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Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion


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[p.67]

BATTLE OF MALVERN HILL.

The position selected for resisting the farther advance of the enemy on [p.68] the 1st of July was with the left and center of our lines resting on Malvern Hill, while the right curved backwards through a wooded country toward a point below Haxall’s, on James River. Malvern Hill is an elevated plateau about a mile and a half by three-fourths of a mile in area, well cleared of timber, and with several converging roads running over it. In front are numerous defensible ravines, and the ground slopes gradually toward the north and east to the wood-land, giving clear ranges for artillery in those directions. Toward the northwest the plateau falls off more abruptly into a ravine which extends to James River. From the position of the enemy his most obvious lines of attack would come from the direction of Richmond and White Oak Swamp, and would almost of necessity strike us upon our left wing. Here, therefore, the lines were strengthened by massing the troops and collecting the principal part of the artillery. Porter’s corps held the left of the line (Sykes’ division on the left, Morell’s on the right), with the artillery of his two divisions advantageously posted, and the artillery of the reserve so disposed on the high ground that a concentrated fire of some sixty guns could be brought to bear on any point in his front or left. Colonel Tyler also had, with great exertion, succeeded in getting ten of his siege guns in position on the highest point of the hill.

Couch’s division was placed on the right of Porter; next came Kearny and Hooker, next Sedgwick and Richardson, next Smith and Slocum, then the remainder of Keyes’ corps, extending by a backward curve nearly to the river. The Pennsylvania Reserve Corps was held in reserve, and stationed behind Porter’s and Couch’s position. One brigade of Porter’s was thrown to the left on the low ground to protect that flank from any movement direct from the Richmond road. The line was very strong along the whole front of the open plateau, but from thence to the extreme right the troops were more deployed. This formation was imperative, as an attack would probably be made upon our left. The right was rendered as secure as possible by slashing the timber and by barricading the roads. Commodore Rodgers, commanding the flotilla on James River, placed his gunboats so as to protect our flanks and to command the approaches from Richmond.

Between 9 and 10 a. m. the enemy commenced feeling along our whole left wing with his artillery and skirmishers as far to the right as Hooker’s division.

About 2 o’clock a column of the enemy was observed moving toward our right within the skirt of woods in front of Heintzelman’s corps, but beyond the range of our artillery. Arrangements were at once made to meet the anticipated attack in that quarter, but, though the column was long, occupying more than two hours in passing, it disappeared and was not again heard of. The presumption is that it retired by the rear, and participated in the attack afterward made on our left.

About 3 p. a heavy fire of artillery opened on Kearny’s left and Couch’s division, speedily followed up by a brisk attack of infantry on Couch’s front. The artillery was replied to with good effect by our own, and the infantry of Couch’s division remained lying on the ground until the advancing column was within short musket range, when they sprang to their feet and poured in a deadly volley, which entirely broke the attacking force and drove them in disorder back over their own ground. This advantage was followed up until we had advanced the right of our line some 700 or 800 yards, and rested upon a thick clump of trees, giving us a stronger position and a better fire.

Shortly after 4 o’clock the firing ceased along the whole front, but no disposition was evinced on the part of the enemy to withdraw from [p.69] the field. Caldwell’s brigade, having been detached from Richardson’s division, was stationed upon Couch’s right by General Porter, to whom he had been ordered to report. The whole line was surveyed by the generals, and everything held in readiness to meet the coming attack. At 6 o’clock the enemy suddenly opened upon Couch and Porter with the whole strength of his artillery, and at once began pushing forward his columns of attack to carry the hill. Brigade after brigade, formed under cover of the woods, started at a run to cross the open space and charge our batteries, but the heavy fire of our guns, with the cool and steady volleys of our infantry, in every case sent them reeling back to shelter, and covered the ground with their dead and wounded. In several instances our infantry withheld their fire until the attacking column, which rushed through the storm of canister and shell from our artillery, had reached within a few yards of our lines. They then poured in a single volley and dashed forward with the bayonet, capturing prisoners and colors, and driving the routed columns in confusion from the field.

About 7 o’clock, as fresh troops were accumulating in front of Porter andCouch, Meagher and Sickles were sent with their brigades, as soon as it was considered prudent to withdraw any portion of Sumner’s and Heintzelman’s troops, to re-enforce that part of the line and hold the position. These brigades relieved such regiments of Porter’s corps and Couch’s division as had expended their ammunition, and batteries from the reserve were pushed forward to replace those whose boxes were empty. Until dark the enemy persisted in his efforts to take the position so tenaciously defended; but despite his vastly superior numbers his repeated and desperate attacks were repulsed with fearful loss, and darkness ended the battle of Malvern Hill, though it was not until after 9 o’clock that the artillery ceased its fire.

During the whole battle Commodore Rodgers added greatly to the discomfiture of the enemy by throwing shell among his reserves and advancing columns.

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.67-69

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006)


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