A Sesqui reflection… the Charlottesville Artillery at Malvern Hill

Posted on July 1, 2012 by

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Davis, in later years. Courtesy of Mr. J. Harvey Bailey, Charlottesville, Va.

Up and moving again on the morning of July 1, Carrington’s Battery reached the action at Malvern Hill between 2 and 3 p.m. Once there the company took shelter in a wooded area and out of sight of the enemy. Even so, enemy shells came in on them. “Finding myself in the presence of ‘Stonewall’, recalled Wilbur Fisk Davis, “Jackson rode time and time again, back and forth from one edge of the woods to another. He sent one battery after another out into the open field to engage the attention of McC’s artillery until he got his infantry into position to join in the charge to be made on it.”

From another vantage point, Leroy W. Cox remembered:

… Jackson was seated on his horse at a cross road reading a dispatch that had just been handed him. As he sat there a shell passed close in front of him. He raised his head – and his horse did too – then resumed reading. At about the same time I saw right across the road from him a private sitting on a log and a shell went between his legs and sort of displaced the log. The fellow just adjusted himself a little more comfortably.”

Within a short time, the dispatch Jackson held proved to be the Charlottesville Artillery’s call to action. Again, Cox claimed the center of attention, when the general asked him, “Whose battery is this?” Cox replied, “It is Captain Carrington’s.” Calling the captain up, Stonewall “gave him orders”, as Cox remembered, “to unlimber the guns and follow him into the field.” Moving the six guns by hand, the crews struggled out of the woods, passing by batteries coming off the field. “There were a great many wounded and dead,” wrote Cox. “I saw horses there pulling the wagons out with two legs cut off about half way.”

Pvt. Leroy W. Cox. Courtesy of the Albemarle County Historical Society.

Having been led to a spot under the partial shelter of a slope, the guns were loaded and three of them run up to the top of the hill. Davis recounted, “We escaped something of the murderous fire, and so suffered less than some of our predecessors. Nevertheless, within the 15 minutes, I conjecture, of fighting, we lost several men wounded and many horeses were so disabled we had to leave one gun out in the field, when ordered back to the woods.”

My crude rendition of a map showing the approximate location of the Charlottesville Artillery, at Malvern Hill.

When orders came for the withdrawal of the men from the guns, Cox cried out, “No, let’s stay here until the last.” Listeneers considered the boy brave, but to the contrary, his intentions were to stay until the others had gotten out of the way and had given the Charlottesville men a clear path if they decided to run.

By the time they had pulled off the field, actual battery losses included one killed and two wounded (Isaiah Iseman and Addison Roler), and more than a dozen horses killed or disabled. The gun left on the field was later recovered when some men volunteered to drag it back.

- pp. 13-15, The Charlottesville, Lee Lynchburg and Johnson’s Bedford Artillery, 1990.

Of course, what neither Davis nor Cox mentioned, was the disagreement over the placement of guns that had preceded their move onto the field. F. Carter Berkeley, of the Staunton Artillery is quite detailed in his description of the exchange, and I highly encourage anyone interested in Jackson’s artillery at Malvern Hill, take time to read it.

In short, Gen. William H. C. Whiting had hoped to have 50 pieces in the lane, before moving his infantry forward. Jackson, however, had a different idea, especially after having gone out into the field to survey the situation. When he came back, he ordered three batteries in, despite Whiting’s protests. It was Whiting’s opinion that the three batteries that were to move forward wouldn’t “be able to live in that field five minutes.” Nonetheless, the guns of three batteries, including those of the Staunton Artillery, were ordered to move forward.

Eventually, the Staunton Artillery came under a horrible rain of fire. In fact, Berekely remembered it as “the most deadly fire that I ever witnessed during the war.”

In a few minutes men and horses were killed and wounded; guns were dismounted and caissons exploded. The battery on our right I do not think fired a shot. Before they got into battery, they were almost annihilated. The battery on our left, after terrible loss, retreated. The Staunton Artillery remeianed there till they had fired every round of ammunition they had. More than half of our men were killed and wounded. Captain Balthis was wounded seven times, but even then he crawled up to the battery and called to the men to stand to their guns.

So, with Berkeley’s account, one can more fully understand the horrors briefly mentioned by Cox, when the Charlottesville Artillery’s three guns entered the field, and by Davis, of the fifteen minutes on the field before they too were forced to pull back.

The descriptions of the fight are such that they should stick to a reader’s memory, especially whenever given a chance to walk the ground today.

What also strikes me is that a supposed master of the “King of Battle” – Jackson – had terribly underestimated the Federal guns, and equally overestimated his own guns’ ability to counter what the enemy guns had to deliver. Had he been too hasty? Was this yet a continuation of his poor performance in the Seven Days? Should he have waited for 50 guns to go on the field at once… and was that even possible considering the bottleneck situation that had occurred in the road to the rear, as other batteries attempted to make their way up? Was this not also an indication that there was a need to place artillery batteries into battalions, vice the one or two battery assignment per infantry brigade?

An interpretive marker at Malvern Hill. Does it sum it up?

Stop over at today’s post, over at Craig’s blog. He lays it out on the map for us… good stuff to further consider…