For the larger part of the Army of Northern Virginia, this was the Battle of Gaines Mill, north of the Chickahominy River, a costly but clear victory.
The 13th Regiment was south of the river with Magruder’s division (as at Seven Pines) and spent most of the day on picket duty at an earthwork battery on the Nine Mile Road.
It was a Friday, the skies clear and the weather pleasant. They could hear the major battle north of the river “all day with great fury,” Minutemen of Attala diarist Private Mike Hubbert reported.
They were greatly outnumbered by the Federals opposite them, but they seemed not to know it. The Yankee officers, wrote historian James McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom, “were transfixed by a repeat peformance of Prince John Magruder’s [Yorktown line] theatrics.
“Left by Lee in charge of 27,000 men [versus the Union’s 69,000] holding the line east of Richmond, Magruder had ordered his troops to bristle with aggressive intent. Artillery fired salvos; infantry lined up in attack formations and probed Union defenses.”
The 13th’s diarists give no hint they were aware that anything special was going on. About 4 p.m., Spartan Band Private Albert Wymer Henley recorded in his diary “in conjunction with several other” [regiments] the 13th was “ordered to advance towards the enemy and reconnoiter his position.
“The pickets on the immediate front fell back on our approach but heavy skirmishing between other regiments on our right and left followed their advance as soon as our presence was known. They opened fire on us with their batteries pouring a destructive shower of grape and cannister into our ranks.
“We lay under the fire until midnight when the firing ceased and, to prevent its renewal, we fell back… But few of us fired a single shot. While laying in front of the battery we could plainly hear the Yankee officers urging their men to advance upon us and cursing and calling them cowards because they would not.”
Hubbert added: “We did the enemy but little damage…”
But McPherson wrote that “Several Union generals took the bait and informed McClellan that the rebels were strong and threatening on their front.”
Indeed, concluded Hubbert: “The enemy is reported to be falling back tonight.”
Jess N. McLean recorded four dead and two wounded in the 13th for the day’s work. The dead were in the Lauderdale Zouaves and the Newton Rifles. The wounded were in the Newton Rifles, one of whom had a leg amputated.
The next day, Saturday, the fighting resumed north of the river, as Gen. Lee pushed the AoNV to try and destroy Gen. McClellan’s retreating Federals. They took many prisoners and some artillery pieces, but “captured but few stores for they have burned them as they went,” Hubbert recorded.
The 13th spent Saturday again on picket duty, until Gen. Magruder assigned them a particular spot in the division’s stationary line of battle. The Union, meanwhile, continued its retreat to the James River.
The overall loss for the two days fighting was heavy: about 9,000 casualties for the Confederates, who had inflicted about 7,000 on the Yankees.