Tag Archives: Fitz John Porter

McClellan Bids Farewell

November 8, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan formally turned the Army of the Potomac over to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside and bid his troops a sad farewell.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

McClellan, who was boastful and confident, gave way to Burnside, who was modest and timid. Burnside had also professed no desire for army command. But his performance at First Bull Run and on the North Carolina coast had made a good impression on President Abraham Lincoln. Of the other corps commanders in the Army of the Potomac, Burnside had the fewest liabilities or political aspirations; the others were either too old, too reluctant to fight, too politically vocal, or too difficult to control.

Burnside, uncertain about his new role, begged McClellan to stay on and help transition the command. McClellan agreed. On the morning of the 8th, the army was officially notified that McClellan had been removed. Troops expressed shock, disbelief, horror, and rage upon learning that their beloved “Little Mac” no longer led them. McClellan had turned this disorganized, demoralized force into one of the strongest armies on earth, and he had been as popular among his men as he was unpopular among his superiors.

A captain in the 22nd Massachusetts stated that “you wouldn’t give much for the patriotism of the Army of the Potomac, and as for being in good spirits and ready to advance, as the papers say, it is all bosh!” A soldier in the 18th Massachusetts wrote that McClellan’s removal was “the severest blow ever dealt the Army of the Potomac.” Another soldier wrote:

“You don’t know what a commotion the change in the army has made. Officers threaten to resign, and men refuse to fight. In Heaven’s name, why make the transfer now, when all plans are made, and McClellan is our leader, the idol of the army? Why give the enemy the victory?”

Command transferred from “Little Mac” to “Old Burn” on November 9. At 8 a.m. the next morning, both men emerged from McClellan’s headquarters tent and rode to the train station. Federal troops lined the route, cheering and waving their hats for their departing commander. Some “cried like babies,” and others threatened to march on Washington. Color-bearers threw down their flags in his path. An officer described the men as “thunderstruck. There is but one opinion among the troops, and that is that the government has gone mad.” McClellan respectfully removed his hat for the men.

That same day, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, learned of his opponent’s dismissal. This explained why the Federals had stopped their advance. Some Confederates thought McClellan’s removal would demoralize the Federals, while others thought the new commander would be even more reluctant to fight. Lee offered a different opinion, telling Lieutenant General James Longstreet, “We always understood each other so well. I fear they may continue to make these changes till they find someone whom I don’t understand.”

McClellan met with some senior officers at General Fitz John Porter’s headquarters that evening to say farewell. When the officers condemned Republican politicians and the press for demanding McClellan’s removal, McClellan said, “Gentlemen please remember that we are here to serve the interest of no one man. We are here to serve our country.” McClellan wrote an emotional farewell address to his army:

“In parting from you I cannot express the love and gratitude I bear to you. As an army you have grown up under my care. In you I have never found doubt or coldness. The battles you have fought under my command will proudly live in our nation’s history. The glory you have achieved, our mutual perils and fatigues, the graves of our comrades fallen in battle and by disease, the broken forms of those whom wounds and sickness have disabled–the strongest associations which can exist among men–unite us still by an indissoluble tie. We shall ever be comrades in supporting the Constitution of our country and the nationality of its people.”

On the 11th, McClellan boarded a train that took him to Warrenton Junction. Grieving soldiers surrounded the train, uncoupled the car, and begged their former commander to stay. McClellan calmed the men and his disheartened honor guard by stepping out onto the train car’s rear platform and announcing, “Stand by General Burnside as you have stood by me, and all will be well. Good-by lads.”

Colonel Edward Cross of the 5th New Hampshire said, “A shade of sadness crossed his (McClellan’s) face. He carried the hearts of the army with him.” The troops finally composed themselves, recoupled the car, and allowed McClellan to leave the Army of the Potomac for the last time.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 170; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 234; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 756-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 164-66, 167

The Battle of Second Bull Run: Jackson

August 29, 1862 – Federals under Major General John Pope continued the fight with Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson from the previous day, unaware that General Robert E. Lee had united Jackson with Major General James Longstreet’s Confederates near the old Bull Run battlefield.

After yesterday’s fight at Groveton, Jackson reformed his line so that it extended along the unfinished Manassas Gap Railroad line from behind Groveton on the left (east) to the Bull Run battlefield from last year on the right (west). Pope planned to envelop Jackson between his Federals and Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps, but McDowell got lost on the way to the battlefield. Enraged by this blunder, Pope reassigned each of McDowell’s divisions to different commanders, leaving McDowell without his corps.

Federal artillery opened on Jackson’s right around 10 a.m. Longstreet’s 30,000 Confederates advanced toward the sound of the guns and began arriving on Jackson’s right a half hour later. Pope thought he had Jackson cornered, and after vowing to “bag the whole crowd,” he ordered an attack.

Pope had about 62,000 troops against less than 23,000 Confederates (Longstreet was not yet ready to join the fight), but many of the Federals were exhausted from constant marching in the summer heat. Also, Pope deployed them in sporadic, disjointed attacks that proved ineffective against Jackson’s strong defenses.

The Confederates repeatedly knocked back assaults from Major General Franz Sigel’s divisions under Generals Adolph von Steinwehr, Carl Schurz, and Robert H. Milroy. They then repelled Federal attacks by Generals Joseph Hooker, Philip Kearny, and John Reynolds.

Battle of Second Bull Run-Aug 29 | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals in Longstreet’s front withdrew before Longstreet could attack, so he spent the day forming a strong supporting line. He declined Lee’s request to attack because there was an unknown number of enemy troops in the woods to his front. Meanwhile, Pope ignored indications that Longstreet had arrived and directed his Federals to focus their efforts on the Confederate left.

In the afternoon, parts of the Federal III and IX corps attacked Jackson’s men behind the railroad embankment at Sudley Springs. The Federals finally broke General A.P. Hill’s line along Stony Ridge, but Confederate reserves under General Jubal A. Early quickly moved up to fill the gap. The battle raged back and forth until the Federals retired around 9 p.m. Jackson expressed confidence that he had “the blessing and protection of Providence.”

Elsewhere, Pope ordered General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps to attack Jackson’s right. Porter informed Pope that Longstreet was assembling a force three times his size in that sector. Pope did not believe him, and at 4:30 p.m., he again ordered Porter to “press forward into action at once on the enemy’s flank, and, if possible, on his rear.” Porter again refused, remaining on the Warrenton Turnpike. Porter’s refusal may have averted a Federal disaster.

Pope fell back at nightfall, ignoring reports of Longstreet’s arrival. The Confederates also fell back to compact their lines in preparation for a renewed attack the next morning. Interpreting this as a retreat, Pope informed Washington he had won a great victory and promised to relentlessly pursue the enemy tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered Major General George B. McClellan to hurry his Army of the Potomac to Alexandria and reinforce Pope, but McClellan continued his slow troop transfer off the Virginia Peninsula.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 83-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 218; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17204, 17214; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 207; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 635; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 198-200; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 53-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 257; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 528-31; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 454-57; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-73, 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-45, 147; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 147; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 92-93

The Army of Virginia: Pope’s Suppression

July 14, 1862 – Major General John Pope issued a pretentious address to his new Federal Army of Virginia before embarking on a new campaign.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Abraham Lincoln put faith in Pope, a western commander and fellow Illinoisan, to succeed in Virginia where Major General George B. McClellan had failed. Upon arriving in the East, Pope began criticizing McClellan, asserting (correctly) that the Confederate army was not half the size that McClellan feared. Pope also denounced McClellan’s retreat to the James River because it allowed the Confederates to move directly between their armies.

Pope’s new army consisted of all the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Virginia. It did not include McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Pope’s 56,000-man force was to advance on Richmond from the northwest while McClellan pressed the city from the east.

Now that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley, Pope left a brigade at Winchester and occupied Culpeper Court House on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on July 12. Two days later, Pope issued a proclamation “To the Officers and Soldiers of the Army of Virginia.” Promising them the “opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving,” Pope announced:

“Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense… I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily…

“I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of ‘taking strong positions and holding them,’ of ‘lines of retreat,’ and of ‘bases of supplies.’ Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.”

Pope, who had recently outraged southerners by threatening to wage war on civilians, now outraged his own troops by inferring that they were inferior to westerners. Many of these men had served with distinction in Virginia despite suffering some setbacks, and they respected the army leaders that Pope indirectly insulted.

General Fitz John Porter stated that Pope had “written himself down, what the military world has long known, (as) an Ass.” Other officers referred to Pope as a “blow hard,” and a “weak and silly man.” This address, which became known among the troops as “Pope’s Bull,” immediately deflated army morale and set the tone for Pope’s upcoming campaign.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78-80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 181; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 239-40; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 524; Wikipedia: John Pope (military officer)

The Seven Days Battles: Malvern Hill

July 1, 1862 – The last of a week-long series of battles on the Virginia Peninsula took place at Malvern Hill.

Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, continued his retreat toward Harrison’s Landing on the James River after yesterday’s engagement. McClellan believed his men were in dire need of rest after six days of fighting; he wrote Major General John A. Dix, commanding Federals at nearby Fort Monroe, “I pray that the enemy may not be in condition to disturb us today.” McClellan also wrote his superiors at Washington, “My men are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are to-day attacked by fresh troops.”

Despite McClellan’s prayers, Confederate General Robert E. Lee resolved to try destroying the Federals one last time before they reached the safety of the James. To do this, Lee targeted the Federals on Malvern Hill. General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps took up strong defensive positions on this 150-foot-high slope, flanked by swamps and other natural obstructions. Federals also established defenses at Ellerson’s Mill and Boatswain’s Swamp.

McClellan placed most of his men on the right flank to protect the line of retreat to Harrison’s Landing. He then returned to the U.S.S. Galena on the James, leaving Porter in command. Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt massed 250 cannon on the slopes of Malvern Hill, supported by Federal gunboats on the river. Some 17,800 infantry guarded the Quaker road, the main approach to the hill.

Lee, frustrated by the failures of the past six days to fully engage the enemy, was determined to take Malvern Hill. He said to a staff officer, that if “those people” (i.e., the Federals) escaped from the Peninsula, it would be “because I cannot have my orders carried out!”

But Lee could not use the divisions of Major Generals James Longstreet or A.P. Hill because they had taken such heavy losses the previous day. Thus, Lee would deploy the divisions of Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, John B. Magruder, Benjamin Huger, and Theophilus H. Holmes. Some commanders expressed reluctance to attack such a strong enemy position, but Longstreet argued that the Federals were so demoralized that breaking them should be easy.

One of Lee’s staff officers wrote the formal orders for the attack, which Lee did not read for himself. They simply stated that the battle would begin with an artillery barrage. Then, after the Federal lines had been softened, the brigade under Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, “who can witness the effect of the fire, has been ordered to charge with a yell. Do the same.” A plan to begin a 15-brigade infantry attack with a single brigade was unusual.

Longstreet and Jackson found an excellent position to mass their artillery, but the batteries were assigned to brigades and too spread out to concentrate. Both sides began trading cannon fire around 1:30 p.m., but the Federal guns were much more accurate and concentrated, while the Confederates futilely scrambled to match them. Within an hour, Federals had silenced every Confederate battery in a clear demonstration of artillery superiority.

Battle of Malvern Hill | Image Credit: elgrancapitan.org

Battle of Malvern Hill | Image Credit: elgrancapitan.org

Armistead, taking casualties from Colonel Hiram Berdan’s top sharpshooters, ordered his men forward at 4 p.m.; they were joined by General A.R. Wright’s brigade. But the Confederates were quickly isolated at the foot of Malvern Hill and had no choice but to await support.

Magruder took a wrong road and was late in getting to the battlefield. By the time he arrived, Lee had received an erroneous report that the initial attack was a “success.” Having planned a flanking movement around the hill, Lee now directed Magruder to “advance rapidly” and join Armistead and Wright in attacking the position frontally.

Magruder’s men joined the other two brigades and began advancing up Malvern Hill around 5:30 p.m. However, Federal grapeshot and canister tore the men to pieces. Naval Commander John Rodgers directed fire from the Federal gunboats U.S.S. Aroostook, Galena, and Jacob Bell that also wreaked havoc on the attackers. A correspondent from the National Intelligencer wrote:

“About 5 o’clock in the afternoon the gunboats Galena, Aroostook, and Jacob Bell open from Turkey Island Bend, in the James River, with shot and shell from their immense guns. The previous roar of field artillery seemed as faint as the rattle of musketry in comparison with these monsters of ordnance that literally shook the water and strained the air… The fire went on… making music to the ears of our tired men… (Confederate) ranks seemed slow to close up when the naval thunder had torn them apart.”

Men from a South Carolina regiment used their dead comrades as breastworks against the heavy Federal fire. Magruder’s refusal to commit all his brigades at once also weakened the assault. Jackson ordered D.H. Hill to join the advance, but the new Confederate line was repulsed as well. Jackson then directed the rest of his men to advance, but by that time D.H. Hill’s Confederates were retreating.

A final charge by two brigades under General Lafayette McLaws reached the Federal defenses, but without support they could not hold that position. The fight ended by around 8:30 p.m., with the Confederates unable to dislodge the Federals from Malvern Hill or cut them off from the James. They retreated in what was Lee’s greatest military blunder. Incorrect placement of Magruder and Hill’s men contributed to the defeat, as did Holmes’s refusal to take part.

Lee asked Magruder why he attacked, and Magruder replied, “In obedience to your orders, twice repeated.” Hill later said of this battle, “It was not war, it was murder.” The Confederates sustained 5,650 casualties (869 killed, 4,241 wounded, and 540 missing). The Federals lost 3,214 (397 killed, 2,092 wounded, and 725 missing). Federal artillery inflicted over half the Confederate casualties, more than any other battle in the war.

The heavy losses at Malvern Hill proved unnecessary, as McClellan continued withdrawing to Harrison’s Landing despite scoring a major victory. Many of McClellan’s subordinates, emboldened by this success and in better position to judge the morale of their men, protested the withdrawal. Porter wanted to continue making a stand at Malvern Hill, and Brigadier General Philip Kearny boldly declared:

“I, Philip Kearny, an old soldier, enter my solemn protest against this order for retreat. We ought instead of retreating to follow up the enemy and take Richmond. And in full view of the responsibility of such a declaration, I say to you all, such an order can only be prompted by cowardice or treason.”

McClellan continued asserting that he lacked the manpower to take Richmond, despite having nearly twice as many men as Lee. He wired Washington on July 1, “I need 50,000 more men, and with them I will retrieve our fortunes.” President Abraham Lincoln, who had been battling with McClellan over manpower, called the request “simply absurd.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 164-65; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (1 Jul 1862); Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 47-48; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 188; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 525, 530; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 177-78; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4057-4128, 4164-88; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 172, 227; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 235-36; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 469-70; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 423-26; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 72-73, 93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 471, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Malvern Hill

The Seven Days Battles: Gaines’s Mill

June 27, 1862 – The third in a series of battles on the Virginia Peninsula occurred at Gaines’s Mill.

By daybreak, General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps of the Army of the Potomac had withdrawn from Beaver Dam Creek and established a semicircular defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp, southeast of Gaines’s Mill. Artillery covered all Confederate approaches. Pursuing Confederates took several prisoners in the Federals’ rear guard as they fell back to this new line.

Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal army, ordered Porter to hold his position at all costs while the Federals transferred their supply base from White House to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. McClellan telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“This change of position was beautifully executed under a sharp fire, with but little loss. The troops on the other side are now well in hand, and the whole army so concentrated that it can take advantage of the first mistake made by the enemy.”

Having failed to turn the Federal right in yesterday’s engagement, Confederate General Robert E. Lee resolved to attack again. This time, Lee assembled some 57,000 men, or a force four times larger than that of the previous day. The plan once again called for Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to attack the Federal right flank, supported by Major General D.H. Hill’s division. Meanwhile, Major General A.P. Hill’s Confederates would assault the center. A.P. Hill opened the fighting at 12 p.m. by once again attacking before Jackson’s men could get into place.

The battle intensified when A.P. Hill’s Confederates attacked Porter behind Boatswain’s Creek around 2 p.m. Federals repulsed the attacks, with Hill losing 2,000 of his 13,200 men. After repelling Hill, the Federals also fought off a diversionary attack by Major General James Longstreet’s division as Confederate President Jefferson Davis observed the combat. Confederates on the other side of the Chickahominy could see the action less than two miles away, but an atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented them from hearing it.

Like the day before, A.P. Hill expected Jackson to come up on his left, but Jackson had taken the wrong road and had to countermarch, once again putting him several hours behind schedule. D.H. Hill, on the extreme Confederate left, expected to move around the Federal right but was surprised to be stopped by Brigadier General George Sykes’s Federal division in his path; Hill and Sykes had been West Point roommates.

When Jackson’s advance units finally arrived, they launched failed assaults and suffered heavy losses. Several more piecemeal Confederate charges along the line, including a diversionary assault by Brigadier General George E. Pickett’s brigade on the right, failed to break the Federal defenses.

Federals repulsing Confederate attacks at Gaines's Mill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federals repulsing Confederate attacks at Gaines’s Mill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After the bulk of Jackson’s forces finally arrived, Lee concentrated the men for a massive three-mile-wide assault at 7 p.m. The Federals numbered some 34,000, but most were exhausted and isolated from each other. General John Bell Hood’s Texas brigade, supported by Colonel Evander Law’s brigade, pierced the Federal center at Turkey Hill as the sun began setting. A battalion of the 5th U.S. Cavalry and part of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry countercharged but failed to close the gap and was forced to surrender.

During the fighting on Turkey Hill, McClellan telegraphed the War Department, still requesting reinforcements and command consolidation: “I will beg that you put some one general in command of the Shenandoah and of all troops in front of Washington for the sake of the country. Secure unity of action and bring the best men forward.”

Throughout the day, McClellan refused to mobilize his 70,000 men south of the Chickahominy, leaving Porter to fend for himself. McClellan also would not launch a counterattack against Richmond with his overwhelming numbers, as the Confederates south of the river fired on them with artillery and staged mock demonstrations to make the Federals think that they would be attacked at any time.

The Federals instead conducted an orderly retreat, holding off the advancing Confederates with artillery. Despite another poorly coordinated attack, Lee won his first victory. He broke the Federal line, but he could not exploit the advantage due to the heavy casualties he sustained. The Confederates lost 8,751 men in six hours, or almost the same number of Confederates lost in two days at Shiloh. These losses included many valuable officers. The Federals lost 6,837 (894 killed, 3,107 wounded, and 2,836 missing or captured).

Nevertheless, the Confederates scored a crucial victory as the Federal V Corps withdrew under cover of darkness. Lee telegraphed President Davis: “Profoundly grateful to Almighty God,” the Army of Northern Virginia had won its first victory, taking 22 guns and over 2,000 prisoners with a clear road eastward to the Federal supply base at White House. Lee closed, “We sleep on the field, and shall renew the contest in the morning.”

Meanwhile, McClellan wired the War Department at 8 p.m., before he even learned of the battle’s result: “Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior numbers in all directions on this side… The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly.”

Even though only one of his five army corps had been heavily engaged in any of the fighting on June 26 or 27, and even though Federals had repelled the diversionary attacks south of the Chickahominy at Garnett’s Hill and Golding’s Farm, McClellan decided that he could not defeat Lee’s smaller army.

At 11 p.m., McClellan held a council of war with his corps commanders and announced that he planned to abandon the advance on Richmond and withdraw to the James River, where the troops would be protected by Federal gunboats while awaiting reinforcements. McClellan directed General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps to move west of Glendale to cover the Federal withdrawal while Porter withdrew to the high ground at Malvern Hill.

In the North, McClellan supporters applauded the “change of base,” calling it a strategic withdrawal and not a retreat. Others, including many Lincoln administration officials, called it a “great skedaddle.” At any rate, the Federal move away from Richmond ended any hope of McClellan launching an offensive on the Peninsula. It also relieved the Confederate capital of imminent danger, which had been one of Lee’s objectives when planning the offensive.

Learning that McClellan planned to move to the James, Lee now set his sights on his other objective–destroying McClellan’s army.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 158-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 1; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 484, 490-91, 526; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 173-74; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3893; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 115-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 231-32; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 466-67; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 414-16; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33-40, 47-48; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Gaines’s Mill, Battle of Garnett’s & Golding’s Farm; Seven Days Battles

The Seven Days Battles: Beaver Dam Creek

June 26, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee launched his planned assault on the Federal Army of the Potomac to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula and away from Richmond.

According to Lee’s battle plan:

  • Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates would advance and attack General Fitz John Porter’s 28,000-man V Corps isolated from the rest of the Federal army north of the Chickahominy River.
  • Jackson would turn the flank and sweep into the Federal rear while the Confederate divisions led by Major Generals James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill would cross the Chickahominy and clear the Federals out of Mechanicsville.
  • Hill and Jackson would then join to destroy the Federals north of the river and capture the Federal supply depot at White House Landing.
  • Confederates under Major Generals John B. Magruder and Benjamin Huger would demonstrate against the Federal left south of the river and guard Richmond. The Confederates north of the river would push the Federals south until they linked with Magruder and Huger.

Lee wrote specific instructions for Jackson, which may have been too detailed to be fully understood. Jackson’s assault was supposed to begin at 3 a.m., but he did not move forward to attack until 9 due to confusion and Federal artillery firing on his troops. Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill, who needed Jackson to begin the attack before they went into action, waited nearly 12 hours outside Richmond for the battle to begin.

Meanwhile, Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal army, continued lamenting that he was facing nearly 200,000 Confederates. In reality, Lee had only about 70,000 men, 56,000 of which were to attack V Corps. Most of McClellan’s almost 130,000 men were south of the Chickahominy.

The Confederates waiting behind the lines sprang into action when they finally heard the sound of battle to their northeast around 3 p.m. However, the sound did not come from Jackson attacking, it came from A.P. Hill pushing forward on Mechanicsville. Jackson still had not yet arrived to attack the Federal right, and Hill was tired of waiting.

Hill’s men crossed the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge and advanced through heavy artillery fire, driving the heavily entrenched enemy through Mechanicsville. But Porter extended his right and fell back to strong positions about a mile east, behind Ellerson’s Mill and Beaver Dam Creek, which emptied into the Chickahominy.

Expecting Jackson to come up on his left, Hill reformed his ranks and advanced against Brigadier General George McCall’s division of Porter’s corps around 5 p.m. With Jackson still not in place, Hill launched a frontal attack across an open field, sending his men through swamps and creeks up to the Federal entrenchments. As the Confederates advanced, 36 Federal cannon fired into them.

Battle sketch by Alfred Waud | Image Credit: Wikipedia

Battle sketch by Alfred Waud | Image Credit: Wikipedia

McClellan observed the fighting and left the tactical decisions to Porter, who readied his troops for an assault of their own. Lee, finally realizing that Hill was fighting alone, sent in reinforcements from D.H. Hill, but the Federals repulsed these attacks and inflicted severe losses.

The bulk of Jackson’s force finally arrived, but when Jackson could not find A.P. Hill, he ordered his men to bivouac for the night about three miles northeast of Mechanicsville. Jackson, who was on the brink of exhaustion due to sleep deprivation, had no communication with Lee or the other commanders.

The major fighting ended around 9 p.m., with intermittent fire continuing. McClellan wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “The firing has nearly ceased… Victory of today complete and against great odds. I almost begin to think we are invincible.” McClellan also wrote to his wife, “We have again whipped the Secesh. Stonewall Jackson is the victim this time.” Apparently McClellan was unaware that Jackson, his former West Point classmate, did not take part in the action.

The Federals suffered 361 total casualties in the fight, while Confederates lost 1,484. Lee’s attack was a failure, partly due to Jackson’s uncharacteristic tardiness. Only one-fourth of Lee’s army (roughly 14,000 men) had been engaged, and 10 percent of them were lost in attacking Porter frontally rather than on his flank. Lee also fell far short of his goal to link with the Confederates south of the Chickahominy. While he drove the Federals out of the Mechanicsville, Lee lost the element of surprise and gave McClellan the options to either reinforce his right or attack with his left.

McClellan chose neither. Despite Lee’s failure, he had been withdrawing Porter’s supplies all day to protect them from Jackson’s impending attack and to better concentrate the Army of the Potomac south of the Chickahominy. Also, the demonstrations by Magruder and Huger, the sight of Confederate observation balloons on the Federal left, and Pinkerton’s inflated estimate of enemy strength convinced McClellan that he was hopelessly outnumbered, despite urgings from subordinates to attack with the bulk of his army on the left.

During the night, McClellan ordered Porter to withdraw eastward from Beaver Dam Creek to positions around Boatswain’s Swamp. McClellan also ordered his supply base transferred from White House on the York River to Harrison’s Landing on the James, asking Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to begin sending supplies there. This was a significant move because there were no railroads on the James to transport McClellan’s heavy artillery, so he could not lay siege to Richmond as originally planned.

This was an inauspicious start to Lee’s combat career as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. But while he had tactically lost this fight, McClellan still retreated and lost the initiative on the Peninsula. Thus, Lee gained a psychological edge over McClellan that he would never relinquish.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 159; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (26 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 483-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 172-73; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3797-3809; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 178-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 230-31; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 465-66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 415-16; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 483-84; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33, 36; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, Battle of Gaines’s Mill

The Seven Days Battles: Oak Grove

June 25, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac tried inching closer to Richmond as Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula.

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On June 23, Lee conferred with his top commanders and resolved to attack Federal Major General George B. McClellan’s army before it could advance on the Confederate capital. Lee intended to assault McClellan’s right wing, which was isolated on the north side of the Chickahominy River, on the 26th.

However, McClellan learned of Lee’s plan and resolved to attack first. Leaving his right wing north of the river, McClellan moved with his left. He targeted Oak Grove, which commanded the high ground south of the Chickahominy, a mile and a half closer to Richmond. McClellan hoped to clear that area for his heavy guns to put Richmond under siege. This was intended to be a preliminary movement before a general army advance.

Federal artillery opened on a rainy June 25, and then a division of General Samuel Heintzelman’s III Corps, led by Brigadier General Joseph Hooker, moved forward, supported by Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division. Skirmishing ensued as Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates blocked their path.

Huger had just 6,000 men, but he was soon reinforced by another 3,000 led by General Robert Ransom. The Federals struggled through the swampy terrain, and a heavy volley suddenly sent the Federals in Hooker’s lead brigade under Brigadier General Daniel Sickles running in what Sickles later called “disgraceful confusion.” Kearny sent reinforcements to secure Hooker’s left.

Heintzelman wired McClellan, who was at his headquarters three miles away, for reinforcements. But McClellan, through his chief of staff Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy, ordered a retreat just as fresh troops came up, to the dismay of subordinates at the scene. Hooker hesitated, neither attacking nor retreating, and the battlefield went temporarily quiet.

McClellan then rode to the front two and a half hours later, inspected the lines, and ordered Hooker and Kearny to resume the assault. The Federals were reinforced by a brigade from II Corps and an artillery battery. Fighting occurred at several points, including Oak Grove, King’s School House, French’s Field, and the Orchard.

Charges and countercharges took place on the Williamsburg road until the Federal guns and reinforced infantry pushed the Confederates back to their main defenses. Nightfall gradually stopped both the firing and the rain. The Federals could not penetrate the Confederate line, but McClellan was pleased that they moved about 600 yards closer to Richmond. The Federals suffered 516 casualties (51 killed, 401 wounded, and 64 missing), and the Confederates lost 316 (40 killed, 263 wounded, and 13 missing).

Lee determined that this engagement did not expose his plan to attack McClellan’s right the next day, so that operation remained intact. The main Confederate attack force under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson continued moving into positions. Receiving news of Jackson’s impending arrival, McClellan suspended another scheduled attack and ordered his right wing, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, to slow Jackson’s forces.

This action marked McClellan’s first (and last) tactical offensive against Richmond since the beginning of his Peninsula campaign. Although he deemed Porter’s positions acceptable, and although his left was now within five miles of Richmond, McClellan returned to headquarters on the night of the 25th and notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he faced “vastly superior odds.” This was based on an erroneous report that the Confederate Army of Mississippi had come to Richmond from the West, giving Lee up to 200,000 men (he really had no more than 70,000 versus McClellan’s 130,000). McClellan wrote Stanton:

“I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000… I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur tomorrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.”

Later that night, McClellan wrote, “I feel that there is no use in again asking for reinforcements,” but then did exactly that in requesting “some new regiments… another division of old troops… also, a couple of new regiments of cavalry.” McClellan concluded, “Every possible precaution is being taken. If I had another good division I could laugh at Jackson… Nothing but overwhelming forces can defeat us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 477, 480; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171-72; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743, 3750-63; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229-30; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 465; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 541, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Oak Grove