previous next

5% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here


Two days of battle at Seven Pines1 (Fair Oaks).

by Gustavus W. Smith, Major-General, C. S. A.

The Seven Pines, looking East, after a rough sketch made during the War.

here the Williamsburg “old stage” road is intersected by theNine-mile road, at a point seven miles east of Richmond, was fought the first great contest between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Federal Army of the Potomac. The junction of these two roads is called Seven Pines. About one mile from Seven Pines, where theNine-mile road crosses the Richmond and the York River Railroad, there is a station called Fair Oaks. Before the action ended there was a good deal of fighting near the latter place. The Federals called the action of May 31st and June 1st the battle of Fair Oaks.

Before describing this contest, a sketch will be given of the movements of the two armies from the time the Confederates withdrew from Williamsburg. It is well, however, to say here that, in preparing an account of the battle, I have felt constrained to refer to some important matters in more detail than would have been considered essential, if there was not such direct conflict of “high authorities” in regard to them. For instance, nearly all the descriptions of this action heretofore published give as the intention of the Confederate commander that Longstreet's division was to move to the Williamsburg road and support D. H. Hill's division on that road. In “asserting” that this is an error, I have felt that, under the circumstances, it is incumbent on me to prove what I say on that subject.

It is broadly stated by many authorities that General Johnston intended Huger's division should attack the Federal left flank and rear, Huger's attack to be followed by D. H. Hill's division falling on the Federal front; and it is claimed by many that the slowness of Huger's division caused the failure of complete Confederate success the first day. In refutation of these statements and claims, I have felt constrained to give proofs, and not leave these questions to be decided by mere “assertion.”

The position of the Confederate troops at dark, May 31st, has been erroneously stated by General Johnston, and in such particularity of detail as at the time to satisfy me that, in the main, he was correct. But the “Official records,” recently published, show beyond question that General Johnston is in error on this point. It has, therefore, been considered necessary in this article to give definite proof in regard to the position of the Confederate [221] forces when the command of the army devolved upon me, by reason of General Johnston's being wounded. His statement of the reasons for my not having ordered the attack to be renewed the next morning (June 1st) calls for specific proof that I did order the attack to be renewed, and for a detailed exhibit of General Longstreet's battle-field notes to me on that day.

Without specifying further, at this time, in regard to the “misunderstanding,” misapprehension, and other causes that have led to erroneous published accounts of important events in this battle,--to some extent on the Federal, but more on the Confederate, side,--it may be added that the recent publication of the “Official Records,” when carefully studied, throws a great deal of light upon these events, the accounts of which have heretofore been nearly as dark and confusing as were the dense, tangled wood and swamps in which most of the close and desperate fighting took place. The Federal accounts, as now officially published, are full; they embrace the reports of nearly every regimental, brigade, division, and corps commander engaged; but many of the Confederate reports are missing, those in D. H. Hill's division being the only ones that are complete in regard even to brigade commanders. There are, however, enough others, when taken in connection with the full Federal reports, to give quite a clear understanding of the main facts on both sides.

THEaffair at Williamsburg, May 5th, was an incident in the withdrawal of the Confederate army from its fortified lines, near Yorktown, to the open country between the Pamunkey and the Chickahominy rivers, where General Johnston intended to halt, near the Richmond and York River Railroad, and contest the farther advance of General McClellan's army. From Williamsburg, Longstreet's and Hill's divisions, both under General Longstreet, moved on the Charles City road, which crosses the Chickahominy at Long Bridge; the division of G. W. Smith and Magruder's forces — commanded by him before Johnston's army arrived at the Yorktown lines — moved on the road that passes through Barhamsville and New Kent Court House and crosses the Chickahominy at Bottom's Bridge. All the Confederate troops on the latter road were under my command, and they were followed by the Federal army. Excepting occasional collisions between our rear-guard and the Federal advance-guard, nothing of special interest occurred after we left Barhamsville, near which place, below West Point, the Federals landed quite a large force, and seemed disposed to move out against us. General Johnston ordered nearly the whole of his army to Barhamsville, and came there in person. The next day, May 7th, the Federal skirmishers advanced, but their main force gave us no opportunity to cut them off from their gun-boats. At this point there was a good deal of sharp fighting for several hours.2 From this time [222] the Confederates were more worried by the deep mud through which they were patiently trudging than they were by any movements of the Federals. In a letter to me from Palo Alto, on the Charles City road, dated Headquarters, Second Corps, May 8th, General Longstreet says:

If your road can beat this for mud, I don't want to see it. “” If you see the General [Johnston] , say to him that we are as happy as larks over here, till we get 126 wagons [the total number] up to the hub at one time. “” I don't fear McClellan or any one in Yankeedom.

When my command had passed the Baltimore Cross-roads, four and a half miles west of New Kent Court House, and had reached position about half-way between the Pamunkey and Chickahominy rivers, on good ground, they were halted. Longstreet's corps was again within easy supporting distance of mine, and General Johnston intended in that vicinity to contest the further advance of McClellan's army. We remained there about five days. The troops, having rested from the tiresome service in the trenches near Yorktown, and the fatiguing march, were now furnished with abundant supplies from Richmond, and were elated at the prospect of meeting the enemy on an open field of battle.

Major-General Samuel P. Heintzelman. From a photograph.

General Johnston then supposed that something effective had been done by the Government for the local defense of Richmond, during the month that had elapsed since his army moved from there to the peninsula. On the 14th of May he learned, through his chief engineer, that little or nothing — either in the way of fortifications or of troops — had been provided; and that the enemy, on the James River, were above City Point, and threatening Drewry's Bluff, as well as the obstruction in the Appomattox, four and a half miles below Petersburg. This report closed with the remark: “The danger is on the south side of James River.”

On the same day General Johnston received intelligence of the destruction of the Confederate iron-clad Virginia--called by the Federals the Merrimac. [223] The next day news was received of the attack on Drewry's Bluff [see p. 271], and of the confusion and fright in Richmond. In this state of affairs, General Johnston decided that it was expedient to cross the Chickahominy and take position nearer the city, rather than continue to wait, north of that stream, for the advance of McClellan from the Pamunkey. Accordingly, orders were issued that night for

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (63)
Seven Pines (West Virginia, United States) (47)
Charles City (Virginia, United States) (25)
New Bridge (Pennsylvania, United States) (14)
Old Tavern (Virginia, United States) (10)
Hampton (Virginia, United States) (6)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (4)
Meadow Bridge (West Virginia, United States) (4)
Gilliss Creek (Virginia, United States) (4)
Drewry's Bluff (Virginia, United States) (4)
Beaver Dam Creek, Md. (Maryland, United States) (4)
Yorktown (Virginia, United States) (3)
York (Virginia, United States) (3)
West Point (Virginia, United States) (3)
Seven Pines (Mississippi, United States) (3)
Pamunkey (Virginia, United States) (3)
Chickahominy (Virginia, United States) (3)
Barhamsville (Virginia, United States) (3)
White Oak Swamp (Virginia, United States) (2)
New Kent Court House (Virginia, United States) (2)
Long Bridge (Pennsylvania, United States) (2)
Fredericksburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Washington (United States) (1)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (1)
Urbana (Virginia, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
Palo Alto (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Oak Grove (Virginia, United States) (1)
Norfolk (Virginia, United States) (1)
Jacksboro (Texas, United States) (1)
Fairfield, Virginia (Virginia, United States) (1)
Columbia (South Carolina, United States) (1)
City Point (Virginia, United States) (1)
Ashland (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
James Longstreet (148)
R. D. Johnston (88)
D. H. Hill (53)
Benjamin Huger (51)
Erasmus D. Keyes (41)
Daniel H. Hill (37)
Silas Casey (34)
Edwin V. Sumner (29)
W. H. C. Whiting (26)
George E. Pickett (25)
L. Whiting (24)
George B. McClellan (23)
Darius N. Couch (23)
Micah Jenkins (21)
Philip Kearny (17)
Cadmus M. Wilcox (15)
R. E. Rodes (15)
Lewis A. Armistead (15)
Israel B. Richardson (14)
William Mahone (13)
Joseph E. Johnston (13)
David B. Birney (13)
Irvin McDowell (12)
J. J. Pettigrew (10)
Samuel P. Heintzelman (10)
Henry M. Naglee (9)
Oliver O. Howard (9)
Gustavus W. Smith (8)
Fitz Lee (8)
Robert Hatton (8)
Samuel Garland (8)
John Sedgwick (7)
Lafayette McLaws (7)
Joseph Hooker (7)
Wade Hampton (7)
George B. Anderson (7)
Roger A. Pryor (6)
John Bankhead Magruder (6)
John B. Magruder (6)
John B. Hood (6)
Ambrose P. Hill (6)
William H. French (6)
Charles Devens (6)
Hiram G. Berry (6)
Official Records (5)
Gabriel J. Rains (5)
Edmund Kirby (5)
B. W. Frobel (5)
T. C. Beckham (5)
Oliver H. Rippey (4)
James E. B. Stuart (3)
Innis N. Palmer (3)
Charles D. Jameson (3)
R. E. Colston (3)
Richard H. Anderson (3)
William H. C. Whiting (2)
Henry W. Wessells (2)
J. B. Washington (2)
E. V. Sumner (2)
Joseph Spratt (2)
Paul J. Semmes (2)
Thomas H. Neill (2)
Thomas F. Meagher (2)
E. D. Keyes (2)
Joseph B. Kershaw (2)
James L. Kemper (2)
David R. Jones (2)
Stonewall Jackson (2)
Elisha B. Harvey (2)
W. B. Franklin (2)
Benjamin F. Davis (2)
John J. Abercrombie (2)
.G. Wa. (1)
H. B. Tomlin (1)
G. W. Smith (1)
B. Sloan (1)
Daniel E. Sickles (1)
Rufus D. Pettit (1)
William D. Pender (1)
Peckham (1)
John J. Peck (1)
John Newton (1)
Napoleon (1)
George W. Mindil (1)
W. H. F. Lee (1)
Samuel G. Langley (1)
Kuhn (1)
Cuvier Grover (1)
John Griffith (1)
John B. Gordon (1)
William B. Franklin (1)
F. C. Davis (1)
Nelson Cross (1)
Amasa Cobb (1)
Thomas H. Carter (1)
William E. Cameron (1)
William W. Burns (1)
John Bratton (1)
James Brady (1)
Francis E. Blanchard (1)
Edward D. Baker (1)
Edward J. Allen (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: