- Beginning of the Seven days -- McDowell coming, but not yet -- McClellan resolves on flank movement to the James river -- preparations -- battle of Gaines's Mill -- the movement goes on -- McClellan charges Stanton with intent to sacrifice the army.
On the 26th, the day upon which I had decided as the time for our final advance, the enemy attacked our right in strong force, and turned my attention to the protection of our communications and depots of supply. The event was a bitter confirmation of the military judgment which had been reiterated to my superiors from the inception and through the progress of the Peninsular campaign. I notified the Secretary of War in the following despatch:
12 M.--I have just heard that our advanced cavalry pickets on the left bank of Chickahominy are being driven in. It is probably Jackson's advanced guard. If this be true you may not hear from me for some days, as my communications will probably be cut off. The case is perhaps a difficult one, but I shall resort to desperate measures, and will do my best to out-manoeuvre, outwit, and outfight the enemy. Do not believe reports of disaster, and do not be discouraged if you learn that my communications are cut off, and even Yorktown in possession of the enemy. Hope for the best, and I will not deceive the hopes you formerly placed in me.On the same day I received the following despatches from the Secretary of War:
The following was sent at 2.30 P. M.:
Your despatch and that of the President received. Jackson is driving in my pickets, etc., on the other side of the Chickahominy. It is impossible to tell where reinforcements ought to go, as I am yet unable to predict result of approaching battle. It will probably be better that they should go to Fort Monroe, and thence according to state of affairs when they arrive. It is not probable that I can maintain telegraphic communication more than an hour or two longer.But 5,000 of the reinforcements spoken of in these communications came to the Army of the Potomac, and these reached us at Harrison's Bar after the Seven Days. In anticipation of a speedy advance on Richmond, to provide for the contingency of our communications with the depot at the White House being severed by the enemy, and at the same time to be prepared for a change of the base of our operations to James river, if circumstances should render it advisable, I had made arrangements more than a week previous (on the 18th) to have transports with supplies of provisions and forage, under a convoy of gunboats, sent up James river. They reached Harrison's Landing in time to be available for the army on its arrival at that point. Events soon proved this change of base to be, though most hazardous and difficult, the only prudent course. Early on the 25th Gen. Porter was instructed to send out reconnoitring parties towards Hanover Court-House to discover the position and force of the enemy, and to destroy the bridges on the Tolopotamy as far as possible. Up to the 26th of June the operations against Richmond had been conducted along the roads leading to it from the east and northeast. The superiority of the James river route, as a line of attack and supply, is too obvious to need exposition.  My own opinion on that subject had been early given. The dissipation of all hope of the co-operation by land of Gen. McDowell's forces, deemed to be occupied in the defence of Washington, their inability to hold or defeat Jackson, disclosed an opportunity to the enemy, and a new danger to my right, and to the long line of supplies from the White House to the Chickahominy, and forced an immediate change of base across the Peninsula. To that end, from the evening of the 26th, every energy of the army was bent. Such a change of base, in the presence of a powerful enemy, is one of the most difficult undertakings in war, but I was confident in the valor and discipline of my brave army, and knew that it could be trusted equally to retreat or advance, and to fight the series of battles now inevitable, whether retreating from victories or marching through defeats; and, in short, I had no doubt whatever of its ability, even against superior numbers, to fight its way through to the James, and get a position whence a successful advance upon Richmond would be again possible. Their superb conduct through the next seven days justified my faith. On the same day (26th) Gen. Van Vliet, chief-quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, by my orders telegraphed to Col. Ingalls, quartermaster at the White House, as follows:
Run the cars to the last moment, and load them with provisions and ammunition. Load every wagon you have with subsistence, and send them to Savage's Station by way of Bottom's bridge. If you are obliged to abandon White House burn everything that you cannot get off. You must throw all our supplies up the James river as soon as possible, and accompany them yourself with all your force. It will be of vast importance to establish our depots on James river without delay, if we abandon White House. I will keep you advised of every movement so long as the wires work; after that you must exercise your own judgment.All these commands were obeyed. On the 26th orders were sent to all the corps commanders on the right bank of the Chickahominy to be prepared to send as many troops as they could spare on the following day to the left bank of the river. Gen. Franklin received instructions to hold Gen. Slocum's division in readiness, by daybreak of the 27th, and, if heavy firing 
|Gen. Morell. Col. Colburn. Gen. McClellan. Col. Sweitzer. Prince de Joinville. Comte de Paris. Gen. McClellan at Gen. Morell's headquarters, Minor's Hill, Va.
I hope to do without aid, though I request that Franklin or some other command be held ready to reinforce me. The enemy are so close that I expect to be hard pressed in front. I hope to have a portion in position to cover the retreat. This is a delicate movement, but, relying on the good qualities of the commanders of divisions and brigades, I expect to get back and hold the new line.This shows how closely Porter's retreat was followed. Notwithstanding all the efforts used during the entire night to remove the heavy guns and wagons, some of the siege-guns were still in position at Gaines's house after sunrise, and were finally hauled off by hand. The new position of the 5th corps was about an arc of a circle, covering the approaches to the bridges which connected our right wing with the troops on the opposite side of the river. Morell's division held the left of the line in a strip of woods on the left bank of the Gaines's Mill stream, resting its left flank on the descent to the Chickahominy, which was swept by our artillery on both sides of the river, and extending into open ground on the right towards New Cold Harbor. In this line Gen. Butterfield's brigade held the extreme left; Gen. Martindale's joined his right, and Gen. Griffin, still further to the right, joined the left of Gen. Sykes's division, which, partly in woods and partly in open ground, extended in rear of Cold Harbor. Each brigade had in reserve two of its own regiments; McCall's division, having been engaged on the day before, was formed in a second line in rear of the first; Meade's brigade on the left, near the Chickahominy; Reynolds's brigade on the right, covering the approaches from Cold Harbor and Despatch Station to Sumner's bridge, and Seymour's in reserve to the  second line still further in rear. Gen. P. St. G. Cooke, with five companies of the 5th Regular Cavalry, two squadrons of the 1st Regular Cavalry, and three squadrons of the 1st Penn. Cavalry (lancers), were posted behind a hill in rear of the position, and near the Chickahominy, to aid in watching the left flank and defending the slope to the river. The troops were all in position by noon, with the artillery on the commanding ground, and in the intervals between the divisions and brigades. Besides the division batteries there were Robertson's and Tidball's horse-batteries from the artillery reserve; the latter posted on the right of Sykes's division, and the former on the extreme left of the line, in the valley of the Chickahominy. Shortly after noon the enemy was discovered approaching in force, and it soon became evident that the entire position was to be attacked. His skirmishers advanced rapidly, and soon the fire became heavy along our whole front. At two P. M. Gen. Porter asked for reinforcements. Slocum's division of the 6th corps was ordered to cross to the left bank of the river by Alexander's bridge, and proceed to his support. Gen. Porter's first call for reinforcements, through Gen. Barnard, did not reach me, nor his demand for more axes through the same officer. By three P. M. the engagement had become so severe, and the enemy were so greatly superior in numbers, that the entire second line and reserves had been moved forward to sustain the first line against repeated and desperate assaults along the whole front. At 3.30 Slocum's division reached the field, and was immediately brought into action at the weak points of our line. On the left the contest was for the strip of woods running almost at right angles to the Chickahominy, in front of Adams's house, or between that and Gaines's house. The enemy several times charged up to this wood, but were each time driven back with heavy loss. The regulars of Sykes's division, on the right, also repulsed several strong attacks. But our own loss under the tremendous fire of such greatly superior numbers was very severe, and the troops, most of whom had been under arms more than two days, were rapidly becoming exhausted by the masses of fresh men constantly brought against them.  When Gen. Slocum's division arrived on the ground it increased Gen. Porter's force to some 35,000, who were probably contending against about 70,000 of the enemy. The line was severely pressed in several points; and as its being pierced at any one would have been fatal, it was unavoidable for Gen. Porter, who was required to hold his position until night, to divide Slocum's division, and send parts of it, even single regiments, to the points most threatened. About five P. M., Gen. Porter having reported his position as critical, French's and Meagher's brigades, of Richardson's division (3d corps), were ordered to cross to his support. The enemy attacked again in great force at six P. M., but failed to break our lines, though our loss was very heavy. About seven P. M. they threw fresh troops against Gen. Porter with still greater fury, and finally gained the woods held by our left. This reverse, aided by the confusion that followed an unsuccessful charge by five companies of the 5th Cavalry, and followed, as it was, by more determined assaults on the remainder of our lines, now outflanked, caused a general retreat from our position to the hill in rear overlooking the bridge. French's and Meagher's brigades now appeared, driving before them the stragglers who were thronging towards the bridge. These brigades advanced boldly to the front, and by their example, as well as by the steadiness of their bearing, reanimated our own troops and warned the enemy that reinforcements had arrived. It was now dusk. The enemy, already repulsed several times with terrible slaughter, and hearing the shouts of the fresh troops, failed to follow up their advantage. This gave an opportunity to rally our men behind the brigades of Gens. French and Meagher, and they again advanced up the hill, ready to repulse another attack. During the night our thin and exhausted regiments mere all withdrawn in safety, and by the following morning all had reached the other side of the stream. The regular infantry formed the rear-guard, and about six o'clock on the morning of the 28th crossed the river, destroying the bridge behind them. Although we were finally forced from our first line after the enemy had been repeatedly driven back, yet the objects sought for had been obtained. The enemy was held at bay. Our  siege-guns and material were saved, and the right wing had now joined the main body of the army. The number of guns captured by the enemy at this battle was twenty-two, three of which were lost by being run off the bridge during the final withdrawal. Great credit is due for the efficiency and bravery with which this important arm of the service (the artillery) was fought, and it was not until the last successful charge of the enemy that the cannoneers were driven from their pieces or struck down and the guns captured. Dietrich's, Kauerhem's, and Grimm's batteries took position during the engagement in the front of Gen. Smith's line on the right bank of the stream, and, with a battery of siege-guns served by the 1st Conn, Artillery, helped to drive back the enemy in front of Gen. Porter. So threatening were the movements of the enemy on both banks of the Chickahominy that it was impossible to decide until the afternoon where the real attack would be made. Large forces of infantry were seen during the day near the Old Tavern, on Franklin's right, and threatening demonstrations were frequently made along the entire line on this side of the river, which rendered it necessary to hold a considerable force in position to meet them. On the 26th a circular had been sent to the corps commanders on the right bank of the river, asking them how many of their troops could be spared to reinforce Gen. Porter after retaining sufficient to hold their positions for twenty-four hours. Gen. Heintzelman replied:
I think I can hold the entrenchments with four brigades for twenty-four hours. That would leave two brigades disposable for service on the other side of the river, but the men are so tired and worn out that I fear they would not be in a condition to fight after making a march of any distance. . . .Telegrams from Gen. Heintzelman on the 25th and 26th had indicated that the enemy was in large force in front of Gens. Hooker and Kearny, and on the Charles City road (Longstreet, Hill, and Huger), and Gen. Heintzelman expressed the opinion on the night of the 25th that he could not hold his advanced position without reinforcements. Gen. Keyes telegraphed: 
As to how many men will be able to hold this position for twenty-four hours, I must answer, All I have, if the enemy is as strong as ever in front, it having at all times appeared to me that our forces on this flank are small enough.On the morning of the 27th the following despatch was sent to Gen. Sumner: “Gen. Smith just reports that ‘six or eight regiments have moved down to the woods in front of Gen. Sumner.’ ” At eleven o'clock A. M. Gen. Sumner telegraphed: “The enemy threatens an attack on my right near Smith.” At 12.30 P. M. he telegraphed: “Sharp shelling on both sides.” At 2.45 P. M. : “Sharp musketry-firing in front of Burs. We are replying with artillery and infantry. The man on the look-out reports some troops drawn up in line of battle about opposite my right and Smith's left; the number cannot be made out.” In accordance with orders given on the night of the 26th, Gen. Slocum's division commenced crossing the river, to support Gen. Porter, soon after daybreak on the morning of the 27th; but, as the firing in front of Gen. Porter ceased, the movement was suspended. At two P. M. Gen. Porter called for reinforcements. I ordered them at once, and at 3.25 P. M. sent him the following:
Slocum is now crossing Alexander's bridge with his whole command. Enemy has commenced an infantry attack on Smith's left. I have ordered down Sumner's and Heintzelman's reserves, and you can count on the whole of Slocum's. Go on as you have begun.During the day the following despatches were received, which will show the condition of affairs on the right bank of the Chickahominy: Gen. Franklin telegraphed: “Gen. Smith thinks the enemy are massing heavy columns in the clearings to the right of James Garnett's house and on the other side of the river opposite it. Three regiments are reported to be moving from Sumner's to Smith's front. The arrangements are very good made by Smith.” Afterwards he telegraphed: “The enemy has begun an attack on Smith's left with infantry. I know no details.” Afterwards the following: “The enemy has opened on Smith from a  battery of three pieces to the right of the White House. Our shells are bursting well, and Smith thinks Sumner will soon have a cross-fire upon them that will silence them.” Afterwards (at 5.50 P. M.) the following was sent to Gen. Keyes: “Please send one brigade of Couch's division to these headquarters without a moment's delay. A staff officer will be here to direct the brigade where to go.” Subsequently the following was sent to Gens. Sumner and Franklin: “Is there any sign of the enemy being in force in your front? Can you spare any more force to be sent to Gen. Porter? Answer at once.” At 5.15 P. M. the following was received from Gen. Franklin: “I do not think it prudent to take any more troops from here at present.” Gen. Sumner replied: “If the general desires to trust the defence of my position to my front line alone, I can send French with three regiments and Meagher, with his brigade, to the right; everything is so uncertain that I think it would be hazardous to do it.” These two brigades were sent to reinforce Gen. Porter, as has been observed. At 5.25 P. M. I sent the following to Gen. Franklin:
Porter is hard pressed; it is not a question of prudence, but of possibilities. Can you possibly maintain your position until dark with two brigades? I have ordered eight regiments of Sumner's to support Porter; one brigade of Couch's to this place. Heintzelman's reserve to go in rear of Sumner. If possible, send a brigade to support Porter. It should follow the regiments ordered from Sumner.At 7.35 P. M. the following was sent to Gen. Sumner: “If it is possible, send another brigade to reinforce Gen. Smith; it is said three heavy columns of infantry are moving on him.” From the foregoing despatches it will be seen that all disposable troops were sent from the right bank of the river to reinforce Gen. Porter, and that the corps commanders were left with smaller forces to hold their positions than they deemed adequate. To have done more, even though Porter's reverse had been prevented,  would have had the still more disastrous result of imperilling the whole movement across the Peninsula. The operations of this day proved the numerical superiority of the enemy, and made it evident that while he had a large army on the left bank of the Chickahominy, which had already turned our right and was in position to intercept the communications with our depot at the White House, he was also in large force between our army and Richmond. I therefore effected a junction of our forces. This might probably have been executed on either side of the Chickahominy, and if the concentration had been effected on the left bank it is possible we might, with our entire force, have defeated the enemy there; but at that time they held the roads leading to the White House, so that it would have been impossible to have sent forward supply-trains in advance of the army in that direction, and the guarding of those trains would have seriously embarrassed our operations in the battle we would have been compelled to fight, if concentrated on that bank of the river. Moreover, we would at once have been followed by the enemy's forces upon the Richmond side of the river operating upon our rear; and if, in the chances of war, we had been ourselves defeated in the effort, we would have been forced to fall back to the White House, and probably to Fort Monroe; and, as both our flanks and rear would then have been entirely exposed, our entire supply-train, if not the greater part of the army itself, might have been lost. The movements of the enemy showed that they expected this, and, as they themselves acknowledged, they were prepared to cut off our retreat in that direction. I therefore concentrated all our forces on the right bank of the river. During the night of the 26th and morning of the 27th all our wagons, heavy guns, etc., were gathered there. It may be asked why, after the concentration of our forces on the right bank of the Chickahominy, with a large part of the enemy drawn away from Richmond upon the opposite side, I did not, instead of striking for James river, fifteen miles below that place, at once march directly on Richmond. It will be remembered that at this juncture the enemy was on our rear, and there was every reason to believe that he would  sever our communications with the supply-depot at the White House. We had on hand but a limited amount of rations, and if we had advanced directly on Richmond it would have required considerable time to carry the strong works around that place, during which our men would have been destitute of food; and even if Richmond had fallen before our arms the enemy could still have occupied our supply communications between that place and the gunboats, and turned the disaster into victory. If, on the other hand, the enemy had concentrated all his forces at Richmond during the progress of our attack, and we had been defeated, we must in all probability have lost our trains before reaching the flotilla. The battles which continued day after day in the progress of our flank movement to the James, with the exception of the one at Gaines's Mill, were successes to our arms, and the closing engagement at Malvern Hill was the most decisive of all. On the evening of the 27th of June I assembled the corps commanders at my headquarters, and informed them of the plan, its reasons, and my choice of route and method of execution. Gen. Keyes was directed to move his corps, with its artillery and baggage, across the White Oak Swamp bridge, and to seize strong positions on the opposite side of the swamp, to cover the passage of the other troops and trains. This order was executed on the 28th by noon. Before day-break on the 28th I went to Savage's Station, and remained there during the day and night, directing the withdrawal of the trains and supplies of the army. Orders were given to the different commanders to load their wagons with ammunition and provisions, and the necessary baggage of the officers and men, and to destroy all property which could not be transported with the army. Orders were also given to leave with those of the sick and wounded who could not be transported a proper complement of surgeons and attendants, with a bountiful supply of rations and medical stores. The large herd of 2,500 beef cattle was, by the chief commissary, Col. Clark, transferred to the James river without loss. On the morning of the 28th, while Gen. Franklin was withdrawing his command from Golding's farm, the enemy opened upon Gen. Smith's division from Garnett's Hill, from the valley  above, and from Gaines's Hill on the opposite side of the Chickahominy, and shortly afterwards two Georgia regiments attempted to carry the works about to be evacuated, but this attack was repulsed by the 23d N. Y., and the 49th Penn. Volunteers on picket, and a section of Mott's battery. Porter's corps was moved across White Oak Swamp during the day and night, and took up positions covering the roads leading from Richmond towards White Oak Swamp and Long bridge. McCall's division was ordered, on the night of the 28th, to move across the swamp and take a proper position to assist in covering the remaining troops and trains. During the same night the corps of Sumner and Heintzelman and the division of Smith were ordered to an interior line, the left resting on Keyes's old entrenchments and curving to the right so as to cover Savage's Station. General Slocum's division, of Franklin's corps, was ordered to Savage's Station in reserve. They were ordered to hold this position until dark of the 29th, in order to cover the withdrawal of the trains, and then to fall back across the swamp and unite with the remainder of the army. On the 28th I sent the following to the Secretary of War: