Opening of the Great battle.
heavy engagement on the left of our lines.
Our city was startled, late yesterday evening, by reports of heavy ordnance, and by one consent it was universally announced that the Great Battle had at last opened, and that the greatest and most momentous conflict of the age was fully inaugurated. As far as we can ascertain, at a late hour of night it appears that our forces attacked the enemy with unparalleled fury at Mechanicsville, and the suddenness of the attack, the enemy were nonplussed and driven from three large re-depots in rapid succession, seizing the guns and turning them with terrific effect upon the foe.--This accomplished, our forces advanced and captured two lines of entrenchments and field, works, taking everything before them in gallant style. Co-operating
with the movement on the supreme right and rear of the enemy, our Generals ssed the Chickahominy at two points, viz! by the Mechanicsville bridge and Meadow bridge, attacking the enemy with great dash and ardor, having in their outposts, and ascending the opposes hills, seized the batteries erected thereon, and fully commanding the future movements of our forces in crossing the stream. In doing this, the rapidity of movement was such that the enemy was unprepared, and lost a monster battery, which our troops to the right and left of River Railroad. This achievement in of incalculable value, and is equivalent to the saving of five thousand lives. Gen. Branch, we understand, led the advance down the Meadow Bridge road with a brigade of North Carolinians, crossing, were instantly reinforced by troops of Gen. Hill's division. The nu field works and batteries opposed to their advance were assailed by our men in the coolest most nonchalant style imaginable, and while having the heavy masses of Federal infantry before were ably seconded by our heavy guns, which, with terrific noise, threw large shells thick and fast upon the enemy's chosen positions and camps, thus preventing our first forces from being overpowered by the swarming hordes of McClellan's hirelings. While these brilliant movements were progressing in the neighborhood of Meadow Bridge, our troops beyond the Mechanicsville Bridge formed a junction with them, thus forming a perfect cordon with others operating from the village of Mechanicsville itself. Our line being perfect, a general advance took place, but the brave Confederates had not progressed far ere they were encountered by the Federals in great force, and a terrific fight ensued; but onward pressed our infantry and artillery, until at 9 P. M. when the heavy cannonading ceased, it was generally known that the enemy had been driven fully three miles, having experienced great loss in every shape, but particularly in artillery. Purcell's battery, we are informed, immortalized itself, and was the first corps that crossed Mechanicsville bridge, and opened fire on the enemy. At Mechanicsville, the heaviest fighting is said to have taken place on Watts's farm, but resulted magnificently to us. All the heights beyond the Chickahominy are in our possession, thus ensuring the safe and speedy transportation of troops and munitions to the other side.
|A typical Louisiana Confederate.|
(Liljenquist Collection, Library of Congress)
From the late hour at which we write, it is impossible to obtain particulars of the sanguinary engagement of yesterday, but the facts stated are substantially correct, while much more was effected by the forces engaged than the most sanguine could have expected or predicted. The enemy were totally routed whenever they made a stand — batteries, entrenchments, field- works, camps, and farms, were captured with great rapidity, and our loss is much less than could have been imagined. In all likelihood, the engagement to-day will prove a general one at all points, and let us reverently hope that the God of Battles will smile propitiously upon our efforts, and crown our forces with a complete and glorious triumph over malignant and relentless enemies.
The more we learn of the fight near the old battle ground of Seven Pines, on Tuesday, the greater are we satisfied that it was one of the most brilliant affairs of the war, redounding greatly to our honor, and worthy of fitting memory and commendation.
From the best information, we learn that the 1st Louisiana and 3d Georgia had brought upon themselves the especial hatred of the Yankees, while on picket service near Barker's farm; for on one occasion last week these two regiments suddenly appeared before the affrighted enemy, (Sickles's Excelsior brigade,) and, without much ceremony, drove them from their picket posts, and chased them through adjacent camps, inflicting much loss. From deserters and others, it was ascertained that the officers of Sickles's brigade had offered $100 to any one bringing in any man of the two named regiments, whether dead or alive, and vowed eternal vengeance against them, determining to lay some snare to entrap them. At 8 A. M. Tuesday the pickets along the Williamsburg road, near the old battle ground, gave warning of the enemy's approach in force, and retired, as usual, to their supports.
Believing an attack was imminent, Gen. Wright ordered up the 48th North Carolina (Col. Rutledge's) regiment, which moved up the road and took position to the left of it, in an open field, with dense woods on their left flank. The right of the road was occupied by the 1st Louisiana, and to their right were the 22d and 4th Georgia. The North Carolinians were in an exposed position, but maintained their ground without flinching, losing not less than 100 killed and wounded. The position of the 1st Louisiana was equally disadvantageous. --Before them was a thick chaparral, in which the enemy were strongly posted. Behind this, also, several brigades were drawn up, their flanks extending beyond, so that they kept up a continual fire upon the Louisianians, inflicting sad loss. Being ordered to charge, the 1st advanced nobly, with the "Butler! and New Orleans!" and at the first dash drove the enemy forth with great havoc.--But emerging into the open field behind, they were astonished to discover not less than three brigades opposing them, viz: Thomas Francis Meagher's Irish brigade, Sickles's Excelsior brigade, and another one, the name of which we could not ascertain. Bravely holding their ground, the Louisianians maintained the unequal contest with great dash and boldness, the enemy quailing and retiring before their steady and deadly fire. To their right, however, things were progressing favorably, where the 4th and 22d Georgia were holly engaged with the enemy, who, after some two hours hard fighting, slowly and reluctantly retired. Comparisons are odious, but it is admitted that the conduct of the 48th N. C., 1st La., and 4th Ga., was beyond all praise. The first of these regiments was perfectly fresh from home, and had never been under fire before; yet there they stood, in open field, waiting for the cowards to advance, and although Col. Rutledge reports a loss of 100 killed and wounded, his brave fellows never gave an inch of ground, but kept up a murderous fire upon the foe, who suffered so much that, although five to one, they did not dare to leave the woods. The Louisianians went into action with 300, and lost 144 killed and wounded. These figures are more than enough to demonstrate their conduct in the fight — for every second man fell! The 4th Georgia, it is said, acted like very devils, and fought and charged three regiments three several times!--and, more than this routed them, losing not less than 50 in killed and wounded. The 22d Georgia lost some ninety odd in killed and wounded, and behaved splendidly.
Among the Yankee brigades engaged were Meagher's Irish Brigade, Sickles's "Excelsior Brigade," and another, unknown, some of their other regiments being the 15th and 19th Massachusetts, 2d New York, 20th Indiana, 9th New Jersey, &c., &c. Sickles's brigade had five regiments, Meagher's the same number. Our force engaged consisted of but four regiments. Being signally repulsed, the enemy withdrew under cover of their guns, but Capt. Huger's battery galloping forward engaged them in gallant style, driving them ignominiously from the field, with heavy loss. The enemy sent in a flag of truce yesterday to bury their dead, and admit a loss of 1,200 killed and wounded. Our casualties in killed, wounded and missing will not be more than one-third that loss. Among the casualties in the 1st Louisiana we may add the names of Lieut. Colonel Shivers wounded in the arm and rapidly recovering; Major Nelligan, Adjutant Cummings, and Sergeant Major Entzminger.
Towards evening on the same day, the 25th of North Carolina were sent out on picket on the conquered ground, when the enemy endeavored to flank and cut them off. Several Federal regiments advanced stealthily for this purpose, but the North Carolinians met them with heavy vollies, held them in check, when the gallant fellows of the 4th Georgia opportunely arrived upon the ground, and attacking the enemy in flank, routed them with great slaughter, following them up for more than a mile in the woods, mercilessly butchering the Yankees at every turn. The ground conquered by us on both occasions during the day was occupied by our troops, and, together with many trophies, they brought in sixty or seventy prisoners. The prisoners confess that a deep scheme had been planned by Sickles and Meagher for the destruction of the Louisianians and Georgians, but think the loss inflicted upon their forces was so severe, and the of our men so irresistible, that the Federals were only too happy in effecting their escape. The prisoners themselves were particularly joyed, and seemed to regard their capture as a great blessing.
We would conclude by mentioning the heroic conduct of Private James Henderson, Company A, First Louisiana. This brave fellow had undergone the severe fiery ordeal with his regiment in the morning, and when it was ordered to fall back he voluntarily moved to the front to assist the wounded, as there were neither surgeon nor stretcher bearers with his regiment. Henderson brought off Col. Shivers from the field on his back, returned and recovered the same officer's sword and other equipments, and whenever finding a wounded man sufficiently strong to be removed, he carried him from the field on his back, despite the repeated vollies which the cowardly enemy fired upon him.--More than this — when the enemy had posted their pickets, this fine soldier stole through the grass upon his hands and knees, and actually stole our wounded men from under the enemy's guns! We always delight to record the deeds of privates, but can any words of our add to the honor of such a brave fellow as Henderson? There are, doubtless, many who did as well, in some capacity or other, but we regret that none will advise us of their names and deeds.
In this connection we would add an incident regarding a faithful servant at the battle of Chickahominy. When Gen. Rhodes brigade had driven the enemy from their redoubts and had captured the guns, the General was wounded in the arm, but would not leave the field or make known his injury to the troops. Becoming weak, he espied an Arkansas negro, named Archie, manfully fighting behind his master, and ordered him to bring water from a distant well. Mounting a horse, Archie dashed off to the well under a shower of shot, and soon returned. The regiment to which he was attached (12th Mississippi) was soon afterwards ordered to occupy one of the captured redoubts, and to hold it at all hazards. Some of the companies being in want of ammunition, Archie again volunteered his services, and under a murderous fire went fully one mile to the rear and returned to the redoubt loaded down with haversacks filled with cartridges! This noble deed was witnessed by the whole brigade, and was applauded with hearty cheers. Such deeds speak for themselves, and require no comment.