Those who intend to study the battle of Malvern Hill tactically will find rather full general descriptions of the ground by Lee,1 Wright,2 and D. H. Hill,3 but as the field has changed greatly during the last seventy years and is still changing as the advancing pines take the abandoned farm lands, a detailed description may be useful.
About a mile and a half east of the Willis Church-Quaker road an old byway ran south from the Long Bridge road. This byway was employed by Keyes in moving his troops and trains. Until June 30, he reported, "it had not had a wheel run over it for five years." Trees were rotting in it.4 The Confederates did not use this route. They took up their positions on the left by moving along a narrow, wooded lane that led to the left (east) from the Willis Church road to the Poindexter farm.5
The Poindexter farm was at an elevation not much lower than that of the Federal right, but the wooded ravine of Western Run6 was •sixty feet below the hill on which the house stood. A field of wheat, covering more than a quarter of a mile, was standing on the eastern side of the farm.7 Nearer the Willis Church road on the Poindexter farm, the land was broken and afforded some shelter for artillery.8 From this open ground on the farm, woods extended for a quarter of a mile westward to the Willis Church and southward to the ravine of Western Run. Opposite the Confederate left, the rising ground of the Federal right, south of the run, was open and part of it was in oats.9
From Willis Church southward to the run, the Willis Church road was wooded heavily on the right (west), except for one open space near the Methodist parsonage. On the left (east) of the road, there was a narrow fringe of wood stretching southward until one reached the quarter-mile belt of woods on the Poindexter farm.
South of the run, as one began to climb toward Malvern Hill, the Willis Church road was wooded on the right for •about 400 yards. Above that point, mounting to the top of the hill, there was, probably on the western side of the road, a fence and a hedgerow that offered some shelter.10 From the end of this fence southward, along the right-hand side of the road, there were no obstructions to the crest of the ridge. Where it turned eastward, three-eighths of a mile from the lane leading to the Crew house, there was another fringe of wood on the south side.11
East of the Willis Church road, all the way from the run to the West house, the ground was clear, though broken by a few small ravines.
The ground occupied by the Confederate centre, west of the Willis Church road, was much more difficult. The Confederate approach from beyond artillery range had to be across a troublesome stretch of open ground near the Methodist parsonage and the Garthright house. This cleared land fell more than sixty feet to the swampy ravine of Western Run, and, south of that, consisted of a steep, heavily wooded hillside. The woods at this point were in the form of a broad V with the angle projecting several hundred yards farther southward toward the Federal position than anywhere else on the front. Opposite these woods the field was open for 300 or 400 yards to the Federal positions. The ground nearest the Federal batteries had been ploughed.12 The whole of the centre, southward from the parsonage, was within artillery range.
Beyond D. H. Hill's front, on the Confederate right, the western side of the projecting V of woodland ran northwest for half a mile and then spread westward and northward. Most of this was heavy timber, chiefly oak, which were scarred during the course of the battle to a height of •thirty feet.13 There were, however, a pine thicket and occasional thick briar patches in front of Armistead's first position.14 Cross-ravines cut this woodland,15 with a troublesome mill dam •about half a mile up Western Run behind Armistead's line.16 In rear of the Confederate right, between the woods that ran westward and those that ran northward, was "Carter's field," with an orchard. Across this field ran the farm road down which Armistead and Wright had marched from the Long Bridge road. It was from near the southeastern p584 end of Carter's field that Pegram, Grimes, and Moorman opened on the Federals.17
Looking southward from Armistead's position, there seemed to be directly in front only a fence18 and a gradual incline through a clover field19 and onward for about 400 yards.20 The ground occupied by the Federals appeared to be a strong but not an impregnable position once the assaulting troops were out of the ravine that led down to Western Run.21 But in front of the right, beyond the extreme left of the enemy, was the long wheat field, with the grain, as noted in the text, cut and shocked.22 This wheat field ran southward to the west of the Crew house hill in front of the Confederate right. On the eastern side of the wheat field, the hill gradually became more abrupt and was cut with ravines, until it rose almost to a bluff. The Crew house hill, in other words, as seen from the Confederate right, was a plateau on its eastern side, a hill on the northern face nearest the Confederates, and well-nigh a precipice on the western side, overlooking the wheat field.23 The Crew house on top of this hill, and close to the bluff, was a large white frame residence on a brick foundation. In some of the reports this place is called Doctor J. H. Mellert's house.24 It was burned in November, 1877, but the present building is said to rest on the old foundations. As mentioned in the text, the main Federal artillery position ran eastward from the yard of the Crew house, along the farm lane and across Willis Church road to and beyond the West house.25 The Federal infantry were in support just to the south of the guns. The other artillery positions are given, about as accurately as they can be located, on Colonel H. L. Landers' excellent map. The original Malvern house, dating from the seventeenth century, was situated one mile south by east from the Crew house.
2 Ibid., 812.
3 Ibid., 627.
4 1 Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 611.
13 18 S. H. S. P., 60; McDaniel, 8.
22 W. W. Chamberlaine, 25.
25 The location of this lane has been changed a few feet, at one time or another since the battle, and has been heavily eroded at one point.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Robert E. Lee
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Jan 15