The Seven Days
M ONDAY, the last day of June, brought a crisis to George McClellan's career. The twenty-four hours he had gained on Lee had been insufficient to move his army and wagons beyond the reaches of Lee's three-pronged assault on his columns. Lee had achieved all he had hoped in catching McClellan in the open, and the young general had to face the terrible prospect of having his army cut in half. The battle he had avoided at the sacrifice of his White House base was overtaking him on the move to the James River.
The day before, Confederate cavalry had made a reconnaissance in force near the crucial crossroads at Glendale, where the Federal wagons jammed the Willis Church Road on the movement to the river. Driving off Colonel Baker's North Carolina regiment with heavy losses was no compensation to McClellan for the knowledge that Lee had established his precise location and had felt out the vulnerable point in his movement. Then, late on the day before, Confederate infantry in force had prevented Kearny's division from crossing White Oak Swamp at Jordan's Ford. Kearny crossed in the dark, closer to the crossroads, with the information that a Confederate division was bivouacked on the Charles City Road three miles from Glendale.
This was Huger's division, aimed straight at the hinge in McClellan's army. During the morning of the 3oth, Longstreet and A. P. Hill, on the Darbytown Road, were approaching the intersection with the Long Bridge Road, little more than two miles to the southwest of the slowly moving mass of wagons and men crowded at Glendale. Farther to the south, Holmes's division was moving east along the New Market Road toward the terminus of the Willis Church Road, where the van of McClellan's columns approached
the river. Brought over from south of the river, Holmes's assorted force aggregated around seven thousand of all arms. Yet a fourth column, Jackson's, was moving directly on the line of retreat, approaching Glendale from the north.
Glendale was the place name for the intersection of the Charles City Road and the Long Bridge Road, where the Willis Church Road began its course to the south. There was no settlement at the crossroads, which some called Riddell's Shop after the blacksmith shop there. The action was also called Frayser's Farm for the farm on the Willis Church Road nearest the crossroads. Federal reports also referred to the engagement as the Battle of Nelson's Farm, to the west of the Long Bridge Road, and as the Battle of New Market. Some of the officers believed the Long Bridge Road from New Market was an extension of the New Market Road.
The confusion about the roads was general and not helped by the fact the the New Market Road beyond New Market Heights became the River Road and that the sign on the Darby farm, for which the Darbytown Road was named, was spelled Enroughty. The Willis Church Road was called the Quaker Road by some, though there was also a Quaker Road.
The most important road open to McClellan was one unnamed and unlisted on maps. This was a woods road, parts of it unused for years, discovered by General Keyes the night before. Near the Glendale crossroads it branched off from the Long Bridge Road to the south, loosely paralleling the Willis Church Road for several miles. To the east of Malvern Hill, this country lane divided and one branch led Keyes's corps, with guns and some cavalry, to Turkey Bend in the James River. The van reached the River Road at sunrise of the 3oth. Keyes's discovery of this road began to loosen the jam at Glendale. Wagons and reserve artillery trains had been able to move during the night, if by fits and starts, over the main Willis Church Road to the river. On the 3oth, parts of the wagon train could be diverted to the woods road, then cleared of fallen logs by Keyes's men, and the main road was partially open for troop movements.
Late in the morning - Franklin thought it about ten-thirty - an energetic McClellan called his corps commanders to a meeting at the Glendale crossroads. The commanding general seemed hurried
as he quickly outlined the defensive positions the corps were to assume. The troops took position according to their places, in the press of the march.
Smith's division of Franklin's corps and Richardson's division of Sumner's corps, the last troops to leave Savage's Station during the night before, were formed under Franklin once again as the rear guard, facing the line of pursuit. -
The road these tired men had trudged through the night ran south from the Williamsburg Road until a long slope dipped to White Oak Swamp at the main crossing of White Oak Bridge. At this point, a creek ran through the swamp, and on both banks the rank growth of vines and underbrush was at its densest, like a jungle through whose interlapped branches the sun never reached to the soggy footing.
After destroying the bridge, Franklin posted his troops and guns on the opposite hill, facing practically due north. While his men were slowly taking positions, the last of the wagon train and part of the siege train were still halted in the clearing on one side of the road. At about one and one half miles from the creek, this road intersected the Long Bridge Road, then crowded with vehicles and walking wounded.
On the opposite side of the creek, Stonewall Jackson was leading the pursuit from Savage's Station. D. H. Hill's division, as vanguard, was moving slowly along a road literally covered with abandoned equipment and overtaking so many Federal stragglers that two regiments were detached to take the prisoners to the rear. Jackson had not come into view when Franklin rode to the Long Bridge Road and on about two miles to Glendale to confer with McClellan.
Though the White Oak Swamp ran in an irregular direction, and its western end slanted northward as it faded off near the Williamsburg Road, across McClellan's front at Glendale for tactical purposes the swampy area coursed west to east. The Charles City Road, skirting its southern fringes, ran into Glendale at an angle from the northwest. To meet Huger approaching on this road, Slocum's division of Franklin's corps was posted to the right of the road, facing more west than north. In this alignment, Slocum's line was almost at a left angle to Franklin, from whom he was virtually separated.
Against Longstreet and A. P. Hill, who would approach up the
Long Bridge Road from the southwest, moving mostly to the east the road neared Glendale, McClellan placed McCall's division. These Pennsylvania reserves seemed to have been attached to Porter's corps rather than of it, and, like the proverbial stepchild, the division was given a disproportionate amount of work. Following the division's easy introduction to fighting at Beaver Dam Creek, the men had been thrown the next day into the heaviest action at Gaines's Mill. Badly cut up, the troops were somewhat shaken after the casual triumph of their first fight and were a poor choice to be assigned a crucial sector, while the two regular divisions of Porter's corps marched on toward the river to join Keyes's unfought corps.
Behind McCall's right and Slocum's left, Kearny's division stretched from the Charles City Road to the Long Bridge Road near the apex of their juncture. Hooker, the other division from Heintzelman's corps, was placed behind McCall's left and reached across the crowded Willis Church Road. Sedgwick, from Sumner's corps, was placed in reserve in the general area of Glendale.
McClellan had thus committed to the crossroads almost half his infantry, five divisions, with McCall supported by batteries, from Henry Hunt's well-served reserve artillery. Leaving two divisions for the rear guard, with only a thin line along the swampy front between Franklin and Slocum, four divisions had been hurried toward the river. McClellan's mind was pulled toward a terminal point where his exposed columns could come under the protection of the gunboats and transports could land supplies.
With no more intention of fighting in the open on the south of the Chickahominy than on the north, McClellan's purpose in moving to the James River was to use the long-range guns of the navy as a substitute for the works he had been flanked out of in front of Richmond. In his purpose of getting as much of his army as possible to the safety of the river, his defensive arrangement was a repeat of that of Gaines's Mill --- designed only to hold off the enemy. As soon as he had delivered the orders to his generals, McClellan left the scene of the impending action and rode to the James River.
On the 29th, McClellan had dispatched an engineering officer, Colonel Alexander, to confer with Commander Rodgers, of the James River fleet, on the selection of a landing for a new base. McClellan had in mind Haxall's Landing near the tip of Turkey Bend, one of the loops ("curls," as they were called) in the river.
The Willis Church Road, with some wandering, ran south to Turkey Bend, on its way crossing the hill whose plateau was called Malvern Hill. The western face of Malvern Hill dropped in an almost sheer cliff, and guns posted there would command the River Road ---as the New Market Road had then become. By nine in the morning of June 30, Porter's corps had reached this plateau, and guns were being posted above the western cliff to cover the stretch of road leading to Turkey Bend on the line of march of Holmes's column.
When McClellan crossed Malvern Hill on the way to Commander Rodgers's gunboats, his road was packed solid with wagons creeping between the farmland on either side of the plateau and
through the thickly foliaged light woods on the long, winding southern slope. Where the Willis Church road intersected the River Road it was crossed by Turkey Bend Creek, flowing into the top of, that loop in the James. Keyes's corps, after its night march on the woods road, had gone into camp near the river, with guards posted along the bridge over Turkey Bend Creek.
McClellan conferred briefly with Keyes, and then joined Commander Rodgers on the gunboat Galena. It was here, late in the afternoon of June 30, that McClellan selected the point to which he would withdraw his army and where the army could be protected - and supplied by the navy. Commander Rodgers suggested that the most practical nearby point was Harrison's Landing, about six miles downriver. What the Federals called Harrison's Landing was the wharf on the three-mile riverfront of Berkeley plantation. Formerly the manorial seat of the Harrison family, Berkeley plantation, patented in 1619, was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, V, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States.
In the sense that the White House had been a base for operations, Harrison's Landing was not a base at all. It was simply the closest place to Richmond to which McClellan could safely withdraw his army on a river, where it could be supplied by water. McClellan made this plain in his report. He said it was Rodgers's "opinion. that it would be necessary for the army to fall back to a position" downriver from Turkey Bend, and "Harrison's Landing was, in his opinion, the nearest suitable point." This exchange with Commander Rodgers, if nothing else, pulls the rug from under the rationalization that McClellan changed his base to a base at Harrison's Landing.
During the afternoon of June 30 McClellan was giving no thought to future rationalizations. Having abandoned his campaign against Richmond, his single absorbing anxiety was the salvation of his army. Of course, this anxiety embraced the salvation of his reputation, then indissolubly identified with the fate of the army. Messages sent late in the afternoon, that night, and after midnight reflected an almost hysterical state in which the commanding general seemed removed from the reality of his army's immediate, danger at Glendale.
From Turkey Bend he wired Stanton, "I fear I shall be forced to abandon my material to save my men under cover of the, gunboats. . . . If none of us escape, we shall at least have saved the honor of the country. . . . Send more gunboats."
Later he wired the adjutant general in Washington for fifty thousand fresh men. "That number sent at once will, I think, enable me to assume the offensive."
Calls went out for steamers to evacuate the sick and wounded. Calls were sent to Fort Monroe to hurry forward the five thousand garrison troops under Silas Casey which had been transported for safety to Fort Monroe after evacuating the White House. To stress the absence of any base on the James River, Chief of Staff Marcy wired Fort Monroe, "Please see that the men you send have three days' rations in their haversacks."
With the frantic calls for the salvation of the army when it reached the James River, McClellan left the generals at Glendale to fight their way out of the convergence of Lee's thrusts coming from three directions. Tactically, more than one half of McClellan's army was enclosed as within three sides of a box, with the open end the Willis Church Road on which the wagon train was moving and which, after the wagons had passed, offered the troops the line of march to fall in with the rest of the army and supplies. If Lee's army reached the Willis Church Road while it was still clogged with wagons, McClellan's army would be cut in half and exposed to military destruction.
The seven divisions, arranged at all angles to one another, without the possibility of initiative or freedom of movement, could do no more than resist the pressure on the three sides, to prevent any one side from collapsing before darkness came. In numbers, Lee's four forces available to press on three sides approximated fifty-five thousand infantry. After casualties, Longstreet and A. P. Hill had something less than eighteen thousand, Jackson (minus Ewell's division) and D. H. Hill something more than eighteen thousand; Huger had about nine thousand and Magruder possibly ten thousand. The seven Federal divisions approximated the same total, with any numerical superiority not significant. Neither total allows for stragglers. Lee's numbers do not include Holmes's force on the River Road, an adjunct to the main offensives at Glendale, as were
the thirty-odd thousand Federal troops with Keyes and Porter. When McClellan relinquished the initiative to Lee the fate of his army became dependent on the coordination the Confederate units could bring to the execution of Lee's trap. Since the soldiers had convincingly demonstrated their fierceness in assault and their willingness to absorb casualties ("they took a lot of killing," as
saying went), the fate of McClellan's army ultimately rested on the individual generals responsible for the execution of Lee's three column attack.
The key assignment went to Benjamin Huger. Like McClellan, Lee gave assignments to commanders according to their positions in the lines of march. On the day before, when Huger had moved out of his lines across the Williamsburg Road, one of his brigades had reached to the Charles City Road, and by this physical circumstance William Mahone's brigade led Huger's division to the hinge at Glendale. Also, by the unsystematic dates of rank, Mahone was the senior brigadier in a division that contained two superior West Point-trained professionals, Ransom and Lewis Armistead.
William Mahone, a V.M.I. graduate, had been a successful railroad construction engineer who, like McClellan, had been a railroad president at the age of thirty-four. The son of a tavern keeper from Southampton County, Virginia, where he was the neighbor of George Thomas, the Federal general, Billy Mahone was outside the Old Guard. He was a small man, short and slight, with vast personal ambitions.
When Virginia seceded, Mahone had used his own railroad to run trains in and out of Norfolk to give the impression of secessionist forces arriving and contributed to the hasty Federal evacuation of the shipyards. During the war his all-Virginia brigade had not done much more than occupy garrisons until coming to Richmond for the Battle of Seven Pines, where the men had. received their strange introduction to the ways of Johnston's army. The march down the Charles City Road in the late morning of June, 29 was their first movement toward assault.
Little Billy Mahone, with his long, thin beard, was a hypochondriac, who had his private milk cow attached to his headquarters' wagon. Around noon of the 29th, while Magruder had been deploying around Fair Oaks, Mahone marched his lead brigade toward the enemy as if the physical well-being of his command was the prime consideration. Early in the march, Huger had gone with the brigades of Ransom and Wright to support Magruder on the Williamsburg Road, and Mahone, followed,by Armistead, was in command of the march until late in the afternoon. At some time, probably around five o'clock, Mahone had moved five miles along the southern edge of White Oak Swamp down the Charles City Road when he made contact with a small party of enemy cavalry.
At this point, where the Brightwell farm spread on his right, an obscure country lane crossed his front going to his left through the thickets bordering the swamp. Mahone learned, or knew, that this lane led to Jordan's Ford, a crossing of White Oak Swamp about one and one half miles to the north. Mahone wrote in his report that "it was anticipated"- that Kearny's division, of. Heintzelman's corps, "would attempt its retreat" by way of Jordan's Ford or of fords farther east. This anticipation would have amounted to divination, since Heintzelman's corps was supposed to have covered the Williamsburg Road as part of McClellan's rear guard at Savage's Station, and it was around two o'clock that Heintzelman had made his unannounced withdrawal from Sumner and Franklin. As Huger had withdrawn his two brigades from the Williamsburg Road near the same time, leaving the opposing flanks open, it looked as if Huger and Heintzelman were destined to clash somewhere on June 29.
Mahone halted his column by Brightwell's farm, and skirmishers were sent into the brush to reconnoiter toward the crossing at Jordan's Ford. The Virginia soldiers, long accustomed to defensive work in garrison or lines, apprehensively parted the mottled green screens of the vines and climbed through the tentacles of underbrush foot by foot. When the tense advance reached the boggier ground near the swamp, the skirmishers beheld a similar line of dark-clothed soldiers poking their way toward them. The Virginians fired their rifles. The enemy soldiers, from the 3rd Maine, halted and returned the fire. No damage was done as the lead slugs whirred through the
foliage, and the Virginia skirmishers sent back a message to Mahone.
Mahone immediately deployed his full brigade, faced them north, and two regiments pushed through the thickets. When these troops came up to their skirmishers, the enemy fell back into the shadowed density. Mahone's line crept on forward, gathering up a dozen or so prisoners, until the regiments reached the southern side of Jordan's Ford. No enemy troops were crossing, but the prisoners said Kearny's division was camped on the opposite bank.
By the time this information reached Mahone, Huger had arrived, well in advance of the two brigades removed from the Williamsburg Road. A boy from the neighborhood told Huger that Kearny's division was indeed camped on the northern side of Jordan's Ford: Huger also learned that yet another road, called the New Road, branched off from the Charles City Road farther back and ran north of the swamp past Jordan's Ford and the other crossings to the east. Fearing that Kearny might move back westward on the New Road and come at this column from the rear, Huger ordered a battery posted at the intersection and halted Wright's brigade when it came up, with orders to explore the New Road at daylight.
Between Mahone and Huger, the assault column had turned ,on the defensive at the first contact with the enemy. As Huger might have assumed, Kearny held no aggressive intentions. Birney's brigade, of the division, had been crossing Jordan's Ford on the line of retreat when its skirmishers encountered Mahone's. As soon as Birney saw the enemy skirmishers were supported in force, he drew back across Jordan's Ford. He then followed the rest of the division to cross the swamp further east. Birney reached the Charles City Road at ten o'clock at night about two miles beyond Brightwell's, where Huger was prepared to defend against an assault on flank or rear, and Mahone's troops slept under arms.
In the morning of June 30, Huger and Mahone began the critical day in Lee's plans with the defensiveness with which they had bivouacked. There was nothing complicated about either man. Mahone, like McClellan, had habits of success which did not promote audacity in a strange situation, and his early V.M.I. training had been sufficient to cause him to recognize the limitations of inexperience.
Old Army man Huger, not enterprising at best, had fresh in his mind the bewildering experience of Seven Pines. Huger had not on June 30 seen Longstreet's report, as he requested a copy of it on July 26. With all the June correspondence among Longstreet and Joe Johnston and Gustavus Smith, between them and the war department, and with the loose talk around Richmond and in the army, he probably had heard rumors of the blame falling on him. Certainly the new commanding general had shown little confidence in him, even scolding him once. Too set in his ways to be goaded to redeem himself by bold action, the imperious-looking, aging aristocrat went to the other extreme and acted to avoid mistakes. He'd give them nothing to blame him with a second time.
After the storm during the night, the sky was clear and pale on Monday morning, June 30, and Huger found the heat "intense." On the flat, humid countryside near the swamps, it was suffocating where the woods enclosed the road on both sides. Mahone's brigade had moved forward cautiously about one mile of the three to Glendale when the van came upon freshly cut logs obstructing the road.
The normal procedure would have been to detach foot soldiers to roll away the logs while guns were brought forward to protect the men against the enemy's rear guard. The situation awakened the construction engineer in Mahone. He had pioneers bring forward axes, picks and shovels, and parties were detached to cut a new road through the woods. Why it seemed simpler to cut down trees than to remove the logs on the road was never explained. Brash Billy Mahone, capable of aggressive action when in combat, suffered some mental lapse at his approach to the enemy.
Evidently his original purpose had been to cut a path beyond the obstructed section of the road. As soon as the troops of Slocum's division saw what Mahone was up to, the Federal soldiers continued to cut trees to fall across the Charles City Road. In this fantastic battle of the axes Mahone's men labored manfully in the heat to lengthen their swath through the woods to a mile, and then more. Over the fields where the armies were gathering, the sound of axes rang out as Slocum's men lengthened their obstructions. During this "advance," Huger rode to the, front and apparently approved.
When noon was passed and the van had moved forward barely
two miles since daylight, Huger sent Lee a message that the road was obstructed. By implication, he would go into action when it was cleared. Around two o'clock, Mahone's road passed the last of the obstructions and the lead brigade emerged from the end of their tunnel into an open field. The enemy's picket fired a round and fell back. Huger, riding to the front, saw Slocum's division posted in an open hill, its line extending across the Charles City Road and into the thickets of the White Oak Swamp on the Confederate left.
Huger deployed Mahone's brigade while a battery was ordered forward through the newly cut passage. Armistead's brigade, and Ransom's farther back, merely halted. Wright's brigade was at that time moving east along the New Road north of the swamp, viewing the abandoned camps of the Federals who had crossed over during the night.
At two-thirty the gun battery was in position, and opened on . Slocum. Rifled guns on the crest of the rise in the open field immediately answered. At last Mahone and Huger had established contact with the enemy.
The sound of Huger's guns was welcomed on the Long Bridge Road where, northeast of the Darbytown Road intersection, Longstreet and A. P. Hill had been waiting since noon to hear the opening of Huger's action. In preparation for the joint assault, Dick Anderson's brigade, under the temporary command of Colonel Micah Jenkins, had earlier advanced strong skirmish lines on both sides of the road, driving in the enemy pickets and uncovering the defensive position occupied by McCall's division. McCall was posted about two thousand yards from the Glendale crossroads.
Where Longstreet and Hill waited to advance, the Long Bridge Road cut to the northeast, slicing between low sharp banks covered with sweet-smelling vines. The ground was mostly flat, with timber thick on the left and cultivated fields on the right broken by thin belts of woods. Farther to the right, the woods grew densely toward the Willis Church Road, less than two miles to the east.
In a small clearing to the right of the road, General Lee was passing the time in pleasant conversation with Longstreet and A. P.
Hill. Lee had begun the day with Jackson on the Williamsburg Road, holding another of the conferences no one overheard. Observers reported Jackson had nodded as if to indicate his understanding and seemed emphatic in his manner and vigorous in his movements. Lee, evidently making no inquiries about the inaction of the day before, had talked only of Jackson's part in closing the trap at Glendale. Then Lee had ridden over to the Darbytown Road, joined the marching columns as the van reached the Long Bridge intersection, and waited with Longstreet and Powell Hill until Huger's guns were heard.
As Huger had sent him the earlier message that the road was obstructed, on hearing the guns Lee assumed the road was cleared and the assault opening. Magruder had reported that, in marching from Savage's Station, his van had been halted by A. P. Hill's rear guard on the Darbytown Road. Lee had dispatched Magruder an order to rest his men where they were and to be prepared to support Hill and Longstreet after their assault developed.
During the quickened movements across the hot countryside, President Davis, who had ridden out from Richmond, rode forward to Lee's advanced position. At Mechanicsville Lee had, in effect, ordered Davis off the field, but on the Long Bridge Road the two men had a more good-natured exchange over the President's presence. The tension of the first battle was lacking. Lee knew the location of every unit, six hours of daylight remained, and there was an air of relaxed excitement when the first Confederate batteries ran forward to open on the enemy and to signal Huger that their advance was ready to move out with his.
At the blasts of the guns, A. P. Hill rode up to the President and the commanding general with a display of social ease. Telling his superiors they were in his area of command, Hill said they were subject to his orders and must withdraw from the danger zone. While General Lee and President Davis were graciously "obeying" Hill's orders by backing their mounts off a few paces, Federal batteries answered Longstreet's guns and shells burst over the roadside near the group. At Hill's admonitions, Lee and Davis withdrew farther back.
The rapid fire of the Federal guns was the only answer to Longstreet's batteries. Huger's position was little more than two miles
away by air line. Across country thick timber rose between the Long Bridge Road and the Charles City Road in that area, with a wet ravine from the swamp deepening the obstructions, but the generals could plainly hear Huger's single battery isolated from the roar of the Federal guns, and no increase came to his volume. Nor could the men's straining ears detect any sound of rifle fire.
Longstreet's division was deployed, with Branch's brigade from the Light Division on the right, and the firing between the skirmishers grew sharper and heavier. Except for that tentative action on the Long Bridge Road, nothing indicated any movement against any part of McClellan's angular defensive lines.
Jackson should by then have been pressing in the rear guard toward Glendale. As he had only seven miles to go to his crossing at the White Oak Bridge, signs of his advance on Glendale from the north were overdue by three o'clock. Again the vacuum of an operations officer was revealed. Lee sent no one from his staff to discover what either Jackson or Huger was doing, and no one on the field thought of such a thing.
When the Federals' rifled guns began to hurt the batteries of Longstreet and Hill, apprehension crept into the atmosphere with the unanswered questions about Huger and Jackson. At that point, the silence from Lee's subordinates was broken on one front by an enterprising young cavalry officer. From the River Road area of Holmes's assignment, a courier arrived from Colonel Rosser.
Tom Rosser had been with Pelham in the West Point class of 1861 and, on resigning before graduation, enlisted directly with the Confederate armies and not with the troops of his own state, Virginia. For this reason, the tall, powerfully built horseman had been a little slow to come to the attention of Jeb Stuart, who had a fine eye for potential leaders. It was just before the Seven Days that Stuart got him commissioned colonel, and gave him a Virginia regiment of raw volunteers. During the 29th and 30th, black-haired young Rosser had operated his new troopers to the west of the Willis Church Road, between the church and the River Road.
When Longstreet had first begun to deploy in line of battle, his
right had reached the area where a dismounted company of Rosser's cavalry was engaging the skirmishers in front of the main Federal line south of Glendale. The eager young colonel told Longstreet that his pickets on the River Road had reported enemy troop movement. Longstreet, concentrated on getting troops in line while listening to hear Huger's assault open, ordered Rosser to reconnoiter with his whole regiment. Soon Rosser sent back a message to Longstreet that his reconnaissance parties had discovered the head of the Federal "retiring column moving hurriedly and confusedly in the direction of the James River." Rosser had observed the movement. of the wagon train across Malvern Hill. Preoccupied, Longstreet ignored the message.
Rosser made the same report to Holmes. As his troops were halted at New Market Heights at the intersection of the Long Bridge Road, the Federal movement was across his front. Having taken a strong defensive position at New Market Heights, Holmes seemed not to be certain of what his assignment was, though it would have made little difference if he had.
Old at fifty-seven and deaf, Theophilus H. Holmes, who had been a classmate of Lee at West Point, was one of the Old Army relics whom time had unfitted for war. Early receiving the high rank of lieutenant general because of his rank as field officer in the Old Army, Holmes had been sent to his native North Carolina to organize the state troops. In this capacity he became commander of the department between the James River and the Cape Fear River in North Carolina and, hence, commanded the brigades moved up to the south side of the James when Huger crossed to the north side for the Battle of Seven Pines.
In the shuffle, Holmes had received Wise's small brigade from Huger in exchange for Ransom's large, professionally led brigade. The two full-sized brigades remaining with Holmes were potentially among the best that came to Virginia, commanded by superior professional soldiers in Junius Daniel, who had just passed his thirty-fourth birthday, and John G. Walker, approaching forty. The last of those troops had crossed the river to the New Market Road the night before.
Though Holmes claimed his infantry presented no more than six thousand on the field, he carried thirty guns, mostly well served.
By the necessary system, the talent and vigor in his command were stifled by this inept regular, who ignored the information sent him by a young cavalry colonel, who was later to become a major general with Jeb Stuart.
Finally, Tom Rosser sent the intelligence of the Federals crossing Malvern Hill to Lee. The commanding general left his field headquarters where he had been waiting for the battle to develop and rode off toward Malvern Hill to make a personal reconnaissance.
When Lee reached the River Road around four o'clock, McClellans wagons were moving fast across Malvern Hill, nearing the end of the line. Lee may not have ridden close enough actually to see for himself. Major Kidder Meade, the doughty reconnaissance engineer, was on the ground and had convinced Holmes that the enemy was moving toward the James River. Holmes reported he "found the commanding general just returning from an observation of the enemy's position." Holmes told Lee he was moving forward six rifled guns, in three sections, with the 30th Virginia from Walker's brigade in support. The rest of the division was being put in motion to move up. Lee directed Holmes to open fire on the enemy's column as soon as his troops were in position, and turned his horse back to the Long Bridge Road.
The wasted hours had permitted McClellan's train to break the jam and clear the crossroads at Glendale. Still, if Holmes could delay the movement of the tail of the column, the bulk of the Federal Army could yet be caught. But the attacking columns must move fast.
Instead, when Lee rejoined Longstreet and A. P. Hill, the situation was not materially changed from when he had left. The artillery fire was steady, the skirmishers were heavily engaged, and the generals were still waiting for Huger to develop his assault and to hear from Jackson. Also, Longstreet had ordered Magruder to move from his reserve position on the Darbytown Road over to the New Market Road where Holmes was advancing. In Longstreet's mind Magruder was to protect his right; according to the order Magruder , was to support Holmes.
With Magruder's tired troops crossing over to the New Market Road, Lee had at hand no more than eighteen thousand of two divisions to deliver the assault, and the Light Division had already
borne the brunt of two attacks. Unless these two divisions attacked then, McClellan's army would pass unharmed between three columns totaling more than fifty thousand troops.
It was then approaching five o'clock. As A. P. Hill had at Mechanicsville, Lee reasoned that while Longstreet and Hill became engaged, Huger or Jackson must joint in the movement. He ordered Longstreet to open the assault.
The attack of the two divisions toward the crossroads was a soldiers' fight. Longstreet, in command of a field for the second time within a month, turned his own division over to Brigadier General Richard H. Anderson. The quiet forty-year-old professional from South Carolina, neither a spectacular soldier nor anything of a character, had never built a public reputation and was not widely known even in the army. In Longstreet's command, however, Dick Anderson was deeply respected as a soldier and liked as a man, and he was highly regarded by Lee.
For his direction of the division' on June 30, Anderson was not singled out by Longstreet from the other brigadiers in the general praise in the report, but in the reorganization after the Seven Days Anderson was promoted by Lee to major general and given a division. The mild-mannered, gentle-eyed Anderson could become extremely tenacious once his troops engaged the enemy. That he was unable to exert skillful control of the six brigades could be reasonably explained by the terrain and the circumstances.
The timbered country,- with its sudden dips and rises, gave Anderson some of the same difficulty in viewing the field that had troubled A. P. Hill and Ewell at Gaines's Mill. Then, the contact had been sustained so long between the lines before the assault was delivered that the movements forward were uneven and disjointed. Anderson's own brigade under young Jenkins, which had originally established the enemy's position and had been engaged for some while, seemingly did not receive an order to advance when Kemper's brigade moved forward on his right. Kemper's brigade, in turn, outran everybody.
In Kemper's line of march, the battle lines crossed two thin belts
of woods with a field between and then emerged on a broad cultivated plain. The men grew excited at driving in the enemy's picket and when they broke out into the open, the Virginians began yelling at the tops of their lungs.
In the woods on the opposite side of the wide clearing, McCall had a curious defensive position. Two gun batteries were placed in from heavy timber, with the infantry supports in the woods immediately behind the guns. In front of his infantry and guns and to the squatted the small Whitlock house, one story and dormer. Around this house fence rails and logs had been built into a rude breastwork, and an advance line there formed a projecting flank.
After their long hours of waiting at the Whitlock house, the sudden rush of Kemper's screaming soldiers, preceded by their own fleeing pickets, stampeded the regiment of Pennsylvania reserves out the works and across the field. The men fled toward the rear in one of those inexplicable panics, hurtling through all the reserve troops who got in their way.
Kemper's exultant Virginians ran the faster, bursting through and over the gun batteries and the infantry line in the woods. Kemper and the colonels, growing more anxious with each yard covered, saw they had no support on either flank. The soldiers were deaf to the officers' shouts.
In the woods, the front runners were halted by heavier fire ,on their front. As the winded sprinters came up behind them, more like groups in a disorderly crowd than a brigade, minie balls began to rattle through the foliage from both flanks and up and down. Hooker's division, covering the Willis Church Road, had taken a position in the forest and their fresh lines were relatively solid. The happy chargers, finding themselves hemmed in and being fired upon from all. directions, took cover wherever they were. At all angles to one another, the men began to shoot mostly at smoke drifting out of thickets.
The officers panted up and tried to restore order to their units. It was a slow process. Dozens of the soldiers wandered into the Federal lines, and individual Virginians and Pennsylvanians were Surprised to find themselves shooting back to back. Curiously, Kemper's killed and wounded were few. The fight was too confused in the smoky woods for the Federals to take advantage of Kempers dis-
order; and Hooker's lines were not clear of McCall's fugitives. About one hundred of Kemper's men were lost as prisoners. For its effect on the assault Kemper's brigade because an isolated wedge, on the Federal left, fighting at that point for its own survival.
As Jenkins did not advance in force on Kemper's left, on the right Branch's brigade, the only unit from Hill's division deployed with Longstreet's troops, was a victim of uncertainty in the purpose of its employment. Longstreet reported that Branch had been placed "to guard" the right at the time Micah Jenkins first became engaged. When Dick Anderson. assumed command of Longstreet's division no orders were sent Branch to advance when Kemper rushed ahead. His North Carolinians were deployed in the woods in back of the Whitlock house, and the ground there grew rough as it sloped down to a ravine parallel to the Willis Church Road. Later, when an order to advance reached Branch from A. P. Hill, Hooker's division extended across his front and overlapped his flank. Branch's men engaged the enemy without making a vigorous thrust.
The nearest to a break came on the left of the road, where Wilcox's Alabama regiments overran Randol's six-gun battery. Two waves of infantry had broken in direct charges into the canister blasting at them from Randol's pieces and Thompson's on Randol's right. After the second wave had subsided, the attackers, leaving their dead on the field, temporarily took cover to re-form. Randol's covering infantry charged out to rout what they assumed to be Wilcox's demoralized survivors. The 4th Pennsylvania Reserves, of General Meade's brigade, unexpectedly ran into sheets of fire and broke backward. Immediately Wilcox's re-formed lines charged behind them. The guns could not fire through the screen of their own men, and the pursued and the pursuers rolled over the batteries almost as a single force.
General Meade, future commander of the army, fell wounded. Reserves came up from Kearny, and the battle over the guns resolved into one of the infrequent bayonet fights of the war. It was savage action in that clearing in front of the brush on Nelson's farm, officers and men going down with as many as three bayonet thrusts in their bodies. Some were knocked senseless by rifle butts. In the melee, the guns were lost to McCall, along with the barren ground, and Kearny's supporting division was shaken.
Wilcox's Alabamians, taking fearful casualties and disordered, could do no more than hold the position of their advance, nearly a mile short of the crossroads. To Wilcox's left the brigades of Winfield S. Featherston and Roger Pryor (a prewar duelist) came up to widen the front of the assault, extending Kearny's division. Kearny called on corps commander Heintzelman for help.
To Wilcox's right, and right of the slow advance of Micah Jenkins, Pickett s brigade changed directions to move to Kemper's relief. Pickett's was Longstreet's last brigade and Pickett was out with the wound taken at Gaines's Mill. Colonel Eppa Hunton, of the 8th Virginia, led the brigade forward. Absorbing casualties in crossing the open field and losing direction when Confederates from other units fell back through their lines, the brigade entered the woods without Colonel Hunton. Ill, he had fallen from exhaustion. A Pickett staff officer turned the brigade over to Colonel Strange and he tried to bring order to the deranged battle in the woods.
In moving to support a line of Kemper's fighting in his front, Strange found a line of Federals behind him. Beginning to fight in groups, with little purpose beyond survival, the men of Pickett's brigade became embroiled with a fresh unit from Sedgwick's division. Longstreet's brigades were being met by divisions. Four Federal divisions from three corps were absorbing the thrusts across the uneven lines, and more supports were moving to Glendale.
The sun was going down, with nothing heard from Jackson or Huger. Featherston's left, stretching to turn the Federal flank, reached little more than a mile from Huger's position. Instead of Huger supporting Featherston, a Federal brigade was drawn from Slocum's division --- the one facing Huger --- to hurry to support Kearny on the Long Bridge Road. Then two brigades were drawn from Richardson's division, one of the two divisions holding the rear guard against Jackson, and moved to the Glendale front. The equivalent of four fresh divisions were massing at McCall's broken limes.
With the massing strength, the Federals began to mount counterattacks at isolated points. The hard thrusts of Longstreet's brigades had been delivered without cohesion across the whole front, and
with little strength on the right where Pickett was battling to rescue Kemper. As the momentum went from the assault, segments of the disordered advance were forced to take positions of defense.
In Longstreet's execution of Lee's general plan, in expectation of supports from either Jackson or Huger, he had withheld Hill's Light Division to deliver the decisive blow. With no support arriving and more Federals coming to his front from the area where Huger and Jackson were expected, Longstreet could only employ Hill to bolster the troops of the spent assault as the men turned to defending themselves against the enemy's fresh forces.
Grimly, Longstreet ordered A. P. Hill to commit his division. With the sun setting, the brigades of the Light Division went in fast. Pender went along the road to the right and Field to the left. Gregg went to the left of Field and Archer to the right of Pender. These were the troops on whom the dusk fell only three days before in the slaughter-pit of Boatswain's Swamp, and the men went forward with their high yells as eagerly as when they moved out the first day across the fields at Mechanicsville. Powell Hill held only one brigade back against emergency.
General Lee had ordered Magruder to return from the New Market Road, but obviously it would be too late for him. His men 'had marched twenty miles in the heat, fumbling through woods roads to cross to Holmes, and the van would not get back to the Darbytown Road until after dark. On the River Road Holmes was doing nothing. Toward Glendale, in the unexplainable collapse of his trap, Lee watched a ragged battle in which his men had ceased to advance and in some sectors were fighting on defense. The uneven center seemed vulnerable to counterattack.
The commanding general said nothing when Powell Hill committed his last brigade, Joseph Anderson's, to support the center. In the falling light, Anderson's troops pushed ahead astride the road, behind Field and Pender.
Toward the field headquarters, an exultant group of soldiers from the 47th Virginia approached the generals. These were men of Field's brigade, the first in the open at Mechanicsville, who had been forced to huddle in the thickets of the creek bank against the fire from McCall's three tiers of riflemen. Now the no-longer-green
soldiers were proudly bearing their first trophy of war, Brigadier General George A. McCall himself.
After the break in his lines around Randol's gun battery, McCall had been off collecting troops to stand with Kearny's supports, and Field's brigade had advanced farther than he had calculated: Screened from the soldiers by the hanging vines, as they were from him, the general rode into an opening in the woods where the Virginians were re-forming their lines. McCall reported later that Field, had attacked with such impetuosity that seventy or eighty of his Pennsylvanians had been borne along bodily in the rush, and not one Confederate had paused to collect the Federals as prisoners.
There were not enough Confederates. Sedgwick's division, somewhat confused by the "torrent" of McCall's fugitives through its ranks, had the weight to hold the center, and when Kearny's right began to go, Heintzelman got the brigade from Slocum's division up in support.
When Heintzelman moved the brigade from Huger's front, he said, "I rode far enough on the Charles City Road to see that we had nothing to fear from that direction." Huger had not only failed to attack; his brigades remained so passively out of danger that Federal troops from the one division in his front had been used to contain Longstreet and Hill. Huger had not even demonstrated. When the rifled Federal batteries answered his guns at two-thirty, a few casualties were caused in Mahone's brigade, and these roadbuilders were immediately withdrawn to the safety of the woods. There they remained until night fell, and silence slowly came to the countryside where the brigades of Longstreet and A. P. Hill had attacked so magnificently and to so little purpose.
Routing the division that had humiliated them the first day, capturing fourteen guns, the no more than eighteen thousand men had engaged upwards of forty thousand from first to last. But, when it was all over at nine o'clock, the crossroads were still open. The Willis Church Road had been cleared of the wagon train for the night passage of the seven elevenths of the infantry that should have been cut off, and by morning McClellan would have completed his , crossing of the peninsula.
At nightfall Lee's outward composure reflected none of his- frustration at McClellan's escape from the perfect trap. The escape held a quality of the miraculous. The Federals had fought without a field commander. When McClellan had abdicated the battlefield, he had not given responsibility to any subordinate; he had established a signal system via Malvern Hill by which he could be contacted on Commander Rodgers's ship: Showing that he did not want to be around when Lee struck, McClellan seemed to operate on the principle that if he didn't look maybe Lee's army would go away. The miraculous part was that, in spite of the laws of probability, two of Lee's three converging columns had failed to act.
There had been nothing complicated required in coordination, nothing of the first day's grand design. The three columns were on the ground, with ready communication open between them and plenty of time for the execution of simple assignments. The limitations in Lee's staff work contributed to the way the battle had been fought, and looseness in command had wasted Magruder, but the plan was sound and simple enough to have succeeded, as had Gaines's Mill, despite the lack of operational control.
McClellan escaped for the same reason he got in the fix --- human failings. As he was trapped by his own human failings, he escaped by the failings of Huger and Jackson. All other elements were minor. The inanition of these two men lost Lee his greatest opportunity to wreck an army of the enemy.
Of Holmes Lee had obviously expected little, though an enterprising officer of ordinary competence would not so completely have wasted the day. Waiting passively on defense until four o'clock while the only action within three miles was the enemy's wagon train scurrying across his front, when Holmes then sent forward six guns to shell the column he marched his brigades down the River Road as if he had the whole country to himself.
The dust raised attracted the attention of Porter's men on the western face of Malvern Hill. Porter sent thirty guns toward the edge of the cliff overlooking the River Road, among them pieces from Tyler's battalion of heavy artillery belonging to the siege train. At
ten o'clock those guns were halted after crossing White Oak Swamp and had just reached Malvern Hill when Holmes's columns came swinging down the road below them.
While Holmes's guns were being posted, the general went into a nearby house for the purpose, he said, of transacting some army business. During the absence of the deaf general, Porter's thirty guns opened from the Malvern Cliff and the gunboats joined in from the river. The gunboats fired shells so large Holmes's soldiers called them "lampposts." Most of the shells from the cliff on one side and the river on the other exploded near the batteries. A couple of pieces were knocked about, several men were hit and a number of horses went down writhing and screaming.
Though the sudden bedlam looked like catastrophe, little actual damage was done. It happened that the 125 gallantly uniformed volunteers, who were attached to Holmes as a "cavalry battalion," were mounted near the six guns, and when a caisson burst with a flash of red and white rockets the riders took off in a body like a good start in a race meet. When the horsemen rushed past a battery brought up from Petersburg, some of the gun crews became infected, cut the traces from the artillery horses and, leaping on their broad backs, took out after the cavalrymen. This panicky movement, local though it was, was sufficient to break the ranks of the infantry columns packed on the road, and the soldiers ducked to the cover on either side. At this moment Holmes, having finished his business in the farmhouse, came out, cupped his hand to his ear, and said, "I thought I heard firing."
It was the only firing he heard during the day. The Federals, calling the action "the Battle of Malvern Cliff," thought Holmes's purpose was to attack with his division, and George Sykes, commanding,the division supporting Porter's guns, declared that his position could not have been taken from the River Road. That was not Holmes's assignment. He was supposed only to delay the retreating column by artillery fire on the road crossing Malvern Hill.
By the time Holmes's guns were in position, the last of the wagon train was passing to the river and he could have accomplished nothing. His losses were fifty-one casualties, only two of whom were killed, when he withdrew his troops out of the range of siege guns and ships' guns. Except for that of Ransom's brigade with Huger,
this constituted the sole contribution of the troops Lee used from the North Carolina department, which Joe Johnston counted among the enormous accretions Lee drew to his army.
During the afternoon the normally untemperamental Holmes showed himself to be in a testy, uncooperative mood. When Major Brent reported to Holmes and asked where he wanted Magruder's troops, Holmes very rudely told Brent he knew nothing about reinforcements from Magruder, and brusquely refused to discuss the matter. Evidently the Old Army man, years past response to combat, did not take kindly to operating a column in another general's department. In his report he never referred to the "commanding general" by name. He did mention that His Excellency, the President, had expressed approval of the defensive position he selected at New Market Heights. As Davis was his friend, Holmes was sent to the noncombat command of another department, the Trans-Mississippi. There his failures spread over a wider area and in time he was relieved.
As for Huger, the scapegoat of Seven Pines had no excuses for military behavior that was, after all, unexplainable. In his report, Huger said his orders had been to follow the enemy down the Charles City Road, and this he certainly did. Lee made no comment on the report. Within two weeks, Huger was relieved of command, and sent to noncombat duties in the ordnance department. For a time he served in the Trans-Mississippi with his contemporary Holmes and never again commanded troops. This pair of relics were obviously peacetime officers who proved under the test of combat to have passed an age of usefulness in the field.
In assigning troops for duty largely on the chance of their physical location, Lee assumed, within limits, an equality of performance from all his divisions. When his force had been molded into the Army of Northern Virginia that created the legends, this method was usually effective. In the Seven Days, Lee included such a dubious performer as Huger in this method partly because he regarded the movement down the Charles City Road as a simple assignment.
Even though Huger was directed at the hinge of McClellan's columns, Lee planned this attack to exert a pressure in the center that would expose the defensive columns to the main assaults delivered on either side by the Longstreet-A. P. Hill force and the Jackson-
D. H. Hill force. On this point, Mahone reported that their orders had been "to proceed down the Charles City Road for the purpose of cooperating with other forces of our army now pursuing the retreating enemy. . . : '
In arranging this cooperation, Lee obviously expected to strike McClellan's army when its columns were disordered. Before one o'clock, with wagons still jamming the roads, the Federal units were confused and not well arranged for defense. Hooker reported he did not know McCall's division was on the field, partly in his front, until eleven o'clock. Heintzelman reported that his divisions, Hooker and Kearny, as a result of the reshuffling of alignments, were not in position until "the afternoon." As any action from Huger by one o'clock would have caught the Federal forces in the disarrangement of Lee's calculations, Lee placed no demands on Huger beyond the most rudimentary competence.
As late as four o'clock, two of Sedgwick's brigades had been run ("double-quick," as they called it then) to Brackett's Ford, between Slocum's right and Franklin's left. This came in response to an alarm that Jackson was shifting his attack from White Oak Bridge to Brackett's Ford. A move by Huger even then would at least have kept reinforcements from Glendale when Longstreet broke McCall's line. It had not been Jackson at Brackett's Ford but Wright, of Huger's division, returning to the Charles City Road after his tour of the abandoned Federal camps north of the swamp. Wright moved to another ford and the two Federal brigades ran back to meet Longstreet's advance.
The failure to exploit Wright's position at Brackett's Ford fell on Jackson as well as on Huger. In depending on Jackson after three straight failures, Lee apparently expected the muffled potential to assert itself in a straight-on combat assignment of pursuit and attack. With all the complications surrounding the earlier movements on the Chickahominy, and with no reports in, Lee did not perceive that all of Jackson's failures were of the single nature of inanition. In fact, with the reports in, it has been the custom to review each of Jackson's failures separately and to provide each with a separate set of explanations. In this way, his inaction at White Oak Swamp has been studied as if different from the failures that began on the march to Ashland.
His torpor at White Oak Swamp was the same as that of the day on the march when, after trying to read a novel, he had, given up and gone to bed in the middle of the afternoon. His performance at White Oak Swamp stood out in dramatic relief because there, in the crisis of Lee's plans, his failure was complete, disastrous and unredeemable. Yet, it was only the ultimate illustration of the effects of stress-fatigue.
Stonewall Jackson, awakened by a rainstorm around midnight, appeared in wet clothes at Magruder's field headquarters near the Williamsburg Road at three-thirty on the morning of June 30. Until daylight about an hour later, when his troops started crossing the Grapevine Bridges, the general sat by the campfire drying his clothes. At the first light in the sky, Jackson mounted his famous Little Sorrel and rode to the crossroads, where the road from the Grapevine Bridges intersected the Williamsburg Road. The night before, he had sent orders to Colonel Munford to have his regiment of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry at the crossroads at daylight. When Jackson reached that point, Munford was not there. Soon he was seen approaching from half a mile away, with no more than fifty bedraggled-looking troopers.
Tom Munford was the energetic young colonel whom Jackson had left in the Valley to work a screen in front of the enemy until the infantry columns neared Ashland. He was then to follow with his own regiment. During the night the storm had scattered his horses, the animals breaking the picket lines and plunging off through the dripping woods. It was shortly after sunrise before the men rounded up the fifty horses that, saddled and mounted, now approached the crossroads where a stern Jackson awaited them.
"He was in. a bad humor," Munford wrote later. Jackson had said: "Colonel, my orders to you were to be here at sunrise."
Munford explained his misadventure in the strange woods, and Jackson said, "Yes, sir. But, Colonel, I ordered you to be here at sunrise. Move on with your regiment. If you meet the enemy, drive in his pickets."
As Munford started out with his skeletal force, individuals, pairs
and small groups of his lost riders began to straggle out of the woods to fall into their places. Shortly two couriers galloped up, with the message that his men were straggling badly. Harassed Munford rode back to the general and repeated in detail how the storm had scattered his horses. Jackson said, "Yes, Sir. But I ordered. you to be here at sunrise and I have been waiting for you for a quarter of an hour."
Munford, "seeing that he was in a peculiar mood," then sent his adjutant back to halt his missing men as they appeared and form them before moving forward. The small mounted force with Munford continued on the line of the enemy's retreat at about the pace of the following infantry.
After his attention to the cavalry, Jackson did nothing to hurry D. H. Hill's division, acting as his vanguard. The inactivity of the day before ---marching down to the Grapevine Bridges to pursue the enemy, standing around for hours, then returning anticlimactically to their camps --- seemed to have cooled off the hard fighters in Hill's brigades. The officers and men appeared more interested in the signs of the enemy's retreat than in the pursuit.
Ripped overcoats and slashed blankets formed part of the miry . footing. Before the column turned off the Williamsburg Road into the road to White Oak Bridge, the men saw hillocks of foodstuff still; smoldering in the clearings on their left, around Savage's Station. Axes, picks,- shovels, partially burned wagons and pontoons, unexploded ammunition cases and discarded small arms would require weeks for the supply bureaus to collect. As the columns moved down the White Oak Bridge Road, a drove of deserted mules was gathered from the woods and sent to the rear. At every house along the road, Hill's men found wounded from the battle of the day before at Savage's Station. Out of each deep thicket clumps of Federal stragglers emerged, giving themselves up, until the prisoners numbered a thousand.
In light humor at the evidence of the enemy's precipitate retreat, an officer told Jackson the enemy was surrendering too easily; the government would be embarrassed by having to feed them. Jackson had grown more cheerful and, with a smile, said, "It's cheaper to feed them than to fight them."
His good spirits remained despite the indifferent marching---it
took the van more than seven hours to cover barely seven miles. Jackson was smiling, Munford recorded, when he reached the plateau that looked down a long slope to the White Oak Bridge. It was then a little after noon, and Jackson saw evidence of a hastily abandoned camp. More wounded were left, more mules, and Munford's small force had cleared this' side of the swamp of enemy skirmishers. Franklin had only completed the crossing at ten o'clock, burning the bridge, and Jackson could see halted wagons on the opposite plateau and lines of resting infantry behind three gun batteries in a cleared field on the left of the road. Here was a situation to arouse the combative instincts of any soldier.
On the flat bottomland stretching along both sides of the creek rose a murky jungle of small trees draped by creepers and heavy vines. On the opposite hillside timber grew on the Confederate right of the road. Above the swamp on Jackson's side the hill was partly open ground, with thin belts of second-growth timber scattered on the plateau. To the right of the road a declivity ran through a fringe of woods. Jackson ordered up twenty-eight guns and, behind the cover of Munford's cavalry, used the declivity as a passageway to move the guns off the road. Trees were cut for clearance and shortly before two o'clock the seven batteries, in position and hidden from the enemy, opened fire.
This sudden cannonade, the heaviest used by the Confederates until then, broke over the exposed enemy batteries on the opposite plateau and fell among the startled soldiers lying down. As in most such cannonades, the impression of havoc was -greater than the actual damage. A couple of guns were knocked about, horses were killed and casualties struck among the men, but the appearance of disaster was given mostly by the troops hurrying out of range of the bursting metal.
While Jackson's gunners fired rapidly, another battery was sent down the road to flush any sharpshooters who might be lurking in the woods across the creek, and Munford's cavalry regiment galloped downhill to the crossing. The timbers torn from the bridge had been thrown in the water, where some floated and some stuck in the miry bottom, making a passage look difficult to Munford. Jackson rode forward, excited at the apparent ease of overcoming the one physical obstacle between him and the enemy. When Munford
told the general he did not think they could cross, Jackson waved him on and said, "Yes, Colonel, try it." The horses threshed and threaded their way across the entangled mire to the opposite bank. When Munford got over, there was Jackson, with Harvey Hill, right behind him. The general called to him to charge up the hill and take the enemy's guns.
Munford went gamely ahead until rifle fire halted his horsemen. Then Federal guns opened from the woods on the right of the road. To get out of range, Munford swerved his men to their left, and rode downstream until they reached a cowpath about a quarter of a mile from the bridge. Here the horsemen recrossed the creek.
Jackson and Harvey Hill returned by way of the broken bridge. On his quick trip, Jackson learned that the enemy troops and batteries . he had observed in the clearing on the left represented only a small part of the Federal forces massed to contest the crossing. Indeterminable numbers were hidden in the woods on the right. By the time he returned to his own plateau, the enemy's rifled guns were already finding the range of his batteries. Even as his gunners changed the direction of their pieces, Jackson, the former artillerist, recognized that his batteries of smoothbores could not silence the' longer ranged Federal guns. There was not going to be any easy crossing at the White Oak Bridge.
The enemy's evidence of disorder in the retreat was not refleeted in the steady strength exhibited across the swamp. Infantry could not cross the swamp in force without a bridge and, with the enemy's artillery commanding the crossing, no bridge could be built. Soon the Federal gunfire began to break over the battery at the crossing, designed to keep the woods clear of sharpshooters, and it was only a matter of time before those guns would be wrecked. Jackson sent an order to recall the battery. That was his last order of the day. It was then approaching three o'clock.
Gunfire and light musketry could be heard four miles away, where Longstreet had commenced his action in response to Hugers battery opening at two-thirty. Jackson sat down on a log in the woods to the right of the road and there the apathy, through which he had briefly broken, reclaimed him. Gone was the good humor of. his approach to the field and the flare of excitement at making the crossing. The picture of stupor, he slumped on his log while his
subordinates hurried to various parts of the field to try and effect a crossing of the creek. As on June 26, when he reached Hundley's Corner, Jackson's depleted organism reacted to a not readily soluble problem by rejecting it.
At some period during the afternoon Jackson wrote a short letter to his wife, showing the turn of his thoughts to home. "I do trust that our God will soon bless us with an honorable peace, and permit us to be together at home again in the enjoyment of domestic happiness. . . ." She must put aside fifty dollars for church purposes. "I would like very much to see my darling, but hope that God will enable me to remain at the post of duty until, in his own good time, He blesses us with independence. . . . " He mentioned that her sister's husband, D. H. Hill, was with him.
Harvey Hill was down at the creek, trying to hold a detachment at the work of rebuilding a bridge. Hill had gotten skirmishers across the creek, where they were picking off enemy sharpshooters in the woods and protecting the working party from rifle fire. But the gunfire from the enemy's artillery kept breaking over the crossing and Hill could not hold the men to their work. The aggressive spirit was lacking.
Tom Munford sent a message that the cowpath crossing he had used was negotiable for infantry. He had skirmishers on the south bank of the creek, and the enemy appeared unaware of their presence. Jackson paid no attention to the message.
Then Wade Hampton appeared in person. Recovered from his wound and his former brigade incorporated in the Light Division, Hampton had been given temporary command of Jackson's 3rd Brigade after Colonel Fulkerson had fallen mortally wounded at Gaines's Mill. (Later Hampton would be transferred to the cavalry, where he was to find his proper sphere.) The massive South Carolinian had been an individualistic type of bear hunter: instead of shooting the beasts, he had fought them with a knife. Using his woods experience, he had found a crossing farther to the left, where the solid footing of the approaches would support a foot bridge for the infantry. Jackson told him to build the bridge.
Hampton had men cut trees on the plateau, where the sound would not attract the enemy, and carry the logs to the crossing. He returned and told Jackson the bridge was ready. Jackson sat for a moment as if he had not heard him. Then he arose and walked away.
Early in the afternoon Brigadier General A. R. Wright, of Huger's division, completed his trip north of the swamp where the New Road intersected the White Oak Bridge Road slightly behind the position of Jackson's guns. Ambrose Ransom Wright, called "Rans," was a thirty-six-year-old Georgia lawyer who had enlisted as a private, was later elected colonel of the 3rd Georgia and had recently been commissioned brigadier. Since daylight he had conscientiously
F. performed his useless reconnaissance from the rear of Huger's column on the Charles City Road to the flank of Jackson's, gathering prisoners, commissary and quartermaster supplies, and entrenching tools and some medical stores that had not been dumped into a useless mess. He reported to Jackson.
Jackson told him to return along the swamp and try to effect a crossing, as the enemy was "in large force and obstinately disrupting the passage over White Oak Bridge." Wright began his trip back with no other assignment than to find a crossing by which he could rejoin Huger. After a mile, his local guide showed him the lane to a crossing.
The bridge had been destroyed, and on the other side felled trees blocked the woods road. Knowing nothing of the country or of the alignment of the two armies, Rans Wright got two companies of skirmishers across the creek and followed the men as they climbed over the fallen timber along the road. On the edge of the swamp, he saw enemy pickets facing him behind a rail fence in back of a ditch. He ordered his men to open fire and advance. The enemy pickets, surprised, withdrew, and Wright's Georgians and Louisianians ran forward and seized the ditch.
From there Wright looked from the edge of the swamp into a meadow, where hills rose to his right. Along the crest of the open hill he looked at batteries and batteries of artillery and lines of infantry. He was in back of Slocum's division, which faced Huger's other three brigades to the west. Without knowing it, Wright had crossed Brackett's Ford, between Slocum on the Charles City Road and
Franklin at White Oak Bridge. He was no more than one mile from the crossroads of Glendale. Around four o'clock, this one brigade without artillery was at the heart of the Federal position.
Unknown to Wright, two brigades with supporting batteries were running from Sedgwick's division at Glendale toward the ditch occupied by his two companies. Franklin assumed that Jackson was shifting his attack from the White Oak Bridge to Bracken's Ford. It was the highest hour of opportunity for the execution of Lee's . plan. Slocum was not aware of the presence of Wright's skirmishers across the swamp in his rear. Wright, without one gun, was very aware of Slocum's batteries commanding the meadow he would be forced to cross. Besides, where would he go? His orders were to rejoin Huger.
Wright was a tall, well-proportioned man, vigorous from early life on a farm and very soldierly-looking in his hard-worn uniform. But his previous experiences in the war had been limited to small, independent assignments, and he had no practical concept of the interlocking of large bodies in the maneuvers of armies. Simply deciding that he could not effect a crossing at that ford, Wright withdrew his skirmishers back across the creek. Unaware that two enemy brigades were massing near the spot he had vacated, Wright resumed his westward march. Three miles farther on, he found a cowpath that led to another ford, Fisher's, and this he crossed without incident. At dark he reached the Charles City Road near Fisher's house, halted his brigade and reported to Huger.
At the same time, Jackson was sitting down to supper with his staff. While chewing, he nodded drowsily and his head fell forward. After a moment he shook himself into wakefulness and said, "Now, gentlemen, let us at once go to bed, and see if tomorrow we cannot do something."
This was Jackson's one admitted recognition of his collapse in command. His staff, unaware that they were watching a case of clinical exhaustion, were bewildered at their leader's stupor. None seemed to realize that, through Jackson's inertia, Lee's great chance had come and gone. Jackson was at that stage too removed from the realities to recognize that tomorrow was too late.
When Jackson and his staff went to bed, Franklin withdrew from the White Oak crossing and marched on toward the river:
Only the dead were left on Frayser's Farm and Nelson's Farm and the dock woods near the deserted crossroads at Glendale.
A mild controversy has continued over whether Jackson could or could not have crossed White Oak Swamp. This is a fruitless if. He need not have crossed the swamp in order to effect the battle. Infantry, even attempting to establish a bridgehead at Hampton's foot bridge, and infantry and guns supporting Wright at Brackett's ford, with the continuation of the bombardment at White Oak Bridge, would beyond speculation have profoundly affected the action at Glendale.
The threat of the pressure at Bracken's Ford would have retained here the two brigades Sedgwick had sent from the center and then recalled, as well as the brigade from Slocum later moved to support Kearny's right. The threat on Franklin's flank would have retained the two brigades he sent late to support the center.
In the realm of speculation, the big if would have been the consequence of five less brigades at Glendale when McCall broke, at the same time that pressure presented threats on the right and rear. The issue was not dependent on what Jackson might or might not have achieved: the issue was decided by his physical inability to do anything. General Franklin said, "It is likely that we should have been defeated . . , had General Jackson done what his great reputation seems to make it imperative that he should have done."