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Destruction and Reconstruction

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Destruction and Reconstruction
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Author(s): Richard Taylor
Date Published: 2009/12
Page Count: 236
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-885-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-886-5

A Southern officer's war

This is a valuable Civil War memoir from a regimental officer of the Army of the Confederacy. Its author, Richard Taylor has taken a well rounded view of his experiences relating them against the events of the opening phases of the war to his military life on campaign during the Peninsula and Valley Campaigns through to Berwick's Bay, the Red River and the closing operations of the armed conflict. As a Southerner Taylor had to experience the hardships of occupation and reconstruction under Johnson and Grant and his book provides interesting perspectives on this period immediately following the cessation of hostilities. The Leonaur edition is available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket—a credit to the bibliophile's library!

Toward daylight of the 27th sleep came from exhaustion, and lasted some hours. From this I was aroused by sounds of artillery, loud and constant, brought by the easterly wind. Tom raised me into a sitting posture, and administered a cup of strong coffee. The sound of battle continued until it became unendurable, and I was put into the ambulance by Tom and the driver, the former following with the horses. We took the route by which the troops had marched, the din of conflict increasing with every mile, the rattle of small arms mingling with the thud of guns. After weary hours of rough road, every jolt on which threatened to destroy my remaining vitality, we approached Cold Harbor and met numbers of wounded. Among these was General Elzey, with a dreadful wound in the head and face. His aide was taking him to the rear in an ambulance, and, recognizing Tom, stopped a moment to tell of the fight. Ewell’s division, to which Elzey and I belonged, had just been engaged with heavy loss. This was too much for any illness, and I managed somehow to struggle on to my horse and get into the action.<br>
It was a wild scene. Battle was raging furiously. Shot, shell, and ball exploded and whistled. Hundreds of wounded were being carried off, while the ground was strewn with dead. Dense thickets of small pines covered much of the field, further obscured by clouds of smoke. The first troops encountered were D. H. Hill’s, and, making way through these, I came upon Winder’s, moving across the front from right to left. Then succeeded Elzey’s of Ewell’s division, and, across the road leading to Gaines’s Mill, my own. Mangled and bleeding, as were all of Ewell’s, it was holding the ground it had won close to the enemy’s line, but unable to advance. The sun was setting as I joined, and at the moment cheers came up from our left, raised by Winder’s command, which had turned and was sweeping the Federal right, while Lawton’s Georgians, fresh and eager, attacked in our front. The enemy gave way, and, under cover of the night, retired over the Chickahominy. Firing continued for two hours, though darkness concealed everything.<br>
The loss in my command was distressing. Wheat, of whom I have written, was gone, and Seymour, and many others. I had a wretched feeling of guilt, especially about Seymour, who led the brigade and died in my place. Colonel Seymour was born in Georgia, but had long resided in New Orleans, where he edited the leading commercial paper—a man of culture, respected of all. In early life he had served in Indian and Mexican wars, and his high spirit brought him to this, though past middle age. Brave old Seymour! I can see him now, mounting the hill at Winchester, on foot, with sword and cap in hand, his thin gray locks streaming, turning to his sturdy Irishmen with “Steady, men! dress to the right!” Georgia has been fertile of worthies, but will produce none more deserving than Colonel Seymour.<br>
The following morning, while looking to the burial of the dead and care of the wounded, I had an opportunity of examining the field of battle. The campaign around Richmond is too well known to justify me in entering into details, and I shall confine myself to events within my own experience, only enlarging on such general features as are necessary to explain criticism.<br>
The Chickahominy, a sluggish stream and subject to floods, flows through a low, marshy bottom, draining the country between the Pamunky or York and James Rivers, into which last it discharges many miles below Richmond. The upper portion of its course from the crossing of the Central Railroad, six miles north of Richmond, to Long Bridge, some three times that distance to the southeast, is parallel with both the above-mentioned rivers. The bridges with which we were concerned at and after Cold Harbor were the Federal military bridges, Grapevine, York River Railroad, Bottom’s, and Long, the lowermost; after which the stream, affected by tide, spread over a marshy country.<br>
The upper or Grapevine Bridge was on the road leading due south from Cold Harbor, and, passing Savage’s Station on York River Railroad, united with the Williamsburg road, which ran east from Richmond to Bottom’s Bridge. A branch from this Williamsburg road continued on the south bank of the Chickahominy to Long Bridge, where it joined the Charles City, Darbytown, and Newmarket roads coming south-southeast from Richmond. Many other roads, with no names or confusing ones, crossed this region, which was densely wooded and intersected by sluggish streams, draining the marshes into both the Chickahominy and James. We came upon two of these country roads leading in quite different directions, but bearing the same name, Grapevine; and it will astound advocates of phonics to learn that the name of Darby (whence Darbytown) was thus pronounced, while it was spelt and written Enroughty. A German philologist might have discovered, unaided, the connection between the sound and the letters; but it would hardly have occurred to mortals of less erudition.<br>
At the beginning of operations in this Richmond campaign, Lee had seventy-five thousand men, McClellan one hundred thousand. Round numbers are here given, but they are taken from official sources. A high opinion has been expressed of the strategy of Lee, by which Jackson’s forces from the Valley were suddenly thrust between McDowell and McClellan’s right, and it deserves all praise; but the tactics on the field were vastly inferior to the strategy.<br>
Indeed, it may be confidently asserted that from Cold Harbor to Malvern Hill, inclusive, there was nothing but a series of blunders, one after another, and all huge. The Confederate commanders knew no more about the topography of the country than they did about Central Africa. Here was a limited district, the whole of it within a day’s march of the city of Richmond, capital of Virginia and the Confederacy, almost the first spot on the continent occupied by the British race, the Chickahominy itself classic by legends of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas; and yet we were profoundly ignorant of the country, were without maps, sketches, or proper guides, and nearly as helpless as if we had been suddenly transferred to the banks of the Lualaba.<br>
The day before the battle of Malvern Hill, President Davis could not find a guide with intelligence enough to show him the way from one of our columns to another; and this fact I have from him. People find a small cable in the middle of the ocean, a thousand fathoms below the surface. For two days we lost McClellan’s great army in a few miles of woodland, and never had any definite knowledge of its movements. Let it be remembered, too, that McClellan had opened the peninsular campaign weeks before, indicating this very region to be the necessary theatre of conflict; that the Confederate commander (up to the time of his wound at Fair Oaks), General Johnston, had been a topographical engineer in the United States army; while his successor, General Lee—another engineer—had been on duty at the war office in Richmond and in constant intercourse with President Davis, who was educated at West Point and served seven years; and then think of our ignorance in a military sense of the ground over which we were called to fight.