The Seven Days

 

CHAPTER TEN
Gaine's Mill: Battle of Decision


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STONEWALL JACKSON, again holding the key assignment in Lee's design, followed another of those narrow roads that seemed to induce in him uncharacteristic caution. Vine-draped woods obscured the right side of the road and dust rose in thin clouds over the columns. The sun grew hot. At intervals across the road the enemy had thrown loose logs, as on the march of the day before. When the columns halted for men to move the logs, minie balls from unseen rifles whined through the foliage. Skirmish lines were thrown out on both sides of the road, the men clawing their way through the matted screen until the road was clear ahead.

At the foot of a shaded slope the road bore northeast, passing on the left the cultivated fields of the Cowardin farm. Soon the road forked, and the slowly moving column turned right into a rough lane slicing southeast through woods. The men rustled the brush on either side of the lane as they moved cautiously ahead. Woods roads leading to private farms crossed their passage, and after about a mile the van emerged into a farm clearing. Second-growth timber grew on the opposite side of the farm buildings, covering a slope that led down to the upper end of the large millpond of Gaines's cornmeal mill. The gaunt, dusty men halted short of the timber. After a pause, the column was turned about and the troops retraced their steps through the heat of the woods back out under the bleached sky at the fork.

This time Ewell's division, in the lead, took the left fork on its northeast course. Following this and cross-country roads, Ewell's van reached an intersection with the road D. H. Hill was using in his march from the Old Church Road to Old Cold Harbor. Ewell halted until Hill's long columns rattled past and then fell in behind his rear guard. At some distance, Jackson's own division and Whit-

 

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ing's two brigades followed Ewell. Instead of four columns con­verging on Porter, Jackson was bringing up the rear of D. H. Hill's division. Hill's five brigades had made the longer march, and had encountered fragments of the enemy's army, taking prisoners, wag­ons and an ambulance, without suffering delay.

Neither Jackson nor his division commanders mentioned the countermarch. Whiting mentioned "frequent halts," and Winder said it had been "a slow and tedious march." Countermarching in that unfamiliar country was not unusual. John Worsham, a member of Richmond's Company "F," a corps d'elite in the second brigade of Jackson's division, referred to it as a trivial detail. "We halted and retraced our steps until we came to a road [the fork] we had passed some time before." The significance of this uneventful countermarch would have been unknown except for the attention called to it by one of Dabney's anecdotes, which, emphasizing Jackson's secrecy obsession, played up the eccentricities that con­tributed to his legend.

Dabney said Jackson had told a local guide merely that he wanted to go to Cold Harbor by the shortest route. The shortest route was the woods road that ran southward to the area of Gaines's millpond. On the opposite side of this pond a lane led to the Cold Harbor Road east of Gaines's four-story brick mill. Porter had passed this point on his retreat, and A. P. Hill's brigades had followed in pur­suit. While Jackson's men were halted, Hill's deployed lines struck Porter in his new position about one mile to the east of Gaines's Mill. At sound of this firing, Jackson asked the guide where it came from.

According to Dabney's story, the guide told Jackson the firing came from "Gaines's Mill." To this information Jackson revealed that he did not want to go to Cold Harbor via Gaines's Mill, but to pass "that place" on his right. The guide then told Jackson he was on the wrong road, and added, "Had you let me know what you desired, I would have directed you aright at first."

The suspicious element in the anecdote is this: the firing was not at Gaines's Mill, in the meaning of the mill of William Gaines. The firing was in the valley of Boatswain's Swamp, more than one mile away from the valley of Powhite Creek in which the mill was lo-­

 

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cated. It was later that the battle fought on the hill above Boat­swain's Swamp began to be called "the Battle of Gaines's Mill."

Jackson's guide, a cavalryman from the neighborhood, would not have placed the firing at Gaines's Mill when it came from a more distant valley in the area of New Cold Harbor. No one who had heard rifle fire in volume would have located Powell Hill's assault in the valley of Powhite Creek, where Jackson was halted on his road behind Gaines's millpond, as Worsham said it was "the heaviest musketry" he had then heard in the war.

As with many of the war's humble legends, things were not so simply explained as by a general's eccentricities and a guide's salty reply. The significance of Dabney's story, quite outside his inten­tions, was its indication of Lee and Jackson failing to establish a precise understanding of the objective.

What is known of Lee's verbal order to Jackson, given in their brief conference at Walnut Grove Church, is contained in Lee's telegram to Huger: "Jackson's command is . . . turning Powhite Creek." On Jackson's woods road, he was turning Powhite Creek, which runs north and south across the Cold Harbor Road at the mill of William Gaines.

When Lee wired Huger, he expected Porter to make his stand on the hill on the east side of the Powhite Creek Valley. But Porter, making his stand farther east, occupied the hill above Boatswain's Swamp. That was not shown on Lee's map.

To make it more confusing: On the assumption that Porter was at Powhite Creek, Lee wired Huger that Jackson was turning Powhite Creek "on the road to Cold Harbor," to be "supported by D. H. Hill." There were two Cold Harbors. New Cold Harbor, where A. P. Hill was fighting, was at the curve in the road to Old Cold Harbor, where the tavern sprawled at the crossroads one mile to the north.

D. H. Hill's orders took him to the Cold Harbor tavern, clearly where he was assigned. The crossroads straddled the mazelike net­word of roads to the Chickahominy crossings, to the White House base, and to the York River Railroad on its course north of the river. Hill was placed to intercept McClellan's presumed movements to­ward his supply lines and base. If it can be assumed that Jackson

 

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was also directed to Old Cold Harbor, Lee's plan would have placed the joint force on the flank and rear of Porter's presumed position, in a duplication of the plan of the day before to flank Porter out of the Beaver Dam Creek stronghold.

Jackson and Harvey Hill would have been on Porter's flank and rear had he made his defense at Powhite Creek, and without ques­tion Jackson expected to find Porter at Powhite Creek. This is made clear in his report: "The enemy had receded from Powhite Creek." At this point occurred the vacuum that would have been filled by a staff officer responsible for contact with the movements of all units.

Jackson needed only to proceed on his woods road to the south side of Gaines's millpond to have reached the Cold Harbor Road in the rear of A: P. Hill's assault. By a short march his columns could have reached the curve in the road at New Cold Harbor, then have turned north and extended Hill's line until Jackson connected with D. H. Hill at Cold Harbor tavern. Instead, retracing his march north away from the Cold Harbor Road, Jackson moved north and east until he turned south to follow D. H. Hill into Cold Harbor from the north. When Jackson reached the Cold Harbor crossroads, he was at a point of concentration of twenty-seven thousand troops separated by about one mile from the heart of Porter's position, where A. P. Hill was attacking with one division.

Jackson did not arrive on the field like a general who had simply been delayed by a countermarch and was eager to put his troops into action. When, around three o'clock, Jackson rode up to the Cold Harbor crossroads, where D. H. Hill had already deployed his division, he looked tired and ill-humored. Lethargic and peering myopically from under the brim of his cadet cap, he began pro­longed survey of the situation.

Having "receded from Powhite Creek," Porter was neither where Jackson expected to find him nor, for the second day, was he doing what Lee had anticipated. According to Lee's plans, A. P. Hill, with Longstreet's support on his right toward the Chickahominy, should be driving Porter who, with D. H. Hill on his flank and rear, should have fallen back toward the York River Railroad to protect McClellan's line of supply.

From what Jackson could see and from what D. H. Hill told him, the Federals were fixed firmly on defense with their right flank,

 

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near Old Cold Harbor, bent back to face Harvey Hill's division. Far from being driven across D. H. Hill's front at Cold Harbor, the Federal artillery had Hill deployed well back from the swampy line on their own front. At New Cold Harbor, where the intensity of the battle sounds remained stationary, A. P. Hill was obviously mak­ing no progress. He might even be sustaining counterattacks from the Federals.

In the absence of either information or orders from headquarters, Jackson had to apply his apathetic brain to resolve an unexpected situation. In his condition, nothing was more difficult than reaching a decision on a problem not readily soluble. The struggle seemed only to deepen his apathy, and time slipped away as he sat his gaunt horse in the midst of the disordered movements of troops, guns, wagons and ambulances.

Jackson's extremely reticent report gave no hint of what had been going on inside him as the hours of the hot afternoon passed and Powell Hill's division was being cut to pieces a strolling distance away.

 

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Jackson reached the Cold Harbor tavern ahead of his last divisions and after Ewell's division, which was nowhere in sight. Presumably Jackson was told that Ewell had already been placed in line under Lee's orders. D. H. Hill's division; that day under Jackson's com­mand, was deployed to the left of the road from Old Cold Harbor to New Cold Harbor. His lines, facing south, were at a left angle to A. P. Hill's assault generally from west to east at New Cold Harbor.

Powell Hill's division was fighting for the second day in a death trap at a water barrier in the bottom of a ravine. Boatswain's Swamp, which contained a high-banked stream through part of its sluggish course, roughly paralleled the Cold Harbor Road from near the tav­ern to south of New Cold Harbor. The swamp was three quarters of a mile to the east of the road, and the plain remained level to within about three hundred yards of the swamp. From there the land dipped with increasing sharpness to the boggy bottom, mostly covered with dense underbrush. On the opposite bank the hill rose steeply to a plateau on a level with the plain at New Cold Harbor.

 

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The formation of the ground along the creek bed varied in the  course of the swamp, changing every several hundred yards, with the valley growing shallower and the banks less steep toward the northern end. Near the Cold Harbor tavern the sides of the swamp flattened out, and the swamp, as if designed by nature to protect a defensive position, spread parallel to the road from Old Cold Harbor occupied by D. H. Hill. In effect, Hill's division was deployed on the same level of ground as the Federals, but was sep­arated from them by the densely entangled swamp that spread at right angles to Porter's main defensive line and thus protected the front of the Federal flank.

This right-angled flank position, facing north, was held by the U. S. Regulars of George Sykes, Hill's fellow Southerner and for­mer West Point classmate, and a cold, hard-bitten professional. Though Sykes's division did not hold a position as naturally strong as the lines above Boatswain's Swamp, his regulars were posted be­hind felled trees to command the open ground approaching the McGehee farm, and his powerful batteries commanded the road that ran across his front from the tavern to the Chickahonminy. This road provided the only passage for Harvey Hill in trying to move up his own guns. At about the time Jackson arrived, Sykes's guns had driven off Bondurant's battery and Hill had no guns in action: His sweating troops, out of the range of enemy rifles, were close to the spray from bursts of Federal shells.

Jackson first ordered Hill to move his men into a more protected position. From Jackson's first order, he seemed to expect the Feder­als to be driven across his front, despite the evidence of A. P. Hill's' hard struggle at New Cold Harbor. D. H. Hill was placed where he would command the road when or if the Federals were driven. In waiting for developments, Hill could occupy the enemy's attention on their flank while Jackson brought forward his own division and Whiting's two brigades. Those he planned to commit in echelon from south to north, from the left flank of A. P. Hill's attack across the gap to D. H. Hill's right flank. Then, if Lee needed support to drive home his assault, the lines would be connected for a general  advance.

This uninspired reasoning would have been sound except for his failure to communicate with Lee, one mile away. He neither in-

 

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quired if this movement fitted in with the commanding general's plans nor advised him of what he was doing. This and other fail­ures to communicate might seem to support the explanation that Jack­son's troubles during the Seven Days were partly caused by his un­willingness to operate under another's orders after having grown accustomed to independent command. But none of the generals knew how to cooperate. Nobody sent messages to anybody.

Lee had dispatched Walter Taylor earlier in the afternoon to find out where Jackson was, and Colonel Taylor had hurried Ewell forward. No other staff officers were sent by Lee to discover pre­cisely when Jackson had arrived and what he was doing or to provide him with any instructions. Jackson's failure to communi­cate showed nothing about Jackson. What did reveal Jackson's state was his failure to assume active command of the two divisions he ordered forward.

On his staff, as quartermaster general, was a tough, rough-tongued character from the Valley, Major John A. Harman, who had oper­ated a stage line business before the war. Though he and Jackson had experienced their personality difficulties, Harman was most efficient in handling Jackson's wagons and supplies. It happened that Harman, like Dabney, operated directly under Jackson, and he had little or no interest in any aspect of the army that did not concern his wagons. For some unexplainable reason, Jackson selected the quartermaster to carry a verbal message to the two division com­manders to deploy and advance in echelon.

It also happened that the lead division on the road approaching Old Cold Harbor was commanded by Chase Whiting who, in an angrily uncooperative mood regarding Jackson, scarcely knew Har­man. The efforts of the wagon trainmaster in trying to tell surly Whiting what to do led to an unprofitable exchange --- "a farrago of which I could understand nothing," Whiting said about Harman's instructions --- and resulted in Whiting's halting where he was. Be­hind him, on the road to the Old Cold Harbor tavern from the north, Winder did the same with Jackson's division.

How long they waited nobody knows. After more than enough time had elapsed for their appearance, Dabney on his own rode up the road to learn if Whiting had properly understood Harman. Then Dabney took the liberty of interpreting the general's orders and di­

 

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rected Whiting and Winder to deploy through the woods to their right. They were not provided with guides.

During the long wait before Whiting's skirmishers emerged from the woods nearly one mile south of the tavern, between four and five o'clock, Jackson did nothing. Nor did he send forward any in­structions to Whiting, if indeed he saw the division when it ap­peared. Whiting, moving obliquely through the close woods and across two ravines, had drifted off course and reached the clutter of ambulances, wounded men, dead horses and wrecked gun carriages around New Cold Harbor, the backwash behind the divisions of A. P. Hill and Ewell which were out of view near the ravine bot­tom. General Lee, with his staff, was mounted in a clearing just to the east of the curve in the Cold Harbor Road.

From this curve in the road a private road ran southeast toward Boatswain's Swamp. Before reaching the slope down to the ravine this private road divided. One fork continued east toward the Mc­Gehee house and the other sliced toward the south, crossing the swamp where Hill had been fighting for three hours. This road ran up the Federal slope to the pleasant Watt house, whose cultivated fields and orchards spread across the plateau. Fitz-John Porter had his headquarters in the Watt house, and the most accurate designa­tion of the battle would have been "the Battle of the Watt House Hill."

Big John Hood rode at the head of the brigade that first reached the field and from his arrival on the confusing scene all coherence went from the sequence of orders. Though Lee was gradually as­suming tactical field command, he had not yet brought the action completely under his direction. From the conflicting accounts of the participants, apparently everybody was giving orders and briga­diers were acting on their own responsibility in putting their troops in as they came on the field.

According to Hood, he encountered Colonel Jones of Ewell's staff, who told him that Ewell's division needed help. Hood did not wait to report to Whiting or anyone else. He deployed his regi­ments as they came up and moved across the plateau toward the wooded slope. When his troops were ready to go in, they would be sent to the right of Ewell, in support of A. P. Hill's fought-out brigades. .

 

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When Whiting reached the field with Law's brigade, he evidently reported to Lee, for Evander McIver Law was sent toward Hill's right under Lee's orders. When Law was forming his brigade, the first troops of Jackson's division found their way out of the woods. These belonged to the brigade of Charles Winder, acting com­mander of the division. After losing his direction in the woods, Winder seemed to leave the other brigades to shift for themselves. Winder's wilted men also emerged from the woods near New Cold Harbor, and continued across the fields to the road between Old and New Cold Harbor, near where Whiting had passed. Winder saw A. P. Hill and reported to him. Hill placed him in reserve until the other brigades of Jackson's division came up.

It is possible that Jackson knew nothing of his two divisions' em­ployment in the battle around New Cold Harbor---some brigades under Lee's orders, others under A. P. Hill's, and Hood going on his own initiative---while he waited for the enemy to be driven. Everybody else was too busy to have noticed how Jackson occupied himself from the time he arrived, around three, until after five o'clock. By then, he may or may not have learned that most of his command had been ordered into line. Dabney said that Jackson "assumed" all his units were in line, though the last was not then on the field.

At that time he apparently decided that the enemy was not going to be driven. From the increased volume of fire along the stationary line around New Cold Harbor, Lee's attack was unmistakably hang­ing. Around five o'clock Jackson ordered D. H. Hill to change po­sition and prepare to open an assault on the Federal right flank be­hind the curve of the swamp. Then he left the crossroads at the tavern on the awkwardly gaited sorrel and rode, in his short-­stirruped perch, to New Cold Harbor.

He found Lee at his informal field headquarters off the private road, and for the second time that day the two generals greeted one another without warmth.

Lee said, "Ah, General, I am very glad to see you," but the words implied a rebuke when he added, "I had hoped to be with you before."

According to Stuart's staff officer John Esten Cooke (who passed his nights writing sketches for Southern magazines), Jackson's

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brief answer could not be heard over the heavy rattle of musketry. Lee then said, "That fire is very heavy. Do you think your men can stand it?"

Jackson's pale eyes, peering from under the cap's visor, ranged over the field. He replied loudly enough that time. "They can stand anything. They can stand that."

Lee then spoke to him in a lower voice and his words did not carry. Judging by the action that followed, Lee had told him to prepare for a general assault to be delivered along the whole front ­from Longstreet, off A. P. Hill's right, to D. H. Hill, on the Con­federate left. From Jackson's own reactions, in which he briefly asserted some personal force after twelve hours of apathy, Lee must have told him also that the situation was desperate. The command­ing general stood on the verge of losing his first major battle.

 

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During the afternoon while Jackson's command was getting to the field in fragments, A. P. Hill's division fought one of the longest, hardest, most unsung actions of the war. From the opening movement at daylight, his troops had been in contact with the en­emy for twelve hours. After feeling out the enemy line along Beaver Dam Creek before the crossing at Ellerson's Mill, Hill moved close on Porter's rear guard to the steep valley of Powhite Creek. Expecting the enemy to make a stand on the hill east of the mill, Maxcy Gregg's lead brigade formed two regiments to advance as a strong line of skirmishers. The South Carolinians, who had seen no action the day before, rushed up the hill with the same elan the other brigades had shown in their advance across the plain at Me­chanicsville.

At the top, just above Gaines's Mill, Gregg's regiments encoun­tered only Porter's rear guard falling back. Leaving their camp abandoned, the Federals were retiring to a stand of pines across the plateau. While the bridges were rebuilt over Powhite Creek and a battery brought up, Gregg's advance regiments gobbled up some undestroyed supplies and, as one of the soldiers reported, "We re­freshed ourselves." Then, after the guns shelled the pines where the enemy's skirmish line could be seen, Gregg's men gave themselves -

 

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the glory of a picture charge ---the lines sweeping across the open­ ground at double time.

The light Federal force fled before them and gave inexperienced Gregg a false impression of Porter's retreat. His soldiers ran after the enemy, across the Cold Harbor Road where it curved and on over the fields to the slope beyond. This sprint, in full equipment under a noonday sun, loosened the formation of the lines, and pant­ing soldiers followed at intervals in the wake of the leaders. The fastest men caught glimpses of the enemy disappearing in the shad­owed fringes of timber at the bottom of a ravine, and, without a pause, went whooping down the slope.

Immediately, hidden guns blasted from the crest of the opposite plateau, and metal burst over the irregular lines. The looseness of the lines and the speed with which the men went pell-mell down the slope saved them from heavy damage.

At the bottom of the slope, along the private road to the McGe­hee house, table ground descended into what one of the soldiers accurately described as "a deep, wet ravine." The soldiers had reached that part of Boatswain's Swamp north of the high-banked creek and south of the swamp that spread across Harvey Hill's front. The ravine of the creek bed, curving slightly from northeast to southwest, bulged forward toward the Confederates where Gregg reached it. By the alignment of Porter's units on the hill, the Federal lines of defense were farther back from the creek there than to the south. Where Gregg struck the ravine, only a skirmish line defended the opposite side, and those Federals withdrew when Gregg's lead regiments stumbled and slipped their way across the marshy bottom.

At the foot of the opposite hill, the winded soldiers reached a growth of young pines, screening them from the enemy, and Gregg ordered a halt for his men to rest and close up their regiments. At the bottom, though out of the sun, it was humid and breathless. While his men panted up under scattered artillery fire from the crest of the hill, and infantry opened on them from behind an abatis on the hillside, Gregg surveyed the entrenched lines on the hill, lo­cated the batteries on the crest, and knew he had found the enemy. The ruddy-faced, middle-aged scholar, as exultant as if he had run

 

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a fox to earth, sent the word back to A. P. Hill and asked to be al­lowed to attack.

Powell Hill, riding forward to where the private roads branched off from the Cold Harbor Road, was not in the impetuous mood of the day before. He could see that the Cold Harbor Road roughly paralleled the swamp for a mile toward Old Cold Harbor to the north, where Jackson and D. H. Hill were expected. When Hill halted, he could see no Confederates through the midday haze rising over the fields between him and the tavern. First he ordered Gregg to remain where he was, on the north side of the road to the McGe­hee house. Then he ordered up his other brigades, planning to de­ploy them to the south of Gregg, between and overlapping the two private roads. In making those dispositions to attack, A. P. Hill was at that time in command of the whole field around New Cold Harbor.

Hill's front was wide, approximately three quarters of a mile, for an attack without reserves on such a forbidding position, and his flank was open to the north. While Hill's troops were deploying, General Lee arrived at New Cold Harbor. Lee believed that Jack­son's expected arrival would extend the enemy's line on Hill's front, as well as provide protection for Hill's left flank. Longstreet, then moving forward from Dr. Gaines's farm, would form in reserve on Hill's right, between his flank and the Chickahominy. There he would be ready to go in at the opportune moment. Lee began to assume tactical direction of the battle when he ordered Powell Hill to open his assault upon receiving word that Longstreet was in po­sition.

 

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Between one and two-thirty, while Crenshaw's battery formed on the Cold Harbor Road and opened on the enemy's position, Hill's brigades advanced down the rough, brushy slope deployed in line of battle. From Gregg's position, neither Hill, Lee, nor the briga­diers moving their men forward were aware that Boatswain's Swamp was much more difficult of passage south of Gregg. The banks deepened first to form a ditch and then rose so high that the Sol-

 

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diers would have to help one another climb the slick opposite wall. Nor did they know that A. P. Hill was to attack in the exact cen­ter of a position whose southern flank was literally impregnable. From the northern fringes of the swamp across Sykes's front, the ravine coursed two miles south, bearing to the west, and then bent back to the east below the rise of the hill at the southern end of the plateau. South of this abrupt end of the plateau, the swamp coursed across marshy, open ground to the Chickahominy one half mile away.

Federal guns posted back on the crest of the plateau and heavy guns from across the Chickahominy swept this open bog between Porter's flank and the river. The same batteries also commanded open stretches of ground that approached the front of the southern end of Porter's line, the Federal left in relation to its center at the Watt house. With his left flank impregnable and his right secured by Sykes's regulars, Porter bunched his infantry in the area of A. P. Hill's assault.

Across his whole front Porter had placed his infantry in three tiers on the hillside, behind hastily built lines of logs and loose earth packed in knapsacks. Porter's infantrymen were firing from sta­tionary positions, which increased accuracy, and in solid alignment, which increased the density of the fire power.

The three tiers were made up, from the center toward the left, of three brigades of Morell's division, which had not been engaged the day before. To the right of center was Warren's fresh brigade of Sykes's division. This portion of the line was manned by about twelve thousand troops, with McCall's division, about eight thousand men, in support. During the afternoon, McCall was put into line at the center. Late in the afternoon, some of McCall's units were pulled out and shifted to the left, nearer the flank. They were replaced by two fresh brigades, Taylor's and Newton's, of Slocum's division, sent over by McClellan. First and last, more than twenty-five thou­sand men fought around the center ---on either side of the two private roads..

A. P. Hill's division, after its casualties at Mechanicsville, totaled approximately twelve thousand when all six brigades were in line. Getting all six into line was the problem. From the beginning of the march down the slope the possibility of the division attacking on a

 

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solid front was eliminated by the timber and thickets obstructing the view, the differences in the terrain, the varying distances to the creek and the enemy's varying distances behind it. As soon as the lines started down the slope, guns and rifles opened on them, and the farther down the slope they marched, the heavier grew the gale of canister and bullets.

Though Hill exercised a general control over the movements of his brigades, the actual attacks depended on the separate brigadiers. Partly because of the different physical conditions on their separate fronts and partly because of the inexperience of the field officers, little to no coordination was maintained between the separate brigades once the troops entered the bedlam in the wet jungle at the bottom of the hill. As it was difficult under the best circumstances to bring green troops in solid units to points of attack, the miry ra­vine in one place, the ditch in another and the high banks in yet an­other, caused the regiments in a single brigade to move unevenly in trying to close with the enemy.

Gaps created by the enemy's fire remained gaps. The men drifted to one way or another to close on their nearest fellows. The gaps became serious when the ragged lines began to cross the ra­vine. The men were firing then, without much, to shoot at, and as a whole the soldiers were eager to get across to the opposite hill and the enemy. In their baptism the day before at Beaver Dam Creek, Hill's troops felt they never had a chance to come to grips with the enemy, and at the final stage of their assault across Boatswain's Swamp they plunged into the morass with a resolve to go all the way.

With their high screams echoing through the ravine, the determi­nation of the attacking soldiers made their inexperienced line and field officers slow to recognize that the units were being cut to pieces separately. The range of view of the brigadiers could scarcely encompass the area of their own regiments and even the profes­sional soldiers knew nothing of what was happening in adjoining sectors. Some units were halted before the men crossed the swamp. Others moved up to and, briefly, in places, through the first forti­fied lines. Parts of one regiment fought their way to the crest of the hill. With no friends nearby, the remnants fought their way back out. Each momentarily opened breech was closed by the skillful

 

employment of the enemy reserves, and the attackers lost as heavily falling back as they had going in.

On Gregg's front, where the advance was started from across the ravine, one regiment held desperately to a position on the enemy's hill. Another, infected by the panic of several men, broke backward. By the time the regiment was rallied, solidarity had been lost. In that area Orr's Rifles lost 315 of the 537 men engaged.

Porter's three lines having absorbed the continual assaults--- Dorsey Pender going  in again and again --- the Federal reserves began to carry the battle to the fragmented units of the attackers. Then, on Hill's left, without Jackson to menace the Federal right, the famed New York Zouaves of Sykes's division attacked Gregg in flank. As D. H. Hill, under Jackson's orders, was doing nothing on Porter's northern flank, other units from Sykes's regulars began to press against A. P. Hill's left.

Slowly the tide turned. From attacking, Hill's remnants were fighting to hold their ground. Numbers of the men under heavy fire for the first time broke under the horror which was so different from their pictures of the charges of battle lines such as they had made from Powhite Creek. In the matted brush over the marshy footing, the men could scarcely see the next company. In Branch's brigade, Branch himself lost control of his units threshing about in all directions. Some fell back, others sidled off to join another unit, and the rest took cover where they were.

Their momentum gone and the Federal pressure growing, Hill's brigades began to suffer as heavily from stragglers as they had from casualties. Some of the men were exhausted. Gregg's troops had been so tired before the assault that some of them slept behind the pine thicket, one hundred yards from the enemy's rifle lines, with artillery fire breaking around them. Countless others, too scared or too proud to cross the open field going back, huddled where they were without firing. Yet, past four o'clock, perhaps half of Hill's men stood steadily behind what protecting tree or bush or rise of ground they could find, and returned the enemy's fire.

During this disordered sequence of movements, Hill's men deliv­ered a surprisingly heavy fire power. Two of Hill's batteries were doing far more damage than they had the day before, both against

 

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the enemy's personnel and his gunners. Even Willie Pegram, whose battery had had all except one gun knocked out the day before, along with forty-seven gunners, got up two or three patched-up pieces into action.

Though the Light Division had failed to break the enemy's front, the troops, on their second day of fighting alone while waiting for Jackson, had taken a toll of the enemy. A. P. Hill said they had done all that could be asked of men. Usually furious at any skulker from his command, "Little Powell" reproached none of the shat­tered, ashen-faced soldiers staggering out of the ravine.

When four o'clock passed, and Jackson had still not appeared, Lee realized that the relief of A. P. Hill had become imperative. From the heavy commitment of enemy troops, Lee believed McClellan had the bulk of his army on the field.

First, Lee ordered Longstreet to move out of his cover and make a strong demonstration to distract the enemy and draw troops from Hill's fronts. It was at this fortuitous moment that Walter Taylor led Ewell's division forward. General Ewell reported that he did not know Jackson's whereabouts nor that of the two other di­visions of Jackson's command. There was no time to worry about that. Ewell was ordered in immediately on Hill's broken and im­periled left.

Ewell began to deploy his veterans of the Valley campaign behind Hill's flank by the road to the McGehee house and extended the flank northward to stretch toward D. H. Hill's right. Before Ewell's seasoned troops were in line, the overflow of the enemy's counter­thrust caught his regiments as they came up, and the fate of Lee's battle shifted off the center of Hill to include Ewell's division.

 

5

 

Major General Richard Stoddert Ewell had been Jackson's right­-hand man in the Valley campaign. A West Pointer, "Dick" Ewell had come to the Confederate armies from the tough assignment of commanding a company of dragoons in the Southwest border serv­ice. Though his capacities grew with his rise to command of a division, Ewell liked it best when he could join in combat like a captain, as he did whenever Jackson was out of sight.

 

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"Old Baldhead," as he was called, was to become the character of the army as he then was of the Valley command. With bulging eyes, sweeping mustachios, and the movements of a startled bird, he shrilled out awesome curses and bombastic plaints in a high, piping voice. His quaintness was actually the facade of a lonely; gener­ous man of fine feelings. Ewell's once prominent family of North­ern Virginia had fallen upon hard days, and his joint ambitions had been to reestablish a plantation and marry Lizinka Brown, a wealthy  widow whom he had known since childhood. While the war had ruined the plantation dream, he still cherished the one of the Widow Brown.

When Ewell's soldiers pushed confidently forward through the disordered groups of Hill's troops pulling out of line the officers and men advanced with an almost contemptuous impatience to show the city soldiers how fighting should be done. Jeering at their fellow Confederates, Trimble's brigade moved through the woods and across the ravine to attack the enemy north of Gregg's survivors along the road to the McGehee house.

Isaac Trimble, about the army's oldest general officer at sixty, was a former professional who had achieved success in civilian life as a railroad builder. A native of Powell Hill's Culpeper County, Virginia, Trimble had become one of Maryland's prominent citi­zens. Self-confident and assertive, he was inclined to attribute to himself a wide command of battle situations and reported dispatch­ing other brigades and even divisions to their positions on the field. However, his self-assertion made him a strong combat leader.

Even while Trimble's brigade was getting into line across the ravine, Ewell discovered the difficulties that had beset Hill's divi­sion. As he reported, "the density of the woods and the nature of the ground were such as to prevent any extended view . . . and . . . made it necessary to confine my exertions mainly to that lo­cality." As the weight of Porter's counterattack was felt on their left, Trimble's hardened veterans locked with the enemy lines in a stand-up fight. Illusions about driving the enemy were abruptly grounded.

To the right of the road, Elzey's Virginia brigade went in and fared no better. Arnold Elzey, a thirty-five-year-old professional from Maryland and one of the dependables from the Valley cam-

 

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paign, went down with an ugly wound in the face and head. His men were forced to shift to defense and took positions to escape the density of fire pouring on them from the hillside. As with Hill's brigades, the regiments lost so heavily in getting close to the enemy that they lost the cohesion in which the men were accustomed to mass their fire.

After Elzey came Dick Taylor's celebrated Louisiana brigade, sporting a pelican on its flags. Probably the most colorful outfit to come to Virginia, its personnel presented an interesting contrast to the general impression that the Southern armies were composed of big plantation owners "fighting for slavery." Of the regiments in the brigade, one was all Irish, with a harp on its flag; one was formed of Acadians, the simple, warm-hearted people of the bayous; and a third was the notorious "Tigers," a battalion composed of plug-uglies from the wharves and alleys of New Orleans. The only officer who could (or would try) to control the "villainous" Tigers was gigantic Rob Wheat. The son of an Episcopal rector, Wheat was a leader of that breed of soldiers of fortune which flourished in the nine­teenth century.

The big slaveholder among the Louisianians was their brigadier, Richard Taylor, a Yale graduate and the son of a United States President. Taylor, thirty-six, was a sugar planter whose only military experience had been as secretary to his father, when Zachary Taylor was a general. Widely read in the science of war, Taylor had the intelligence and personal qualities to become a superior soldier. Cold and haughty except with intimate friends, Dick Taylor was very much aware of his family connections, which included Jeffer­son Davis, a brother-in-law. On the march to Ashland, Taylor was stricken with a strange nervous malady which caused a paralysis of his legs, and he could not assume command of his brigade.

Taylor's brigade crossed over the littered ground where Hill's troops had caught the greatest concentration of the enemy's fire from solid lines of fresh riflemen. In passing through the clumps of Hill's shaken men, the Louisianians may have missed the command­ing presence of their brigadier. Before the troops were in position Colonel Seymour, taking the brigade in, was killed. Then the lovable Rob Wheat went down, mortally wounded. The Louisianians

 

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 faltered, began to fall back, and then broke to the rear in a rush. This break, the only blight on the history of the brigade, gave the Valley troops a sobering taste of the fighting which Hill's men had stood up against. In the open country of the Valley, Jackson's men had experienced none of the effects of marshy ground and brushy timber on troops advancing. By the time Ewell had all his regiments on the field, the units were mangled and in danger of being overrun. The ferocious Tigers, who could not be controlled­ after Wheat's death, were never the same again.

 

6

 

While Ewell was absorbing some of the enemy's attention on Hill's left, Longstreet began his diversion below Hill's right. Wilcox, with three brigades that had been lying behind the banks of Pow­hite Creek, moved out toward the strongly protected Federal flank. They immediately drew fire from the batteries on the Watt house hill and from the heavy guns across the Chickahominy.

The other three brigades, nearer to A. P. Hill, had waited in a light woods, and Pickett moved his brigade forward to the edge of the clearing to develop the enemy's strength. From the volume of fire drawn along the whole front, Longstreet perceived that a demonstration would accomplish nothing. Without communicating with Lee, Longstreet decided to act on his own initiative and turn the demonstration into an assault. His division would attack pre­cisely where the enemy wanted him to but, as he said, there was no help for it if the day was to be saved.

It was around five o'clock when Longstreet, customarily deliber­ate, began to prepare to advance his whole line. Pickett by that time was wounded, but his brigade continued its steady fire from the edge of the woods as the other brigades moved forward.

It was while Longstreet was forming that Whiting was sent for­ward by Lee to report to Longstreet for orders. Longstreet directed him to form on Pickett's left. Hood's brigade was then going into position behind Hill's lines across the road leading to the Watt house. Whiting ordered Law to form his brigade on Hood's right. When the men moved forward through the woods, regiment by regi-

 

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ment, Law saw that "a thin and irregular line of General Hill's troops were keeping up the fight, but, already badly cut up, [they] were wasting away from the heavy fire from the Federal lines."

When Hood and Law were advancing into position behind Hill and to his right, Ewell got some relief on his left by the arrival of Lawton's brigade. This Georgia brigade of 3,500 men ---about the size of the rest of Jackson's division --- had arrived on the field sepa­rately from the other brigades. In the drift through the swampy woods, all the brigades of Jackson's division emerged separately, and by chance Lawton came out at a cornfield immediately in the rear of Ewell's hard-pressed troops.

Alexander Lawton, a thirty-seven-year-old native of Maryland, had entered the Harvard Law School after graduating from West Point and had practiced law in Savannah. He was Porter Alexander's brother-in-law. As he arrived on the field, Lawton heard that Ewell was in trouble. Ordering his untried regiments forward in their new uniforms, Lawton went to look for a staff officer to provide him with instructions or directions. He saw 'two regiments retire out of woods onto an open field in front of him, and somebody told him the enemy's fire had driven them out.

Like Hood earlier, Lawton decided to act on his own. Without advancing first into the woods, he formed his brigade in a single battle line on the fields east of the Cold Harbor Road. He excited the men, going into their first battle, by sending them forward at a run. The troops were mostly armed with new Enfield rifles and fired in a single volley when they burst into the brush. It was the heaviest single blast produced on the Confederate front until that time. As soon as the regiments reached the denser part of the woods lining the soggy creek bed, the usual difficulties in keeping alignment arose. But the weight of Lawton's Enfields tipped the balance of volume to the Confederate side in that area, and the worst was over for A. P. Hill and Ewell.

During these movements --- of Longstreet, Whiting, and Lawton --- Jackson rode to New Cold Harbor for his brief conference with Lee around five o'clock. The deployment of these units in getting into line was not completed until after six o'clock. It was between six and seven before a continuous line was formed from Long­street's right to Lawton's left, nearly connecting with D. H. Hill.

 

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When Jackson rode away from Lee, there was little left for him to ­do. Powell Hill had already ordered in Winder, with the Stonewall Brigade, to close on D. H. Hill's right. When Winder filled the re­maining gap between Lawton and Harvey Hill, Lee would at last , present an unbroken front between four and five hours after A. P. Hill's assault had opened on the expectation of Jackson's.ar­rival.

Jackson's last two brigades, with communication lost between the --- vanguard and those behind, had drifted so far southward in passing through the woods to the front that the 3rd Brigade reached the field southwest of New Cold Harbor back near Powhite Creek. The 2nd Brigade appeared still farther to the southwest on the west­ern side of Powhite Creek. The two brigades had marched almost in a circle to come on the field approximately where they would have if no countermarch had been made from the road back of Gaines's. millpond.

Presumably because of the positions of these brigades on their late arrival, Jackson ordered the 2nd Brigade to support Long­street's right and the 3rd Brigade to support Whiting in the center, where Hill's troops were being relieved. Jackson, his pride involved, avoided mention of the undirected march of the two divisions, which brought six brigades on the field in five different locations and at five different times. In his, report, he stated that "Jackson's division" went in as a unit between Ewell's and D. H. Hill's.

After Jackson's brief exchange with Lee, his actions were char­acterized by a single sentence attributed to him by Dabney. He sent messengers to his division commanders with the words, "Tell them this affair must hang in suspense no longer; sweep the field with the bayonet."    

This order has been used to indicate a directing spirit of combat that rose in Jackson. "Cheek and brow were blazing with crimson blood," Dabney recalled, "as his gigantic spirit was manifestly gath­ering strength." As Dabney also reported that only half an hour of sunlight remained, this placed the time that Jackson dispatched the often quoted message---around seven o'clock. Lee's general assault had begun before the couriers could have reached any of Jackson's division commanders.

To cover this point, Dabney wrote, "the ringing cheers, rising

 

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from every side out of the smoking woods, told that his will had been anticipated . . ." Omitting the poetic concept of "anticipation," Jackson's famous sentence had no bearing on the battle at all.

When Jackson left Lee, he evidently made an effort to rouse him­self. He rode back and forth, studying the curving front from different angles with the fierce glare ascribed to him by Dabney. As by then his command had been committed to others, there was no direction for his briefly gathered energies to take, and he could only show an animated presence. Yet, a spurious sense of accom­plishment accrued to Jackson's performance at the Battle of Gaines's Mill because of the decisive part in the final action taken by troops then under his general command.

These troops, D. H. Hill's and Whiting's, were not a part of Jack­son's Valley command. Whiting was on brief loan from Lee's army and had operated with Jackson only on the march to Richmond. During the battle, after sending the garbled order that immobilized Whiting on the road, Jackson had had nothing to do with his em­ployment. Harvey Hill's division had been placed temporarily under Jackson's command that day, and Jackson's authority over Hill at Old Cold Harbor consisted mostly of restraining him during the hours when A. P. Hill's division was being cut up in its isolated action. Though these two divisions operated only technically under Jackson's command, the Battle of Gaines's Mill has usually been presented as a rise in the level of Jackson's performance during the Seven Days.

Jackson's behavior as a military commander was no different from what it had been since June 24, on the march to Ashland, when he had first revealed the effects of stress fatigue. His slow march from Hundley's Corner to the battlefield on the 27th and his bemused in­action on reaching Old Cape Harbor revealed the same muffled faculties and inability to impart energy to his troops.

 

7

 

At around seven o'clock, when Lee mounted his first general as­sault of the day, D. H. Hill had been pressing for some time against the angled Federal right. There Sykes's regulars had been strength­ened on the flank by Bartlett's fresh brigade. of Slocum's division

 

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sent from the Nine Mile Road. Hill had gotten some guns in action and was exerting a heavy, continuous pressure. Though he was not budging the regulars with their fresh reserves, he was engaging every Federal soldier and gun at that end of the line.

This placed Porter under a burden along his front. After the bri­gades of Taylor and Newton (of Slocum's division) were put in the right center between Morell and Sykes, Porter had no more reserves at hand. The fresh brigades of French and Meagher had crossed the Chickahominy but had not yet come on to the field. In this circum­stance, while the Federal center had not yet been extended, the position was held by tiring men, their ranks thinned, from casualties, and there were no replacements to help meet the solid thrust from Longstreet's division on the Federal left.

Longstreet, having everything just so before he went in, handled his brigades with the sureness that characterized the performances which built his reputation. His men, jackets black with sweat from the long wait in the sun, moved rapidly across the quarter of a mile of open ground, ignoring the shells that ripped at the flank from the Federal guns south of the river. The troops crashed into the thickets bordering the swamp with a dense burst of rifle fire.

Pushing steadily downhill toward the high creek banks, pausing to fire as they walked, the regiments were not met with the volume of  canister and musketry that had showered the advances of A. P. Hill and Ewell. The metal flew thickly, but troops could live through it. Without a perceptible break anywhere, the Federal fire grew scat­tered in places and the feeling of solidarity was missing from the tiers on the hillside.

Major General Morell, commanding the division on the left cen­ter, and Butterfield, commanding the brigade on the left flank, be­lieved their line had been subjected to a general assault around five o'clock, when Longstreet had made his demonstration and Whiting and Lawton had gone in to support Hill and Ewell. For this reason, the Federal generals on the left center thought they were facing fresh troops from an inexhaustible reserve when the weight of Lang­street's brigades shook their lines.

At some point, segments of the defenders began to falter. At the wrong time, regiments were pulled out of one part of the line to support another. At the creek bank, Confederates jumped into the

 

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water in pairs, throwing their rifles up on the opposite side. One pushed another up, and then was pulled out himself. On the .extreme right, sturdy Wilcox started his men up the hillside. It was slow go­ing but it was a tide, no longer a movement of thrusts that became fragmented by concentrations of fire.

With Longstreet and D. H. Hill pressing on opposite ends --- and the Federal left beginning to give a little --- Lee delivered the main thrust where Porter least expected it. It came over the seemingly impregnable center, at the steepest part of the hill, where Powell Hill's brigades had been shattered in their five hours of fighting.

During the course of the piecemeal arrival of the units upon the field, as Lee had gradually assumed direction of the battle, he still avoided issuing detailed orders which denied an officer the opportu­nity to make changes to conform, with the situation as it developed in his sector. To Whiting he said, in effect: Break the enemy's line.

Hood approached after Lee had given the order, and Lee told his former lieutenant in the old 2nd Cavalry that all the fighting had not dislodged the enemy. "This must be done," Lee said. "Can you break his line?"

"I can try," Hood said.

Hood's brigade was formed on the left of Law's, the two totaling four thousand relatively fresh men. Whiting rode along the lines as the men prepared to go in over the ground where Hill's dead and wounded were strewn. Those remnants of Hill's division who con­tinued to fire had formed behind a slight rise on the slope near and parallel to the creek. Whiting ordered his officers to send their men fast down the slope once they breasted this little rise, not pausing to fire. With fixed bayonets, the men were to carry their rifles at.trail arms and place their reliance on the quickness with which they could cross the creek and approach the enemy's first and strongest line.

Law said, "Had these orders not been strictly obeyed the assault would have been a failure. No troops could have stood long in the withering storm of lead and iron that beat into their faces as they became fully exposed to view from the Federal lines."

The assault would possibly have failed anyway except for the in­stinct for combat leadership displayed by young Hood. Had he advanced in the blindness with which Ripley had led his brigade at Ellerson's Mill, the whole day might well have ended in failure.

 

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From the moment his regiments began their advance, Hood, strik­ing no gallant pose of the general inspiring his men by advancing with bared sword, moved to where he surveyed the whole field of action.

His brigade and Law's passed over the rise and plunged down the slope with a high yell. From the rise nearly to the bottom, the two lines advanced in the range of the Federal batteries, and bursting canister took a severe toll. In the thickets near the creek the men with their bright bayonets came under rifle fire from the exhausted Federal infantrymen crouched behind the earth and logs. Many of the Federal rifles had become fouled from the long firing and were useless, but the sun was setting then, and Porter's soldiers knew this would be the last assault:

On the way to the ravine, Hood's men moved through the woods , while Law's brigades crossed an open field. Mounted behind his double lines, Hood saw a space widen where Law's right should connect with Longstreet's left. One of Longstreet's regiments had halted to deliver fire and, not resuming its advance, continued to fire from a stationary position. An uncomplicated, aggressive man with quick reflexes, Hood reacted quickly to do what had to be done.

With no desire to claim credit himself or to cast reflection upon another, Hood never reported that the failure of other troops to advance exposed the flank of Whiting's division. He only said he had crossed two of his regiments behind Law and threw the 4th Texas forward with the 18th Georgia in support. Actually he dismounted and, towering above most of his men, personally led the 4th Texas toward the gap.

This regiment had been his first Confederate command. The 4th Texas was not a young man's regiment. It was dominated by sub­stantial citizens - stockmen, farmers, merchants - with forty law­yers among its 130 commissioned and noncommissioned officers: After Hood was promoted to brigadier, the assertive individualises could not. agree on a native Texan to command them. They selected for their colonel fifty-year-old John Marshall, a Virginia native who, as editor of the Austin State Gazette, was a state political power. The lieutenant colonel was twenty-three-old Bradfute War­wick, of a distinguished Richmond background. A graduate of med­ical college, Warwick, while continuing his medical studies in Eu-

 

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rope, had volunteered with Garibaldi and risen to captain. This handsome young man had, like Hood, sent his mare to the rear., Going down the slope alone the Texans marched bent over, "tur­key hunting style," as a soldier from another outfit saw them. When their line formed on Law's right at the bottom of the hill, the 4th Texas had taken the heaviest casualties in the two-brigade divi­sion. At the brushy bottom of the hill in that area, the Federal lines were the closest to the creek, no more than a few yards up the slope from the high banks. When the 4th Texas reached the creek in line with the other regiments, nearly one fourth of the men had fallen in the two brigades.

At the creek none paused to fire. Some leaped the banks, while others jumped in and climbed out. Despite their different methods ­of getting across, the men maintained their alignments in the battle lines and started up the hill, still without firing. Colonel Marshall fell from his horse, dead when they found him. Bradfute Warwick picked up a battle flag left behind in one of Hill's earlier thrusts. Waving it, he yelled to the men to rush the first breastworks.

The worn-out Federals behind the works had given all they had. It was clear that the screaming men coming toward them with bayo­nets were not going to stop. The first line of defenders left their works and started to scramble up the steep hill. At the second line they might get a chance to reload, maybe replace a fouled rifle, and make a stand with the reserve line fifty or more yards farther up the hill.

Only when Porter's troops began their withdrawal to the second line did the Texans begin firing. As other segments of Porter's first line were abandoned, Law's regiments--- from Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina --- paused to aim and fire at close range. The 4th Texas had lost 250 men, half its personnel, but the 18th Georgia coming on behind gave weight to the fire.

The retreating Federal soldiers fell in droves. The reserves on the second line, seeing their companions fall by the scores, and them­selves unable to fire with the withdrawing first line in their front, broke back for the crest of the hill. When the weaker second line of works was abandoned, the retreating soldiers from the first line made no effort to make a stand. Their retirement became flight.

The two brigades, the men's blood up with the chance to return

 

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the thousand casualties they had suffered, stayed on the heels of the Federals, firing rapidly and carefully. At last the Texans, with no more breath for yells, reached the crest of the slope and saw the masses of Federal troops milling on the plateau in the falling dusk. Bradfute Warwick went down there, severely wounded. He was taken to his father's house in Richmond, where he died a week later.

Though the consensus of reports agreed that the 4th Texas had opened the first wedge, sections of the line of defense beyond the creek were abandoned almost simultaneously across the front of the, two brigades. Also, though the consensus agreed that the first break had been made by Hood and Law, troops from Longstreet's long line of assault stumbled up on the crest of the Watt house almost at the same time. Micah Jenkins's South Carolina regiment, which had sliced through the Federal lines at Seven Pines with such speed and power, was among the first to reach the disorder of the crest, near Hood. Further right Virginia regiments of Cadmus Wilcox came storming up onto the plateau.

Porter said the first break came in the center, near his headquar­ters in the Watt house. The Confederate pressure from the Federal left flank to the center was so heavy, and the defenders so fought ­out, that a break anywhere would have started the whole two-mile front to give.

 

8

 

The drives to the crest were not made evenly. The first men to reach the center of Porter's force on the plateau seemed to be con­fronted with more Yankees than they had faced all day. Though the separated Confederate units, several with all field officers lost, found themselves in no position to exploit the break, Porter's men were equally disorganized.

Nothing like a general rout had begun. Most of the Federal sol­diers were trying to establish order on regimental units. But num­bers of soldiers were fleeing, dropping their arms as they ran, and some units were cut off in the suddenness of the break. In the cen­ter two regiments surrendered to Whiting's two brigades.

Then, in the failing light, Sykes's U. S. Regulars and their rein­forcements began a stubborn withdrawal from Porter's right, mov-

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ing slowly back in a slight arc from the McGehee house toward the road to the Chickahominy.

That had been a long, grim duel along the swamp on the Federal right flank between the two Southerners, Harvey Hill and George Sykes. They were a tenacious pair, and dour Sykes, commanding regulars, fought with the pride of an old-line soldier against volun­teers. Harvey Hill showed again, as at Seven Pines, his skillful con­trol of his units and the cohesive drive he could sustain in assault. For his final push, after more than two hours of frustration, his right was supported by the comparatively fresh brigades of Lawton and Winder. Sykes could not contain the weight thrown in late, but Hill could not break him.

With Sykes retiring southeast across the plateau, Porter could look only to withdrawing Morell, McCall and the brigades of Slocum. Porter had fourteen or more guns lined up on the plateau to blast the disorganized Confederate units breaking over the crest of the hill, and a curious episode nullified their potential destruction.

Philip St. George Cooke commanded several regiments of cavalry that had been held in reserve and the veteran professional soldier decided to break the assault force before its units formed for pursuit. Cooke, a Virginian, was Jeb Stuart's father-in-law and the father of a Harvard-educated infantry colonel, both of whom had broken off relations with him for fighting against his state. The arguments are evenly divided as to whether the cavalry charge was a bold stroke or a foolish impulse doomed to disaster.

With the light dimming and smoke drifting over the indescribable confusion on the plateau, the horses, looming out of the fog, bore down on the foot soldiers. Against some troops such a charge might have worked, but these soldiers were country boys as familiar with horses as with house pets, and they calmly stood their ground and fired. When their rifles were empty, the men thrust bayonets at the necks of the horses or at the riders trying to get at them with saber and pistol.

The charge quickly degenerated into a stampede in reverse. Rid­erless horses ran about with wildly flapping stirrups, horses went out of control and the riders lost all sense of direction. Their back­ward rush carried the horsemen into Porter's fourteen guns. Artil-­

 

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lery horses joined the gallop and ran off, gunners were knocked down, and by the time the dust settled most of the guns had been overrun by Whiting's troops.

Porter claimed Cooke's cavalry charge precipitated his retreat. Cooke claimed his charge made possible the relative order in which Porter withdrew. From the condition of Porter's infantry,  no confusion wrought by the cavalry was necessary to force a hasty withdrawal. The luckless charge unquestionably intensified the gen­eral confusion, though it also confused Lee's soldiers. Whatever the charge contributed, the action of the 5th and part of the 2nd U. S. Cavalry marked the end of the battle.

Fitz-John Porter was a hard loser. Many Confederates, in their official reports and later personal writings, paid the good soldier the highest tributes for the magnificent stand made by his troops. Porter was not at all generous. Back in May, when he had used half a corps to drive Branch's green brigade at Hanover Court House, he had attributed his victory entirely to the valor of his own men. At Gaines's Mill, where he was actually outnumbered by little more than five to four, and where he enjoyed the advantage in artillery and possibly the strongest defensive position of the war, he attrib­uted his loss entirely to the enemy's "overwhelming" numbers and presented a picture of orderliness in his withdrawal which did not exist.

Blaming Cooke, Porter stated that the fourteen guns which the cavalry charge had forced him to abandon were the only guns lost except for two that ran off from the bridges in the night movement across the Chickahominy. Some of those fourteen guns were still  firing after the cavalry charge, and the Confederates captured twenty-two guns altogether. Thousands of Federal rifles, supplies which the Confederate quartermasters were three days collect­ing, and several rapid-fire contraptions on a machine gun principle were gleaned from the field. Nearly three thousand Federal soldiers were taken prisoner and countless hundreds of stragglers were saved from capture by darkness.

The late arrival of French's and Meagher's brigades provided a rallying point to troops making their way through the dusk in poor order. The solid lines presented by these two brigades prevented

 

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any spontaneous pursuit by the disorganized Confederate units on the plateau. It was too dark for organized pursuit to be formed and the Confederates could not get their batteries up the hill.

Porter retired from the dark plateau southeastward to the Chick­ahominy, his guns using the road that ran from the McGehee house. Units slowly converged on the new bridges McClellan had built, where Sumner had crossed during the Battle of Seven Pines. The bulk of his army had crossed by daylight of the next morning, though some stragglers never got to the bridges. Brigadier General Reynolds, who had lain down to rest while his lines crept through the night, was captured asleep the following morning. Porter brought his army off the field in highly commendable order under the circumstances, but it was not the ordered withdrawal he claimed. His corps was saved from more complete wreckage by the late hour of the final attack.

Demonstrating the advantages of a strong defensive position and superior artillery, Porter's loss of 4000 killed and wounded was only half of Lee's total. Porter's total casualties were brought to about 6900 by the loss of almost 3000 prisoners.

 

9

 

Driving Porter came at the heavy cost of eight thousand Con­federate casualties. This was never emphasized as were the losses at Ellerson's Mill. In the first day's fight, where the responsibility could be shifted to A. P. Hill's "impulsive attack," Ripley's losses were cited endlessly as waste of life: "335 men in the 44th Georgia alone" was frequently mentioned, without the mention that only one other of Ripley's. regiments was seriously engaged, or that Hill lost little more than seven hundred out of five brigades engaged. Of Gaines's Mill, where Lee commanded, it was never stressed that A. P. Hill's division lost 2688 killed and wounded (6o per cent cas­ualties in the regiment of Orr's Rifles) and uncounted hundreds not included on the casualty lists. These were men who suffered minor concussions from shell bursts, temporarily incapacitating in­juries from blows from spent bullets, shell fragments, or falling tree branches and heavy falls the men took in underbrush and ditch. Many of these unlisted casualties, which returned to action within

 

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twenty-four hours or a few days, would have been captured had the field been lost.

The highest proportion of casualties, 25 per cent, was suffered by Whiting's two brigades. Chase Whiting dimmed his own glory by writing disparagingly of those remnants of Hill's troops through whose ranks Hood and Law passed in their late assault. Whiting accused them of not following his attacking lines up the hill, and said he doubted if any of the men passed the creek. Whiting's re­marks came ill from a general who had remained idle while ms's division splintered its strength in wearing down successive lines of defenders.

Longstreet, in observing that A. P. Hill was about the only general who did not claim credit for the breakthrough, pointed out that the success of Whiting's assault was built on Hill's five-hour fight in the swamp. "The troops of the gallant A. P. Hill, that did as much and as effective fighting as any, received little of the credit properly due them. It was their long and steady fight that thinned the Fed­eral ranks and caused them to so foul their guns that they were out of order when the final struggle came."

Ultimately, it was John Hood's tactical initiative that sustained the assault of the two brigades then under Whiting's command. Though Law was an intelligent, determined and ambitions soldier, whose record of performance was uniformly high, he was, not a professional. At Gaines's Mill, he could scarcely have been expected to exercise the intuitive tactical control of the combative Hood. It was "Hood's Texans" the army spoke of (ignoring the 18th Georgia­ in the brigade), and Hood's Texans, not Whiting's command, be­came from that day on Lee's favorite shock troops.

Longstreet, in a generous mood after the sound performance of his own troops, spoke for the majority when he said there was glory enough for all. Longstreet was a different soldier than he had been at Seven Pines, when Johnston had given him a range of responsi­bility that exceeded his capacities --- at least in such an ill-defined command situation. Under Lee, Longstreet's part in the whole was both more definite and more limited, since he was allowed initiative in tactics within the framework of a clearly stated objective.  In his appraisal of the situation on the Union left at Gaines's Mill, in forming his troops for the separate points of assault, and in delivering a

 

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thrust in coordination with Whiting, Longstreet gave every evidence of living up to the reputation he had built in Johnston's army. Immediately following the battle Lee conferred with his laconic, unruffled subordinate, revealing by his manner trust in his dependa­bility. For his part, Longstreet seemed secure in the niche he had won in the new commander's army, and his energies were directed to executing the orders of the leader who had won the first major Confederate victory since First Manassas.

That night, June 27, the men with Lee were not certain of the nature of the victory. Some, such as Whiting, doubted the action was a victory. Whiting believed that McClellan had permitted Lee to become fully engaged on the north bank of the Chickahominy in order to drive over Magruder and Huger.

If Lee considered this possibility, there is no record of it. Long­street's division was near the crossing to New Bridge, connecting with Magruder, and his troops had not been hard used. Excepting Lawton's brigade, the three brigades of Jackson's division had scarcely been engaged, taking less than a hundred casualties.

More of a factor than his position to shift troops across the river was Lee's belief that he faced the bulk of McClellan's army on the north side. He might have felt less secure in the ability of Ma­gruder and Huger to hold their positions had he known that Mc­Clellan had more than sixty thousand infantry in front of them, with his artillery containing twenty-odd of his semimobile siege guns. In a case where ignorance supported boldness, Lee evidently thought only of finishing McClellan on the north of the river or forcing him into a retreat back down the peninsula.

On leaving the grisly battlefield to go to temporary quarters at a country house near New Bridge, Lee planned to resume the action early the next morning to discover the new position to which Mc­Clellan would withdraw. He did not know that during the night Porter's corps was crossing the bridges to fall in on McClellan's main force around Fair Oaks, nor did he suspect that McClellan was abandoning his base at the White House.

According to the knowledge Lee possessed, it seemed likely that McClellan would take a stand somewhere between the Cold Harbor Road to the Grapevine Bridges and Dispatch Station. This was a

 

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stop on the York River Railroad where it crossed to the north side of the Chickahominy, eight miles east of the battleground.

For Lee and the rest of the army all this was supposition during the night where uneasy small stirrings followed the violence of the seven hours of battle. Lost units poked gingerly through the black­ness looking for water. Lanterns flickered where surgeons moved to those wounded they could locate by their cries and moans. Har­ness and wheels creaked as artillerists moved their horses to Po­white Creek. Captains and majors, assuming the commands of fallen field officers, moved about establishing their regiments.

Jackson's wagons were not up, and poor Dabney, trying to make a bed in a cornfield, had his stomach gag at a piece of raw tongue an officer shared with him and his feelings outraged at the fiery liquid the officer offered him to wash down the tongue. It was not a happy night at Jackson's headquarters.

Throughout the army there was little feeling of elation. The men knew they had won an engagement they had had to win. For the rest, they ached with fatigue, brushed weakly at mosquitoes as they found spots on the ground for sleep, and left the next day and the next battle to the unknown fates of tomorrow.