Battle of Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill
of the 6th
brigades were sent up from near Glendale, but when it was found that this fire was not followed up by an infantry attack, these brigades, with two others in addition, were sent over to reinforce the troops which were engaged with Longstreet. When these facts became known; when it was clear that had Jackson attacked vigorously, the Federals would hardly have dared to weaken their line along White Oak Swamp, and that, in these circumstances, Longstreet and A. P. Hill would probably have seized the Quaker road, his failure to cross the creek exposed him to criticism. Not only did his brother-generals complain of his inaction, but Franklin, the Federal commander immediately opposed to him, writing long afterwards, made the following comments:—
“Jackson seems to have been ignorant of what General Lee expected of him, and badly informed about Brackett’s Ford. When he found how strenuous was our defence at the bridge, he should have turned his attention to Brackett’s Ford also. A force could have been as quietly gathered there as at the bridge; a strong infantry movement at the ford would have easily overrun our small force there, placing our right at Glendale, held by Slocum’s division, in great jeopardy, and turning our force at the bridge by getting between it and Glendale. In fact, it is likely that we should have been defeated that day had General Jackson done what his great reputation seems to make it imperative he should have done.”1 But General Franklin’s opinion as to the ease with which Brackett’s Ford might have been passed is not justified by the facts. In the first place, General Slocum, who was facing Huger, and had little to do throughout the day, had two brigades within easy distance of the crossing; in the second place, General Wright reported the ford impassable; and in the third place, General Franklin himself admits that directly Wright’s scouts were seen near the ford two brigades of Sedgwick’s division were sent to oppose their passage.
General Long, in his life of Lee, finds excuse for Jackson in a story that he was utterly exhausted, and that
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 381.
his staff let him sleep until the sun was high. Apart from the unlikelihood that a man who seems to have done without sleep whenever the enemy was in front should have permitted himself to be overpowered at such a crisis, we have Colonel Munford’s evidence that the general was well in advance of his columns at sunrise, and the regimental reports show that the troops were roused at 2.30 a.m.
Jackson may well have been exhausted. He had certainly not spared himself during the operations. On the night of the 27th, after the battle of Gaines’ Mill, he went over to Stuart’s camp at midnight, and a long conference took place. At 8.30 on the morning of the 29th he visited Magruder, riding across Grapevine Bridge from McGehee’s House, and his start must have been an early one. In a letter to his wife, dated near the White Oak Bridge, he says that in consequence of the heavy rain he rose “about midnight” on the 30th. Yet his medical director, although he noticed that the general fell asleep while he was eating his supper the same evening, says that he never saw him more active and energetic than during the engagement;1 and Jackson himself, neither in his report nor elsewhere, ever admitted that he was in any way to blame.
It is difficult to conceive that his scrupulous regard for truth, displayed in every action of his life, should have yielded in this one instance to his pride. He was perfectly aware of the necessity of aiding Longstreet; and if, owing to the obstacles enumerated in his report, he thought the task impossible, his opinion, as that of a man who as difficulties accumulated became the more determined to overcome them, must be regarded with respect. The critics, it is possible, have forgotten for the moment that the condition of the troops is a factor of supreme importance in military operations. General D. H. Hill has told us that “Jackson’s own corps was worn out by long and exhausting marches, and reduced in numbers by numerous sanguinary battles;”2 and he records his conviction that pity for his
1 Letter from Dr. Hunter McGuire to the author.
2 Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 389.
troops had much to do with the general’s inaction. Hill would have probably come nearer the truth if he had said that the tired regiments were hardly to be trusted in a desperate assault, unsupported by artillery, on a position which was even stronger than that which they had stormed with such loss at Gaines’ Mill.
Had Jackson thrown two columns across the fords—which the cavalry, according to Munford, had not found easy,—and attempted to deploy on the further bank, it was exceedingly probable that they would have been driven back with tremendous slaughter. The refusal of the troops to work at the bridge under fire was in itself a sign that they had little stomach for hard fighting.
It may be argued that it was Jackson’s duty to sacrifice his command in order to draw off troops from Glendale. But on such unfavourable ground the sacrifice would have been worse than useless. The attack repulsed—and it could hardly have gone otherwise—Franklin, leaving a small rear-guard to watch the fords, would have been free to turn nearly his whole strength against Longstreet. It is quite true, as a tactical principle, that demonstrations, such as Jackson made with his artillery, are seldom to be relied upon to hold an enemy in position. When the first alarm has passed off, and the defending general becomes aware that nothing more than a feint is intended, he will act as did the Federals, and employ his reserves elsewhere. A vigorous attack is, almost invariably, the only means of keeping him to his ground. But an attack which is certain to be repulsed, and to be repulsed in quick time, is even less effective than a demonstration. It may be the precursor of a decisive defeat.
But it is not so much for his failure to force the passage at White Oak Swamp that Jackson has been criticised, as for his failure to march to Frayser’s Farm on finding that the Federal position was impregnable. “When, on the forenoon of the 30th,” writes Longstreet, “Jackson found his way blocked by Franklin, he had time to march to the head of it (White Oak Swamp), and across to the Charles City road, in season for the engagement at
Frayser’s Farm [Glendale], the distance being about four miles.”1
Without doubt this would have been a judicious course to pursue, but it was not for Jackson to initiate such a movement. He had been ordered by General Lee to move along the road to White Oak Swamp, to endeavour to force his way to the Long Bridge road, to guard Lee’s left flank from any attack across the fords or bridges of the lower Chickahominy, and to keep on that road until he received further orders. These further orders he never received; and it was certainly not his place to march to the Charles City road until Lee, who was with Longstreet, sent him instructions to do so. “General Jackson,” says Dr. McGuire, “demanded of his subordinates implicit, blind obedience. He gave orders in his own peculiar, terse, rapid way, and he did not permit them to be questioned. He obeyed his own superiors in the same fashion. At White Oak Swamp he was looking for some message from General Lee, but he received none, and therefore, as a soldier, he had no right to leave the road which had been assigned to him. About July 18, 1862, the night before we started to Gordonsville, Crutchfield, Pendleton (assistant adjutant-general), and myself were discussing the campaign just finished. We were talking about the affair at Frayser’s Farm, and wondering if it would have been better for Jackson with part of his force to have moved to Longstreet’s aid. The general came in while the discussion was going on, and curtly said: ‘If General Lee had wanted me he could have sent for me.’ It looked the day after the battle, and it looks to me now, that if General Lee had sent a staff officer, who could have ridden the distance in forty minutes, to order Jackson with three divisions to the cross roads, while D. H. Hill and the artillery watched Franklin, we should certainly have crushed McClellan’s army. If Lee had wanted Jackson to give direct support to Longstreet, he could have had him there in under three hours. The staff officer was not sent, and the evidence is that General Lee believed Longstreet strong enough to defeat the Federals without
1 From Manassas to Appomattox, p. 150.
direct aid from Jackson.”1 Such reasoning appears incontrovertible. Jackson, be it remembered, had been directed to guard the left flank of the army “until further orders.” Had these words been omitted, and he had been left free to follow his own judgment, it is possible that he would have joined Huger on the Charles City road with three divisions. But in all probability he felt himself tied down by the phrase which Moltke so strongly reprobates. Despite Dr. McGuire’s statement Jackson knew well that disobedience to orders may sometimes be condoned. It may be questioned whether he invariably demanded “blind” obedience. “General,” said an officer, “you blame me for disobedience of orders, but in Mexico you did the same yourself.” “But I was successful,” was Jackson’s reply; as much as to say that an officer, when he takes upon himself the responsibility of ignoring the explicit instructions of his superior, must be morally certain that he is doing what that superior, were he present, would approve. Apply this rule to the situation at White Oak Swamp. For anything Jackson knew it was possible that Longstreet and Hill might defeat the Federals opposed to them without his aid. In such case, Lee, believing Jackson to be still on the left flank, would have ordered him to prevent the enemy’s escape by the Long Bridge. What would Lee have said had his “further orders” found Jackson marching to the Charles City road, with the Long Bridge some miles in rear? The truth is that the principle of marching to the sound of the cannon, though always to be borne in mind, cannot be invariably followed. The only fair criticism on Jackson’s conduct is that he should have informed Lee of his inability to force the passage across the Swamp, and have held three divisions in readiness to march to Glendale. This, so far as can be ascertained, was left undone, but the evidence is merely negative.
Except for this apparent omission, it cannot be fairly said that Jackson was in the slightest degree responsible for the failure of the Confederate operations. If the truth be told, Lee’s design was by no means
1 Letter to the author.
perfect. It had two serious defects. In the first place, it depended for success on the co-operation of several converging columns, moving over an intricate country, of which the Confederates had neither accurate maps nor reliable information. The march of the columns was through thick woods, which not only impeded intercommunication, but provided the enemy with ample material for obstructing the roads, and Jackson’s line of march was barred by a formidable obstacle in White Oak Swamp, an admirable position for a rear-guard. In the second place, concentration at the decisive point was not provided for. The staff proved incapable of keeping the divisions in hand. Magruder was permitted to wander to and fro after the fashion of D’Erlon between Quatre Bras and Ligny. Holmes was as useless as Grouchy at Waterloo. Huger did nothing, although some of his brigades, when the roads to the front were found to be obstructed, might easily have been drawn off to reinforce Longstreet. The cavalry had gone off on a raid to the White House, instead of crossing the Chickahominy and harassing the enemy’s eastward flank; and at the decisive point only two divisions were assembled, 20,000 men all told, and these two divisions attacked in succession instead of simultaneously. Had Magruder and Holmes, neither of whom would have been called upon to march more than thirteen miles, moved on Frayser’s Farm, and had part of Huger’s division been brought over to the same point, the Federals would in all probability have been irretrievably defeated. It is easy to be wise after the event. The circumstances were extraordinary. An army of 75,000 men was pursuing an army of 95,000, of which 65,000, when the pursuit began, were perfectly fresh troops. The problem was, indeed, one of exceeding difficulty; but, in justice to the reputation of his lieutenants, it is only fair to say that Lee’s solution was not a masterpiece.
During the night which followed the battle of Frayser’s Farm the whole Federal army fell back on Malvern Hill—a strong position, commanding the country for many miles, and very difficult of access, on which the reserve artillery,
supported by the Fourth and Fifth Corps, was already posted.
July 1 The Confederates, marching at daybreak, passed over roads which were strewn with arms, blankets, and equipments. Stragglers from the retreating army were picked up at every step. Scores of wounded men lay untended by the roadside. Waggons and ambulances had been abandoned; and with such evidence before their eyes it was difficult to resist the conviction that the enemy was utterly demoralised. That McClellan had seized Malvern Hill, and that it was strongly occupied by heavy guns, Lee was well aware. But, still holding to his purpose of annihilating his enemy before McDowell could intervene from Fredericksburg, he pushed forward, determined to attack; and with his whole force now well in hand the result seemed assured. Three or four miles south of White Oak Swamp Jackson’s column, which was leading the Confederate advance, came under the fire of the Federal batteries. The advanced guard deployed in the woods on either side of the road, and Lee, accompanied by Jackson, rode forward to reconnoitre.
Malvern Hill, a plateau rising to the height of 150 feet above the surrounding forests, possessed nearly every requirement of a strong defensive position. The open ground on the top, undulating and unobstructed, was a mile and a half in length by half a mile in breadth. To the north, north-west, and north-east it fell gradually, the slopes covered with wheat, standing or in shock, to the edge of the woods, which are from eight to sixteen hundred yards distant from the commanding crest. The base of the hill, except to the east and south-east, was covered with dense forest; and within the forest, at the foot of the declivity, ran a tortuous and marshy stream. The right flank was partially protected by a long mill-dam. The left, more open, afforded an excellent artillery position overlooking a broad stretch of meadows, drained by a narrow stream and deep ditches, and flanked by the fire of several gunboats. Only three approaches, the Quaker and the river roads, and a track from the north-west, gave access to the heights.
The reconnaissance showed that General Porter, commanding the defence, had utilised the ground to the best advantage. A powerful artillery, posted just in rear of the crest, swept the entire length of the slopes, and under cover in rear were dense masses of infantry, with a strong line of skirmishers pushed down the hill in front.
Nevertheless, despite the formidable nature of the Federal preparations, orders were immediately issued for attack. General Lee, who was indisposed, had instructed Longstreet to reconnoitre the enemy’s left, and to report whether attack was feasible. Jackson was opposed to a frontal attack, preferring to turn the enemy’s right. Longstreet, however, was of a different opinion. “The spacious open,” he says, “along Jackson’s front appeared to offer a field for play of a hundred or more guns. . . . I thought it probable that Porter’s batteries, under the cross-fire of the Confederates’ guns posted on his left and front, could be thrown into disorder, and thus make way for the combined assaults of the infantry. I so reported, and General Lee ordered disposition accordingly, sending the pioneer corps to cut a road for the right batteries.”1
4 p.m. It was not till four o’clock that the line of battle was formed. Jackson was on the left, with Whiting to the left of the Quaker road, and D. H. Hill to the right; Ewell’s and Jackson’s own divisions were in reserve. Nearly half a mile beyond Jackson’s right came two of Huger’s brigades, Armistead and Wright, and to Huger’s left rear was Magruder. Holmes, still on the river road, was to assail the enemy’s left. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were in reserve behind Magruder, on the Long Bridge road.
The deployment of the leading divisions was not effected without loss, for the Federal artillery swept all the roads and poured a heavy fire into the woods; but at length D. H. Hill’s infantry came into line along the edge of the timber.
The intervening time had been employed in bringing the artillery to the front; and now were seen the tremendous difficulties which confronted the attack. The swamps
1 From Manassas to Appomattox, p. 143.
and thickets through which the batteries had to force their way were grievous impediments to rapid or orderly movement, and when they at last emerged from the cover, and unlimbered for action, the concentrated fire of the Federal guns overpowered them from the outset. In front of Huger four batteries were disabled in quick succession, the enemy concentrating fifty or sixty guns on each of them in turn; four or five others which Jackson had ordered to take post on the left of his line, although, with two exceptions, they managed to hold their ground, were powerless to subdue the hostile fire. “The obstacles,” says Lee in his report, “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 favourable for its use and none for its proper concentration.”
According to Longstreet, when the inability of the batteries to prepare the way for the infantry was demonstrated by their defeat, Lee abandoned the original plan of attack. “He proposed to me to move “round to the left with my own and A. P. Hill’s division, and turn the Federal right.” I issued my orders accordingly for the two divisions to go around and turn the Federal right, when in some way unknown to me the battle was drawn on.”1
Unfortunately, through some mistake on the part of Lee’s staff, the order of attack which had been already issued was not rescinded. It was certainly an extraordinary production. “Batteries,” it ran, “have been established to rake 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.”2 This was to D. H. Hill and to Magruder, who had under his command Huger’s and McLaws’ divisions as well as his own.
5.30 p.m. So, between five and six o’clock, General D. H. Hill, believing that he heard the appointed signal, broke forward from the timber, and five brigades, in one irregular line, charged full against the enemy’s front. The
1 Battles and Leaders, vol. ii, p. 403.
2 O.R., vol. xi, part i, p. 677.
Federals, disposed in several lines, were in overwhelming strength. Their batteries were free to concentrate on the advancing infantry. Their riflemen, posted in the interval between the artillery masses, swept the long slopes with a grazing fire, while fence, bank, and ravine, gave shelter from the Confederate bullets. Nor were the enormous difficulties which confronted the attack in any way mitigated by careful arrangement on the part of the Confederate staff. The only hope of success, if success were possible, lay in one strong concentrated effort; in employing the whole army; in supporting the infantry with artillery, regardless of loss, at close range; and in hurling a mass of men, in several successive lines, against one point of the enemy’s position. It is possible that the Federal army, already demoralised by retreat, might have yielded to such vigorous pressure. But in the Confederate attack there was not the slightest attempt at concentration. The order which dictated it gave an opening to misunderstanding; and, as is almost invariably the case when orders are defective, misunderstanding occurred. The movement was premature. Magruder had only two brigades of his three divisions, Armistead’s and Wright’s, in position. Armistead, who was well in advance of the Confederate right, was attacked by a strong body of skirmishers. D. H. Hill took the noise of this conflict for the appointed signal, and moved forward. The divisions which should have supported him had not yet crossed the swamp in rear; and thus 10,500 men, absolutely unaided, advanced against the whole Federal army. The blunder met with terrible retribution. On that midsummer evening death reaped a fearful harvest. The gallant Confederate infantry, nerved by their success at Gaines’ Mill, swept up the field with splendid determination. “It was the onset of battle,” said a Federal officer present, “with the good order of a review.” But the iron hail of grape and canister, laying the ripe wheat low as if it had been cut with a sickle, and tossing the shocks in air, rent the advancing lines from end to end. Hundreds fell, hundreds swarmed back to the woods, but still the brigades pressed on, and through the smoke of battle
the waving colours led the charge. But the Federal infantry had yet to be encountered. Lying behind their shelter they had not yet fired a shot; but as the Confederates reached close range, regiment after regiment, springing to their feet, poured a devastating fire into the charging ranks. The rush was checked. Here and there small bodies of desperate men, following the colours, still pressed onward, but the majority lay down, and the whole front of battle rang with the roar of musketry. But so thin was the Confederate line that it was impossible to overcome the sustained fire of the enemy. The brigade reserves had already been thrown in; there was no further support at hand; the Federal gunners, staunch and resolute, held fast to their position, and on every part of the line Porter’s reserves were coming up. As one regiment emptied its cartridge-boxes it was relieved by another. The volume of fire never for a moment slackened; and fresh batteries, amongst which were the 32-pounders of the siege train, unlimbering on the flanks, gave further strength to a front which was already impregnable.
Jackson, meanwhile, on receiving a request for reinforcements, had sent forward three brigades of his own division and a brigade of Hill’s. But a mistake had been committed in the disposition of these troops. The order for attack had undoubtedly named only D. H. Hill’s division. But there was no good reason that it should have been so literally construed as to leave the division unsupported. Whiting was guarding the left flank, and was not available; but Ewell and Winder were doing nothing, and there can be no question but that they should have advanced to the edge of the woods directly D. H. Hill moved forward, and have followed his brigades across the open, ready to lend aid directly his line was checked. As it was, they had been halted within the woods and beyond the swamp, and the greater part, in order to avoid the random shells, had moved even further to the rear. It thus happened that before the reinforcements arrived Hill’s division had been beaten back, and under the tremendous fire of the Federal artillery it was with difficulty that the border of the forest was maintained.
While Hill was retiring, Huger, and then Magruder, came into action on the right. It had been reported to Lee that the enemy was beginning to fall back. This report originated, there can be little doubt, in the withdrawal of the Federal regiments and batteries which had exhausted their ammunition and were relieved by others; but, in any case, it was imperative that D. H. Hill should be supported, and the other divisions were ordered forward with all speed. Huger’s and Magruder’s men attacked with the same determination as had been displayed by Hill’s, but no better success attended their endeavours. The brigades were not properly formed when the order arrived, but scattered over a wide front, and they went in piecemeal. Magruder’s losses were even greater than Hill’s; and with his defeat the battle ceased.
Had the Federals followed up the repulse with a strong counter-attack the victory of Malvern Hill might have been more decisive than that of Gaines’ Mill. It is true that neither Longstreet nor A. P. Hill had been engaged, and that three of Jackson’s divisions, his own, Whiting’s and Ewell’s, had suffered little. But Magruder and D. H. Hill, whose commands included at least 30,000 muskets, one half of Lee’s infantry, had been completely crushed, and Holmes on the river road was too far off to lend assistance. The fatal influence of a continued retreat had paralysed, however, the initiative of the Federal generals. Intent only on getting away unscathed, they neglected, like McClellan at Gaines’ Mill, to look for opportunities, forgetting that when an enemy is pursuing in hot haste he is very apt to expose himself. Jackson had acted otherwise at Port Republic.
The loss of over 5,000 men was not the worst which had befallen the Confederates. “The next morning by dawn,” says one of Ewell’s brigadiers, “I went off to ask for orders, when I found the whole army in the utmost disorder—thousands of straggling men were asking every passer-by for their regiments; ambulances, waggons, and artillery obstructing every road, and altogether, in a drenching rain, presenting a scene of the most woeful and disheartening
confusion.”1 The reports of other officers corroborate General Trimble’s statement, and there can be no question that demoralisation had set in. Whether, if the Federals had used their large reserves with resolution, and, as the Confederates fell back down the slopes, had followed with the bayonet, the demoralisation would not have increased and spread, must remain in doubt. Not one of the Southern generals engaged has made public his opinion. There is but one thing certain, that with an opponent so blind to opportunity as McClellan a strong counterstroke was the last thing to be feared. After witnessing the opening of the attack, the Federal commander, leaving the control of the field to Porter, had ridden off to Harrison’s Landing, eight miles down the James, whither his trains, escorted by the Fourth Army Corps, had been directed, and where he had determined to await reinforcements. The Federal troops, moreover, although they had withstood the charge of the Confederate infantry with unbroken ranks, had not fought with the same spirit as they had displayed at Gaines’ Mill. General Hunt, McClellan’s chief of artillery, to whose admirable disposition of the batteries the victory was largely due, wrote that “the battle was desperately contested, and frequently trembled in the balance. The last attack . . . was nearly successful; but we won from the fact that we had kept our reserves in hand.”2 Nor had McClellan much confidence in his army. “My men,” he wrote to Washington on the morning of the battle, “are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are attacked to-day by fresh troops. If possible, I shall retire to-night to Harrison’s Landing, where the gunboats can render more aid in covering our position. Permit me to urge that not an hour should be lost in sending me fresh troops. More gunboats are much needed. . . . I now pray for time. My
1 Trimble’s Report, O.R., vol. xi, part i, p. 619.
2 Three horse-batteries and eight 32-pr. howitzers were “brought up to the decisive point at the close of the day, thus bringing every gun of this large artillery force (the artillery reserve) into the most active and decisive use. Not a gun remained unemployed: not one could have been safely spared.—Hunt’s Report, O.R., vol. xi, part ii, p. 239.
men have proved themselves the equals of any troops in the world, but they are worn out. Our losses have been very great, we have failed to win only because overpowered by superior numbers.”1
Surely a more despairing appeal was never uttered. The general, whose only thought was “more gunboats and fresh troops,” whatever may have been the condition of his men, had reached the last stage of demoralisation.
The condition to which McClellan was reduced seems to have been realised by Jackson. The crushing defeat of his own troops failed to disturb his judgment. Whilst the night still covered the battle-field, his divisional generals came to report the condition of their men and to receive instructions. “Every representation,” says Dabney, “which they made was gloomy.” At length, after many details of losses and disasters, they concurred in declaring that McClellan would probably take the aggressive in the morning, and that the Confederate army was in no condition to resist him. Jackson had listened silently, save when he interposed a few brief questions, to all their statements; but now he replied: “No; he will clear out in the morning.”
July 2 The forecast was more than fulfilled. When morning dawned, grey, damp, and cheerless, and the Confederate sentinels, through the cold mist which rose from the sodden woods, looked out upon the battle-field, they saw that Malvern Hill had been abandoned. Only a few cavalry patrols rode to and fro on the ground which had been held by the Federal artillery, and on the slopes below, covered with hundreds of dead and dying men, the surgeons were quietly at work. During the night the enemy had fallen back to Harrison’s Landing, and justification for Lee’s assault at Malvern Hill may be found in the story of the Federal retreat. The confusion of the night march, following on a long series of fierce engagements, told with terrible effect on the moral of the men, and stragglers increased at every step. “It was like the retreat,” said one of McClellan’s generals, “of a whipped army. We retreated like a parcel of sheep, and a
1 O.R., vol. xi, part iii, p. 282.
few shots from the rebels would have panic-stricken the whole command.”1 At length, through blinding rain, the flotilla of gunboats was discovered, and on the long peninsula between Herring Run and the James the exhausted army reached a resting-place. But so great was the disorder, that during the whole of that day nothing was done to prepare a defensive position; a ridge to the north, which commanded the whole camp, was unoccupied; and, according to the Committee of Congress which took evidence on the conduct of the war, “nothing but a heavy rain, thereby preventing the enemy from bringing up their artillery, saved the army from destruction.”3 McClellan’s own testimony is even more convincing. “The army,” he wrote on July 8, the second day after the battle, “is thoroughly worn out and requires rest and very heavy reinforcements. . . . I am in hopes that the enemy is as completely worn out as we are. . . . The roads are now very bad; for these reasons I hope we shall have enough breathing space to reorganise and rest the men, and get them into position before the enemy can attack again. . . . It is of course impossible to estimate as yet our losses, but I doubt whether there are to-day more than 50,000 men with the colours.”3
As his army of 105,000 men, during the whole of the Seven Days, lost only 16,000, the last admission, if accurate, is most significant. Nearly half the men must either have been sick or straggling.
It was not because the Confederates were also worn out that the Federals were given time to reorganise and to establish themselves in a strong position. Jackson, the moment it was light, rode through the rain to the front. Learning that the enemy had evacuated their position, he ordered his chief of staff to get the troops under arms, to form the infantry in three lines of battle, and then to allow the men to build fires, cook their rations, and dry their clothes. By 11 o’clock the ammunition had been
1 Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 580. General Hooker’s
2 Report on the Conduct of the War, p. 27.
3 O.R., vol. xi, part i, pp. 291, 292.
replenished, and his four divisions were formed up. Longstreet’s brigades had pushed forward a couple of miles, but no orders had reached the Valley troops, and Major Dabney rode off to find his general. “I was told,” he writes, “that he was in the Poindexter House, a large mansion near Willis’ Church. Lee, Jackson, Dr. McGuire, and Major Taylor of Lee’s staff, and perhaps others, were in the dining-room. Asking leave to report to General Jackson that his orders had been fulfilled, I was introduced to General Lee, who, with his usual kindness, begged me to sit by the fire and dry myself. Here I stayed much of the day, and witnessed some strange things. Longstreet, wet and muddy, was the first to enter. He had ridden round most of the battle-field, and his report was not particularly cheerful. Jackson was very quiet, never volunteering any counsel or suggestion, but answering when questioned in a brief, deferential tone. His countenance was very serious, and soon became very troubled. After a time the clatter of horses’ hoofs was heard, and two gentlemen came in, dripping. They were the President and his nephew. Davis and Lee then drew to the table, and entered into an animated military discussion. Lee told the President the news which the scouts were bringing in, of horrible mud, and of abandoned arms and baggage waggons. They then debated at length what was to be done next. McClellan was certainly retiring, but whether as beaten or as only manœuvring was not apparent, nor was the direction of his retreat at all clear. Was he aiming for some point on the lower James where he might embark and get away? or at some point on the upper James—say Shirley, or Bermuda Hundred—where he could cross the river (he had pontoons and gunboats) and advance on Richmond from the south? Such were the questions which came up, and at length it was decided that the army should make no movement until further information had been received. The enemy was not to be pursued until Stuart’s cavalry, which had arrived the previous evening at Nance’s Shop, should obtain reliable information.
“Jackson, meanwhile, sat silent in his corner. I
watched his face. The expression, changing from surprise to dissent, and lastly to intense mortification, showed clearly the tenor of his thoughts. He knew that McClellan was defeated, that he was retreating and not manœuvring. He knew that his troops were disorganised, that sleeplessness, fasting, bad weather, and disaster must have weakened their moral. He heard it said by General Lee that the scouts reported the roads so deep in mud that the artillery could not move, that our men were wet and wearied. But Jackson’s mind reasoned that where the Federals could march the Confederates could follow, and that a decisive victory was well worth a great effort.”1
July 3 The decision of the council of war was that the army should move the next morning in the direction of Harrison’s Landing. Longstreet, whose troops had not been engaged at Malvern Hill, was to lead the way. But the operations of this day were without result. The line of march was by Carter’s Mill and the river road. But after the troops had been set in motion, it was found that the river road had been obstructed by the enemy, and Lee directed Longstreet to countermarch to the Charles City cross roads and move on Evelington Heights.2 But ignorance of the country and inefficient guides once more played into the enemy’s hands, and when night closed the troops were still some distance from the Federal outposts.
The delay had been exceedingly unfortunate. At 9 a.m. Stuart’s cavalry had occupied the Evelington Heights, and, believing that Longstreet was close at hand, had opened fire with a single howitzer on the camps below. The consternation caused by this unlooked-for attack was great. But the Federals soon recovered from their surprise, and, warned as to the danger of their situation, sent out infantry and artillery to drive back the enemy and secure the heights. Stuart, dismounting his troopers, held on for some time; but at two o’clock, finding that the Confederate infantry was still six or seven miles distant,
1 Letter to the author. Dr. McGuire writes to the same effect.
2 Evelington Heights are between Rawling’s Mill Pond and Westover.
and that his ammunition was failing, he gave up the Heights, which were immediately fortified by the enemy. Had the cavalry commander resisted the temptation of spreading panic in the enemy’s ranks, and kept his troops under cover, infantry and artillery might possibly have been brought up to the Heights before they were occupied by the Federals. In any case, it was utterly useless to engage a whole army with one gun and a few regiments of cavalry, and in war, especially in advanced guard operations, silence is often golden.1 It was not till they were warned by the fire of Stuart’s howitzer that the Federals realised the necessity of securing and intrenching the Evelington Heights, and it is within the bounds of possibility, had they been left undisturbed, that they might have neglected them altogether. McClellan, according to his letters already quoted, believed that the condition of the roads would retard the advance of the enemy; and, as is evident from a letter he wrote the same morning, before the incident took place, he was of opinion that there was no immediate need for the occupation of a defensive position.2
During this day the Valley divisions, crawling in rear of Longstreet, had marched only three miles; and such sluggish progress, at so critical a moment, put the climax to Jackson’s discontent. His wrath blazed forth with unwonted vehemence. “That night,” says Dabney,3 “he was quartered in a farmhouse a mile or two east of Willis’ Church. The soldier assigned to him as a guide made a most stupid report, and admitted that he knew nothing of the road. Jackson turned on him in fierce anger, and ordered him from his presence with threats of the severest punishment. On retiring, he said to his staff, ‘Now, gentlemen, Jim will have breakfast for you punctually at dawn. I expect you to be up, to eat immediately, and be in the saddle without delay. We must burn no more daylight.’ About daybreak I heard him tramping down the stairs. I alone went out to meet him. All the rest were asleep. He addressed me in
1 The military student will compare the battles of
Weissembourg, Vionville, and Gravelotte in 1870, all of which began
with a useless surprise.
2 O.R., vol. xi, part iii, pp. 291–2.
3 Letter to the author.
stern tones: ‘Major, how is it that this staff never will be punctual?’ I replied: ‘I am in time; I cannot control the others.’ Jackson turned in a rage to the servant: ‘Put back that food into the chest, have that chest in the waggon, and that waggon moving in two minutes.’ I suggested, very humbly, that he had better at least take some food himself. But he was too angry to eat, and repeating his orders, flung himself into the saddle, and galloped off. Jim gave a low whistle, saying: ‘My stars, but de general is just mad dis time; most like lightnin’ strike him!’ ”
July 4 With the engagement on the Evelington Heights the fighting round Richmond came to an end. When Lee came up with his advanced divisions on the morning of the 4th, he found the pickets already engaged, and the troops formed up in readiness for action. He immediately rode forward with Jackson, and the two, dismounting, proceeded without staff or escort to make a careful reconnaissance of the enemy’s position. Their inspection showed them that it was practically impregnable. The front, facing westward, was flanked from end to end by the fire of the gunboats, and the Evelington Heights, already fortified, and approached by a single road, were stronger ground than even Malvern Hill. The troops were therefore withdrawn to the forest, and for the next three days, with the exception of those employed in collecting the arms and stores which the Federals had abandoned, they remained inactive.
July 8 On July 8, directing Stuart to watch McClellan, General Lee fell back to Richmond.
The battles of the Seven Days cost the Confederates 20,000 men. The Federals, although defeated, lost no more than 16,000, of whom 10,000, nearly half of them wounded, were prisoners. In addition, however, 52 guns and 35,000 rifles became the prize of the Southerners; and vast as was the quantity of captured stores, far greater was the amount destroyed.
But the defeat of McClellan’s army is not to be measured by a mere estimate of the loss in men and in materiel. The discomfited general sought to cover his failure by a lavish employment of strategic phrases. The
retreat to the James, he declared, had been planned before the battle of Mechanicsville. He had merely manœuvred to get quit of an inconvenient line of supply, and to place his army in a more favourable position for attacking Richmond. He congratulated his troops on their success in changing the line of operations, always regarded as the most hazardous of military expedients. Their conduct, he said, ranked them among the most celebrated armies of history. Under every disadvantage of numbers, and necessarily of position also, they had in every conflict beaten back their foes with enormous slaughter. They had reached the new base complete in organisation and unimpaired in spirit.1
It is possible that this address soothed the pride of his troops. It certainly deluded neither his own people nor the South. The immediate effect of his strategic manœuvre was startling.
5,000 men, the effective remnant of Shields’ division, besides several new regiments, were sent to the Peninsula from the army protecting Washington. General Burnside, who had mastered a portion of the North Carolina coast, was ordered to suspend operations, to leave a garrison in New Berne, and to bring the remainder of his army to Fortress Monroe. Troops were demanded from General Hunter, who had taken the last fort which defended Savannah, the port of Georgia.2 The Western army of the Union was asked to reinforce McClellan, and Lincoln called on the Northern States for a fresh levy. But although 300,000 men were promised him, the discouragement of the Northern people was so great that recruits showed no alacrity in coming forward. The South, on the other hand, ringing with the brilliant deeds of Lee and Jackson, turned with renewed vigour to the task of resisting the invader. Richmond, the beleaguered capital, although the enemy was in position not more than twenty miles away, knew that her agony was over. The city was one vast hospital. Many of the best and bravest of the Confederacy had fallen in the Seven Days, and the voice of mourning hushed all sound
1 O.R., vol. xi, part iii, p. 299.
2 The forces under Burnside and Hunter amounted to some 35,000 men.
of triumph. But the long columns of prisoners, the captured cannon, the great trains of waggons, piled high with spoil, were irrefragable proof of the complete defeat of the invader.
When the army once more encamped within sight of the city it was received as it deserved. Lee and Jackson were the special objects of admiration. All recognised the strategic skill which had wrought the overthrow of McClellan’s host; and the hard marches and sudden blows of the campaign on the Shenandoah, crowned by the swift transfer of the Valley army from the Blue Ridge to the Chickahominy, took fast hold of the popular imagination. The mystery in which Jackson’s operations were involved, the dread he inspired in the enemy, his reticence, his piety, his contempt of comfort, his fiery energy, his fearlessness, and his simplicity aroused the interest and enthusiasm of the whole community. Whether Lee or his lieutenant was the more averse to posing before the crowd it is difficult to say. Both succeeded in escaping all public manifestation of popular favour; both went about their business with an absolute absence of ostentation, and if the handsome features of the Commander-in-Chief were familiar to the majority of the citizens, few recognised in the plainly dressed soldier, riding alone through Richmond, the great leader of the Valley, with whose praises not the South only, but the whole civilised world, was already ringing.
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