Battle of Seven Pines
MAY 31- JUNE 1, 1862– Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, Va.
No. 114. — Reports of Brig. Gen. R. E. Rodes, C. S. Army, commanding brigade.
RICHMOND, VA., June 7, 1862.
MAJOR: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the Third Brigade, Major-General Hill’s division, on the 31st ultimo, up to the time at which the command of the brigade was turned over to Col. John B. Gordon, of the Sixth Alabama Regiment:
On the morning of the 31st the brigade was stationed on the Charles City road 3½ miles from the point on the Williamsburg road from which t had been determined to start the columns of attack.
Between 10 and 11 a.m. I received an order through an officer of Major-General Hill’s staff to put my brigade in motion under an officer of my staff, and to proceed in person by the shortest route to General Hill’s quarters, then on the field, from which the attacking columns were to start. I obeyed this order promptly, and upon reporting to Major-General Hill ascertained that the order sent through the officer alluded to had been erroneously delivered–not misunderstood, for all the officers of my staff, including my volunteer aide, Lieut. Greene Peyton, heard and understood it as I did. Finding that the movement of my brigade under this order was premature, with Major-General Hill’s approval I sent a staff officer to remand it to its original position. A short time after this I received a verbal order from General Hill to conduct my command at once to the point at which the attack was to be made. Hastening to execute this order, I found the brigade on the road, and after carefully giving the instructions for battle which had Just been given me by Major-General Hill to the commanding officers of regiments, conducted it by the route designated in orders toward the Williamsburg road. The progress of the brigade was considerably delayed by the washing away of a bridge near the head of White Oak Swamp, by reason of which the men had to wade in water waist-deep and a large number were entirely submerged. At this point the character of the crossing was such that it was absolutely necessary to proceed with great caution to prevent the loss of both ammunition and life.
In consequence of this delay, and notwithstanding the men were carried at a doublequick time over very heavy ground a considerable distance to make up for it, when the signal for attack was given only my line of skirmishers, the Sixth Alabama and another regiment, the Twelfth Mississippi, were in position. Having received, while on the march, several messages from General Hill urging me to move forward, I warned him before the signal was given, through Captain Tayloe, of his staff, and also through an orderly, whom he had sent to ascertain my position, that I could not possibly reach the point from which we were to start within less than half an hour. When the signal was given my line of skirmishers and the Twelfth Mississippi Regiment moved to the attack and immediately thereafter the action began. Under these circumstances, as each of the remaining regiments came up I caused it to move forward to the attack, so that my brigade moved to the field of battle en échelon and in the following order: 1st, Sixth Alabama Regiment, Colonel Gordon commanding, deployed as skirmishers, covering the whole front of the brigade; 2d, Twelfth Mississippi, Col. W. H. Taylor, moving with its left on the Williamsburg road; 3d, Heavy Artillery Battalion, Capt. C. C. Otey commanding; 4th, Fifth Alabama Regiment, Col. C. C. Pegues commanding; 5th, Twelfth Alabama Regiment, Col. R. T. Jones commanding. The King William Artillery, Capt. Thomas H. Carter commanding, I ordered to proceed by the shortest route to the Williamsburg road, and to follow the left of the brigade along that road after the whole of the brigade had advanced.
Ascertaining the position of the right of the Twelfth Mississippi Regiment, I endeavored to move the remaining regiments rapidly into line of battle with it; but finding that this regiment was pressed, I moved the Fifth Alabama directly to its support. The ground over which we were to move being covered with very thick undergrowth, and the soil being very marshy, so marshy that it was with great difficulty either horses or men could get over it, and being guided only by the fire in front, I emerged from the woods upon the Williamsburg road under a heavy fire of both artillery and musketry with only five companies of the Fifth Alabama; the remaining companies, having become separated, had moved into the abatis in their front and on the right of the Twelfth Mississippi. Finding that the Twelfth Mississippi had moved forward into the abitis and was gallantly holding its own along its front, and my battle instructions requiring me to operate upon the right of the Williamsburg road, I ordered the left wing of the Fifth to move through the abatis and join the right, and moving toward the right myself, found the battalion of heavy artillery opposite their position in line, but halted and lying down in the wood behind the abatis, which Captain Bagby, temporarily in command, informed me was in obedience to an order from Major-General Hill. Ordering them forward, I proceeded farther to the right, and found that the Twelfth Alabama, which had moved over less difficult ground than the other regiments had, was considerably in advance of the brigade, and that, together with the Sixth, still deployed as skirmishers, it was engaging the enemy, having driven him steadily up to his intrenchments. Concentrating the Sixth, I moved both it and the Twelfth Alabama about 60 yards to the rear, in order to form the whole brigade in a continuous line preparatory to an advance upon the enemy’s earthworks.
While arranging the line of battle the left wing of the Fifth Alabama Regiment, under Maj. E. L. Hobson (Lieut. Col. J. M. Hall having been wounded), in its eagerness to engage the enemy at close quarters and having misunderstood my order to move to the right, moved forward without orders into the field in front of the abatis and directly under the guns of the redoubt. After holding its position there a few minutes and finding that its movement was premature it moved back in perfect order, under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry, to the front of the abatis. My line of battle was thus completed. It was formed under a heavy fire throughout its entire extent and seemed about equal in extent to that of the enemy, which was then in front of his camp and was protected by a redoubt and intrenchments.
My instructions for battle required me under these circumstances to move my command the length of a brigade to the right to give place to the supporting brigade, but having discovered soon after my arrival upon the field in front of the enemy’s works some of the troops of the supporting brigade on the right of my brigade, I sent to communicate with its commanding officer, and found the whole of his brigade on the right of my own. I therefore determined to attack from the position my brigade then held, and requested General Rains, who commanded the supporting brigade, through an officer of my staff and soon after in person, to move forward his brigade through the woods, so as to protect my right flank while I attacked the enemy in front. He stated to me that he apprehended an attack on his own right flank, and declined, therefore, to move; his brigade had a few moments before occupied a line extending from my right obliquely to the front, and at the moment of our conversation was being thrown back on a line parallel to and a little in rear of that occupied by mine.
By this time the enemy began to show signs of wavering under the effects of a heavy fire from a Confederate battery on my left, which proved to be the King William Artillery, under Captain Carter. Their battery of seven guns was in a moment after silenced and the occupants of the redoubt driven out by Captain Carter’s five pieces. Captain Carter, so far as the enemy’s first line of intrenchments was concerned, had achieved a victory, for upon moving forward with the whole brigade to attack the enemy, having already abandoned his guns and redoubt, fled from his intrenchments and camp to occupy a line of abatis and woods about 150 yards in rear of the redoubt, leaving behind him seven pieces of artillery, several horses, a large quantity of quartermaster’s, commissary, and medical stores, including a large quantity of lemons, one four-horse wagon and team, with a large amount of baggage of both officers and men.
From this new position they opened fire upon my right regiment, the Sixth Alabama, across an open field. Finding that they outflanked smartly my right and that my left was exposed, as I saw no Confederate troops on that flank, and that the brigade would be well protected on the outside of the enemy’s works and by a fence extending in front of a thin skirt of woods occupied by my right regiment, I gave orders that it should occupy and hold that line while I waited for General Rains to come up on my right and until I could examine the ground to the left of the Williamsburg road, my left flank being approached closely by woods. At the moment of our taking possession of the works I discovered a brigade of Federal infantry approaching my brigade from the woods just mentioned on the left of the Williamsburg road. The head of this column halted within 350 yards of the redoubt. I immediately caused the Fifth Alabama to occupy the redoubt and the Twelfth Mississippi to occupy the rifle pits between the redoubt and the Williamsburg road, and called for a company of the heavy artillery to turn upon the enemy’s column some of his abandoned guns, an order which Captain Bagby’s company promptly obeyed. But before he succeeded in opening fire Captain Carter arrived with his battery, and immediately opened fire with the first of his pieces and in a moment afterward with a second. In a few moments Captain Bagby, having succeeded in getting two of the enemy’s pieces in position, opened fire upon him, and then under the combined fire of those four pieces he gave way and retired.
An attack being threatened in front, as soon as the force on the left was dispersed one of Captain Carter’s pieces was, under the direction of Major-General Hill, who had just arrived, placed in such a position as to enfilade the road. At this moment, from a point 600 or 700 yards down this road and directly in front of our position, the enemy’s battery opened fire upon us with considerable effect, sweeping off almost every man from Captain Carter’s last-mentioned piece. This fire was at once replied to by Captain Carter’s four remaining pieces and by one or two pieces of the Latham Battery, which just then arrived, under Captain Dearing.
It was at this juncture that Captain Carter and his men gave a second illustration of their extraordinary coolness and courage, the first having been given in unlimbering his pieces in an open field and attacking with success the enemy’s redoubt, defended by heavier pieces than his, at the distance of 400 yards.
Finding that Confederate troops were arriving on my right and left, I ordered my brigade to move forward again, which it bravely did, though encountering a heavy fire of musketry and artillery from the enemy concealed behind a second row of abatis, woods, and fence. My two right regiments, the Sixth and Twelfth Alabama, suffered severely in this advance. The Sixth Alabama, upon moving across the field in the edge of which they had first halted and entering the woods on the opposite side, driving the enemy before them, encountered a heavy fire of musketry upon its right and front and finally upon the rear of its right wing. Under these circumstances, and finding that my right was not supported by the brigade of General Rains, which was but a short distance behind, and which having advanced somewhat extended now from a point opposite the center of the Sixth Alabama Regiment toward the right and was in sight of the Sixth Alabama Regiment, I ordered this regiment to fall back to the position it had last occupied on the edge of the field, where it was about in line with the enemy’s intrenchments, and where, though still under fire, it was somewhat protected.
I feel decidedly confident that if we had been properly supported in the last charge the brigade would have marched on with uninterrupted progress, because the enemy invariably yielded to a direct advance, and the Inert and officers of this brigade everywhere exhibited great courage and an earnest desire to close with him.
When the Sixth Alabama moved back, the right wing of the Twelfth Alabama, under command of its lieutenant-colonel–Col. R. T. Jones having been killed a few minutes before, while leading forward his men–retired with it and took position on its left behind the intrenchments. The left wing also started to retire, but at the command of its Major (S. B. Pickens) promptly resumed its position, but afterward fell back to a position in front of the intrenchments. At this time a portion of the Heavy Artillery Battalion retired and, I regret to say, headed by their officers, took refuge in the ditches in front of the enemy’s redoubt, a position from which I had much difficulty in dislodging them when they were called upon to man the redoubt.
I did not attempt to re-establish either this portion of the battalion of the Twelfth Alabama Regiment in the position from which they had withdrawn, because it was evident that nothing could be effected toward an advance while the right wing of the brigade was so exposed. A part of the battalion, the Fifth Alabama, and Twelfth Mississippi Regiments continued to hold their ground steadily, though subjected to a constant fire from the enemy’s musketry, which inflicted a severe loss upon them. The enemy’s batteries in the mean time had been silenced, but while the contest between them and our own was going on the Twelfth Mississippi and a portion of the Fifth Alabama, which were directly between these batteries, maintained their posts without flinching.
Just after the Twelfth Alabama had fallen back and about an hour after the brigade had assumed its most advanced position, during which time it had been under constant fire of musketry, re-enforcements commenced to arrive, and in assisting General Kemper to place his brigade, so that it could move forward to relieve my advance regiments, which by this time had been under fire fully three hours, I received a wound in the arm, which in a short time became so painful as to compel me to turn over the command of the brigade to Colonel Gordon, of the Sixth Alabama. I did not leave the field, though, until sunset.
The loss in the brigade, and especially in the Sixth Alabama and Twelfth Mississippi Regiments, had already been serious, but in this second forward movement, and while holding the advanced position, the loss inflicted upon it was far heavier, the Sixth Alabama having lost more than half its force.
Among the other casualties incident to the second advance I regret to say that some of the best officers of the brigade were killed. Col. R. T. Jones, of the Twelfth Alabama, the most accomplished officer in the brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel Willingham and Major Nesmith, of the Sixth Alabama, and Capt. C. C. Otey, of the Heavy Artillery Battalion, who had been conspicuous for their gallantry and efficiency, fell while pushing forward with their men into the thickest of the fight.
As a matter of duty and with pride and pleasure I bear testimony to the gallantry and steadiness of the whole brigade. Nowhere during the war has their conduct been excelled in any particular whereof a soldier might be proud to boast. The conduct of the King William Artillery has nowhere in the history of the war been equaled(*) for daring, coolness, or efficiency.
It is of course impossible for me to have noticed all those individuals who among so many brave men especially distinguished themselves, but it is my duty to mention the names of some who attracted my attention and to recommend those of them who are still living as worthy to receive the badge of honor alluded to in General Orders, No. 11, Longstreet’s division, May 23, 1862.
Among the living whose gallantry and coolness entitle them to distinction I beg to mention Col. J. B. Gordon, Sixth Alabama; Col. C. C. Pegues, Fifth Alabama; Col. W. H. Taylor, Twelfth Mississippi; Maj. E. L. Hobson, Fifth Alabama; Maj. S. B. Pickens, Twelfth Alabama; Capt. T. H. Carter, King William Artillery; Captains Bagby and White and Lieutenant Yeatman, of the Heavy Artillery Battalion; Capt. A.M. Gordon, Sixth Alabama; Capt. Extort Tucker, Twelfth Alabama; Private Johnston, King William Artillery, and Sergt. Robert Hall, Twelfth Mississippi Regiment.
For those that are dead I beg that the testimonial to their distinguished merit may be transmitted to their nearest relatives. Among those to whose memory it is eminently due are Col. R. T. Jones, Lieutenant-Colonel Willingham, Major Nesmith, and Capt. C. C. Otey. Captains Fox and Bell, of the Sixth Alabama; Captains Keeling and Darwin, of the Twelfth Alabama; Captain Hastings, of the Twelfth Mississippi, and Lieutenant Newman, of the ‘King William Artillery, though not coming under my own observation, are reported to me by those competent to judge as having behaved with such coolness and gallantry as to entitle them also to the testimonial. Many others are doubtless equally deserving of honorable mention, but none of them have been formally reported to me.
My staff officers–Maj. D. T. Webster, acting commissary of subsistence; Capt. H. A. Whiting, assistant adjutant-general; Lieuts. P. T. Sutton and Greene Peyton, aides de-camp–conducted themselves in such a gallant manner and were so efficient that it is my duty to recommend them as worthy to receive the badge of distinction. Lieutenant Sutton was wounded so severely in the arm at the close of the day as to render amputation necessary. Captain Whiting had his horse killed under him. Major Webster’s horse was killed also.
The brigade was under a constant fire of musketry and artillery during five and a half hours, and hence its loss was heavy. The following statement exhibits the casualties in the different regiments and the battery:
O Officers. K Killed.
M Men. W Wounded.
—–K—– —–W—- —–A—-
Command. O M O M O M
Brigade staff …. …. 2 …. …. ….
5th Alabama 1 28 10 171 …. ….
6th Alabama 9 82 22 255 …. 5
12th Alabama 5 54 6 143 …. ….
12th Mississippi 5 36 8 144 …. ….
Carter’s battery 1 4 1 24 …. ….
Heavy Artillery Battalion 3 13 3 64 …. ….
Total 24 217 52 801 …. 5
Aggregate loss, 1,099.
The total number of men carried into action was about 2,200. The aggregate number present at camp was, however, 2,587.
The Sixth Alabama lost near 60 per cent. of its aggregate force. Some of its men were drowned after having been wounded, as they fought at times in a swamp in which the water was from 6 inches to 2 feet in depth.
The right company of the Sixth Alabama was thrown back at right angles to the line of battle by Colonel Gordon to protect his rear, and engaged the enemy at such close quarters that its brave commander, Captain Bell, after having fallen wounded mortally, was able to use his revolver with effect upon the enemy. This company fought with great heroism. Its loss was 21 killed and 23 wounded out of a total of 55.
R. E. RODES,
Maj. J. W. RATCHFORD,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Division.
This report is forwarded at the request of General Rodes, to be published with my own, which he thinks does not do justice to his brigade, and especially to Captain Carter. General Rodes thinks that the battery of Captain Carter had much to do with the evacuation of the enemy’s works. The truth is, he fired but twice at the redoubts. I ordered him to confine his attention to the infantry re-enforcements coming up the road. These he broke by a well-directed fire, when exposed himself to a fire of both musketry and artillery. He afterward broke a second column advancing to retake the works, and unquestionably the day would have been lost but for his battery. However, I had a full view of the field from my position, and could see no movement toward evacuating the works till General Rains opened fire on the flank and rear. This brigade (Rains’), unfortunately, did little more. Had he pressed vigorously on the right, 500 casualties would have been saved in Rodes’ brigade.
D. H. HILL,
MAY 31- JUNE 1, 1862– Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, Va.
No. 118. — Report of Lieut. Col. B. B. Gayle, Twelfth Alabama Infantry.
HEADQUARTERS TWELFTH ALABAMA REGIMENT,
June 5, 1862.
On Saturday, May 31, this regiment, in company with the others of General Rodes’ brigade, left camp about 12 o’clock for the purpose of attacking the enemy. After penetrating a swamp knee-deep in water we were in full view of the foe, and forthwith received a heavy fire from him. We lay on the ground in the edge of the woods for a short time, using our long range guns to no bad purpose. An order was then received to move forward to the right. This was done without hesitation, and the right wing, having to cross an open field, received a heavy fire.
Here several of our men were wounded, but none, I believe, killed. We did not remain long in this position, for the enemy, seeing that another regiment to our right was about to flank them, retired. In a few moments the whole brigade was in line, and after making a half wheel to the left commenced to charge upon the breastworks and camp of the enemy. In this charge the men were exposed to a terrific fire, but their steady movements showed too clearly to the enemy a determination to cross bayonets with them had they remained a few minutes longer. We pushed onward, and on reaching the works that were then deserted found ourselves exposed to a severe crossfire from the bushes on the right; kept close to the ground until orders were given to continue the pursuit, when every man rose to his feet and dashed onward. We soon came to thick brush and felled trees, in which the fleeing foe had concealed himself. Owing to these obstructions we could charge no farther. Here now we lay in the open field, while the enemy, with whom we are contending, is concealed in thick brush in front. Our brave men are falling rapidly. But do they falter? Not one! They load, rise, take deliberate aim, and fire. “I saw him fall,” they would exclaim, and then repeat the same operation with equal coolness. But I soon saw that our exposed position could not be maintained; we were fighting under too many disadvantages; our men were failing too rapidly.
After remaining under this fire for more than an hour I perceived that the regiment on my right had fallen back and the foe that had engaged it was now opening a deadly cross-fire on the Twelfth. However, I had received no orders to retreat, and continued to remain longer in this hazardous position. Finally I concluded that our colonel, and perhaps our general, had fallen, and, besides, the battery in rear, while trying to protect us, would unintentionally throw shot and shell too short and mangle our own men. To stand this state of affairs any longer I knew would be death to all, so I gave the command to retreat. The left wing, not hearing the command, was rallied before reaching the breastworks; but as soon as the order was understood no further confusion ensued. This, however, was productive of much good, as the enemy was checked in his advance, the left wing not being more than 40 yards from the woods.
The Twelfth Alabama, while advancing, charged directly through the camp of the enemy. Soon after passing it, halted, laid down, and opened a heavy volley, then charged the brush. It was while in this hazardous position that our brave colonel was slain.
After falling back to the redoubt we remained half an hour, and <ar12_982> night having set in, retired down the road about half a mile, where we remained until morning.
The number of men carried into the fight, as near as can be ascertained, was about 408: number killed, 59; number wounded, 156. Thus more than half carried into battle were killed and wounded.
B. B. GAYLE,