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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


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Vol. II
p179
Chapter XVI

The Army Shows Itself Unready for a Cannae

(FRAYSER'S FARM)

The decisive day, June 30, broke "cloudless and calm"1 upon awakening thousands of confident soldiers who expected McClellan's army to be destroyed ere night fell again over the swamps and forests below Richmond. Lee's first concern was for Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Magruder. Riding down to Savage Station, he found that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson had joined "Prince John" at 3:30 A.M.2 Jackson, it is recorded by a young artillerist, "appeared worn down to the lowest point of flesh consistent with effective service. His hair, skin, eyes and clothes were all one neutral dust tint, and his badges of rank so dulled and tarnished as to be scarcely perceptible. . . . When [Lee] recognized Jackson he rode forward with a courier, his staff halting. As he gracefully dismounted, handing his bridle rein to his attendant, and advanced, drawing his gauntlet from his right hand, Jackson flung himself from his horse and advanced to meet Lee, Little Sorrel trotting back to the staff, where a courier secured him. The two Generals greeted each other warmly, but wasted no time upon the greeting. They stood facing each other. . . . Jackson began talking in a jerky, impetuous way, meanwhile drawing a diagram on the ground with the toe of his right boot. He traced two sides of a triangle with promptness and decision; then starting at the end of the second line, began to draw a third projected toward the first. This third line he traced slowly and with hesitation, alternately looking up at Lee's face and down at the diagram, meanwhile talking earnestly; and when at last the third line crossed the first and the triangle was complete, he raised his foot and stamped it down with emphasis saying 'We've got him,' then signalled for his horse."3 There is no further record of p180 what passed between the two, but it is certain that Jackson understood the plan of operations and his part in it. Lee doubtless reiterated Jackson's simple instructions "to pursue the enemy on the road he had taken."4 Jackson hurried on; Lee sought out Magruder. In person he gave "Prince John" his orders to move over to the Darbytown road and supplied him with a guide who knew the terrain.

Then Lee went across the country to the Darbytown road and joined Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet's marching men.5 Before noon the force approached the junction with Long Bridge road. As Longstreet had not ridden up, Lee directed A. P. Hill to take temporary command of his own and of Longstreet's division. Accompanied by R. H. Anderson, Longstreet's senior brigadier, Hill examined the ground with care. As far as could be ascertained, the enemy was in motion southward down the Willis Church road, some two miles to the east of the Confederate van. The Long Bridge road, as it chanced, ran eastward at this point, before turning northeastward toward Riddell's Shop; consequently Hill had only to march "up" the road, in an easterly direction, to approach the enemy. Quickly he formed line of battle on the road, with Longstreet's division in front, supported on the right by Branch's brigade of Hill's own command. The "Light Division" was placed in immediate reserve.6 Soon the advancing infantry came upon a small force of Confederate cavalry engaged with Federal skirmishers.7 McClellan evidently was on the alert and had troops west of the road on which he was hurrying southward.

About this time Longstreet arrived in person and, at Lee's order, assumed charge of the field.8 While the troops moved confidently into position under Longstreet's direction, over ground thickly set with forest and underbrush, Lee sent back to ascertain how Magruder was progressing.9 He had no word from Jackson. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Huger dispatched a messenger to report that his progress was obstructed,10 but his march was so short that it hardly seemed possible he would be held up long. As, however, there was prospect of p181 some delay on his part in opening the action, Lee sent back to Magruder to halt and rest his men,11 so that they would not be fatigued when put into action.

Close to 2:30 P.M., there came from the direction of Huger's advance the sound of light artillery fire. It was the signal gun, every one supposed. Lee at once rode forward to join Longstreet. In a little clearing of broomstraw and small pines,12 he found Longstreet and with him Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mr. Davis.

"Why, General," said the President, "what are you doing here? You are in too dangerous a position for the commander of the army."

"I'm trying," Lee answered, "to find out something about the movements and plans of those people. But you must excuse me, Mr. President, for asking what you are doing here, and for suggesting that this is no proper place for the commander-in‑chief of all our armies."

Davis was determined that Lee should not send him off as he had done at Mechanicsville, and he answered lightly. "Oh, I am here on the same mission that you are."

They chatted cheerfully, their spirits high, as they waited for Huger's artillery to open in heavier volume to cover the advance of his infantry. Longstreet had sent word for nearby batteries to fire a few rounds in acknowledgment of what he took to be Huger's signal, but almost before the Southern gunners could do so the Federal artillery opened, and its shells began to burst close by.

Just then A. P. Hill dashed up: "This is no place for either of you," he exclaimed, doubtless with a smile that kept his words from being insubordinate, "and as commander of this part of the field, I order you both to the rear."

"We will obey your orders," said Davis, and moved off. Lee had to follow. A short distance away the President halted, still within range. A. P. Hill would not have it. In the same solicitous tone, he inquired: "Did I not tell you to go away from here, and did you not promise to obey my orders? Why, one shot from that battery over yonder may presently deprive the Confederacy of its p182 President and the Army of Northern Virginia of its commander!"

This time they had to retire, and were fortunate to escape with no fatality.13

It was now almost 3 o'clock and the fire from Huger's position did not swell any louder or seem any nearer. Soon R. H. Anderson's brigade of Longstreet's division became lightly engaged with the enemy's infantry, and by 3 o'clock the artillery on both sides was barking viciously, regardless of what Huger and Jackson might or might not be doing.14

At his field headquarters, in rear of Longstreet's stout-hearted regiments, a courier handed Lee a note from Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Colonel Thomas L. Rosser, commanding the 5th Virginia Cavalry, which was operating in front of Holmes, on the New Market road. Lee must have read it with a sudden consciousness that the outlook was not so favorable as it seemed. For Rosser reported that the enemy's column, with much haste and confusion, was then moving southward over Malvern Hill, which was within little more than gun shot from the James River!15

Lee perhaps remembered Malvern Hill — or, more properly Malvern Hills — as one of the large estates of his grandfather, Charles Carter, but if he had ever ridden over the ground, he had done so long before, in boyhood, at an age when he had no thought of military positions. He knew little or nothing of the sinister strength of its heights. What shook him now from the confidence of victory was the realization that if the enemy was retreating over Malvern Hill, McClellan might already be escaping before the battle was joined. Instead of fighting the decisive battle on the day of his great opportunity, Lee might have in prospect little more than a bootless rearguard action.

It was not a matter about which to take the word of a subordinate. He must see for himself. Apprizing Longstreet of what was reported, and leaving to him the direction of the brewing battle and the employment of Magruder's reserve division, Lee galloped down the Long Bridge road to its junction with the New Market road and hurried eastward, along the New Market or River road. p183 He found that Holmes already was aware of the enemy's movement and was sending forward six guns, supported by a regiment of infantry.16 Making his way through these troops, Lee undertook a reconnaissance in person, close to the enemy's position. This soon showed him that Rosser's report was all too true. The Federal columns were plainly visible on the elevation toward which Lee was looking.17


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Situation around Malvern Hill, about 3:30 P.M., June 30, 1862,
as developed by Lee's personal reconnaissance.

Returning from his reconnaissance, conscious that opportunity was slipping through his fingers, Lee met Holmes riding forward p184 and directed him to bring up the rest of his division to support his batteries and then to open fire,18 in the hope of doing what damage he could to the retreating column.

A little farther on the way back from Holmes's advanced position, Lee again encountered President Davis, who also had heard of the menacing new situation near the river and had ridden down to see what was afoot. For a second time Davis protested that Lee was rashly exposing himself. The General replied, truly enough, that the only way he could get accurate information was by personal examination of the ground. Then he galloped back to the main field of action, whence there rolled an increasing volume of artillery fire. As he rode on, there came ominously from the opposite direction a still louder roar of heavier ordnance: Federal gunboats were in the river and were opening fire across the flats over which Holmes's green troops had to advance. If McClellan's army was already getting under the cover of those guns, the game was up!

When Lee reached the troops on the Long Bridge road he found the artillery blazing away, but the infantry not yet fully engaged. Magruder had been ordered by Longstreet to march to the support of Holmes.19 Nothing further had been heard from Huger and nothing from Jackson. Neither of them could be attacking successfully, if at all, because such reconnaissance as could be made by Lee showed that the Federal right and centre, which would have been exposed to assaults by Jackson and Huger, were standing staunchly, apparently inviting the Confederates to attack. It was manifest that if Longstreet and Hill waited much longer, the enemy would have passed their front and would have escaped. Dangerous and difficult as it was to order an advance with only two divisions against a force of unknown strength, Lee had either to use the troops he had or else let slip all opportunity of striking McClellan. Without hesitation, though doubtless with deep regret at the weakness of the force he could bring to bear where he had expected to thrust with his full strength, Lee ordered an attack.

As far as the enemy's position had been developed, when this order was given, McClellan, unprotected by earthworks, seemed p185 to be across the Charles City road and west of the Willis Church road. The two formed an obtuse angle at Riddell's Shop. This angle was bisected by the Long Bridge road, on either side of which Longstreet was advancing. The country was flat, except on the Confederate right, where it was uneven and, at some points, almost precipitous.20 Woods covered the whole front, broken at intervals by the clearings of small farmhouses, and at points almost impenetrable because of bogs and underbrush. The nearby settlement was known as Glendale, and the largest property in the neighborhood was Frayser's Farm. The battle was to bear both names.21


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General situation in vicinity of Willis Church road as known to Lee
about 5 P.M., June 30, 1862.

At the moment the advance began, about 5 o'clock,22 Branch's p186 brigade of Hill's division was on the Confederate right. On its left was Kemper's brigade of Longstreet, then, on its left, R. H. Anderson's brigade, commanded by Colonel Micah Jenkins, as Anderson was temporarily in command of Longstreet's division. Beyond Jenkins, toward the left, was Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wilcox's brigade, astride the Long Bridge road. Featherstoneº was on the extreme left. Pryor was in support of Wilcox. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pickett's brigade, commanded by Colonel Eppa Hunton, was between Jenkins and Wilcox, slightly to the rear, but was soon shifted to the right. All Hill's division, except Branch's brigade, was in immediate reserve.

Kemper's Virginians included many of the earliest volunteers of 1861, who had chafed at the fate that had denied them an active share in the battles of the campaign, and now that they had an opportunity they swept wildly forward. Hurling back the enemy's skirmishers, the men seemed to think they were close to the main Federal position, and without waiting for orders, they raised the rebel yell and broke into the double-quick. Through the wood they rushed, across a little field, through another boggy wood, crowded with underbrush, and into a second field some 600 or 700 yards square.23 In this they discovered a barricaded log house, surrounded by a crude breastwork of rails.24 To the left and rear of this place, which was known as the Whitlock house, were two batteries of four guns each, which the Confederates took to be a unit.25 Undeterred by the fire from the breastwork, the house, and artillery, Kemper's men stormed onward, overran the house, captured six of the eight guns,26 and, though their line was irregular, pushed on to the woods east of the clearing. Here they found themselves facing a heavy fire from the front and from both flanks and saw that they had far outrun the brigades on either side of them. Determined to hold their ground, they made the best of their bad position and maintained a vigorous fire,27 though their right was soon threatened by what seemed to be a strong force.28

Branch, on Kemper's right, had no guide and floundered for some time, ignorant of the position of the other units. Then his p187 men began slowly to advance.29 Jenkins, on Kemper's left, had started early, perhaps ahead of Kemper, but for some unexplained reason gained little ground.

Wilcox, next Jenkins, was detained by conflicting orders for more than half an hour after Kemper went forward, but at 5:40 he advanced. Soon he noticed that the Long Bridge road divided his two right regiments from those on his left, but his fine Alabama infantrymen pressed on, through woods, down to a little stream with a dense growth of trees along it, then through another wood, thin on the left of the road and heavy on the right. Here the brigade emerged into open ground and came under rifle fire. In the field could be seen infantry and two batteries, one on either side of the road. There was a cleared tract directly between the attacking force and the left battery, but behind the battery and to the left of it the woods were close enough to shelter the enemy's infantry. The 8th Alabama became engaged with the force in the woods on the left of the battery and could not progress, but the 11th Alabama, facing a very heavy fire, got within 100 yards of the battery before the fierceness of the Federal defense forced it back. The regiment renewed the attack and this time came within fifty yards of the Federal guns, which were being admirably served by Lieutenant Alanson M. Randol. Once more the 11th gave ground, followed closely by the bluecoats. There was a bitter clash, and the Union troops were forced to flee. This time the Alabamians were on their heels, and as the Federal infantry masked Randol's' guns, Wilcox's men quickly overran the pieces. Randol's gunners, however, were of stubborn stuff, and after they had reached the edge of the woods in the rear of their battery, they rallied with infantry support and soon delivered a counterattack. The 11th Alabama held its ground. Bayonet crossed bayonet in a fierce mêlée. Captain W. C. Y. Parker felled two Federal officers with his sword, only to fall with three bayonet wounds and with a musket ball through his thigh. Heads were mashed with rifle butts. Primal rage possessed the struggling men. Decimated at last, the Alabamians were driven back to their right into the strip of woods flanking the road.30

p188 On the other side of the road, the 9th and 10th Alabama had formed for the charge when they saw a Union regiment advancing through the field to attack them. Awaiting this onslaught, the Confederates received one volley, then sprang at the enemy and drove him back on the guns, which belonged to Cooper's battery. Close to these pieces, the Alabamians recoiled but rallied quickly and took the pieces. Soon the Federals attacked again and with so much violence that they compelled the Confederates to retired to the woods on the left, along the Long Bridge road, where the 11th Regiment, driven from Randol's battery, had already sought cover. The Alabamians were still in advance, but they held less than they had sought to gain. The Federals contented themselves with what they had accomplished and did not attempt to recover Cooper's guns, which remained silent in the field, amid writhing horses and dying men.31

Pryor's brigade was to have gone into action on the left of Wilcox, and simultaneously with him, but it encountered delay in the woods and did not reach the front until after Wilcox had been driven back from his most advanced position. Finding himself confronted with a heavy fire on front and flank, Pryor called for reinforcements from Featherston, who had been intended as a reserve but had already been ordered forward. Featherston formed on Pryor's left and advanced some distance. The enemy, however, seemed about to launch a flanking movement, so Featherston sent back for help and held on as best he could.32 Gregg, of Hill's division, was hurried to him.33

As sunset approached, the situation grew more serious. Kemper on the right and Wilcox on the centre were spearheads held fast in the heavy blue line. They had inflicted heavy loss and had silenced all the enemy's batteries on a long sector, or had forced the gunners to retreat,34 but neither brigade could be extricated or pushed farther to reach the vitals of the enemy. Both on the left and on the right, the Federal lines overlapped those of the Confederates and threatened to envelop them. The last brigade of Longstreet's p189 division, that of General Pickett, was being marched to the endangered right. Magruder was out of reach on his way to Holmes. There was nothing to do but to throw in the remaining brigades of A. P. Hill's division in an effort to consolidate and hold the ground already won. Longstreet, who was still directing the battle, gave orders accordingly.35


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General distribution of opposing forces at the climax of the Battle of Frayser's Farm (Glendale), June 30, 1862.
After map by Colonel H. L. Landers, U. S. A.

Forgetful of the slaughter of Mechanicsville and unmindful of their frightful losses at Gaines's Mill, Hill's regiments moved forward at the order of command. Archer was to the right, supporting Kemper and Branch, with Pickett on his right. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Field, p190 supported by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pender, went in to relieve Wilcox's brigade. J. R. Anderson was prudently held back by Hill as a final reserve. About the time this advance began, Branch's slow progress was speeded up and he was drawn closer to the centre.36 The brigade of Pickett37 passed through Kemper's lines and reached the Federal batteries of Knieriemº and Diederich. Strange hesitated a while to employ the guns, believing that other Confederate commands were in his front, but at length he opened effectively on the enemy.38 The left of the line was threatened anew, as Branch shifted toward the centre, but it was held against a vigorous fire.39

On the centre, Field's Virginia brigade divided as Wilcox's had in moving over the same ground, the 56th and the 60th Virginia on the right of the Long Bridge road, and the 40th and the 47th Virginia Regiments and the Second Virginia battalion on the left. The regiments on the right found Cooper's battery deserted but the enemy close behind it. Loading and firing as they advanced, the men reached the guns, recaptured them once more, and then pressed on to the woods in rear.40 Meantime, on the other side of the road, the 47th Virginia had driven off the Federals, who had recovered Randol's battery and were moving fast toward the woods.41 Together the three regiments and the battalion pressed on. Finding the Federals in strength, the right regiments charged bayonets and soon were at grips with the enemy. One private of the 60th was confronted by four Federals at the same instant. Although several times stabbed with bayonets, he killed three of his four antagonists. The other was dispatched by his brother.42 Soon the 56th and the 60th Virginia outdistanced the troopers on the left of the road and found themselves far in front.43 The 47th, halting near the edge of the woods, protected the flank of the other regiments as best it could and turned one of Randol's guns against the Federal position in the woods to the left.44 The 40th had drifted off in that direction and soon faced a fiery attack, which p191 it successfully beat off, though the enemy got within twenty feet.45 Field now withdrew his right regiments from their exposed position.46 The enemy, however, by this time was closing in from the right, and was actually in rear of Field, unknown both to him and to the Federal commander, but Pender's fine brigade was in support of Field, and when the enemy, moving from right to left across his front, was within seventy-five yards, Pender opened and quickly scattered it. Ere long, Archer was in touch with Pender on his right.47

Still the enemy fought hard.48 Close as the Confederate front had advanced to the Federal line, its ability to hold on was doubtful. Fortunately, A. P. Hill had followed the changing situation with a clear eye and he had already ordered forward his last reserve, J. R. Anderson's brigade, with instructions to raise the rebel yell in full voice. Through gathering darkness and in precise accord with his orders, Anderson moved up the road on a wide front and delivered a volley at close range. The loud outcry of his troops deceived the Federals into thinking that heavy, fresh reserves were at hand. They broke and ran. In a short time, with night lying black on the field, the infantry action was over. The artillery continued a blind fire until 9 o'clock.49

Lee was with Longstreet during this last phase of the battle. While the excitement of the action was still upon them, a mounted officer rode up, surrounded by a guard of weary but proud Confederates: they were of the 47th Virginia and brought to the commander a live Federal general, whom they had bagged when he had ridden into their ranks in search of his scattered infantry.50 Longstreet recognized him at once as Brigadier General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George A. McCall, commander of the Third division of Porter's V Corps, whom he had known in the "old army," as the Confederates always styled the ante-bellum military forces of the United States. Longstreet started to extend his hand as McCall dismounted, but saw instantly that the Federal was in no mood to accept amenities. He contented himself with directing that McCall be escorted to Richmond.51

McCall had commanded the Pennsylvania Reserves, who had p192 repulsed A. P. Hill at Beaver Dam Creek and had fought so stubbornly at Gaines's Mill. His presence was the first information Lee had, perhaps, as to the identity of the troops in front of the Confederate centre.52 There was a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that these stubborn soldiers had been defeated. The fact that their leader had strayed into the Southern lines in the confusion of a retreat was as sure an evidence as the eighteen captured guns that the Confederates had won the field.

But the field was not the battle, and on the battle the campaign had hung. The enemy might resume the fighting at dawn, and even if he did not, it was as certain as anything could be that his wagon train by that time would be safe on the James River. The ambitious plan for the convergence of Jackson, Huger, Longstreet, A. P. Hill, Magruder, and Holmes had failed tragically. Every man of Longstreet's and Hill's 20,000 had been thrown into action, leaving not a soldier in reserve — and more than 50,000 other Southern troops had stood virtually idle within sound of the guns.53

Magruder had not been able to bolster Holmes in an offensive below Malvern Hill, whither he had been sent. The advance of Holmes's infantry had raised so much dust that it had disclosed his presence to the enemy. An overwhelming artillery fire had paralyzed Holmes until nightfall, and some of his raw artillery and cavalry had behaved very badly.54 Magruder, however, could now be recalled to relieve A. P. Hill and Longstreet, though his men had marched so far that they would be well-nigh exhausted when they arrived.55 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stuart, by this time, should be on his way across the Chickahominy to co-operate.56 His men would help.

p193 But if Magruder's absence was justified and Stuart was accounted for, what of the others? Why had Huger failed to attack on Longstreet's left? What had happened to him? The answer was not given until the next morning and was then as brief as it was unsatisfactory. Huger had started down the Charles City road from Brightwell's at daybreak, very much concerned lest he be attacked on his left flank from White Oak Swamp. He threw Wright's brigade to the north side of the swamp to protect his flank and proceeded cautiously down the south side with the rest of his force. Before he had gone a mile, with Mahone's brigade in advance, he found trees felled across the road. Instead of leaving his artillery and pushing on through the woods, he started to make a new road around the obstructions. As his men chopped away with poor tools, the Federals continued to cut trees along the highway. In this unequal contest between road-making and road-blocking, the greater part of the day was passed. When the Federal rearguard was at length driven in, the main position of the enemy was found so strong that Huger and Mahone reconnoitred with much caution and finally brought up one battery. This opened the fire that Lee assumed to be the signal for beginning the attack on the Long Bridge road. The battery continued its fire until dark, and the supporting infantry sustained seventy-eight casualties, but Huger made no assault. The day's operations ended with the advance less than two miles from its starting-point. After reporting early that his road was blocked, Huger did nothing to communicate with Lee or to reinforce the left of Longstreet and Hill, though there was a woods road on Huger's right that would have carried him, after a march of about one and a half miles, to the ground where Featherston was fighting. It was inexcusable failure to co-operate, the result of extreme overcaution. So far as the records show, however, Lee sent no staff officer with further orders to Huger and did not call upon him to dispatch any part of his idle force to the right. The reason, perhaps, was that Lee was afraid to weaken Huger, as that officer's column afforded a measure of insurance that the overlapping Federal right would not be pushed dangerously far in flanking operations against Longstreet's left.57

p194 And what of Jackson on the Federal rear? Why had he, too, failed to do his expected part? During the afternoon Longstreet had sent Major J. W. Fairfax back across White Oak Swamp to ask Jackson for reinforcements,58 and though there is no specific record of the fact, it is almost certain that Fairfax returned and, so far as he had seen the situation, reported what had befallen the 20,000 infantry on whose attack at White Oak Swamp Lee had reckoned in his plan of action. Jackson had not moved across the Chickahominy at Grapevine Bridge until after midnight on the night of June 29‑30, when he had been awakened by the storm.59 He did not explain then or thereafter the nature of the "other important duty" that kept him from supporting Magruder, as Lee had ordered.60 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell, meantime, had been ordered back via Grapevine Bridge and was marching in rear of Jackson's column.61 The advance on the morning of June 30 was so delayed by the collection of discarded Federal small arms and by the capture of more than 1000 prisoners62 that Jackson himself did not cover the seven miles to White Oak Swamp until about noon, and some of the troops did not come up till late afternoon.63 Had Jackson been a few hours earlier he would have caught the enemy in the act of crossing the bridge on the main road, for at daybreak Federal stragglers had been wedged in so closely at the approach that for a time they could not move.64 As it was, the last of the p195 organized rearguard was beyond reach when Jackson arrived. A fine pontoon train was in plain sight on the south side of the swamp and the enemy's wagons were moving slowly up the road toward Glendale, out of range. The bridge had been broken up and burned by the Federals, and the timbers had been thrown into the miry ford, which had thus been rendered almost impassable.65 A Federal battery was in waiting across the stream,66 with infantry in support.67


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GRAPEVINE BRIDGE OVER THE CHICKAHOMINY RIVER, AS IT APPEARED IN 1862

Across this unstable structure General McClellan moved a part of his army on the night of June 27, following the defeat of his right wing at Gaines's Mill. There were several crossings of branches of this stream in the vicinity. Collectively, they were called "Grapevine" because of their tortuous course.

It was undeniably a difficult stream to pass in the face of the enemy. Woods came down to the swamp; a thick growth of small timber crowded it. Only the road was clear, and that was commanded from the south bank by high ground on both sides of the crossing.68 At least one of the Federal generals who had examined the position was of opinion that it could not be forced.69 Jackson's impulse, as always, was first to employ his guns. Crutchfield cut a road to a good artillery position to the right and rear of the crossing70 and about 1000 yards from the enemy's battery.71 At 1:45 P.M. he opened with twenty-three pieces. The fire was overwhelming, according to the testimony of many Federal officers.72 The enemy fired only four shots in reply and then withdrew, leaving one gun on the ground.73 A Confederate battery was at once moved into the road to deal with the Federal sharpshooters,74 detachments were put to work repairing the bridge, and Munford's cavalry, with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill's skirmishers, were promptly thrown across. The going was bad, but they were soon on the other side. Jackson and some of his officers also passed over to reconnoitre.75 Had the infantry followed without delay it might have succeeded in storming the Federal position, p196 for the enemy at the moment was badly demoralized. Soon, however, the Federal infantry was rallied on a strong second line, and the United States batteries were moved to the right of the road, directly opposite the Confederate artillery, out of sight but close enough to give the longer-range Parrott guns a great advantage over the Confederate ordnance.76 Discouraged by this manoeuvre, Jackson returned to the north side of the swamp, and the cavalry ere long retired also, but the skirmishers remained in the thicket.77 The troops reconstructing the bridge were now under a distant, random fire, and refused to work.78

Jackson had been in a "peculiar mood" early in the day, but had been smiling and hopeful when he had reached the swamp.79 During the engagement he was active and energetic.80 During the afternoon, however, a strange inertia overwhelmed him. General Wright of Huger's division, who had crossed higher up the swamp during the morning, arrived at Jackson's position with his command and reported for orders. Jackson told him to retrace his steps and to cross the swamp again, if possible, as the enemy in large force was opposing him at the site of the bridge. The information as to his situation, Jackson directed Wright to convey to General Huger.81 Wright marched back with his troops and a competent guide, and though he found the nearest ford, Brackett's, guarded by the enemy, he had no difficulty in passing over White Oak Swamp at Fisher's Ford, only a little more than three miles from Jackson's artillery position.82 Jackson neither sent to see whether Wright would cross nor gave him instruction to report if he found a ford. Nothing further seems to have been done by Jackson to communicate with the forces on the other side of the swamp, though General D. H. Hill readily enough found a way of sending an engineer officer to Huger, requesting him to attack the force blocking the road at White Oak Bridge. The officer got back safely with a report on Huger's situation.83

p197 General Wade Hampton, meantime, started to reconnoitre on the left, while the artillery continued its blind fire and the infantry waited, ready to move.84 A short distance from the road, where the swamp was only ten or fifteen feet wide, Hampton found a good sandy bottom and shallow water. He rode across the swamp and discovered that he was beyond the right flank of the Federals. They were lying down, at ease, having no guard at the creek and apparently not suspecting that an enemy was at hand. Riding back, Hampton reported his findings to Jackson. Could he build a bridge over the swamp at the point he had described? Jackson asked. Easily for infantry, Hampton answered, but p198 not for artillery, as the cutting of a road would give the alarm. Jackson told him to set about it. In a few minutes the bridge was made, and Hampton went across again. He found the Federals still unaware of their danger. When he returned, he again reported to Jackson, who was sitting alone on a log by the roadside, his cap down over his eyes. Hampton announced that the bridge was ready. Jackson sat silent for a time and then got up and stalked off without saying a word.85 No orders were issued and nothing was done, though the sound of the opening of the battle at Frayser's Farm ere long was audible.86 Instead of reconnoitring in person, Jackson sat down and penned a letter to his wife describing his loss of rest and advising her what money she should contribute to the church.87 At second hand, it is also said that Jackson fell asleep and either was not or could not be aroused by his staff officers.88 Night came. The roar of the battle at Frayser's Farm continued to crash over White Oak Swamp. Jackson's artillery ceased firing. The men prepared to bivouac. The General started to eat supper with his staff but was so weary that he fell asleep with his food between his teeth. His sense of duty did not desert him even then. Arousing himself he said, "Now, gentlemen, let us at once to bed, and rise with the dawn and see if we cannot do something."89


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Vicinity of White Oak Swamp, showing the fords and the position of Jackson's artillery, June 30, 1862.

Myths have grown up regarding Jackson's strange lapse that day, and many theories have developed from endless speculation — that he was disgruntled at subordination to Lee, that he thought his weary troops should be spared while the Richmond garrison did some of the fighting, that he was deterred from seeking another ford because his orders were to cross where he was, that he did not cross because he could not carry his artillery with him, and that he did all that could be expected of any man in such a position, with the enemy commanding the road. The evidence is not such that a positive choice can be made among these theories on the basis of determinable fact. Individual opinion of the weight of probabilities must shape one's conclusion. Most students p199 probably will conclude that the most likely explanations are these: either the position, in Jackson's judgment at the time, was so strong that he did not think he could take it without excessive and unwarranted casualties; or else, the none-too‑robust frame of Jackson had been exhausted by lack of sleep, on which his physique was especially dependent. Perhaps the two reasons are one: in his normal state of mind, well-rested, Jackson might have stormed the Federal positions.90

However this may be, Frayser's Farm was one of the great lost opportunities in Confederate military history. It was the bitterest disappointment Lee had ever sustained, and one that he could not conceal. Many times thereafter he was to discover a weak point in his adversary's line or a mistake in his antagonist's plan, but never again was he to find the enemy in full retreat across his front. Victories in the field were to be registered, but two years of open campaign were not to produce another situation where envelopment seemed possible. He had only that one day for a Cannae, and the army was not ready for it.


The Author's Notes:

1 Marks, 258.

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2 O. R., 11, part 2, p665.

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3 Robert Stiles: Four Years Under Marse Robert, pp98‑99.

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4 O. R., 11, part 2, p495.

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5 O. R., 11, part 2, p759.

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6 O. R., 11, part 2, p838.

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7 O. R., 11, part 2, pp532, 759.

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8 O. R., 11, part 2, p685.

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9 O. R., 11, part 2, pp666, 675.

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10 O. R., 11, part 2, p495.

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11 O. R., 11, part 2, p666.

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12 Alexander, 139.

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13 Davis, quoted in 14 S. H. S. P., 451‑52; Longstreet, 134‑35; 2 B. and L., 400; O. R., 11, part 2, p838.

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14Davis, 145; Longstreet, 135; O. R., 11, part 2, pp51, 111, 123, 390.

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15 O. R., 11, part 2, p532.

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16 O. R., 11, part 2, p907.

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17 President Davis, op. cit., 143‑44, believed, on insufficient evidence, that Lee expected the enemy to retreat down the Long Bridge road and that Lee did not know of the movement down the Willis Church road.

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18 O. R., 11, part 2, p907.

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19 O. R., 11, part 2, p667.

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20 O. R., 11, part 2, pp762‑765.

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21 For descriptions of the ground, see O. R., 11, part 2, pp175, 254, 265, 390, 403, 423, 762‑65, 777, 786, 870, 891, 893; D. E. Johnston: Story of a Confederate Boy, 113. Frayser's Farm of 214 acres was conveyed by William G. Keesee to Francis Frayser May 20, 1818, Henrico County Deed-Book, No. 17, p228. In 1849 it was conveyed to Nathaniel Nelson, et al. For this information the writer is indebted to Thomas C. Fletcher, Esq. The name is often misspelled Frazier.

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22 O. R., 11, part 2, p763.

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23 O. R., 11, part 2, p265.

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24 O. R., 11, part 2, pp403, 893.

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25 O. R., 11, part 2, p764. Cf. ibid.100, 425, 429. The batteries were Knieriem'sº and Diederich's, see infra, p240, n100.

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26 O. R., 11, part 2, p265, for the escape of two of Knieriem'sº guns.

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27 O. R., 11, part 2, pp763‑65.

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28 18 S. H. S. P., 391‑93.

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29 O. R., 11, part 2, p883.

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30 O. R., 11, part 2, pp237‑38, 255‑56, 391, 403, 421, 776‑77. The accounts of this episode differ somewhat in detail. An effort has here been made to reconcile them.

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31 O. R., 11, part 2, pp255, 410, 423, 777‑78.

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32 O. R., 11, part 2, pp781, 785‑86.

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33 O. R., 11, part 2, pp786, 867.

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34 Amsden's battery, its ammunition exhausted, had been compelled to withdraw from the line (O. R., 11, part 2, p412). Thompson's had been ordered from the field (O. R., 11, part 2, p256).

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35 Longstreet, 136.

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36 Longstreet, 138; O. R., 11, part 2, p883.

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37 Commanded now by Colonel J. B. Strange, as Colonel Eppa Hunton had dropped from exhaustion.

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38 O. R., 11, part 2, p769.

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39 Longstreet, 138.

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40 The colonel of the 60th Virginia mistakenly reported this battery as Randol's (O. R., 11, part 2, p850).

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41 O. R., 11, part 2, p847.

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42 These gallant men were Robert A. and Eli W. Christian (O. R., 11, part 2, p851).

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43 O. R., 11, part 2, pp842, 847, 850.

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44 O. R., 11, part 2, p845.

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45 O. R., 11, part 2, pp178, 844.

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46 O. R., 11, part 2, p842.

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47 O. R., 11, part 2, p901.

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48 O. R., 11, part 2, p838.

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49 O. R., 11, part 2, pp495, 838‑39, 879‑80.

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50 O. R., 11, part 2, p845.

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51B. and L., 401‑2.

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52 The burden of the fighting at Frayser's Farm was borne on the Federal right by Kearny's Third division of Heintzelman's III corps; on the right centre by McCall's division, which was more roughly handled than any of the others; on the left centre by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sedgwick's Second division of Sumner's II corps; and on the left by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hooker's Second division of the II corps.

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53 All Richmond was agog with reports that McClellan was in full retreat (O. R., 11, part 3, p627), or was surrounded (Mrs. McGuire, 126).

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54 O. R., 11, part 2, pp228, 532, 906 ff.; 2 B. and L., 391. There was much subsequent discussion as to the fate of two of Holmes's guns. Apparently, they were captured and were spiked the next day (O. R., 11, part 2, p380; 2 B. and L., 432).

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55 O. R., 11, part 2, pp495, 667.

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56 O. R., 11, part 2, p518. "A Prussian Officer," quoted in E. A. Pollard: Second Year of the War, 321, gave a picture of Lee, "Gloomy and out of humor . . . with a dry, harsh voice," ordering the burial of the dead by Wise and Magruder, who were not on the field. The remainder of this officer's narrative is so replete with errors that the author is not willing to cite him in the text.

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57 O. R., 11, part 2, pp547, 789‑90, 797‑98; W. W. Chamberlaine, 22‑23. For the (p194)operations of Slocum's division, the chief Federal force opposing Huger, see ibid., 435. Colonel W. H. Palmer wrote Colonel Walter Taylor, July 24, 1905, that he had gone in 1864 over the ground of Huger's advance down the Charles City road, and that one company could easily have thrown to right and to left the trees the obstructed the road (Taylor MSS.).

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58 Wade Hampton, quoted in Marshall, 111.

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59 Mrs. T. J. (Mary Anna) Jackson: Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson (cited hereafter as Mrs. Jackson), 296‑97; Malone, 22; O. R., 11, part 2, p557.

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60 General Alexander did not so state in his Military Memoirs, but he was of opinion that Jackson delayed until Sunday was past and that his "other important duty" was religious worship (E. P. Alexander to W. H. Taylor, Aug. 20, 1902 — Taylor MSS.). No other explanation has ever been offered, except the obvious one that the reconstruction of Grapevine Bridge took longer than expected. On this point, General Magruder noted that at noon, or about that time, on the 29th, the completion of the bridge was expected within two hours (O. R., 11, part 2, p663).

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61 O. R., 11, part 2, pp607, 617‑18.

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62 O. R., 11, part 2, pp556, 627. For an excellent description of the march and of the debris left by the Federals, see Dabney, 460‑61.

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63 O. R., 11, part 2, pp556, 571, 593, 618, 634. Jackson's chief of artillery, Colonel Crutchfield said the artillery arrived about 9:30 (O. R., 11, part 2, p561), but the opposing Federal commander, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.I. B. Richardson, stated the Federals did not destroy the bridge until 10 A.M. (O. R., 11, part 2, p55).

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64 O. R., 11, part 2, p55.

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65 H. B. McClellan, 81; Wade Hampton in Alexander, 150.

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66 Marshall, 110.

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67 The Federal defense was in charge of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. B. Franklin, commander of the VI Corps. He had with him his second division, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. F. Smith, Richardson's first division of Sumner's II Corps, Naglee's second brigade of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Peck's second division of Keyes IV Corps and, for two hours, Gorman's (Sully's) first brigade and Dana's third brigade of Sedgwick's second division of Sumner's II Corps.

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68 Doctor Hunter McGuire in 2 Henderson, 51 n.

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69 McCall in O. R., 11, part 2, p389.

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70 O. R., 11, part 2, p655.

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71 O. R., 11, part 2, p561.

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72 O. R., 11, part 2, pp58, 464 ff.; Thomas L. Livermore: Days and Events, 86‑87. General Franklin said the fire was of a severity "which I had never heard equalled in the field" (2 B. and L., 377‑78). The description of the sequence of events in 2 Henderson 50 ff. is confused and in part reversed.

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73 O. R., 11, part 2, pp561, 627, 653, 655.

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74 O. R., 11, part 2, p561.

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75 O. R., 11, part 2, p627; 2 B. and L., 387, 2 Henderson, 51 n.

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76 O. R., 11, part 2, pp55‑56, 465, 477, 481, 561, 655. "Right" is from the Confederate approach.

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77 O. R., 11, part 2, p627.

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78 O. R., 11, part 2, p566.

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79 Munford in 2 Henderson, 50.

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80 Doctor Hunter McGuire in 2 Henderson, 55.

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81 O. R., 11, part 2, p790.

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82 O. R., 11, part 2, pp809‑10. For a partial description of these fords, see H. G. Berry in O. R., 11, part 2, p185.

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83B. and L., 388. Longstreet's aide, it will be recalled, also arrived and presumably returned (Hampton in Marshall, 111).

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84 For a detailed account of the condition of Jackson's men this day, the writer is indebted to the late Lieutenant W. S. Archer.

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85 Hampton gave the same consequent of this incident to Marshall in 1871, op. cit., 109 ff., and to Alexander, op. cit., 149, many years later.

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86 Ibid.

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87 Mrs. Jackson, 296‑97.

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88 Long, 175‑76; McHenry Howard, Recollections, 148‑49; John Lamb in 25 S. H. S. P., 211, citing Doctor Harvey Black.

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89 Dabney, 467.

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90 For a detailed discussion of the theories of Jackson's failure, see Appendix II-3.


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