Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Charge of the 10th Louisiana Infantry at the Battle of Malvern Hill, Va., July 1, 1862.

[The below story is excerpted from Confederate States Rangers of the 10th Liouisiana Infantry by Michael Dan Jones, 2014. The Battle of Malvern Hill, Va. was the final one of the Seven Days Battles, which halted and drove away Major  General George B. McClellan's Federal Army of the Potomac from the doorsteps of Richmond.]

When [Lt. Col. Eugene] Waggaman [of the 10th Louisiana Infantry] was notified by [Brig. Gen. Paul] Semmes to bring his regiment up, he ordered the men to “Fall in!” They advanced within 300 yards of the enemy, then halted in a dip in the ground. The lieutenant colonel then walked to the center of the soldiers and said, “Men, we are ordered to charge the cannon in our front and take them. The Tenth Regiment has been in reserve all week, and every other Louisiana regiment has been in action. All of them have distinguished themselves, and I trust that the Tenth will not be the first to falter. Not a shot must be fired until we get to the guns. Now, men, we are going to charge. Remember Butler and the women of New Orleans. Forward, charge!”  Waggaman was referring to the infamous and insulting declaration of the military governor of New Orleans, Benjamin “Beast” Butler that any woman acting disrespectfully to the Northern occupiers could be treated as a prostitute. 
      As Semmes noted [in his report], the 10th, with 318 men in the charge, was placed on the right of the brigade. First Sergeant Joseph C. LeBleu, regimental color bearer, was in front as the regiment with Waggaman leading them all, far in advance. They marched forward through a storm of bullets and bomb shells as the Louisianians entered a smoke shrouded nightmare of death and destruction. Semmes watched as Waggaman and the other men of the 10th  disappeared into that cloud of smoke.        
     Lieutenant [Lt. Edward A.] Seton remembered seeing the flagstaff held by Sergeant LeBleu  shot in two. Somehow LeBleu was not wounded. Others, however, were “biting the dust” with every step, especially in the last 50 yards. Then, almost miraculously, they breached the Federal line and captured 10 of those death dealing cannons. Suddenly, the famous 69th New York “Irishers” came up and Waggaman commanded the men from Louisiana to open fire. 

     The 69th fell back. Waggaman told the men to lie down and wait for reinforcements, which of course would never come. They were  then raked by a volley of musketry from right to left. Waggaman thought they were being fired on by their own men. He turned to Sergeant Major [Leon] Jastremski and said, “For God’s sake Sergeant Major, go to those men and tell them to cease firing; they are killing their own men.”  
     Jastremski approached the unknown soldiers, but discovered they weren’t Confederates, but the 12th U.S. regulars and the 69th New York firing at them. Rather than ceasing fire, they made Jastremski their prisoner. The 10th Louisiana was then overwhelmed in a bayonet charge by the 69th New York. Private Daniel Dean of Company H received a bayonet wound in the throat but survived. Next to Dean, cries of “Kill him!” and “Bayonet him!” were directed at Waggaman, who deflected the bayonet thrusts with his sword but was surrounded. He threw away his heirloom sword so the Yankees wouldn’t get it. Private Richard Kelly with the 69th New York was credited with capturing Waggaman. He received a battlefield commission for his feat. About 30 men in all were taken prisoners, but the other survivors of the charge made their way back to Confederate lines the best they could. 
Lt. Col. Eugene Waggaman
(Courtesy of Mrs. Babette Brodie)
      The gallant, but futile, charge of the 10th Louisiana at Malvern Hill has been compared to the “Charge of the Light Brigade” at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The men of the 10th were the only Confederates to penetrate the Federal line and temporarily capture 10 cannons. Federal artillery commander Colonel Henry J. Hunt said of the charge, “The last attack was very nearly successful [and] we won from the fact that we kept our reserves in hand for just such an attack . . . .”
      The 10th Louisiana lost 18 men killed, 36 wounded and 38 missing. In Company K, the Rangers’ losses were Corporal Nathan Howell killed; Corporal Guillaume Durio and Private Joseph Dulva Farque, wounded. Father [Louis-Hippolyte] Gache [regimental chaplain] wrote in a July 8 letter in Richmond his feelings at getting the news that Colonel Waggaman was missing. He said in his letter, “My dear friend Colonel Waggman is listed among the missing. Please God he has not been wounded; although he must surely have been, as he was at the head of his regiment when it made a charge against a battery of thirty-two cannons. I miss him very much; his loss is and will be irreparable. The night before the battle he took me aside and said, ‘Father, I’d like to make another confession so the two of us withdrew from the rest of the troops for a few moments and I obliged his request. The following morning before I finally settled down to get some sleep (we had marched during most of the night and weren’t able to snatch even a few winks until 3 a.m.), I noticed that the colonel spent a long time at his prayers. This much is for sure: if he has to face death in some Yankee prison, he’ll not be unprepared.”

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