Page images



while groups

The infantry was posted down the hill, so that the artillery had a clean sweep over their heads. The scene was one of imposing grandeur, and as the bright sun looked down upon it, his rays flashed along the triple lines of steel that girdled the hill with light, while the steady ranks belted it with long dark lines-soon to be lines of fire. As far as the eye could see, banners drooped in the still air, while of horsemen here and there told where the respective commanders awaited the coming shock. It seemed downright madness for any troops to advance on such an infernal fire as, it was plain, could at any moment open from that plateau. . But Magruder, commanding the rebel forces, relying on his overwhelming numbers, determined to carry it. Skirmishing in the plain below commenced between nine and ten in the morning, but the enemy seemed in no haste to enter on the desperate undertaking before him. At length, however, about two o'clock, a dark mass emerged on the plain nnd moved steadily forward on Couch's division. The artillery opened on both sides, and though ugly rents were made at every step in the enemy's ranks, they closed firmly up, and kept unfalteringly on. An ominous silence rested on Couch's division, which lay motionless on the ground. Still, on swept the hostile column, till within close musket

range, when at the word of command, the division sprung to its feet and poured in one deadly volley. Before it, that compact mass was rent like a cloud, torn with an explosion in its own bosom, and was driven in shattered fragments over the Sfield. About four o'clock the firing ceased all along the line, and the hill that for two hours had groaned on its firm foundations, under the heavy crack of artillery, lapsed into silence again. Two hours more passed by, but, about six o'clock, the plain below suddenly opened like a volcano with the fierce fire of all the rebel artillery, and, under its cover. were seen advancing the heavy columns - of the

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


In a moment the hill was in a blaze of light, and from three hundred cannon rained a horrible tempest of shot and shell. Seeing that nothing could long stand before it, the rebel leaders ordered the troops on the double quick, to carry the hill in one impetuous rush. Brigade after brigade, emerging from the distant woods, dashed on a run across the intervening space, and swept up, in one black overwhelming tide, towards the batteries. But when they came within reach of the musketry, the volleys were too murderous for flesh and blood to withstand.

The reeling lines shrivelled up before it and disappeared from sight. Still, bent on victory, the rebel leaders reformed their broken battalions; and, bringing forward fresh troops, sent them forward with drums beating and banners flying, in the same all-engulfing fire. More desperate courage was never displayed by any troops on any field than they evinced in these successive charges. Again and again, they crossed the whole line of fire of our batteries, breasting the storm of grape and canister without flinching, till close upon our line of battle, when their shouts of victory arose within short pistol shot of the coolly awaiting ranks. Then the hill side wouid seem to gap and shoot forth flame. One volley, and instantly the shouting troops were on them with the bayonet, sending them like scattered sheep to their cover, leaving the slope carpeted with their dead. It seemed that each repulse must be the last, and that no troops on earth could be made to advance again, on such certain destruction. But in a few moments the reformed columns would be seen emerging from the sulphurous cloud that canopied the field, and moving swiftly upon the batteries. They advanced, however, only to vanish again when they came within reach of the volleys of the infantry. In the midst of the horrible din and uproar, and this terrible slaughter, ever and anon came the deep boom of the one hundred pounders on



board the gunboats, followed by a shrieking mass rushing through the clouds of smoke—the next second to explode, like a clap of thunder, amid the ranks of the astonished foe.

The fiery sun went down on this strange scene,-his beams struggling dimly through the murky atmosphere, but still the work of death went on. As twilight deepened over the field, the puffs of smoke that shot out over the plain were illuminated with flame,—while blazing shells crossed and re-crossed each other in every direction, weaving a fiery net-work over the struggling armies. Into the midst of this pandemonium, every few minutes, fell one of the ponderous shells from the gunboats, bursting with a sound that shook the earth, and sent terror into the rebel ranks. Darkness at length closed the scene, and the shattered, bleeding host of the enemy withdrew in despair. The last blow had been struck and failed, and a loud shout rolled along the Union lines. But what a field it was! The ploughed and trampled earth, the shattered trees and buildings, and the fields strewn with dead horses, broken artillery wagons, muskets and men, locked as if ali the forces of heaven and earth had been striving to see what a fearful wreck could be made.

Commodore Rodgers, of the gunboats, in a consultation with McClellan, had said that the southern shore of the river was so near at this point that should the enemy occupy it, it would be impossible to get up the supplies for the army, and as Harrison's Landing was the nearest point of safety, it had been resolved, two days previous, to fall back there. Hence, all day long, while the earth was shaking to the uproar of battle on Malvern Hill, the immense trains were hurrying forward towards Harrison's Landing. To the same point McClellan now directed the army to be moved. This was a delicate operation in the presence of the enemy, especially as the rear of the trains still blocked the road. General Keyes, with his corps, was appointed to cover the



manæuvre, and nobly did he fulfill the trust reposed in him. Colonel Averill, with his cavalry, who had done good service in the advance beyond White Oak Swamp, covered the withdrawal of the left wing under Porter, and so skillfully did he manage, that, with only his regiment and Lieut. Colonel Buchanan's brigade of regular infantry, and one battery, he so deceived the enemy, that they allowed him to hold the battle-field unmolested all the next day. General Keyes, by the

way in which he took advantage of every formation of ground, and kept the trains closed

and the


disencumbered of the countless wagons and vehicles of every description that thronged the single road over which he was compelled to move, showed executive ability equal to the management of a great battle, and won the highest praise of his Commander.

The army was at last safe, and the terrible struggle that had been kept up since the 26th of June, was over.. Pressed by overwhelming numbers, allowed no rest, scarcely time to snatch a morsel of food, bleeding at every step, and leaving its dead and wounded on almost every foot of ground it had traversed, this gallant army had fought its way triumphantly out of the very jaws of destruction, and now drew up along the banks of the James River, proud and defiant as ever. The mighty effort put forth by the rebel government had failed of success. At an immense sacritice of life, it had succeded only in' compelling McClellan to adopt a better base, from which he could advance surely on Richmond. It is true he had lost 15,000 men in the terri. ble struggles of the last seven days, but the enemy had suffered still more heavily, and the rebel Capital was crowded with the wounded and dying.

The whole movement had taken the country by surprise. Though every newspaper correspondent had said that un. less the army was reinforced, its overthrow or defeat was



certain, and although the people wondered and clamored because McDowell, with nearly 40,000 men, was kept idle at Fredericksburg, and cursed the Secretary of War for keeping a part of the army from McClellan, it still would not admit defeat to be possible. It had resolved that Richmond should fall, and that the fourth of July should celebrate its overthrow. Hence, when the first news of the retreat of the army was received, it was confidently believed that it was an advance on Richmond. When the whole truth burst upon the country, it was stunned at the danger it had escaped, and filled with admiration at the vàlor of the army and skill of its leader, which had not merely kept at bay, but rolled back the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, even in defeat—its last blow, the greatest and most fearful of all. Murmurs and complaints were in every body's mouth, and rage and disappointment filled the land, while Richmond was ablaze with illuminations.

McClellan issued a spirited address to his soldiers, promising soon to lead them into Richmond. The President thanked him in a letter, saying, "I am satisfied that yourself, officers and men, have done the best you could. * Ten thousand thanks for it." Two days after, when the full accounts had been received, he wrote again: "Be assured the heroism and skill of yourself, officers and men is, and forever will be, appreciated.” McClellan now asked for reinforcements, which the Government at Washington declared itself unable to furnish.

In this crisis of affairs he wrote a letter to the President, dated the 4th of July, in which he sketched out the policy which he thought should be adopted. This letter had an important influence on his destiny, for although it was not made public for more than a year, it was the cause of his removal from the command of the army. The main

« PreviousContinue »