Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document


The preparations for this battle commenced at daylight. The officers who had been placed on board the fleet the preceding day had remained throughout the night. Other officers were now sent to the vessels which it was expected would take part in the action. The stations on Malvern Hill and at Haxall’s remained as they had before been posted. Orders were sent to Lieutenant Fisher, acting signal officer (who, arriving from White Oak Swamp, reported for duty this morning), to establish stations on the right and left of our lines (which the whole army had formed in the night), near Malvern Hill, and as far in front as was practicable. The central station was to be near the station communicating with the Navy, which was also near the position occupied by General Porter on the crest of Malvern Hill. In obedience to this order Lieutenant Camp, acting signal officer, was posted on the house at General Heintzelman’s headquarters, communicating with Lieutenant McCreary, acting signal officer, stationed near General Porter; Lieutenants Gloskosky and Ellis, acting signal officers near the headquarters of General Couch, on the left, communicating with Lieutenant Wiggins, acting signal officer at the central station; Lieutenants Birney and Yates, acting signal officers on station to communicate with the [259] fleet. The station at Haxall’s was occupied by Lieutenant Kendall, acting signal officer. All these lines were working fairly before the enemy had made any attack in force. The naval forces held the same positions as on yesterday, and awaited the word of the general commanding on the field how and where to throw their fire. Signal officers were in the tops of each, by whom the signal messages were read as sent.

About noon the enemy advanced on our 1eft. Our batteries on land opened, and a signal order brought to their assistance the fire of the fleet, the shells of the great guns passing high over portions of our army and plunging into the woods through which the enemy were moving. The conflict at this point terminated, after a severe struggle, with the repulse of the enemy. One of the first messages sent from the signal station on the left was a call for more men. At that time our lines seemed hard pressed. A message from this station announced to General McClellan, upon his arrival on the field about 2 p. m., the repulse of the enemy, then just effected by General Couch’s division.

During this contest this signal station was found to be under so severe a fire that it was necessary to order it to be moved to where it could be better covered from view. It was then posted behind a fringe of trees, and there worked under fire throughout the day. In the lull of the engagement after the first attack, and when the firing recommenced in the afternoon, it was engaged with frequent messages relating to our own troops and to the enemy. Reports of various character and importance passed over this line until night, when with the final repulse of the opposing army the officers were put upon night stations where our lines of battle had been, and there remained working until the order came late at night to evacuate the position.

The forces on the right were not extensively engaged this day, and few communications passed over the line extending to General Heintzelman. The communication with the naval vessels through all of this day was complete. The fire of their guns was controlled by the general on the field as readily as was that of his own batteries.

The messages to open fire, to cease firing, to fire rapidly, to fire slowly, to fire to the right or left, to alter the elevation of the guns, the ranges, the length of fuses, &c., passed continuously. At one time the order went to fire only single guns, and to wait after each the signal report of the shot. About 6 p. m., while the last attack was raging, it was signaled, “Fire rapidly; this is the crisis of the day.”

The fire of the Navy covered the left of our army. It was turned upon our enemy, more than 2 miles distant from the ships in the woods and invisible from the vessel, with precision. It was not the fault of naval officers or men that one or two of the shells struck in our own ranks. The guns had been trained in obedience to signal messages closer and closer to our lines, until the variations usual in such long flights of the shell caused the accident.

It must be borne in mind that from early in the day until dark they threw an almost continuous fire, and sometimes by broadsides, along the flank of our army, and over a part of it up to its front. The attention of the general commanding the army was called to the names of some of the officers present in my report of July 18, 1862.

The battle of Malvern Hill closed after dark with a terrific cannonade and the absolute repulse of the enemy. The plain was held by our troops, and the foe, beaten everywhere, were flying. The signal officers were ordered to bivouac at their stations, to be ready to join the expected movement of the troops at daylight.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.258-259

web page Rickard, J (19 November 2006),

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