THE SEVEN DAYS BATTLES -THE RESERVES AT BEAVER DAM CREEK.
The “Seven Days Battles” began on the 26th day of June, 1862, at Mechanicsville, six miles north of Richmond, on the left bank of the Chickahominy river, and ended at Malvern Hill, on the left bank of the James river, southeast of Richmond, on the second of July, traversing a distance of twenty-five miles from start to finish.
Gen. D. H. Hill, of the rebel army, remarked of these battles, “We were lavish of blood in those days.” The descendants of the flower of General Washington’s army, who stood side by side near the Birmingham church on the banks of the Brandywine to meet the guards and grenadiers of the British army, were now to meet as foes. It was said of them that if the other troops had stood as did the Virginians and Pennsylvanians that day, there had been another ending. Perhaps, without thinking or knowing of their antecedents, both were eager for trial. Neither quailed when it did come or had cause to blush when it was over.
General A. P. Hill’s division which led the attack, was the strongest and best of the rebel army. It was known as “Hill’s Light Division.” There was another “Hill’s Light Division” in another “Peninsular War,” which had gained great glory in the British army in Spain, forty years before that—and one cannot help suspecting that this name was not altogether accidental.
General Ambrose P. Hill was born in Culpepper county, Virginia, and graduated at West Point in 1847, in the same class with General Burnside. He had served in the Mexican war, was an officer of the First United States artillery when the rebellion broke out, re-signed and became colonel of the 13th Virginia, and won his star at Williamsburg.
There were six brigades in his division; Field’s, all Virginians; Maxcy Gregg’s, all South Carolinians; Anderson’s, all Georgians, except one Louisianan battalion; O. B. Branch’s, all North Carolinians; Archer’s, one Alabama, one Georgia, three Tennessee; Fender’s, one Arkansas battalion, four North Carolina, one Virginia:—the elite of the southern troops, ten thousand strong. They were sent to attack the division of the Pennsylvania Reserves, eight thousand strong.
General A. P. Hill is described as a handsome, delicate looking officer, highly educated in his profession, and very fascinating in his manner. He had been given the picked troops of the southern army, and lie had made his division one of splendid array. He began this first attack on Pennsylvanians at Beaver Dam—and fell, in front of Pennsylvanians, of the Ninth corps, in the last stroke of the war, which failed as disastrously as did this one, on the afternoon of the second of April, 1865, at Petersburg.
The leading brigade of the Virginians was commanded by General Field, who was also in the army of the United States, and at the breaking out of the rebellion was instruct-or of cavalry at West Point. lie resigned from there to take his place in the ranks of the rebellion.
About ten o’clock in the forenoon General Branch’s brigade crossed at Half Sink, where the Grove turnpike crosses the Chickahominy, seven miles above the Meadow’s bridge, going slowly and cautiously toward Atlee station, had a skirmish at Crenshaw’s, our videttes and pickets retiring before them. The Seventh North Carolina and a section of artillery with a squadron of cavalry led the brigade. As these appeared Captain Jewett’s company opened on them, and, after the second volley, they appeared to be in contusion. In fact, Branch complained of being ambushed all the way. This was about three hundred yards beyond the station.
Just about this time Major Stone was informed that his three companies at the bridges had been with-drawn by Colonel Simmons. When the pickets were sent out that morning with the Fifth Reserves, they received directions that as soon as the enemy appeared they should retire, and two shots from their guns were to be the signal to the headquarters that the movement had commenced. Beside the Fin and six companies of the Bucktails, there had been four companies of the First Reserves sent to Mechanicsville on fatigue duty, and the right and centre sections of Cooper’s battery, under Lieutenants Danforth and Cadwalader, were placed behind a half finished earth work on the right of the village, and the left section, under Lieutenant Fullerton, in the rear of the village, near the church. About noon the Second Reserves, under Colonel McCandless, were sent to Mechanicsville, and General Reynolds lined them all up with the Fifth, McCandless being sent out on the Shady Grove church road. Colonel Childs, of the Fourth cavalry, sent two companies also to Mechanieville. The Bucktails and Captain Danna’s company of Eighth Illinois cavalry, had retarded the advance of Branch’s brigade. The skirmisher’s gathering back apprised General Reynolds of the approach of both Branch and Ewell’s columns, and at half past two, in the afternoon, he withdrew all behind the line of the creek. The two companies of the Fourth Pa. cavalry joined their regiment and were ranked behind the late headquarters of General McCall.
Maj. Stone sounded the recall. The head of Hill’s column appeared opposite Captain Wister’s company. Maj. Stone appeared to be surrounded by these heads of columns, for the head of Ewell’s column of Jackson’s division arrived at Crenshaw’s farm just as Branch crossed the railroad at Atlee’s station. Maj. Stone with some of the cavalry, Wister’s and Jewett’s companies, made a detour north by a road through the swamp, and brought them into the line at the ford at the creek on the Cold Harbor road in good time. He sent word to Captain Irvin to get out, but that company got involved in the heads of columns, took refuge in the swamp, starved for three days, stuck their flag and arms deep down in the swamp, came out and surrendered. Our skirmishers covered the meadows, fields and swamps as the enemy approached in force, exchanging shots with their skirmishers, retiring leisurely before them to the front of our lines. The tour companies of the First who had been sent out on fatigue duty retired along the other road by Ellerson’s Mill and rejoined the remainder of the First, then drawn up in support of DeHart’s battery.
Ewell moved off by the Shady Grove church road and joined Jackson at Hundley’s corner near the Pale Green church. (Correction. In the former article this was called Pole Green church.) (Also an error was made in calling the cavalry pickets from six miles on the Han-over road to the river Col. Farnsworth’s regiment the 4th Pa. cavalry. Col. Farnsworth’s regiment was the 8th Illinois cavalry. With the exception of the two companies sent over on the morning from Col. Child’s 4th Pa. cavalry, those companies withdrawing with the skirmisher’s, rejoining their regiment, the squadrons of the 4th cavalry were standing to horse drawn up in the rear of where Gen. McCall’s headquarters had been, for service, but were not needed during the day.) Branch meandered down toward the head of Meadows bridge, where he was informed by some stragglers that Hill had not waited for him but had marched for Mechanicsville, a mile or two away from there. Branch turned for that place, arriving at Mechanicsville at six o’clock in the afternoon, much wanted, and Ripley’s brigade of D. H. Hill’s division had been used, ninth to their detriment.
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.