Mahone's Brigade at Malvern Hill

Malvern Hill About 4 in the afternoon our brigade (Mahone’s), which had been slowly marching along the Quaker or Willis church road in the direction of Malvern Hill, is halted. A few paces ahead of us was a dashing looking general officer, mounted and splendidly uniformed, with a large retinue of staff officers and couriers. Gen. Mahone road up to this officer to receive his orders. Just at this time a solid shot fired from a gun of a Federal artillery battery near Crew’s house, now concealed from our view by an intervening body of woods, came skipping along, nearly spent, narrowly missing the group of officers and couriers and passing through our ranks, opened for the purpose, as we saw it bounding slowly toward us - a reminder that the enemy was near at hand. All around the open field, through which this shot came bounding toward us, were pieces of artillery. Gen. Magruder ordered Gen. Mahone to charge the enemy’s batteries along with Gen. Wright. The men in the ranks understood this order to be to charge the battery that fired the shot, which, like a gauntlet thrown down, seemed to challenge our assault.

In a few moments we are in motion, forming a line of battle with our faces in the direction of the Federal artillery whose fire seems now to increase. Between us and the enemy intervenes the body of woods referred to, and we saw nothing of them as we move forward. A hundred or two yards of forward movement brought us into these woods, a body of large chestnuts and oaks. Through the tops of these tall trees, far above our heads, the shot and shell of the Federal artillery howl and crash, putting us in constant danger of injury from falling fragments of huge limbs of trees. But on we went until we reached a ravine or gully, along the bottom of which ran a small branch. Here we halted. In the ravine was a brigade of troops, all sitting with their backs next to the enemy, seemingly secure from danger, ensconced, as they were, in what appeared to be comparatively a bombproof, and looking far more comfortable than we felt under an order to charge a battery and on our way to execute this order. The occasion of our temporary halt just here was an examination as to the route by which it would be best to go forward.

We are now very close to the enemy. At the foot of the hill upon the table ground McClellan’s army awaits our assault, so close that we feel the vibrations of the earth at each discharge of the Federal guns. Not 300 yards intervened between us and these guns, the slope of the hill, however, perfectly protecting us, we being now opposite to the extreme left of the Federal line of battle. To our right in a beautiful field, the meadow mentioned by Gen. Wright, with its yellow shocks of recently harvested wheat, are stationed Federal sharpshooters, against whom we have been warned. Posted behind the shocks of wheat, they see us, but we cannot see them, while they pick off our men as they come up to take position in line of battle at the foot of the hill preparatory to the intended charge.

As I marched along to this position I looked over toward the woods on Turkey creek, skirting this meadow. The prospect was beautiful; everything in that direction was so tranquil that clear summer afternoon, in striking contrast with the harsh notes of war. The crises was now at hand. Gen. Mahone, seizing the colors of one of our regiments, commanded us to move forward. We rush up the slope of the hill toward the enemy, yelling at the top of our voices. Just near the brow of the hill I caught a glimpse of four artillery horses hitched to a gun or to a caisson, dashing away at full speed. My heart leaped with joy. The enemy are flying! Their artillery and infantry are routed! We are victors without firing a gun. But I was terribly mistaken. I saw only those four horses in flight. No men, no other horses drawing pieces of artillery, no infantry are flying.

Our line of battle was allowed to get well upon the hill, when the enemy’s infantry, stationed not more than one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards in front of us and their artillery in the rear of the infantry, suddenly opened upon us with terrific fury. Our men were driven back with terrible loss, but only to gain the protection of the brow of the hill, there to rally and return to the charge. The enemy’s infantry line seemed immovable. It stood as if at dress parade. Soon, however, dense volumes of smoke considerably obscured their line, but there were the red flashes of the guns and the crimson looking Federal colors floating over the dark line of men plainly visible.

Every few minutes a column, a regiment or two, would move steadily forward in line of battle toward the enemy, cheering as they advanced. Then there would be the deafening roll of musketry and in a few moments all would be hidden from view by smoke. On the occasion of one charge my eyes were upon the advancing line when it received the fire of the enemy. The poor fellows reeled and fell, it seemed, by the dozens. The line, broken, was forced back to seek shelter under the brow of the hill. In a few minutes the men rallied, and returning to the charge met the same fate. This was a fair sample of the many charges made during the afternoon.

About sunset an advance was ordered, and we moved forward to the next hill, some seventy-five yards in our front. Col. David A. Weisiger, the colonel of our regiment, gallantly leading it in the charge, and from this new position we opened fire upon the enemy. Night coming on, some of our men actually got in among the enemy before discovering their position, so close were the contending forces on the extreme right of our line. The firing was kept up until 9 o’clock at night, when both parties, wearied with the fight, seemed to cease firing with consent. Soon after the firing ceased numbers of the enemy could be seen in our immediate front, moving about with lanterns in their hands, looking after their dead and wounded. The crest of the hill where we now were was held by a thin line of battle, consisting mainly of the remains of the depleted brigades of Mahone and Wright.

Pvt. George S. Bernard
12th Virginia Infantry


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