Malvern Hill

At Malvern Hill, the Union troops set up about 40 cannons along the crest of the hill. giving them an clear sweep of the terrain for about a mile.  Repeated Confederate attacks under Robert E. Lee never seriously threatened this strong position, while attacks on either flank also failed.  The left flank was protected by steep cliffs, the right flank by swampy broken ground.  By the end of the battle, 5,000 Confederate soldiers lay dead and wounded out on the fields of Malvern Hill.

While the Confederates lost the battle of Malvern Hill, McClellan, against the advice of some of his generals, chose not to counterattack the no longer cohesive Confederate army, but instead retreated toward Harrison’s Landing, and thereby ending the Seven Days Battles.

The parsonage at the foot of Malvern Hill, on the Union Right.  Confederate troops moved from right to left in this picture, across these fields, as Lee observed from a blacksmith’s building just to the left of this picture.

You get used to seeing the entrenchments as you drive along the roads west and sooth of Petersburg, but I missed this one the first time I went by it.  I came from the west, but when you go by from the east (from the right) the stone monument is easier to see.

I would have thought that this was just an embankment, but it’s actually the front of Battery 45, also known as Fort Lee.  I did a little exploring in the trees, and this is one massive battery – very substantial earthworks.  Quite extensive too, with the embankments easily piled a half dozen or more feet high, and a deeply dug pit still visible where the munitions were likely kept.

The embankment on the right is the west flank facing Fort Gregg.  Cannon firing over this wall supported the heroic Confederate effort to keep the Union troops from overwhelming Fort Gregg in April 1865.

Now, I didn’t know anything about Battery 45 when I was there, but I’ve done some research since.  General Lees headquarters at this time was right behind the Battery as well, and I believe it was from this area that A. P. Hill began his final ride before being killed by Union stragglers that had broken the line.Battery 45, while it did engage the enemy troops attacking Fort Gregg, did not fall, but was abandoned by the Confederate army later that night as they marched west as the evacuated the lines around Richmond and Petersburg, and head towards General Johnston in North Carolina, I believe it was. I’ll look it up, and get the info later.

 

This is what the Park service has as the Route Jackson took, and the location where he was wounded and then later removed from his horse and lowered to the ground.  This seems to be roughly what 9th Virginia Cavalryman David Kyle has claimed what happened on that evening, which was disputed as soon as he published, and conflicts with every other eyewitness report.  Historian Stephen Sears makes a much better case for Jackson to have been riding forward along the Orange Plank Road instead, using numerous eyewitness reports, including that of Jackson’s own staff.

Sears doesn’t specifically place the site of Jackson’s wounding, but I see no reason to reject the rock’s location, although any location between the rock and the Mountain road is quite possible.  No one actually saw Jackson get hit, as horses and riders were falling and bolting in all directions by the sudden volleys of friendly fire.

Coincidentally, I had just come from the Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg, where the same regiment, the 18th North Carolina, a half year earlier had been engaged in hand to hand combat with Yankee troops along the railway line right behind the tall tree mentioned in that blog posting.  Three Medals of Honor were won by Union troops assaulting, and briefly breaking, that Confederate line.

I had briefly planned to photograph the Jackson monument, and then Hurry against failing daylight to the Wilderness, and do a quick bash through of that battlefield before I lost my light, but then I ran into this great retired couple in the woods along the old mountain road.  I didn’t think I had a shot of them, but I found them just off to the side of one monument pic, so I’ve put that up.

They have been exploring Civil War sites together for a little over 6 months. He has been involved with the Park service as a volunteer for quite a bit longer, but his partner just recently got into the exploration as a way for the two of them to get outdoors and keep fit (note the walking sticks.)

She is a big Stonewall Jackson fan, as well as U.S. Grant, so we traded stories about places to visit, like Gettysburg for the table that served as an operating table where Jackson had his shattered arm amputated, and Guinea station, which has the blanket that covered Jackson as he recuperated, and then died, as well as the clock that was on the wall while he was there.

We searched together for the Stonewall monuments, which were some distance from where we were, and no signs pointed the way from where we were.

We talked about various places, and then Cold Harbor, and when I mentioned that it was a place where I could feel the death, her eyes went wide, and she described to me how she felt there too.  Cold Harbor, as viewed from the Union lines, is a place where one can’t help but feel the awesome presences of the past.  When I mentioned I had been there at dusk, with no one else in the park, she told me stories of other places where she had sense things, without realizing what had occurred there.

So, I told her my ghost story.

A year ago, before beginning my current exploration of the Civil War, Kim and I spent a dreary rainy day power washing a deck at a house on the outskirts of Washington DC.  The back yard ran up against a road cut and embankment, a virtual cull de sac.  While working, several time I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a man in gray standing in the garden, maybe 20 or 30 feet away,  but when I turned to look, he vanished.  Not like he disappeared, but like he wasn’t there in the first place, it had just been a trick of my eye.

Hey, my eyes play tricks on me all the time, it’s no big deal.

On the way home, hours later, Kim rode beside me in silence, thinking.  Then she asked me “Did you see a man in gray in the backyard?”

Chills.

“Yes,” I answered, and we compared notes on what we saw, or didn’t see.  We both had the same experience.  A man in gray, who looked like a Confederate soldier, who vanished when you looked at him.

Well, neither Kim nor I believe in ghosts.  So I have no idea what it was.  And if it is a ghost trying to contact me from the hereafter, well he’s barking up the wrong tree.  Sorry buddy, you’re dead. Get over it.

I don’t know if you’re looking for peace, or revenge, or justice or whatever, you’re dead already.  I’m not gonna be running around sorting things out for some guy in the after life who can’t get his life together without help.  Or unlife. Whatever.

Anyhow, I spent so much time sharing stories with these two that I had to forget heading to the Wilderness, and went to Fairview instead, a critical part of the Chancellorsville battlefield that I had missed before.  The couple knew where it was, and gave me perfect directions to it, and then I finished things off after dark by dodging some deer and going to the Jackson/Lee bivouac area at night just to catch the ambience.

Ok, next time I’ll put up some pics of Fairview, the focal point of the assault after Jackson’s wounding.

 

The entrenchments behind you would have been shoulder height, rain would have been falling, and the mud here slick and slippery.  You can see from the terrain how a Union soldier, moving along the valley and trying to keep from exposing himself to fire from the Confederate line extending to your right would have been naturally funneled to this position.

The monument on the left of the picture marks a second ridge.  The other side of it was also shielded from Confederate view, but the moment they crossed the ridge they were exposed to fire.  The monument marks where many Union soldiers died, coming out of the low ravine and into the hail of Confederate fire.

At this position, Union soldiers would have huddled in the mud and rain, before climbing onto or over the wall, to shoot at or engage Confederate soldiers in vicious hand to hand combat on the other side.

This view is taken from the Confederate side of the entrenchments, marked here by natural grass and protected with a rope barrier.  This would have been lined with logs, shoulder height, with traverses every twenty feet so no one could fire down the line.

For a defending soldier, it would have been like being in a three sided, shoulder height roofless log cabin twenty feet wide, with Union soldiers vaulting over the top in the rain and mud and engaging you in hand to hand combat, or firing at point blank range.

As Confederate reinforcements moved up into this area, they were met by a steady stream of unseen Union soldiers moving up from the ravine beyond, and they would continually meet face to face behind this entrenchment for the next twenty hours.

Bodies and wounded stacked up layers deep, making it even harder to stand in the water and blood drenched mud.