Graphic scenes around Malvern Hill



Date Written

Aug. 7, 1862

History Referenced

Emmet Irwin was 20 years old when this was written.
The recipient, James G. Irwin, was 22 when it was received.

Emmet Irwin died 3 years, 2 months, 25 days after writing this.
It was written 161 years, 1 month, 26 days ago.
It was a Thursday.

Camp Near Harrison’s Landing
Thursday, August 7, 1862

Dear Brother,

I do not know as I have much to write that would be interesting to you. From what Sarah said in her letter I suppose you are home helping Oscar. I thought I would be there before this time myself last spring when I left home, but I hardly think it can last as much longer from the measures that the Gov. is taking at present, something that should have been done a year ago.

The Division has just returned this morning from a reconnaissance to Malvern Hills where we went Monday night, whether we accomplished our object or not, I do not know, but I know we failed in what is reported we went for. The move I think was for a kind of a twofold object, in one successful, the other unsuccessful. We started Monday night at 6 p.m. and marched in a round about way so as to come on Malvern Hills from the direction of Richmond in order to surprise the Rebel force encamped there (their strength as far as near as I can find out being 1,500 cavalry, 2 Regt’s infantry and the Washington artillery, 3 pieces), but they had been informed of our move and probable strength by some of the citizens that we had passed during the night and consequently were on alert for us.

We captured 2 pieces of artillery, a few prisoners and their camp so in this we were unsuccessful but we staid on the ground until this morning about two o’clock when we learned that there was a force of about 60,000 to attack us this morning so our Generals thought best to skedaddle as we had not sufficient force to meet that number with any show of success. In this we were successful as we found the enemy and in force.

It is a horrible sight to walk over the ground so hotly contested for the dead are buried promiscuously over the field or rather covered up. Numerous were the graves where I could see 4 and 5 skulls in one hole also feet, legs, arms and hands sticking out. Their dead is also buried promiscuously but their graves are rounded up and mostly marked while ours is just level with the ground. From what I have seen I come to the conclusion that they buried our men more to prevent the stench than from humanity’s sake although I may be mistaken as a person’s body would soon smell so that it is almost impossible to handle them and therefore would have to be covered up wherever they fell.

I suppose Samuel Clason is now home, I begin to think he is forgetting his old schoolmates as I have wrote several times to him and received no answers. Tell him I should like to hear from him, also tell him how to direct. By the last letter I got from Lucy, I see William is coming back to Warwick. I should like to ask where Reeves Corner is. I suppose Phillip is still at the Eckerton hospital in Washington as I have not heard of his leaving. I am going to write down a part of my diary for the last year and send home as I suppose it would please all to see it although a poorly kept affair.

Give my respects to all and tell Mother I should like to hear from her as the last I heard was that she had sprained her ankle.

From your brother,

To Mr. James G. Irwin
New Milford
Orange Co., N.Y.

Scans of Letter