Chapter 29: seven days battles around Richmond.Mr. Davis wrote substantially the following account, which is condensed. For the full text see “The Rise and fall of the Confederate Government.”
When riding from the field of battle (Seven Pines) with General Robert E. Lee, on the previous day, I informed him that he would be assigned to the command of the army, vice General Johnston, wounded. On the next morning he proceeded to the field and took command of the troops. During the night our forces on the left had fallen back, but those on the right remained in the position they had gained, and some combats occurred there between the opposing forces. Our army was in line in front of Richmond, but without intrenchments. General Lee immediately constructed earthworks. They were necessarily feeble because of our deficiency in tools. It seemed to be the intention of the enemy to assail Richmond by regular approaches, which our numerical inferiority and want of proper utensils made  it improbable that we should be able to resist. The day after General Lee assumed command, I was riding out to the army, and I found him in a house in consultation with a number of his general officers. Their tone was despondent, and one, especially, pointed out the inevitable consequence of the enemy's advance by throwing out boyaux, and constructing successive parallels. I expressed my disappointment at their views, and General Lee remarked that he had, before I came in, said very much the same thing.1 I soon withdrew and rode to the front, where General Lee joined me, and entered into conversation as to what, under the circumstances, I thought it most advisable to do. I answered, substantially, that I knew nothing better than the plan he had previously explained to me, which was to have been executed by General Johnston, but was not carried out; that the change of circumstances would make one modification necessary — it would be necessary to bring the stronger force of General T. J. Jackson  from the Valley of the Shenandoah. So far as we were then informed, General Jackson was hotly engaged with a force superior to his own, and, before he could be withdrawn, it was necessary to drive the enemy out of the Valley. For this purpose, and to mask our design to make a junction of Jackson's forces with those of Lee, a strong division under General Whiting was detached to go by rail to join General Jackson, and, by a vigorous assault, drive the enemy across the Potomac. As soon as he commenced a retreat which unmistakably showed that his flight would not stop within the limits of Virginia, General Jackson was, with his whole force, to move rapidly on the right flank of the enemy, north of the Chickahominy. The manner in which the division was' detached to reinforce General Jackson was so open, that it was not doubted General McClellan would soon be apprised of it, and would probably attribute it to any other than the real motive, and would confirm him in his exaggerated estimate of our strength. As evidence of the daring and unfaltering fortitude of General Lee, I will here recite an impressive conversation which occurred between us in regard to this movement. His plan was to throw forward his left across the Meadow Bridge, drive back the enemy's right flank, then, crossing by the Mechanicsville  Bridge with another column, to attack in front. I pointed out to him that our force and intrenched line between that left flank and Richmond was too weak for a protracted resistance, and, if McClellan was the man I took him for when I nominated him for promotion in a new regiment of cavalry, and subsequently selected him for one of the military commission sent to Europe during the War of the Crimea, as soon as he found that the bulk of our army was on the north side of the Chickahominy, he would not stop to try conclusions, but would immediately move upon his objective point, the city of Richmond. If, on the other hand, he should behave like an engineer officer, and deem it his first duty to protect his line of communication, I thought the plan proposed was not only the best, but would be a success. Something of his old esprit de corps manifested itself in General Lee's first response, that he did not know engineer officers were more likely than others to make such mistakes; but, immediately passing to the main subject, he added: “If you will hold him as long as you can at the intrenchment, and then fall back on the detached works around the city, I will be upon the enemy's heels before he gets there.” 2
Our infant son, William Howell, lay at the point of death, and Mr. Davis, who could not come, wrote.
The offensive-defensive campaign which resulted so gloriously to our arms was thus inaugurated, and turned from the capital of the Confederacy a danger so momentous that, looking at it so retrospectively, it is evident that a policy less daring or less firmly pursued would not have saved the capital from capture. The President wrote substantially as follows:
General J. E. B. Stuart was sent with a cavalry force, on June 8th, to observe the enemy, mask the approach of General Jackson, and to cover the route by which he was to march, and to ascertain whether the enemy had any defensive works or troops to interfere with the advance of those forces. He  reported favorably on both these points. On June 26th, General Stuart received confidential instructions from General Lee, the execution of which is so interwoven with the seven days battles as to be more appropriately noticed in connection with them. According to the published reports, General McClellan's position was regarded at this time as extremely critical. During the night I visited the several commands along the intrenchment on the south side of the Chickahominy. In one of these engagements our loss was small in numbers, but great in value. Among others who could ill be spared, here fell the gallant soldier Brigadier-General Richard Griffith. He had served with distinction in foreign war, and when the South was invaded was among the first to take up arms in defence of our rights.3 Our troops slept upon their arms. The enemy retreated during the night, and by the time thus gained, he was enabled to cross the White Oak Creek and destroy the bridge. It is an extraordinary fact that, though the capital had been threatened by an attack from the sea-board on the right, though our  army had retreated from Yorktown up to the Chickahominy, and, after encamping there for a time, had crossed the river and moved up to Richmond; yet, when at the close of the battles around Richmond McClellan retreated and was pursued toward the James River, we had no maps of the country in which we were operating; our generals were ignorant of the roads, and their guides knew little more than the way from their homes to Richmond. It was this faaldefect inpreparation, and the erroneous answers of the guides, that caused General Lee first to post Holmes and Wise, when they came down the River road, at New Market, where, he was told, was the route that McClellan must pursue in his retreat to the James. Subsequently he learned that there was another road, by the Willis church, which would better serve the purpose of the retreating foe.The President was on the field every day during the seven days fight, and slept on it every night, and in the sixth day's fight he had taken his position in a house near the field and received a message from General Lee to leave it, as the enemy's guns were bearing upon it. Within a few minutes after Mr. Davis left it, the house was riddled. Even thus early the presence of foreigners in the army of the North began to be noticed,  and the ranks of the Federal Army were filled up from this year forth with foreigners of all sorts and conditions of men, July 18, 1862. Of 237 dead Union soldiers who had served in these battles under the command of Colonel Woodbury, of Michigan, it was said there was but one who was American born. These men sacked and burned without the sympathy a common language would have necessarily created.
When McClellan's army was in retreat, to the fatigue of hard marches and successive battles, enough to have disqualified our troops from rapid pursuit, was added the discomfort of being thoroughly wet and chilled by the rain. I sent to the neighboring houses to buy, if it could be had, at any price, enough whiskey to give each of the men a single gill, but it could not be found. The foe had silently withdrawn in the night by a route which had been unknown to us, but which was the most direct road to Harrison's Landing, and he had so many hours the start that, among the general officers who expressed their opinion to me, only one thought it possible to pursue effectively. That was General T. J. Jackson, who quietly said, “They have not all got away, if we go immediately after them.” ... General Lee was not given to  indecision, and they have mistaken his character who suppose caution was his vice. He was prone to attack, and not slow to press an advantage when he gained it. He ordered Longstreet and Jackson to advance, but a violent storm which prevailed throughout the day greatly retarded their progress. The enemy, harassed and closely followed by the cavalry, succeeded in gaining Westover, on the James River, and the protection of his gun — boats. His position was one of great natural and artificial strength, after the heights were occupied and intrenched. It was flanked on each side by guns of his shipping, as well as by those mounted in his intrenchments. Under these circumstances it was inexpedient to attack him; and our troops, who had been marching and fighting almost incessantly for seven days, under the most trying circumstances, were withdrawn in order to afford them the repose of which they stood so much in need. Several days were spent in collecting arms and other property abandoned by the enemy, and, in the meantime, some artillery and cavalry were sent below Westover to annoy his transports. On July 8th, our army returned to the vicinity of Richmond. The siege of Richmond was raised, and the object of a campaign which had been  prosecuted after months of preparation, at an enormous expenditure of men and money, was completely frustrated.General Lee was now gaining fast the confidence of all classes; he had possessed that of the President always. The Richmond Dispatch of July 19, 1862, said,
The rise which this officer has suddenly taken in the public confidence is without a precedent. At the commencement of the war he enjoyed the highest reputation of any officer on the continent. The operations of General Lee in the short campaign which is just over were certainly those of a master. No captain that ever lived could have planned or executed a better campaign. It was perfect in all its parts, and will be set down hereafter as among the models which the military student will be required to study.The army under General Johnston on May 31st, from official reports,. showed an effective strength of 62,696. Deduct the losses sustained in the battle of Seven Pines, as shown by the official reports of casualties, say, 6,084 and we have 56,612 as the number of effectives when General Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Before the seven days battles around  Richmond, reinforcements to the number of 24, 50 were brought to the army, so that at the beginning of the contest with McClellan, Lee had 80,762 effectives for battle. If we adopt as correct the Confederate loss as given by Swinton, say 19,000, then it would appear that when McClellan reached the James River with “8s,000 to 90,000 men, he was being pursued by Lee with but 62,000.” 4 When the news of our great victory over such long odds came to Raleigh, everyone was breathless with excitement. The telegraph office was separated by a narrow alley from my room in the hotel. As I walked my ill baby to and fro by the window, a voice came from the street, “Tell us what you know, please.” Just then a crowd filled the alley and another voice cried, “Boys, I can take it off as it passes.” Another one said to me, “Do tell us it is a victory ;” and as a telegram from the President to me was recorded, every word was shouted to the crowd. At the end of the message someone said, “Don't hurrah, you will scare the sick baby.” The crowd could not keep silent long, and after they reached the middle of the street they shouted themselves hoarse. One old man  stopped in the alley and called up-“I say, madam, we will pray for your poor baby; don't be down-hearted.” From the President to Mrs. Davis. After the siege of Richmond was raised, the President wrote to me as follows:
I went to Richmond for a short visit immediately after the seven days fight, and the odors of the battle-field were distinctly perceptible all over the city. The ladies during the battles had spent the greater part of their time on the roofs of their houses, watching the course of the smoke and gleam of battle, and as the lurid light drifted down to the Peninsula they rejoiced and thanked God; when it shone nearer to the city they prayed for help from above. The President slept upon the field every night, and was exposed to fire all day. About this time Mr. Davis gave me news of the Sumter.
The Confederate women looked on at the struggle with ever-increasing interest; they offered their jewels, their plate, and everything of value they possessed which would be useful to their country. One of these devoted patriots said to me, “I tried, and could not make up my mind to part with my wedding.ring, and it was so thin from wear; else I think I could have given it up.” There were some quaint appeals made to Mr. Davis, and his sympathy and sense of humor brought him into correspondence with the writers, or induced him to make as quaint endorsements on their letters. One girl, whose sweetheart was a gallant soldier in the Fifth South Carolina Regiment,  and who had fought bravely all through the seven days battles, made the following earnest request:
Mr. Davis wrote on the letter, “Let Jeems go,” and Jeems went home, married the affectionate correspondent of Mr. Davis, returned to his regiment, and did fight as well as ever.