Echoes from the Campfire – The writings of the men of the 7th Tennessee – The Battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The 7th Tennessee lost 85 men at Seven Pines.

Echoes from the Campfire:

The Battle of Seven Pines: May 31, 1862.

 

31 May 1862:

John K. Howard (Lt. Col.) letter published in the Richmond Dispatch – “…At sunset, the same  day [31 May 1862], he died in battle…

…The last time the writer [Howard] saw him, he was in the charge, waving his hat. Even in the midst of the roar of arms, his voice was heard cheering his men…

…In a few moments, his favorite horse, ‘Ball’, was killed under him. He extricated himself from his horse, and dashed forward. He had hardly gone thirty steps, when he fell, pierced by a Minnie ball, and died without a struggle…”

 

Andrew B. Martin (3rd Lt. – Co. H) letter to James V. Drake – “His [Hatton’s] commission as Brigadier

General…which lies before me now, stained with the blood of his heart, bears the date of 23d May 1862…

…Our army was retiring from the Peninsula, in the direction of Richmond, and was, within fifteen miles of the city. Gen. Hatton was directed to bring up the rear of the army upon the Bottom Bridge road, with special instructions to develop the strength of the enemy at all available points…

…On the 28th May, Gen. Hatton’s command was retired behind the lines, and bivouacked in the suburbs of Richmond…

…Gen. Hatton…moved through the ranks of men in careful inspection of their readiness for the conflict…

…At 2 o’clock, on the morning of the 31st May…Gen. Hatton’s command was accoutered for the march, and at dawn, it moved for the battlefield of ‘Seven Pines’. At an early hour in the day, he was halted in the reserve line, upon the brow of a hill which overlooked the scene of the conflict, where he remained until 6 o’clock of the afternoon. The battle opened at noon, or shortly after…

…At the hour of 6 o’clock p.m., his brigade was called for, and at the double quick, in column of fours, it moved in the direction of the heaviest firing. In a little field, that will be remembered by every member of his brigade, it was halted, and the line formed under the immediate eye of Gens. Johnson and Lee and President Davis…

…Gen. Hatton was mounted upon his favorite bay horse…

…He reined the splendid and impatient animal in front of his brigade, and rode from one end of it to the other, cheering his men, admonishing them to bear themselves like soldiers under of the eye of their beloved President, and to preserve unsullied, the own honor, and the prestige of Tennessee soldiery…

…His face was flushed with excitement…

…A deafening fire was going on just in his front, and the Minnie balls were hissing over the heads of the brigade, and through the ranks. It was just at that moment that Gen. Jos. E. Johnston, was struck with  ball, receiving a wound which relieved him of the command…

…Gen. Johnston was taken to the rear, at once, but his bearing was so gallant that it extracted a cheer from Hatton’s brigade, which the General acknowledged, by raising his hat…

…Gen. Gustavus W. Smith…directed Gen. Hatton to move forward with his brigade, and attack the enemy. Immediately the clear sounding voice of General Hatton was heard, commanding, ‘Attention, forward, quick-step, march!’…

…Pressing on…the enemy’s works were gained, only to be abandoned. With thinned and bleeding ranks, and bearing the dead body of its General, the brigade retired under a merciless fire, to the point where its line was originally formed for the charge…

 

David Phillips (Pvt. – Co. K) – “This morning at daylight we were ordered to cook breakfast hastily and make ready for a march. We left camp about nine o’clock for the purpose of attacking the enemy on the Y. R. R. R. About two p.m. the thundering of cannon in the distance told us that the fight had commenced. We were halted just beyond the camp of the brigade that had been on picket on that road.”

“We remained there until about two p.m., the cannon and musketry roaring continually in front, when the signal guns were fired for our advance. We were soon off for the scene of the action at a double-quick which was kept up for six miles. We passed Generals Johnston and Lee and Jeff Davis on the field over a redoubt made by the enemy and over their camp from which our troops had driven them. A continuous and furious fire of musketry was kept up on our front and left. We were halted, formed and ordered to load in the edge of an oat field. We were then ordered to advance with fixed bayonets and at a double-quick. After crossing the field we came to a thick dense woods filled with undergrowth and partly covered with water. We crossed as best we could under a furious fire of artillery and musketry from the enemy, posted in a field just beyond the wood. We reached the edge of the wood and gave them a volley and afterward several scattering shots.”

“It was evident that the enemy were too strong for us. We were ordered to retreat. The general’s horse was shot and killed. Every man in the retreat acted on his own judgment. I got behind the regiment and fell in with Jim Weaver. We were making our way out, as we thought, when we ran very suddenly upon a Yankee picket of six men. It was now dark; we were lost and there was no other alternative left but to surrender. We were but a few paces in the rear of a large force of the enemy concealed in the bushes. It is useless here to mention with what reluctance I submitted to my unhappy fate. We were sent to General Sumner’s quarters where we found several other prisoners. We were all crowded in a hen house for the night.”

 

John H. Moore (2nd Lt. – Co. B) – “As we advanced the Federal batteries annoyed us greatly with frequent discharges of grape and canister, and although many gaps were made in our ranks, the lines were closed and the brigade continued to advance to within forty yards of their infantry’s line, from which we received one of the most destructive volleys ever discharged into a body of troops. The advancing column was immediately checked and began to return the fire, and for a few moments a desultory firing was maintained. But soon the superior numbers and the strong position of the Federals had their effect – Hampton’s Legion wavered, and finally fell back into the ranks of the Seventh and other Tennessee regiments, which threw them into confusion. At this crisis Generals Hatton, Hampton and Smith (the latter now commanding the army, General Johnston having been wounded some time before), under a terrible fire attempted to re-form the lines. In a few minutes Hatton was killed and Hampton wounded. The effort to re-form was fruitless. We were compelled to retire to the position from which we advanced. We were not engaged in this battle more than thirty minutes, yet in that short time our Adjutant, G.A. Howard, and eight out of then company commanders, and half of the privates, were either killed or wounded. The enemy did not attempt to follow up his advantage, but was satisfied with having repulsed the assault.”

 

John Williams (Pvt. – Co. D) –  “Gen Hatton had his men up before day in readiness to march when the light Should make its appearance. When daylight came our Brigade Set off for the Scene of action. We knew nothing of where we were going until near noon when we heard the distant roar of artillery this gave us notice that we might Soon be into it … So until the middle afternoon when we had orders to move up to the field of action our Brigade arrived on the ground about the Setting of the Sun after Double quicking about 3 miles the Brigade was halted long enough to load and then continued their charge until they were in a few paces of the enemy.”

 

John Fite (Major) – “…We went down there double-quick and when we got down to within a short distance of the enemy, we were turned square to the left. We had gone but a short distance, a hundred or two [hundred] yards, I reckon, when we met the enemy’s fire. A few minutes after we got under fire, General Hatton was killed.”

 

Richard Beard (Pvt. – Co. H) Tennessee Questionnaire (TCWQ) – “… this battle gave me a better conception of Hell than any I passed through afterwards. I passed through a number but I never experienced anything like this first battle; never saw men fall around me as fast as they did there. I was wounded three times, almost before I could turn around. I was carried to Richmond, to the Old Kent Hospital, reaching there at midnight.”

 

George W. Lewis (Pvt. – Co. F) – TCWQ “… I was wounded … [and] carried to the hospital at Richmond … I lay there 6 months … The Surgeon gave me a ninety days’ furlough…”

 

John M. Powell (Pvt. – Co. K) – TCWQ “… I was slightly wounded … I was carried from the battlefield of 7 Pines to Richmond …

William Sewell (Pvt. – Co. A) – “…Watts [Daniel Sewell] got killed when his head was blown off by a cannon ball…”

James Fite (7th Tenn. Surgeon) – “…Dr. Lester quickly placed his ear to Hatton’s heart … [and I] came up at that time and asked, ‘Jim is he dead?’ Dr. Lester rising slowly, in a sad and subdued voice said: ‘Yes.’ Without taking his eyes off his beloved commander…I said, ‘Jim we can do nothing for him, let us look after the others…”

Ferguson Harris (Sgt. – Co. H) – “…Jimmy [James Patton] called out to me in a feeble voice to come and help him. I turned and saw him struggling to walk, with a wound in his neck…”

“…I heard a bullet strike Tom [Thomas Buford] and looking around saw Bill McCorkle raise Tom’s cap, his brains were oozing out where the bullet had struck him square in the forehead…”

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