Co I, 49th NC At the Battle of Malvern Hill

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    Company I, 49th North Carolina
    At the Battle of Malvern Hill
    The Landmark, Statesville
    July 28, 1924
    Written by W.A. Day, Company I, 49th N.C., of Sherrill’s Ford, N.C.
    At the beginning of the Seven Day’s Battles around Richmond, General Robert 
    Ransom’s North Carolina Brigade consisted of the 24th, Col. Clark; 25th Col. 
    Rutledge; 26th Col. Vance; 35th, Matt Ransom; 48th Col. Hill; and 49th Col. 
    The brigade was camped on a hill across from Petersburg.  On the 25th June, 
    1862, they received orders to march immediately.  We marched over to 
    Petersburg and went on to Richmond on the trains, the 49th being the first to 
    arrive.  We stacked arms in the capitol square and awaited the arrival of the 
    other troops.  A heavy rain came over and we sheltered in the capitol and 
    other buildings and kept dry.  By the middle of the evening, the troops were all 
    in and we marched down Broad Street and swung out on the Williamsburg 
    road to a place known as French’s Farm near Fair Oaks on the old Seven Pines 
    battlefield and about seven miles from Richmond and bivouacked for the night.  
    It was then about dark and a rattling fire opened in the woods about a mile 
    distant in our front.  I heard an officer ask another officer who rode up what the 
    firing meant.  He said he did not know but supposed it was troops down there 
    firing off wet loads, but the officer was mistaken; it was the pickets between 
    the two armies firing the opening shots of the seven days battles.  The firing 
    soon ceased and we were not disturbed in our bivouac that night.
    Next morning, a captive balloon was seen high in the air over on the enemy’s 
    side, watching our movements.  It remained in the air about half an hour and 
    then descended.  
    Early in the morning the firing opened again and soon became heavy.  We 
    moved down at double quick and formed a line of battle in an old road. 
    Immediately on our front was a field two hundred yards wide, on the further side 
    of which was woods, where our pickets were fighting at close range.  Col. Hill 
    with the 48th joined the 49th.  Col. Hill was ordered by General Ransom to take 
    his regiment and move forward to the woods and drive the Federals out.  A 
    detachment of the 49th was sent out with them.  
    They moved across the field in splendid order but when they entered the woods 
    and passed the picket lines they encountered heavy lines of battle and received 
    a withering fire point blank in their faces.  They manfully stood their ground and
    returned the fire but Col. Hill, seeing they would soon be shot to pieces, ordered 
    them to fall back into the line. They came back and reformed in their old position 
    with a loss of 21 killed and 46 wounded and of the 46 wounded, 19 died.  Some 
    hot words passed between Col. Hill and General Ransom.  The colonel had his 
    regiment transferred to another brigade and left us the same day.  That was the 
    last sight we had of the brave boys.
    Just before we reached the old road where we formed a line of battle, General 
    Wright of Georgia, commanding troops down on our right, was out in the field 
    among the bullets, on his horse, with a white handkerchief tied to his hat.  He 
    dashed up and shouted “Boys, follow me, I’ll put you through”.  But, discovering 
    his mistake, he galloped off to another part of the line.  We did not belong to his 
    command.  We belonged to General Huger’s Division (pronounced Ugee).
    There was no more fighting that day in our front except picket fighting; the enemy 
    did not advance and we were ordered to hold.  Louisiana troops were fighting heavily 
    on our right and carrying their wounded out up by our line.  Some one asked a litter 
    bearer if he did not wish the battle to be over.  He answered “no, not till we get the
    damned Yankees whipped out of here” and went back to the fight. 
    We were relieved late in the evening and went back in reserve where we lay on 
    our arms all night.
    The Battle of Mechanicsville, up on our left, which began about sunset, turned 
    McClellan’s right wing and started him towards the James River.
    A soldier in our brigade, not liking the loud music the guns made, went to 
    headquarters and applied for a furlough.  General Ransom asked him if he could 
    stand in the position of a soldier.  He said he could, and popped his heels together, 
    toes out, body erect, hands down with little fingers at the seams of his pants and 
    eyes striking the ground fifteen paces to the front.  General Ransom then gave the 
    order.  Right. About. Forward March.  The soldier stepped off smartly and marched 
    back to his command.  The general never said Halt.  
    We were moved from one position to another on the line every day but did not have 
    any fighting to do.  We were held in reserve at Gaines’ Mill and marched down the 
    Charles City Road.  McClellan had changed his base as he called it, and was in full 
    retreat to his gunboats and transports on the James River.  Our whole army was 
    marching on different roads to cut him off at the river.
    At one of our short halts, Col. Ransom made us a short speech, riding along the 
    regiment on his horse.  Every soldier knows how a brave commander can hold his 
    men by talking and praising them.  Col. Ramseur knew almost every man in the 
    regiment by name.  He said he did not ask a man to go where he would not lead, 
    but where he led, every man must go.  He said he did not want to hear it said there 
    was a coward in the 49th and he said he did not believe there was one because he 
    could tell a coward by looking in his face and he saw no cowardly faces.  In this 
    way, and in his jolly way of talking, he kept us keyed up to the highest pitch and 
    there was not a soldier in the 49th who would not follow him anywhere, any time.
    Storming the heights of Malvern Hill was the 49th’s first battle.  This was fought on 
    the first day of July, 1862.  We arrived in the vicinity in the evening and formed a 
    line of battle in the woods in the rear of a clover field said to be twelve hundred 
    yards on the further side of which was a rail fence and then a swamp, then a narrow 
    space and then a bluff which brought us within range of the guns.  Jackson’s, 
    McGruder’s and Huger’s Divisions were selected to make the charge.  The other 
    troops were held in reserve.  The grand onset was to be made at sunset.
    McClellan had arrived on the field in time to post his troops to the best advantage.   
    36 pieces of artillery crowned the hill at what was known as the Crew’s house and 
    one hundred more on the long hill and infantry posted on every commanding position.  
    The gun boats also aided in the battle, the ten inch shells making a great deal of 
    noise but doing very little damage.  He informed his chief of staff that he was 
    prepared to clothe the hill in sheets of flame.
    Reports received today by the State Department, however, said that no guns opened.  
    The sun was setting in the west, the last time so many noble fellows ever saw it go 
    down, the grand charge was about to begin, the troops were moving in, we sprang 
    to our feet ready for the forward command which was soon given.  The whole brigade 
    moved forward in regular line of battle led by General Bob Ransom on horseback.  
    The field officers of the regiment were all on foot.  
    Emerging from the woods which had concealed us from view, we moved out into 
    the clover field in full view and in range of the guns on the hill which were immediately
    turned on us.  The whole hill appeared to be wrapped in fire and great clouds of red 
    smoke ascending from it.  The shells screamed through the air, bursting over and 
    among us, the clover field was wide but we went across at quick step, keeping the 
    gaps closed and the line dressed as best we could.
    In crossing the fence and swamp, our lines were badly broken, but at the foot of the 
    bluff on the other side, we quickly reformed while a staff officer, greatly excited, was 
    shouting at the top of his voice “Lord God Almighty, double quick, they are cutting 
    our men to pieces”.  I don’t know what troops were getting cut to pieces, as we 
    were in the leading line going in.  The shots all passed over us while reforming 
    behind the bluff.  We moved up over the bluff into the cornfield and the command 
    “charge” was given.  We were then in range of the infantry who opened on us with 
    buckshot and ball.  We gave our Southern cheer and rushed into that whirlwind of 
    death, Sgt. Frank Moody of Company I carrying the colors.  
    Company I coming up square with the Crews house which stood thirty feet in front 
    of the Federal lines, but it was no protection whatsoever from the artillery, the shells 
    passing through it as if it were made of paper.  
    Here General Ransom displayed a feat of bravery that won the admiration of the 
    whole brigade.  Spurring his horse through the lines, he dashed out in front of the 
    19th and called out in a voice we could plainly hear “Come on, boys, follow your 
    General, let’s drive them from the hill”.  The horse reared and plunged but the rider 
    kept his seat and when near the Crews house turned and dashed down the line.  
    We expected to see him fall, but through some miraculous agency, both horse and
    rider escaped.
    We charged to within 30 feet of the Federal guns but could go no further.  The 
    slaughter was terrible.  They were shooting us to pieces, the infantry using buck 
    shot in their cartridges, the flames from the guns were reaching us, and we were 
    ordered to lie down and shoot the gunners. 
    Round after round we fired into them from the ground but it made no impression 
    on them, they stood to their guns. Lying down was all that saved us, the shots 
    passing over our heads. The cheering had stopped.  We ceased firing and lay flat 
    on the ground under the shots.  Captain Graham snatched the colors from the hands 
    of Frank Moody and shouted “Rally, men, this will never do”, but it was impossible 
    to rally in that tempest of death and we lay as close to the ground as we could.  
    Wishing to protect myself as much as possible, I crawled out and laid down beside 
    the Crews house but the building was shot to pieces and the timbers falling about 
    so I ran out and fell down in my place in line.  I laid beside an old soldier from 
    another company who had gotten in our company in the charge.  He was very mad 
    because we kept lying there.  “Just listen” he would say as the balls were striking 
    the men, “Why in hell don’t they take us out of here, we will soon be all killed.”
    We lay under the galling fire for about fifteen minutes but our loss was not so 
    heavy after we lay down, being so close to the muzzles of the guns only the infantry 
    could reach us.  The firing gradually ceased and then it was very dark.  Our 
    assaulting columns were cut to pieces and no re-enforcements were sent in.  
    Orders were passed quietly down the line to fall back in good order.  We blundered 
    back over the dead and wounded as best we could about a hundred yards and 
    when the survivors all got in, reformed our lines and lay on the field among the dead 
    and wounded all night. 
    Sherman was right when he told what war was. The dying soldier calls for his 
    sweetheart, his parents and his wife and children to come to his aid.  Some give 
    commands as if leading men into battle.  Prayers, groans and curses are heard 
    all over the field and all the while the cry for water.  The night was so dark and the 
    smoke hung so low the wounded could not be cared for.
    About midnight it began to rain.  It always rained after every great battle.  It was 
    light at first but towards morning it fell in torrents, washing over the dead and 
    wounded in low places.  Daylight appeared at last and when it was light enough to 
    see, an officer rode up to the Crew’s house and found the hill deserted.  The 
    Federals had left during the night and gone to their gunboats and transports on the 
    river.  Federal writers said their army was nothing but a disorganized rabble when 
    they reached the river.  
    The Federals claimed a great victory at Malvern Hill.  It is true they cut our men to 
    pieces, but we held the ground and they retreated.  We left the hill at 8:00 and 
    moved back about a mile and a half and built log fires to warm and dry our clothes.  
    Heavy details buried the dead and brought in the wounded.  The surgeons were 
    busy all day in an old house amputating limbs, and at night had a large pile thrown 
    out in the back yard.
    Our Colonel S.D. Ramseur, a man we would have followed anywhere, any time, 
    was badly wounded and carried off the field.  Before his wounds healed, he was 
    promoted to Brigadier, then to Major General, and killed while leading his men in 
    battle in the valley of Virginia.  He had a warm place in his brave heart for the 49th 
    Regiment.  He said the 49th put the stars on his collar, and when promoted, tried 
    to have the 49th transferred to his command, but General Ransom would not let us 
    It has been said by writers that Malvern Hill was a bloody combat fought late in the 
    evening and at night on the first day of July, 1862 in which the Southern troops 
    under able commanders made a determined effort to crush McClellan’s army before 
    it could reach the James, but it was simply impossible.  It is said General Lee’s 
    orders were not to storm the hill if it was thought to be too strongly fortified.  Our 
    assaulting troops were cut to pieces and the enemy retreated to their boats at 
    Harrison’s Landing where they were safe and left the bloody hill in our hands.  
    General Jackson went down the next day and had a few light skirmishes but no 
    fighting of any consequence.  These skirmishes ended the Seven Day’s battles 
    around Richmond.
    W.A. Day
    Company I, 49th Regiment, N.C.
    Sherrill’s Ford, N.C.

    Transcribed by Christine Spencer June 2008

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