V. The Seven days retreat.
The attitude of the army during the month succeeding the action of Fair Oaks
was not imposing.
It was seemingly a body that had lost its momentum; and the troops, sweltering through all that hot month amid the unwholesome swamps of the Chickahominy
, sank in energy.
's position was a trying one: he realized the full necessity of action; but he also realized better than any of his contemporaries the enormous difficulty of the task laid upon him. Feeling deeply the need of new accessions to his strength, in order to permit him to carry out his plans, and seeing almost as large a force as he had to confront the enemy withal scattered in unmilitary positions throughout Virginia
, he was naturally urgent that they should be forwarded from where they were useless to where they might be so advantageously employed.
Yet the situation was not one that permitted inaction; for the position of the army astride a fickle river, and the experience already had of the danger to which that division of its strength exposed it, should have been a sufficient admonition of the necessity of a change.
The fundamental vice was the direction of McClellan's line of communications almost on the prolongation of his front of operations.
Pivoting on the York River Railroad, and drawing his supplies from White House
, it became absolutely necessary for him to hold a large part of his effective strength on the left bank of the Chickahominy
for the protection of that line,—a situation that at once prevented his using his whole force, and exposed him to attack in detail.
This false position might have been rectified in two ways: 1.
By a change of base to the James
, which would have given a line of manoeuvre against Richmond
, entirely free from the objections inherent in that by the York