Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman.

July 1, 2012

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L Castleman.

July 1st.—The march of last night was full of terrible anxiety and danger. We marched through an enemy’s country, pressed by them on all sides, and momentarily expected when passing through some dense pine forest, to be attacked from ambush and cut to pieces, without the chance of a chivalrous fight. This would be murder of the worst kind, and we feared it.

We reached the James River this morning, at Carters’ Neck, just below Malvern Hills, where the army expected to cross at once, and be again on ground of rest and safety. We were allowed three hours to cook, eat and sleep, and again we moved. But instead of crossing, we found ourselves marching directly away from the river, and the roar of artillery ahead told us of more work yet to be done. Our men, who had now for five days been limited to an average of two hours’ rest a day, pressed forward with an alacrity truly astonishing. After a march of about two miles, we halted on the slope of a hill which concealed us from an immense open plain stretching out in our front to Malvern Hills. Here was progressing a battle which will be famed in history, so long as battles are fought on earth. I doubt whether one so bloody, in proportion to numbers, or so obstinately contested, has been fought since the invention of gunpowder. Here Hooker, and Kearney, and Heintzleman, and, I hope, Porter, (though I have heard hints of his misbehaving) and Stevens, with others, have gained imperishable renown. Our Division was drawn up in line on the slope of the hill referred to, just so as to be concealed by its brow from the plain in front, yet so near as to perceive the advance of an enemy approaching over it, and here we lay all day in reserve, expecting our main body to be driven back on us, as their supports, and the eagerness with which our jaded and worn out troops now watched with a welcome for the foe from which we had been so long flying, is to me as astonishing as it is unaccountable. Here we felt secure, and here we have remained all day, chafing for a part in the deadly conflict going on so near us,

6 P. M.—The battle of Malvern Hill still rages, and what carnage. Hand to hand the fight goes on. The dead and the dying lie heaped together. Charge after charge is made on our artillery, with a demoniac will to take it, if it costs them half their army. Down it mows their charging ranks, till they lie in heaps and rows, from behind which our men fight as securely as if in rifle pits. Nearer and nearer approach their batteries, till the two lines of artillery are mingled into one, but pointing in different directions. In places the wheels of gun carriages of the opposing armies become nearly locked together, and the cannoniers leave their guns and sabre each other in a hand to hand fight. The slaughter is terrible, and to add to the carnage, our gun boats are throwing their murderous missiles with furious effect into the ranks of our enemy. By their shots huge trees are uprooted or torn into shreds, which whip the combatants to death. The combatants seem infatuated with excitement, and the very terror of the scene lashes them into a love of the conflict.

As twilight approaches, the noisy eloquence of battle becomes subdued; at 8 o’clock ’tis hushed, and the enemy is driven and routed. We are too much exhausted to pursue; and, relying on the assurance of our leaders that we are here secure, we at 9 o’clock stretch ourselves at length to take the full enjoyment of a long night’s rest, which our condition so pressingly demands.

Previous post:

Next post: