Thursday, July 07, 2011

Civil War travelogue: Malvern Hill

Thanks to terrific efforts by the Civil War Preservation Trust and National Park Service, Malvern Hill is easily the best preserved of the Seven Days battlefields near Richmond. On a humid Saturday morning, I stopped by for my second visit to the field and left impressed. The Park Service has put up several wayside markers since my first visit to Malvern Hill in the summer of 2009, making it one of the easier Civil War battlefields to interpret.

Confederate private Edwin Jemison was
killed at Malvern Hill. (Library of Congress)
On July 1, 1862, Robert E. Lee planned a bombardment of Union positions from two spots: about 900 yards down the slope from the Federals' left atop Malvern Hill and from a mile away on the Union right from the Poindexter Farm. Lee wanted to follow up the bombardment with an infantry assault, but better-positioned Union guns silenced his artillery first. Rebels were then cut to pieces by artillery when Lee went ahead with an ill-advised frontal assault.

"It is astonishing that every man did not fall," David Winn of the 4th Georgia wrote of the attack on Malvern Hill. "Bullet after bullet, too rapid in succession to be counted ... shell after shell, illuminating the atmosphere, burst over our heads, under our feet, and in our faces." (1)

No Rebel soldier made it to the top of Malvern Hill, which is more a long slope than a hill. Among the 5,300 Rebel casualties was Edwin F. Jemison, a 17-year-old private in the 2nd Louisiana who was killed. You may recognize his photo (right), which is often used in Civil War books and magazines. The circumstances of Jemison's death -- was he really decapitated by a cannonball? -- have sparked curiosity and at least one Facebook page. (This man colorized a photo of Jemison and posted it on YouTube. Interesting.)

(1) "To The Gates of Richmond," Stephen A. Sears, Pages 324-25.

Union sharpshooters harassed Rebel soldiers as they came up this slope.
Confederate cannon were postioned  here during the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.
Union cannon and infantry were positioned on the ridge in the far background.

National Park Service markers such as this one make Malvern Hill  easy to interpret.


  1. Anonymous6:19 AM

    I know the person who did this personally, as he is a very good friend of mine. He sent me a copy of the colorized version as well.Let him know what you think on his you tube site.

  2. Anonymous2:57 PM

    One of my ancestors from MA was killed at Malvern Hill. I wonder how I could find out if he is buried there?