Tag Archives: Peninsula Campaign

The Seven Days Battles: McClellan’s Withdrawal

June 28, 1862 – The struggle on the Virginia Peninsula continued with sporadic fighting, as Major General George B. McClellan continued withdrawing his Federal Army of the Potomac toward the James River.

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

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

Shortly after midnight on the 28th, McClellan wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton about yesterday’s defeat at Gaines’s Mill:

“I now know the full history of this day. I have lost this battle because my force was too small. I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, and I say it with the earnestness of a general who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed to-day. I still hope to retrieve our fortunes, but to do this, the government must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do. You must send me very large reinforcements, and send them at once.

“I only wish to say to the President, that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous, when I said that my force was too weak. I merely reiterated a truth, which to-day has been too plainly proved. If, at this instant, I could dispose of 10,000 fresh men, I could gain a victory tomorrow. I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle from a defeat to a victory. As it is, the Government must not and cannot hold me responsible for the result. I feel too earnestly tonight. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost.

“If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”

When this message reached the War Department in Washington, Colonel Edward S. Sanford, the chief censor of the Military Telegraph Service, considered the last two sentences so treasonous and insubordinate that he directed his staff to delete them before sending the edited message to Stanton and then to President Abraham Lincoln. The sentences were eventually published months later.

McClellan, a Democrat, blamed the Republican administration for supposedly withholding resources for him to adequately wage war on the Peninsula. Later on the 28th, Lincoln replied to what he saw of McClellan’s message: “Save your Army at all events… If you have had a drawn battle, or a repulse, it is the price we pay for the enemy not being in Washington.”

By 4 a.m., General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps was across the Chickahominy River, and McClellan was pulling his army south toward the James River. He directed his commanders to issue three days’ rations to their men and send all their wagons to Savage’s Station on the Richmond & York River Railroad. He further directed that “all tents and all articles not indispensable to the safety or the maintenance of the troops must be abandoned and destroyed,” and “the sick and wounded that are not able to walk must necessarily be left.” Two corps withdrew, and the other three guarded the western flank against a Confederate attack.

As Federals burned what supplies they could not carry, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, learned that they had abandoned their positions north of the Chickahominy River and destroyed the bridges. Confederate cavalry under General Jeb Stuart arrived at White House Landing, the former Federal supply depot on the York River, and found it evacuated. Federals burned the historic home of Martha Custis, wife of George Washington and now owned by Mrs. Robert E. Lee.

McClellan’s withdrawal after one major battle astonished Lee, who determined that the Federals must be concentrating south of the Chickahominy. Federals covered the approaches to the burned bridges with massed artillery, and Federal naval vessels at Fort Monroe began moving up the James to link with McClellan at Harrison’s Landing. Meanwhile, Lee prepared for another battle.

Fighting resumed from the previous day near the Golding farm, as Confederates under General John B. Magruder advanced on the presumption that the Federals were withdrawing. However, the Federals made a stand and drove the Confederates back. The Confederates lost 438 killed, wounded, or missing, while the Federals lost 189.

By this evening, Lee was poised to attack the concentrated Federal force south of the Chickahominy. However, he did not secure the road to Turkey Island Bridge, which McClellan used to withdraw his troops (Lee may have been able to destroy the Federals had he blocked that road). McClellan met with his commanders and informed them that since he believed an attack on Richmond would destroy the army, he would retreat to Harrison’s Landing. With the Confederate capital now out of imminent danger, Lee again resolved to resume the offensive the next day.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; 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; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7558; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 492-93; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 174-75; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3893-3905; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Hoffsommer, Richard D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 232-33; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 342-43; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 49, 51; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 8; Wikipedia: Battle of Gaines’s Mill, Battle of Garnett’s and Golding’s Farm

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

Battle Looms on the Peninsula

June 24, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee issued written orders for his new Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to launch an attack on Major General George B. McClellan’s right flank on June 26.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee set up headquarters at the Dabbs’ House, a mile and a half northeast of Richmond, where he held a council of war at 3 p.m. Attendees included Major Generals James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill. Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, having ridden 52 miles on relays of commandeered horses, also attended, to the surprise of the others who thought he was still in the Shenandoah Valley.

Lee announced that after assessing the conditions and positions of both armies, he had come to several conclusions:

  • Richmond could not withstand a siege, therefore the Confederate army had to take the offensive
  • The Confederates could not attack frontally due to their lack of experience and superior Federal numbers, therefore they had to try turning the enemy’s flank
  • McClellan had the bulk of his army on the south side of the Chickahominy River, therefore the Federals north of the river should be targeted for attack
  • Lee needed to attack with the bulk of his army if he hoped to turn the Federal right, which could either drive the Federals north or force them to set up a new supply base on the James River.

Thus, the Confederates would target General Fitz John Porter’s 30,000-man V Corps, north of the Chickahominy. According to Lee’s plan:

  • Jackson would begin the assault by moving south and attacking Porter’s right and rear.
  • A.P. Hill would cross to the north side of the Chickahominy and clear the bridge at Mechanicsville for Longstreet and D.H. Hill to cross and join the attack.
  • The 56,000 Confederates would “sweep down the Chickahominy and endeavor to drive the enemy from his position… They will then press forward toward the York River Railroad, closing upon the enemy’s rear and forcing him down the Chickahominy.”
  • The rest of the Confederate army under Generals John B. Magruder, Benjamin Huger, and Theophilus H. Holmes would guard Richmond from a counterattack.

Because the movement of such a massive amount of troops involved leaving the road to Richmond open, Lee stressed the need for secrecy. The plan also relied on all its parts (and commanders) working in concert, especially Jackson, who had to start the attack for the others to follow. The commanders agreed that the attack would begin on June 26.

When the general plan was decided upon, Lee left the room to allow his subordinates to work out the details. This was the first and last time that Lee would do this. The commanders returned to their men after the meeting; Jackson rode back to rejoin his three divisions on their way from the west. The next day, Lee drafted the results of the meeting into written orders and distributed them to the commanders.

Meanwhile, McClellan wrote his wife that Confederate activity seemed “mysterious.” The uncomfortably hot, wet weather was improving, and McClellan hoped “to be able to take a decisive step in advance (the) day after tomorrow.” McClellan envisioned a scenario where “the operations would resolve themselves into a series of partial attacks, rather than a general battle.” McClellan added, “I have a kind of presentiment that tomorrow will bring forth something–what I do not know–we will see when the time arrives.”

Deserters and fugitive slaves informed McClellan that Jackson intended to attack his right. He responded by sending Federals to obstruct the roads that Jackson would use to get there. He also continued inching closer to Richmond, with skirmishing taking place around Mechanicsville.

Initiating his “series of partial attacks,” McClellan directed Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps south of the Chickahominy to advance on the Williamsburg road and seize an unoccupied area between the armies on the edge of White Oak Swamp. This would set the stage for a general advance by the entire army, as McClellan intended to attack before Jackson arrived.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 476; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229; 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. 30-31; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 541

“Stonewall” Jackson Moves East

June 20, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates headed east to reinforce General Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula, while Federals in the Shenandoah Valley still did not know where Jackson was.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Screened by Colonel Thomas T. Munford’s cavalry, Jackson’s men moved across the Blue Ridge on the 19th and left the Shenandoah Valley. That same day, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose Federal Army of the Shenandoah was stationed near Front Royal, expressed fears to his superiors that Jackson might attack him, especially now that only the commands of Banks and Major General John C. Fremont still remained in the Valley.

In a message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Banks questioned why Brigadier General James Shields was leaving the Valley to help reinforce Federals on the Peninsula: “He (Shields) ought not to move until the purpose of the enemy are more fully developed. There can be no doubt whatever that another immediate movement down the valley, is intended with a force of 30,000 or more.”

The next day, Banks repeated his fears of being shorthanded in the face of a possible Confederate attack, at the same time acknowledging “nothing new to report of the enemy.” Banks again argued against Shields leaving the Valley, stating that since Confederates posed no threat to Shields at Front Royal, then there was no reason for him to leave. But Shields’s superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, reversed this logic by arguing to Stanton that if Shields had no threat facing him, then there was no reason to stay.

The exchange was rendered pointless when Shields’s Federals left the Valley on the 21st and began arriving at Bristoe Station. As they prepared to join the rest of McDowell’s force, McDowell reported that Shields’s ranks were riddled with “officers resigning and even men deserting.” To McDowell, this was all the more reason to keep Shields under his watch rather than leaving him in the Valley.

On the Peninsula, Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac now numbered 105,825 officers and men present for duty, with a grand total of 156,838. The addition of McDowell’s force would give McClellan nearly 130,000 effectives, but McClellan still believed he was outnumbered, as he wrote his wife about the Confederates, “The rascals are very strong & outnumber me very considerably, but I will yet succeed notwithstanding all they do & leave undone in Washington to prevent it.”

Finding time to keep up with the latest gossip from Washington provided by intelligence chief Allan Pinkerton, McClellan passed along to his wife: “McDowell has deserted his friend C (Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase) & taken to S (Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton)!!” While Secretary of State William H. Seward and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair continued to “stand firmly by me–Honest A (President Lincoln) has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine!”

McClellan continued:

“I am anxious as any human being can be to finish this war, yet when I see such insane folly behind me (in Washington) I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I feel too that I must not unnecessarily risk my life, for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.”

By the 21st, most of Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley and headed east to reinforce Lee on the Peninsula. They marched to Gordonsville and awaited train service to Richmond. A day later, Major General John E. Wool, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Monroe, reported to Stanton rumors from Major General Franz Sigel in the Valley “that Jackson had 40,000 to 60,000 men and 70 pieces of artillery.”

Wool conceded that this was “probably exaggerated,” but he learned from a “person considered reliable that Jackson will in a short time attack Banks and his forces. If Jackson has the number of troops reported, I think we ought to be looking after Washington.”

Major General John C. Fremont, whose Federals were at Strasburg in the Valley, heard rumors that 4,000 Confederates under Major General Richard Ewell were advancing on his right flank toward Moorefield. Fremont stated, “These reports were most probably exaggerations, but it would be well to guard against the chance of their being true.”

While the Federal high command got bogged down with speculation, Jackson and Ewell were actually heading toward Richmond, with their men between Gordonsville and Fredericks Hall. Jackson attended Sunday church services at Fredericks Hall, and then waited until 1 a.m. on the 23rd (after the Sabbath ended) to ride ahead of his men to meet with Lee. Jackson rode on horseback rather than a train, and he removed all indications of his rank from his uniform so he would not be recognized.

Outside Richmond, Lee wrote privately, “Our enemy is quietly working within his lines, and collecting additional forces to drive us from our capital. I hope we shall be able yet to disappoint him, and drive him back to his own country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 474; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 170-71; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229

Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan

June 13, 1862 – Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart made a name for himself by conducting a daring reconnaissance mission all the way around Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, heard rumors that McClellan’s right flank, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, was “up in the air,” or unguarded by natural obstacles at its end and thus vulnerable to attack. Lee called on Stuart to lead the cavalry in verifying whether this rumor was true.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lee directed Stuart “to make a secret movement to the rear of the enemy, now posted on Chickahominy, with a view of gaining intelligence of his operations, communications, &c; of driving in his foraging parties, and securing such grain, cattle, &c, for ourselves as you can make arrangements to have driven in.”

Stuart was to return to Confederate lines “as soon as the object of your expedition is accomplished,” making sure “not to hazard unnecessarily your command or to attempt what your judgment may not approve; but be content to accomplish all the good you can without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired.”

After conferring with his scouts, Stuart decided that after reconnoitering the Federal right, he would continue moving around the enemy flank and completely encircle the massive Federal army. Lee had not prohibited Stuart from making such a move, and Stuart guessed that the Federals would not be ready for such bold action.

Stuart’s force consisted of 1,200 picked cavalrymen, headed by Colonels William H.F. “Rooney” Lee (Lee’s second son) and Fitzhugh Lee (Lee’s nephew). Each man received three days’ rations, and only Stuart knew where they were going. At 2 a.m. on the morning of June 12, Stuart issued orders: “Gentlemen, in 10 minutes every man must be in his saddle.”

The troopers assembled at Kilby’s Station and headed out of Richmond in a half-mile-long column, crossing the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. Moving northwest, Stuart wanted Federal scouts to think they were going to reinforce Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. They rode 22 miles, crossing the Chickahominy River and then turning sharply east.

The troopers drove off small Federal patrols along the way; Stuart’s movement was inadvertently aided by the Federal cavalry structure, which featured companies and regiments dispersed throughout the army and not concentrated to oppose such a large enemy force. The Confederates camped for the night at Winston Farm near Hanover Court House and the bridge over the South Anna River.

The next morning, Stuart’s men resumed their ride east toward Hanover Court House, with Federal troopers fleeing at the sight of so many enemy horsemen approaching. The Confederates passed Taliaferro’s Mill, scared Federal pickets at Haw’s Shop, and chased off a cavalry unit. A charge dispersed Federals making a stand near Old Church. Captain William Latane was killed leading the charge and became the only Confederate casualty of the raid. The Confederates took the Federals’ camps and burned hundreds of tents.

Having accomplished his mission of reconnoitering the Federal right, Stuart would now continue on around the Federal army before returning to Lee. He told staff member John E. Cooke, “Tell Fitz Lee to come along, I’m going to move with my column.” Cooke replied, “I think the quicker we move now, the better.” Stuart was confident that he could outrun any infantry in pursuit and any cavalry in his path.

The Confederates moved southeast, passing within a few miles of McClellan’s headquarters and reaching the Richmond & York River Railroad by early evening. By this time, Federals who had encountered Stuart’s men alarmed their comrades; wild rumors spread that 5,000 Confederates were about to attack. Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke gathered 500 Federal troopers to meet the threat and face Stuart, his son-in-law. But Stuart was no longer near where he had been spotted that morning.

A Federal brigade under Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren was posted near Old Church, as Warren figured that Stuart would have to return the way he came. Nobody considered that Stuart might be heading the other way, with no intention of doubling back. The Confederates rode to Tunstall’s Station, where they shot up a supply train and burned several wagons. Aided by a full moon, they rode through the night, stopping briefly at Talleysville to raid a sutler’s store.

Both Warren and Cooke received conflicting reports on Stuart’s whereabouts. Acting on one rumor, they left Old Church around 4 a.m. on the 14th and headed north to New Castle, near the Pamunkey River. They then picked up Stuart’s trail and headed toward Tunstall’s Station, but Cooke’s insistence that his cavalry slow to match the infantry’s pace ensured that they would not catch the Confederates. They reached Tunstall’s Station 15 hours after Stuart had left.

Stuart’s men arrived at the Chickahominy around dawn. They were 35 miles from Richmond and 15 miles behind the main Federal lines. The river was too high to ford, prompting Rooney Lee to remark, “I think we are caught.” Moving downriver, Stuart deployed a rear guard and artillery while his men rebuilt the Forge Bridge using wood from an old barn. Three hours later, the troopers crossed and destroyed the bridge behind them. The Confederates thought they had narrowly escaped, but the Federals were still five or six hours away.

Leaving Fitzhugh Lee in charge, Stuart rode ahead to report his findings to General Lee near Richmond. Fitzhugh led the troopers south, then northwest, around the Federal left flank. They paralleled the James River on their ride back to Richmond.

Stuart arrived at Lee’s headquarters just after dawn on the 15th. His cavalry would arrive that night and early next morning to the cheers of Richmond residents. The troopers rode around an army of 100,000 men, covering over 100 miles and losing just one man and one cannon. They captured 165 Federal soldiers and 260 horses and mules while destroying railroad track, communication lines, and supply wagons.

Stuart informed Lee that the Federal troops were being supplied from White House Landing and the Richmond & York River Railroad. He reported that the roads behind the Federal lines were worse than those in the Confederates’ front. He also told Lee that the Federal right flank was indeed “up in the air” at Mechanicsville, vulnerable to an enveloping maneuver.

This information prompted Lee to bring Jackson’s men from the Valley to oppose that flank. If the Confederates could turn the Federal right, they could push them away from their supply base, forcing them to retreat back down the Peninsula. Jackson could move against Beaver Dam Creek without opposition and then easily advance on White House.

Stuart’s daring, sensational ride greatly boosted southern morale and made him a national hero. It also seemed to prove the theory that southern horsemen were superior to northerners. The ride embarrassed McClellan and compelled him to be even more cautious, but it also warned him to better guard his supply base in the future. And it prompted the Lincoln administration to devote more resources to training and equipping their cavalry.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 182-83; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 471; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 167-68; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3650, 3663-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 225-27; 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. 463; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 728-29; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27-29; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 667-68

The Peninsula and the Shenandoah Valley

June 10, 1862 – As Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac remained relatively idle on the Virginia Peninsula, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent reinforcements to Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Since the Battle of Seven Pines, McClellan had opted to stay put and await reinforcements. The first unit to bolster McClellan’s army was Brigadier General George A. McCall’s 9,500-man division stationed on the Rappahannock River. Major General Irvin McDowell, McCall’s superior, notified McClellan, “McCall goes in advance by water. I will be with you in 10 days with the remainder by land from Fredericksburg.”

Meanwhile, Jackson informed Lee that he could have his Confederates at the railroad within a day if they were needed on the Peninsula. Lee told Jackson to rest his men for now, but “should an opportunity occur for striking the enemy a successful blow, do not let it escape you.”

Lee learned the next day that Jackson had won battles at Cross Keys and Port Republic. In keeping with his original strategy, Lee directed Brigadier General Alexander Lawton’s brigade to reinforce Jackson so he could invade Pennsylvania. But when he realized that Jackson still lacked the resources for such an operation, Lee began pondering whether Jackson should come to the Peninsula and help him defeat McClellan.

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Back west, Brigadier General James Shields’s battered, exhausted Federal division began withdrawing to the Luray Valley on the 10th. They had endured brutal marches, drenching rains, broken supply lines, and finally defeat at Port Republic. Shields had orders to stay in the Luray Valley until the Federals at Winchester moved to Front Royal. Then, Shields was to rejoin McDowell’s men on their return to Fredericksburg.

Shields requested supplies before moving. In addition to 12,000 shoes, he asked for “4,000 blankets, 9,200 caps… 20,000 socks, 12,000 pants, 10,000 blouses, 12,000 shirts, 12,000 drawers, 5,000 haversacks, 6,100 canteens, 1,600 shelter-tents, 3,500 rubber blankets, 60 drums, 6 bugles, 300 pants (re-enforced), 300 artillery jackets,” and 80,000 rounds of ammunition. This indicated that Shields’s men were in terrible condition, something McDowell was unaware of when he promised McClellan to be on the Peninsula within 10 days.

Shields reported from the Luray Valley that half his men were barefooted. He also blamed the defeat at Port Republic on Brigadier General Samuel Carroll for failing to burn the lone bridge over the South River, even though Shields had specifically ordered him to “save the bridge at Port Republic” beforehand. Shields also falsely claimed that he and Major General John C. Fremont were just about to join forces and overwhelm Jackson when President Abraham Lincoln called it off.

Meanwhile, Fremont received orders to stay put near Cross Keys. But he was already withdrawing to Harrisonburg, fearing that he might be isolated now that Shields had pulled back. After reaching Harrisonburg, Fremont still did not feel safe enough: “Harrisonburg, however strong in a strategical point of view for an army of larger proportions, was to my small command dangerous in the extreme.”

Erroneously thinking that Jackson outnumbered his 14,000-man army, Fremont retreated another 25 miles north to Mount Jackson. Ironically, Fremont submitted triumphant reports of his “victories” at Cross Keys and Port Republic while in retreat. When his superiors directed him to fall back to Mount Jackson, he was already on his way there.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee wrote Jackson from the Peninsula, “Your recent successes have been the cause of the liveliest joy in this army as well as in the country.” Lee wrote that he was sending Jackson six Georgia regiments under Lawton and eight regiments under Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting. Lee explained, “The object is to enable you to crush the forces opposed to you.” Lee was not yet aware that both Shields and Fremont were on the retreat.

After delivering the decisive blow, Lee instructed Jackson to “move rapidly to Ashland (20 miles north of Richmond)… and sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey (rivers), cutting up the enemy’s communications, &c, while this (Lee’s) army attacks General McClellan in front…”

At this time, Jackson’s Confederates were camped at Brown’s Gap on the Blue Ridge. Jackson worked with topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss on a plan to pursue both Fremont and Shields. He began by dispatching his cavalry under Colonel Thomas Munford to spread rumors that the Confederates in the Valley were being heavily reinforced.

Jackson’s men reentered the Valley on the 12th and took positions near Port Republic and Patterson’s Mill. As the Confederate reinforcements began arriving, Munford’s troopers operated near Harrisonburg, capturing 200 wounded Federals that Fremont left behind. They also seized a large amount of supplies and ammunition. As the Confederates hoped, Lincoln notified Fremont, “Jackson is largely reinforced, and is turning upon you. Stand well on your guard.”

To the east, McCall’s Federals from the Rappahannock began arriving at White House, McClellan’s base on the Pamunkey River. The rest of McDowell’s force was headed eastward from the Blue Ridge to also reinforce Federals on the Peninsula.

The next day, McClellan moved his headquarters to the south bank of the Chickahominy River, where three of his five corps were now stationed:

  • General Edwin V. Sumner’s II Corps held the railroad on the right
  • General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps guarded the Williamsburg road in the center
  • General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps was at White Oak Swamp on the left

The two corps under Generals Fitz John Porter and William B. Franklin remained on the north bank, with Porter on the right and Franklin on the left. McCall’s Federals were arriving to reinforce Porter.

Back in the Valley, General Carl Schurz, a close friend of Lincoln serving in Fremont’s army, wrote the president defending Fremont’s performance and asserting that the Federals urgently needed supplies: “Fremont’s force has dwindled down to 10,000 combatants at the outside, and these in a wretched condition.” Schurz reported that the artillerymen were “hardly able to draw their pieces.” Such a “weak and exhausted” army could not match Jackson, who had just supposedly been reinforced to 29,000 men, or double Fremont’s actual size.

All this time, the 12,000 Federals under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks remained at Winchester, 45 miles north of Fremont. Banks disagreed with Fremont’s contention that Mount Jackson was the best place to make a stand against Jackson. Banks instead preferred Middletown, 15 miles south of Winchester, because it commanded both the Shenandoah and Luray valleys.

Banks argued that the only way to defeat Jackson was for he and Fremont to join forces, especially now that McDowell’s army was returning to Fredericksburg. The maneuvering on both sides continued.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 182; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 466-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163, 167; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3591-3603, 3626-38; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 225-26; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25

From David Weisiger, 12th Virginia

Letter from Colonel David Weisiger, 12th Virginia Volunteer Infantry, to his wife after the Battle of Seven Pines.

Camp near Richmond, Va.

June 2, 1862

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

My Darling Wife:

I’ve no doubt, from what I have heard of the rumors in Petersburg, that you are in agony about me. Yesterday I requested Ben Harrison to telegraph you from Richmond that I was safe. Oh! my dearest I have had a very hard time, but the sufferings in the way of hardship is nothing to what I have suffered in mind at seeing some of my best men and brave boys shot down before my face, to say nothing of thinking about your misery on my account. My darling, even upon the battlefield in the thickest part of the action I thought of you and what pain you would suffer if you only knew my position, but my dear one, I’ve faith in your prayers on my behalf and cannot doubt that I shall pass through unscathed. The prayers of the righteous avail much.

We were in action about half an hour and lost ten men killed, twenty-seven wounded, and seventy-five missing. You just ought to see me, muddy and dirty up to my knees, without a change of clothing as my horse after being shot ran off.

Rest assured that I will always either write or telegraph you if anything should happen. As soon as times get a little quiet I will try and pay you a visit. I must close. Give my love to all the girls.

Your ever devoted husband,

D.A. Weisiger

The Battle of Seven Pines: Day Two

June 1, 1862 – Fighting resumed at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, after the Federals had spent the night bringing up reinforcements and strengthening defenses.

The battle continued around Seven Pines at dawn. Major General Gustavus W. Smith, commanding the Confederate army after the wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston, directed Major General James Longstreet’s men to attack around Fair Oaks, north of Seven Pines, with Major General D.H. Hill in support. However, the Federals had reinforced their lines in anticipation of such a move.

On the Federal side, Professor Thaddeus Lowe observed the fighting and the Confederate positions from his observation balloon, the Intrepid, as it hovered about 300 feet in the air. He telegraphed reports on the battle’s progress to Federal headquarters, but Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, did not act upon Lowe’s information.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

At Richmond that morning, President Jefferson Davis formally wrote to General Robert E. Lee, his top advisor, that Johnston’s wounding “renders it necessary to interfere temporarily with the duties to which you were assigned in connection with the general service, but only so far as to make you available for command in the field of a particular army.”

Meanwhile, the Confederates renewed their assaults. The flooded terrain and dense foliage helped hide the troops from each other, but it also hampered maneuverability, and the attacks came in the same ineffective, piecemeal fashion as the previous day. The Federals held strong defenses that were reinforced by Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson’s division of II Corps and two brigades of Brigadier General Joseph Hooker’s division of III Corps.

Smith held a division on the Nine Mile road ready to attack when Longstreet reached his designated position. Longstreet attacked with just two brigades, fearing the Federals would counterattack and destroy his force. The Confederate assault was easily repulsed, and Longstreet withdrew around 11:30 a.m. The sound of battle faded off before Smith could commit the waiting troops.

McClellan, who was ill, rose from his sickbed and rode out to the battlefield to assess the situation. But he did not order a counterattack or a pursuit. This was an anti-climactic ending to the largest battle fought up to that time on the Virginia Peninsula.

Both sides each committed about 42,000 men to this two-day battle. Of those, the Federals sustained 5,031 casualties (790 killed, 3,594 wounded, and 647 missing or captured), and the Confederates lost 6,134 (980 killed, 4,749 wounded, and 405 captured or missing). The Federals called the battle “Fair Oaks” because they had their most success there; Confederates called it “Seven Pines” for the same reason. Most of the combat occurred on the first day at Seven Pines.

The fight ended in a bloody stalemate, with Johnston’s chief of ordnance asserting that it had been “phenomenally mismanaged.” McClellan could claim a tactical victory for holding his ground and inflicting more casualties on the enemy. But he was so unnerved by his own losses that he would not counterattack. President Abraham Lincoln wired McClellan three times, urging him, “Hold all your ground, or yield any only, inch by inch, and in good order.”

Two hours after the fighting stopped, Davis arrived at Smith’s headquarters to inform him that Lee was now the new army commander. Smith, who had been battling illness, went on the sick list the next day and did not return to the army for two months.

Lee set up headquarters in the home of Mary Dabbs, about a mile and a half from the Richmond suburbs, and issued his first order: “In pursuance of the orders of the President, General R.E. Lee assumes command.” Lee called the force the “Army of Northern Virginia” after the Department of Northern Virginia to which it belonged, though it had not been consistently referred to by the name until Lee began the trend.

Lee then assessed the confusing situation and decided to reset the army by returning the men to the positions they had held before the battle. The Federals south of the Chickahominy River stayed where they were. McClellan soon began shifting his troops on the north side to the south until only V Corps remained north of the Chickahominy.

On the day after the battle, McClellan wrote his wife: “I feel sure of success, so good is the spirit of my men and so great their ardor. But I am tired of the battle-field, with its mangled corpses and poor wounded. Victory has no charms for me when purchased at such cost.”

Davis wrote on that same day:

“On Saturday (May 31) we had a severe battle and suffered severely in attacking the enemy’s entrenchments of which our Generals were poor informed… Unaccountable delays in bringing some of our troops into action prevented us from gaining a decisive victory on Saturday. The opportunity being lost we must try to find another.”

Meanwhile, Lee held a council of war at Confederate army headquarters, where he listened to the opinions of his division and brigade commanders. Some division commanders thought he was careless for discussing plans with brigadiers, but Lee gave no sign of what he planned to do.

This was the first time Lee had been placed in command of a major army. He had failed in western Virginia, been unimpressive in South Carolina, and served as an unofficial advisor to Davis since early this year. Few soldiers celebrated his arrival, and few southerners had faith that Lee could save Richmond.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76-78; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-45, 148, 154-69; CivilWarDailyGazette (1 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 179; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 161-62; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3556-68, 3615; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 227-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 218-21; 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. 461; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 139; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 538, 668; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262; Wikipedia: Battle of Seven Pines