvern Hill. As Hill was about to express his
resentment over the joke to Old Pete, Lee interrupted to announce that he would
go on to utilize Major General Jackson, Magruder, and Huger's soldiers to make
the final push on McClellan. Lee was sending in nineteen brigades, roughly
30,000 men accompanied by artillery and ambulances right into the teeth of the
Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, had been feeling ill and had not reported for
duty. Jackson felt he must make a personal effort to place the artillery
himself for this fight, and Lee gave his consent to do so. It had taken the
Army of Northern Virginia mostly all day to bring a considerable force to bear
on the strongly posted position of the Federal 5th Corps.
Tuesday broke as a fine day, hot, however, tempered by a cool breeze. The hour
was early when Major General George B. McClellan rode up to Porter's
headquarters and approved the disposition of his troops. He left General Porter
in command of the portion of the field which General Couch's troops were
aligned although Porter elected to leave Couch act in command on his own having
complete trust in the military skill of that officer.
Brigadier General George W. Morell was headquartered at Doctor J. H. Mellert's
located on the western edge of the field and in close proximity to the Richmond
Road. In the juggling of commands that day, he had chosen Colonel James
McQuade's 14th Brooklyn Regiment to escort a section of Captain Weeden's
Battery out into a field watching the west and approaches. Berdan's
Sharpshooters were thrown out in a skirmish line, Lieutenant Colonel William
Ripley, commanding. This occurring about the 8:00 am hour.
The batteries were a threatening sight. Five had been placed between the Crew
House and the West House, both houses situated on the field itself in front of
General Morell's position, some 26 guns. The left, center and right of
Brigadier General Couch's division were four more batteries about 22 guns.
These pieces fell under the direction of Brigadier General Charles Griffin, a
highly skilled artillery officer and West Point Graduate.
Major General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson's troops pressed forward in
accordance with instructions from the commanding general until the advance of
the columns began receiving shot and shell from strongly posted batteries upon
the heights at Malvern. Stonewall dismounted and sat upon a stump to pencil off
a message to Major General JEB Stuart about making contact with the enemy when
a shell exploded nearby killing a few soldiers and splattering dirt all over
the paper he was writing on. Jackson simply brushed it off without ever lifting
his head and continued to write.
He furthermore instructed Brigadier General Whiting to move his command off to
the left and take up a position on the Poindexter Farm, while Major General
Daniel Harvey Hill further to the right, and Taylor's Brigade to fill in the
center between the two. Jackson's division was halted close to the Willis'
Church in the woods and placed in reserve. These dispositions had been
completed by 11:00 am that morning.
General Hill's division while getting into position had a few obstacles to over
come. These men had to ford a creek and cross an open field in full view of the
enemy's artillery before arriving at their staging area. The Federal Artillery
took complete advantage of this and dropped shot and shell down on them and
administering considerable casualties.
As Jackson cooly surveyed the Federal Line looking down upon his host, he would
have been unable to view it's entire strength, however, he could see the mass
concentration of Federal Artillery and infantry having elected not to make a
frontal assault from his sector.
James Longstreet had made mention to Lee that if between he and Jackson both
could unlimber some sixty cannon, half on his sector right of Malvern and the
other along the open fields of Poindexter Farm on Jackson's portion of the
line, both could criss cross their fire with satisfactory results. Lee was
willing to gamble it, informing Longstreet to go on with the plan.
The artillery idea appeared useless however. Once Jackson was able to unlimber
a battery, upon its first salvo some fifty pieces of Federal Artillery would
shell it into submission or destroy it. He spent time making battery placements
himself giving orders to one that was already under destructive fire. The
gunners were not enthused about being out there in such a outgunned duel.
He rode up to Generals Chase Whiting and Harvey Hill conversing leisurely over
cigars, now barking at Whiting to move his guns forward into action. Whiting
could not muster his entire artillery battalion and only had sixteen of his
fifty guns ready. Jackson would have felt one battery out of action sufficient
to send to the front and ordered Whiting to get them all moving. Under these
circumstances, Whiting would obey orders however, reluctantly vice willingly.
Whiting directed the battery commanders into the field of grain, Jackson,
mounted, leaped forward ordering the first captain to move. Soon the Federal
Artillery trained their guns on this new development. Whiting sat there
horrified at the barrage his cannon were undergoing. Was there nobody to save
his people from a madman such as Stonewall? The rebels were unable to open
twenty pieces of artillery at a time, where it was obvious that no less than
one hundred had been required.
About 10:00 am the first Confederate Skirmish line protruded through the woods
to feel out the strength of the Federals in force about the center. For nearly
two hours this line frustrated itself as that the only strength it was capable
of uncovering was a desulatory fire from General Couch's position.
It was then 1:00 pm and the rebel artillery from across the field began a
barrage against Malvern again, the like of which caused Major General Edwin
Sumner to recall the better portion of his command to more sufficient cover. In
a brief meeting with Major General Fitz John Porter, he had directed him to do
the very same, in withdrawing the 5th Army Corps, however, Porter flat out
refused on grounds that the commanding general had personally looked after the
position earlier in the day and approved of it. General Sumner never pursued a
change from George McClellan and allowed the position to remain unchanged.
It would appear that there had been some mismanagement in regards to the
Confederate Artillery on 1 July 1862. Lieutenant Colonel A. S. Cutts,
commanding the Sumter Artillery Battalion had joined with General Huger's
advance the previous day towards Malvern, however, on Tuesday Morning his seven
guns were placed in park and never called into action.
Captain William T. Poague's Rockbridge Artillery had taken position along with
Balthis' Battery Staunton Artillery in a wheatfield by direction of General
Jackson himself. Shortly after arriving however, batteries already posted began
leaving in great haste. Poague was unable to trace this verbal order to any
reliable source and ordered his men to remain in the field.
Lieutenant Carpenter, commanding Allegany Artillery (Va.) moved his battery
into the wheatfield and took up a position where he could spot. While there a
Confederate Battery was passing him from that direction having told him that
they received orders to withdraw. Shortly afterwards his own battery followed
suit, but also having not found whose orders these were ordered his battery
back and pulled in along the right of Captain Poague's guns.
He remained in this position for about an hour and a half under a terrific shot
and shell party until he followed suit with the Rockbridge Artillery and ceased
Lieutenant Carpenter immediately opened with his section. The Federal return
was so terribly accurate that one six pounder piece was knocked out of the
fight due to insufficient personnel to man the piece. The contest was so
unequaled that the battery commander ordered the five remaining pieces to cease
As swiftly as batteries would be riding up from the rear, Brigadier General
Griffin would ride out ahead of them personally placing them while shot and
shell burst in all direction about him. It was a bad place for an officer to be
riding about, so much so that the federal infantry was taking bets on Black
Jack's life in that he was either to be wounded or killed. He lead a charmed
life, no doubt. It was not such a good idea for a officer to be riding about
here, but if any had asked him about his courage on this day, it was because
his legs were shaking so terribly that he could not stand.
The Danville Artillery was lacking much upon their arrival at Malvern. Their
horses were few, their limber chests nearly empty, the battery was ordered to
the front, however, only had one section operational enough to report. This was
under Lieutenant J. W. Jones. Captain George W. Wooding had joined the battery
once a requisition for ammunition was filled and two guns immediately joined
Harvey Hill watched as Reilly's North Carolina Battery was disabled by shot
flying in from up above. One artilleryman had sought refuge behind a very large
tree feeling rather comfortable with his safe haven, until a shell came
whistling in, split the tree and carried away the poor soldier's head.
All the infantry was hugging the ground as ordered, the shot and shell of the
rebel batteries being so horrendous. Sergeant Thomas Meany, 9th Massachusetts
Infantry, Company B, acting command sergeant major neglected the order to stay
to the ground, while moving about. A shell came in, removing his head, ending
It was the 5th Corps Commander's intention to hold whatever bodies the rebels
would throw forward simply with the artillery, hoping to conserve the infantry
ammunition for more close quarters fighting. The moment had not yet come, but
all who lay back awaiting knew at sometime the inevitable would certainly
A horrific thunder sounded from the hill lined with the columns of blue. An
entire wall of flame and smoke belched forth into the woodline collecting the
gray host. Missiles being fired and landing in all directions, air bursts,
ground bursts, the infantry lying low and waiting their turn to be called in,
praying the spot they're lying on doesn't become the next crater.
Captain John Frank, Battery G, 1st New York Light Artillery, split his section
in two and not having enough room on the plateau to keep it together began
answering the rebel artillery with shell and spherical case shot. (3rd Maine
Captain Thomas W. Osborn, Commanding Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery
engaged in an artillery duel with the rebel batteries in the vicinity of
General Morell's headquarters. One hour into the fight, he turned his command
over to Lieutenant Winslow (Wheatfield Fame). A crossfire here with Bramhall's
battery was coordinated of which one piece scored a direct hit on a rebel
caisson sending it skyward and splintering everyone within several yards. (57th
Brigadier General John H. Martindale's brigade remained inactive and hugging
mother earth as the artillery opened up the likes of which hadn't been
witnessed in Virginia before. Shot and shell began flying in striking man and
beast. The wounded and dead being borne to the rear, holes in the line closing
up as each casualty was removed.
The 22nd Massachusetts Infantry likewise down in the prostrate position
witnessed the incredible shelling the rebels were placing on them. One shell
dropped right in front of Lieutenant J. Henry Symonds nearly burying him with
dirt. Having realized then that his face was still intact to his head shouted:
"Lightning never strikes twice in the same place! This is my hole!!" and
proceeded to jump into the crater the shell had recently made.
Down below the rise, Major General Harvey Hill received a message from Colonel
Robert Hall Chilton which read: July 1, 1862 "General D. H. Hill: Batteries
have been established to act upon the enemy's line. If it is broken, as is
probable, Armistead, who can witness the effect of the fire, has been ordered
to charge with a yell. Do the same. R. H. Chilton, A.A.G."
A similar dispatch were sent to all division commanders, however, with the
Confederate artillery coming online only one battery at a time as soon as it
would take position, fifty more Federal pieces would immediately train
themselves on it and destroy it in detail.
About midafternoon, General Lee rode out and met up with Major General James
Longstreet. He was growing impatient with the lopsided artillery duel and
wished to ride to the left and discuss a turning movement with his brilliant
military minded lieutenant. Both were in transit when Whiting's troops mistook
signals of the Federals withdrawing.
The concentrated firepower atop Malvern erupted with shot and shell splattering
dirt, splintering limbs from trees as if having received a bolt of lightning
from above. Whiting's lines slowly began to move forward ranks closing as one
soldier would lose his arm from shot, another his leg, and yet another having
his crown carried away as it passed.
General Hill moved to a different locale with his brigade commanders to watch
the target effect of their batteries playing on the federal artillery above. So
far from producing marked effect, the Confederate Batteries were so wild these
officers returned to cover under the assumption that no infantry assaults would
At the 5:30 pm hour, Major General John Bankhead Magruder had already given
authority for Brigadier General Ambrose "Rans" Wright to move forward with his
brigade and after finishing a small pep talk with William Mahone's men, sent it
forward into the fight as well. Now with two brigades in motion he quickly
darted to the center of the battlefield and instructed Brigadier General Lewis
Armistead to take the remainder of his brigade in as well.
A target rich environment just developed in the Federal front as the grayclad
troops emerged from the treeline, battleflags flying in the cool summer breeze
of that day.
The regimental formations of the butternuts and grays were plainly visible.
Like a grandstand parade, on came the columns, flags and banners whipping in
the breeze. Again the federal artillery lining the crest of the hill belched
forth raining down shrapnel, grape, and canister. The Federal Infantry
continued to allow the heavy fire power to control the conflict sitting and
waiting, silent for more close quarters fighting.
As Major General Thomas J. Jackson viewed Armistead's troops on the advance, he
sent orders to begin Harvey Hill's division. As Magruder's men amounted to
about 3,500 in full battle line, Hill stepped forward with another 10,000
against the Federal Left.
As each brigade emerged from the woods, the artillery from on high ripped ugly
gaping holes in the ranks. Soldiers receiving hideous wounds, others being
blown apart on impact, staining the hill crimson. It was no longer a war, but
sheer desperate murder.
Colonel John B. Gordon had been in command of Robert Rodes brigade and placed
on the far right of Harvey Hill's line, sending out a portion of the 3rd
Alabama Infantry as skirmishers. As the brigade moved forward Colonel C. C. Tew
of the 2nd North Carolina came up to Gordon informing him that he lost touch
with his brigade. He was quickly attached to the left and Gordon's regiments
continued to move forward.
The Federal Artillery began playing on Gordon's artillery support with the 26th
and 5th Alabama taking numerous casualties as a result. As Gordon's men were
seeking cover under a low hill, an order came to him from Hill ordering a
charge on a set of Federal Batteries some 800 yards in front. The 5th and 26th
Alabama were quickly brought in line. The artillery had just silenced all rebel
batteries within Gordon's line giving them the freedom to turn their pieces on
The brave troops continued on in desperation causing the first line of defense
to break, yet now his troops were well within canister range and every
discharge from above mowed his troops down, where advancing any further without
support was impossible. Gordon looked about all in vain. No troops were coming
from side or rear.
The 3rd Alabama, commanded by Major Robert M. Sands, joined Gordon's brigade
already deployed. Sending a line of skirmishers out as ordered, they had
attracted the wrath of their adversary's ordnance. Six men grabbed the colors
of the 3rd, and six men fell. The seventh retrieved what was left of cloth and
flag staff, completely unrecognizable. In this useless frontal assault this one
regiment alone would suffer 56 percent casualties.
When Robert Toombs brigade began moving forward all began well moving out in
perfect parade like formation. As soon as these troops emerged from the woods
however, the 15th Georgia Infantry on the immediate right of the 2nd Georgia
Infantry got ahead of itself masking the right flank of Colonel Holmes'
regiment. Following along came the 17th Georgia Infantry, given the command to
march by the left flank thus crowded in on the 15th Georgia crowding in on the
2nd Georgia Infantry. The jumble got so bad that Lieutenant Colonel William R.
Holmes who left the woods in command of the 2nd Georgia turned around to check
on his regiment finding himself, sword in hand leading the 15th Georgia
The destructive concentration of Federal Fire now ripped into the Confederate
right wing. Lines would advance and recoil from the terrible slaughter the guns
up above were producing, then advance again. Years after this fight Major
General Harvey Hill took great pain to even right about the incredible carnage
his division suffered that day.
In Brigadier General Roswell S. Ripley's brigade the 3rd North Carolina
Infantry first engaged in what was reported another Confederate Infantry
regiment in their front. The regiment was ordered to lie down and take the
federal pounding the best they could. While suffering from various rounds of
Federal Artillery they had also taken in musketry from the rear. Moving by the
left flank as the right of the line was being ordered to fall back. This was
not heard by the men of the 3rd North Carolina however, and they paid dearly,
their colonel taking a shell fragment to the head, dying with twenty three
Behind Ripley's brigade came Brigadier General Samuel Garland's. As he got the
word to move his brigade into action, with Anderson's, Ripley's, and Rodes'
brigades deploying on the far right, Garland's advanced was unhindered by any
gray troops in his front. His advance like all the others reached about four
hundred yards or halfway to the Federal batteries before all having taken to
the ground in hope of support. Garland had sent word back to General Hill via
Lieutenant Fabius J. Haywood, an aide-de-camp, but response was so slow that
his men could no longer take the pounding holding their ground falling back in
Just then Brigadier General Charles Griffin had noticed his former Battery D,
5th United States Artillery towards the center of the line was about to be
overrun and rode forward with his hat in his hand shouting: "General Martindale
forward your command! They are charging my battery!" He gave the word to
"Charge Bayonets" and moved his brigade forward.
When the 22nd Massachusetts came along side the battery, they were all ordered
to lie down. Captain Wardwell strode up and down the line leading them in
singing "John Brown's Body." They remained in battery support rising to their
feet and firing by file nearly sixty rounds of ammunition, while capturing
approximately 32 rebel prisoners.
Brigadier General Garland made no apology for his straight forward after action
report complaining of straggling and disordered troops. He brought to Hill's
attention that the entire division became scattered abroad.
Captain Burt felt a hard thud along side his hip, smarting his thigh. The
liquid running down his leg and into his boot led him to believe he had taken a
bad wounding, only to look down and notice that his canteen had been shot clean
through. Corporal L. L. Crane of Company C, walked away from the line half
crazy having had to musket balls pass through his hat. The regiment this day
would sustain 9 killed and 35 wounded on the field.
Captain Randolph's Rhode Island Battery rolled into position to the left of the
house Brigadier General Phillip Kearney was occupying as headquarters.
Immediately upon unlimbering his fire power opened a duel with a rebel battery
posted 1200 yards away in an oat field. The rebels had been both overshooting
and undershooting tearing up the ground both in front of the battery as well as
behind it. Randolph's aim became destructive and soon gave the rebels
invitation to leave.
Randolph's men were ordered to the further left to help silence yet another
battery now pounding Brigadier General Darius Couch's troops into submission.
Once he opened his opponent lost interest in the blue columns and began lobbing
shots at his battery, however after only a shot time, he had made it once again
too hot for his enemy's stamina in the field and they quickly withdrew.
Alonzo Snow commanded Battery B, 1st Maryland Light Artillery. General Fitz
John Porter had sent these six pieces over to support General Couch on the
right. He was then needed by General Albion P. Howe, who placed him into the
Oatfield along with Colonel Neill's 23rd Pennsylvania Infantry.
The Wheatfield opposite Snow's placement opened on him and for an hour the
batteries on this portion of the line raked havoc on each other, the accuracy
of Snow's gun finally driving off those opposed him. The rebels returned
however, with sharpshooters to make life hell for these defenders. Colonel
Neill appealed to Captain Snow to do anything to drive the sharpshooters, the
23rd Pennsylvania was taking it hard with infantry casualties. He ordered the
pieces to be loaded with canister and the sharpshooters withdrew from the iron
death that was raining all about them.
Snow's battery was then split into three sections, two of which under
Lieutenants Vannemann and Kidd rolled off to the far left to support General
Morell's men, while Lieutenant Gerry remained behind to continue its vigilant
watch over General Couch's flank. It remained this way for the remainder of the
battle having expended more than 680 rounds of ammunition.
Captain Tidball's Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery having been held in reserve all
day had been ordered to the front. The hill had been so packed with Federal
Artillery that he was forced to squeeze his pieces into position. Noticing a
battalion of Federal Infantry in his immediate front, only his two flank pieces
both right and left had an open field of fire. Four of his guns remained silent
while the flanks added to the horror of raining iron.
Near the 6:00 pm hour, Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw stepped off with four
of his regiments. His brigade advanced up the Willis Church Road taking
advantage of a ravine along the right of the Federal position. These South
Carolinians had been exposed to raking artillery fire the entire march up
taking considerable casualties along the way.
The brigade took a knee along a hedge row getting shelter from the storm, as
they watched another rebel line of battle in front of them melt before their
eyes. Colonel James D. Nance of the Third South Carolina Infantry recalled a
North Carolina regiment joining them at the wall at which time one of their
officers had stood yelling at the top of his lungs for a charge. Nance turned
and noticed General Kershaw likewise hugging the ground, and gave this officer
no further attention whatsoever.
This regiment began receiving musketry from its rear now causing great
confusing among their ranks. Two messengers, Major W. D. Rutherford, and
Corporal T. Whitner Blakely, of Company I shortly afterward, went down the hill
to ascertain and identify the problem. These messages were delivered to the
commander of the 26th Georgia Infantry who immediately began redirecting his
infantry's line of fire.
As Kershaw's command neared the rise of Malvern Hill, the 2nd South Carolina
Infantry found it's right flank exposed to the shot and shell of the batteries.
Federal infantry came up and poured volleys of musketry upon them. These men
found two lines of Federal Infantry formed at an obtuse angle. Major Gaillard
commanding the 2nd South Carolina ordered his men to open up and let them have
it. In turn, the Federals returned the favor with their own destructive volley.
The regiment stood to the lead shower quite well, having eight men killed out
right and thirty three mostly severely wounded. First Lieutenant Charles E.
Perry, commanding Company H, was shot through the throat, Lieutenant T. Sumter
Brownfield wounded severely in the head. Kershaw's brigade then began
withdrawing having no support to hold their position any longer.
Their moment came. The First Division commander ordered up the 16th Michigan
and 83rd Pennsylvania Infantries to support the batteries in front. Not long
afterwards the 44th New York Infantry was called on to prepare for action as
well. As the Confederate Infantry appeared to be successfully pressing the
federal line, the bugle of the 3rd Brigade (Butterfield's) was audible over the
din of battle. Here the 44th New York, 225 strong, marched out in line of
battle, their colors far in advance, the 12th New York moving forward with them
to their left, the 83rd Pennsylvania on their right.
Colonel Rice commanded the regiment to "Charge Bayonets" at one hundred yards.
As the New Yorkers began to press forward their flags dropped to the ground no
less than four times. It was picked up a fifth time by Private James B.
Hitchcock, of Company K, who was also wounded twice, however, refused to
relinquish the colors to anyone besides Lieutenant Colonel Rice.
Over the din of battle, Colonel Rice's voice could be heard audibly on the
advance: "Men, we are Christians and we can die!" A man from Company H made the
comment: "I don't see what the hell the use of his saying that for we are dying
fast enough!" And they were. The 44th New York lost 11 killed, 84 wounded, and
4 missing that afternoon.
The pressure the 44th New York was placing on the rebel line was too much and
it broke as they approached within thirty yards, leaving their colors on the
field. Officers and men from the 44th had sprung forward to seize the colors,
however found themselves out sprinted by Orderly Sergeant William Wittich of
the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry who grabbed the stand and personally delivered
it to the general. He was promoted to that of lieutenant for that act.
The 83rd Pennsylvania stood their ground and proved to retreating batteries
that all was not hopeless. While standing in line Corporal F. M. Ames, color
bearer was killed outright by a ball that had also cut the flagstaff in two,
falling forward upon the colors he was bearing so proudly, only to be picked up
again by Alexander Rogers.
Captain La Rhett Livingston of the 3rd United States Artillery had been engaged
since 10:00 am that morning. His battery had originally fired into Confederate
Infantry as it popped through the break in the woods, as the line gained
ground, one section had enfiladed their flank causing that body of rebels to
retreat leaving their flags upon the field behind them.
Jackson viewed the horror of Hill's advance with his field glasses and
immediately ordered the division of Richard Ewell to the front in support. His
columns couldn't move fast enough over broken roads, entanglements and heavy
Federal Artillery fire.
Richard Ewell moved his division directly in the rear of D. H. Hill's division.
Riding ahead to locate a safe crossing he left Jubal Early to bring his brigade
forward. He was stopped however, at the edge of a wood by a staff officer
claiming to be acting under orders of Richard Ewell. The major general rode up
afterwards inquiring as to why Early had stopped, became angry telling Early he
had given nobody such orders and to move forward at once! Early's brigade
splashed forward at a run across Western Run.
As division commander neared the staging area, he did not find Early's brigade
in the spot it was directed. Even upon dismounting from his horse and searching
through the woods, Early was no where to be found. Frustrated, Ewell continued
on without him and soon came across Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw,
commanding a brigade in Magruder's division.
He recognized General Kershaw and ordered him to support his own attack,
however, the South Carolian was not enthused, his command was too small to be
charging into the teeth of hell itself, but Ewell would hear nothing of it and
insisted that he support it. Like all others however, Ewell's charge was short
lived and came tumbling back bloodied and beaten.
The battle raged between 6:00 and 8:00 pm on this portion of the field, the
rebels collecting their dead and using them as a shield against the destructive
fire aimed their way.
While present at the headquarters of Major General Edwin V. Sumner, Brigadier
General Thomas Meagher was given the order to get the Irish prepared for
combat. Two of his aides present, Lieutenant John Gosson of the 69th New York
Infantry and Lieutenant Temple Emmett of the 88th New York were instructed to
get the regiments moving to the front.
The aides found the Irish at rest thinking it had been late in the evening and
felt they were not going to be called into action. Supper had been ordered and
some stray sheep that had been captured were to be the evening meal. With word
that General Porter's line was being hard pressed they sprang to their feet
eager for the fight.
Forward moved the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York along with the 29th
Massachusetts Infantry having been recently assigned to Meagher's brigade. All
located to the right of their corps commander's headquarters and thus
protecting the right. Meagher had deployed them all in four lines of battle
marching in respectively: the 69th under Colonel Robert Nugent, 63rd under
Lieutenant Colonel John Barnes, the 88th under Major James Quinlan, the 63rd
under Colonel John Burke, and 29th Massachusetts under Lieutenant Colonel
Joseph H. Barnes.
Upon entering into the immediate vicinity of the enemy the 69th New York
delivered an oblique fire which was kept up rapidly. The 88th moved into line
of their left causing the rebels to be outflanked. The 63rd New York and 29th
Massachusetts now with standing rebel fire from the second rank.
General Meagher at the urgence of an officer from General McClellan's staff
sent both the 29th Massachusetts and 63rd New York to support federal batteries
being sent to the front. The 63rd New York having lost Lieutenant Colonel Burke
due to a severe wound while in the ranks, now marched off for duty under
Lieutenant Colonel Fowler.
In the course of this action, Lieutenant Colonel Fowler disobeyed this order
under the belief that he was then acting under direct orders from General
Sumner not to. When he was again told to report for battery support, by
Brigadier General Meagher he refused a second time, causing his brigade
commander to arrest him on the spot and place Captain O'Neil in command of the
63rd New York.
The lines were still contending with one another after the sun had fallen and
darkness was spreading itself over the field. Colonel Robert Nugent reported to
General Meagher that the 88th New York was about ammunition, their rifle
barrels hot from use and asked to be relieved from the line. It was felt urgent
enough by Meagher to report back to General Sumner for such a purpose, as that
all was primarily secure on the line, he gave permission for the entire
brigade. They withdrew about the 9:00 pm hour.
The useless slaughter had broken Richard Ewell's heart as well. While
conferring with Captain G. Moxley Sorrel the following day, he was remembered
by Sorrel as saying: "Mather Thorrel, can you tell me why we have five hundred
men killed dead on the field yesterday?" Said Moxley: "The soul of the brave
general was fit to burst for the awful and useless sacifice." Of this
engagement Major General Daniel Harvey Hill stated: ""...Again, the want of
concert with the infantry divisions was most painful. Whiting's division did
not engage at all, neither did Holmes'. My division fought an hour or more the
whole Yankee force without assistance from a single Confederate soldier." Hill
here would lose forty percent of a division made up of 10,000 soldiers.
Colonel Bradley T. Johnson rode over to Stonewall Jackson and requested
permission to get Maryland into the fight. Jackson simply said: "No." The black
of night had put a close to operations and the rain began to fall.
Thunderstorms once again washing the blood from the ground.
Shortly after dark, Brigadier General Isaac R. Trimble had ridden out with
Major General Daniel Hill to discuss a night assault on the batteries up above
and on the Federal Left. According to Trimble, both officers had been so close
to the federal line that plain conversation could be heard among the federal
soldiers on the line. The sounds protruding through the darkness however, led
Harvey Hill to believe that the Federals were already on the retreat, and that
another attack would be fruitless, electing not to.
This conflict began to wind down and once again General George McClellan
commenced a withdrawal of his troops from Malvern. The rebels pursued in the
morning only to find the wheatfields of Shirley Plantation that were so rich
with the summer harvest flattened down by what appeared to be a hasty retreat
across the grounds. The Army of the Potomac has succeeded in retreating back to
Harrison's Landing that night, however, forever lost their objective of taking
the Confederate Capitol of Richmond, Virginia once again.
The Battle of Malvern Hill written by Daniel Moran.
Copyright © 2001 Daniel Moran