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Seven Pines.

When McClellan moved his army over Bottom's bridge, threw a [123] heavy column across the Chickahominy and extended his line towards the north of Richmond, General R. E. Lee was then acting as advisory commander of all of the armies of the Confederacy. He concurred with Mr. Davis in the opinion that McClellan should be attacked on the other side of the Chickahominy before he matured his preparations for a seige of Richmond (1 Rise and Fall, p. 120). When General Lee communicated their views to General Johnston, he told General Lee that his plan was to send A. P. Hill to the right and rear of the enemy, and G. W. Smith to the left flank, with orders to make simultaneous attacks for the purpose of doubling up the army, and sending Longstreet to cross at Mechanicsville bridge and attack him in front. McClellan's line on his right was not then well fortified, and the general disposition of the Federal forces was more favorable for a Confederate advance than a month later, when General Lee concentrated a heavy force on the left and turned it. After McDowell's movement to Hanover Courthouse, when his vanguard was checked by Branch, the blows stricken by Jackson in such rapid succession in the Valley had excited apprehension so grave in the mind of Mr. Lincoln that despite McClellan's protest, he ordered the withdrawal of that command to Fredericksburg for the protection of Washington City. For reasons that were unsatisfactory to the President, General Johnston, after marching and counter-marching G. W. Smith's and Longstreet's divisions, abandoned his first plan of operations, and ordered the troops to assume substantially their original positions. President Davis, in his work, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy,’ takes the ground that, after waiting a week and giving McClellan the opportunity to fortify, operations should have been delayed another day till the Chickahominy had risen high enough to sweep away the bridges and till Huger had had time to move up his artillery from his position near Richmond.

The popular impression that the bridges across the Chickahominy had already been swept away when the fight at Seven Pines began on the 30th of May, 1861, is totally unfounded. The corps of Heintzelman and Keyes were then south, and that of Sumner north of the Chickahominy. The plan outlined by General Johnston was, briefly, that Huger should move from his camp, near Richmond, early on that morning down the Charles City road and vigorously attack the enemy's right, and Longstreet and Hill moving on the same road should attack the center and left of the force south of the bridge, [124] while G. W. Smith's corps should advance on the Nine Mile road, and turn the left of Heintzelman and Keyes if Sumner should not have arrived, or engage and prevent the junction of his with the other corps, if he should cross. Longstreet and Hill were in position to attack at an early hour, but waited till ten o'clock for the arrival of Huger, whose division, except two regiments of Rodes (which created a diversion by vigorous attack on the right), did not arrive in time to participate in the action. Our failure to destroy an enemy who, by a concerted movement in the forenoon, would have been utterly routed and driven from the field or captured, was, as is universally conceded, one of the most palpable blunders of the war, but the question, upon whose shoulders the blame rests, still confronts us. No engagement of the war has given rise to more acrimonious censure and crimination than Seven Pines. Mr. Davis, General Johnston, General Longstreet, General Smith, and General Huger have, each in turn, discussed the conduct of both the active and passive leaders of that memorable day.

The future historians who shall make up for posterity their verdict upon the controverted points as to the battle of Seven Pines, will find one fact admitted by all of the disputants: that D. H. Hill was the hero of the occasion, and with his own gallant division, aided by two of Longstreet's brigades, drove the enemy in confusion from the breastworks and turned their own guns upon them as they retreated. Longstreet, who was in command on the right, generously said in his report: ‘The conduct of the attack was left entirely to Major-General Hill. The success of the affair is sufficient evidence of his ability, courage and skill.’ Commenting upon the language of Longstreet, President Davis said: ‘This tribute to General Hill was no more than has been accorded to him by others who knew of his services on that day, and was in keeping with the determined courage, vigilance and daring exhibited by him on other fields.’

General Johnston's language was not less unequivocal in according to Hill the credit of making a very gallant and the only successful attack upon the enemy's works, when he said in his report: ‘The principal attack was made by Major-General Longstreet with his own and Major-General D. H. Hill's division—the latter mostly in advance. Hill's brave troops, admirably commanded and most gallantly led, forced their way through the abattis which formed the enemy's external defences and stormed their entrenchments by a [125] most determined and irresistible rush. Such was the manner in which the enemy's first line was carried. The operation was repeated with the same gallantry and success as our troops pursued their victorious career through the enemy's successive camps and entrenchments. At each new position they encountered fresh troops and reinforcements brought from the rear. Thus they had to repel repeated efforts to retake works which they had carried, but their advance was never successfully resisted.’


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