Monday, October 6, 2008

Malvern Hill

From Malvern Hill

The battle field of Malvern Hill is a quiet, secluded place today, almost incongruous with the devastation wrought by concentrated Federal artillery upon hapless attempts by Lee’s infantry to dislodge Mclellan’s army from its final defensive position of the Seven Days battles. Malvern Hill is not very much a hill at all, but a slight rise hemmed in by woods and swampy creek bottoms feeding into the James River.

On this gently sloping plain, under a burning sun on July 1, 1862, sixteen guns commanded by Henry J. Hunt punished rebel infantry attacks and delivered a lesson on the awesome defensive power of Civil War artillery supported by solid ranks of infantry in the open. It was a lesson Lee would have done well to remember little more than one year later as he gazed across another expanse of open ground commanded by Federal artillery just south of the town of Gettysburg.

I followed the trail from the rebel lines toward the Federal right, and then along the Union line to the small exhibit shelter. The tiny silhouettes of several cannon marking the area of an abortive attempt by Lee’s gunners to concentrate their own artillery are visible in the distance from the line of cannon marking the Union position. There is no cover, nowhere to pause in relative safety to dress ranks, just as there was almost no chance the series of uncoordinated attacks launched across this ground would pierce the Federal defenses.

Visible along the trail just beyond the main Federal position are the vast open fields where Federal reserves watched and waited as the battle unfolded. These reserves might have been deployed for a decisive counterattack, but that remains one of the intriguing what-ifs of the Seven Days campaign.

The battlefield at Malvern Hill is easily understood from the exhibit shelter for those with no time to hike the battlefield trail. Indeed, most of the field is visible from here. A visit to the two main sites of the Seven Days Battles, Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill, makers for an easy afternoon excursion if your travels take you to the Richmond area.

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