“A severe battle took place this evening on our right near the Seven Pines. It commenced 1 p.m. and ended at dark. There was a large force engaged on both sides. Our Regt. was held in reserve until near night when we were ordered into battle but the fight closed just as we got there. We slept on the battlefield.”
This was Minutemen of Attala Private Mike Hubbert’s diary entry of May 31, 1862, a cloudy and warm Saturday. The 13th was part of Griffith’s Brigade under Magruder.
Winston Guards Private Thomas David Wallace has perhaps the best description of what it was like from their position along the York River railroad line:
“Still cloudy but had quit raining. About 12 o’clock the cannon commenced firing and not long before the muskets commenced rattling. Now and then we could hear them roar and yell and make a charge, and then the rattle of the muskets, the roar of the cannon, ceased. It lasted until dark with increased vigor.
“The last guns and Yankees fell back but our side had nothing to brag of, I don’t think, as far as I know. I was in about 2 miles of the fight. All evening. Just about dark we were ordered down to the battlefield but they had nearly quit fighting.
“It did not last more than five minutes after we got on the field….All that were not hurt sank back into the woods where the[y] composed in the deepest of slumber. The pickets stand with a watchful but sleepy eye, the dead sleep without fear, the wounded with their groans all and ever way to Richmond.”
Historian James M. McPherson, in his 1988 standard reference Battle Cry of Freedom, described Seven Pines as a confused battle in which Rebel brigades were committed one at a time and therefore accomplished little more than taking enormous casualties.
“Most of the 42,000 men engaged on each side,” McPherson wrote, “fought in small clusters amid thick woods and flooded clearings where wounded soldiers had to be propped against fences or stumps to prevent them from drowning in the muck”
In the morning, Sunday, the fight was renewed for a few hours. Again, the 13th Regiment was held in reserve. Wallace again:
“…the Yankee battery opened on our men but soon our men lit in at them and drove them whirling back. About 1 o’clock the fighting ceased.”
On Monday and Tuesday, Federal artillery threw shells at Griffith’s Brigade. Two men from the 17th Mississippi Regiment were killed, but none were hurt in the 13th. It rained heavily both nights.
On Wednesday morning, June 4, it was still raining when Griffith’s Brigade moved into a woods “to prevent the enemy from shelling us,” Quartermaster clerk William H. Hill recorded. “They have been watching us from balloons for the last two weeks.”
On Thursday, the men of the 13th Regiment were thrown out as pickets to support a company of the Washington Artillery in what turned out to be a 2-day artillery duel with the Yankees. About twenty pieces were involved.
“The shells fell fast and thick around our regiment but there was no casualties,” Hill recorded.
On Saturday, June 7, Griffith’s Brigade was relieved by Cobb’s Brigade “much to the satisfaction of all of us,” wrote Spartan Band diarist Albert Wymer Henley.
Three men of the regiment had been wounded, two of them losing limbs to amputation. But the butcher’s bill for all of Seven Pines, named for a crossroads village seven miles east of Richmond, was much worse: 6,134 Confederates dead or wounded versus 5,031 Federals.
The worst thing to happen (or the best, depending on your view) was the serious wounding of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Gen. Robert E. Lee took command of what henceforth would be known as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.