From the Richmond Dispatch, 12/3/1877, p. 1, c. 4



Information was received in this city on Saturday of the destruction by fire of the Crew house, of war notoriety, situated on Malvern Hill, about fourteen miles from this city. The building was a frame structure, was erected before the war by Dr. J. H. Mettert, was owned by Mr. P. J. Crew of this city, and occupied at the time of the fire by Mr. Pollard, who was managing the farm for Mr. Crew. The dwelling was valued at about $2,500, and was insured for $1,000 in the Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company.

Every soldier who took part in the memorable scenes of the seven-days’ fights around Richmond, and who fought in the sanguinary battle of Malvern Hill, will remember the Crew house and the important position it occupied. The building stood on the hill upon which McClellan’s line was formed, the line being of crescent shape, and the dwelling occupying a point near its left centre of the enemy’s line. What an interesting story we might present to-day if the war-experiences of that well-remembered structure could be laid before our readers! But the facts would require too much space for a newspaper article. A brief reference to that memorable struggle, and the relation which the Crew house bore to it, must serve the purposes of this notice.

From General Lee’s official reports of the operations around Richmond many interesting facts may be gathered concerning the position of the two armies and the battle of Malvern Hill, during which the Crew house suffered but little. Early on the 1st of July Jackson reached the battle-field of the previous day, having succeeded in crossing White-Oak swamp, where he captured a part of the enemy’s artillery and a number of prisoners. He was directed to continue the pursuit down the Willis-Church road, and soon found the enemy occupying a high range extending obliquely across the road in front of Malvern Hill. It was upon this eminence that the Crew house stood. On this position of great natural strength he had concentrated his powerful artillery, supported by masses of infantry partially protected by earthworks. His left rested near Crew’s house and his right near Binford’s Immediately in his front the ground was open, varying in width from a quarter to half a mile, and sloping gradually from the crest was completely swept by the fire of his infantry and artillery. To reach this open ground our troops had to advance through a broken and thickly wooded country, traversed nearly through its whole extent by a swamp passable at but few places, and difficult at those. The whole was within range of the batteries on the heights, and the gunboats in the river, under whose incessant fire the movements of the Confederate troops had to be executed. Jackson formed his line with Whiting’s division on his left and D. H. Hill’s on his right, one of Ewell’s brigades occupying the interval. The rest of Ewell’s, and Jackson’s own division, were held in reserve. Magruder was directed to take position on Jackson’s right, but before his arrival two of Huger’s brigades came up and were placed next to Hill. Magruder subsequently formed on the right of these brigades, which, with a third of Huger’s, were placed under his command. Longstreet and A. P. Hill were held in reserve, and took no part in the engagement. Owing to ignorance of the country, the dense forests impeding necessary communications, and the extreme difficulty of the ground, the whole line was not formed until a late hour in the afternoon. The obstacles presented by the woods and swamp made it impracticable to bring up a sufficient amount of artillery to oppose successfully the extraordinary force of that arm employed by the enemy, while the field itself afforded us few positions favorable for its use, and none for its proper concentration. Orders were issued for a general advance at a given signal, but the causes referred to prevented a proper concert of action among the troops. D. H. Hill pressed forward across the open field and engaged the enemy gallantly, breaking and driving back his first line, but a simultaneous advance of the other troops not taking place, he found himself unable to maintain the ground he had gained against the overwhelming numbers and numerous batteries of the enemy. Jackson sent to his support his own division and that part of Ewell’s which was in reserve, but owing to the increasing darkness and intricacy of the forest and swamp they did not arrive in time to render the desired assistance. Hill was, therefore, compelled to abandon part of the ground he had gained, after suffering severe loss and inflicting heavy damage upon the enemy. On the right the attack was gallantly made by Huger’s and Magruder’s commands. Two brigades of the former commenced the action, the other two were subsequently sent to the support of Magruder and Hill. Several determined efforts were made to storm the hill at Crew’s house. The brigades advanced bravely across the open field, raked by the fire of a hundred cannon and the musketry of large bodies of infantry. Some were broken and gave way, others approached close to the guns, driving back the infantry, compelling the advanced batteries to retire to escape capture, and mingling their dead with those of the enemy. For want of concert among the attacking columns their assaults were too weak to break the Federal lines, and, after struggling gallantly, sustaining and inflicting great loss, they were compelled successively to retire.

Night was approaching when the attack began, and it soon became difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The firing continued until after 9 P. M., but no decided result was gained. Part of the troops were withdrawn to their original positions, others remained on the open field, and some rested within a hundred yards of the batteries that had been so bravely but vainly assailed. The general conduct of the troops was excellent; in some instances heroic. The lateness of the hour at which the attack necessarily began gave the enemy the full advantage of his superior position, and augmented the natural difficulties of our own. 

An incident of the Malvern-Hill fight remains to be told. Before the enemy left their position near the Crew house, and after one or two unsuccessful efforts had begun to take the position, General Magruder went to General Lee and said to him, with excitement and enthusiasm: “I have come, General, to ask permission to charge those heights at daybreak to-morrow. If you give me permission, I’ll carry them at the point of the bayonet at daylight in the morning.”

The old General listened, as was his wont, with grave and respectful attention to all that General Magruder had said, and, looking up with a smile, said to him: “I have but one objection, General.” “What is it?” asked Magruder, with the air of a man who felt sure he overcome all obstacles and objections in accomplishing an end so heartily desired. “I am afraid,” said General Lee, “you’ll hurt my little friend Kidder Meade. The enemy left about an hour ago, and Mr. Mead is there reconnoitering.” General Magruder’s friends standing around had, as may be imagined, a hearty laugh at his expense. 

One day last week Fussell’s mill, owned by William M. Warrenier, and situated about eight miles below the city, was also burned. Loss, $3,000; no insurance. Fussell’s mill, it will be remembered, was just inside our lines during the campaign before Richmond, and was used at that time as a hospital.


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