Blue and Gray View of Seven Pines: The 6th Alabama on the Attack

According to Captain George Hooper of the 6th Alabama, the hardest fighting for his regiment at Seven Pines came near sunset on May 31, 1862. His regiment, part of General Daniel Harvey Hill's division, assaulted General Silas Casey's Federal division along the Williamsburg Stage Road early in the afternoon and after driving Casey's men back over a mile, ran into stiffening Federal resistance. The tides turned and it cost the 6th Alabama dearly.

    "Near night we were ordered to retreat, the enemy having pressed entirely around our right and in effecting this retreat the 6th Alabama lost most of her men," stated Captain Hooper in a letter published in the Columbus Daily Sun. "The men at first slow about it, not liking the name of the thing, and they fell in heaps. All of the captains were killed or wounded except three and most of the other officers were shot down which created great confusion as the men could not find their companies. Of my company, out of the 36 men I carried into the fight, I had only 12 together on the night of the 31st; three others came up the next morning. The loss of the regiment is 388 including some prisoners and 20 missing."

     During the Battle of Seven Pines, the 6th Alabama was attached to the General Robert Rodes’ brigade, D.H. Hill’s Division, of the Right Wing (Longstreet). Captain Hooper's account of the engagement first saw publication in the June 17, 1862, edition of the Columbus Daily Sun published in Columbus, Georgia. 

 

An original kepi belonging to the Raccoon Roughs, Co. I, of the 6th Alabama Infantry; this company was raised by then Captain John B. Gordon who would go on to become a corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. The original color of the cap was cadet gray, but as the vegetable and nut oils used to dye the cloth oxidized, they turned this brownish color often referred to by Federal soldiers as "butternut." 
Tennessee Virtual Archive

In camp near Richmond, Virginia

June 2, 1862

          Day before yesterday we met the enemy. Our regiment was deployed as skirmishers in front of the brigade, our front resting on the Williamsburg [Stage] Road. We marched through the woods for about one and a half mile, when we encountered the enemy formed in line of battle in front of a series of breastworks and batteries from which position they retired on our approach into the works and into a line of woods on their left, parallel with the line of works. [The 6th Alabama struck the Federal line held by the three New York regiments of Palmer’s brigade of Casey’s division, coming into direct contact with the 100th New York which held General Henry Naglee’s right.]

          On this last line our regiment advanced through a field still deployed as skirmishers, but partially protected by undergrowth and a few logs. My portion of the line advanced to within 75-100 yards of the enemy’s line of battle where we were received by a shower of bullets which mowed down the vegetation to a considerable extent. But our men lying down at the word of command were not hurt by the first volley. The firing was now kept up briskly for an hour, our men acting with the greatest coolness and making every shot tell.

The enemy outnumbered us some five to one and their fire was heavy and well-directed, killing and wounding a number of our gallant boys, but wounds did not in every instance stop our fire. Joe Duncan being shot through the arm, showed me his wound and asked what to do. I told him to go back to his post and continue firing which he did with as much coolness as if he was shooting beef. At this place J.M. Baker, Barker, and J.R. Simmons, were wounded and had to be taken off the field. Barker’s wound I fear is mortal; he has fired many shots and I think had killed more than “his man.”

At about 1 p.m., the enemy retreated and the 6th Alabama assembled its skirmishers and moved after them in line of battle on the right of the brigade. [The regiment moving from the brigade left to the brigade right] We drove them through the woods and through their camps, taking a stand of colors when they again made a stand in a swamp where, being protected, their sharpshooters subjected us to a very annoying fire, balls flying thickly and the men dropping around us.

Private Daniel P. Sturkie, Co. H, 6th Alabama
Killed at Seven Pines
Alabama Confederate Images Facebook Group

Just then, we looked around and saw our flag floating over the batteries and breastworks of the enemy and we were ordered forward on the scoundrels in the swamp who we drove before us. When we gained their position, we were halted to await reinforcements on our left for the enemy, outnumbering us, extended at least 200-300 feet beyond our right which subjected us to a murderous crossfire which raked our whole line. Here J.H. Harris, Charley Trawick, T.E. Sherman, William Dudley, A. Blassinggame, Berry Crow, Sergeant Slappy, and others of my company were wounded while gallantly doing their duty. I thank God they were not shot down until the enemy had felt the weight of many of their balls. [The closest Federal brigade was Berry’s consisting of the 37th New York, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Michigan regiments which advanced just south of the Old Williamsburg Road.]

Here a man from some other regiment joined my company formally and asked for orders. I pointed out the enemy and told him to fire. As he raised his gun up to fire, a ball struck him in the head, spattering some of his blood in my face. He asked me to take care of him, but I told him I could do nothing for him but I thought God would. As I said this, he fell over dead.

 

“Our regiment was ordered to fall back but we did not hear the command. So, we continued to fire at the Yankees until they came within 10 or 15 steps of us. All had stopped firing but a few men and myself when a ball struck my gun and dented it such that I could not get another ball down it. I asked J.M. Bell what I should do and he said that all the company who were not killed had retreated. I said we must surrender; he said he would try them another round and as he raised his gun to fire, two balls struck it and tore the stock to pieces. We then fell down and pretended to dead. The Yankees came all around us, walked on, and over us. We were in about six inches of water, hid our faces, and remained motionless about thee hours.” ~ Unknown soldier in Co. K, 6th Alabama Infantry

 

Near night we were ordered to retreat, the enemy having pressed entirely around our right and in effecting this retreat the 6th Alabama lost most of her men. The men at first slow about it, not liking the name of the thing, and they fell in heaps. All of the captains were killed or wounded except three and most of the other officers were shot down which created great confusion as the men could not find their companies. Among the officers killed were Lieutenant Colonel Willingham, Major LeSmith, and my friend Captain Flournoy. They acted a gallant part, exposing themselves continually and encouraging the men. Each was shot in the discharge of his duty.

Captain (later lieutenant colonel) Augustus Gordon numbered amongst the wounded of the 6th Alabama at Seven Pines. The brother of Colonel John B. Gordon, Augustus would be killed in action the following year at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Alabama Confederate Images Facebook Group


[“Brig. Gen Robert Rodes went down wounded in the desperate fighting around Seven Pines. Col. John B. Gordon of the 6th Alabama, a future major general, took over command of Rodes's brigade. Most of the officers in the 6th Alabama went down, although Gordon himself survived the battle without an injury despite his clothing and canteen being pierced by several bullets. Gordon also glimpsed his 19-year-old brother Augustus, a captain in the regiment, lying among a pile of dead and dying men with a chest wound, but with the battle raging, had no time to stop and tend to him (Augustus Gordon ultimately survived his injury only to be killed at Chancellorsville the following May). Rodes' brigade in total lost more than 50% of its strength.”]

I cannot avoid giving my First Sergeant Madden the praise that is due to him for the coolness and daring which he did his duty. I never saw or heard of a man who acted any better. But if I gave praise to each one to whom it is due in that bloody fight, it would lengthen my letter too much and I have not time now to do it. Of my company, out of the 36 men I carried into the fight, I had only 12 together on the night of the 31st; three others came up the next morning. The loss of the regiment is 388 including some prisoners and 20 missing.

 To learn more about the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, I recommend that readers check out Vic Vignola's new title Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks May 31- June 1, 1862 available now from Savas Beatie

Sources:

Letter from Captain George W. Hooper, Co. F, 6th Alabama Infantry, Columbus Daily Sun (Georgia), June 17, 1862, pg. 3

Letter from unknown soldier in Co. K, 6th Alabama Infantry, Columbus Daily Sun (Georgia), June 20, 1862, pg. 3

Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this letter and for your endorsement of my book. It is amazing how the ferocity of this battle has been avoided for so long. The struggles the men endured - from both sides - is a compelling one.
    One minor note correction - the 100th NY and the additional two regiments referred to in a caption belonged to BG Henry Naglee's Brigade. The 11th Maine & 104th PA were positioned to the right of the Williamsburg Road, the 100th NY took a position across the road - slightly south from the other two regiments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Vic- I've updated the post accordingly.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Charging Battery Robinett: An Alabama Soldier Recalls the Vicious Fighting at Corinth

A Fight for Corn: Eight Medals of Honor Awarded at Nolensville

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign